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review 2019-01-12 10:12
The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
The Woman in Cabin 10 - Ruth Ware

Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Travel writer Laura "Lo" Blacklock is struggling with overwhelming anxiety since a strange man broke into her apartment and assaulted her. When her boss is hospitalized, an opportunity arises for Lo to fill in for her on a travel assignment aboard the "luxury cruise liner" Aurora. Lo is to be a passenger on the ship's maiden voyage and write of the experience, the accommodations, and the finale event involving a viewing of the Northern Lights while exploring the Norwegian fjords.

 

It takes 5 chapters for Lo to even get anywhere near a dock, let alone ON the boat. Once on the boat, the reader is made to suffer through pages of boring dinner conversation that we really didn't need to be there for. The way the characters interact with each other in this novel brought to mind low-budget murder mystery dinner theater. Once that fizzles out, we go back with Lo to her cabin, where she drinks, mopes about her life, and passes out. She starts up in the middle of the night, nerves on edge. Unable to get back to sleep, she tries to read. From there, we are asked to believe that Lo was able to hear a sound described as "the scrape of paper against paper" over the hum of the ship's engine AND the roll of ocean waves. Lo looks up, sees a body go overboard. Once she reports what she saw, the novel turns into an actual whodunit, though it poses the question of whether an actual death occurred or are we dealing with the hallucinations of someone who chose to mix alcohol with antidepressants? (One line that gave me an honest LOL moment: Lo casually saying "I really need to stop drinking mid-week." Not sure why that tickled me so much, but it did!). Who knew so much would ride on one little pink and green tube of Maybelline Great Lash!

 

 

Image result for Maybelline Great Lash

The book is divided into eight parts, the end of each part offering a snippet of text messages, emails, social media posts, or newspaper articles, all indicating a break in communication somewhere. Gradually hints pile up that while Lo is on this trip, her communications are not reaching friends and family (and neither are theirs to her), leading them to believe she's gone MIA.

 

What a confusing mess this book turned out to be! It started out promising enough, but not enough time was spent on relevant character or plot development, too much placed on forgettable minutiae. I'm still a little confused as to what kind of boat the Aurora is supposed to be? It's first described as "a boutique super luxury cruise liner" with ten cabins ... okay, but what is that... like a yacht? Later in the book it says the Aurora is "more like a large yacht than a small cruise liner" WTH IS THE DIFFERENCE? Pardon me, I'm not in the boat world lol.

 

 

Though this was marketed as one of the must-read thrillers of its publication year, I felt no thrills, chills, suspense, nothing while reading this. Not a one. Flatline. There's a few little interesting revelations in the end, but even there, there is much that relies on already established techniques / ideas within this genre.

 

Lastly, let's talk about Lo. Lo was just too much. You want to give her credit in the beginning because she just went through a trauma, but man is she just all-around unlikeable. Though she seems to have a pretty low perception of herself, simultaneously she can also be wildly self absorbed. And WHINY. OMG, so whiny! Then she'll feel bad, so then comes the flood of apologetic behavior... followed by bursts of lashing out later. Then the cycle resets. Exhausting!

 

 

Related image

 

As a journalist, she's lazy as all get-out. She even tells the reader herself, “For a travel journalist I’m worryingly bad at geography.” You know, that could be easily remedied if you gave a damn. Nope, instead we get her posing questions regarding this suspected murder to cruise guests and crew, only to follow up -- when they ask "why do you ask?" -- with a "doesn't matter". You get 'em, Poirot.

 

And is EVERY MAN in this story an enemy to Lo?! Those breathing exercises she keeps attempting clearly aren't doing much for her. I've suffered assaults worse that what happens to Lo here and even I'm able to very easily interact with the opposite sex on a daily basis without assuming every single one of them is a shady mofo out to ruin me. You don't condemn the entire group for the dishonorable actions of a despicable few!

 

My favorite part of this entire book was the raised texture on the watery cover! Fun trick I found, if you run your fingertips across it, it actually does kinda make a sound similar to the ocean! Reading experience saved! (You're welcome.)

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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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