Horror, Mystery/Thriller

My Review: A Time for Violence: Stories with an Edge: Edited by Andy Rausch and Chris Roy

*Kindle Edition*
Publish Date: May 1st, 2019
Number of Pages: 268 Pages
Publisher: Too Close to the Bone
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller, Horror, Crime

Total Star Rating: 3.25 Stars

Whether we like it or not, violence has always been a part of our society; we as humans can’t help but resort to it. The reasoning behind why can be incredibly varied: to save your family, to simply steal money, an act of love, or bitter burning of revenge. There’s probably countless other reasons as to what could possibly motivate us to turn towards our more unpredictable and darker side, but this is a collection of short stories that call that notion into question in an interesting array.

While it mostly stays within the mystery/thriller genre, there are some additions of stories of war and even the supernatural/paranormal and horror genres in order to keep the mix more lively and interesting. Theres also a mix of characters that many others wouldn’t see anything they’d possibly have in common except for, obviously, them giving into their brutal and maniacal urges to hurt, to maim, to kill, and to get away with it unscathed.

I will say it quite a bit in this review, but I don’t normally turn towards short stories or compilations of them, and I will get into that later on, but when someone reaches out to ask you to look through it and give an honest review, how can you say no? Crime stories are fun for their lack of predictability, their edge, and especially when there might be an interesting social commentary to linger in your head and overtake your thoughts after you’ve closed the pages. It does, however, leave a lack of character development and usually resorts to using cliché characters in general. They’re not bad stories, and it’s obvious that the authors that contributed to this work all know their craft on a highly experienced level.

I was not familiar with any of the works of any of the authors included in this anthology, but I wanted to switch it up and keep it that way: I didn’t do any prerequisite research on the book itself or any of the writers, and I stayed off Goodreads to see what others wrote; the only thing I did was adding the title to my “To Read” shelf. Sometimes, it’s fun to do that sort of thing where you don’t rely so much on other’s ratings and decide to give it a shot in the dark. I admit, I do that a whole lot now, but with how many titles are out there, how can you not? I’ve got to get picky.

Anyways back to the actual review…

What It’s About:

It’s hard to do this section based off the fact that it’s a collection of short stories. That, plus the fact I don’t want to give too much away, all I can say is they’re all violent stories combined together for a crime/horror themed collection. The more noteworthy stories, at least in my honest opinion, to include are the following in no particular:

  1. Blood Brothers: by Richard Chizmar
  2. Guest Services: A Quarry Story: by Max Allan Collins
  3. Santa at the Café: by Joe Lansdale
  4. Scab: by Wrath James White
  5. The Sweetest Ass in the Ozark: by Andy Rausch
  6. Waste Management: by Chris Roy

What I Liked:

  1. The Variety! There are quite a lot of different style of stories to be told that are all included; I’d say that there’s got to be something that just about anyone could find within that they’d really enjoy! My personal favorites among the many short stories was a story about a 5-person domino-effect crime story by Joe R. Lansdale involving a guy dressed up as Santa Clause, and an African-American man who considers himself a human scab by Wrath James White. Personally, it reminded me a bit of Jordan Peele’s horror flicks, Get Out and Us: African American-centered horror, and with a slight social commentary aspect to add on top.
  2. The Dark Humor! Along with all the murder and thrills as sharp as a knife, there is some humor alongside to (maybe) soften the blow. A lot of it is considered pretty dark humor, which isn’t for everyone. It takes a certain person to not only get some of it, but to also enjoy it.
  3. The Character Studies! This kind of goes with the variety factor I mentioned above, but I felt like there’s a bit of a question of character and their moral compass that plays with you too as you read the stories. You want to think your an upstanding member of society, not wanting to weave away from what the social norm is and that criminal activity is pretty black and white. Some characters are family men, but others are mobsters, criminals or Police Officers. An example where it’s questioned is actually the very first story: Blood Brothers by Richard Chizmar. Without giving up too much information, it presents the timeless questions like: How far are you willing to go to protect your family? What are you willing to sacrifice? It even brings up a good question of if killing for the best of everyone you love is really all that much of a crime?

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Was Hard to Connect to the Stories…It’s hard to really get into a collection of short stories, because as soon as you feel like you really connect with the story or maybe even the characters; it’s over before you know it, shut off abruptly. I guess you could say I prefer one long story where you can develop a deeper connection with the characters and grow along with them within the story as they develop. That’s very difficult or near impossible to do with stories like these.
  2. A Hierarchy of Interest…Some stories are just a whole lot better than others, plain and simple, straight to the point (no pun intended). I wouldn’t say some are awfully written though; I’d say it’s more that I just didn’t connect to them. Some were also pretty predictable compared to others, which probably didn’t help. I would say out of the 28 stories included, only a small select few really grabbed my attention, which is a major bummer.

