BOOK REVIEW | The Shining by Stephen King

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote . . . and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

My thoughts:
Man, Stephen King can tell a story like no one else. The Shining was a (creepy and terrifying) pleasure to read. It has been so much fun working through the King’s catalogue!

The world’s a hard place, Danny. It don’t care. It don’t hate you and me, but it don’t love us either. Terrible things happen in the world, and they’re things no one can explain. Good people die in bad, painful ways and leave the folks that love them all alone. Sometimes it seems like it’s only the bad people who stay healthy and prosper.

Jack Torrence is a recovering alcoholic and down on his luck. He’s lost his teaching job, but needs to take care of his family. A friend sets him up with a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, and he quickly accepts. Jack moves into the hotel with his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny. Danny has always been special – he can shine. His ability to shine means he can read people’s thoughts and you guessed it – see dead people. Shortly after arriving at the Overlook, Jack discovers details of the hotel’s history and some of the crimes that occurred there. Many presences haunt the Overlook, and the hotel slowly begins to manipulate Jack, ultimately turning him against his family.

Jack is a fantastic villain – I didn’t know if his words were his own, or a part of the hotel’s manipulation. It always sort of felt like a combination of both, that the hotel brought out his inner demons, rather than completely overtaking him. Nothing is scarier than the devil you know, right?

I’d love to know what happens to Danny, so may jump right in to Doctor Sleep!

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BOOK REVIEW | The Dry by Jane Harper

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

My thoughts:
I finished this book just minutes ago, so I am writing this while my heart is still racing – this is a stunning, fresh debut from Jane Harper.

Kiewarra, a small Australian farming town, is suffering through a  drought that has the residents on edge with tensions running high. When a horrific triple homicide is committed leaving nearly an entire family wiped out, Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his old friend and his family. Falk, however, is not welcome back in Kiewarra – wounds have not yet healed from a decades old tragedy and small town life has lead to anger, resentment, and long kept-secrets. Falk’s presence brings up old memories and new questions, and he soon realizes that he can’t leave Kiewarra again until he’s exhausted all efforts to uncover the mystery behind the two crimes.

Falk is our sole narrator, and I enjoyed traversing this mystery through his eyes. Most of the thrillers I have been reading these days are narrated from multiple perspectives, and I appreciated Harper’s clean approach. We learn about the other players through short flashbacks, which are just enough to mix up the story-line and quietly reveal significant details along the way. I loved that there were no major red herrings in this book – I felt deeply invested in uncovering the truth, and never felt misled after the big reveal. The conclusion is shocking and sad – you may guess who committed the crimes, but I can guarantee you will not guess the reasons why.

This gets a high rating from me for being an absorbing and fresh approach to the thriller genre. I am so excited to see that GoodReads is listing this book as “Aaron Falk #1” – I would love to read this character again!

BOOK REVIEW | Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Growing up, Kate Priddy was always a bit neurotic, experiencing momentary bouts of anxiety that exploded into full blown panic attacks after an ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly ended her life. When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life.

But soon after her arrival at Corbin’s grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman named Audrey Marshall, has been murdered. When the police question her about Corbin, a shaken Kate has few answers, and many questions of her own—curiosity that intensifies when she meets Alan Cherney, a handsome, quiet tenant who lives across the courtyard, in the apartment facing Audrey’s. Alan saw Corbin surreptitiously come and go from Audrey’s place, yet he’s denied knowing her. Then, Kate runs into a tearful man claiming to be the dead woman’s old boyfriend, who insists Corbin did the deed the night that he left for London.

When she reaches out to her cousin, he proclaims his innocence and calms her nerves . . . until she comes across disturbing objects hidden in the apartment—and accidently learns that Corbin is not where he says he is. Could Corbin be a killer? And what about Alan? Kate finds herself drawn to this appealing man who seems so sincere, yet she isn’t sure. Jetlagged and emotionally unstable, her imagination full of dark images caused by the terror of her past, Kate can barely trust herself . . . So how could she take the chance on a stranger she’s just met?

Yet the danger Kate imagines isn’t nearly as twisted and deadly as what’s about to happen. When her every fear becomes very real.

And much, much closer than she thinks.

My thoughts:
This psychological thriller had my heart racing more than once with its creepy characters and twisted motives. In Her Every Fear tensions run high as we work to piece everything together.

