Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book #24: Harvest Home

I'm about 100% sure I saw the TV movie version of this book when I was around 7 or 8 (I'm sure my parents didn't know about it), and it spooked the junk out of me. I have vague flashback memories of Bette Davis in some sort of frilly bonnet and of a small boy in a sailor suit on a tricycle and some little girl screaming, and when I started to read this book, I realized that those memories were from this story.

Tryon does a really great job of amping up the dread factor without making the reader frustrated by the slow pace of the story. In fact, I actually found myself enjoying the drawn-out plot and didn't want to race through to the end, which is rare for me.

The story follows a young(ish) family of three who moves to a small New England town from New York City to give their marriage a second chance. They're initially charmed by the quaintness of the homes and residents, but it isn't long before the husband begins to notice that things are beginning to get undeniably weird. Of course, he's the only one who seems to care.

I don't know what it was about the 70s, but they always seemed to nail the whole creepy genre. Maybe they were all just horrified by their clothing and hairstyles and it seeped into their writing.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Book #23: The Night Strangers

Oh, this book. I had such high hopes, but for the love. It was just bad.

The book begins as pilot Chip Linton crashes his jet into Lake Champlain, trying desperately to make a water landing as successfully as Sully Sullenberger, but failing. While he survives, 39 of the passengers don't, and he is racked with guilt. He decides to move with his wife and two twin daughters to a small New England town to start over, and that's where the trouble begins.

Chip quickly begins hearing voices and seeing various victims from the crash in his basement. They all seem to hover around a mysterious door bolted with - wait for it - 39 locks. 

Oh, yeah. And there's also a weird herb-worshiping cult of old people who want to drink the blood of their children. So there's that.

I had a few problems with this book. One, Chip and his wife, Emily, are ridiculously stupid and are quite possibly the worst parents in recent literary history. I had a hard time feeling any sympathy for them. Two, the villainous cult members are all so obviously evil that it's almost humorous. It's like sending Gargamel into a Smurf's home wearing a ball cap and assuming no one will notice it's him. And three, the ending. It's just so, so bad and cliche and everything that's wrong with a badly plotted ghost story.

I say skip it, and read a Shirley Jackson novel instead. That woman knew how to do scary right.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Book #22: The Silent Girls

I have a hard time with protagonists I just don't like. I know a lot of people can get past that when they're reading a book by realizing that a lot of people just genuinely aren't likable, but I just can't shake the annoyed feeling. I did not like the main character of this book, and it really tainted the whole story for me.

Set in New England, the story centers around Frank Rath, a retired police detective-turned-private eye, who is sucked into the investigation of a serial killer who targets unwed, expectant mothers. I did appreciate the setting of the book - Rickstad describes the bleak, slushy winter well, and the darkness matches the tone of the book. Unfortunately, it doesn't make up for Frank Rath.

Rath is just prickly and childish for the entirety of the book. He makes stupid mistakes because he loses his temper about eight zillion times, and you can see the consequences coming from miles away. By the time I reached the end, I didn't even care that the plot wasn't at all resolved. I was just glad it was over.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book #21: Bad Seeds: Evil Progeny

I love scary stories. My mom told me she was watching "'Salem's Lot" on tv when she was pregnant with me and my grandmother walked into the room and told her she was going to "mark me with movies like that." I guess she did, but I don't mind. I'm not entirely sure what it is about spooky books that I enjoy, but I think it's knowing that while I'm a little nervous and scared, I'm also secure in the knowledge that I'm actually very safe in my own home. It's a passive-aggressive thrill. 

And honestly, the scariest thing of all is evil children -- 'Salem's Lot, The Omen, Pet Sematary, the dead little girls in The Shining -- they all give me the severe heebie jeebies. Children are supposed to be sweet. Children are supposed to be innocent. They're not supposed to loom over your bed at night with the butcher knife from your kitchen raised over their heads, accompanied by slightly off-key Latin chants.

This book is a collection of short stories about those not-quite-right children who stare at you with unblinking eyes and make you uneasy when you pass them in the grocery store. The most famous offering here is probably Stephen King's "Children of the Corn," but I really enjoyed the stories by authors I'd never heard of. "If Damon Comes" by Charles L. Grant and "My Name is Leejun" by John Schoffstall are particularly good. 

I heard the "Sesame Street" theme song yesterday, and it sounded vaguely creepy to me. I blame this book.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Book #20: Broken Harbor

My friend Jessica has been after me to read Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad books for a few years, and I don't know why I waited so long. 

The coolest thing about this series is that each novel focuses on a minor character from the last novel, so you begin to feel like you're really getting the full spectrum of plot development, and each book works as a stand-alone installment.

This book focuses on police detective Mick Kennedy, who is called to the failed suburban dream home community of Broken Harbor to investigate the horrific murder of a father and two children. Only the mother was left alive, and it quickly becomes clear that someone had been watching the family closely prior to the homicide. Kennedy also has a troubled past concerning Broken Harbor, and he begins to feel old ghosts pressing in on all sides as he tries to solve the case.

This was so good that I'm going back to read all the rest of the books in the series. New author obsession: check.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Book #19: Mr. Chartwell

I'm going to admit that I bought this book because of the fantastic cover. It reminded me of the wallpaper you sometimes see in elderly ladies' informal dining rooms - comforting and old-fashioned.  I had no idea what it was about, but I just had an inkling that it would be a good choice. I'm glad I was right.

The story centers around Winston Churchill and his retirement after years as Britain's Prime Minister. Churchill suffered from occasional bouts of deep depression, which he referred to as his "black dog." This novel takes the charming approach of making Churchill's depression an actual black dog named Mr. Chartwell (but you can call him "Black Pat"), and only Churchill can see him. 

I don't want to tell too much of the plot, because it really is best if it's read without too much prior knowledge. It's not a thriller or sweeping historical saga, but I just couldn't put it down. There's something so whimsical and pleasant about Hunt's writing, even if the subject matter is quite sad.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book #18: The Reversal

The Reversal by Michael Connelly

This is the third Michael Connelly book I've read, and my overall impression of his writing is honestly just "meh." 

Connelly falls into that James Patterson category for me: His books probably make good movies, but I don't want to read them.

I find the dialogue unbelievable, and the plot seems to just plod along pretty predictably. This story centers around his Lincoln Lawyer characters from previous novels and their efforts to re-convict a serial killer of children. The ending actually made me angry, because pretty much nothing was resolved. I know that's supposed to make us want to buy the next book, but it didn't work like that for me. It just felt like lazy writing. Sort of a "Hmm. I really don't feel like fleshing this story out, so I'll just roll it over into next year's contracted book and maybe I'll have a better ending idea by then" kind of thing.

So, yeah. This will most likely be my last Michael Connelly read.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book #17: How the Light Gets In

Continuing my obsession with all things Louise Penny, this installment finally (finally!) ties up the ongoing "story beneath the story" concerning Inspector Gamache's battle with the corrupt upper echelon in his police force. 

While there was still a mystery not involving the long-awaited take down of some major awful characters, it was definitely secondary. Actually, my only beef with this book was that this plot-line (having to do with the murder of the last remaining member of a famous family of quintuplets) was so secondary that it almost felt as if it was brushed over and barely solved.

All in all, however, it was supremely satisfying. The people I wanted to see drawn and quartered were dealt with in just the way they should have been, and the folks I wanted to see restored to normalcy were also handled fairly. 

I'm looking forward to the next book and a completely different story (with the same cozy feel).