Posts Tagged 'thriller'

Book Review: Incubus, by Ann Arensberg

It’s not often that an American Book Award winner decides to write a supernatural thriller centered around the haunting of a small town in Maine, but that’s exactly what Ann Arensberg has done with Incubus. While the premise may not seem original (and indeed, seems like something Stephen King has pretty well covered!) Arensberg’s take is unique, owing to her choice of narrator.

We follow the increasingly frightening events through the eyes of Cora, wife of the town rector, Henry. The novel starts with a letter from Cora, stating that – due to the nearly unexplainable events that afflicted their town – she and Henry have established a center that studies supernatural phenomenon, and helps those who are currently suffering the way they suffered. It’s a nice touch, and made the novel seem as though it were actually a tale of true accounts.

Throughout the novel, Cora is preoccupied by the day-to-day, the mundane: caring for her garden, running the church’s bake sale, cooking three square meals a day for her husband. (Warning: Do not read while hungry. The descriptions of her food will set your stomach to rumbling!) Cora notes potentially-supernatural events – unseasonable heat, lack of rain, the paralytic nightmares suffered by her friends and family – dryly, straight-forwardly. Everything has a logical explanation for Cora, leaving the reader to doubt both her interpretations and our own…until there simply are not more logical explanations, and even Cora needs to recognize that something otherworldly has been influencing these events.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: Incubus, by Ann Arensberg’

Review: The Watchers, by Jon Steele

These are the hardest reviews for me to write (other than the reviews where I absolutely loved a book and just want to gush about it without any critical thoughts): when a book’s ideas were interesting, but the execution left something to be desired. This is the situation I find myself in with The Watchers, by Jon Steele. The idea of fallen angels roaming the Earth (who were the watchers the title alludes to) is a cool one, and a lot could have been done with the biblical Nephilim. However, The Watchers fell flat for me for several big reasons: the pacing, the characters, and the story-telling.

I’ll start with the good. Many of the twists were unexpected, and there were several mysteries whose resolutions I wasn’t able to guess. Once the plot kicks in, you will probably want to finish the story, even if just to figure out who Harper is, who the “bad shadows” are and what they’re after, etc. Also, the scenes with Katherine after she is kidnapped are genuinely scary. The novel was unafraid of getting dark, that’s for sure, which I appreciated. And like I said, the biblical lore is interesting enough to stand on its own.

“The angel has come to Lausanne Cathedreal, Rochat, just like Maman said.”

Now for the bad and the ugly:

The first 200 to 300 pages are excruciatingly slow, as we are introduced to our main characters of Harper, Katherine, and Marc through largely-unconnected vignettes. As the plot finally begins to unfold, the pace then switches back and forth between “frenetic” and “glacial.” It was…disconcerting. Each time I began a new chapter, I would wonder if I could skim it or if this would suddenly be the paragraph where a twist or plot point was unveiled. I think if those first few hundred pages had been pared down, the actual plot would have been given some more urgency, as well as space to expand. As it stands, the pacing is just too disjointed to allow the thriller this book wants to be take hold.

As for the characters: Katherine was completely useless, there to be a pawn/damsel-in-distress/excuse to write in sex scenes/allegory for Mary Magdelene. She is meant to undergo a sort of transformation as the book proceeds, from a selfish, silly young woman to someone more thoughtful and mature. The problem was, I didn’t really believe it, or her as a character. Whatever characterization she is given is about as deep as a puddle. Harper was…eh. Technically our hero, but surprisingly low on the heroics and instead more consistent on a) getting beaten within an inch of his life, b) lagging a step behind the major good/evil forces, and c) cursing at people who can help him/have more knowledge than he does. Amnesiac detectives can be written well, but I felt as little connection with him as I did with Katherine.

Continue reading ‘Review: The Watchers, by Jon Steele’

For all of the Steven King fans out there

Pop-culture site Vulture has posted great ranking of all of Steven King’s works.

I haven’t read very much of King’s oeuvre so far–just Carrie and On Writing. (I enjoyed the latter especially, and am thankful to my undergrad creative nonfiction professor for assigning it, so long ago!)

After reading their list, I think I’d like to check out Needful Things, The Long Walk, The Dead Zone, Misery and Full Dark, No Stars. I go through phases were all I want to read are psychological horror, and one may be coming up soon!

What are your favorite books by King?

Review: The Devotion of Suspect X

I have very much enjoyed what I’ve read of contemporary Japanese literature. Banana Yoshimoto was what got me into it originally, but since then I’ve explored a bit more and liked what I found. The Devotion of Suspect X is no exception.

In this thriller by Keigo Higashino, a hard-working single mother ends up murdering her ex-huband, an embezzler and a drunk. (This isn’t a spoiler; the book has the murder on its dust jacket!) Her neighbor, the quiet but brilliant mathematics teacher Ishigami, who has been in love with her for years, offers to help. What results is a cat-and-mouse game between Ishigami, the detectives assigned to the case, and Ishigami’s old friend, Yukawa, an equally-brilliant physics professor.

