Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell
Twins are supposed to share a special connection. In this book the author takes that premise to the next level, in fact, to the highest level of good and evil battle where Lucifer himself is participant. But if you don’t overthink the incongruously grandiose premise (and it’s easy to, because really? all Lucifer’s been waiting for is a twinsie power situation?), this is actually a pretty good book and a solid paranormal thriller.
Didn’t know what to expect, never read the author, but it reads like a professional job through and through, and, more importantly, it’s well-written, character driven and exciting.
The book starts off like so many books do – with a man returning to his middle of nowhere small town, specifically in Nebraska during a sweltering summer, to bury his brother. Twins or not, super-connected or not, ten years prior it all got too be too much, claustrophobically so. Thus, one of the twins took off while the other stayed behind. Neither have made much of themselves, but the gone twin at least is a semi-decent person while the stayed twin became a scum of the earth sort of person and a dealer.
The idea was that death would severe once and for all their potent connection, but alas that wasn’t to be. In fact, now that the dead twin went to his just rewards down below, the connection is stronger than ever and the grandest evil of all is desperately trying to board that train back to the surface.
Can this all be solved by finding out who killed his brother? Can this all be solved by obtaining forgiveness for his brother from all the people he has wronged? Or is this an unwinnable fight? Well, that’s what the protagonist of the book is going to find out. All while reevaluating his life choices and reclaiming his decade-long abandoned relationships.
So there you have it, a perfectly decent story elevated by above average writing. The author has done some screenwriting and it shows, there’s a certain vividness to his imagery, the way his narrative comes to live; the closet scene alone…excellent. Overall, this was a pretty good read, spooky and atmospheric without relying on guts and gore as so many scary stories tend to. Plus, there’s a bonus murder mystery to unravel with a nice plot twist. Fun was had. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Ok, I’ve really gotta quit reading these books. I was ever so mildly intrigued by the first one, categorically didn’t care for the second one and actively disliked the third one. The theme of these books just doesn’t work for me at all…it’s too young, too goth, too contrivedly hip. Plus, book three utilized a different narrative approach not only by hiring different artists, but also by making the story seem choppy and disjointed and quite as odds with its two predecessors. It’s still the same world and many of the same characters, it’s just kind of all over the place, messy. Might have worked if I loved that world and its characters, but definitely didn’t as is. I can admit when I’m the wrong audience for something. Pass.
Twenty Years Later by Charlie Donlea
This is my third read by Donlea and the first time I saw him mentioned in New York Times. NYT is notoriously (and quite tediously) highbrow so it was very odd to see his book there, because Donlea is very solidly a midlist author published by a very midlist publisher. It’s almost like NYT wanted to throw a bone to the great unwashed and plucked a random thriller out of the midst.
Is any of it relevant? No, not really, just peculiar. So now on to the book itself, which was very much in line with Donlea’s other books but longer. And much too long at 400 pages for the beach read which it is. It even takes place over July 4th’s time.
This unwieldy and unwarranted length, which Donlea produced by padding the book with numerous place descriptions (quite decently to be fair, making his locations to be additional characters) and numerous oversimplifications and overexplanations, which were not so decent. Being a midlist author, Donlea already peddles to the lower hanging fruit of an audience, but he obviously wants to make sure he covers everyone, everyfreakingone, but overexplaining every single plot aspect in repetitive pre-sliced fashion that might seem anywhere from annoying to insulting to many seasoned genre fans.
Length aside and some questionable oversimplifications aside, this was actually quite entertaining. Pure popcorn fiction, but fun enough, with some fun twists thrown in.
The basic plot involves a popular investigative journalist, Avery, with her own tv show and her own dark family secrets who sets off to investigate a twenty-year-old unsolved murder of a popular thriller writer who appears to have been modeled on Donlea himself, at least aspirationally (not the character’s sordid personal life, just him as an author of popular best-selling thrillers). In fact, Donlea appears so enamored by the concept of writing the writers of cheap commercial thrillers, he puts more of them in the book, where you’d think one would have been enough.
