Hardcover, 352 pages
Grand Central Publishing, 3 June 2014
Daniel is a garden designer living in London with his partner, Mark. His parents, Chris and Tilde, have recently retired to a remote farm in Sweden, his mother's childhood home. Daniel believes his parents are happy in their retirement until he receives a frantic phone call from his father. His mother has had a mental breakdown and has fled the hospital where she was being treated. Daniel is about to board a flight to Sweden when he receives a call from his mother, claiming everything his father has told him is a lie and she's on her way to London to see him. As the accusations begin, Daniel is caught between his parents, unsure if he can believe his mother...especially once her conspiracy begins to implicate his father.
"If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son."
The Farm is a quick, engrossing read, the kind of book you'll want to finish in one sitting. Short chapters end in cliffhangers, resulting in a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Descriptions of the stark Swedish countryside, of hunting mushrooms in the forest, and of creeping around the house of a neighbor come to life through Smith's expert voice. As well as bringing individual scenes to life, Smith also successfully conveys the suffocating isolation the residents of Chris & Tilde's new home feel, as though the location was a character itself.
The real-life events that inspired the events in this novel - the mental breakdown of Smith's mother - creates the ring of truth that makes this story so compelling. Tilde appears sane and reliable even as her story becomes less believable, moving farther into her suspicion and mythology. The reader experiences the same confusion and skepticism that Daniel does. The tension he feels in being asked to choose between his mother and his father is palpable to the reader, especially as he begins to realize that he does not know his parents as well as he had previously believed.
The Farm is a true psychological thriller. There are no car chases, shootouts, or dramatic last-minute rescues. At it's heart, it is about trust - how much do we really know about the people we love and who would we believe? This fast-paced novel is sure to please Smith's existing fans and gain him several new.
(I received a copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing for an honest review.)
I Am Pilgrim
Hardcover, 624 pages
Atria/Emily Bestler Books, 2014
Scott Murdoch is a member of a secret government agency, so secret that only a few in the country are aware of it's existence. After years of living in the shadows, Murdoch decides on retirement and writes a book on forensics as an act of closure. Instead of a quiet life off the grid in Paris, he finds himself drawn into a murder investigation at a seedy New York City hotel. The killer appears to have committed the perfect crime and then disappeared without a trace - all while using Murdoch's book as a how-to manual.
Soon he is pressed into service by high-ranking government officials, traveling to the Middle East in search of a lone wolf Saudi terrorist, with the fate of Western civilization hanging in the balance.
"The world doesn't change in front of your eyes; it changes behind your back."
At 600+ pages and cover art that some might call dull, I Am Pilgrim did not immediately strike me as a "summer read," the kind of page-turner I like to take on day trips to the lake. However, it didn't take more than the opening lines before I was hooked. Hayes has the somewhat dubious distinction of writing the first crime scene that I've excitedly read aloud to my husband over a glass of wine at night.
This book is a rare treat - a literary spy thriller that defies stereotype. Our hero is a young, but extremely accomplished, member of a secret government intelligence agency. The bad guy is a young, radical, Muslim terrorist, hellbent on the destruction of Western civilization. The novel is full of exciting chases, thrilling shootouts, and exotic locations. It does not, however, feel tired or overdone at any point. The book is a fresh take on the traditional spy novel. It's filled with enough twists and surprises to keep you on your toes. Hayes uses exciting side plots and character back stories to allow for some breathing room between tense scenes but these scenes are far from dull. On the contrary, they serve to flesh out his characters and bring them to life in a way that many suspense novels fail to do.
Though this is a debut for Hayes, his experience as a screenwriter results in an absorbing, action packed, heart-in-your-throat read. The pacing is perfect, building suspense in just the right spots and then unleashing the action in explosive bursts. Expertly delivered foreshadowing leaves you breathlessly awaiting the next surprise, the next twist. It's not difficult to imagine the blockbuster film this book will become.
In the end, this book is certainly a contender for best-of-the-year lists. It starts as a murder mystery, becomes a spy thriller, and ends up as one of the best books you'll read this year.
