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.

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.

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!

ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LIES

FOUR STARS

  • Author: Peter Swanson
  • Publication date: April 3, 2018

I have a very smart friend that works as a literacy coach for elementary school teachers. Her advice for young students just learning how to tell someone else about a book? Three simple phrases.

SOMEBODY WANTED__________.
BUT____________.
SO_____________.

Is that genius or what? I love it. So short and simple, I’m using it now (thanks Jenny!).  No spoilers here, of course!

SOMEBODY WANTED:  to engage in taboo relationships. Taboo? Yes,  vast age differences and the fact that the characters romantically involved are sometimes related! As in step parent/step child. Ick. Ick. Ick. There is also a clear cut case of a “Mrs. Robinson” carrying on with a teenage boy. As usual, Swanson has come up with some dark characters living blissfully in their own corrupted world.

BUT:   when conforming type people have suspicions about these unusual relationships, they tend to interfere.

SO:   the rational world interferes with the corrupted world, the unbalanced characters become completely unhinged while protecting their own sweet spot and well, WORLDS COLLIDE!!!

There you have it, people. An elementary synopsis of a complicated, layered plot!

And, just a few more words, if I may: This is a compulsive, addictable read. Swanson just keeps getting darker and more forbidden with his plots, next thing you know he’ll turn into Gillian Flynn (Haaaa, just kidding, there is no one else residing at the level of our lovely dark goddess, but Liz Nugent is inching up there).

As usual, Swanson writes in a delicious film noir style. This story is set on the coast of Maine with all the foreshadowing and dangerous mood that accompanies the angry sea. Swanson’s books are clever puzzles with messy edges. At the heart of his novels lies the most basic of human urges: greed. Sometimes the main character is all about the money, money, money.  Here, the main characters are driven by sex, not money. And, if you know Swanson, you know this isn’t going to be everyday lust, he has to pull down that murky shade and create an illicit, creepy scenario.

I wish I could give 5 stars, but I can’t only because the ending was a bit predictable to me. I’m starting to see a plot pattern in his novels. However, I still love this one!!

This is Swanson’s fourth novel and he is extremely consistent in the psychological thriller genre. He is my definite go-to author. This book reminds me of his first hit, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, mainly due to the slightly clueless, lovable protagonist.

All the women in this novel are strong and richly defined, definitely Swanson’s strength. I highly recommend… with reservations for the sensitive reader.

THE CHALK MAN

FOUR NOSTALGIC STARS

  • Author: CJ Tudor
  • Publication date: January 9, 2018

 

Some basic reasons to love THE CHALK MAN:

the title
the author’s bio
the author’s acknowledgments at end of book
that perfect cover
suspenseful, addictive, spooky story
a combination of STRANGER THINGS (Netflix series) and STAND BY ME (80’s movie)

The only reason I couldn’t give all the stars to this very fun and riveting book is due to too many co-winky dinks towards the big reveal at the end. A bit too implausible for my liking. 

I love the 80’s vibe of little boys riding around on their bikes getting into all kinds of mischief and seeing things they shouldn’t. You’ll be instantly reminded of a Stephen King novel without the 500 extra pages!

HIGHLY RECOMMEND!

Thanks to NetGalley, I was able to read and review this book before publication! CJ Tudor has a new book, THE TAKING OF ANNIE THORNE,  due out Feb. 21, 2019. Read about CJ Tudor’s fascinating career below: 

tudor_c_j

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter.

She left school at sixteen and has had a variety of jobs over the years, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, ad agency copywriter and voiceover.

In the early nineties, she fell into a job as a television presenter for a show on Channel 4 called Moviewatch. Although a terrible presenter, she got to interview acting legends such as Sigourney Weaver, Michael Douglas, Emma Thompson and Robin Williams. She also annoyed Tim Robbins by asking a question about Susan Sarandon’s breasts and was extremely flattered when Robert Downey Junior showed her his chest.

While writing the Chalk Man she ran a dog-walking business, walking over twenty dogs a week as well as looking after her little girl.

She’s been writing since she was a child but only knuckled down to it properly in her thirties. Her English teacher once told her that if she ‘did not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author’ he would be ‘very disappointed.’

The Chalk Man was inspired by a tub of chalks a friend bought for her daughter’s second birthday. One afternoon they drew chalk figures all over the driveway. Later that night she opened the back door to be confronted by weird stick men everywhere. In the dark, they looked incredibly sinister. She called to her partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark . . .’

She is never knowingly over-dressed. She has never owned a handbag and the last time she wore heels (twelve years ago) she broke a tooth.

She loves The Killers, Foo Fighters and Frank Turner. Her favourite venue is Rock City.

Her favourite films are Ghostbusters and The Lost Boys. Her favourite authors are Stephen King, Michael Marshall and Harlan Coben.

She is SO glad she was a teenager in the eighties.

She firmly believes that there are no finer meals than takeaway pizza and champagne, or chips with curry sauce after a night out.

Everyone calls her Caz.