Anyway, Avery teams up with a retired special agent who once worked the case and has secret motives of his own for this pairing. Sparks do that thing sparks do in books like this and now the two of them have to contend with juggling their projects (secret and otherwise) and their passions. Ta-da. That’s about it.
Too long, but it reads quickly and entertains sufficiently, much like the author’s other books. This one appears to be slightly more sophisticated of a narrative, but it never rises above the comfortably average place that Donlea has proclaimed as his comfort zone for a while now. So fun enough, nothing special writing wise, but some nice twists. Thanks Netgalley.
Cult Classic by Sloane Crosley
I’m just really into cults. Theoretically, that is. The subject fascinates me. In fact, put a word cult in the title or a description of a novel and I’m there. So, that was the main attractor with this book. I’ve heard of the author before but haven’t read any of her work, she seems to oscillate between fiction and nonfiction and, going by the quality of the writing in this book, probably does so excellently.
This novel for me turned out to be one of those things where you can really appreciate something intellectually without engaging with it emotionally all the way. Which is somewhat ironic, because the book is all about emotions, specifically of the romantic persuasion.
Its protagonist, a 37-year-old woman named Lola (Lo lo lo lo lola) who after a lifetime of fairly aggressive dating and equally aggressive obsessing over her exes might finally be ready to settle down with a nice tall man named Boots who adores her. The question is does she return his affections or is it just, indeed, settling? Lola’s much too addled to decide, her cupidity for cupid’s arrows has rendered her an indecisive mess. She’s a fun (and glibly funny) mess, but a mess all the way. If only there was some way to help her…oh, wait…
There is, there absolutely is. A cult (which of course doesn’t want to be known as that) lead by her former boss (a once upon a time respectable publisher of Modern Psychology turned a once upon a time tv shrink personality turned into…no one of notice), a cult dedicated to assisting people in getting past their relationship trauma and PTSD by helping them confront their exes. There’s actually a complicatedly ludicrous new agey way in which they go about accomplishing that by concentrating their mental powers, etc. but we won’t go into that.
Instead, we can focus on Lola, much like the cultists do, since this is very much the Lola show. Lola starts coming across her exes, in a succession most would find alarming, and reevaluating her past relationships, obsessions and motivations. It’s all quirky and kinda sorta charming and oh so quintessentially New York and yet it is much too clever to be dismissed as a romcom or chicklit or some such crap.
For Croskey is such a clever writer. The way she turns out sentences sparkles. I read them and wish/dream of doing the same. Her characters are giving such terrific dialogue lines, they spar and joust with verve and panache and snappy pop (and otherwise) culture references that would make a Gilmore Girl swoon. And yet for all of that cleverness, they come across as superficial. Or maybe not superficial per se, but not entirely relatable or likeable, staunchly maintaining emotional distance. Maybe it’s because they are such stereotypical New Yorkers, the kind of people that overthink going to the same trendy restaurant two days in a row. Maybe it’s because they are so hopelessly self-involved. Maybe it’s because they are so thoroughly buttered in first world privilege.
At any rate, they read like slick glib clichés, albeit darkly humorous and clever. So, while intellectually I was so into this book, emotional engagement just wasn’t there. The only character I kinda sorta enjoyed was Boots, the guileless steadfast Boots, who as it turns out has a surprise of his own to reveal.
Is cleverness enough to win the day? Well, yes. It certainly beats the alternatives. I’ll take a smart emotionally distant book over a twee schmaltzy heartwarming tale any day, but it does leave something to be desired. Maybe it’s just the millennialism of it all (the characters are on the very end of that spectrum), maybe it was the tedium of their inherent NewYorkness.
Nevertheless, this was original, smart, very well written and a most auspicious introduction to the author. Plus, there was a cult. And a very good ending. Thanks Netgalley.
I’m not a foodie, so my knowledge of Bourdain was always limited to “that food guy” and later, tragically, “that food guy who killed himself”. But then man must have had a serious dark side to him, because this book…it’s a doozy. Granted, he didn’t write it, or drew it, but his passion for the scarier aspects of Japanese mythology had inspired it. Add a writer with a penchant for macabre and a collection of talented artists…et voila, a perfectly tasty collection of nightmares hailing from some strange intersection of scary, erotic and…culinary.
