BOOK REVIEW | Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver

3/5 stars

CW: Graphic depictions of suicide.

Ok. Wow. Where to start?

Part existential crisis, part completely disturbed. This is a crime novel about a cult and it’s victims, but unlike anything you’ve read before. 9 people stand atop the Chelsea bridge, wait for the passing train to stop within its view, and jump in unison…this is one of many similar events across the UK, with the numbers of casualties rising. Each victim is called to their end when they receive a letter in the mail containing 4 simple words: “nothing important happened today”.

Told in the 3rd person, we learn about the victims. They are referred to as nobodies, or “the People of Choice”. In reality, they are a doctor, teacher, poet, parents, an au pair, a young girl grieving the loss of her mother…not nobodies. Who is behind these tragic events? How does a group of strangers unite to perform this final act together? Detective Pace finds himself compelled to the case, even though it’s not his assignment – he’s off on leave and undergoing therapy.

This book is extremely, and I can’t stress this enough, violent and graphic. I was very uncomfortable during quite a few sections, and was close to putting it down many times. Will Carver is a fantastic writer and that’s what kept me reading. The final section of this book is excellent. Detective Pace starts to connect the dots, and as a reader you are compelled to see how it comes together. I wanted more of the book to be like this, but then I guess they would make it an average crime read. Average this is not.

This is a really tough book to review. Those who contemplate the meaning of life, society, and the point of anything – you may find some value here. Crime fiction readers looking for something completely different may enjoy this too. That said, I can’t say I’d recommend this to anyone else.

BOOK REVIEW | Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey

3/5 stars

*I received a digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Unspeakable Things is available now.

Unspeakable Things follows Cassie, coming of age in the 1980’s, and her older sister Sephie as they navigate both a troubled home life as well as rumors of children being taken in the town of Lilydale, a small community in Minnesota.

This is a slow burn mystery, with multiple red herrings at play – tension is building up to something sinister, and it seems that almost any of the adults in town could be implicated. Most of the action, and the best parts of the story, take place in the final chapters of the book. Unfortunately, the final reveal does not come as a surprise.

I really enjoyed parts of this book, and found others to be wholly unnecessary. Without giving too much away, there are elements at play which do nothing to move the story forward, but I suppose are rather to establish a dysfunctional home life for the sisters. But, we already know that some of the people closest to them are unreliable, so there are things I could do without.

Strangely, the incredibly important epilogue was left out of the book. To read this final section, readers must head to Jess Lourey’s website to see where the central characters end up. To me, the epilogue was critical to my full understanding and resolution of the story, so it seems an odd choice to leave it out.

Note that this book does have descriptions of abuse towards children, as well as implied assault by a parent. It’s not extensive, but this could certainly be a troubling read for some. Overall, it was ok. I liked Cassie and rooted for her, and found myself moving very quickly through the book at the end.

BOOK REVIEW | Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

3/5 stars

*I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from Simon and Schuster via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Release date: March 17, 2020.

If you know the horrifying true story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard and her mother Dee Dee, then you know the basic premise of Darling Rose Gold. This one swerves from the original story a little and gives us a twist towards the end, but it felt like Wrobel heard the Gypsy Rose story and just fictionalized it. She does give a nod to some of her sources in her Acknowledgements, but I think this book would be a better read for those who aren’t familiar with its origins.

Rose Gold suffered at the hands of her mother, Patty, for most of her childhood. Patty, who herself was physically abused as a child, made Rose Gold sick by poisoning her for years as a result of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSBP). She shaved Rose Gold’s head for sympathy, and spent countless hours at medical appointments under the guise of helping her ailing daughter. The community rallied around this sick child, showering Patty in sympathy. Years later, Patty has been released from prison and is reunited with Rose Gold.

This book was ok. It’s a page-turner, a quick and easy read, and yes, it’s entertaining. The writing is mediocre – I’m starting to find it hard to overlook similes that make no sense (can someone tell me what on earth a “pop tart bed” is???), and the use of overly colloquial language such as “f’ed up”. I didn’t expect this to be literary by any means, so maybe I’m just too pretentious a reader to enjoy a book simply for entertainment’s sake.

With all that said, this book is easy to read and hard to put down. I wish Wrobel went deeper into the psychology and trauma of MSBP. This is a fightingly disturbing cycle of abuse that leaves children severely traumatized. While I felt compelled to finish the book, I found it just ok. I’m in the minority here, as most reviews for this book are excellent. So, if you’re looking for a twisted, fast-paced thriller that isn’t a typical domestic drama, this could be worth picking up.

BOOK REVIEW | The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

4/5 stars

Colson Whitehead shines a light on the dark recesses of American history with The Nickel Boys. Inspired by the haunting true story of the Arthur G. Dozier reform school for boys, Whitehead’s fictional account is as important as it is disturbing. Operating out of Marianna, a small town in the panhandle, black boys were routinely beaten, raped, and killed by staff. As of 2011, at least 80 bodies were found in a mass gravesite on the school grounds.

The story revolves around Elwood, a young boy, coming of age and beginning to engage with the civil rights movement. He’s a good kid; works at a convenience store, idolizes Martin Luther King Jr., and is starting to find his way in the world. Elwood is planning to go to college when he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, and is ultimately sent to reform school, The Nickel Academy. Elwood quickly discovers the atrocities occurring behind the walls, himself falling victim to brutal beatings.

