Book Review: The Deep by Alma Katsu

The Deep by Alma Katsu

Rating:  ★★★

The Deep is a dark fantasy that explores the sinking of both the Titanic, and it’s sister ship the Brittanic.  We follow several characters but primarily we follow the story of one of the ship’s maids, Annie Hebley.

The story is told in two timelines, following the past of events on the Titanic prior to its sinking, and the current events leading up to the sinking of the Britannic.  The transition between the two timelines felt very natural with flashbacks seeming to come to Annie and leading us on to another piece of the Titanic’s history.

Technically speaking, I think Katsu writes very well.  Things never felt awkward or overly descriptive.  All the scenes were clear with no confusion about the action taking place in the scene.  However I often felt like there was a lot of unnecessary filler content when it came to the Titanic’s timeline.

There were many characters that held view points that didn’t seem so out of place while reading, but in retrospect, knowing where the story was going and seeing the whole picture, felt a little wasted.  I feel bad saying that because a couple of the unnecessary POVs were some of my favorite characters.  I just think ultimately the novel would have benefited from having a narrower focus on Catherine, Mark, and Annie’s story.

There is a mystery at the core of The Deep: who is Annie?  What happened in her past that led her to leave home and board the ship in the first place?  Who is Mark and what is he hiding?  How are all of these things connected?

It’s a mystery that doesn’t disappoint and I genuinely think that if I hadn’t had to trudge through some of those other POVs to get at the heart of it, I would have given this book a higher rating.

In the end, it’s not a bad book, worth checking out if the topic is of interest to you.  The Deep can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss for supplying an electronic copy of this book for review.

Book Review: The Chill by Scott Carson

The Chill by Scott Carson

Rating:  ★★★

The Chill is about a small town, Galesburg, that was once drowned underwater to make a new dam. We follow the ancestors of the people from that small town, now living in the “new” town of Torrance.

When I first started reading, there were a lot of jumps in the POV. So much that I wondered who the main characters even were, and if I’d ever get to spend enough time with any of them to care. The answer is yes and no. Focus does slow down to a handful of main characters, but I still think there were too many, and while I cared about a couple of them, I didn’t care about all of them.

In addition to the POV jumps, the book is weighed down by the description about dams and dam construction. It wasn’t as much as say, the church construction in The Pillars of the Earth, and some of it was interesting, but a lot of it went over my head.  Towards the end, I was confused by a lot of the description about where the characters were and what they were doing.  For example, at one point I swear Aaron swims into a tunnel, and a chapter later I swear Gillian is climbing into the same tunnel.  I think maps of the tunnels might have helped.  (I read an ARC, so it’s possible one is included in final copies.)

It was hard to feel excited about the plot when I was never entirely sure what the stakes were. The characters keep mentioning how they are going to get back at New York City, but I was never really clear on precisely how that was going to happen (flood? tainted water supply?). The Chilewaukee reservoir (The Chill) the story centers on, is a reserve basin and not connected to anything else. Specifics are mentioned towards the end, but by then I was mostly over it.

I feel like the true climax, and the story that felt suspenseful, came much earlier than the end.  I was enjoying the book for the most part until then, and after that point everything came to a full stop for me.  Ultimately, pacing and structure were an issue for me.

That being said- I did like the supernatural part of the story and unraveling the mystery. There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief needed for it to work but those were my favorite parts. I just wished they’d been a little more frequent? It was like the author wasn’t sure if he was writing a thriller or a horror or a science fiction story. It wasn’t quite enough of any one of those things to be effective, and the result was muddied.

All in all- not a bad book, I just wished it had been a little more exciting.  The Chill can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who provided an ARC for review.

