MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION

FIVE SARDONIC STARS

  • Author:  Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Julia Whelan  (Audio Narrator)
  • Publication date: July 10, 2018
My repeated claim to love unlikable characters is put to the test in this darkly irreverent, strange fable. I’m sticking to my claim. I do love most of the unlikable people in My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Humor goes a long way when writing unpleasant characters! The author is sophisticated and brilliant when it comes to injecting absurdly wry observations on both the glitter and the grime of New York City.

Contrary to the lovely 18th century painting of a leisurely young woman gracing the cover, this novel is set in 2000 and 2001. Women have had “fainting spells” for centuries now and the remedy is usually a good lie-in. Sleep is restorative. Beautiful and necessary for good health. This is all our never-named protagonist wants in life. Sleep. Our Sleeping Beauty makes a conscious decision to slumber for one year.

“I can’t point to any one event that resulted in my decision to go into hibernation,” the narrator tells us. “I thought life would be more tolerable if my brain were slower to condemn the world around me.”

The combination of apathetic, glitzy beauty and horror is a prevalent theme in My Year. The best comparative books I’ve come up with are: Brett Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and a little bit of Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. What a combo, huh?

The obvious timeline will lead you to the impending ending, you know we are headed for 9/11 territory. In a lesser writer’s hands, this would be off-putting and cliched. Moshfegh uses it to dazzling irony and, you better believe, I was stunned into a silent reflection that so few contemporary novels are able to achieve.

Just reading about our never-named character craving sleep all the time, seduced my own mind and I could often hear my pillow calling my name while listening to this perfectly narrated audiobook (Julia Whelan-is the goddess of audio acting!). That’s not to imply the book is in any way boring, many parts are unquestionably disturbing. Our girl secures the worst shrink in history and is given pharmaceuticals by the handfuls. She has some of the most sickening, vulgar nightmares which are described in horrifying detail.

She endures the nightmares and blackouts as the preferred alternative to her awakened existence. What is she hiding from? Why why why? You will get the answers in this dreamily paced, viciously witty story. You may not like the answers, but author Moshfegh doesn’t care. She is the one simply holding the mirror.

Like the main character, the novel is vacuous, yet complicated. Blank, yet layered. A spectacularly detached anti-drama. I really love it, but it definitely may not be your cup of tea.

BREAKING NEWS: The gorgeous, talented Margot Robbie has optioned the film rights! I think she would be perfect as the disturbed Sleeping Beauty.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Our narrator should be happy, shouldn’t she? She’s young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, works an easy job at a hip art gallery, lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like the rest of her needs, by her inheritance. But there is a dark and vacuous hole in her heart, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her best friend, Reva. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong?

My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a powerful answer to that question. Through the story of a year spent under the influence of a truly mad combination of drugs designed to heal our heroine from her alienation from this world, Moshfegh shows us how reasonable, even necessary, alienation can be. Both tender and blackly funny, merciless and compassionate, it is a showcase for the gifts of one of our major writers working at the height of her powers. 

 About the Author:

Ottessa Moshfegh is a fiction writer from New England. Her first book, McGlue, a novella, won the Fence Modern Prize in Prose and the Believer Book Award. She is also the author of the short story collection Homesick for Another World. Her stories have been published in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Granta, and have earned her a Pushcart Prize, an O. Henry Award, the Plimpton Discovery Prize, and a grant from the National 304748Endowment for the Arts. Eileen, her first novel, was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for debut fiction; My Year of Rest and Relaxation, her second novel, was a New York Times bestseller.

RUST & STARDUST

FIVE SHATTERING STARS

  • Author: T. Greenwood
  • Publication date: August 7, 2018

I love great literature that moves you. You know? I mean, isn’t that why we read? I want to be moved to cry, moved to think, moved to care. 2018 has been a banner year for the psychological suspense novel and now we have a crowning jewel of a book that crosses all the genres.

Rust & Stardust is unusual. If you’ve read any reviews, you’ve heard already this a sad story. Yes, it is absolutely heartbreaking. I can’t even describe how much your soul will ache. BUT it’s also suspenseful, historically relevant and fascinating. Rust & Stardust is not a true-crime book in the traditional sense. This crime of a young girl’s kidnapping in 1948 was headline making at the time and was the inspiration for Nabokov’s Lolita. (A fact that nauseates me. Remind me to check how many stars I gave that classic tale.)