Kate, a British woman reeling from a trauma with her ex boyfriend, takes up the opportunity to switch apartments for six months with her American cousin, Corbin. The two have never met, but the arrangement is made and before long Kate is on a flight to Boston. Kate suffers from anxiety, exasperated by her recent experiences, and wonders if she has made the right choice when she discovers that a young woman has been killed in her Boston apartment building. Shortly after settling in, she meets a neighbor named Alan, and begins to feel more at ease. Meanwhile Corbin, miles away in Kate’s flat, is hearing the news of his neighbour’s death. It’s clear that Corbin was in a relationship with his neighbor, yet he denies knowing her past hallway meetings when questioned by Kate. After Alan makes a startling revelation, Kate begins to suspect everyone and to trust no one.

This is a slow burning mystery, which is just my style. It’s told from multiple perspectives, which allows for a deeper understanding of each person’s motivations and experiences. We know who the killer is fairly early on (or can pretty accurately speculate), so the enjoyment comes in slowly unraveling the story, leaning how each character made their way to this point. The multiple POV narrative works well, but does allow for quite a bit of repetition. The last 100 pages or so read like rapid fire – I couldn’t put it down!

I struggled a little with Kate as someone who suffers from anxiety. For the first few chapters, I was sold – I could feel her sweaty palms and heart beating as if they were my own. As the story picks up, many of her anxious behaviors and thoughts disappear, which I suppose may have been intentional – a sign that Kate is no longer succumbing to her anxiety and entering into a new space psychologically.

I really enjoyed this read and have already picked up The Kind Worth Killing. Swanson has me sold and is writer I will be watching!

BOOK REVIEW | Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

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3/5 stars

Release Date: February 7, 2017

*I received a digital advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

From the publisher:
Life in a small town takes a dark turn when mysterious footage begins appearing on VHS cassettes at the local Video Hut

Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s a small town—the first “a” in the name is pronounced ay—smack in the center of the state. This is the late 1990s, pre-DVD, and the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut. But there are regular customers, a predictable rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job; it’s quiet and regular; he gets to watch movies; he likes the owner, Sarah Jane; it gets him out of the house, where he and his dad try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when Stephanie Parsons, a local schoolteacher, comes in to return her copy of Targets, starring Boris Karloff—an old movie, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, Lindsey Redinius brings back She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

So Jeremy takes a look. And indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blink dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly disturbing about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks a lot like a barn just outside of town.

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. In truth, it freaks him out, deeply. This has gone far enough, maybe too far already. But Stephanie is pushing, and once Sarah Jane takes a look and becomes obsessed, there’s no more ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same . . .

My thoughts:
This is an incredibly difficult book to review – I went into Universal Harvester expecting something along the lines of mystery/thriller/horror based on the synopsis, but what I got was a beautifully written work about family life and loss in Nevada, Iowa. There is a mysterious element to this story, but I would not call this a mystery.

Jeremy works at the local Video Hut, and is content with his life right now. He has no major responsibilities and a comfortable job that he knows well. One day a customer returns a video, stating that there is something else on the tape. He plans to watch the video soon, but after a second customer brings another video in with the same complaint he decides he better check them out right away. The scenes, spliced into the regular movie, are poorly filmed in black and white and look like something created by a film student. Jeremy shows these videos to Sarah, the store’s owner, and she recognizes the farmhouse where the scenes were filmed.

Sarah heads out to confirm that she has the right location, and quickly becomes infatuated with Lisa, the woman who lives there now. Before long, Sarah has moved in with Lisa, leaving Jeremy to wonder what’s going on.

This book is narrated from multiple perspectives: Jeremy and his father, Lisa’s childhood family, and a family who also discovers the videos towards the end of the book. The atmosphere is unsettling – something strange is going on, and I kept waiting for the pieces to fall into place. The pieces, rather, slowly roll towards the general direction of a resolution. I don’t need a story to be perfectly wrapped up, or to have a cut and dry arch, but I do need to feel satisfied with the journey. Darnielle’s writing is great and I felt compelled to finish the book, but I was left with a dissatisfaction that could have been easily fulfilled.

 

BOOK REVIEW | Zero K by Don DeLillo

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4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Jeffrey Lockhart’s father, Ross, is a billionaire in his sixties, with a younger wife, Artis Martineau, whose health is failing. Ross is the primary investor in a remote and secret compound where death is exquisitely controlled and bodies are preserved until a future time when biomedical advances and new technologies can return them to a life of transcendent promise. Jeff joins Ross and Artis at the compound to say “an uncertain farewell” to her as she surrenders her body.

“We are born without choosing to be. Should we have to die in the same manner? Isn’t it a human glory to refuse to accept a certain fate?”

These are the questions that haunt the novel and its memorable characters, and it is Ross Lockhart, most particularly, who feels a deep need to enter another dimension and awake to a new world. For his son, this is indefensible. Jeff, the book’s narrator, is committed to living, to experiencing “the mingled astonishments of our time, here, on earth.”