Can’t Wait Wednesday: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Title: The Only Good Indians The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

Author:  Stephen Graham Jones

Publisher: Gallery / Saga Press

Genre: Horror

Length: 320 Pages

Release Date: May 19, 2020

Blurb: Peter Straub’s Ghost Story meets Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies in this American Indian horror story of revenge on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

Four American Indian men from the Blackfeet Nation, who were childhood friends, find themselves in a desperate struggle for their lives, against an entity that wants to exact revenge upon them for what they did during an elk hunt ten years earlier by killing them, their families, and friends.

Why I’m Excited for It: I think I included Jones in a couple posts recently, and he’ll be featured in an upcoming review, but I recently read Mapping the Interior and I absolutely cannot get that book out of my head.  I liked his prose from the moment I picked it up, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call the plot fast paced, the pacing was appropriate to the length.

Then I got to the ending, and I was just so disturbed by it, my initial reaction was: “I don’t know if I like this.”  But since I’ve put it down, I keep turning it over and over, trying to suss out the meaning and what happened.  Now I feel a need to go binge everything he’s ever written, and this story is no different.

My excitement at finding a possible new favorite author aside, this blurb sounds perfect for a horror story.  Vengeful entities and old secrets between friends?  Yes please.

Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Waters

Rating:  ★★★★

The Dead Girls Club is a supernatural thriller full of nostalgia. It flashes back and forth between the present moment with Heather, as her past catches up with her, and flashbacks to moments shared with her best friends when she was 12. It brings back memories of sleep overs and sneaking out after dark, telling ghost stories in the dark, and playing games like Bloody Mary or Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.

The author nailed the character of 12 year old girls, the fights, the love between them, the back and forth chatter. She had me remembering things I hadn’t thought of in ages. Overall I liked most of the characters and felt they were pretty fleshed out. I did grow frustrated at times with Heather’s inability to communicate with her husband and friends, as well as her increasingly erratic behavior, but it makes sense in the context.

The writing style felt very heavily stream of consciousness, which isn’t always my thing and grew a little tiresome here from time to time. Otherwise the writing and dialogue were fine.

The pacing never feels slow, (I’d actually describe it as quick) but the actual action doesn’t really ramp up until the very end. It’s more of a slow burn, strange things happening throughout, each becoming more brazen and mysterious. I often found it hard to put it down, no matter which storyline I was following. The spooky parts are sufficiently creepy, but it doesn’t veer too far into horror territory.

The ending is not predictable (I sure didn’t guess it, I don’t think anyone else will either) but it also isn’t surprising, I don’t want to say it’s been done before, but I feel like things like it have been done before. There was no definitive OMG I can’t believe it! Moment.

Overall a solid entry into the thriller genre with mass appeal. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an electronic copy for review.

The Dead Girls Club releases on December 10, 2019 and can be found GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

Top Ten Tuesday: Spooks, Psychics and other Supernatural books on my TBR

TTT-NEW

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week’s topic is books I’d give new titles too, but honestly, I’m not that creative.  So in honor of Halloween I’m doing a follow up to my post: Monster Books on my TBR, with a post dedicated to ghosts and the supernatural!

Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill – Rock star buys ghost on eBay and chaos ensues written by Joe Hill?  Yes.  Please.

A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman

A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman – Malerman wrote Bird Box, in case you didn’t know, and while I want to read that someday, having seen the movie (which is fantastic by the way) I’m not in too much of a rush.  But seeing that had me adding this- two teenagers find a house at the bottom of a lake and go diving, only to discover they aren’t alone.

The Diviners by Libba Bray

The Diviners by Libba Bray – This is less of a horror novel than others on this list- but it still sounds like a fantastical ghost story.  (And the reviews are really good!)

Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay – I keep seeing Tremblay’s name come up in conjunction with horror.  I also recently read his short story: The Last Conversation, and while I wasn’t wowed, I was intrigued enough that I wanted to read more of the author.  I settled on this book, in which a boy disappears and then a ghost haunts the town.  *Shrugs*  What can I say?  It’s got ghosts.  Good enough for me.

The Deep by Alma Katsu

The Deep by Alma Katsu – A haunted Titanic and a phenomenal cover.

