Tag Archives: thrillers

The Read List: City of the Lost, by Kelley Armstrong

city of the lost

Casey Duncan is a homicide detective with a secret: when she was in college, she killed a man. She was never caught, but he was the grandson of a mobster and she knows that someday this crime will catch up to her. Casey’s best friend, Diana, is on the run from a violent, abusive ex-husband. When Diana’s husband finds her, and Casey herself is attacked shortly after, Casey knows it’s time for the two of them to disappear again.

Diana has heard of a town made for people like her, a town that takes in people on the run who want to shed their old lives. You must apply to live in Rockton and if you’re accepted, it means walking away entirely from your old life, and living off the grid in the wilds of Canada: no cell phones, no Internet, no mail, no computers, very little electricity, and no way of getting in or out without the town council’s approval. As a murderer, Casey isn’t a good candidate, but she has something they want: She’s a homicide detective, and Rockton has just had its first real murder. She and Diana are in. However, soon after arriving, Casey realizes that the identity of a murderer isn’t the only secret Rockton is hiding?in fact, she starts to wonder if she and Diana might be in even more danger in Rockton than they were in their old lives.

My thoughts on City of the Lost:

I adore Kelley Armstrong’s work. She’s an amazing writer and even more amazing in person. If you’ve been following her writing recently, you’ll have noticed she’s started doing a lot more non-urban fantasy books. The new books are more on the thriller or mystery side, and they are good!

  1. I actually came to Kelley’s works through her Nadia Stafford series, so in a way I got to know her through her non-fantasy works to begin with. (In case you’re not familiar with them, the Nadia Stafford series is about a female assassin–and they are very good reads.) So City of the Lost was right up my alley.
  2. Kelley has such a way with atmosphere, and she’s as brilliant as ever with building atmosphere here. Even though I knew this wasn’t an urban fantasy, I kept thinking something paranormal or supernatural would show up. But I wasn’t disappointed in my anticipation; the things that did happen, while not paranormal, were very creepy and eerie and in total sync with the atmosphere.
  3. Did I say creepy? I need to say it again. Creepy. Eerie. In a good way.
  4. I really liked Casey Duncan. Strong, independent, a self-thinker. Her flaws added strength to the story. Also, she’s half Asian, and it’s so nice to see an Asian protagonist in a book. And perhaps what I like most about her being half-Asian is that Kelley doesn’t make it into some big deal. It’s just who Casey is.
  5. There’s a romance. I’ve never been big on romances in my thrillers (I tend to prefer them in my romances, you know?), but this romance felt so natural and didn’t detract from the story events at all.
  6. Rockton–such an interesting concept for a town!
  7. Dalton, the sheriff, is an interesting character, and the more I read, the more interesting he got. Talk about a backstory!
  8. And as for the ending, I definitely didn’t see it coming.

My verdict: a very good read indeed.

 

Why ‘Disclaimer’ Didn’t Resonate With Me

disclaimer

When a mysterious novel appears at Catherine Ravenscroft’s bedside, she is curious. She has no idea who might have sent her The Perfect Stranger—or how it ended up on her nightstand. At first, she is intrigued by the suspenseful story that unfolds.

And then she realizes.

This isn’t fiction.

The Perfect Stranger re-creates in vivid, unmistakable detail the day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew—and that person is dead.

Now that the past Catherine so desperately wants to forget is catching up with her, her world is falling apart. Plunged into a living nightmare, she knows that her only hope is to confront what really happened on that terrible day … even if the shocking truth may destroy her.

So I had a little dilemma on my hands when it came to this book. You see, by the time I got to page 50 of Renée Knight’s Disclaimer, I knew it was a book that, under normal circumstances, I’d put down and not finish.

By page 100, I was more than sure of it.

My dilemma? I was reading Disclaimer for a TLC Book Tour. If I DNF’d it, I wouldn’t be able to review it.

So I thought about it, and decided I’d speed-skim through the rest of the pages. I figured, that would be like finishing the book, and then maybe I could review it. But after I did that, I realized that speed-skimming through it wasn’t the same as properly reading it to the end. I couldn’t write a review based on reading the first 100 pages and then skimming my way through the rest of the book.

