Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-First Book Review: “Horns” by Joe Hill

What would you do if one day you woke up and discovered you had grown horns? Not only that, but your horns had a strange psychic kind of power and influence over other people. You suddenly have the ability to hear the worst things people think. And you can push people with your horns to do the terrible things they want to do in the darkest parts of their minds, but normally would never actually go through with. That is the strange situation in “Horns” by Joe Hill.

Ig, our main character, wakes up the morning after drinking very heavily and pissing all over the memorial to his dead girlfriend with such horns. The girlfriend that everyone thinks he murdered. At first he is resistant to the idea of interacting with anyone and then he realizes that this newly discovered power could be the key to solving Merrin’s murder. Is it a gift? A curse? Or a bit of both? “It did no good to tell himself that it was all in his head if it went on happening anyway. His belief was not required; his disbelief was of no consequence. The horns were always there when he reached up to touch them. Even when he didn’t touch them, he was aware of the sore, sensitive tips sticking out into the cool riverside breeze. They had the convincing and literal solidity of bone.” (Horns, pg 24). I like the way that Ig starts to roll with the punches in this book.

Ig is an interesting character. He’s not exactly a good guy and it’s a little difficult to tell if that is who he always was or if Merrin’s murder is what really led to him becoming this bitter person. The addition of horns is more understandable the more we learn about what Ig has been through and how he views the world. I do enjoy the way Joe Hill writes. He is talented and his mind goes places that are intriguing to say the least. I enjoyed the way that we learn bits and pieces about the other people in Ig’s life. Mainly we get a peek at what Merrin was like and we learn about his unlikely friendship with Lee. Everyone it seems has a secret to hide. Hill certainly has a talent for developing disturbing characters with multiple layers. Just when you think you know what a character is about, they do something to surprise you.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone, but yes. For those that can appreciate the dark humor that is prevalent in Joe Hill’s book would certainly enjoy “Horns”. It was a real page turner; I could not put it down. I look forward to reading whatever Hill comes up with next.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Seventy-Second Book Review: “The Verdict” by Nick Stone

“The Verdict” by Nick Stone was the kind of book that completely sucked you in from the very start. I haven’t really read any legal thrillers, but when I saw the book tagged that way I thought why not? I am glad that I took a chance and have since stocked my to-be-read list with other legal thrillers. A whole new sub-genre has been opened up to me thanks to Nick Stone’s writing.

At the beginning of “The Verdict” we meet Vernon James. He is a self-made millionaire accepting an “ethical person of the year” award right before he tries to pick up a tall blonde woman to take up to his hotel room after he tells her has an open marriage. One thing leads to another and the night ends up not going as Vernon had planned. The next thing we know, Vernon has been arrested for murder. Then we meet Terry, a struggling legal clerk that seemingly has just been given his big break with the chance to be a part of the team defending Vernon James. That is until we learn that Terry and Vernon have a very colorful history. “Of course it was a shock to anyone who found out a close friend or good neighbour or amiable work colleague was really a serial killer or rapist or some other kind of monster? All we know of other people is what we see reflected of ourselves. Beyond that they’re strangers.” (The Verdict, pg 27). I really liked this quote because it is a good point – we don’t know what goes on in the mind of those around us. There were several times when reading “The Verdict” where Stone’s writing made me pause because I liked the way that he spelled out something.

I liked that the main character Terry wasn’t a clean-cut ‘good guy’. He had demons that he constantly had to curb. I thought Nick Stone did a great job portraying the balancing act that someone would have to go through when the person that knows their darkest secrets is suddenly on trial for murder and working directly with their bosses. His moral compass was also slightly askew, but that just made Terry all the more interesting.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely, it was such an entertaining read. Nick Stone’s writing was excellent – he successfully pulled me into the drama surrounding Vernon and Terry. I thought his characters were well developed and I liked how there were little twists and turns throughout the novel. I think anyone with a mild interest in thrillers would love this book. If you’re the kind of reader that loves an edge-of-your-seat read, then you need to pick up “The Verdict” by Nick Stone.

Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighth Book Review: “Running Blind” by Lee Child

“Running Blind” by Lee Child is the fourth book in the Jack Reacher series. It starts off the same as the rest of the Jack Reacher books – you are immediately pulled into the story. I like how the book opens with the bad guy narrating. “Suppose you wanted to kill people. You would need to know ahead of time how to do it. That part is not too difficult. There are many ways. Some of them are better than others. Most of them have drawbacks. So you use what knowledge you’ve got, and you invent a new way. You think, and you think, and you think, and you come up with the perfect method.” (Running Blind, pg 2). I liked how cold and detached this person was when describing killing people. It was evident from the start that this was a very intelligent – albeit fucked up – individual.