I had a vague familiarity with Sally Horner’s name, but that’s all I knew when I began downloadreading. I resisted every impulse to google, and I’m pleased to announce that in this case, I did abstain. I had no idea how the story would end and the suspense propelled me forward like a slingshot. I rarely put this book down. Sally crawled into my heart and I felt like I understood her. I cared about her—what’s going on, is she going to escape now? I was thinking about Sally constantly. And it’s been a long time since I had a book do that to me. Thank you, T. Greenwood, for this passionate reading experience!

I would describe this book as a cross between The Grapes of Wrath and THE CHANGELING movie starring Angelina Jolie. I know the time periods are a little off between these beautiful works of art, but the important thing IS the time period. It’s the omnipresent lens that we view the story through and acts as much a pivotal character as anything else in the novel. There was a pervasive, deep societal innocence back then. Way before child molesters, mass shootings, and sex traffickers became our daily news. Sally was purely an innocent child, but also her mother, friends, teachers, even the police pushed back their doubts. “This could not be what it looked like.” “This does not happen in America”. In small ways, they all unknowingly contributed to the crime as much as Frank LaSalle, the deviant, corrupted everything he touched.

Rust & Stardust has all the atmospheric setting and attention to detail that Steinbeck, himself, was able to conjure on the page as the Okies trudged through the dust to California. Between the short, beautifully written chapters, Sally’s abduction unfolds as seen by all the different characters involved. While you are very fearful for poor Sally, it is her family’s story of guilt, bitterness and loss that will shatter your heart.

FIVE STARS. I HIGHLY recommend Rust & Stardust. You will be hooked after the first few pages. I promise. Yes, there are some triggers for sensitive readers. However, Greenwood tackles the subject matter in such a consciously delicate manner that the story of Sally’s life comes across as nothing less than poignant, authentic and human. And SERIOUSLY!! Don’t google until you finish the book!!!!

SYNOPSIS

Camden, NJ, 1948.

When 11 year-old Sally Horner steals a notebook from the local Woolworth’s, she has no way of knowing that 52 year-old Frank LaSalle, fresh out of prison, is watching her, preparing to make his move. Accosting her outside the store, Frank convinces Sally that he’s an FBI agent who can have her arrested in a minute—unless she does as he says. 

This chilling novel traces the next two harrowing years as Frank mentally and physically assaults Sally while the two of them travel westward from Camden to San Jose, forever altering not only her life, but the lives of her family, friends, and those she meets along the way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

T. Greenwood grew up in rural Vermont. She began writing stories at seven years old and wrote her first “novel” at nine on her dad’s giant blue electric typewriter. Bodiesofwater1121

Since then, she has published twelve novels. She has received grants from the Sherwood Anderson Foundation, the Christopher Isherwood Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. She has won three San Diego Book Awards. Five of her novels have been BookSense76/IndieBound picks. BODIES OF WATER was finalist for a Lambda Foundation award. Her twelfth novel, RUST & STARDUST, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in August 2018.

She teaches creative writing for San Diego Writer’s Ink and online for The Writer’s Center. She and her husband, Patrick, live in San Diego, CA with their two daughters during the school year and spend their summers at her family’s camp on Newark Pond in Vermont.

 

TRUE CRIME REVIEW

EVIDENCE OF LOVE

FIVE Engrossing Stars

  • Authors: John Bloom, Jim Atkinson
  • Publication Date: May 1, 1985

I actually read this for the first time back in 1985 when I was a mere toddler. Well, maybe a little older than that. I grew up in Plano, TX (go Wildcats!) and I remember this Friday the 13th in 1980 almost like it was yesterday.

I had just graduated from high school a few days before. It was the hottest summer in a sweltering Texas history of summers. And most importantly, the very first Friday the 13th movie series was being released in theaters that night. Friday+the+13th+1980

But that afternoon, an average housewife walked in to her friend’s house after vacation Bible school  and butchered her with an ax. FORTY splintering and brutal whacks to her face.

This happened about 5 miles away in a new subdivision of homes right down the road from the Southfork Ranch of Dallas TV fame.

At first, there was news that an escaped mental patient was the killer. OMG. We were actually living out the Friday the 13th movie plot. The unresolved panic went on for a couple of weeks before an arrest was made. And it wasn’t a known psycho, it was Candy Montgomery. Sweet, beloved popular church member.

This case, more than any other in my life, shook me to the core. It was so close to home. It was so crazy. So bizarre. Our little town was obsessed with wanting to know why…I started reading anything I could get my hands on–which wasn’t much. We didn’t have Reddit to scour and hash out our theories and we didn’t have Twitter to get the latest updates. Heck, even the newspaper articles were already a couple of days old by the time they were published and delivered to the front driveway.