And I still had to write a post about it.

So I’ve decided to write about why those first 100 pages just didn’t resonate with me.

I’m in the minority in my feelings about this book, by the way. Most of the reviews on Goodreads are rave ones. I know this, because I went and read several of them, to try and see what I was missing, what others were getting that I just couldn’t see.

But even after reading the reviews, I knew there were a few things I just couldn’t get past. The following are my own personal foibles as a reader—given the number of outstanding reviews for Disclaimer, it’s obvious they’re very personal to me, and will likely not affect how other readers will feel about the book.

Being kept in the dark for so long. Normally I don’t mind being kept in the dark as a reader. I mean, without that, there wouldn’t be any suspense, right? And generally the main characters (well, other than the villains) usually don’t know what’s going on either. We’re reading the story from their perspective; what they don’t know, we don’t know.

I’m good with that.

But the thing is, in Disclaimer we get to be intimate with Catherine’s feelings. We know she’s in turmoil, we know she’s in pain, we know she’s scared. We know how she felt reading the book, how she felt when she first realized it was a book about her. We’re in the bathroom with her as she sits on the toilet crying. We’re in bed with her as the anxiety and dread and fear eat away at her.

Through the first hundred pages or so, we are privy to all her feelings about this monstrous thing that’s brutally ripping her life apart , but despite knowing all this, we aren’t privy at all to what this thing is. Even though Catherine herself knows. Catherine, whose point of view we have been reading in every other chapter.

And I’m afraid for me, being kept in the dark in this kind of way didn’t build up the suspense. It actually kept me out of the story. It was like an authorial intrusion; I kept seeing the author’s hand at play. And it went on for too long, for no good reason other than it was a way to build up the suspense.

Unlikable characters. I didn’t find any of the characters in this book particularly likable, although in the end one might feel more sympathy for one of the characters. I don’t particularly like reading novels with unlikable characters, but if the story is good I will keep on reading. Disclaimer has a great story—I mean, can you imagine reading a book and finding yourself as one of the main characters?—but in the end (or rather, after 100 pages) the unlikable characters coupled with being kept in the dark for so long just didn’t work for me.

The writing style. I didn’t like the writing style employed in Catherine’s chapters. It was too choppy, too disjointed. I wanted more transitions in time and space than were offered.

Since I did skim read to the end, I know how the plot ends, so I’ll end with my thoughts on the plot. I don’t think the actual event as depicted in The Perfect Stranger was worth all the build-up. There is a twist at the end, though. The effects of the revealing of this twist seemed to me (in my speed skimming, that is) to happen too quickly, to produce too fast of a turnaround in one character in particular. No spoilers, but if you’ve read the book you’ll know who I mean.

So there you have it. These are the reasons why Disclaimer didn’t resonate with me. Personally, I think if you like the synopsis and don’t share any of the reading dislikes I’ve listed, you’ll probably enjoy Disclaimer. After all, lots of people—most people—who have read it have loved it.

Listening: ‘Mr. Mercedes’ and ‘The Supernaturals’

I’ve got a couple of new-to-me audiobooks on the go right now (I say “new-to-me” because when I’m working, I like to listen to an audiobook but usually have to listen to something I’ve read before – like an Agatha Christie or a Nero Wolfe – because I do end up missing huge chunks of scenes if something takes over all of my focus).

mr mercedes by stephen king

I’m in the last half of Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King right now. It’s an interesting read, and very character-driven. Unlike what you might expect, it’s not a horror story. It’s actually a thriller, with some police procedural aspects thrown in. Lots of humour in the dialogue, too. I’ve really been enjoying it.

the supernaturals david golemon

I also just started The Supernaturals: A Ghost Story, by David L. Golemon. This one is, as its title implies, a horror novel. I’m only at the beginning, but the tone has already been set. (Actually, it was set in the author’s foreword.) It’s been good so far, and I have high expectations of it. Based on the reviews at Audible, it’s quite the spooky tale.

What about you? What good audiobooks have you been listening to lately?