Conclusion:

A fun, diverse set of crime/horror-genre short stories that are perfect for those who like that sort of thing! they’re gritty, their humorous, and they’re not something I normally go for when it comes to picking out something to read, but I still had some fun nonetheless. I find it difficult to get into a collection of short stories because of the disconnect with getting into the story and its characters, but maybe its something fun to read on your kindle or nook device when trying to kill time before a doctor’s appointment or on your lunch break at work!

I also would like to add that I received a free version of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Thanks For Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller

My Review: The Woman in the Window: by A.J. Finn

Publish Date: January 2nd, 2018
Number of Pages: 429 Pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre(s): Mystery, Suspense/Thriller

Total Star Rating: 2 Stars

I can always appreciate a work of literature that pays homage to something I actually care about, which in this case is classical crime films like the popular titles by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. The book moves in a similar pace, and creates a nice parallel to whatever movie the main character is watching compared to what they’re experiencing in real life. It also pays homage to the more recent popular thriller trope of a woman in something (a window, a train, cabin 10, being gone, etc) and the question of whether or not she’s actually sane. They’re the narrator and they’re unreliable and part of the thrill is their murky memory of past events or what’s happening right then in the story, and alcohol is usually involved too.

The book itself is nothing too groundbreaking or revolutionary, but is still an entertaining read nonetheless. It’s pretty impressive for a debut novel from the author; if it’s their first published book, it’s only going to be uphill for them! For me, it was a little slow towards the middle and felt like it really dragged, maybe because it brought too much of the main characters outside problems into play and I just couldn’t connect with it all that much, but I can appreciate the subtle buildup the author produced by the hazy memories and the play with sanity with our MC as they continue to drink and watch some film noir in their apartment, absolutely terrified to go outside due to their extreme case of agoraphobia.

It’s also impressive to note that this book is already being turned into a movie that will star Amy Adams, who seems to be the go-to for these woman-centered thrillers. She was in Sharp Objects, an HBO mini-series based on the suspense/thriller novel by Gillian Flynn, so I guess it makes sense for her to be in the flick for this title as well. She’s a great actress and I know she’ll do an amazing job.

What It’s About:

The story is about a woman named Anna Foxx. She lives by herself in a New York townhouse, and suffers from an extreme case of agoraphobia, which is the the fear of places or situations that cause stress, fear, embarrassment and/or helplessness. She’s going through her normal routine of being a reclusive psychologist, while also spying on her neighbors through the lens of her Nikon when a family moves in across the parkway. Soon she meets the mother and son on separate occasions and they seem like any friendly, normal family.

Anna likes them immediately, and continues her spying of the neighbors like she normally does.

Until something happens.

Something happens that Anna wasn’t supposed to see…

Suddenly, Anna’s world begins to unravel and she loses stability of what’s real and what’s all in her head, all the while tryin to figure out exactly what happened in that house across the street. 

What I Liked:

  1. The Twisty Climax! Like any good mystery should have, there is a surprise twist that widens your eyes, and when the big reveal occurs, it reveals all the little clues that you missed, but also makes you appreciate the author’s cleverness of conspicuously sliding them in under your nose. After reading it, I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t see it coming.
  2. Mental Illness Used To Create Conflict! One aspect of a good mystery is a believable way to isolate either the main character, or the whole cast so they can’t just walk away, and I liked that the author chose to go the agoraphobic way. It made it feel more currently relevant because there is a bigger understanding for mental health issues in society today. It was well done to add to the story because Anna is basically trapped within her own home; she has nowhere to go because she is absolutely terrified to even step foot outside, which gives such a great inner conflict. 

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. It Was Just So Lackluster…The story was just a really slow burn for me, to be honest. Yes, the set up is interesting enough, but the book really died down through the midpoint up until the climax. I think it also drags when a big realization happens at about the 75% mark into the book, the reveal behind the cause of her mental state, and you find yourself wondering if Anna is as reliable of a narrator as you thought. She does drink a large amount of wine while being heavily medicated, watches a lot of classic Hitchcock-era movies while drunk on said wine…what if she really is actually crazy? 

Conclusion:

It wasn’t a bad read at all; I enjoyed it enough I guess, but it just wasn’t anything especially brilliant, spectacular or breathtaking. It is a pretty decent debut for the author, and it did raise some questions to make the reader think: what goes on behind closed doors? Are people really who they say they are? Do we really see what happens around us? What’s real and what is just a figment of our mind playing tricks on us? It also offers commentary on families and the lengths they will go to perpetuate that picture-perfect image, when in reality things couldn’t be any more screwed up beneath the surface.

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell

Horror, Mystery/Thriller, Writing/Articles

October Reads and Reviews: Prepare to be Scared!

