Feal the fear and GTFO

the-gift-of-fear

 

Gavin de Becker doesn’t necessarily want you to be afraid. But he does want you to use your fear in a constructive manner. He wants you give that friendly but off-putting stranger a polite but firm “No thank you” and to be persistent in that answer. He’d like you to remove yourself from situations that make you uncomfortable and make any apologies for rudeness later. But mostly he’d like you to listen to your fear instinct. De Becker is one of the nations leading specialists in personal security for both public personalities and private citizens. He knows how to predict whether or not a person will become violent or is simply a nuisance.

Since this book is almost 20 years old, some of is advice doesn’t seem as groundbreaking as it did in 1997. It’s also pre-Columbine, pre-9/11 and pre-social media. I’d love to see an updated version for the modern era. Still his advice is helpful not only as a safety guide but as a study of human behavior. De Becker shows how almost no violet outburst is sudden or unpredictable and how seemingly normal people can be moved to violent behavior. My only major quibble with the book is that de Beckers arrogance (earned though it may be) shows on the page. Many of his case studies should be renamed “If Only They’d Listed to Me.”

I’d advise anyone, not just modern women, to pick up a copy of this book. It’s a great guide for predicting, and possibly preventing violent behavior in human beings.

Advertisements

There’s truth that lives and truth that dies. I don’t know which so never mind.

in-the-woods

 

In the Woods is dark, complex and twisty but not in a gimmicky sort of way. It is the murder mystery I have been waiting for and I have already added the second and third books in Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series to my TBR list. It’s a mystery novel that is more than simply a “whodunnit.” It’s a rumination on memory and friendship with a conclusion that is an emotional kick in the gut.

In 1985, three children disappeared into the woods behind their small Dublin suburb of Knocknaree to play. Only one was ever seen again. Twelve year old Adam Ryan was found by search parties late that night clutching a tree with his shoes filled with his playmate’s blood and no memory of what happened. In present day, Adam Ryan is now Detective Rob Ryan of the Dublin Murder Squad. No one knows about his past aside from his partner Detective Cassie Maddox. Rob is pulled back into his memories of Knocknaree when he and Maddox are assigned to the murder of a twelve year old girl in the area. Rob struggles with the current case and his sparse memories of the 1985 murders as he tries to find the young girl’s murderer.

I did not want to put this book down. I spend almost all of a miserable sick day from work plowing through as much as I could. Meals were and bedtimes were delayed because I kept wanting to read one more chapter. This was that kind of book for me. It had the feel of season one True Detective at its atmospheric best. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves gritty detective novels and has somehow missed this book published in 2007 to pick it up.

Mentally casting the film version as I read

lies-of-locke-lamora

There’s something deeply satisfying about finishing the first in a book series and loving it. A lot of smart people whose opinions I respect love the Gentleman Bastards series. Still, I am a persnickety reader and started it with some trepidation after a much needed bread from all the horror and true crime I’d been reading for the month of October. Lies of Locke Lamora does not disappoint. It’s good enough to be a stand alone novel but still leaves potential for more stories (of which there are) without any infuriating cliffhangers.

Locke Lamora and his small but loyal gang call themselves the Gentleman Bastards. The rest of the thieving community, which is huge in the city of Camorr, believes them to be low level second story men. In fact, they are talented con men who pull of complicated scams on the cities rich and powerful nobles. Life is good for Locke and the Gentleman Bastards until they find themselves unwitting pawns in an underworld power struggle. Things go from bad to worse in short order and Locke is forced to use all of his wit and bravado to make things right.

Aside from a plot that sucks you in from the beginning, I liked ALL the characters. All of them were well written. Unlike some fantasy series, I was never forced to start skimming when certain characters appeared. They were all great. Eventually I will get my hands on the second book in the series but I am currently on a self-imposed book buying hiatus until after the holidays.

Never trust a big nurse and a smile

fatal

 

It’s not so easy to get away with poisoning someone in 2016. Modern medicine can typically detect any poisons that can be obtained by the average human. Additionally, we’re not so blinded by antiquated ideas of femininity that we’d fail to consider the possibility that a mother could poison her children or a nurse the patients in her charge. However, as Harold Schechter illustrates in Fatal, it was almost too easy for a woman in the late 19th century to get away with murdering those under her care.