Summer Reads: The Diabolist, by Layton Green

Where has the summer gone? One thing’s for sure, I certainly didn’t spend much of it reading. I’m sad to report, I’ve only read (well, “am reading”, in the one case) three books.

That’s THREE books. All summer!

I’m not sure what happened. It was a strange summer, weather-wise. Hot hot days, but interspersed with lots of rainy gloomy days. My ten year old was in a variety of camps, so there was all the running around associated with getting him there and picking him up. Earlier in August, I finally launched my freelance writing business, and a lot of time has been taken up with working on a “web presence” (ie a company website) and landing clients (so far I have one and an interview on Tuesday for a potentially large client  – hurray!).

The good news is, all the books (all three of them – ahem) that I picked up this summer have been great reads. My first book of the summer?

The Diabolist, by Layton Green.

the diabolist

I mentioned earlier this year that Dan Brown’s Inferno was a DNF for me, despite the very exciting storyline and the fast-paced narrative. There was just something missing from the book, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but so important that its absence made it easy for me to close the novel halfway to the finish mark, and not feel any inclination to open it up again.  Now that I’ve read Layton Green’s The Diabolist, I think I know what that missing ingredient was: characters that I could care about. That’s definitely something Green gives the reader in The Diabolist.

The Diabolist is a fast-paced occult thriller, well-written and well-researched, with the research presented perfectly within the confines of the story, never making you feel like you were reading pieces of non-fiction stuck here and there throughout the tale.

Viktor Radek is a religious phenomenologist specializing in cults, and his investigative partner Dominic Grey is skilled in killing, a Jujitsu expert with an uncompromising personal ethos. Someone is murdering the leaders of Satanic cults around the world – killing them in bizarre, magical-seeming ways – and it appears that the charismatic leader of an increasingly popular New Age religion might be involved. As Viktor and Dominic pursue the tangle of leads – separately, because there are so many avenues to follow – I was drawn into a number of exotic locales around the world.

If you’re a squeamish kind of reader, which I am, you should know there are some particularly gruesome scenes concerning certain Satanic rituals, as well as the rather violent fights Dominic gets into; I just skimmed through those scenes and the skimming didn’t have an impact on my enjoyment of the story.

The most spine-tingling scene in the book for me was the one in which Viktor, busily tracking down the Tutori, a group commissioned by the Vatican back in the Middle Ages to extinguish heresies, finds himself and his guide pursued through the streets of York in the dead of night. No violence or gore, other than the continuing threat of violence, this scene really had my heart racing.

The only quibble I have with the book – well, with the actual series, I guess, since The Diabolist is the third in the series (and you can definitely read it as a standalone without any negative effects, as I did) – is that the series is labelled “The Dominic Grey series” but when it comes down to it, it was Viktor who stole the story for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with Dominic, but I’ve read many thrillers with protagonists who could be Dominic’s brother or father. Viktor, though – such a complex, complicated character. Which he should be. After all, he does explore the many shades of good and evil as part of his routine everyday.

“What is evil? How does the term evil apply not just to one particular act but to the larger ethos of the worshipper? From where does the idea of evil derive in that belief system? Is it merely illusory? How does the adherent reconcile the existence of evil, if applicable, to the belief in an omnipotent God?” Viktor folded his arms. “Perhaps the hardest lesson of all is to realize that you, as the dutiful scholar, might have learned nothing about the true nature of good and evil. And that for each investigation you must clear your mind and start anew.”

So in my mind, the series should really be “The Viktor Radek series”. Or perhaps, “The Viktor Radek and Dominic Grey series”.

The Diabolist is a well-written thriller about Satanic cults that’s a definite page-turner. Not necessarily for the faint of heart (I certainly couldn’t have listened to this one in audio, given the limited skimming capabilities of the spoken word), but as I said, those scenes are easy enough to skim through without disrupting your read. Recommended if you’re looking for a page-turning thriller with engaging characters.

Coming up here later this week (hopefully)? My other summer reads: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell and The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon (which I’m still in the middle of reading). See what I mean about having read some good books this summer (slight though my reading pile was)?

