Showing posts with label psychological. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychological. Show all posts

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Believe the Hype! The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My Review:

It's only partway through January, and already I feel like this book has more hype than any novel can handle in 2015.  ERRRR-BODY is reading The Girl on the Train right now, people!  I had a credit on my Amazon account and couldn't help jumping on the bandwagon for this one, because yes--it gets compared to Gone Girl pretty much non-stop.  Check the reviews on Goodreads--almost every single reviewer mentions it.

I don't like to write a review that constantly compares the book in question to a previous read...but I'm going to do it anyway here, because my reading experience was absolutely influenced by the fact that so many people made the Gone Girl comparison.

There are, admittedly, a lot of similarities.  If you liked the unreliable narrators in Gone Girl, you get a bonus in Girl on the Train, because there's three of them.  And they are all kinds of batsh*t crazy.  One is a massively insecure, unemployed, raging alcoholic.  Another is a woman with a mysterious past who has recently gone missing.  And then you have the housewife whose constant paranoia leaves every one of her chapters thick with anxiety.  Yup, if you want a story where you're never sure who's telling the truth, then winner winner chicken dinner right here.  Plus, none of the narrators are quite what they seem--your interpretation of these three very different women is guaranteed to change by the time you reach the end.

The other big similarity?  The suspense.  Once you get going with this novel, you better clear your schedule.  The narrators weave quite a spectacular tale, and once you get wrapped up in it, you'll whip through chapters wanting to know what's next.  I FLEW through this book, and I don't fly through a lot of books these days.  The story is dark, sinister, and twisted in many ways, and will leave you with the same sort of unsettled feeling that you probably got from that Gillian Flynn novel.**

I will say that one significant difference for me was in the ending.  At the end of Gone Girl, I felt like the ending was perfection--not just the actual events involved, but the tone as well.  (I know not everyone agrees with me on this, NOTED.)  The Girl on the Train was different.  I saw the conclusion coming a lot sooner than I wanted to--I had figured out the "whodunit" quite a while before the book got around to revealing it, which was a little disappointing.  And I found the culprit's frank demeanor about the whole situation to be rather odd.

That said, I wouldn't say the ending ruined the novel for me as a whole.  The suspense in this book really can't be beat, and that alone makes the reading experience worth it.  Plus, despite being a little predictable for me, I will say the ending keeps with the dark nature of the rest of the book, so it felt fitting even if it wasn't especially surprising.

Final verdict: despite feeling so-so about the ending, I think the hype around this book is well-deserved.  If you want a truly engrossing read, get yourself on that 138-person wait list for The Girl on the Train at your local library, like ASAP.

Who's read this highly-hyped novel already?  What did you think (no spoilers please!)?  If you haven't read it, do you think you'll be giving in to the hype and trying it anytime soon?

**Without giving spoilers, I would like to mention that the death of a young child plays a role in this book.  It is not gory, but it was difficult for me to read when I came upon it unexpectedly, and I felt it would be helpful to include this trigger warning for other readers.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke

Title:  Mind of Winter
Author: Laura Kasischke
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: March 25, 2014
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On a snowy Christmas morning, Holly Judge awakens, the fragments of a nightmare-something she must write down-floating on the edge of her consciousness.

Something followed them from Russia.

On another Christmas morning thirteen years ago, she and her husband Eric were in Siberia to meet the sweet, dark-haired Rapunzel they desperately wanted. How they laughed at the nurses of Pokrovka Orphanage #2 with their garlic and their superstitions, and ignored their gentle warnings. After all, their fairy princess Tatiana-baby Tatty-was perfect.

As the snow falls, enveloping the world in its white silence, Holly senses that something is not right, has not been right in the years since they brought their daughter-now a dangerously beautiful, petulant, sometimes erratic teenager-home. There is something evil inside this house. Inside themselves. How else to explain the accidents, the seemingly random and banal misfortunes. Trixie, the cat. The growth on Eric's hand. Sally the hen, their favorite, how the other chickens turned on her. The housekeeper, that ice, a bad fall. The CDs scratched, every one.