The Possession by Michael Rutger

The Possession by Michael Rutger – This book is a sequel to The Anomaly, which did make it to my Monster Books TBR.  But it’s been getting rave reviews left and right and sounds right up my alley!

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz – Short order cook sees ghosts.  I’m told it’s a classic and the series is relatively good to start with.  Also I need to read more Koontz.  Somehow missed him when he was more popular.

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire – Haunted highways are one of my favorite urban legends, so I knew when I heard about this book I had to read it.  The one book I’ve read of McGuire’s was good fun popcorn horror, and I have high hopes!

Slade House by David Mitchell

Slade House by David Mitchell – I guess you’re supposed to have read The Bone Clocks first, but I don’t really care.  Every nine years on Halloween- the residents of Slade House extend an invitation to an unsuspecting guest.  The problem is, once they enter, they can never leave…

The Shining by Stephen King

The Shining by Stephen King – I know I know okay?!?!  It’s impossible that I am a Stephen King fan and haven’t read this.  But I’ve started it like 10 times and the beginning is just boring alright?  I just need to read it before I see Doctor Sleep.

What about you?  Got any good ghost stories for me?

 

Book Review: People of the Lake by Nick Scorza

Rating:  ★★★

People of the Lake is about a girl who spends the summer with her dad in his hometown. It’s a quiet little town on Redmarch Lake, except the people there are weird. They don’t like outsiders. They don’t talk to outsiders. And they are definitely hiding something.

One night, after a party in the woods, a teenage boy washes up dead on the lakeshore, and the following morning a note shows up from Clara’s twin sister, written in a secret language they shared as twins. The only problem? Clara’s sister Zoe has been dead for eight years.

This book was slow to get going. It lingers a lot on unnecessary details. Clara’s inner monologue is often repetitive, as is the recounting of her mornings at the coffee shop. The dialogue often felt stiff and cliched. It isn’t bad per se, but it’s not really good either.

I also struggled with the way Clara was written. She was written very much how I think adults believe teenage girls are, rather than how they actually are. She was never fully realized as a person outside of her teenage girl-dom. There were a lot of tropes and cliches stuffed in that just came across as dated. (A step dad she doesn’t want to know, the weird unfriendly goth girl, the awkward Dad… the list goes on.)

That said, I did enjoy the plot. A lot of the details were held back until the end, keeping me in suspense. Even when I struggled, I wanted to see where the crazy train was taking me. There’s a silly romance shoehorned in at the end that you’ll see coming a mile away. By the time they got to “I love you’s” I was rolling my eyes.

There’s some odd pieces of history going back to the 1400s thrown in, that don’t feel like they ever culminate into anything. They reveal bits and pieces of the town’s history but don’t actually contribute to the overall story beyond what the character’s tell us (and what the character’s tell us is much more coherent).

The spook factor was decent. I loved the imagery of lights in the woods and the howling, accompanied by the ever present lake, so silent and still. It’s definitely supernatural in nature, as a heads up, if that kind of horror is not your thing.

I think this could have actually been great if there had been some stronger editing to get rid of the tropes and repetitiveness, and maybe been trimmed down to a novella size to keep the pace up.  Thank you to the publisher and Edelweiss who provided an eARC for review.

People of the Lake released on October 15, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads or Amazon.

Book Review: Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

Rating:  ★★★★1/2

I requested Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts on a complete whim, and it turned out to be one of the best surprises I’ve had this year.  Nothing about this novel is what I typically read, not the genre (which I am still having trouble naming) and not the tone (light/feel good).

But it was so much fun!  The beginning of the book has a lot of fun 90s references.  At times it reminded me of Ready Player One’s penchant for the 80s, but better, because it was the 90s.  I also loved the setting, Boston, MA, which is one of my favorite cities and not too far from where I live.

