The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

indexBook – Pepper’s never been in serious trouble in his life. Sure, a couple of fights here and there, but nothing big. But now, out of nowhere, he finds himself incarcerated — not in prison, where he would have a right to a lawyer and a phone call, but in a mental hospital, where he’s told he’ll be held indefinitely, since he signed those papers they gave him after they gave him the Haldol. The food is terrible, the view nonexistent, and his roommate won’t stop pestering him for spare change. And the Devil lives at the end of hallway four.

Although this is billed as a horror novel, and it kind of is, I’d say it’s not scary so much as disturbing. LaValle does a terrific job of shining a bright light on the systems that dehumanize people, making them nameless and disposable That’s not just the way the police can have someone institutionalized when they don’t feel like processing the paperwork to arrest them, but also the way people desperate to keep their jobs learn to cut corners and avoid speaking up about problems, and the way people are put into categories that make them easier to ignore. And with his wonderful characters, Pepper and Dorrie and Coffee and Sue and all the others, he makes us see them as people again.

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

indexBook–  Daisy is crushed when, on the anniversary of three years free of cancer, she receives a surprise stage four diagnosis, with a life expectancy of 4 months. This is especially galling for Daisy because she did everything ‘right’– ate healthy, cancer-fighting foods, got all of her scheduled follow-ups, and exercised regularly. Rather than dwelling on her own mortality, Daisy is worried about her husband Jack. Jack is a brilliant airhead who relies on Daisy to take care of him.

Oakley does a great job at characterizing both Jack and Daisy:  we get a clear picture of Daisy the type A, detail-oriented organizer and list-maker and her partnership with Jack, the big-picture, charming, dreamer type. Daisy comes to the conclusion that she should spend her last few months finding Jack a new wife/caretaker. With the help of her best friend, she frequents dog parks and coffee shops looking for her replacement, even making a dating website profile for Jack. However, once one of the prospects she’s scouted for seems to be getting too close to Jack for Daisy’s liking, and she begins to re-evaluate how she’s planned to spend the final months of her life.

This book has a definite downer ending, but that’s what you expect reading a book about terminal cancer. I especially liked that, even while near death, Oakley did not make Daisy become a  caricature of the brave cancer patient:  she retained her personality, flaws and all. This is the author’s first novel, and it will be interesting to see what she writes next.

 

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Cover Image - The Woman in Cabin 10Book – Lo Blacklock, a journalist, lands a plum assignment to travel and report on the maiden voyage of the boutique, luxury cruise liner, the Aurora. Two days before her scheduled departure for the trip around the Norwegian fjords, Lo’s apartment is robbed while she is home asleep after an evening of drinking. The event triggers her anxiety and panic attacks, for which she has been formerly diagnosed and treated. Nonetheless, she is determined to take advantage of the opportunity the cruise offers in the hopes of getting a promotion. When Lo boards the boat, she discovers their are 10 cabins and a crew devoted to the passengers’ comfort. However, as she soon finds out, the guests may not be who them seem to be and it’s hard to get help when you are out at sea. One night, after dinner and drinks, she returns to her cabin and thinks she hears a body fall into the water. She reports the incident, but no one believes her and everyone seems to be accounted for. Lo’s panic, drinking and confusion kept me guessing about the outcome of this suspenseful tale. I’m certainly not in any hurry to take a cruise on a small ship after reading this book! Ware also wrote In a Dark, Dark Wood.

 

The Babadook (2014)

babadookMovie- Young widow Amelia has struggled to raise her difficult 6-year-old son Sam alone since her husband died the day Sam was born. Sam is a very stressed out (and stressful) kid–he brings homemade weapons to school, fears imaginary monsters, acts out constantly, and generally runs roughshod over the listless, colorless Amelia. Things intensify, though, when Amelia reads him a bedtime story from a creepy storybook that has appeared on his shelf, Mister Babadook. Both Amelia and Sam are disturbed by the monster in the story, who Sam quickly becomes convinced is stalking them. The presence of the Babadook becomes slowly more pervasive throughout the movie until it finally takes over.

I was particularly struck by how quickly one’s perceptions of the characters change. I was initially annoyed by Sam but by the end of the movie felt quite protective towards him. The settings in the movie are excellent as well:  they are claustrophobic and oppressive, especially inside Amelia and Sam’s house. The Babadook will appeal to people who typically aren’t fans of horror movies. It is mercifully short on scare chords, cheap made-you-jumps, and gore, but still plenty terrifying on a psychological level and full of suspense.

Dietland by Sarai Walker

dietlandBook- At the beginning of the book, Plum Kettle feels like a very familiar type of protagonist: a ghost writer for the advice column of a preteen girls’ magazine, Plum Kettle is a meek, neurotic fat woman who aspirationally buys beautiful clothes in a size she has never been and is waiting for her ‘real’ life to begin after she has her much-desired weight loss surgery. Plum’s plans are derailed, though, when she notices a mysterious woman following her and gets embroiled in an underground community of feminist women who live life on their own terms. Plum agrees to run a gauntlet of challenges set by the mysterious woman, designed to expose the darker side of becoming desirable according to mainstream standards and to dissuade Plum from weight loss surgery.

Plum’s personal growth story occurs against the backdrop of a world beset by the machinations of a fictional home-grown terrorist group known as “Jennifer,” which targets those who dehumanize women in a series of violent vigilante strikes. Naturally, this story intersects with Plum’s and the roots of the terrorist group are eventually revealed.

This satirical novel will appeal to feminists, dystopian enthusiasts, and fans of dark humor.  With a premise like this, it would have been easy to be too didactic and moralizing, but Dietland keeps the tone refreshingly breezy, though with a very strong bite.

