August 13, 2018

Book Review: Believe Me by J.P. Delaney

Source: Vine

A struggling actor, a Brit in America without a green card, Claire needs work and money to survive. Then she gets both. But nothing like she expected.

Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Hired to entrap straying husbands, she must catch them on tape with their seductive propositions.

The rules? Never hit on the mark directly. Make it clear you’re available, but he has to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not coercion. The innocent have nothing to hide.

Then the game changes.

When the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered, the cops are sure the husband is to blame. Desperate to catch him before he kills again, they enlist Claire to lure him into a confession.

Claire can do this. She’s brilliant at assuming a voice and an identity. For a woman who’s mastered the art of manipulation, how difficult could it be to tempt a killer into a trap?

But who is the decoy . . . and who is the prey?

I have been reading so many psychological thrillers lately that I’ve started seeing some of the same tropes repeated (you have no idea how many times twins ends up being the twist) and nothing seems fresh anymore. It was going to take quite some doing to surprise me – and believe it or not, Believe Me managed to do just that. (Spoiler alert - No twins here!)

I wasn’t planning on reading this book in one sitting, but from the first page, I was completely immersed and had to drop everything to continue until the end.  I thought the story was going one way, only for it to reverse, then turn upside down and sideways until I didn’t know what to think – except for one thing, which is to hang on for the ride. And a wild ride it is. I guarantee you are going to say WTF?! at least a couple times (in a good way) and then thumb back towards prior chapters/scenes just to realize, yep, it actually went there.

Let’s talk about style for a second – at times the narrative was told in script format (like a play or movie script) which I thought at first was just a gimmick because Claire is a struggling actress. But since I’m mentioning it here, you know it isn’t a throwaway detail. 

Now let’s talk about substance. I loved how Delaney wove in Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil and Baudelaire’s personal life as an integral part of how the story unfolds. This touch elevated Believe Me into another realm and made me want to revisit Baudelaire’s poems and read more about his life. Someone should stage My Heart Laid Bare – please!!!

I have more memories than if I had lived a thousand years.
An old desk full of dead ideas
Is not more full of secrets than my aching head…

It’s a necropolis; a grave in which the dead-
Those bodies I once loved – are tumbled willy-nilly,
Prodded and nudged incessantly
By morbid reveries, like worms.
Charles Baudelaire's Grave
Montparnasse Cemetery

August 6, 2018

Book Review: Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd

Source: Netgalley

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

Seventeen-year-old Anouk envies the human world, where people known as Pretties lavish themselves in fast cars, high fashion, and have the freedom to fall in love. But Anouk can never have those things, because she is not really human. Enchanted from animal to human girl and forbidden to venture beyond her familiar Parisian prison, Anouk is a Beastie: destined for a life surrounded by dust bunnies and cinders serving Mada Vittora, the evil witch who spelled her into existence. That is, until one day she finds her mistress murdered in a pool of blood—and Anouk is accused of the crime.

Now, the world she always dreamed of is rife with danger. Pursued through Paris by the underground magical society known as the Haute, Anouk and her fellow Beasties only have three days to find the real killer before the spell keeping them human fades away. If they fail, they will lose the only lives they’ve ever known…but if they succeed, they could be more powerful than anyone ever bargained for.

Grim Lovelies bewitched me from the first page to the last. I love everything about this book –starting with the decadent black and red cover which perfectly embodies everything inside its pages:

Goblins partying in the catacombs
Witches who as get their powers from living things
Beasties – animals transformed to humans 
Fighting topiaries
Hermes bags masquerading oubliettes
Animal sacrifice (FYI)

And … Paris!

“The more she saw of Paris, the more dreamlike it was; she wasn’t sure where the streetlights ended and the stars began.”

Grim Lovelies married two of my reading loves: Paris and rich fantasy.  Shepherd’s worldbuilding – of a magical Paris alongside an unsuspecting human one – is intricate. I willingly fell under its spell.  Once I started reading, I didn’t want to stop, eager to experience whatever strange and beautiful/repulsive surprise she had in store. Besides the storytelling, I loved the inclusion of gay and transgender fairy tale themes which made the narrative all the richer.  

I cannot wait for the sequel … The Gargoyle Witch???

“’You aren’t heroes.’

“’Then what are we?’

“’Monsters! Oh come, don’t look surprised. Nothing good is ever created from magic. You were made to be the most terrifying thing in the known world.’”

July 30, 2018

Book Review: Nightmare House by Douglas Clegg

Some houses go bad. Harrow was born that way. Claiming his inheritance, a young man unlocks long-buried secrets within his occultist-grandfather's house of infinite hauntings, awakening a nest of hungry ghosts. 

Don't be fooled by the rather pulpy, sensational title - Nightmare House is a well-written, old-fashioned novel which brought to mind Turn of the Screw by Henry James and Wilkie Collins.  I'm glad I decided to take a chance with it, clued in from the synopsis that it was not going to be a cheap thrill.  And when it opened to an epigram from "The Lady of Shalott," I quirked an eyebrow - this should be interesting.  There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with Tennyson's poem and the related Pre-Raphaelite paintings.  (I kind of still am, actually.)  I had to smile in appreciation once I saw how Clegg developed this theme throughout Nightmare House in a most ingenious interpretation. As far as I know, this novel stands apart in the "oeuvre."  

"I would never all a work of architecture evil; now would I suggest that a house could be anything but a benign presence. It is always the human element that corrodes the stones and the wood and the brick and the foundation. It is the human heart that bends the floors and burns the rooms and imbues the structure with the spirit of error and false remembrance."

Although it is set in the 1920s, Nightmare House is written in the style of a full-blown Victorian gothic. Clegg masterfully sets the tone with ominous foreboding when Ethan Gravesend arrives at Harrow estate, his inheritance. Of course not long after arrival, he makes a horrifying discovery whose mystery he tries to solve - leading him to the center of his worst nightmare.