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.

July 23, 2018

Book Review: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth; she has charm and elegance. He’s a dedicated attorney who has never lost a case; she is a flawless homemaker, a masterful gardener and cook, and dotes on her disabled younger sister. Though they are still newlyweds, they seem to have it all. You might not want to like them, but you do. You’re hopelessly charmed by the ease and comfort of their home, by the graciousness of the dinner parties they throw. You’d like to get to know Grace better.

But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are inseparable.

Some might call this true love. Others might wonder why Grace never answers the phone. Or why she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. Or why she never seems to take anything with her when she leaves the house, not even a pen. Or why there are such high-security metal shutters on all the downstairs windows.

Some might wonder what’s really going on once the dinner party is over, and the front door has closed.

Grace is an idiot.  Her learning disabled sister has more going on than she does - and coincidentally is my favorite character with my favorite scene in the whole novel. Grace is one of the characters that you just want to shake.  There is one scene in particular where after having discovered the full extent of the dangers she's in, she decides to take a shower so she can refresh herself- thereby dooming herself and her sister for a long time.  Despite this "Are you out of your mind?!" scene, I did continue all the way to the end.  The villain gets their comeuppance - although it is off-scene.  The ending is ultimately satisfactory despite the protagonist's frustrating decisions.  If a movie does get made, the script writer is going to have to fix the holes in the narrative for the audience to adequately suspend their disbelief.  

Poor George Clooney...

July 16, 2018

Book Review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong—and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

In Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has written a novel that takes the modern day love triangle and not only turns it on its head, but completely reinvents it in a way that will leave readers reeling.

Once you get to the last, big twist, you'll either going to be stunned and think how brilliant or stunned and think you've been had. I'm firmly of the camp that feels it has been tricked.

If you're still curious, I would caution you to stop right here and just read the book.  

Still here?

Okay, don't say I didn't warn you.

Because although this book is marketed as a thriller, it is not.  It's actually a supernatural story masquerading as a domestic thriller.  I kept reading expecting an ingenious but empirically-based reveal only to find myself in the paranormal realm.  If one weren't expecting this switcheroo one might find it amazing and inventive and creative.  I just felt duped.  Instead of unreliable narrators, this book has an unreliable classification.  

Shame! Shame! Shame!

July 9, 2018

Book Review: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Publication Date: August 28, 2018

Cassidy Blake's parents are The Inspecters, a (somewhat inept) ghost-hunting team. But Cass herself can really see ghosts. In fact, her best friend, Jacob, just happens to be one.

When The Inspecters head to ultra-haunted Edinburgh, Scotland, for their new TV show, Cass and Jacob come along. In Scotland, Cass is surrounded by ghosts, not all of them friendly. Then she meets Lara, a girl who can also see the dead. But Lara tells Cassidy that as an In-betweener, their job is to send ghosts permanently beyond the Veil. 

Cass isn't sure about her new mission, but she does know the sinister Red Raven haunting the city doesn't belong in her world. Cassidy's powers will draw her into an epic fight that stretches through the worlds of the living and the dead, in order to save herself.

How cool is it that Schwab set part of this novel in Edinburgh and somehow worked in the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and Greyfriars Cemetery where Rowling got inspiration for some of the characters?! I made a special Harry Potter pilgrimage to Edinburgh a couple years ago so I could clearly picture the places mentioned and described.  

But aside from this connection -I especially enjoyed Cass and Jacob's friendship and interaction.  Even though she's alive ... and he's not.  I also liked Cass's quirky ghost-hunting parents. The story moved fast, especially when the setting changed to Scotland and Cass makes a friend, as well as frightening spectral enemy called the Raven in Red.

Ghosts, mysteries and chills - City of Ghosts is an engaging middle grade fantasy that this adult enjoyed. I'm sure the 7-11 year olds will enjoy as well

July 2, 2018

Book Review: The Summer List by Amy Mason Doan

A breathtaking secret that will change everything…

As young girls, Laura and Casey were inseparable in their small California lakeside town, playing scavenger hunts under the starry skies all summer long. Until one night, when a shocking betrayal shatters their friendship seemingly forever

But after seventeen years away, the past is impossible to escape and Laura returns home. Tthis time, a bittersweet trail of clues leads brings back her most cherished memories with Casey. Yet just as the game brings Laura and Casey back together, the clues unravel a stunning secret that threatens to tear them apart.

The title pretty much encapsulates the mood and flavor of this novel.  It is a story set in summers past and to be read in the long, languid days by the beach or pool. 

When we first meet Casey and Laura, they are estranged adults who have not seen each other in many years. It is a tense and awkward meeting with troubling undercurrents.  Once close and inseparable childhood friends, they are now estranged.  What happened in the intervening years is unspoken and through the following narrative, with flashbacks of summers past and different points of view, we discover the complicated story or, rather, stories. Not just a story about friendships, the novel also delves into the girls' relationships with their mothers. 

What most touched me and remained with me after the last page were the parts set in the past summers when Casey and Laura were young and close. Doan perfectly captured the special and magical bonds of friendship. 

Put this book in your summer reading list.