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review 2018-09-12 00:14
Ghosting by David Poyer
Ghosting: A Novel - David Poyer

Dr. Jack Scales, a prominent neurosurgeon, is at the peak of his career. To celebrate, he decides to make up for lost time and buys a sailing yacht christened Slow Dance, for a family cruise to Bermuda. But the family is strained: Jack’s wife Arlen is secretly considering leaving the marriage; Rick, their bipolar twenty-year-old son, may need to be committed to a group home; Haley, a rebellious teenager, would rather be anywhere but trapped on a boat with her family; and Jack himself is not prepared for the challenge of the open sea. Day by day, the Scales face mounting dangers. A lightning storm nearly destroys the boat, Rick’s unstable condition worsens, and both Arlen and Haley realize that Jack is in over his head. Still, emerging from the storm, they find a fragile unity…until a man adrift on a raft leads them into danger against a terrifying gang of smugglers, who will stop at nothing to gain control of Slow Dance.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel includes scenes of gang rape. Also within this book are intense, emotionally raw scenes with a character who is struggling with schizophrenia and suicidal thoughts. 

 

Neurosurgeon Jack Scales may be riding a high professionally but over the years his personal life with the wife and kids has suffered. Now near the breaking point, with Jack's wife, Arlen, having an affair with a younger man, and his schizophrenic (or at least schizo-affective) son, Ric, hearing voices urging him to commit murder and self-mutilation, Jack thinks a family trip is long overdue. Also along for the journey is daughter Hailey, a dedicated swimmer who generally does what she can to avoid the whole family. Jack plans a family trip to Bermuda on the new sailboat he bought but has yet to actually sail. What could go wrong?  Oooh, just wait, readers. 

 

In the course of this short novel that clocks at just under 300 pages, we the readers witness: a stowaway that nearly dies, a lightning strike that damn near sinks the boat, Hailey walking in on brother Ric trying to shove a kitchen knife down his throat, a gang rape, AND the boat taken hostage by smugglers! Phew! At times it almost felt like some macabre, darkly comedic take on National Lampoon's Family Vacation, minus the scenes where I came to really feel for Ric with his dark episodes and internal struggles. Ric reminded me a bit of the character Andy Hoffstadt (the brother of Hank Azaria's character) on the short-lived tv drama, Huff. 

 

No surprise, there is a healthy dose of medical and boating jargon scattered throughout the story (author David Poyer himself is a sailor with 30+ years experience). But I got a chuckle at one point when Jack insists to his family that any complaining is to be done using correct boating terminology. The sex scenes though... I'm talking about the consensual ones here --- not so sexy. Maybe it's just a matter of personal preference, but having a guy bust out one or more "kiddo" during bed dancing just weirds me out. 

 

The plot, post-smugglers taking over the boat, gets incredibly intense. As noted in the trigger warning at the beginning of this review, this novel does include scenes of gang rape. Though painful to read, their existence within the story plays a powerful role in illustrating just how far a parent will go to protect their child, sacrificing themselves at all costs if it will me the offspring will stay safe. 

 

Recommended for: Fans of Corban Addison's The Tears of Dark Water.

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review 2018-09-01 07:56
House by Frank Peretti & Ted Dekker
House - Ted Dekker,Frank Peretti

Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker—two of the most acclaimed writers of supernatural thrillers—have joined forces for the first time to craft a story unlike any you've ever read. Enter House—where you'll find yourself thrown into a killer's deadly game in which the only way to win is to lose . . . and the only way out is in. The stakes of the game become clear when a tin can is tossed into the house with rules scrawled on it. Rules that only a madman—or worse—could have written. Rules that make no sense yet must be followed.One game. Seven players. Three rules. Game ends at dawn.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Jack, a writer, and Stephanie, a singer, find themselves having car trouble on a back road in the middle of nowhere. The car engine is dead and, no surprise, they can't seem to get cell service. The two decide to hoof it on foot and eventually come upon signs of civilization. To be more precise, a literal sign advertising THE WAYSIDE INN. Naturally, they figure they might be someone there who can help them. Shortly after entering the building, they come upon another couple -- Leslie, a psychiatrist, or a psychology professor? both? I was a little confused on that point, and Randy, a hotel CEO --  with a car trouble story eerily similar to their own. 

 

The two couples soon meet inn owners Betty & Stewart and their son Pete. It doesn't take long for both parties to agree that they're all solidly creeped out by this family. There's also something odd going on with the house itself. There is a true threat lurking on the property but it's not where these folks think it is!

