Tag Archives: Thriller

L: Review of Ware’s “The Woman in Cabin 10”

Life got busy; these things happen. Luckily, I found a hot minute to type up some musings, so here goes nothing.

I just want a book to be scary!! Is that too much to ask?!?! Ruth Ware’s most recent novel, The Woman in Cabin 10, was included in a list of “October Reads” and we all remember how much I obsessed over SWEET (the dust-jacket blurb comparison is uncanny), so I really just threw myself at this book in full-fledged desperation. Firstly:

In this tightly wound story, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

As is often the case, I think all the hype that preceded this book’s release was a contributing factor in my semi-disappointment. But… I don’t think I’m really disappointed in the text itself. It did everything it promised. I think I have myself to blame for the fact that it just wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped. Maybe I watch too many scary movies, read too many scary books? Maybe my understanding of “scary” does not align with the general public’s “scary,” so I have gypped myself out of a whole slew of typically scary books. Regardless, I didn’t consider this book to be scary even for one moment. I found it to be adequately suspenseful, but those words are not synonymous in my mind.

So, we’ve determined that the hype set it up as a good “scary” read, and I’m afraid I have to disagree, but who cares, right?! On the other hand, it was also often paralleled with The Girl on the Train and I will go right ahead and concur, good sirs! Except, in all the ways that I found The Girl on the Train to be unlikable, I found The Woman in Cabin 10 to be utterly victorious. The characters were likable!! Imagine that! We have a protagonist who is still a hot mess, no doubt, but Lo Blacklock is familiar and relatable in ways that remind the reader of herself, or at least that one friend about whom you find yourself saying “bless her heart.” Lo is the spirit animal version of every woman when she’s set aside thriving & is just worried about surviving. Thankfully, Lo’s particular circumstances are not familiar to most of us, but the novel is written in a way that makes it seem entirely plausible and personal. Readers are able to relate to Lo’s trepidation, fury, mistrust, and desperation without actually experiencing the horrible events that result in such feelings. Thank goodness!

The mystery aspects of the novel were great! I kept thinking, “wow, I just cannot wait to see how all this gets resolved” because, let me tell you, it was a tangled web she wove. No one was safe, no one could be trusted, and every moment was a potential clue. I thought the mystery itself was masterfully written, but I will say that I found many aspects to be repetitive. For instance, insomnia reared its ugly head enough times that it eventually felt like beating a dead horse. “Yes, OKAY! She’s so incredibly tired. Got it. What else?!” Similarly, there were entire swaths, paragraphs and eventually pages, that I felt were just there to take up space. I counted 18 pages towards the end that recounted Lo’s panicked thoughts that could have been summed up in one page. I noticed Ware repeating herself and rephrasing the same thoughts many times throughout the book. Maybe this was a plot device? Who am I to judge? However, I do know that my students do this in order to use up more space on a page requirement, so… that’s not out of the realm of possibility for me.

I’d love to read In a Dark, Dark Wood in order to experience more from Ware without preconceived ideas of what the novel will be. I thought The Woman in Cabin 10 was good enough for some, but just not for me.

Scarier, please!

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L: Emmy Laybourne’s “SWEET” + Toon Teaser

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Chubby bffs go on weight loss cruise; one crushes on sweetner drug, the other crushes on human boy; sweetner makes chubsters into addicted murderous zombies

Readers, I just finished the most FAB book and I cannot wait to sing its praises! I got Emmy Laybuourne’s SWEET in a recent book haul from my generous Grad professor and my expectations could not have been lower. I mean, it sounded positively ridiculous.

sweetSolu’s luxurious celebrity-filled “Cruise to Lose” is billed as “the biggest cruise since the Titanic,” and if the new diet sweetener works as promised—dropping five percent of a person’s body weight in just days—it really could be the answer to the world’s obesity problem. But Laurel is starting to regret accepting her friend Viv’s invitation. She’s already completely embarrassed herself in front of celebrity host, Tom Fiorelli (otherwise known as the hottest guy ever!) and she’s too seasick to even try the sweetener. And that’s before Viv and all the other passengers start acting really strange.

But will they die for it, too?

