After She Left by Claire Amarti
I read Amarti’s Silent Daughter. It was another kindle freebie some time ago. It was decent enough, a perfectly decent midrange thriller of the sort of thrillers that are so popular these days. Then I found this book as a freebie and figured it would be more of the same. But no…should have read the small print.
Granted, it is designed to seem the same, from cover to title to even the book’s structure. It’s one of those…your sister is gone thrillers. Only after she left…there’s not much. Because, dear readers, this isn’t a thriller.
Aha, Amarti fooled us. Or at least, didn’t warn us adequately.
What this book is, really, is a Lifetime movie rendered as women’s fiction. Not literature, mind you – women’s fiction at its estrogen-soaked lachrymose ubersincerity is seldom if ever that. Ok, well, let the emotional manipulation proceed.
And to think, I was pissed off just to find out it was one of those mommy thrillers. And it isn’t even a freaking thriller. Although, very mommy-heavy.
The protagonist has a nice life but can’t get pregnant and despite not having tried for all that long and despite not being that old she is FREAKING out about it.
Meaning her entire life is about having or not having a baby.
Meaning her sister’s disappearance is hugely inconvenient.
Now she’s stuck babysitting her precocious ten-year-old nephew who talks like an adult and has a very obvious OCD. She doesn’t notice it, of course, because her mind is so far up her uterus.
Instead, she thinks about babies, babies, babies. And occasionally about where her sister gone off to.
And the entire plot hinges on taking DNA tests – one of the dumbest latest trends of the discretion-free era. And some family secrets. And, to no one’s surprise, it’s ALL about kids.
So yeah, it’s kind of tedious. Even though Amarti is actually a pretty decent writer and knows a thing or two about drawing the readers in.
The only likeable character is the ten-year-old. The rest of the novel is just flopping emotions emoting all over the place driven by the potent desire to breed at all costs.
So yeah, now you know. Tricky mismarketing ploy to dress this weeper into a thriller. That's a pregnancy frock, people, not a trench coat. Pass.
Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter — Then, Now, and Forever by John McWhorter
I like linguistics. Maybe even love. I’m certainly fascinated by it all. Words, where they come from, how they go together. Venturing into the territory with an expert guide like McWhorter was an absolute pleasure.
The man knows what he’s talking about and knows how to talk about it. The book is a perfect example of pop science, entertaining, accessible, and informational.
As it should be, really, for a book about cussing. Everyone does it, some in whispers, some with gusto. It’s fun. It’s language as an emotional outburst. Or is it vice versa?
But why have we as a civilization deemed certain words some terrible unacceptable in polite society? Is it the words themselves or the baggage we have saddled them with over the years? Which words are worth reclaiming? Which are never ok to use?
Our language is evolving constantly. The current era of extra vigilant PC-policing has been making strides, leaps and bounds, occasionally disproportional to other sociopolitical factors. And yet, certain words remain a strict taboo for people across the board. McWhorter tours nine of them. It’s a tour well worth taking.
The author is clever, funny, erudite, engaging and so is his book. It zooms by as a font of information, knowledge, and ideas. If knowledge is power, this book is a powerblend extra protein smoothie. A tasty one. Recommended.
I’m the first to rate and review this book. Wish I liked it more. But let’s go with the best policy on this.
When the Dust Fell is one of those perfect examples of a book I should have by all right loved and didn’t. It checks so many boxes: dystopia, sci-fi, survivor story. The entire thing is essentially a heroic journey or quest or one of those. And yet, for some reason, much like dust, it fell completely flat for me.
This is quite likely one of those very personal, very subjective book/reader disconnects so please take it as such. Objectively, the book was competently done, solidly written and all that.
The story goes like that – a spaceship is found randomly beneath the sea. Lo and behold – ancient aliens. For real, people. An ancient alien race of perfectly humanoid beings that seeded the Earth. And they are from a very uninspiredly named planet Origen. Right in time to watch the earthlings destroy themselves through war and subsequent devastation.
The intrepid protagonist of the novel is navigating this world the best she can – by shacking up with a hunky alien dude. And then she gets the idea to go save her sister whom she hadn’t seen in years and so she sets off on this epic journey amid the devastated US.
Meanwhile, Manhattan has been taken over by one of those classic antagonist-type dudes, all charisma and evilness, who declared the place his Kingdom. Then man wants some alien technology to add to his arsenal and one of his minions offers to get it for him, through a woman he heard about once, a woman who cohabitates with the aliens.
Their trajectories very, very slowly and unevenly go from parallel lines to meeting ones. And then there’s a confrontation – inevitable because, among other things, the alien dude is quite a romantic.
So, that’s the book. Not especially original, in a way that most of the major plotlines are recognizable from other sources. Not especially dynamic, quite slow, in fact. Not especially engaging, either, but then again, that may be a personal thing.
Overall, didn’t really work for me and read long. User mileage may vary. Thanks Netgalley.