What we did have was gossip. Chatter, stories and tales, but all speculation. None of it made sense. You can imagine by the time this fantastic book was published a few years later, it was snatched off the shelves so fast I’m sure it broke records. Finally we could have some answers about what happened that unforgettable day.

John Bloom and Jim Atkinson were local journalists at the time and somehow, who knows how, they were able to get up close and personal with all the major players in this demented story. I think journalists were a lot more trusted and respected back then. You don’t see a lot of murder defendants spilling their stories these days.

We hear first-hand from Candy Montgomery, her childhood, her strict upbringing, salacious details of her marriage. She tells Bloom exactly what happened that murderous day in a chilling, hypnotic tone. I don’t believe Montgomery has ever given anymore interviews–so it is especially effective in this book. Bloom takes us from beginning to end (yes, the shocking trial verdict!!!) and leaves no details out. Yes, it’s juicy and sensationalist, but utterly mesmerizing.

I hadn’t thought of this book in awhile, but I saw it mentioned in a Goodreads Blog featuring psychological suspense authors Laura Lippman and Alice Bolin sharing their favorites. Thanks for reminding me to have another look at one of the best true crime novels out there. I’m pleased to report it still holds up. 38 years later, it is as bizarre and fascinating as ever.

Brush with infamy note: I sat right behind Candy Montgomery at a movie in Dallas. This was either right before her trial or afterwards, I don’t remember which movie (definitely not Friday the 13th) probably a rom-com– because I remember her smiling and laughing during it. Yes, I stared at her for a long time. Trying to read her face. I could not see any traces of an ax-murderer.  She was just perfectly ordinary:  permed teacher-hair and lovely skin and white teeth. Which was all the more terrifying to me.

evidence of love

 

 

IN THE VINES

FIVE FRIGHTENING STARS to the Kindle version with audio–It’s FABULOUS!

  • Author: Shannon Kirk
  • Publication Date: July 17, 2018

Allow me to collect myself. I might need a puff of Albuterol.

Wouldn’t you know my last post was a list of the best novels I’ve read this year? And now, I’ve read the darkest fear-builder of them all.

Oh, well, I’ll just be off building my new Hall of Fame shelf. This shelf shall be titled “NOVEL-LONG SPASM OF TERROR” and it shall contain this one and only book. With a spotlight shining down on it. And maybe an occasional strobe light. And scary music.

If Misery and Sharp Objects and Dolores Claiborne all banged into each other, rolled around on a dangerous cliff and fell into the raging Atlantic Ocean together, a mermaid would rise up from the depths raising this beautiful book to the heavens.

Mermaids and other lovely things are detailed in this uniquely Gothic thriller. Yet, it is so crazy, I can only think of if as an ugly kind of beauty. The writer, Shannon Kirk, is one to watch, friends. She is uberly talented and I can’t even imagine how she conceived of this story and wrote it in such a technically difficult structure. Amazing.

Ahem….move over Gillian Flynn, move over Stephen King. There is a new queen in town.

IN THE VINES starts in the middle of a terrifying scene and only gets more terrifying from there. Until the 50% point, you will HAVE NO IDEA WTF IS GOING ON. AND IT WILL SCARE YOU TO DEATH. THE DREAD. THE FEAR. OH MY. MY.

I didn’t know much about this book, except that all the cool kids have been raving about it! When it became available “free” as an Amazon Kindle First Read with the Audible sync (or something like that), I snatched it up and am so happy I did. Check out the First Read membership and I think it is still free.

I would recommend reading it with your eyeballs first because it is super confusing -in a good way-when you start. Then, when you’ve got a handle on the story, listen to the first rate audiobook. The audio actresses are PHENOMENAL. Shout out to one of my favorite characters, Popover!  (Johanna’s devoted cat). Everything about this book just screams horror movie.

I don’t want to say anymore–the less you know, the better your experience will be. Just know this: IN THE VINES is the story of a wealthy New England family. There is much love between them. There is also hatred and obsession. Secrets and rage. Adoration and sheer psychotic-ness. It is an almost strictly female cast of characters that is exhausting in the best way possible. Now, just go read the freakin’ book!

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Family ties so strong you can’t escape…

Mary Olivia Pentecost, known as Mop, was born into one of the wealthiest families in the country—and one of the most guarded. Now, two years after her mother’s mysterious death, Mop is seeking closure on the disquieting tragedy by returning to the New England seaside estate of her cloistered Aunty Liv—once her closest relative and confidante.