Tom Fiorelli knows that he should be grateful for this job and the opportunity to shed his childhood “Baby Tom-Tom” image. His publicists have even set up a ‘romance’ with a sexy reality star. But as things on the ship start to get a bit wild, he finds himself drawn to a different girl. And when his celebrity hosting gig turns into an expose on the shocking side effects of Solu, it’s Laurel that he’s determined to save.

The novel is a satire, making fun of… well, everything. The absurdity of our society’s obsession with weight and weight-loss; the danger of trusting that the things you’re ingesting are safe without doing your own research; the severity of addiction and how easily it happens; the ability to find love in unlikely places. It would be easy to read SWEET and think it’s just a ridiculous depiction of an impossible occurrence; undoubtedly, the premise of this novel is whackadoodle, but then again, is it?! Yes, Laybourne’s depiction is severe and unlikely, but far from unimaginable! The wonder drug, Solu, promises dramatic and almost instantaneous weight loss, something that I’m 100% certain real people would sign up for STAT, not just the fanatics in the novel.

Laybourne’s humor is present throughout the novel and it’s impossible (well, it was for me, at least) to read any of it without fully grasping the message, “people are CRAZY!” The story is told from the swapping perspectives of the main characters, Laurel and Tom. Laurel is a beautifully optimistic depiction of a seventeen-year-old, slightly overweight girl. She’s happy with her body, she loves her curves, she has a healthy relationship with her best friend, and aside from not being rich, she has no overwhelming resentments towards her parents! Can you believe that?! An emotionally un-scarred teen. It’s about gal-darned time!!

The first half of the book is comical, focusing on the budding love story and making fun of, again, everyone. About halfway through, though, things get so stinking REAL! S**t hits the fan in the most improbable way, and Laybourne doesn’t spare her readers any of the gory details. For me, this was an utter delight! Gross me out, girl! Give me the creeps! But for others who are not fans of horror or thriller stories, this may get a bit too heavy for you. I sincerely hope not, because this book deserves to be read by any and all. As vivid as the details were, it only emphasizes Laybourne’s point. How far will people go to be thin? Addiction is not glamorous; in the face of disaster, dignity and social status cease to mean anything. And at what point do you stop considering a person to be a person?

I adored this book. So much fun! It was a quick read, being just 250 pages, and I was utterly enthralled the whole time. This book will live in my classroom library and I’ll be sure to place it in the right hands. This could be a really poignant read for teen girls dealing with self-image and needing some perspective, but I’m in no need of body image reassurances and I got the biggest kick out of this book, so I’d also suggest it to my young readers who just love a good thrill.

I immediately texted Hannah upon finishing it and begged her to read it. We’ll see if she takes the bait. And sidebar, the book ended on a note that could totally mean there will be another book so let us all hope for the best.

Has anyone else read SWEET? I’ve not seen anyone talking about this book and I’d love to know if I’m alone in my adoration. Next up for me is Feed by M. T. Anderson. Join me, won’t you?

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L: Review of Alexandra Sirowy’s “The Creeping”

Dig if you will this picture: you’re home alone, reading before bed. Your chapter ends with a creep-tastic home invasion while the main character is sleeping, something you’re getting ready to do. Now, instead of visions of sugar plums, you know you’ll have visions of knife-wielding maniacs…

Thanks, Psychological Thrillers!!

I live life on a mission trying to find a book that can effectively scare me. Most fail, not because I’m so tough, but either because the Boogey Man in question is a bang in the attic or demented car, or because the writers think scary = disturbing and they go for the gross-out factor. Nice try. Want to know what’s scary? Terrible things that can actually happen. Thus, psychological thrillers win the day!

Enter Alexandra Sirowy’s The Creeping.

Eleven years ago, Stella and Jeanie disappeared. Stella came back. Jeanie never did.

Now all she wants is a summer full of cove days, friends, and her gorgeous crush—until a fresh corpse leads Stella down a path of ancient evil and secrets.

Stella believes remembering what happened to Jeanie will save her. It won’t.

She used to know better than to believe in what slinks through the shadows. Not anymore.

The story technically addresses parallel plot lines: one being the apparent reemergence of a threat from Stella’s childhood and the other being Stella’s experiences with friendship, peer pressure, and budding relationships. One is hella serious; children are dead and Stella needs to remember a horrific childhood experience in order to find the killer. The other is juvenile as can be; Taylor is super hot but cray dumb and Sam is so sweet but totes not popular. The two are seamlessly intertwined, meaning that they are addressed with equivalent levels of urgency. “Yes, I’ve found a dead body but the school gossip just saw me talking to a loser and I don’t know which is worse!!”