Mostly though, I loved Tuesday.  It’s rare that I see myself in any fictional representation of someone.  She’s an introvert, and never has a wide group of friends, doesn’t really date, and prefers it that way.  She likes to solve puzzles and mysteries, and has a small fascination with all things occult.

The plot of the book is this: eccentric billionaire dies, and leaves behind a treasure hunt for anyone who cares to join.  The prize is a piece of his fortune.  Of course, Tuesday wastes no time getting started.  Joining her is the mysterious Archie, an heir to another wealthy family, her best friend Dex (who absolutely steals all his scenes) and her young neighbor friend Dorry.

But there is a lot more to the story than this.  Each character harbors their own secrets and has their own struggles. The plot twists and turns, layering small reveals on throughout the ending half.  I never once guessed any of them.  Some of them were shocking but they didn’t feel too outlandish (maybe sometimes).

Either way, I had a blast with this book and I thought the ending was fantastic.  I don’t want to spoil anything, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.  Thank you to the publisher for sending an ARC for review.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts released on October 8, 2019 and can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

Before I get to that review I know you’re simply dying to read- I just wanted to note that I know I haven’t been as consistent in keeping up with the comments not only on my blog but just generally following what all of you are doing.

Remember back in June when I was unemployed?  It only lasted a month (it’s a good thing, but also an exhausting thing).  I am now commuting an additional hour each day to and from work, getting home an hour later than I used to, and rushing to get the dog walked and dinner on the table and the kid ready for bed.

So please forgive me!  I am trying to keep up with everyone still.  Don’t feel obligated to reply to my flurry of comments on last week’s posts.  I know I can be kind of obnoxious returning to comment again and again, but the conversations about books is why I blog. Sure I love the reviewing and stuff- but I honestly just don’t have enough people in my day-to-day life to chat books with, which is why I come and bug all of you :).  On to other things.

The Institute by Stephen King

Rating:  ★★★★

I added myself to the library waitlist for this back in April.  Not kidding.  And by then I’d already been checking to see if I could add myself for a few months.  That’s how long I’ve been waiting.

Anyway- while it wasn’t the epic I’ve been wanting to read since the last time I read Under the Dome, it was still thoroughly enjoyable and well worth reading.  The opening was perfect.  We meet one of the side characters, Tim Jamieson, as he finds his way to the small town of Dupray, South Carolina.  Slowly, we are introduced to some of the background characters.

It was everything I love about King’s characters, the subtle detailing that brings them to life.  The homeless woman who follows conspiracy theories and wears a sombrero, the motel owner who’s too nosy for his own good, the brothers who no one can tell apart and run the convenience store… it never ceases to amaze me how he can paint a full portrait in just a few lines and make the world feel as populated and colorful as the one we live in.

I was so enchanted by these opening chapters and feeling like I was going to get exactly what I’d been hoping for, it was really jarring to switch to Luke’s POV and not see Jamieson again for another 300 pages or so.  I just kept thinking, yeah, but what’s going on in Dupray?  Surely there’s a reason we were introduced to Jamieson so early?

But sadly it wasn’t.  And I think I was so taken with Jamieson as a character and Dupray as the setting that it detracted a little from my enjoyment of Luke and his friends.

A heads up to all the parents out there- this novel focuses heavily on kids, and nevermind happy endings, they don’t have happy stories, period.  What they are put through is horrible.  I think it was made more tolerable by the very fantastic premise, feeling like it was a far departure from reality, but it was still difficult at times.

The pacing was pretty quick, with shortish chapters, and I was never really bored at any point in time.  I made the mistake of thinking I knew how it would end, and I was terribly, horribly, wrong.  I wish I had let my expectations go a bit, so that I would have felt more of the suspense.

WARNING: If you are uber sensitive to spoilers- I recommend stopping here.  I won’t actually talk about plot or events, but more themes and ideas.