 

The prologue of this novel is only about 1 1/2 pages long but it quickly introduces the reader to Barsidious White, and all we really establish about him is that he seems to have done something very bad. 

 

The whole story spans roughly about 1 day, beginning at around 5:17pm. Many (but not all) of the chapters are headed with a timestamp so you can get an estimate of time passing from scene to scene. *Around 4:30am, things get REAL weird.* The early pages (much of Chapter 2, notably) plays off of Alabama redneck / country cop stereotypes. 

 

For what's clearly supposed to be a thriller / mild horror kind of novel, the action takes awhile to get going. Tensions really escalate around pages 45-50 and from there the action keeps a pretty consistent hold. This one is definitely geared toward fans of hillbilly style horror, maybe even fans of the Saw movie franchise. It doesn't get quite that dark here, just kinda has that overall vibe to it, as well as a similar "how far would you go" challenge posed to the story's characters. 

 

The horror / thriller aspect ... even the paranormal elements... that was all pretty mild IMO. Entertaining, easy read with a fair amount of creep factor but if you're after hardcore chills, this particular book might be a bit of a letdown. White has some edge to him, psychologically speaking, in that he has something Manson-esque about him in the way he tricks others into doing his dirty work for him. If anything, I found this one fun in the way that I like to watch low-budget horror / slasher movies in the fall as part of the whole Halloween season festivities. Being able to laugh at the cheezy lines and the ridiculously poor decision making is what makes the experience worthwhile! Like the giggle I got with the cop in this story at one point pronouncing, "I don't mind pointing out that I might not make it"... because think about it, are cops not some of the first to go in horror movies?! Stephanie though, her frequent exclamations of "Oh my God! Oh my God!" ... seriously, just ALL the time. Ugh, OMG Stephanie please shut it. 

 

Though this is co-written by two power players in the Christian Fiction genre, the religious influence here is actually pretty minimal, until you get near the end and there's a mention of "look to the son of God". I actually kinda liked the symbolism within the story though, illustrating the importance of not letting the evil inside you control you.  

 

A decently fun autumn read for religious and secular readers alike, so long as you're not looking for anything monumental. This is definitely one of those "just enjoy it for what it is" kind of experiences.

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review 2018-08-15 04:17
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin

A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, on things for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Sixteen people are invited to the reading of the will of Samuel Westing. This will stipulates that all the potential beneficiaries must play a game. The victor wins Westing's fortune, an estimated 200 million dollars. This game, a gauntlet of sorts, will put the players through bombings, blizzards, burglaries and mental puzzles. 

 

I heard about this book through some of my Booktube acquaintances. Apparently this is a common one for kids to get assigned in school these days? It never came up on my school reading lists but I heard so many rave reviews for this story that I was curious to see what I was missing. 

 

Well, now that I've tried it for myself ... this one is going on my list of "Did everyone else read a different book than me?" because I honestly don't get the hype here. The plot had a few entertaining moments but largely felt like a mess and was often pretty slow to boot, and most of the characters were BORING. To make matters worse for this reader, the ending struck me as aggravatingly pointless.

 

This novel won the Newberry Medal in 1978... but WHY? In the book's intro, Ann Durrell (Raskin's friend and editor) writes that when Raskin was crafting the puzzles for this story, nothing was pre-plotted... she just made things up as she went along! Initially, that sounds impressive... but I don't know, man. Sometimes there's something to be said for taking the time to craft an outline!

 

Personally, I found my curiosity struck more by the person Ellen Raskin rather than her writings, learning the little bio tidbits about her: 

 

*The Westing Game was her last book before she succumbed to a connective tissue disease in 1984 at the age of 56

 

* In addition to being an author, she was also an accomplished graphic artist, designing over one thousand book covers over the course of her career, one notable one being the first edition cover of Madeline L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time 

 

WrinkleInTimePBA1.jpg

 

 

* In 1960, she married Dennis Flannagan, founding editor of the modern day layout of Scientific American magazine. This was her 2nd marriage.

 

*Raskin was a diehard Schubert fan. "Death and the Maiden" was played at her funeral. 

 

 

What's your take on The Westing Game? Was it a favorite of yours as a child?