The focus of Schechter’s book is Jane Toppan, a nurse who murdered as many as 31 of her patients using a combination of morphia and atropia. By her own admission, Jane committed these murders for the sexual thrill she got when she would climb into bed with her patients and feel the life slip away from them. Schechter prefaces his story by telling the stories of other female poisoners who murdered those around them with arsenic, which was a commonly used household product at the time. This illustrates how truly inept modern medicine was at the time. In multiple instances, entire families are wiped out and no one suspects it is anything more than terrible misfortune.

Jane Toppan and her contemporary female poisoners were not like male serial killers who killed random strangers. The late 19th century female poisoner made victims of their husbands, children and dear friends who trusted the person attending their bedside. Fatal is a great addition to the true crime genre that offers a less than picturesque view of the U.S. in the later half of the 1800s.

The WomanGirl on the Cabin 10 Train

the-woman-in-cabin-10

 

I picked up this book on a recommendation from one of the Book Riot podcasts that said it was a great closed door mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie. While it certainly was a closed door mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie, I’d probably only call it fair to good rather than great. The premise is great and there are some moments of real tension and suspense. But I found the execution somewhat lacking and I saw the “twist” coming pretty early on.

The story follows Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a travel reporter who is trying to rebuild her career after a serious bout of clinical depression nearly got her fired. She’s given a chance to report on the maiden voyage of an exclusive high end cruise ship. The first night of the voyage, Lo believes she hears the woman next door in the titular Cabin 10 being murdered and thrown overboard only to discover, when she calls ship security, that no one is staying next door. Like most protagonists in mystery novels, Lo is unable to let go of the problem and continues to search for clues. She is hampered by the fact that she drank to much the night of the alleged murder and by a home invasion that occurred shortly before the voyage started making her an unreliable witness in the eyes of the ship’s security officer.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It was fine. It was a perfectly good mystery story. I really don’t think it deserved the hype it got. Like I said above; it’s good but certainly not great.

Faces look ugly when you’re alone

we-have-always-lived-in-the-castle

 

It figures that a book about people who are happy in their isolation would resonate with me. Shirley Jackson’s self proclaimed “paean to agoraphobia” gives of a sense of unease even during what should be the most mundane domestic scenes.

Mary Katherine “Merricat” Blackwood, her sister Constance and their ailing uncle Julian are the surviving members of a once prestigious family. The surviving Blackwoods are hated and ridiculed by the surrounding villagers due to an incident which resulted in the death of Merricat and Constance’s parents, brother and aunt (Julian’s wife). Constance has not ventured past her garden in six years and Julian is too ill to go out, leaving Merricat to brave a twice weekly trip into town for groceries and library books. She faces the scorn of the villagers wherever she goes. Despite this, the three of them are content in their isolated routine. Things are soon disrupted when the girls’ cousin Charles Blackwood shows up at their door and begins to ingratiate himself to Constance.

The unease that pervades the book as soon as cousin Charles arrives is palpable. The reader knows that nothing but disaster can come from the arrival of this interloper. And when disaster comes (spoiler?) it’s almost a relief to have it over and done with. Jackson clearly understands isolation and social anxiety and turns out a classic of modern psychological horror.

Butterflies are free…except not so much

the-butterfly-garden

 

I feel like this sort of high concept story would have read better in a fantasy or sci fi setting. The dialogue and character interaction just didn’t work for me in the modern day U.S. It’s also very possible that someone who hasn’t read a metric ton of true crime and gritty realistic crime fiction might find this book more enjoyable. Personally, while the overall story was engaging and kept me interested until the end. The writing style came off almost as if a teen girl who knew nothing about the emotional impact of things like rape and abuse had on a person.

The Butterfly Garden follows the initial investigation after the apprehension of a serial killer known as The Gardener. The Gardener captures girls around the age of 16, re-names them, tattoos them with butterfly wings on their backs and keeps them in a gilded cage until their twenty first birthday. At that point he kills them and preserves them in glass. The story is told through one of his butterflies known as Maya who seems to be a sort of leader among the surviving girls. Maya tells the story of her early life, her capture and her life in The Garden to two FBI agents who may as well just be named “Good Cop” and “Bad Cop.” Maya is clearly hiding something and the agents need to find out what because Maya is their best witness so far.