Review: Blood Oath, by Christopher Farnsworth

Blood Oath (The President's Vampire, #1)

What Blood Oath is about:

The ultimate secret. The ultimate agent. The President’s vampire.

Zach Barrows is an ambitious young White House staffer whose career takes an unexpected turn when he’s partnered with Nathaniel Cade, a secret agent sworn to protect the president. But Cade is no ordinary civil servant. Bound by a special blood oath, Cade has spent more than 140 years in service to the president, battling nightmares before they can break into the daylight world of the American dream.

Immediately Zach and Cade receive their first joint assignment: one that uncovers a shadowy government conspiracy and a plot to attack the Unites States with a gruesome new biological weapon. Zach soon learns that the world is far stranger, and far more dangerous, than he ever imagined . . . and that his partner is the least of his problems.

This is the first vampire novel I’ve read since I devoured Justin Cronin’s The Passage last year.

I enjoyed Blood Oath thoroughly (not that it’s anything like The Passage at all, though – the only similarities are that they both feature vampires and there are secret service types involved). Blood Oath is one of those great, action-packed page-turning reads, the kind of book that delivers pure entertainment. Even though it’s a vampire novel, it’s not like your typical paranormal vampire novel. It reads more like an action thriller that just happens to have, as its main protagonist, a vampire.

It turns out, you see, that all of the presidents of the United States have had in their service a vampire, one Nathaniel Cade; it’s Cade’s job to keep the bad guys of the “other world” away from this world and back in the other world where they belong.

Cade does a fine job of things, too. He’s got a new partner now, though: young and quite cocky Zach Barrows, who had ambitions to achieve lofty heights in the political world. Being stuck partnering with a vampire isn’t at all the kind of thing Barrows has been dreaming about. Even though he’s been told it’s the most important position among the President’s staff, it feels more like a punishment to him.

I thought Farnsworth did a good job in terms of world-building; the vampire/other world aspect is tied into the regular world seamlessly and reads quite credibly. I liked Nathaniel Cade, too: his own personal code of vampire ethics, and the hints at the potential consequences of adhering to such a rigid code. Zach Barrows is the perfect partner for Cade, too; his cockiness and quick mouth add to the occasional humor in the story.

The action is fast-paced and extremely readable, and while there is violence, it’s not gratuitous violence at all. I enjoy reading thrillers, but sometimes they’re just too violent for my taste. That doesn’t happen here. The violence is there for a reason, to show the reader what’s happening, and Farnsworth doesn’t take it farther than it has to go.

I’m looking forward to reading the sequel!

Reading The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

The Lost SymbolI’ve been reading Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol.

I found the book extremely exciting; it’s definitely a real page turner.

I really enjoyed all the research, too. I was very tempted several times while reading to stop for a moment and go to the computer to Google some of the things that Brown talks about in the book.

So here’s the paradox: despite this, I returned the book to the library without finishing it.

This is exactly the same thing that happened when I read Angels & Demons, the sequel to The Da Vinci Code (I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code enormously, by the way, and yes, I did finish it).

I had put down Angels & Demons with about a quarter of the book left to go. I’ve never been able to figure out why, exactly – I mean, here we were, coming up to the finale, there was a ton of excitement, which I’d enjoyed thoroughly, and suddenly, I lost interest.

As it turns out, I put down The Lost Symbol with about a quarter of the book to go, too; today, on my way to the library, I looked at it, sitting on my bedside table, and realized I probably wasn’t going to be in the mood to pick it up again, at least not in the near future. So I returned it.

This time around, I gave it a bit more thought. After all, I love a good story, with lots of excitement, a book that’s real page turner – so what happened?

Perhaps it didn’t help that I saw through all of the villain’s traps, right from the start of the book (that is, all the traps up until I stopped reading, which was just after Langdon fell into another trap despite my saying to him, “No! Don’t do that! Why aren’t you calling to check first? Oh, no, here we go again!”).