 

 

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review 2018-06-12 04:31
Eleven Hours by Paullina Simons
Eleven Hours - Paullina Simons

Didi Wood, eight and a half months pregnant with her third child, heads to a mall to get out of the oppressive Dallas heat and get some shopping done. She is supposed to meet her husband for lunch at one o'clock. By 1:45, she still isn't there-she's riding down the highway at breakneck speed with a madman at the wheel. His name is Lyle, and he has abducted her from a department store parking lot. But why he's done this, and what he wants, are anyone's guess. Now the police and the FBI have to somehow track him down. And a very pregnant Didi must keep herself and her unborn child alive at any price-even as they ride closer and closer into the darkest chamber of a psychopath's mind...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel describes scenes of GRAPHIC sexual assault.

 

Desdemonda "Didi" Woods, nine months pregnant, is abducted while shopping at a Dallas mall. While the abductor takes her across the flatlands of Texas, Didi's husband, Rich, works with the FBI to try to reach her in time. There are time stamps at the beginning of each chapter, so the reader can keep track of how much time is passing.. but spoiler! the whole thing takes 11 hours. ;-)

 

So now that you know the general premise, let's dive into all the cringey, facepalm potholes in the sloppy writing here!

 

First off, this novel was originally published in 1998, so it understandably, laughably reads VERY 90s now. There's a lot of time (pages) spent on Didi's shopping spree prior to her abduction -- wracking up $200 at Estee Lauder, moving on to FAO Schwarz, Coach, I even had a big hit of nostalgia when she has a walk through a Warner Bros. store... 'memba them! But something about this shopping also put me off about Didi as a character in general when she mentions that her child had requested a set of wooden blocks... that's it, just some blocks... but Didi wore herself out so much buying bags of stuff for HERSELF that she couldn't be bothered to try to find the blocks at the end of the day.

 

Though it's not really noted anywhere in the synopsis, once you get into the meat of this story, there is a noticeable Christian Fiction lean to the tone, which only gets progressively stronger as the plot moves along. Even Rich's job in the story is "national sales manager for a religious publisher based in Dallas." To be honest, the heavy-handed preachy tone laid over the suspense just got tiresome. But weirdly, on the flip side, there's also a strong dose of profanity and crudeness to the material here.

 

The kidnapper character is mildly disturbing but only shows minimal physical violence for most of the story. It's mostly just bursts of verbal abuse. It's likely that you've read much worse characters in more recent crime novels. One scene that was really bothersome though was when Didi is searching for something in her purse or on her person that she could possibly make into a weapon later, "anything that might help" as she says... but chucks a paperclip at the bottom of her bag. Pages later, her tormentor makes a lewd comment toward her and it's written, "she wished she had something sharp and ragged in her hands at that moment"... oh, what? like a paperclip maybe??!

 

Then there's the super team of Rich and the FBI. If you watch the time stamps on the chapter headers, Didi is abducted at 1:30pm. By 4:15 SAME DAY, the police are already saying "it doesn't look good." Wow. Just throwing in the towel then, boys? Later, when Rich is conversing with Scott, one of the FBI agents, Rich pleads, "Tell me it's going to all be okay." When Scott does, Rich snaps back, "You're lying." Here, with this crew, lies Didi's hope at being saved. Precious time being wasted with this BS back and forth.

 

Just in general, the writing is not stellar. One line that actually had me laugh out loud at how terribly lazy it was: Didi purchasing Sun Ripened Raspberry lotion from Bath & Body Works, which... keep up now... "smelled berryish". This is the same author who went on to write the pretty successful Bronze Horseman trilogy. We all gotta start somewhere, I guess.

 

I'll end on a positive though. There was a conversation near the end between Didi and her abductor where he reveals why he did what he did. Not saying it made the guy innocent, but it did have me feeling a moment of honest pity for him. Around these chapters were also some moments of honest suspense that I wished would've been consistently present throughout the rest of the novel.

 

Note to readers: This novel contains spoilers for William Shakespeare's Othello and Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

 

______________


EXTRAS

 

* In her dedication, Simons notes that this, her 3rd published novel, was dedicated to her 3rd child. She also mentions that the book was made possible (possibly inspired?) by her husband taking a job as editorial director for Wishbone Books, which required the entire family to relocate to Texas.

 

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review 2018-06-11 17:17
Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
Dangerous Girls - Abby McDonald,Abigail Haas

It’s Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations. As Anna sets out to find her friend’s killer, she discovers harsh revelations about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love. Awaiting the judge’s decree, it becomes clear to Anna that everyone around her thinks she is not only guilty, but also dangerous. And when the whole story comes out, reality is more shocking than anyone could ever imagine...

