books you need to read
A monthly book review. Whether they're good or so bad that it makes them good, these are the books you need to read.
October 2018 Pick: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
You’ve probably seen the movie, but that’s no excuse to skip out on the book. This is one of the best psychological thrillers set in a mental hospital. Perhaps, one of the best psyc thrillers ever, but you be the judge.
In 1954, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck Aule are sent to Shutter Island to investigate the sudden disappearance of a murderess and patient at Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. A hurricane bares down as they dig deeper into the Island’s notorious hospital and those in charge. One turn leads to another, and soon Daniels is questioning his own sanity. No one leaves Shutter Island without some scars. Or perhaps, no one leaves at all.
Lehane crafts this disturbing look into humanity with exquisite care and detail. The characters haunt the pages, sure to stick in your mind long after you finish the last chapter. The movie rings close to the book, but there are differences, enough to keep you engaged from start to finish…and boy, what a finish.
If you’re looking for a Halloween scare, and you haven’t picked up this book, now is the time.
September 2018 Pick: Triple Axe by Scott Cole
Triple Axe rocked my fucking socks off! (Sorry. I usually don't curse, but this book is so amazing, it brings that side of me out.) This fast-paced horror novel thrilled from start to finish as it weaved together a gripping story filled with sex and murder.
I love a kick ass female protagonist. Jesse Jinx comes alive on the page with her sharp wit and ability to call out bullshit, characteristics that have gotten her far in the porn industry. She’s protective of her friends and eager to start her own production company, a safe place where porn stars are treated with more respect than her current situation. Her coworkers are onboard, until they start dying.
Setting a novel within the porn industry is risky, but not for Triple Axe. Despite the villain’s distain for adult film stars, this book never comes across as preachy. The villain’s weapon of choice disturbs yet delights with its absurdity. Gore and explicit sex splatter the pages, but Triple Axe keeps the mood light with a comedic undertone and sense of empowerment embraced by our female leads. It’s Kill Bill if The Bride were naked and being ravaged by …….
My only suggestion for improvement lies within the back-cover description. It’s just a tad misleading. The description suggests the inciting incident occurs when the women decide to fight back, giving the reader a story filled with hatchet wielding revenge. However, it takes a rather long time for the woman to make the decision to become porn vigilantes. I believe the presentation of the book would have worked better if more were left to the reader’s imagination. Perhaps if the description ended with this, rather than continuing to talk about the authorities and axes. “A deranged killer is on the loose, targeting adult entertainers, and choking them to death with a weapon that leaves no trace of itself. Can Jesse and her two closest friends stop the killer before it’s too late? Or will they be next to die?” As is, the back cover gives much of the plot away.
But that’s a small suggestion. As is, the book zips through the action, never lagging for tension or grit. Everything falls into place with a cataclysmic climax, leaving our heroines poised for a sequel, which I can only hope is in the works. This book is a cult classic without a cult. Join me as a founding member.
August 2018 Pick: The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
I've known Ruth Ware would get a spot on this list, but I wasn't sure which book to pick. Until I read The Death of Mrs. Westaway.
Our protagonist Hal is a strong dynamic character who is thrown in the middle of a family mystery decades old. When she is mistakenly identified as Mrs. Westaway's granddaughter, Hal must decide whether to go along with the charade for the much needed inheritance money, or tell the truth and risk repercussions. But as the family history begins to get uncovered, Hal becomes more tangled in her own lies and soon she finds herself in danger of uprooting a secret someone is very intent to keep buried.
Ruth Ware is a master of tension and intrigue. I've read several of her books including The Woman in Cabin 10, In a Dark, Dark, Wood, and The Lying Game. She's quickly become one of my favorite authors, not only due to her unique ability to weave believable mysteries, but to surprise readers with twists never seen coming. And this book has twists. I won't give anything away, but I doubt many will be disappointed with the outcome. I was guessing up until the very end, and to my delight, I guessed wrong!
The characters are organic and even though Mrs. Westaway died, her presence is felt within every plot turn. Hal wasn't over the top helpless nor was she arrogantly strong. She was created with the right amount of grit to handle the situation while also being reasonably terrified as danger unfolded. As a tarot card reader who doesn't actually believe in the craft, her character prides herself on being able to read people through intuition, a skill that comes in handy. Her mother died when Hal was a teenager, leaving Hal broke and fending for herself, which make her desperation believable when she decides to try and cash in on the inheritance. She has no other options. All the questions, except one thread that seemed to have been dropped, were answered by the end in such a mind bending finale that I had to read it twice. The dropped thread bothered me, but not enough to lower my regard for this book. The story world is beautiful yet dark. The house takes on a character of it's own as a drafty old structure, falling apart, in need of love and attention, with secrets built into the walls.
Overall, another success from Ruth Ware. Check it out!
July 2018 Pick: Manifest Recall by Alan Baxter
I reviewed this book for scifiandscary.com Here is that review:
Following a psychotic break, Eli Carver finds himself on the run, behind the wheel of a car that’s not his own, and in the company of a terrified woman he doesn’t know. As layers of ugly truth are peeled back and dark secrets are revealed, the duo find themselves in a struggle for survival when they unravel a mystery that pits them against the most dangerous forces in their lives.