I requested this book from Netgalley solely based on the strength of Boyle’s novel Talk to Me. And sure enough, in short form the author doesn’t disappoint either. In fact, this collection is pretty terrific. Some writers just that that certain quality – the organic storytelling technique. They write as if they are speaking directly to you, the natural raconteurs. Boyle is that kind of author. An absolute pleasure to read.
Even though some of the stories weren’t as plot driven as I might have liked. Even though Boyle is prone to page-long paragraphs and paragraph-long sentences. No matter the destination, the journey there was a joy each and every time. Such a striking reminder of the power of words, the evocative potency of language and the beauty of unfolding narrative.
Great collection of short stories. Just what literary fiction ought to be. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Vicious Creatures by Ashton Noone
I’ve been trying to be very selective with these sorts of thrillers, trying to introduce (self-made) quality control into a genre that seems to have none, due to its ubiquitous popularity.
And guess what? it paid off. This one was a very good read, even though it featured all of the genre presets.
Past secret – check. Present drama -check. Split time narrative – check.
But so, what? The Vicious Creatures owns it anyway. In its on way. Primarily due to the solidly engaging writing. The book draws you in almost immediately and doesn’t let go. Its charms are atmospheric and dark, much like the woods which surround the small town the story takes place in and feature so heavily as the setting in the novel.
Th woods hold secrets. The woods bestow favors. Once upon a time, an entire population of early settlers has gone into the woods and vanished. But then again, gold was found. And that gold has shaped the town by the woods. A town where three families have the most money and hold the most power in a sort of almost medieval way.
Is there something supernatural lurking in those woods? Or have the locals simply created their own mythology to go with their narratives?
It is as claustrophobic as any small town, though. Fifteen years ago, when the main protagonist, Ava, and all her friends were high school kids they did…well, lots of things most high school kids do. One died. One left. Now, Ava is back following a dissolution of a terrible marriage, with a teenage daughter in tow.
And just like that all the drama from fifteen years ago resurfaces. The kids may have become adults, they may have gotten all they wanted, albeit in that be careful what you wish for sort of way, but beneath the initial wealth and comfort, there is a strong undercurrent of trauma, discontent, and conflict. It was stewing and simmering for a while until Ava’s arrival unlocked the gates, lit the fires, etc.
So, now Ava is both stuck and torn between the past and the present. Someone is desperate for her to leave. Someone is determined not to let her go.
There’s a past romance that never quite sizzled out. Past resentments too. And so many variations of the truth, it’s difficult to know what to believe.
Taut, engaging, and profoundly entertaining, this thriller is a most auspicious debut. Positively vicious at times, with very well-done supernatural undertones. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Afterword by Jeremy Bibaud
There are dead-end jobs in dead-end industries. And then there are jobs that merely become obsolete with times, fall by the wayside of the relentless march of progress. In fact, the very progress of civilization can be bookmarked by those vanished professions.
This is a collection of twelve stories about those jobs, from medieval times to relatively recent ones. And they are terrific. Not the jobs, mind you, some of the jobs are absolutely disgusting and some, like the flatulist, are disgustingly hilarious. But the stories about these jobs are terrific.
I always loved a themed anthology, and this is such a clever and original theme and each tale in this collection does its theme justice. Lovely, lovely stories in a variety of genres from historical fiction to comedy to magic realism and more.
This was a completely random Kindle freebie find that came up in a search for something more along the more horrific lines (something this collection merely grazes upon), and definitely one of the more auspicious ones I’ve come across in a long time. Clever, original, very well-written, professionally edited, and hugely entertaining.
At just 150 pages, it’s short and an absolute delight to read. Recommended.
The Lemon Man by Keith Bruton
Brash Books has just offered this up to their priority readers. Fresh off the digital presses of the future, so fresh, I had to create a listing for it. All to let you, dear readers, know about this fun new thriller.
The Lemon Man is a hired gun, a paid assassin, a professional killer who biked around Dublin in his slippers and takes people out. So long as they are over 18, that is, he does have his standards.
The Lemon Man has his life all worked out, from his low key living to his fancy apartment rental to his prostitute girlfriend.
And then, he gets a baby. Specifically, he kills the baby’s dad and then finds it that he can’t just leave an eleven-month-old baby behind in dirty nappies. And just like that, he’s well on the way to an instant family.
Suddenly, everyone’s his paternal instincts and his gf’s maternal instincts kick in and this proceeds to change all the preset and comfortable dynamics of his life. He’s screwing up at work and his life has never been busier or more complicated. Time to get a puppy…ok, he gets one of those two from another botched job.
Is this killer a lemon? Or can he make lemonade out of all that life’s handing him? Did I just mix and match metaphors? You bet your plump asscheeks I did.
Anyway, this book ended up being loads of fun. Very charming, and not just due to its Dublin location, though it undeniably helped. So much so that in an uncharacteristic display of generosity I'm rounding up my rating.