The basic structure of this book is a campfire set up, albeit Japanese flavored, meaning people gather around to tell the scariest stories they can think of, tempting the ghosts and ghouls lurking around, just waiting to pounce on their souls. They do so in front of the mirror amid lit candles. Samurai style.
And sure enough, these stories get progressive darker and scarier as the book progresses, visceral terrors that have a distinct Japanese otherness to them. The sort of thing one probably shouldn’t read before bed.
There’s also a nice collection of supplemental materials, featuring a look at the mythology that inspired the book (complete with stunning art) and five original Bourdain recipes that for a vegetarian or a vegan read very much like a continuation of the main nightmarish narrative.
All in all a fun read, oddly appropriate in my twisted mind for Thanksgiving, the day of determinedly defying the sheer concept of being hungry. Beware the ghosts. Recommended for readers with strong stomachs.
The Property by Rutu Modan
A feisty grandma takes her granddaughter to Poland, ostensibly to reclaim some property taken from her family during WWII. Once they get there, though, grandma starts acting suspicious enough to make her granddaughter question her real motivation for being there. The property is a strong motivator as financial gains are wont to be and so there’s a considerable amount of intrigue around it, but at the center of all of this is really a love story of long ago.
I’ve never heard of this author; our library randomly acquired three of Modan’s books and I decided to try one and I’m very glad I did. I really enjoyed both the story and the art. The latter was surprisingly expressive despite some cartoonish features and vividly colored. The former with a different author might have easily gone the way of a maudlin tearjerker, but here it maintained an excellent emotional authenticity and ably avoided sinking into convenient clichés.
All in all, a very enjoyable read. I’m very pleased to have discovered this author and I’m looking forward to reading more of her work. Recommended.
Deep Water by Emma Bamford
If your dream of a perfect life is a small tropical island in the middle of nowhere with no accoutrements of civilization, just perfect weather, ocean, sun, leisure time…well, prepare to have that dream be put through the visceral and vigorous paces of brutal reality. Because, of course, the no civilization thing sounds nice on paper…until you need something. And the characters of this book find themselves very much in need, indeed. And short on friends.
But wait, let’s rewind…in the middle of an Indian ocean a woman is found aboard a luxury yacht. A woman is covered in blood, but coherent enough to have correctly send out the signal flare. There’s an unconscious man on board too, her spouse. The woman is rambling, something about guilt, something about having killed…
Let’s rewind some more – books are great for that. Meet Virginie (Vee) and Jake. The happily married couple who decide to test the mettle of their new vows but setting off to live on a boat in an exotic locale – Jake’s dream realized. Vee is all too ready to leave her world behind anyway, a world all too busy with memories of a domineering father and domineering first marriage he orchestrated for her. Jake’s nothing like those men, Jake’s kind and considerate and much more of an equal. Right? Well, we shall see. After all, it’s easy to be nice in clement circumstances.
Vee and Jake hear about a distant island, Edenic uninhabited island, days away from civilization, a place where you can live on your own schedule and by your own rules, become enamored with the idea and go there. And sure enough, the island is lovely once they get there. There are a few other people, but friendly enough, easy to live with, so long as you follow some basic communal rules. Because apparently even in the middle of nowhere people need rules, despite the fact that the entire goal of going there was to get away from rules and judgements of others.
Anyway, whether friendly or vaguely sinister, they all manage to get along…until their boat craps out and then a tragedy strikes and then it’s every man/woman for themselves. Enter the real trial of Jake and Vee’s marriage. If they can survive this, they can survive it all.
There have been a number of thrillers set at high seas from Ruth (Christie wannabe) Ware’s Woman in Cabin 10 to Catherine Steadman’s Something in the Water, just to mention a recent couple. Understandably so – it’s a genuinely exciting setting for a genre that has thrill in its name. And this book is a near perfect rendition of a high sea thriller.