But Holly must not think of these things. She and Tatiana are all alone. Eric is stuck on the roads and none of their guests will be able to make it through the snow. With each passing hour, the blizzard rages and Tatiana's mood darkens, her behavior becoming increasingly disturbing and frightening. Until, in every mother's worst nightmare, Holly finds she no longer recognizes her daughter.

My Review:

I can't say too much about Mind of Winter without giving away all the good stuff.  What I can say is that this is a novel that will creep up on you.  Emphasis on "creep" (in all its various forms).

Honestly, when the novel opened, I was more annoyed with Holly's character than anything.  It's Christmas morning, she overslept, and she had a nightmare.  She keeps thinking that "something followed them home from Russia" when she adopted her daughter Tatiana 13 years ago.  She's haunted by this idea, and feels that she needs to write it down.  But she keeps repeating it over and over...and never writing it down.  So yes, I was annoyed, and wondering when we were going to move from repetitive to something more compelling.

However, after a while I realized that this was not your typical thriller.  Once I was about 60% into the book, it dawned on me that something was just...wrong.  At this point, Holly and her daughter are housebound alone on Christmas day because of a blizzard that has descended on their town.  Something about Holly is off-kilter.  Straight-up odd, in some cases.  For example, she never, in the last 13 years, has brought her daughter to a doctor for anything.  No well visits, vaccinations, etc.  And she alternates so quickly between being a happy, doting mother, and being freakishly angry with Tatiana.

Little things like this continue to build, until before you know it, you are thoroughly unsettled by the entire situation.  What starts as an ordinary Christmas day slowly becomes downright horrifying.  And the transition is so gradual, you'll never see the ending coming--which is the best part.  It's one of those endings that makes you want to go back and re-read the entire book, because it changes EVERYTHING.

Mind of Winter is sneaky, y'all.  Don't let the seemingly bland beginning fool you, because this is a Christmas celebration that will haunt you for a looooong time.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Laura Kasischke on her website.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Review: The Dinner by Herman Koch

Title: The Dinner
Author: Herman Koch
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: February 12, 2013 (English edition)
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.
     Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.
     Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator,  The Dinner  promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

My Review:

If I had to name the book that was recommended to me the most times in the last year, it would be The Dinner.  I think I have the Wall Street Journal to thank for that, since it billed the novel as "the European Gone Girl" several months back.  (Must I remind you for the eleventy billionth time how I feel about Gone Girl?)

Okay, I knew I had to give this one a try.  I put it on my 30 Before 35 list to make sure it happened relatively soon, and here we are.

First of all, even though the two novels are vastly different in subject, I can see why the WSJ made the comparison with Gillian Flynn's novel.  It's more a comparison of themes rather than actual plot points.  The most basic way to put it is that there is a complete lack of moral compass in both novels.  In The Dinner, Paul (our protagonist) introduces us to his three fellow diners, as well as the terrible actions of their children that prompted this meeting in a hoity-toity Amsterdam restaurant.  These specifics are unveiled very slowly--so slowly, in fact, that after a while I started to get bored.  I didn't see where the hook was, the "thing" that was going to make this novel grip me and stick around in my brain for a while, because I felt like I had all the details and could see where they would eventually take me.

However, the catch is that none of the characters are quite as they originally seem.  Yes, you get a lot of the details about the 4 diners in the first half of the novel--enough detail to make assumptions about how they will later act.  But you're going to assume these things thinking that they are capable of rational action...when in fact, they often are not.  Nope, I'd say these four are quite psychologically effed up, for lack of a better phrase (two of them in particular).  And that leads to a whole series of events that I didn't see coming.  That's the hook.

By the time I reached the end, I had mixed feelings.  I like how Koch took the four diners, introduced them quite slowly and methodically in the beginning, and then suddenly started revealing details that changed my entire perception of them by the end.  That's not easy to do, especially in a novel that is relatively short in length--and especially when one of the four characters in question is narrating the story.  Character development = A++.