I’ve seen reviews admonishing this elevation of high school drama to be on par with a loose murderer, and I have to say… I disagree. I get it. In no way do I consider gossip prevention to be as important as the threat to Stella’s life, but pubescent minds factor things differently. What is important in high school? Popularity. Who you date. Who your friends are. This novel exemplifies (albeit rather dramatically) how priorities are relative and, to this particular high school girl, crushing on a nerd is just as tragic as a rampant serial killer.

In terms of content, it was consistently unsettling, and I mean that as a good thing!! The intention (as evidenced by the title) obviously was to be creepy, and it utilizes suspense and realistic, relatable situations to capitalize on the psychological aspects of being a psychological thriller. The language was a dizzying blend of mature and immature verbiage and content, which mirrored the parallel plot lines. Profanity and sexual references were peppered throughout, whether discussing boy toys or unearthed corpses. For this reason, I’m not sure I’d make it available in my classroom, at least not for just any student. Mature students could easily enjoy this book as much as I did, but as a teacher, I’d need to know my students well enough to know who can brush off such vivid depictions of murder and sexual rendezvous and instead siphon meaning from the discussions about friendship, relationships, and bullying.

This book was fun fun fun! The ending drew on for four chapters after the big climax, so that could’ve been better, and the resolution/explanation felt a bit rushed, but otherwise it was good stuff! And it felt Halloween-ish, because of the scariness, so I’m including a couple other scary ones I’m jazzed to read. Check them out!!

 

 

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L: Review of Pierce Brown’s “Golden Son”

I have officially been labeled a disturber of the peace due to my… expressive reactions while reading Pierce Brown’s second installment in his Red Rising Trilogy, Golden Son. In spite of my better judgement, I needed to read this book in public. I knew it would solicit gasps, giggles, and tears, the likes of which I generally try to keep on lock when in public, but I was addicted to this book and what was to become of my beloved character friends from Red Rising. Just last night, I was reading my book over here, the boyfriend was reading his book over there, and I hit a MAJOR plot twist that evoked this response: “*gasp*… what? wait, WHAT?? Oh my god… whatohmyGODOHMYGOD!! WHAT?!?!? *maniacal laughter*.” The boyfriend just stopped to watch me react and process the info that had just rocked my world and, when I had calmed down to just soft murmurs of disbelief, he went back to his book, just like the random strangers I had been interrupting all week. This book is WORTH disturbing others.

Let us endure the boring part:

Golden Son continues the stunning saga of Darrow, a rebel forged by tragedy, battling to lead his oppressed people to freedom from the overlords of a brutal elitist future built on lies. Now fully embedded among the Gold ruling class, Darrow continues his work to bring down Society from within.

That’s distressingly short, don’t you think? And it has to be, considering the aforementioned dilemma of reviewing a subsequent volume in a series without spoiling the first book. This book, though, you guys, is out of this world and no dust jacket synopsis can adequately encapsulate that fact.

Whereas the first volume reflected elements of The Hunger Games Trilogy, with Darrow entering into a “game” for the entertainment of the upper class, even when his life and the lives of those he loves will be determined by his success or failure. However, in Golden Son, Darrow has now left the Institute and has entered into the world of politics. In my opinion, all hints of The Hunger Games have faded and been replaced with an essence of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. In the most flattering way possible, Brown echo’s Martin’s elements of political intrigue, familial bonds and betrayals, and the social divide enforced within the caste system. The similarities are subtle enough to be a mere tip-of-the-hat to Martin, not a blatant copycat. I have no idea whether Brown intended to emulate aspects of Martin’s series, but having read both, the similarities are clear to me.

Brown has achieved something that, to me, is a rare gift: a second volume that blows the first one out of the water! His writing is effortless, picking up where he left off in book one and including reminders of the previous events that are subtly worked into the story line, not uncomfortably forced in for reminder’s sake. The language is beautiful and evokes powerful opinions, forcing readers to take sides, pick favorites, and yearn for certain outcomes. I am emotionally invested in these characters and they immediately stand alongside my life-long favorites, the Potters, Bagginses, and Starks. Brown readily elicits emotions like victory, defeat, sorrow, hope, joy, and longing from his readers, meaning that I had to consistently remind myself that what I was reading was fake, not my life, and I needn’t feel so strongly, but I did, and still do.