It is now October, the month of many different things: the leaves turning into majestic shades of reds, oranges and yellows, the air becomes crisp and cool, Hot Apple Cider and Pumpkin Spice, Sweater Weather, and the sky becomes darker earlier which may or may not bring me to my next example: Halloween.

People love to be creeped out this time of the year and go all out for the candy-crazed holiday: there’s costumes to be made or bought, trick or treating, maybe a halloween themed party, and enjoy a horror movie marathon or two. I personally will do doing pretty much all that, plus reading some creepy, thrilling stories that might make me need a flashlight when I go to bed. In honor of October and Halloween, the only reviews will be about books that have things that go bump in the night! I plan on reading some new titles as well, which will be some amazing fun!

I will admit, I’ve never read “Pet Semetary” by Stephen King or “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, but wanted to save both of these horror classics for the festivities. Below will be the titles to look for during the next couple of weeks that I’ll post reviews about:

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1): by Leigh Bardugo

A young woman is given a miraculous chance of attending an Ivy league school to investigate it’s secret societies, but is in for a shock at the sinister plans she may discover…

Project 17: by Laurie Faria Stolarz

A group of kids break into an old, abandoned insane asylum in order to record a short video for a film contest, but things take a turn for the worse when they realize they’re not alone…

The Woman in the Window: by A.J. Finn

A woman with a passion for classic film noir, and suffers from agoraphobia, suddenly feels like she’s in her own Hitchcock movie when she see’s a neighbor murdered within their house, but no one believes her…Was it a lie? Was it all fake, or is that just what a killer wants her to think?

Two Can Keep A Secret: by Karen McManus

Sometimes we have secrets that we’d rather keep buried. In a luxurious small town with a mysterious history of disappearances and secrets, a young girl and her friends must find a missing person and stop a murderous tradition that her family is oh so familiar with…

Vicious (Villains #1): by V.E. Schwab

Former college roommates and best friends Eli and Victor made a terrible discovery during their senior thesis science experiment. Years later, Victor breaks out of prison in order to exact his revenge; who will still be alive when the dust has cleared?…

Dracula: by Bram Stoker (with Ben Templesmith’s Illustrations)

An OG horror story for the ages; a man is sent to a looming castle in Transylvania and comes face to face with the Count himself, and must save his wife before the King of vampires can carry out his sinister plans…

Pet Semetary: by Stephen King

A man moves to a rural home in Maine with his family and pet cat, but with an indian burial ground near the cemetery filled with people’s pets of the past, some things don’t like to stay buried…

There you go, it sounds like some pretty fun titles are coming your way! Which ones sound better to you? Are there other titles you’d recommend? What are your favorite horror or thriller books to read? Let me know, I love to hear other people’s recommendations!

While I have you here, be sure to check out some book reviews I already have posted below! Why not look into some more creepy, twisted tales?

Click HERE to see my book review for Stephen King’s “IT”

Click HERE for my book review of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.”

Click HERE for my book review of Riley Sager’s “The Last Time I Lied.”

Click HERE for my book review of Taylor Adams’ “No Exit.”

Click HERE for my book review of Claire Legrand’s “Sawkill Girls.”

Click HERE for my book review of Shari Lapena’s “An Unwanted Guest.”

Click HERE for my book review of Colleen Hoover’s “Verity.”

Thanks for Reading!

–Nick Goodsell

Mystery/Thriller, Romance

My Review: Verity: by Colleen Hoover

Publish Date: December 20th, 2018
Number of Pages: 314 Pages
Publisher: Independently Published
Genre(s): Mystery/Thriller, Romance

Total Star Rating: 4.25 Stars

They say there are three sides to every story; one person’s side, another person’s side, and the actual truth. Now, this quote can be or can not be actually related to this book, but I will admit that after reading it, this idea certainly came to mind.

This is a novel about the truth, different versions of the truth, what is true versus what is fiction, the characters an author can create, and when the line between them is called into question.

How well do we really know the truth? Do we think we know absolutely everything, do we think we have a grasp on everything in our lives? What if you discover that it was all a lie? It could be earth shattering, inconceivable, traumatizing, horrifying, and make you want to scream into the dark at the absurdity of it all.

This book is so unlike any other Colleen Hoover book you’ll ever read. It was fuucked up to say the least, and unlike her other titles, it leaves you staring at your ceiling late into the night, maybe even afraid of turning out the light. It explores a darker side of some of her complex, traumatized, and morally grey characters, but remains as binge-worthy and addicting as any of her lighter romance titles.

I will forewarn anyone who is heavily triggered by stories with child abuse and graphic violence should avoid this title!

I mean, I was kind of at a loss for rational thought as I finished this title…the ending absolutely tears you a new one; the final line pierces your heart and leaves you in an unstable state where you don’t know if you’re alright and question the stability of everything around you. It leaves you in a conundrum because it gives us an idea that will never be answered, it will remain up in the air in in our minds like a parasitic bug that will never be squashed.