But behind the walls of the isolated estate, the shadows of the past are darker than Mop imagined. The puzzles of the family history are not to be shared, but unearthed. With each revelation comes a new, foreboding threat—and for Mop, the grave suspicion that to discover Aunty Liv’s secrets is to become a prisoner of them.

How well do we know the people we love? How well do we want to know them? The answers are as twisted as a tangle of vines in this throat-clutching novel of psychological suspense.

About

Shannon Kirk

Shannon Kirk is a practicing attorney and former law professor in Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband, a physicist and ultra-marathoner, and son, a cat-loving, basketball-player. Shannon is a multiple-award winning author of The Extraordinary Journey of Vivienne Marshall and Method 15/33, which is optioned for film and an international best seller. Prior to moving to Massachusetts, Shannon was a trial attorney in Chicago for ten years. Born in Easton, Pennsylvania, Shannon spent her very early years moving around the country: Texas, Indiana, Massachusetts, Upstate New York, and finally settled to grow up mostly in Raymond, New Hampshire. Her home was an eccentric and loud, although loving, household with ten million pets of dubious origin. Both her parents encouraged pursuits in the arts, often dragging her and her three brothers to flea markets and antique shows, while giving lessons on the genius of Bob Dylan and Santana. Shannon’s three brothers are artists: one, a rap/blues musician, another a sculptor, and another a physical therapist with a woodshop. Shannon attended Trinity High School and moved on to West Virginia Wesleyan and St. John’s for college. She graduated from Suffolk Law School in 1998. When not writing or practicing law, Shannon enjoys creating sea-glass sculptures, painting, and hanging with her family and two cats, Marvin and Stewie, who sometimes appear in her books.

Shannon writes in several genres: poetry, literary fiction, suspense/thriller, and young adult.

Shannon is a member of International Thriller Writers and Mystery Writers of America.

15 TWISTIEST NOVELS OF 2018

2018 is a banner blue-ribbon kind of year for the psychological suspense novel! I have repeatedly been blown away by the outstanding books released this year. It is only July and look at this long list! Just click the title link for my review.

TAKE IMMEDIATE SHELTER: My 2018 Twistalicious Faves (so far…)

Lying in Wait is possibly…the best of the best. Liz Nugent is my new obsession. An Irish writer that may take her place beside my queen, Gillian Flynn, on the dark throne of twisted fiction.

Something in the Water is my surprise favorite! Sometimes when an actress or someone NOT in the writing profession throws their hat in the ring with their own novel -I confess to reading it just to see if it’s a train wreck. No ma’am. Catherine Steadman is a pro.

Believe Me is another surprise, only because I was making a snap judgement based on his previous novel which featured an outrageous plot. Believe Me is still out there, but J.P. Delaney cloaks it in a dark, seductive writing style and sells it big time. A deliciously unreliable narrator playing cat and mouse with her untrustworthy lover.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway came as a big relief! Ruth Ware is one of the very best literary-style writers working today, yet I was unable to rate any of her previous books very high. They always seem to miss the mark for me. This gothic mystery featuring an old-fashioned mistaken identity plot is right on target.

You Were Made for This tells the story of a young couple in love and so happily raising their new baby. NOT REALLY… I LIED… Nothing is what it seems at first glance in this contemporary, addictive page-turner! A stunning novel by Michelle Sacks.

The Perfect Nanny is a deep character analysis of a seemingly ordinary woman that commits the ultimate betrayal. Truly spine-tingling reading from French bestselling author, Leila Slimani.

Tangerine is a delectable treat! It’s a female take on The Talented Mr. Ripley and set in the dreamy Moroccan desert. A story of obsessive friendship between two women. Oh, yes, and a murder. An impressive debut novel by Christine Mangan.

The Wife is a perfect blend of police procedural and courtroom drama resting on a perfectly unreliable narrator’s shoulders. Alafair Burke, attorney and writer, is an exceptional author–I’m thrilled to have found her!

All the Beautiful Lies is Peter Swanson’s latest novel of strong and twisted characters. Taboo-crossing, tantalizing and sensational. You can never go wrong with Swanson.

The Flight Attendant grabbed me from the beginning with a binge-drinking, self-loathing main character who finds herself waking up with a dead guy in her bed. Chris Bohjalian has created an old-fashioned thriller featuring a messed-up heroine with a heart of gold.

Force of Nature from Jane Harper features one of the most memorable leading men in recent fiction, Aaron Falk. This time he leaves the Australian desert for the outback wilderness to hunt down a missing executive. Another atmospheric winner from Harper.