SPOILER ALERT: I’M GOING TO DISCUSS EVENTS THAT HAPPENED AT THE END OF THE THIRD JACK REACHER NOVEL, “TRIPWIRE”

In the last book, Reacher was reunited with a woman that he had grown to love when he was younger but always looked at as untouchable. They finally got over the idea that their feelings were one-sided and the book ended on a ‘happily-ever-after’ note. Reacher even found himself with a house that her father left him. He went from being out of the army for a few years and living the life of a drifter, to someone with a house, a girlfriend, and a life that he wasn’t sure he really wanted. It is a difficult thing to connect with, at least for me, to not want to be attached to any one place. I think this quote helps to show how Reacher feels about the house: “…but it represented a big problem. It anchored him in a way which made him profoundly uncomfortable. Being static disconcerted him. He had moved around so often in his life it confused him to spend time in any one particular place. And he had never lived in a house before. Bunkhouses and service bungalows and motels were his habitat. It was ingrained.” (Running Blind, pg 63). It’s something I’ve never really thought about, but if that is what you’ve known your whole life then it makes sense that you might not want anything different.

While dealing with the idea of owning a house and everything that goes along with it, Reacher finds himself pulled into yet another mess. I found this whole situation infuriating. The FBI pulls him in to help investigate women being murdered, and they threaten him until he agrees to help. The way that they went about everything just made me so angry, and the fact that no one would listen to him just added to that. At the same time, Reacher certainly made sure to push their buttons whenever he got the chance.

I really like how we are learning more about Reacher in each book. His character continues to develop as we follow him. “Reacher made no reply. It was a technique he had perfected half a lifetime ago. Just stand absolutely still, don’t blink, say nothing. Wait for them to run through the possibilities…wait for them to start worrying.” (Running Blind, pg 375). There are aspects that we as the readers already know and come to expect – such as this quote where Reacher is utilizing his perfected patience to get answers – but Lee Child continues to develop Reacher beyond that, which I really enjoy.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that there are many great things about the Jack Reacher series. One of them is that the books are a thrill ride that will hook just about any reader. Then there is the fact that the books, so far, continue to develop Reacher as a character and keep things interesting. Just when you think you know the direction the book is going to take, Lee Child throws a curve ball at you. “Running Blind” kept me hooked and once again, I am really looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Becky’s One Hundred and Ninety-Sixth Book Review: “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett

“The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett was chosen for the Wall Street Journal Book Club in early March. I was pretty excited about the choice as I really enjoy mysteries. A book centered on the search for an invaluable artifact with a private detective as the main character – count me in. Add in a description of “a treasure worth killing for” and my interest was certainly peaked.

Right away I liked Detective Sam Spade, he’s both smooth and blunt, and overall entertaining. When a girl comes to him and his partner needing undefined help, he is consistent in his behavior towards her and he doesn’t allow her looks to distract him from her dishonesty. ““I mean that you paid us more than if you’d been telling the truth,” he explained blandly, “and enough more to make it all right.”” (The Maltese Falcon, pg 33). I liked that he calls her out right away for not telling the truth. I also enjoy his cavalier method of explaining things, not just to her but to everyone around him. Lying is a constant for all the characters in “The Maltese Falcon” including Sam Spade. It made reading “The Maltese Falcon” slightly challenging trying to keep up with what the truth was to each character.

I found the girl, Bridget O’Shaughnessy to be annoying as her loyalties and her story change from one minute to the next. But it certainly kept the book interesting. Despite my personal dislike of Bridget O’Shaughnessy, I did enjoy her interactions with the other characters in the novel, especially Sam Spade. She plays the innocent, docile woman but always has an ulterior motive and Sam calls her out on it. “What have you given me besides money? Have you given me any of your confidence? any of the truth? any help in helping you? Haven’t you tried to buy my loyalty with money and nothing else? Well, if I’m peddling it, why shouldn’t I let it go to the highest bidder?” (The Maltese Falcon, pg 57).

Would I recommend this book? Yes, especially to those that enjoy a mystery. It was more challenging to read than I had initial anticipated, mainly because it was a little difficult to determine when characters were actually speaking the truth at first, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. It’s a book that keeps you guessing to the last page. I am absolutely going to be adding the rest of the books written by Dashiell Hammett to my reading list and I would probably pick this book up again for a reread.

Becky’s One Hundred and Eighty-Fifth Book Review: “Falling” by Christopher Pike

I first fell in love with murder mysteries when I was a kid and I picked up one of Christopher Pike’s young adult novels. I love his writing and the suspense he is able to create. “Falling” by Christopher Pike is no exception – it is a crazy rollercoaster of a read with non-stop action.