It was a mindfuck, to be perfectly blunt about it.

I was totally not expecting this style from the author, who’s more known for New Adult Romance titles instead of psychological thrillers. She expertly leads us down a path of lies, manipulation, sex and betrayal as the story escalates, and it’s crazy to think that the story is about a writer who is reading up about another writer to work on their book series, all the while the author of this book is telling this to you; its a bit of a feeling of inception, and makes you question how reliable are all the sources you’re reading from? Is Colleen herself lying, is it the main character, or is it the author the main character reads about?

What It’s About:

Struggling author Lowen Ashleigh is in a tight spot; her mother had just died of cancer a week before, she received the pink slip of eviction from her apartment, and to make matters worse, the opening scene is her witnessing a random stranger’s head popping open like a champagne bottle when it’s squeezed beneath the wheel of a moving car, blood splattering all over her clothes as a nice souvenir for the free show.

FML, right?

It turned out she was on her way towards a meeting with her agent at a publishing company because she’s about to be offered the deal of a lifetime: Jeremy Crawford, husband of the bestselling mystery/thriller author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to finish his wive’s book series as she’s no longer physically able to continue it herself due to a life-threatening injury in a car accident.

How ironic…

After the contracts are signed and everything seems sorted out, Lowen goes up to Jeremy and Verity’s expansive estate up in Vermont in order to work through all the paperwork, the plot lines, the character sheets, and other ideas in order for her to feel confident enough to continue Verity’s books.

What she doesn’t expect to uncover is an unpublished autobiography from Verity about the days from when her and Jeremy first met all the way towards the deaths of their twin daughters, both of which died at separate times. Among that, things Lowen could never have thought of in her wildest imagination comes to light, thoughts Verity had kept beneath the surface until now, and what may have really happened on the day one of their daughters died. Disgusted and devastated, Lowen keeps the manuscript from Jeremy; he’s been grieving long enough, surely he didn’t need this startling discovery on top of everything else, right?

As she continues to dig through the chaotic office, her feelings for Jeremy begin to grow, and she finds herself struggling between that and whether she should really share the truth she found hidden in that office. It would make her life a lot better for him to learn the truth, and stop being the loyal, devoted husband he is towards his bed-ridden, human vegetable wife…

Whats a girl to do?

What I Liked:

  1. The Romance! True to her usual line of work, there is a romantic subplot through the story while Lowen slowly loses her fucking mind like the rest of us. While sorting through his wife’s office, she develops feelings for Jeremy Crawford and together they become closer and closer as she remains living in his home. Even the way they met was a great addition, even if it resulted from such a bloody opening scene!
  2. The Unreliable Narrator! This novel is told entirely from Lowen’s point of view, and as things progress, she tells us what she sees, or what she thinks she sees, and the author did an amazing job at using this to add tension to the story; make Lowen question her own sanity quite a bit, but also add tons of creepy vibes in order to make this book unable to be put down!
  3. IRL vs. Manuscript! After she discovers the manuscript of Verity’s autobiography, the chapters start to switch back and forth between what’s going on in the house, and the actual chapters of the manuscript itself. We see the actual words Verity typed up for her twisted tale. It started off sweet and innocent, but began to unravel and deeply disturb us as the chapters continued, revealing Verity as a much darker character than you’d come to realize.

What I Didn’t Like:

  1. The Final Words…If you couldn’t guess by the way I describe it above, the final message this novel gives you is a one-way ticket to Mindfuckopolis, because I was NOT OKAY after reading it! It’s not a badly written ending at all, it’s just so unnerving and chilling! I loved that it evoked so much emotion from me, but I felt like the meme of Kelly from The Office as I sat there and shook me head repeatedly trying to figure out what the real truth of it all was. It’s not even funny how much my expression matched hers shortly after I set this book down:

Conclusion:

So it’s not all stickers, rainbows, ponies and myspace.com in this book like some of Colleen’s other romance titles; it’s dark, it’s twisty, it’s disturbing and unnerving and I am both HERE FOR IT but also low-key terrified at the promise this novel gives us…If this is something Colleen Hoover can deliver us from her first psychological thriller, imagine what else she could possibly come up with?!

I recommend this title for those looking for something absolutely chilling and creepy to read underneath the covers late at night. The tone of this book is so much darker and ominous that I anticipated from this author, but wound up loving how it drew me in and up late into the nights I read it. It felt subtle yet chaotic all at the same time, everywhere you turn will lead to more questions, more disturbing images, and make you take a second to glance around and observe the people closest in your life.

Whats truly boiling beneath the surface? Are they entirely honest, or is something much more malicious and benevolent hiding within?

Thanks for Reading!

— Nick Goodsell