It helps that the author really, really knows what she’s talking about, having experience not only as a writer, but as a sailor. This isn’t a story just a story about boats and seas – it places you there as much as a book can. It teleports you to sun-beaten decks and wave-beaten shores. You can practically hear the whooshing of the ocean in your ears.
And then there’s the suspense element of it, the smartly and expertly crafted suspense that builds and builds toward the inevitable tragedy. You know this vacation doesn’t end well from the get-go, but it’s still a wild and crazy ride getting there.
So, great writing, dynamic pacing, engaging characters, twists, turns, surprises…it’s all you can ask for in a thriller. So much fun to read, I enjoyed this one tremendously. I read tons, and tons of it are thrillers, and this one stood out easily and assuredly. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
Slowly and sporadically, I’ve been dabbling with reading poetry. I’m not organically a modern poetry fan, I find it too freestyled and unrhymed for my liking, too abstract somehow. But this one worked surprisingly well. Surprisingly so. Such a pleasant surprise.
My selections tend to be quite random – here the main attractor was the story behind the collection, which goes something like this…a few years ago the author left his life (including an apartment, an acrimonious divorce and estranged children) behind and set off to housesit his way across the world. The housesitting gigs were unpaid, but they allowed for a free stay, which is an interesting and original way to travel. And thus, these poems of an unmoored and untethered soul hail from various (distant and otherwise) locales.
I kind of figured/hoped for more of a travelogue via poems but guess it’s true what they say – wherever you go, there you are. And so, these poems don’t actually have so much to do with physical geography mostly the mental one. The places of loneliness and anger and sudden beauty the author finds himself in. But each one has such a distinct rhythm (and yes, rhymes too), because each one has such a distinct message and mood, they were easy to connect with and enjoy. So there, the cover appeal totally paid off, though it features entirely too many suitcases, for the author said he had only made do with a couple. Very good. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
A Dead End Job by Justin Alcala
A man voted in high school as most likely to end up with a dead-end job, comes to satisfy that prophecy when he finds himself working for Death, while the boss is trying to take a much-needed vacation. Cue in all manner of paranormal and undead shenanigans.
This is a premise and genre that has been done before, many times, both aspects of it. The idea usually results in a sort of neo-noir with a loveable loser or loser-ish protagonist, fun side characters, paranormal politicking intrigue with different undead parties vying for control of the city, some slapstick comedy, oodles of action and a redemption-flavored carrot at the end of the stick for the main guy.
This novel works the formula to the tee. From the sort of glibly amusing tone to the wacky cast to the wham-bam-thank-you-m’am shoot’em’ups. It’s silly but you knew it would be, going in. Buck, a former military man turned assassin for pay, gets to redeem himself by choosing the right side and by unwittingly becoming a dad. Chicago does well as its own character, a city many greedy factions of various undead are just undying to take over.
Not all of the jokes land (some are too cheap, but some are pretty funny) and the plot at times gets much too convoluted, but overall, the novel maintains a lite mindless entertainment thing pretty decently. Buck warns you, more than one, that his life I a dime store novel, so you can adjust your expectations accordingly. Not sure I’d read more (and this one definitely reads like there will be more), it isn’t really my genre, but it was fun while it lasted, a perfectly serviceable supernatural diversion. Reads quickly too. Thanks Netgalley.
Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan
Look at the happy family on the cover. Remember the good times. Then prepare yourself for the devastation Vaughan has wrought with this volume upon them and their associates. Brutal, absolutely brutal. Would have been even more so, had I not been reading it years after publication. This originally came out in 2018 and then Saga went on pause. It is (whew, thank you) coming back in January 2022, which makes reading this in November 2021 considerably easier, but still…brutal.
Mind you, I’m a pretty stoic reader, reserved, outwardly emotionless, and yet this reading experience was a gasp out loud sort of thing. Though, in a way, the level of emotional engagement here speaks volumes for the quality of these books. Not sure why the author decided to make some of the choices he made, outside of mixing things up or some sort of tabula rasa strategy, but very interested in seeing where he takes Saga next. Can’t wait for volume 10.
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