The story is told in a uniquely non-linear format, which works well with Whitehead’s story. It’s not until the epilogue that everything comes full circle, and the reality of what you’ve read sets in. So often the dark parts of the past are “razed, cleared and neatly erased from history”, and I’m grateful to Whitehead for taking this on and bringing attention to the boys lost and forever changed at Dozier school.

BOOK REVIEW | Pet Sematary by Stephen King

5/5 stars

This may be my favorite Stephen King book to date – a book that King himself describes as too much, the one time he feels he crossed a line. I have a lot of King left to read, but I can understand why this one stands out for many super fans.

Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and kids Ellie and Gage move to a quiet neighborhood in rural Maine. Louis immediately warms to the elderly couple that lives across the street, even describing Jud as the father he should have had. It’s an idyllic picture, but Jud warns the Creeds to be mindful of the commercial trucks that frequently speed through the area, suggesting they keep their pet cat close. Jud takes the family on a tour of the forested areas near the house, and they come upon a graveyard where kids burry their pets after they die – the pet sematary. The burial ground is believed to have some sort of power and when tragedy occurs, Louis will soon discover this to be true.

Reading this book as a mom to young boys was no easy task – I knew what was coming, yet dreaded it with every flip of the page. King takes every parent’s greatest fear, the loss of a child, and weaves it into a tale so dark and disturbing, yet utterly compelling. This is a great story, as well as a great scary story. Louis’ transformation into a father obsessed is a huge part of what drives the last third of the book – will he really go as far as the plot suggests? Jud had warned him, after all: sometimes dead is better. Horror readers won’t be disappointed either – there’s plenty of truly frightening moments within its pages. It takes a lot to scare me, but I had to take pause on more than one occasion.

This is a book that almost didn’t get published, but I’m certainly glad it did. It’s difficult to read, but horror that you can relate to is arguably the best kind. I finally get to watch the original movie, and look forward to the remake in 2019!

BOOK REVIEW | The Outsider by Stephen King

4/5 stars

The first half of this book was such a blast, and one of the best thriller / mystery / police procedurals I’ve read in a long time. I was powering through at a pretty quick pace, until about the half way mark when the story takes a severe left turn. I like to go into books pretty blind, so I wasn’t aware that there would be a connection to the Bill Hodges trilogy. King loves connecting his stories together, but unfortunately I found this took away from an otherwise stellar narrative.

The premise: a young boy is violently killed but the prime suspect, coach Terry Maitland, has an indisputable alibi. Multiple eye witnesses claim to have seen Terry near the scene of the crime and with the victim, but there is no way he can be responsible – a man can’t be in two places at once. Due to the horrific nature of the crime police are looking to make an arrest ASAP to ensure the public feels safe, and when the DNA comes back as a match they arrest Terry publicly, leaving tragedy behind for his family. As the story progressive it becomes more and more apparent that Terry can’t be responsible, but DNA doesn’t lie…

If you haven’t read the Bill Hodges trilogy and would like to, do not read The Outsider first. It’s a stand-alone book, but will spoil the series for those who haven’t read it. When the mystery seems impossible to solve, King brings back Holly Gibney from his trilogy (which I loved) – the anxious, quiet, yet shockingly astute partner who played a pivotal role in those books. This is also the point in the book that dives into the supernatural, which can go either way for me. I generally don’t like supernatural stories, but King often does it extremely well. It was good here, just not as good as the first half of the story.

I love Stephen King, and this was so close to being a home run! My review sounds a bit negative but I really enjoyed the book, even though it felt a bit disjointed. Fans of King will appreciate his dedication to continuing to surprise, even with so many stories under his belt.

BOOK REVIEW | You by Caroline Kepnes

3/5 stars

I had a lot of trouble deciding where to place this review. Part of me wanted to leave it at 2 stars, but there are good elements to this book that led me to 3.

Joe is a bookseller with demons. When Beck walks into his shop one day, he knows that she is the one. He stalks her, and eventually finds a ways to weasel himself into her life. The two bond and develop a relationship, but she is never fully committed. Joe disturbingly explains away the reasons for her indiscretions and behaviour, but decides there are people in Beck’s life that are taking her focus away from their relationship. With those people gone, she will only have him to turn to; so he sets out to remove those people.

I’m not sure if it’s the political climate we’re in, but I really wasn’t in the mood to read another book about a man inflicting violence (or worse) on a woman. Yes, Joe is equal opportunity in regards to gender, but something about this book just didn’t sit well with me.

Kepnes wants you to know what she likes, and the relentless name dropping in this book gets tired very quickly. Within a couple of chapters, I started to wonder how long it would keep up; the answer is for the entire book. Kepnes name drops books, authors, movies, music, music videos, bands, actors, and directors throughout the novel, and it quickly goes from being sort of fun to utterly gag-worthy. Sorry, but this sort of overtly pretentious vanity is hard to stomach.

I get it – Kepnes is going for a bit of satire with this – a serial killer who likes to keep up with the arts and the New York scene. That said, I have trouble believing that someone as twisted as Joe would be serving up Larabars to his victims. I will be starting on the follow up to this, Hidden Bodies, next, primarily because I’ve heard that she gets the satire right with that one. Kepnes wrote a compelling story with You, but it’s shortcomings were hard to ignore.