Though it’s slim, this book packs in tons of twists and turns. The reader is privy to some–by far not all–of Ishigami’s plans, so it unfolds for us as it unfolds for the detectives. I enjoyed watching Ishigami’s plot come to life, and seeing the way studying mathematics had given him an edge in figuring out how to get away with murder. (If nothing else, the book will prove to you that advanced mathematics are very relevant to multiple scenarios in life!) The interplay between Ishigami and Yukawa were some of the book’s strongest scenes, with shades of Sherlock and Moriarty never far from my  mind.

It also provides a fascinating look at Japanese culture,without being overwritten. Details were worked naturally and easily into the text; for example, though they never explicitly explain what a kotatsu is, I was able to figure it out from the context. I also like when an author trusts his audience enough to figure things out, without overexplaining things! It seemed to be a faithful portrait of modern-day Japan, with small details like that dotting the story and helping it feel very real.

I didn’t see the big, final twist coming, either–which is probably as strong as a recommendation as a mystery/thriller can get. It actually took me a while to understand it, too, so I think it could surprise even the veteran thriller readers out there.

Overall, the book actually reminded me very much, in terms of pacing, tone, and choice of slightly-sociopathic hero, of The Millennium Trilogy. If you enjoyed that series, I imagine you would also like The Devotion of Suspect X!

I received this book through GoodReads’ First Reads program.

Bookwanderer Rating: Four out of five stars

Review: The Millennium Trilogy

So this is a TRIPLE REVIEW OF POWER because I own and have read all three books in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. HOW, you say? Welp, I took a trip to Ireland with two of my besties last year and was able to pick up a UK copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, since it was already out at the time! My friends can tell you that I literally spazzed out with excitement in the middle of the bookstore at being able to get the final book in the Millennium Trilogy SEVEN MONTHS before it came out in the States! (In light of that, I’ll be keeping my reviews on the first two books brief and will also try to be spoiler-free.)

The central mystery in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the disappearance of a girl from an island 40 years prior, the journalist investigating it, and the computer hacker who gets tangled up with both. I don’t know about anyone else, but the answers to ALL of the mysteries were total surprises for me. Just when I thought I knew who was hiding what, turns out I was TOTALLY WRONG. The resolution, though, is very satisfying. And the side plots, about the financial shenanigans that Mikael investigates and Lisbeth’s past, are interesting in their own right. I actually think this book could stand alone, but of course you’ll want to know what happens to Mikael and Lisbeth (especially Lisbeth!) next. Though they may not be the deepest, most well-drawn characters out there, you do become emotionally invested in them and their fight of justice (Mikael) and their straight-up badassery (Lisbeth).

The Girl Who Played With Fire: The awesome continues. The authors of a groundbreaking book on the sex trafficking trade in Sweden are murdered, and Mikael is on the case. There is some more fairly graphic sexual abuse in this one, and while the perpetrators get what they deserve, it still turned my stomach. My main complaint here is that Lisbeth spends most of her time on the run, and so isn’t participating in as much awesomeness as she usually does—at least until the end. Finding out the truth about Zalachenko is a great moment in books. I actually put the book down and just…stared. And again, the ending just whets your appetite for more time with these characters.

Drumroll, please…The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest!

First off, I’m not too fond of the cover—the girl doesn’t look anything like I pictured Lisbeth (and isn’t the tattoo placement just incorrect?). Don’t worry, though: what’s between the covers is just more of the same great, nail-baiting suspense as before. It reads like the second part of The Girl Who Played With Fire, honestly, picking up right where the former left off. There was an early death that surprised me, and some hospital convalescing that is actually not boring due to DANGER. There’s a ton of courtroom drama and back deals conducted in shadowy government rooms. And there’s resolution to the painful and mysterious past of Lisbeth, which, for me, is probably the most compelling thread throughout all three books. Hornets’ Nest also continues the theme of strong female characters: Lisbeth herself, Erika Berger, Annika, Monica, and Mimi. And again, just when you think everything’s hunky-dory and maybe Lisbeth will get a happy ending, BAM! There’s another twist and another heart-pounding situation. In, like, the last 10 pages! I could NOT put this one down. It’s a fitting end to the series that ties up all the questions from the first and second books. (My favorite of the three is probably still Dragon Tattoo, but they are all up there.)

So yeah, maybe it’s a little silly that Blomkvist is an obvious proxy for the author, and that every woman thinks Blomkvist is a MEGA STUD, and that literally everyone fears the wrath of Millennium, but these books are worth putting up with an eye roll or two. They are addictive, and it’s a damn shame that Larsson didn’t live to see the success of his novels.

This trilogy is everything thrillers should be: tons of red herrings, interesting, passionate characters, suspense, and the good guys winning against all odds.

I also really appreciated the attention and care with which Larsson weaves plot and information about crimes against women in Sweden. It elevates this series to the next level. You’re not just getting three fantastic thrillers, you’re getting an education on Swedish gender relations.

Bookwanderer Rating: Four and a half stars each!

Bookwanderer Tagline: Want to challenge nationwide corruption, cover-ups, and a sex trafficking ring? Just find yourself a sexy journalist and a computer hacker!

p.s. Is it just me, or is Swedish lit doing super-well for itself right now? With the success of Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and The Millennium Trilogy by Larsson, the Swedes are kicking ass and taking names (and then settling down by the fire to enjoy a nice hot chocolate and universal healthcare).

p.p.s If you have a review of any Millennium Trilogy book, drop a line in the comments!


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