Still, despite this, as a reader I was quite willing to forgive Langdon for falling into these traps, even though they seemed so obvious to me (maybe I’m just way more paranoid or cynical than Langdon and after all, of course Langdon doesn’t know he’s a character in a thriller while I do know he is). Still, that wasn’t the reason I stopped reading.

The only thing I can think of is that there was just too much excitement for me. I already knew how the book would end – obviously, the world isn’t destroyed, and Robert Langdon lives to potentially get involved in another symbology caper – but really, I know that for most of the suspense novels I read.  But the pace was relentless, and in the end, just too fast for me. I could keep up for a while, and the subject matter and all the research definitely kept things interesting, but as we headed toward the finale, I just found all the excitement to be too much. And I lost interest as a result.

So this is a real paradox, because while I did not finish the book, I actually really enjoyed every bit of the book that I did read. And I just noticed that there’s a special illustrated edition that will be published this November, and if my library will be ordering it, well, I’d love to flip through it, so I can see pictures of the things Brown talks about in the book (because yes, I did resist the urge to Google while I was reading).

How weird is that? But it’s true. I enjoyed every bit of the book that I did read. At the same time, it’s a DNF (did not finish) for me. And yes, I would be tempted by the illustrated edition.

How’s that for a wishy washy sort-of-review?

What about you? Have you read The Lost Symbol? Did you like it? And if not, is it in your TBR list?

Review: The Strain, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The StrainA Boeing 777 packed full of passengers lands at JFK and begins its way across the tarmac when it suddenly stops dead – the engine’s turned off, all window shades are down, all the lights are off, and no-one on board is communicating with the outside world, not even passengers screaming about delays through their cell phones.

The Strain, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, begins with this eerie situation, and continues to pull you deep into the story at a full gallop. If you’ve been reading MsBookish.com for a while, you’ll know that I saved this book to take with me on holiday to Nova Scotia, where I then proceeded to read it one fog-filled morning, and didn’t put it down until I finished the book, late that same evening.

Perhaps not surprisingly, considering Del Toro’s film credentials, the book reads very much like an action-packed movie. Chapters are filled with shorter scenes that take the reader back and forth from place to place and character to character, all at a wonderfully thrilling speed that makes it difficult to put the book down until the very end.

Can you tell I enjoyed this book a lot? You’ve got a vampire virus thing going around, tons of suspense, the beginnings of some dark and evil mastermind plot and a motley crew of unlikely heroes – so yes, I loved it!

Be warned, though. The vampires in The Strain aren’t dark and handsome. They’re not about to play the romantic lead in any play, that’s for sure. Think more along the lines of brain-dead zombie-like creatures that just happen to want to suck your blood, and you’ll be on the right track.

Even though these ugly zombie-like vampires are involved, I wouldn’t call the book a horror novel. Nor did I find it extremely violent, either (although there are ample chopping and slashing scenes). I would put this book in the suspense thriller category, with just the right touch of spine-tingling suspense – the kind of suspense that makes you jump if someone comes up behind you while you’re reading it, especially when you’re reading it at a cottage by the Atlantic Ocean on a dark and foggy early summer night.

You don’t really want to read this one on a dark and stormy night when you’re home alone by yourself. But then again, maybe you might …

Where to buy The Strain:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by William Morrow/HarperCollinsPublishers, 2009, Hardcover, 401 pages

Another Book-Buying Binge! (Or, Why I Shouldn’t Go To Costco Anymore)

Yesterday I accidentally indulged in another book-buying binge. Yes, in case you’re wondering, it was totally by accident. I had no intentions of splurging on anything when I entered Costco.

Unfortunately, since it’s summer, the book section at Costco is a dangerous place for a book lover to be. I think the marketing assumption is that in the summer, people buy books to read on the beach or on holidays.

I’m thinking now that those marketing people are geniuses. Either that, or I’m extraordinarily susceptible to marketing ploys. (Okay, so maybe it’s the latter.)