 

The ending was pretty shocking, and I don’t often say that of a King book.  Usually I have an idea… good wins out over evil… the villains are served their just desserts…

This ending is much more ambiguous- but it was ambiguous in a good way that made me think.  I know what physically happened to all of the characters, I don’t feel like I’m left wondering about where they’re headed.  But I was given a lot to think about.  Right vs. Wrong.  Moral and Immoral.  How one weighs the greater good against the rights and freedoms of a few.

All in all – this felt like classic King while also feeling like something new.  I enjoyed it for the most part even if it won’t go down as an all time favorite.  If you like King, this is definitely worth checking out!

The Institute can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

 

Book Review: Inland by Tea Obreht

Inland by Tea Obreht

Rating:  ★★★★★

“We were bound up, you and I…Though it break our hearts, we had as little choice then as we have now.”

This is one of those books that I’ve been dreading writing the review for because nothing I say can really convey what makes it so great.  I like literary fiction, but it’s rare that I will pick up anything that’s straight up literature.  This particular book interested me for two reasons: the historical, western context, and the promise of supernatural elements.

Inland doesn’t disappoint on either front.  The story follows two main characters, Lurie of the Mattie gang, and Nora Lark of a small town called Amargo, in the Arizona territory.  It isn’t until the very end that the reader comes to understand how and why these two stories are being told side by side.  That’s all I’m saying about that because it’s just better that you know nothing going in.

This is a character driven story, with Nora’s part of it happening over (I think) the course of one day, from morning to night.  She often reminisces on things that happened in the past, her relationship with her husband and people in the town, the birth and lives of her children, etc.  These parts can be very slow, but they all contribute to painting the picture of Nora’s life and the people in it.

Life in Arizona isn’t easy and every day has been a struggle.  There are a few supernatural elements to her story as well.  Her niece-by-marriage, Josie, is a medium, conducting seances with the dead, and her son Toby has been seeing a strange beast roaming their land.  Nora believes both things are just figments of wild imaginations.

“And what did you ever learn from me–save to keep to yourself, and look over your shoulder?”

In contrast to Nora, we have Lurie.  He’s a Turkish immigrant that is orphaned as a child and eventually falls in with the Mattie gang.  He gets on the wrong side of the law early in the book and we follow his story as he runs from Marshall Berger and from his past.  Lurie also has a supernatural ability to see and speak to the dead.  If they touch him, he feels their last wants, and they consume him as his own needs.

The contrast in their stories is brilliant.  Between the two of these characters, it’s easy to assume Lurie would be the least likable, and that the reader would come to care deeply for Nora, the struggling, “innocent”, ranch-wife. But Obreht brilliantly turns this assumption on it’s head by making Nora the more unlikeable of the two.  She can sometimes be cruel to those around her, including her husband and children, but most of all her niece, and she holds some clear prejudices against the local native population.  Meanwhile, Lurie proves himself to be a man capable of caring deeply for others, and a man, maybe, searching for redemption.

“The longer I live…the more I have come to understand that extraordinary people are eroded by their worries while the useless are carried ever forward by their delusions.”

Despite it’s slow pacing, the book is so hard to put down.  Different little mysteries are introduced along the way, while other interesting little connections and reveals are being made (not between Nora and Lurie, but within the narrative of each of their separate lives).  Different story elements and characters in the story return at the most unexpected times, keeping the reader surprised throughout.  It’s a dramatic story that feels perfectly mundane, and I’m still in awe of it.

Lurie’s parts are written in second person, though I won’t tell you who he is addressing.  The writing itself is gorgeous.  It isn’t as impactful as say, The Mere Wife, but it’s emotional, and often left me feeling a little wistful.  By the end of it, I was in tears.

This review has probably rambled on for far too long already, and I haven’t remotely done the book justice.  Just know if any part of this story or review appeals to you at all, it’s well worth picking up and reading through to the end, where the reveals and realizations will surprise and haunt you for a long time to come.  Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for review.