However, the downside for me was that by the end, I felt like the choices made by these characters were almost too unbelievable.  I know a lot of Gone Girl critics that panned Flynn's novel for that reason, though I disagreed with that assessment in that case.  However, in The Dinner, that was precisely my issue.  I understand what Koch was trying to illustrate--the idea that we will go to great (maybe borderline insane) lengths to protect our families--but it was a little too out there for me at times.  Not to mention that some of the specifics were a bit far-fetched (ex: there's an important detail that's based around an "amniotic fluid test" for mental disabilities that I'm fairly sure does not exist). I left Gone Girl feeling like it was a situation that could actually happen--I didn't leave The Dinner feeling the same way.

My final assessment: as literary fiction, The Dinner is an intriguing piece of work.  The pacing and character development is spot-on, and for that reason I'd say it's definitely worth the read.  However, on the "psychological thriller" side of things, it didn't completely grab me.  And for this, I blame the Wall Street Journal--because is it really fair to compare two authors' work so directly?

Have you read The Dinner?   Do you think it's fair to compare it to Gone Girl?   And if you haven't read it yet, how do you feel when a novel is closely compared to another well-known you think it creates good hype, or leaves too much room for overly high expectations?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book Review: Evil Water by Inger Wolf

Title: Evil Water
Author: Inger Wolf
Publisher: Black Cat Edition
Publication Date: December 15, 2012 (English translation)
Source: e-copy received from publisher for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Two women disappear without a trace, and the same autumn a farmer on the outskirts of Ã…rhus finds them murdered in suitcases under a heap of stone. The skin of one woman is filled with the letter Y, and the other has a rare flower in her hair. Inspector Daniel Trokic is leading the case which goes in several directions: to a tribal population in Africa, religious insanity, and a horrifying meeting with leeches. When a third woman disappears, Trokic is under pressure to find out what the killer wants to say with his macabre scenery and rituals.

My Review:

When I was offered this book for review, I'll admit it: I read the description and immediately thought, "Oooooh dark Scandinavian mystery!  How Dragon Tattoo-ish!"  On that alone, I knew I had to give it a try.

Evil Water is the first of Inger Wolf's novels that have been translated into English (from the original Danish). I was initially under the impression that this was Wolf's debut novel, but in fact, she has several other books previously published (all in Danish).  This is important to know beforehand, because the other novels also include Daniel Trokic as the protagonist, so this is a bit of a series.  I didn't realize this until partway through the novel, when it became obvious that the plot was referencing things that had happened in other books.  Once I figured that out though, it didn't detract from my reading of the novel, and in fact made me wish the other books were available in English as well.  (I do have to note that the translation leaves something to be desired at times...word choices are a bit awkward throughout, which is off-putting, but I considered this to be a reflection of the translation rather than the writing itself.)

This is a dark mystery for sure.  Trokic and his crew are combing through some pretty grisly murders, so this is not for the faint of heart!  The pacing is fantastic.  I know I compared it to the Dragon Tattoo books above, but Evil Water moves along much more quickly and concisely than that series.  I felt like something new was being revealed on each page, and there was very little of the drawn-out background information that you often get in longer mysteries.  I had no problem getting hooked right at page one.

Another plus for this novel: the characters.  Trokic is a great lead detective, and all the references to Wolf's other novels made me wish I had more of the background on him.  The other characters (especially the other detectives) are very unique, which is great because they each bring a separate POV when you see the crime through their eyes.

Wolf throws a ton of red herrings in along the way, which left me constantly second-guessing the supposed identity of the killer.  There were several points where I was POSITIVE I knew who the killer was, only to be proven wrong a page later.  The ending was pretty creative, though I will say I felt that the steps to get there were sometimes contrived.  I won't give any spoilers, but there are several parts where the characters suddenly dovetail a conversation in a very awkward way that is obviously meant to bring a new clue to light.  The clues were all relevant, but I wish they were worked into the plot more naturally, as this made the action feel stilted at times.