(I received a copy of this book from Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.)
Reblogged from Bibliphage:
If you want to do the meme, just copy the whole thing, then delete my responses and add your own. All of these are optional! No need to disclose anything you're uncomfortable with.
When did you learn to read? I was about 3-4 years old.
Favorite book genres: mystery, suspense/thriller, horror, historical fiction
Do you write as well? Nope. This is the extent of my writing, though I've been told I tell a good story, and with my crazy family I'm never short on ideas!
Do you read fanfiction? Nope.
Other interests: news/current events, cooking & baking, photography, and running (less of an "interest" and more of a love/hate relationship, really...)
Hardcover, 169 pages
Soho Press, July 1, 2003 (first published January 1, 1973)
I initially chose this book to host for my book club with more than a little trepidation. While I love a good horror story, especially the tale of "creeping dread" you expect from Alfred Hitchcock or Shirley Jackson, it's not everyone's cup of tea. Frequently just saying a book is "horror" is enough to send potential readers running. This book, however, provided some interesting discussion about whether Amanda was suffering from some sort of supernatural possession or if she was having a mental breakdown. While it still may not be for everyone, if you're choosing a book for a club with somewhat eclectic taste, this could be a great option that's just a bit off the beaten path.
"What we think is impossible happens all the time."
It starts with a simple tapping in the apartment, explained away as a drippy pipe, or perhaps a mouse. An urge to start smoking again and more frequent bickering with her husband. Amanda, a successful young architect, feels a vague sense of unease at the changes in her life. As time passes, Amanda refuses to accept the improbable cause for these changes, with horrifying results.
At 169 pages, it's a short book, and Gran's writing is so clean and succinct that it feels even faster. The sparse writing creates a break-neck pace that causes a sense of panic for the reader, who cannot stop racing toward the same terrifying end as the protagonist. The ambiguity in the story is one of the novel's best qualities and is what draws the reader in. Is the overshadowing of Amanda's will and her seduction the result of insanity or something more supernatural - and does it matter? The terror Amanda feels is palpable and Gran easily transfers this terror to the reader through prose that is both subtle and hypnotizing.
This is a truly horrifying story that is not about cheap scares and gory scenes, but rather a literary approach to an easily dismissed and often unappreciated genre.
The Yonaholosee Riding Camp for Girls
Paperback, 432 pages
Riverhead Trade, June 3, 2014 (first published June 6, 2013)
Thea Atwell, 15, has been sent from her family home in Florida to attend a girls boarding school for the southern elite, one at which she will learn to become an accomplished horsewoman. Over the course of her stay, she learns to navigate this world filled with young women, much different from the isolated life she led at home with her parents and twin brother, while she recovers from a mysterious tragedy in which she has played a central role.
I had high hopes for Yonaholossee after all of the rave reviews it received. It was described as spellbinding, lush, provocative, and smart. It even made Oprah's Summer Reading List.
Initially, I found the book a page turner. I was drawn into the vivid world DiSclafani described - first the hushed, sheltered world that Thea grew up in, and then the majestic wild of the mountains in which the camp is nestled. The social structure of the camp, with it's regional cliques and finishing school schedule (yes, French was a part of the curriculum) created a picture of life for wealthy young women on the verge of the Great Depression.
My problem with this novel, however, is simply how unlikable Thea is. When the reader is first introduced to Thea, she is a quiet girl, reluctant to leave her father's side. She is timid and shy but has a deep love for horses, and we are treated to hints about a family scandal that ruined her family's life back home in Florida. As Thea becomes more acclimated to her life at the camp, she has to make choices about her relationships with the other girls, as well as with the adults in her life. She does not simply make bad choices of the kind you would attribute to a girl her age, but dangerous and disturbing choices that made me question the author's purpose for this character. Thea was also an extremely selfish character, which is to be expected at her age, but without a transformation into a young woman more cognizant of her situation in life, the novel's ending was weak, rushed, and ultimately disappointing.