Inland releases on August 13th and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

Three Quick Book Reviews

I’ve actually finished several quick books the past week or two and I’ve been avoiding reviewing them because they were just the sort of books I didn’t have much to say about afterwards.  So I’m going to just give quick impressions here.

avld_amo

Rating:  ★★

Alien Virus Love Disaster by Abbey Mei Otis (or: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” my tag line, not the book’s.) This is the review I’ve been dreading most because I wanted so badly to like it and just couldn’t connect with it at all.  It’s a collection of bizarre short fiction mostly incorporating some kind of romance and/or alien contact.

With a title like Alien Virus Love Disaster– I was expecting something weird, yes, but also something funny.  Like the Stephanie Plum of alien books.  And it was just dark, depressing, despairing.  There isn’t a single shred of hope in the whole darn book.  Not one tiny story.

I gave it two stars instead of one because on the upside, the stories are unique and inclusive.  I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like them, and I can see how they would be right for someone, just not me.  I wanted to laugh, I wanted to be uplifted, and instead I ended up dragged down in a way I wasn’t prepared for.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Rating:  ★★★★

The Road by Cormac McCarthy (abridged, narrated by: Rupert Degas):  I know what you’re thinking.  “But Sarah, didn’t you just completely rip apart the last book you read by Cormac McCarthy just a few short weeks ago?”

Why yes, blogger friends.  Yes I did.  But I rewrote that review three times because I couldn’t get Blood Meridian out of my head.  And to me, the hallmark of a good book is one you can’t stop thinking about. (It’s the best 2 star book I ever read, lol.)  So I borrowed this on audio on a whim from my library.  Unfortunately all they had was the abridged version, so I can’t tell you what I missed out on, but I can tell you I would give this a go eye reading the full version.

The narrator, Rupert Degas, did a phenomenal job (except for his girly voices, which are weird, but only a small part of the book).  His voice is perfect for this kind of grim, desolate, post-apocalyptic world.  Hearing it instead of reading it solves a lot of McCarthy’s style choices.  The narrator was able to convey dialogue and made the issues I had with a lack of punctuation almost nonexistent.  I think audio is a good way to be introduced to McCarthy.

Anyway- our two MCs are Man and Boy.  They are traveling The Road to get South.  America’s population has been decimated by some kind of sickness.  What’s left are the good guys and the bad guys.  Man and Boy are “good” guys, as good as good can be in this world anyway.

The environment itself is the biggest challenge, lugging around supplies, enduring weather, falling trees (I got the sense the trees were all dying).  And when they encounter bad guys, it gets grim and dark real fast.  The message of the book is that hope and beauty can still be found in even the darkest places, I think, because despite all the many, many low points, there were still some significant high and happy points.

McCarthy’s writing really is beautiful and often reads like poetry.  I wasn’t glowing or gushing when I finished it, but I didn’t find my mind wandering too frequently when I listened, and that’s usually a challenge for me.  I’d definitely recommend this if you enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction.

Trigger content: again, if you have them I sort of must insist that you avoid McCarthy at all costs.  Nothing is off limits for him.

Stephen Kings N. by Marc Guggenheim

Rating:  ★★★★

Stephen King’s N. by Marc Guggenheim, illustrated by Alex Maleev – This is a graphic novel adapted from Stephen King’s novella of the same name found in his collection: Just After Sunset.

I enjoyed this- the art work was great and dynamic, and the mystery sucks you in right from the start.  It starts with a letter from a woman to an old friend talking about her brother’s death.  From there we flash back to where it all started.  The brother was a psychologist working with a patient who developed OCD after visiting Ackerman’s field in Motton, Maine.

It wasn’t quite a full five stars for me because the whole story is pretty ambiguous, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and will definitely check out the novella.  If you decide to pick this up, don’t skip the foreword.  Guggenheim pays a beautiful tribute to a good friend and makes clear his fondness for King and his excitement over this project.  I’d love to see more of King’s short stories adapted into Graphic Novels turned into Graphic Novels.