Title: Manifest Recall| Author: Alan Baxter | Publisher: Grey Matter Press | Pub. Date: 6-26-2018| Pages: 354 | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Triggers: Reference to Rape| Rating: 5 out of 5 | Source: received a free eBook for review
Freaking. Amazing. This book hooked me immediately and never let go. This is a story of darkness and revenge broken into two parts. Part One felt like the movie Memento and Part Two felt like the movie Scarface. Incredible.
The first part is a fast paced and intriguing look into the life of our hero Eli, a man who experiences black outs but is now forced to remember the darkest moment of his past. Eli’s a complicated hero, certainly not your traditional good guy with a dark past archetype. Really, I shouldn’t have liked Eli. No one should like Eli, but the structure of the plot, the way material is presented to the reader and how he interacts with the other characters make it impossible to hate him. And I had to wonder what that said about myself. After all, he’s a hit man. Certainly not innocent in the tragic events that unfold. And yet, I want him to succeed, to carry out his mission of revenge despite the costs.
After the first part of this book, I needed a break. The intensity of the big dark moment from his past knocked me down and I had to let all the events soak into my frazzled mind before continuing. It's intense. Real intense. But not in a cliché or cheap shock value way. The characters act authentic to their persona, despite how I desperately wanted their actions to produce a different for Eli’s sake.
The second half was more action driven. A lot of blood, gun fights, gore. This part was all about revenge and carnage. There’s a lesson to be learned, although not the one you’d imagine, but overall an incredible tale of the human behavior.
Oh, and Eli is haunted by a couple of ghosts who simultaneously help him in his mission while also cheering for his demise. He did, after all, kill them so they want their revenge. Plus, they’re a constant reminder to Eli that no matter what he does in the future, he’ll always be a murdered, something that plagues him the entire story.
This book contains rape, not on the page but referred to several times, as well as tons of violence, some of it is very unsettling. It’s high action, quick paced, amazing character development and plot. Absolutely worth a read.
June 2018 Pick: Infestation by William Meikle
Raise your hand if you’re afraid of bugs? If you aren’t, you will be. Think along the lines of Arachnophobia, but on a boat, with Scottish soldiers and a Russian scientist.
This story starts right in the action. You've got a Russian drill team who unleashed terror and a group of Scottish soldiers sent to pick up the pieces. Except, everyone is in over their heads. Now the soldiers must come face-to-face with a horrifying reality as they try to save any Russian survivors as well as themselves. There’s blood, guts and gore, tons of intensity and characters that come alive off the pages. It’s not easy to make a creature story realistic, but I was onboard the entire time, right there with the soldiers, feeling their fear and gritty determination.
The pacing was great. I read the entire book in one quick sitting, completely enthralled and invested in each of the characters.
Even though I loved this book, I had two main issues that made it a four star, rather than a five star review. There was a lot of flirting between the soldiers and the female scientist survivor. I understand that the soldiers were blowing off steam and that flirting was used as a technique to release tension, but it felt overdone and a tad cliche. I wish it was toned down a little more. Also, the ending came a little too fast. I wanted more! I hope this has a sequel, or perhaps it'll be made into a movie. Either way, I'm now a fan of William Meikle.
May 2018 Pick: The Island by Peter Benchley
This is the reason I shop at thrift stores.
I never heard of this book. Never even knew that Peter Benchley wrote anything other than Jaws and The Deep. And then I go browsing through the book section and baam!
I mean, how could I resist? Just look at the cover art of this book.
Now, don't get me wrong. This is a fun book, but I had pretty high expectations going in, and they weren't completely met. But that's okay. It's a good beach read, a story that flies by with enough tension and mystery to keep moving the plot forward. Is it his best work? Eh. But will it keep you invested until the end? Yes. If for no other reason then you're screaming at the main character for being so incredibly stupid.
Here's the main players: New York journalist Blair Maynard and his son Justin. Oh, and pirates. Lots of pirates.
Plot: Maynard takes his twelve year old son Justin to the West Indies to investigate an unusually large amount of ship disappearances. Jump to them going places they shouldn't go despite ominous warnings, they ending up stuck on an island where a secret society of modern day pirates (who seem to think they're still in the 17th century) torments them. Now why he takes his son in the first place, I don't know. Seems pretty irresponsible to me. And the fact that his son acts like a six year old instead of a twelve year old made me roll my eyes a few times. But again, is all that enough for me to stop reading? Nope.
It's a entertaining look into this secret group of pirates who seemingly have been untouched by much of modern civilization. Was the ending as amazing as Jaws? Well, no. Am I asking too many questions out of dialogue? Yup. Still, I'd recommend this book for anyone looking to escape into a quick mystery. It was turned into a movie, which I never saw, but it might be a fun one to watch, I'm guessing probably more in the vein of a "How Did This Get Made" sort of vibe.