In “Falling” there are two main characters, Matt Connor and Kelly Feinman. Matt finds himself heartbroken and in his desperation puts together a plan to fake his own death and ruin Amy’s life, Amy being the girl who broke his heart. “The plan was intricate but simple. Pain in exchange for pain. And no Matt Connor left alive to take the blame.” (Falling, pg 29). Kelly Feinman is an FBI profiler turned agent that is finding it hard to follow the rules. “She had the same rationalization for her secrecy – she was chasing a wild lead, nothing more. Yet she was finally able to admit to herself that she was emotionally ill-equipped to be an FBI agent. She resented the chain of command. She wanted to be the boss. Worse, she wanted to be the hero.” (Falling, pg 187). After Matt carries out his plan, Kelly is brought in to solve the mystery and soon finds herself sympathizing with the bad guy.

I don’t want to give away too much, there are so many twists and turns in “Falling” and it really keeps you guessing the whole way though. This is the second time I had read it and (happily) had forgotten most of the book so it was just as suspenseful a read as the first time around. Christopher Pike does an amazing job developing his characters and creating people that you can’t help but relate to, even though you know that they’re in the wrong. It is so rare for him to create a character that is all good or all bad. The lines are blurry in his novels – the good guy sometimes turns down a dark path and the bad guy will sometimes show an unusual amount of kindness or selflessness. That is part of why his books are so addictive and so enjoyable. You never know who is going to come out on top and who is going to surprise you.

I found Amy as a character to be really interesting. She betrays Matt in the beginning, discarding him like he never meant anything to her. Then she turns around and marries another guy. Matt soon discovers that she is pregnant and by the looks of things, was pregnant before she dumped him. Instead of letting it go, Matt is driven to revenge for the pain that she caused him. But at the first moment when he has the possibility of letting her back into his life, he jumps at it. Her ability to manipulate everyone around her is impressive and sick. She breathes lies. She uses everyone to her advantage, not caring about repercussions. Even though Matt knows she is bad for him he is pulled back under her spell. “It was almost as if he heard her for the first time, and he knew she was telling him the truth. More truth than she had ever told him before. Yet her sincerity did not entirely sooth him. The devil knew when it was wise to tell the truth. Amy was honest when she was forced to be, or when it suited her.” (Falling, pg 203). His self-awareness is interesting when it comes to Amy. He knew and understood that she was using him and still could not find the strength to pull away from her. “One day she would cut off his dick and he would apologize. She used guilt as easily as she breathed. But it was not as if he was whipped. At least that’s what he told himself.” (Falling, pg 216). I liked this quote because it really highlights how conflicted Matt is when it comes to Amy. He can see that she is bad for him, sees that she is poison and that no matter what she does he will apologize like he is in the wrong. Matt and Amy’s relationship is completely fucked up; there is no getting around that.

The other main character, Kelly the FBI agent is a very interesting study too. Kelly stumbled into her career at the FBI after doing some consulting work for the bureau. She quickly found herself addicted to the life and everything that came with it, much to the disappointment of her family. Her headstrong attitude and her impatience for the political side of her work led Kelly to a major fuckup that almost took her life. Still getting back on her feet, Kelly’s husband leaves her for another woman. The betrayal that she felt when her husband left her is parallel to how Matt felt when Amy betrayed him. That is part of the reason that she is not only able to relate to his plight but sympathize with it. She gives her husband a powerful speech at one point that I feel represents so well how both Matt and Kelly feel as the wronged parties. “When it comes to betrayal there’s no such thing as maturity. It’s too basic a violation. You hurt me as bad as a human being can be hurt. At least the Acid Man was honest with me when he poured that stuff on my belly. He just wanted to torture me to death. There was a beginning and an end to his crime. But what you did to me has no end. It eats me night and day. You talk about how much happier you were when I was in your life. I have been left to live the dark side of that equation. I can only think back to when I wasn’t in pain all the time. I can’t think about happiness, not at all. That’s a luxury you stole from me.” (Falling, pg 246). I loved this speech; I thought it really shed light on the pain of betrayal.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – it is such a good read. It’s one of those books that makes your heart race and your fingers clench around the book moving it closer and closer to your face because you cannot wait to read what happens next. “Falling” is such a good read and a great way to be introduced to Christopher Pike for any that haven’t read his work before. It’s probably not something you should pick up if you have any responsibilities though. Putting down “Falling” is next to impossible; it really is a great read.

Becky’s One Hundred and Forty-Seventh Book Review: “Déjà Dead” by Kathy Reichs

“Déjà Dead” by Kathy Reichs is the first book in the series that the television show Bones is based off of. I have been curious about this book for a while and finally got around to reading it. I was pretty underwhelmed with the book to start with but soon found myself absorbed in the story. I found the way that Reichs writes the story to be very interesting and unusual, this probably stems from the fact that she was a forensic anthropologist first and a novelist second. There was a lot of technical language that I found to be confusing and I also disliked the fact that there was so much French in the book. That aside, I did find myself drawn into the world of Dr. Brennan.