This book wasn’t a bad one. The story moves along at a good pace and it kept me interested until the end. The writing was often annoying and SPOILER ALERT: The big secret at the end was sort of a let down made the whole cat and mouse game between Maya and her interrogators seem pointless. But it makes for a nice little distraction; especially when you have Kindle on your work desktop and you’re stuck on an eternal hold.

Less Scooby Doo, more Shirley Jackson please.

I realize now that I’m pretty difficult to please when it comes to ghost/haunted house stories. This book had all the elements; an old farmhouse, possibly haunted woods and a long dead person’s diary. In the end it just didn’t deliver for me. Possibly, it just wasn’t what I was expecting, or the fact that none of the characters really resonated with me. Overall the book was good, but not great.

The Winter People follows two stories concurrently which occur 100 years apart. In 1908 we follow Sarah Harrison Shea who struggles to accept the death of her daughter Gertie. In the present day, we follow the story of Alice, who lives off the grid in the same house in the present day with her mother Alice and her sister Fawn. Alice goes missing, which propels Ruthie’s story forward. Naturally, the two narratives are connected in ways you may or may not have expected.

I think my issue I had with this book was that I was expecting the creepy atmosphere and building tension of a ghost story, and what I got was essentially a mystery story with supernatural elements. I’ll admit there were a few twists that I did not figure out right away (most notably, the deal with Ruthie’s parents) and the book was interesting enough to keep me reading. It’s a good solid story if you like a supernatural mystery. I think it was just a bit of a letdown after some of the great reads I’ve had this month. the-winter-people

We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot.

the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

 

I love post apocalypse fiction. Give me a breakdown of society and roving bands of raiders and I am a happy girl. There are certain standouts in the genre though: The Stand, World War Z (the book, not that godawful movie) and now, The Girl With All the Gifts. Zombie apocalypse fiction has flooded what used to be a niche market in recent years with the popularity of The Walking Dead. M.R. Carey manages to contribute a unique offering to a style that can easily become reliant on gore and stale tropes.

The story focuses mainly on the relationship between a gifted young girl named Melanie and her teacher, Miss Justineau. I’m reluctant to say much beyond that for fear of spoilers but I think most readers will figure out what the score is pretty quickly. Melanie and Mrs. Justineau live at a military which has been turned into a research facility. Things go pear shaped as they often do and again, I’m hesitant to say much more about what happens next. And while there are certainly some familiar characters e.g. the hardened military man and the cold scientist, none of them are one-note stereotypes. And the end while not presented in Usual Suspects-style fwisty fashion, was not one that I saw coming.

If you like zombie fiction, smart horror, strong female characters or just a damn good story, you should definitely pick up The Girl With All The Gifts for your Halloween reading.

“You think I’m psycho don’t you, mama”

i-am-not-a-serial-killer

 

Fifteen year old John Wayne Cleaver might be a sociopath. He finds it almost impossible to empathize with other people. He has a fascination with murder; specifically serial killers. He has one friend whom he can barely stand but keeps around because he wants to keep up the appearance of not being a loner. His one pleasure in life is working in the embalming room of his family’s mortuary. But despite all this, John Wayne Cleaver is not a serial killer. In fact, he has a very strict set of rules he imposes on himself to prevent him from becoming one. John’s carefully ordered life is thrown into chaos when an apparent serial killer starts murdering people in his tiny rural town. John is naturally fascinated by the unknown killer, which deeply concerns both his mother and his therapist.

I picked this book up because it was a book club selection but I really was just expecting it to be a YA Dexter. I was pleasantly surprised when it wasn’t. I was also pleasantly surprised to be dead wrong (pun intended) about the “twist” that I thought I saw coming. The book definitely takes an unexpected turn about 100 or so pages in which I won’t spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that this book is definitely not YA Dexter. Dan Wells makes John equally scary and sympathetic. I’m not quite sure how to categorize this book, but if you’re looking for a different sort of read for the Halloween season, I’d definitely check this one out.