If you look up the term "page-turner" in the dictionary, a picture of Evil Water is next to it.  If you want a fast-paced, twisted thriller, this is a great choice.  The translation and some of the clue-drops were not ideal, but overall I'm glad that I dove into Trokic's world.  Here's hoping that more of Wolf's novels become available in English as well!

Other reviews of Evil Water:
The Yellow-Haired Reviewer
Valli's Book Den
I Am, Indeed

What say you, readers?  Have you read any good crime thrillers lately?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Book Review: The Trajectory of Dreams by Nicole Wolverton

Title:  The Trajectory of Dreams
Author: Nicole Wolverton
Publisher: Bitingduck Press
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Source: review copy received from the author for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

For Lela White, a Houston sleep lab technician, sleep doesn’t come easy—there’s a price to be paid for a poor night’s sleep, and she’s the judge, jury, and executioner.

Everyone around Lela considers her a private woman with a passion for her lab work. But nighttime reveals her for what she is: a woman on a critical secret mission. Lela lives in the grip of a mental disorder that compels her to break into astronauts’ homes to ensure they can sleep well and believes that by doing so, she keeps the revitalized U.S. space program safe from fatal accidents. What began at the age of ten when her mother confessed to blowing up the space shuttle has evolved into Lela’s life’s work. She dreads the day when an astronaut doesn’t pass her testing, but she’s prepared to kill for the greater good. 

When Zory Korchagin, a Russian cosmonaut on loan to the U.S. shuttle program, finds himself drawn to Lela, he puts her carefully-constructed world at risk of an explosion as surely as he does his own upcoming launch. As Lela’s universe unravels, no one is safe.

My Review:

A few months ago, Nicole Wolverton emailed me to ask if I'd like to read and review her recent release, The Trajectory of Dreams.  She lured me in by saying it had a "dark, twisty feel" similar to that of Gone Girl .  Immediately, my book Spidey-sense was up.  I definitely couldn't resist that kind of description!

In short, this book delivered on my expectations.  It's sinister and disturbing--not in the manner of a horror novel, but as a psychological thriller that blurs the lines between reality and insanity.  The protagonist, Lela, is ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag.  I can't even begin to come up with a psychiatric diagnosis for her.  And next to the term "unreliable narrator" in the dictionary is a picture of Lela White.  At the beginning of the novel, you know she's a little off, but as the novel progresses, you watch helplessly as she gets sucked into the vortex of her own demented thoughts.  I guarantee that the last 50-60 pages will require you to read all in one sitting--the plot starts to snowball so quickly, you will ignore all others around you until you see what comes up next.

The interesting thing about Lela's character (other than being five cans short of a six pack) is that you actually can't help but feel a little sad for her...despite all of the havoc she wreaks on those around her.  Pieces of her past are slowly revealed throughout the book, things that Lela herself clearly hasn't come to terms with yet.  When you take these background details along with her current motives and actions, it's hard to decide if Lela is a woman to be feared, abhorred, or pitied.

The one thing I sometimes had a tough time with throughout the book was the side characters.  I say "sometimes" because, since Lela was the only narrator, I don't know if my problems with the characters are because of how they truly are meant to be, or because Lela did a poor job of describing them (rightly so).  For example, Trina (Lela's coworker/roommate): I found her to be overly nosy, jumping into Lela's business (like moving into her house?) in a way that I didn't find believable at all.  But was she REALLY that nosy, or did Lela portray her as such because she THOUGHT Trina was nosy?  And Max (Lela's coworker): is he outrageously ogre-ugly or does she just illustrate him that way?  I'd be interested to hear what other readers think about this!  In general, I do wish these secondary characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, but I see the challenge in doing that with Lela as the narrator.

Overall, this is a spectacular read.  You can compare it, atmospherically, to Gone Girl, but this is absolutely a psychological thriller all its own.  You won't ever look at the quiet girl in the next cubicle again without wondering if she watches you as you sleep...