Here’s the stack I came home with:

CIMG2505

And here are the covers:

It Would Be Funny... If It Wasn't My Life, by Lisa DowTailSpin, by Catherine CoulterThe Last Oracle, by James RollinsThe Flying Troutmans, by Miriam ToewsWicked: Witch & Curse, by Nancy Holder and Debbie ViguiéThe Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg LarssonExit Lines, by Joan BarfootThe Society of S, by Susan HubbardThe Year of Disappearances, by Susan HubbardHow To Be Single, by Liz TuccilloThe Book of God and Physics, by Enrique JovenBrainMatics Logic Puzzles, by H. F. UllmannOne Fifth Avenue, by Candace BushnellDK Encyclopedia of Animals, by DK Publishing

I’m not sure when I’ll have the time to read these. I do, however, feel good knowing I now have them on hand, for whenever the right reading mood strikes.

Want to know something even sadder? Do you see the BrainMatics Logic Puzzles? My husband (who happens to be just as bad when it comes to cookbooks, by the way) happened to slip a copy of this one into the cart, too, thinking I’d enjoy it. So we came home with TWO copies. I’m promising myself I won’t give in to temptation again when we go back to Costco to return the duplicate copy.

Do you go on book-buying binges occasionally? Please say yes!

Vacation Reading List

I’ve finally pared down my vacation reading list – room is limited, unfortunately, so I had to be very selective. Here’s what I’ll be taking with me on holidays.

Print books:

Dead Until DarkStorm FrontLiving Dead in DallasYsabelL.A. CandyCrossed WiresExcuses BegoneThe StrainEncyclopedia of an Ordinary LifeThe Language of BeesGhost Huntress

Audiobooks:

Mad MouseWhack a MoleHell HoleMind ScramblerFinger Lickin' FifteenI'm a Stranger Here Myself

Ebooks:

The Dragon Riders of PernThe Demon's LexiconDeath by LatteSecrets of My Hollywood Life

I’m probably not going to be able to read all of these books, but I figure I’ll have something for nearly every reading mood that strikes me.

What’s on your reading list this summer?

Under the Christmas Tree …

This is a bit late, but I have an excuse, since I wasn’t actually here after Christmas to write this post and Disney, incredibly enough, actually charges a daily fee for online access, so I also have an excuse for not writing this post while I was away on holiday. Not that I need an excuse, of course – but then again, I’m suffering from an attack of blogger’s guilt.

I was actually quite surprised at the reading spoils under the tree for me, because I handed my wish list to my nearest and dearest quite late in the game, and if they went online they risked my presents arriving after the big day. Despite this, they managed to find a lot of my requests at our nearest Chapters.

Here’s what I received:

Thriller: The Fire, by Katherine Neville. I know I’ve had this in my TBR pile, but it’s a library copy so I was very happy to return that copy and replace it with my very own!

Young adult: Kitty Kitty, by Michele Jaffe. I read Bad Kitty, Jaffe’s first book, last year, and enjoyed it very much, so I was very happy to add Kitty, Kitty to my TBR.

Fantasy: The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J.K. Rowling. I’m definitely looking forward to this one, especially after I read Ann-Kat’s review.

Historical romance: The Darcys & the Bingleys, by Marsha Altman. I know I’ve mentioned that I don’t like reading historical fiction, but Pride and Prejudice happens to be one of my all-time favorite books, and when I first read about this book, it really intrigued me.

Mystery: The Private Patient, by P.D. James. I am a huge P.D. James fan, and it’s a delight to have the latest Adam Dalgliesh book in hardcover, rather than having to wait for it to come out in paperback (or my time in the long wait list at the library to come up).

Young adult: The Squad: Perfect Cover and The Squad: Killer Spirit, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I can’t remember the blog where I first read a review of The Squad: Perfect Cover but it sounded like a great read: a computer geek girl who is a rebel and an outsider gets an invite to try out for her school’s cheerleader squad. Definitely NOT high on her list of things to do, but they manage to entice her to check it out – and she discovers that the cheerleading squad (known as the God Squad at her school) is actually a covert CIA group of operatives.

How could I resist putting both of these on my wish list? And I read both of them while at Disney, and they were both delightful (full reviews coming soon).

All in all, I am extremely happy with these new additions to my TBR pile – huge thanks to my family for putting these under the tree for me!