In addition, the other characters were not well developed and felt like shallow stereotypes. Her brother was described as an animal lover with no other apparent characteristics. Sissy, Thea's friend at the camp, was a sweet girl that everyone liked but was sheltered and foolish. The adults are even worse - her parents are portrayed as having created a "progressive childhood," but it is never explained why they kept their children so sheltered and separate, or if they had desires and hopes of their own.
In the end, this was a book I truly wanted to like, but just couldn't find much about it to enjoy.
Hardcover, 448 pages
Simon & Schuster (Scribner), 2014
Summary: Hundreds of unemployed citizens line up for a job fair in the early morning hours of a Midwest city. A stolen Mercedes plows through the unsuspecting crowd, driven by a lone driver in a clown mask. When the chaos is over, eight innocent people are dead and more than a dozen more are injured.
Retired police detective Bill Hodges spends his days watching talk shows, haunted by the unsolved cases he left behind. When a letter arrives claiming to be from the Mercedes Killer, he decides to investigate on his own instead of going to the police. In doing so, he must match wits with a crazed psychopath, for whom one murderous rampage was not enough.
"I'm going to kill you. You won't see me coming."
Mr. Mercedes succeeds in hitting several of my favorite reading elements: a page-turning suspense thriller, well-developed, sympathetic characters, and a seriously creepy bad guy who got under my skin.
The telling of this story in the present tense, a departure from King's regular writing style, has the benefit of moving the narrative along at a rapid pace, which in turn heightened the race-against-the-clock feel for both Brady (the murderer) and Hodges and his crew.
At times the plot feels contrived, particularly the constant rationalization of why Hodges refuses to turn to the police for help even after it becomes clear that Brady is becoming unraveled. This, however, does nothing to diminish the suspense of the novel, as Hodges runs into roadblocks in his investigation and Brady grows more desperate and disorganized.
As usual, King's character development is unparalleled, with a connection being forged between the reader and characters that are only alive for ten pages. While on the surface some of the characters appear to be formulaic (the suicidal, retired detective, the brilliant tech-savvy young kid, the psychopathic maniac with mommy issues, etc.), King's development of these characters is still successful. They are sympathetic and accessible, with even Brady having his moment of sympathy (albeit a very, very brief one).
This book is classic King, probing the conflict between good and evil both within his characters and between them, though this time played out with purely human elements. Despite not being as strong a showing as his last few novels, this was a solid start to what will hopefully be an enjoyable trilogy.
I'm still working my way through this book, and it is painful when I need to stop and take a break. The action is starting to pick up and I need to hide somewhere quiet (preferably a Starbuck's) and knock this book out today.
I did take a break yesterday, however, to play around on the fun interactive site that is set up to mimic Brady's basement on the official Stephen King website (the fun can be found here: http://stephenking.com/promo/mr_mercedes/the-basement/). There are lots of fun puzzles and hidden activities to be found here, but be warned - if you haven't read the book at all, some spoilers will be revealed. If you're a reader that wants to come at this book with complete ignorance of the plot, do not go to this site until you're at least half way through the book.
Also of interest is that the movie rights to Mr. Mercedes have already been sold (back in May before the book was even published) to Temple Hill and Media Rights Capital and director Jack Bender (Lost, Under the Dome, Sopranos) is currently attached to the movie.
I'm kind of a Stephen King groupie (a "constant reader" in his words), but objectively, this novel is fabulous so far. And, it's in present tense, which is a departure from his past writing. It took me this long to figure out what about the writing style felt so different, but I'm liking it.
I'm not sure how to ease into writing a book review blog, so I'm just going to admit this up front:
I'm not a writer.
I'm a reader, and a voracious one. My interests are all over the place - literary fiction, mysteries, historical fiction, suspense/thrillers, a sprinkling of YA, and even a fantasy/sci-fi novel now and again. But writing has never been my forte.
That being said, I'm going to go ahead and give this a go. I'm constantly passing on recommendations to friends about good books, steering them away from bad ones, and basically acting like a lunatic about books. Why shouldn't I force my opinions on perfect strangers then, right? I'd love to help you find your next favorite book.
So...here goes nothing.