Check out other reviews of The Trajectory of Dreams:
A Bookworm Belle
Radish Reviews
Too Fond
A Book And A Review

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: Background Noise by Peter DeMarco

Title: Background Noise
Author: Peter DeMarco
Publisher: Pangea Books
Publication Date: November 12, 2012
Source: e-copy provided by the author for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads :

Troubled young suburbanite Henry Walker is on a one-man mission to clean up his town, protect his property, and chase after fantasies of a better life ahead. From an alienated adolescent to a frustrated young adult, Henry encounters one disappointment after another. While suffering the loss of close family members and friends, desperately seeking companionship in the form of unconventional friendships, and becoming a victim of extreme bullying and violence, Henry ultimately becomes an outcast in the only town he knows. As Henry immerses himself in his past, memories become guilt, guilt becomes regret, and regret becomes obsession—until violence seems to be the only logical response.

Written as a collection of interwoven short stories, told in sparse, piercing prose, this haunting novel examines Henry Walker’s transformation from the misfit and the victim— to vengeful retaliator. But does the justice he metes out make him a popular hero or an enemy of the people? In razor-sharp prose reminiscent of Haruki Murakami, Peter DeMarco startles the mind while touching the heart.

My Review:

When Peter DeMarco asked if I'd be interested in reviewing Background Noise, I read the description and immediately was intrigued.  Yes, it sounded dark and depressing--but it also included an interesting psychological bent that roped me in.  I don't like dark-and-depressing just for the sake of being dark-and-depressing, but I DO like books that explore the mental journeys that characters make to get to that point.

Background Noise is more novella than novel--I read it in less than a day.  It's a compliation of short stories that transcribe the turbulent life of Henry Walker from his early teenage years, through his mid-thirties.  This is not a book for the faint of heart--from the start, vulgarity and violence play primary roles in Henry's life.  However, those elements serve as important clues for the reader, as you witness Henry's psychological declines and try to figure out where it all went wrong for him.  Was it because he was bullied in school?  Because his parents died when he was so young?  Because of a head injury he suffered as a boy?  You'll never pin down one answer, of course, but the sum of these tragedies is the subconcious mystery of Henry Walker.

Although it is difficult to blame any one thing for Henry's downfall, the book does highlight a recurring idea that Henry was left to "fall through the cracks," so to speak, of traditional society.  As a child, he would act out, but his behavior was often given a pass because his parents died, and he was thus shuffled from caretaker to caretaker.  As a result, his often-odd and sometimes-disturbing acts are rarely encountered with any resistance from authority.  This idea was illustrated well in his adult years in the chapter "The Commuter", when Henry takes on the role of a commuting worker into New York City, despite not having a real job there: "Sometimes I walk into random office buildings, take the elevator up, punch a button, and walk through office space as if I had a purpose.  Nobody ever says anything."  By the end of the book, this seemingly innocuous scene takes on a more frightening meaning, as you realize the mentally-disturbed Henry faded so easily into the background (noise?) of everyone else's life.  He could easily be your reclusive next door neighbor, or the guy sitting behind you on the train.  SKEEVY.

I enjoyed this novella the way you'd enjoy Burgess's Clockwork Orange, or Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451: not as a fun, carefree reading romp, but as a morose and foreboding tale that leaves you feeling one part sympathetic for our psychologically-disturbed-but-societally-ignored narrator, and one part horrified at the violence he is able to commit.  Background Noise is a literary psychological profile that leaves me feeling like I need to read it again, just to get a better understanding of who Henry is and where he is going.

My one downside for this book: the illustrations.  I didn't think that they added much to the story, and if anything, they made it feel a bit amateurish.  The words in this novel speak for themselves, without the need for visual aid.

If you're looking for a short read that packs a big punch (and you don't mind the vulgarity/violence), Background Noise is a good bet.  I don't read a lot of novellas, but I'm glad I took a chance on this one.

What say you, readers?  What are some of the best novellas you've read lately?
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