The Wife Between Us was the first book I got absolutely delirious over this year. The best quality lies in the ingenious way it’s structured, so innovative! The very definition of a TWIST!

The Chalk Man is a playful, scary novel with a Stranger Things cast of little friends pedaling their bikes into places they shouldn’t. C.J. Tudor is one of my fave new authors to watch.

The Last Time I Lied is campy, great fun. I almost felt like I was with the Scooby-doo gang helping to solve a murder mystery. Riley Sager has a fixation on 80’s horror films that shows in his fabulous novels.

Let Me Lie is the latest offering from the tornado goddess herself, Clare Mackintosh. A wonderful writer, Mackintosh can a spin a twisty mystery like no one else. This one had me second and third guessing all the way!

Now, please enjoy your twisted novels….. Let me know what you think!

LET ME LIE

FOUR STARS

  • Author: Clare Mackintosh
  • Publication date: March 13, 2018

The queen of plot twists, Clare Mackintosh, does not disappoint in the department of surprise. She rules the world of shocking revelations! Where her second novel I See You crossed the line of believability, this new novel only briefly straddles the line. Cross that line more than once and forgeddahboutit…I can’t squelch the urge to roll my eyes and give up caring about the story. That didn’t quite happen, but almost did.

There is a big twist in the structure of the book that will remind you plot twist lovers of The Wife Between Us. It’s exciting and crazy, but it’s this particular twist that was a little too unbelievable for me to handle. I actually think the story would have been better without it. AAAAH, I’m on tiptoes with the plot, I apologize for making no sense at all here!!! I think you will know what I mean when you read it 🙂

Aside from the (many) shocking plot reveals, Mackintosh brings her flair for sensitively portraying emotional human narratives in this novel. I particularly adored the character of Murray, a retired cop who agrees to look into the deaths of Anna’s parents, after they have been ruled as suicides. His relationship with his wife of 25 years is touching, tender. Together, they have endured and persevered through her mental illness challenges. Oh, I want more Murray! What an endearing character! Please bring him back, Clare Mackintosh!!

Mackintosh’s strongest suit is her undeniable writing talent. Aaaah, I could read her words all day long. Charming and utterly engaging use of language, I adore her style! As with her first book, I flew through this addictive story. A former policewoman, Mackintosh actually knows her crime stuff and how to eloquently write about it.

Mackintosh’s third book rates somewhere in the middle of her two previous ones. Thank goodness! After that blockbuster  first book, I Let You Go, I was seriously wondering if she even wrote the second one, I See You. She has redeemed herself with LET ME LIE.

FORCE OF NATURE

FIVE STARS

  • Author: Jane Harper
  • Publication date: February 6, 2018

SHE’S DONE IT AGAIN!

Jane Harper wrote THE best book I read in 2017.

THE DRY deservedly won many prestigious awards and Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk won the hearts of readers around the world.

When a debut work of fiction is nothing less than magnificent, the highly anticipated second novel looms large. Will it live up to the first? Is Harper a one trick pony? Do not fear, Dry fans!!! FORCE OF NATURE does not disappoint and will cement Harper as your go-to mystery/psychological suspense author. Bless!

Instead of the drought ridden Australian outback we got to know intimately in THE DRY, this book is set in the wet, cold and windy Giralang mountain range north of Melbourne. Let me tell you, when you turn that last page, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief that you’re snugly wrapped in front of your fireplace and not out in the FORCE OF NATURE battling the elements.

Jane Harper is first and foremost a fabulous, effortless writer. I love her spare detailing, every word packs a punch. Nothing extraneous here. She also k n o w s people. What drives people, their fears, their downfalls. Her psychological skills are put to full use in FORCE OF NATURE.

Five women from the BaileyTennants financial firm are persuaded to take part in a back country team building exercise that will test their limits beyond imagination. The women have complicated relationships with each other, extending beyond their co-working status. When they emerge from the wilderness, one member of this not-so-happy group is missing.

Our beloved Aaron Falk is called in with his new partner, Carmen Cooper, to assist with the investigation. The story is told from two views, one from the running investigation and the other in a slowed down reality of exactly what happened on this hike into hell.

The result is an addictive, page-turning story rich in atmosphere, mood and setting. It is easily a standalone novel, but there is so much back story on Aaron Falk that a new reader would be greatly missing out by reading the two books out of order. There is ample biographical info on Falk’s personality traits and what makes him tick—all to be discovered in THE DRY.

FORCE OF NATURE feels like a natural, organic follow-up to THE DRY. The premise of this book is brilliant, realistic and terrifically suspenseful.

Highly recommend!