April's Pick: The Power by Naomi Alderman
Wow. So where should I start? *There will be no spoilers*
This book hits you hard. And then it hits you again. Harder.
It's filled with a variety of characters. An American politician and her awkward teenage daughter, a rich Nigerian boy, a London girl with ties to the mob, an abused foster kid with a secret...Life shocks them all when it's discovered teenage girls have the ability to conduct electricity from their fingertips. The power, generated from their "skein", suddenly gives women the confidence and physical ability to overtake the patriarchy. All over the world, women are rising and they can awaken the skein in older women. But sisterhoods begin to crumble. And while everyone struggles to find their place in the new normal, they must face their own personal demons and come to grips with an unsettling realization. Who really has the power?
This book has received great reviews and is the winner of the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction. It's hard to write about it without giving much away, but if you're interested in science based dystopia, I'd suggest giving this a read. It'll certainly make you think about the roles of men and women in society as well as how power corrupts and empowers.
Rated R: This book has graphic rape scenes, violence, language.
March's Pick: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Plot: Behind Closed Doors is a dark fiction novel detailing the secrets behind the perfect marriage. Jack and Grace look like they have it all - the fancy home, exotic vacations, a love story envied by friends - but looks are deceiving. Grace finds herself in a nightmare and must figure out a way out before time runs out.
Who is Jack? The loving husband and a monster.
Who is Grace? The dutiful wife and the enslaved victim.
Who is Millie? Grace's sister and the wildcard.
Why you need to read this book? This is dark fiction done right. Paris creates a story world so perfectly constructed of glass that you can't wait for someone to crash into it. Just when you think you've figured everything out, another twist keeps you turning the pages. And perhaps most importantly, the ending is satisfying and complete. No cliff hangers. No ambiguity. It's a "read in one session" dark dramatic disturbing thriller that will leave you wondering, what happens behind closed doors?
Rating: R for violence, disturbing themes
February's Pick: The Ghost Box
Ten short stories by some of the finest horror/dark fiction authors, compiled together in one box set compliments of Patton Oswalt. Each one contains it's own blend of mystery and suspense, perfect for readers who like the queasy unrest of a good weird fiction plot.
The authors: Dennis Etchison, Arthur Machen, Clark Ashton Smith, Michael Reaves, W.F. Harvey, H.F. Arnold, Richard Matheson, Adam Corbin Fusco, George R. R. Martin, Al Sarrantonio, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
My Favorite Short Story in the Box: Born of Man and Woman by Richard Matheson. One of the shorter stories in the box, this is a tale of a lonely outcast child who only wants the love and acceptance of family and what happens when it is denied. The black sheep of the family, locked away in the basement, the child grows with anger. But things aren't as they seem in this quick paced dark fiction story and the reader will be left with a sense of unease yet satisfaction.
Best Horror Story in the Box: The Pear-Shaped Man by George R.R. Martin. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and it came in a close second to my favorite. Eerie, unsettling and dark, this is a story about a young woman new to the big city and her neighbor, a pear-shaped man who develops an obsession with her. This may be classified as dark fiction rather than horror, but it leaves the reader with a stickiness that won't easily wash off.
Why you need to read it: Short stories don't always receive the reverence they deserve. But as a writer, I can attest that the smaller the word count, the more difficult the writing process. Each word in all these stories hold an importance, driving the stories forward into the dark and twisted world created by their authors. Some are disturbing (Pumpkin Head by Al Sarrantonio) and some are creepy (The Night Wire by H.F. Arnold), all are entertaining quick reads.
January's Pick: The Ultimate Rush by Joe Quirk
Plot : The Ultimate Rush is a 1998 fast paced, adrenaline-fueled novel featuring Chet Griffin, a rollar-blading messenger / bad ass hacker. After learning that his deliveries include illegal material, Chet ends up at the center of a criminal scheme that has him and his girlfriend, Ho, running for their lives as Chinese mobsters and dirty cops hunt for them through the streets of San Francisco. Will he survive to expose the truth?
Why I love this book : High intensity chase scenes that make the Fast and the Furious look like bumper cars, nineties cliches that are so bad that they're good, and a raw tone that hooks a reader by the end of the first page make this book fantastic. It's a blast from beginning to end, a constant thriller with just enough moments to catch your breath before being thrown back into Quirk's R-rated world of killers and conspiracies. Chet, a tattooed lovable loser who barely earns enough money to pay rent, makes for an unlikely hero. His girlfriend Ho (yes, that's her name) smooths his rough edges, and while there's enough action to keep the book propelling forward, the love story subplot added an extra layer to the novel which helped humanize Chet into more than just a guy a hacker with a sugar addiction.
How I discovered this book : I like to think The Ultimate Rush arrived in my hands by divine intervention. My mother-in-law packed up a box of my husband's old stuff and passed it to us. Tucked at the bottom was the book, which I read in one sitting that night. My husband has no recollection of buying the book, nor do any of his family members.
Rating : R for Violence, Sex, Language.