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

indexBook – Britt-Marie is in her 60’s, socially awkward and incapable of tolerating a mess. She has just left her husband, Kent, and is looking for a job. After haranguing the young unemployment officer, she lands a temporary position in the tiny, down-on-its-luck town of Borg as a caretaker of the recreation center. As she arrives into town, she is surprised to discover that the residents, particularly the children, are fixated on soccer. The children practice without a coach and proper playing field. Britt-Marie compulsively cleans their uniforms, as well as the recreation center and adjoining shop. Despite her very definite views on proper conduct (and correcting everyone’s lack of it), Britt-Marie finds that she is accepted and understood for the first time in her life. The story unfolds with hilarious antics and heart-rending moments. I loved these characters and their town. As stated in the book, “At a certain age almost all the questions a person asks him or herself are really just about one thing: how should you live your life?” Britt-Marie is finally able to figure out the answer for herself, as she learns to live life on her own terms.

The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss by Max Wirestone

51-+74IGcjL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book- Broke and unemployed Dahlia is pleased if rather confused when a handsome stranger at her roommate’s party offers her a dubious gig– to retrieve his spear (not a real spear, but a spear from fictional Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game Zoth).  Naturally, the promise of a $2000 payout after 12+ months of unemployment is too much to resist. However, nothing ever works out as well as it seems it should. Dahlia is quickly embroiled in at least one potential romantic entanglement, the interpersonal dynamics of her employer’s in-game guild, and, oh yeah, a real-life murder. The real pleasure of The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss is the narrator’s unique voice. Dahlia is steeped in nerd culture and has an acerbic, self-deprecating style that either the reader will love or hate.

This book (which I would not be surprised to see become a series) straddles the line between young adult and new adult and will appeal to fans of both chick lit novels and cozy mysteries. Set in St. Louis, I found that the novel had a surprisingly strong sense of place that I appreciated. My spouse is from St. Louis, and I recognized many of the places and streets mentioned as ones I’ve been to when visiting my in-laws. If you can get behind a novel where the detective wears a Jigglypuff toboggan hat instead of a deerstalker cap, this is the book for you.

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

remember meBook – I’ve been reading a lot of Sophie Kinsella recently.  The Summer season always puts me in the mood for lighthearted comedies, and Kinsella’s books really hit the spot.

Remember Me? (not to be confused with the emotionally moving film featuring Robert Pattinson, although also worth a gander), by Sophie Kinsella , is a great choice for anyone who loves a good mystery with their comedy.  The novel follows Lexi sMART, a spunky young woman nicknamed “Snaggletooth,” who’s having a pretty crappy time in life. It’s 2004, and her boyfriend, Loser Dave, is always a no show, she was the only one who didn’t get a bonus at work, and then she’s in an accident to top it off.

When Lexi wakes up from her accident, she can’t remember anything.  It’s suddenly 2007, and she has no memory of the past three years.  She can’t recognize the tan, slim, flawless woman in the mirror. Life seems perfect: she’s married to a drop-dead gorgeous man, lives in a million dollar penthouse and is head of the company!  Things couldn’t be better, or so it would appear.  But things start to fall through when Lexi learns what kind of person she’s become, and just how imperfect her life really is.  Is it too late to rewind and change those last three years?  Is the past really lost for good?  Dive in to find out what happens!

With a quirky cast, drama, and secrets, Remember Me? makes a splash as a beachside read!  If you fancy some more Kinsella books, I highly recommend checking out Can You Keep a Secret? and The Undomestic Goddess. 

 

Stay by Allie Larkin

stayBook –The perfect novel for romantics and dog-lovers alike!  Stayby Allie Larkin follows Savannah “Van” Leone, a quirky young woman who has been hopelessly in love with her friend Peter since college.  Unfortunately, love has other plans for her–her best friend Janie is marrying her beloved Peter, and Van is forced into the role of maid of honor.  Love has never been so miserable!

Following the excruciating ceremony, Van drowns her broken heart in vodka and a Rin Tin Tin movie marathon, and promptly purchases a German Shepherd puppy online.   She soon finds that her furry friend is not the little puppy she expected, but rather, a GIANT.  As she wrestles with training her new pup, Van starts to mend her broken heart, and finds a new purpose in her life.  Yet just as she begins to open her heart up to someone else, everything comes crashing down.

Full of hysterical moments, a lovable dog, and a cute vet, this is a wonderfully fun, light-hearted read. It’s The Holiday meets Must Love Dogs, cute, funny, with a side of fluff.

 

Lexicon by Max Barry

lexiconBook – Emily Ruff, sixteen-year-old street hustler, is recruited by mysterious besuited operatives into an elite Virginia boarding school with an unusual mission.  A decade later, unremarkable Wil Parke is kidnapped in a Portland airport by a man who, contrary to all appearances, claims to be saving Wil’s life.  And somewhere in-between and on the other side of the world, the two will meet at the center of an unprecedented cataclysm that will destroy the entire town of Broken Hill, Australia–an event caused by nothing more or less than one very deadly word.

Lexicon is not quite science fiction, not quite fantasy, but will appeal to fans of both.  The story centers around the Poets, an organization that uses neuro-linguistic programming–technology which the text itself admits is indistinguishable from magic words–to hack the human brain and control the behavior of others.  The fast-paced, exhilarating plot is rounded out with just the right amount of romance.  The villain is suitably loathsome, the heroes are stalwart and clever, but all of the characters are believable and well-rounded, with faults to match their virtues.  While fans of dystopian novels with gutsy heroines will love Emily, the worldbuilding in Lexicon is pleasingly distinct from the increasingly overdone post-apocalyptic genre.  In fact, much of the fascination of the story lies in just how believable it can be.  Overall, Lexicon is a deeply satisfying, ready-for-the-big-screen thriller.