5 stars. Hands down. No question. Golden Son is an undeniable success, appealing to all ages, sexes, races & creeds. I already got two friends addicted to the series, and you’re next!

Goodreads tells me the third volume, Morning Star, is expected to be published in early February. That cannot possibly come soon enough!

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L: Review of James S. A. Corey’s “Cibola Burn” & Toon Teaser

Reviewing the fourth book in a series is difficult. Although the events that take place in James S. A. Corey’s Cibola Burn, book 4 in the Expanse series, are remarkably different from what happened in Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abaddon’s Gate, summarizing how they differ from one another to someone who hasn’t read the series is hard to do without revealing spoilers. It involves dancing around details in book one that hugely shaped book two; things that are major spoilers for book one (identifying the villain, character deaths or changes, evolving relationships) are yesterday’s news in book two, so discussing books two and up without spoiling book one becomes more and more difficult. That’s why I didn’t even bother reviewing Abaddon’s Gate; the review was going to be the same “it’s about space; also, I loved it” as the reviews for the previous two volumes. To me, each book is remarkable, unique, familiar, and original, but to others I can see that the reviews start to look like reruns of the same ol’, same ol’.

I just finished book four in the Expanse series, and I am still as in love as always. I also just found out that the sixth book will be released this summer and there are expected to be up to nine volumes in the series! PRAISE IT! I adore these characters. They are my family. Anyway, I’ll let Goodreads do the boring work of the synopsis, and then we’ll get to the good stuff:

Click here for Goodreads

Click here for Goodreads

The gates have opened the way to thousands of habitable planets, and the land rush has begun. Settlers stream out from humanity’s home planets in a vast, poorly controlled flood, landing on a new world. Among them, the Rocinante, haunted by the vast, posthuman network of the protomolecule as they investigate what destroyed the great intergalactic society that built the gates and the protomolecule.

But Holden and his crew must also contend with the growing tensions between the settlers and the company which owns the official claim to the planet. Both sides will stop at nothing to defend what’s theirs, but soon a terrible disease strikes and only Holden – with help from the ghostly Detective Miller – can find the cure.

Okay, since I had such a fun time creating the Toon Teasers for the Stiefvater novels and since the reception of them was so kind, I decided to do a Toon Teaser for Cibola Burn, in lieu of another, similar review. Behold:

cibola burn toon

Let me tell you what you’re seeing here. 1. The inhabitants of Earth, Mars, the Belt, and the other colonies in the galaxy are facing the potential of inhabiting hitherto unexplored planets and solar systems, and the race to colonize mineral-rich planets has begun. 2. Tensions rise when the rights to lay claim to one new planet, Ilus or New Terra, is questioned, and James Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are assigned as impartial mediators until a decision about ownership is reached. 3. However, the unfamiliar flora and fauna prove hostile, an unidentifiable disease renders everyone vulnerable, and a massive storm threatens to wipe out all of New Terra’s inhabitants, regardless of which side they support. Can they set aside their differences long enough to survive? Read it and see.

Now, the other good news is that Sci-Fi has a new show based on the books! It’s called, what else, “The Expanse” and the Sci-Fi channel website has the first 4 episodes available, so you should check it out if you’re interested in the books. I WILL SAY, however, that Brice and I are both just as surprised by watching the show as you will be, because it is taking a lot of artistic license and some details vary widely. That’s fine by me, but if you want the full story, the books contain so much more than the show ever could, so read the books, friends! Here is the trailer for the show. SO GOOD!

 

 

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L: Review of Paula Hawkins’s “The Girl on the Train”

Someone reassure me: have you ever read a book that you know was good, but wasn’t good for you? I think I’ve mentioned my ongoing issue with reverse projection and that some books and the issues addressed within them just become too personal for me. Well, Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train was just such a book. I can tell that it was a good book. The writing was effortless; the plot was unique and mesmerizing; it took all of two days for me to complete. I can see why other people would like it, and yet I cannot say that I liked it. Not at all, actually.