Brash tends to specialize in dusting off and reprinting gems of the past, but this book is pretty modern. All the technology is there, so if exactly now than at least fairly recent past.
At any rate, fun was had. The book’s plenty entertaining and might be gearing up to a sequel, too. For people who like their murders on a humorous side and their killers with a comedic bone. Recommended. Thanks Brash Books.
The Dark Rite by Anthony Izzo
I found this novella during a random Kindle freebie search. The author’s name sounded familiar; I looked him up in my GR records and, sure enough, I’ve read him. Ages ago. Apparently found him decent but thoroughly mediocre than and it seems that the quality of his writing hasn’t changed in the intervening years.
Which is to say this novella is a perfectly decent and readable take on the familiar genre presets with some nice frights along the way, but ultimately there just isn’t much to it. The writing is fine, short sentences that move the plot along. The setting is decent too…an old campsite across the way from something that looks dangerously like a cult.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep…and to no genre fan’s surprise, there’s a monster lurking in there. One that may only be appeased with a blood sacrifice. You know, the sort of thing that’s absolutely bound to ruin a family get-together weekend.
So yeah, not wheel reinventing here, just a decent spinning of the existing one. Nothing crazy. Nothing special either, but it read quickly, was properly edited and for a freebie, it was perfectly fine. Whether or not, it’ll finally warn people of an activity as stupid, reckless and tedious as camping remain to be seen.
Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes
Just how far can you stretch a ghosts-in-space scenario? Well, if you do it well enough, apparently right into the mid300 page range.
It’s ok if it doesn’t come across as very original, because the setting itself it eerie enough to do most of the heavy lifting. After all, hallucinating and isolated spaces go together like peanut butter and bananas.
And that’s Dead Silence in a nutshell. A sort of horrortinged science fiction novel that TOR tends to lose its sh*t over, even without the heavily-featured queerness and other woke signifiers. In fact, the protagonist is this novel is boldly straight as evidenced by a distractingly bland romantic subplot. She also has that tough as nails demeanor, forged by childhood trauma and an emotionally spartan adulthood.
And she is a team leader of a spaceship that comes across the wreckage of the most luxurious spacecruiser ever built, one that disappeared under mysterious circumstances two decades earlier. Surprise, surprise, it’s creepy inside.
Ghostships, you know, aren’t solely for the high seas.
And so, ghosts. Madness. She gets out, only to be dragged back by another crew of disbelievers into the very same nightmare. It might begin to feel repetitive. It sort of is.
But it’s also genuinely creepy at times, plenty atmospheric, decently written, and has that pop fiction sparkplug narrative and pacing that advanced the plot along at a nice clip.
Overall, it’s fun, maybe more of a popcorn fun, but still…fun. An entertaining genre mash-up that would lend itself well to a cinematic version.
What was the tagline here, one might wonder? In space…there’s dead silence? Ooohhhh. Aaaaahhh. Anyway, ghosts in space, there you go. Enjoy.
This novel is probably going to get a lot of comparison to The Terror and such books, but I’ve never read them. I am fascinated by polar explorations and have watched a bunch of documentaries about it, so that’s probably going to be my field of comparison.
Or maybe the decent thing to do would just be to discuss the novel on its own merit without any comparisons whatsoever. Although…although, Shackleton.
But ok, seriously, this is a tale of a disastrous Antarctic expedition. With supernatural undertones. Because being on your own at the very edge of the known world in the harshest of weather conditions isn’t terrifying enough.
There were plenty of historical polar expeditions that went horribly wrong. In fact, even the ones that went well, probably had some horrific elements to them. Exposure, privation, isolation, etc.
So the setting pretty much lands itself perfectly to the genre. It’s meant to disturb. It might be best to read it at night. Maybe on a winter night for added atmosphere, with the wind howling outside and snow obscuring your views, perhaps hiding something. Something scary.
For the young protagonist of this novel, the trip is almost a pilgrimage. The war to end all wars has just ended. His beloved older brothers are both dead. All they ever dreamed about was Antarctica, so he picks up their dreams. He’s got a secret to hide, but he passes for a boy well enough, and once he builds up some muscles from heavy labor and proves himself to his shipmates, he graduates from a stowaway to part of the team.
His joy is short-lived, though. Soon, their ship proves its name of Fortitude wrong and leaves everyone stranded. Can you be claustrophobic in a space the size of Antarctica? You bet your warmest pair of woolen socks you can.
The nightmare doesn’t seem to end…and then there’s something in the snow, hiding in all the white spaces. Something watching them. Something evil.
Will they make it against all odds? Read and find out. It’s a very competent debut, well written, hugely atmospheric and trendily queer to boot. It didn’t quite engage me emotionally as often or as much as I would have liked, but it may not be the book’s fault. Objectively, it was a good read. Thanks Netgalley.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.