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

A group of Boston teenagers travel to the island of Aruba for their senior year Spring Break. Included in this group are best friends Anna and Elise. When Elise's body is found murdered in her hotel room, stabbed a gruesome thirteen times, Anna quickly becomes the #1 suspect in the investigation. But Anna vehemently pleads innocence, and the story becomes her fight to regain her good name and freedom as she sits in an Aruban correctional facility, awaiting the murder trial.

 

While it is not revealed or directly referenced anywhere within the novel itself or Haas' author afterword, a reader can't help but feel that this story had to be at least a little bit inspired by the true crime Natalee Holloway case. There are just too many similarities.

 

* Young teens on Spring Break choose Aruba as their destination

* Victim Elise, first night on the island, begins flirting with young 20something hot guy in a club whose overall look, it's pointed out, just screams money. But her friends warn her that they get a bad vibe off him, not to go off alone with him.

 

That's just early on in the book. Then there's the media spin illustrated in the story. One brief moment of Anna's boyfriend saying something lighthearted to her to distract her from her emotional pain even for a second, and her momentary smile is snapped by a paparrazzi photographer and splashed across all sorts of media sources with the angle that Anna appears disturbing heartless, considering the circumstances -- "unconcerned, unfeeling", "sickening lack of empathy", "sociopathic", etc. One by one, as the story picks up more and more media coverage, Anna's friends begin to turn on her in the interest of fame.

 

Now, while this particular element is original to Haas' imagination, she does write in the character of Clara Rose, a court case analyst with a tv news show recognizably similar in style to Nancy Grace. Clara Rose is even described as having a blonde bobbed hairstyle and a southern accent, y'all.

 

The show cuts to commercial again. This time, every woman in the room is staring at me.

I try to remind myself how to breathe.

I knew it was bad out there. Even locked up, I've seen glimpses of newspapers and TV news. It wasn't as if I thought everyone would be lined up, protesting my innocence, but still, Clara's show takes my breath away. I thought it would be more...balanced. Isn't that what the news is supposed to do? Present both sides of the story, fairly, not jump to conclusions based on leaked information and biased statements? We're still months away from the trial; even Ellingham swore they didn't have enough evidence to convict, so where's the support? Some kind of outcry about my arrest? Instead, they showed nothing on my side -- no mention of Juan, or Tate's lies and cheating, the balcony issue, or all the problems with the crime scene -- nothing, not one hint that I might  be innocent in all this. They assume I'm guilty and they can't wait to see me burn.

"Killer."

 

But as I said, even with the similarities, there are aspects of this story that are uniquely Haas' creation, particularly when it comes to the ending of this novel. While I wasn't always glued to the page, Haas successfully keeps the suspense going enough that I was most definitely invested in seeing how things turned out. She incorporates an interesting cast of shady characters and casts enough doubt on everyone that you just have to see where all the twistedness concludes!

 

Looking back now, I see how naive we all were. I stepped into that courtroom believing I'd have a fair shot -- a chance to state my case and be heard, the way you're supposed to. But the real truth is, it's all a performance. The trial is no different from the Clara Rose Show, in its way, only instead of a film studio with lights and cameras, we have the courtroom as our stage. The lawyers and witnesses are all actors; the judge is our audience, and whoever can sell their version of the script -- make you believe it, whether it's fact or fiction -- they're the one who wins. It's that simple. Evidence is just a prop; you can ignore it and look the other way, and even the script doesn't matter when some supporting actor can improvise their scenes and steal the whole show.

 

Anna's story also brings up a good point: that if enough digging were done in virtually anyone's life, we could ALL be made to look guilty of something if enough spin were put on it. For example, one of the points the prosecution team brings out is Anna having lyrics from a Florence & The Machine song scrawled on a school binder, lyrics that they claim clearly illustrate her mental instability.

 

Those are somebody else's words that I scrawled on my notebook during a boring class, and now he's holding them up as some kind of proof of my "violent urges". Why doesn't he go further, and pull up my DVR records and all the horror movies I used to watch, curled tightly against Tate on the living room couch? Why not go through my bookcase for every crime novel he can find?

Wouldn't we all look guilty, if someone searched hard enough?

 

 

As it turns out, the song they reference is actually one of my FATM songs (mainly because it has a cool, unique rhythm to it) so it gave me, as the reader, a jerked back reaction of Whoah, what might I be judged on, what innocuous things about my life or interests could be spun into something incriminating. It does make you pause and wonder!

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