Don DeLillo’s seductive, spectacularly observed and brilliant new novel weighs the darkness of the world—terrorism, floods, fires, famine, plague—against the beauty and humanity of everyday life; love, awe, “the intimate touch of earth and sun.”

My thoughts:
After reading White Noise I knew I had to read more DeLillo as soon as possible. Zero K delivered with its profound philosophy on our inevitable mortality.

Isn’t death a blessing? Doesn’t it define the value of our lives, minute to minute, year to year?

In Zero K, death is avoidable. Through technological advances, human bodies can be cryogenically preserved post-mortem for an infinite amount of time, to one day be reborn into a new and better life. Jeffrey Lockhart is upset when he learns that his father, Ross, is looking to undergo the process voluntarily, rather than after his natural death. Ross, however, would like to go with Artis, his younger second wife who is terminally ill and beginning the preservation process. This inevitably brings heavy questions to the table, which DeLillo works through assertively.

DeLillo returns to a theme that resonated with me from White Noise: the significance that death has on living life purposefully. I’ve heard criticism that DeLillo brings nothing new to the table with this book, that he is re-hashing old ideas. For me, death is a constant that all living beings must face, so it makes sense to continue to explore what gives value to life.

We are born without choosing to be. Should we die in the same manner?

 

BOOK PREVIEW | February 2017 Anticipated Reads

Here are the books I’m excited about this February! What will you be reading this month? Let me know if you plan to read any of these!

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A Separation by Katie Kitamura
Releases: February 7th, 2017

A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go and search for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. Adrift in the wild landscape, she traces the disintegration of their relationship, and discovers she understands less than she thought about the man she used to love.

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All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Releases: February 7, 2017
Read my full review here!

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed . . . because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be.

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Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard
Releases: February 2, 2017
Read my full review here!

The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads “I’m sorry–S” sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.

Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate–and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before.

To get answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground …

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The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn
Releases: February 7, 2017
Read my full review here!

Young Jude Brighton has been missing for three days, and while the search for him is in full swing in the small town of Deer Valley, Oregon, the locals are starting to lose hope. They’re well aware that the first forty-eight hours are critical and after that, the odds usually point to a worst-case scenario. And despite Stevie Clark’s youth, he knows that, too; he’s seen the cop shows. He knows what each ticking moment may mean for Jude, his cousin and best friend.

That, and there was that boy, Max Larsen…the one from years ago, found dead after also disappearing under mysterious circumstances. And then there were the animals: pets gone missing out of yards. For years, the residents of Deer Valley have murmured about these unsolved crimes…and that a killer may still be lurking around their quiet town. Now, fear is reborn—and for Stevie, who is determined to find out what really happened to Jude, the awful truth may be too horrifying to imagine.

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Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
Releases: February 7, 2017
Read my full review here!

Jeremy works at the counter of Video Hut in Nevada, Iowa. It’s a small town—the first “a” in the name is pronounced ay—smack in the center of the state. This is the late 1990s, pre-DVD, and the Hollywood Video in Ames poses an existential threat to Video Hut. But there are regular customers, a predictable rush in the late afternoon. It’s good enough for Jeremy: It’s a job; it’s quiet and regular; he gets to watch movies; he likes the owner, Sarah Jane; it gets him out of the house, where he and his dad try to avoid missing Mom, who died six years ago in a car wreck.

But when Stephanie Parsons, a local schoolteacher, comes in to return her copy of Targets, starring Boris Karloff—an old movie, one Jeremy himself had ordered for the store—she has an odd complaint: “There’s something on it,” she says, but doesn’t elaborate. Two days later, Lindsey Redinius brings back She’s All That, a new release, and complains that there’s something wrong with it: “There’s another movie on this tape.”

So Jeremy takes a look. And indeed, in the middle of the movie the screen blink dark for a moment and She’s All That is replaced by a black-and-white scene, shot in a barn, with only the faint sounds of someone breathing. Four minutes later, She’s All That is back. But there is something profoundly disturbing about that scene; Jeremy’s compelled to watch it three or four times. The scenes recorded onto Targets are similar, undoubtedly created by the same hand. Creepy. And the barn looks a lot like a barn just outside of town.

Jeremy doesn’t want to be curious. In truth, it freaks him out, deeply. This has gone far enough, maybe too far already. But Stephanie is pushing, and once Sarah Jane takes a look and becomes obsessed, there’s no more ignoring the disturbing scenes on the videos. And all of a sudden, what had once been the placid, regular old Iowa fields and farmhouses now feels haunted and threatening, imbued with loss and instability and profound foreboding. For Jeremy, and all those around him, life will never be the same . . .