“Déjà Dead” follows a forensic anthropologist, Temperance Brennan, who is called in to assist when a body is discovered that is too decomposed for a standard autopsy. Brennan begins to work on the body and soon believes that the murder is the work of a serial killer. This theory is not well received by Detective Claudel who believes that Brennan is just stirring up trouble and will cause unnecessary panic. Claudel spends a lot of time trying to curb Brennan’s investigation and it is only when more bodies start to pile up that he considers her theory.

There were several instances when I was reading “Déjà Dead” where I was taken up by the writing and how powerful it seemed. For example, “I’ve long suspected that many of my memories of childhood are actually drawn from old pictures, that they are a composite of snapshots, a mosaic of celluloid images networked into a remembered reality. Kodak cast backwards. Maybe it’s better to recall the past that way. We rarely take pictures of sad occasions.” (Déjà Dead, loc 677). I remember actually pausing when I read this passage and just reflecting on the words that she had written. I found this happening multiple times when I was reading. “Was he relishing what he’d done today? Was his blood lust satiated, or was his need to kill heightened by the act itself?” (Déjà Dead, loc 1144). Another quote that I really enjoyed was, “The wind had stopped during my labors, leaving an unsettling hush. The quiet pounded on my ears.” (Déjà Dead, loc 2426). I felt this was a quote that anyone could relate to. Reading that sentence I could place myself in Brennan’s shoes.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone. I think that there are some people that might find this book to be very entertaining and there are others who dislike having to read something that takes a while to develop. I don’t think this is a book that I will pick up to reread; however I am going to continue reading the series. “Déjà Dead” definitely got exciting after the first third of the book or so. I hope that the series improves steadily.

Becky’s One Hundred and Forty-Fourth Book Review: “Deep Water” by Patricia Highsmith

“Deep Water” by Patricia Highsmith was the most recent book assigned for the Wall Street Journal book club. This is the third book that the club has taken up and while I very much enjoyed the first book (“Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel), the second book (“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” by Ben Fountain) did not pull me in the same way. So I was not sure how to feel about the newest assignment and ended up getting the book from the library and putting it in my ‘stack to read’. It wasn’t until I discovered that I could not renew this particular book from the library that I picked it up to read. Once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it down.

“People who do not behave in an orthodox manner, Vic thought, are by definition frightening.” (Deep Water, pg 18). I loved this quote because it gently lets the reader know that “Deep Water” is a very different kind of thriller. The further you get in the novel, the more true you find this to be. The main character Vic is a very calm, quiet, simple man; one who could easily be described as an introvert. Melinda, his wife, is his complete opposite. She is loud and active and always making herself the center of attention. They have an odd relationship to anyone outside their home and even their young daughter Trixie does not find anything unusual about her mommy bringing home a new gentleman every few months.

An unsolved murder is the catalyst that changes everything in Vic and Melinda’s world. As a joke, or perhaps because he really did want others to believe it, Vic softly spreads the rumor that he was the one who killed the victim in the unsolved murder. Nothing comes down on Vic for this rumor but Melinda’s gentlemen callers stay away for a time. During this time, Vic finds himself even cheerier than usual and this spell is only broken when the murder is solved. Now Vic’s secret reputation is gone and Melinda is once again acting up. What happens next was part of what made the book so easy to devour. I don’t want to give too much away because the book was so exciting but I will say that the main character was eerily calm throughout the book no matter what the circumstances were that you couldn’t help but see him in a positive light. He was a really fun character to follow and it was equally entertaining to read about his thoughts regarding what he believed others were probably thinking of him. “He’d just tell her that he thought Vic Van Allen was cracked, judging from the snails in the garage and from his insane enthusiasm for glaciers.” (Deep Water, pg 139).

I couldn’t get enough of Patricia Highsmith’s writing and I found so much of what she wrote to be true. This one sentence I just loved, “There was something demonical and insuperable about typographical errors, as if they were part of the natural evil that permeated man’s existence, as if they had a life of their own and were determined to manifest themselves no matter what, as surely as weeds in the best-tended gardens.” (Deep Water, pg 53). This is how grammatical nerds feel ALL THE TIME! Well said Patricia Highsmith!

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! It was so well written and so exciting that after I finished the book I immediately put it on my amazon wish list and ordered myself more books by Patricia Highsmith. I was happy to find out that she has written about twenty novels. I was less happy to discover that she has since passed away and will not be sharing any more novels with the world. Alas, I will have to cherish the books that she has written but from what I can tell, her books are the kind that you can lose yourself in more than once.