First things first:

girlonthetrain

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Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

I’ve been trying to pinpoint the exact reason why I feel icky about this book, and I think I’ve settled on the fact that everything in the book was miserable. I’m talking about every character, every situation, every relationship was unhappy, uncomfortable, and depressing. It was truly 300 pages of depression. There’s infidelity; there’s alcoholism; there are misfortunes aplenty, and I continually had to close the book and remind myself that this was a fictional story. It is not my life. It is not reality, at least for me, and hopefully not for anyone ever, because yikes! What awful people with awful lives! I still can’t get over it.

However, it must speak to the author’s talent if she is able to affect me so strongly with her story. And like I said, the writing, the action, intrigue, plot twists, everything was there and all of it made for an interesting, quick read. MY problem of projecting the problems of characters within books or movies onto myself is no concern of this author, and in that case, she did her job. I was interested the whole time. I imagine that The Girl on the Train technically counts as a “thriller” and definitely counts as a mystery. It maintains the suspense well enough (you’ll figure it out before the book spells it out for you, but then you just get to feel smart for figuring it out) and is relatable and believable throughout, hence my resulting sadness.

My depression from reading this is my own concern, and it always passes. So, while I personally will give this book maybe 2 stars for being just too darn miserable (seriously, 0% happiness or positivity for 323 pages; just varying levels of misfortune), I can’t say that I don’t recommend it to people who like mysteries, or “thrillers.” Give it a try. Whatever. I’m working on recuperating, myself.  Need brain floss, ASAP!

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L: Review of “Inferno” by Dan Brown

​I work in a dangerously small town, the kind that considers itself “modern” for having a Subway, so I wasn’t surprised upon visiting the local library that my pickings were depressingly slim. However, I was desperate for something, absolutely anything, to entertain me until my book on hold came in from across the state. It’s times like these that I turn to Dan Brown. That’s how I came across his other works way back when, and just like that I found myself departing from the library with Inferno in hand.

I know why I expect so little from Dan Brown novels: they’re all just so similar (same Robert Langdon; slightly different dilemma) that I anticipate Inferno being the same as The Da Vinci Code being the same as The Lost Symbol being the same as Angels & Demons. I’ll go ahead and make it clear that Inferno is indeed the same unnaturally all-knowing Symbologist traipsing around one of the world’s most influential centers of art/culture/history/religion with a beautiful and helpful but non-romantic ladyfriend in order to save the rest of the oblivious world. However, the passion that I feel for Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno” planted a seed of slightly higher excitement and expectation for this novel, in particular.

Inferno

Click here for Goodreads

Much like Andy Weir in my last post, Dan Brown astounds me when thinking about the amount of research that would have to go into writing this novel. Not only does Robert Langdon, Brown’s recurring main character, go into vast detail about the minutiae of Dante’s most popular work, but equalling mind-numbing detail is applied to countless other books, poems, paintings, and historical sites that are someway remotely connected to “Inferno.” The novel follows Langdon, who cannot recall anything from the last 48 hours, through Italy in an attempt to save the lives of himself and this installment’s “Bond girl” and to find out how in the world his unfortunate and dangerous current state is connected to Dante and “Inferno.” I found the twists, turns, and ultimate ending to be altogether unpredictable, which is refreshing in this era of “been there, read that,” and I truly enjoyed it from beginning to end.

The best part of the novel, however, was the almost “behind the scenes” feel of the endless descriptions. Brown is a master of detail and the product of this effort is that I genuinely felt as though I was standing in Florence, staring up at the vast ceilings or gilded doors, the pigeon-topped statues or floor-to-ceiling paintings, or the fragile detail of Dante’s death mask. As Langdon found the hidden passages behind paintings or sprinted through rafters, I felt as though I was getting a VIP tour of a city I’ve never seen, much less via hidden corridors above the city streets. I found it hard to read this novel when I didn’t have access to a computer, as nearly every paragraph contained beautiful descriptions and secret details about the many paintings and historical landmarks peppered along Langdon’s journey that I absolutely needed to see to believe.

If this review was based solely on the plot of Inferno, it would still be a positive review, as it posed a true question of societal norms and the inevitable dangers of our over-populated planet; fortunately, the plot is also supported by extraordinary details and connections that only enhanced my fascination. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good mystery, a thriller, a historical or literary expose, or anyone who loves Dante. I think you’ll be equally pleased.

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