Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

player oneBook– In the year 2044, the aptly-named virtual reality game OASIS allows people an immersive experience that diverts them from the shambles that is the world around them.  Teenage Wade Watts has essentially been raised by OASIS–he learned to read from its educational software, goes to school in one of its virtual classrooms, and like many others, seeks to solve the puzzles, or Easter eggs, that are hidden in the game. The first to find the eggs will win OASIS creator James Halliday’s fortune and control of the OASIS. To this aim, puzzle solvers (who call themselves “gunters,” from egg hunters) obsess over every facet of Halliday’s life, especially his video game and pop culture obsessions which should be familiar to anyone who was a nerd in the 1980s. Though Wade does not have as many credits (in-game money) or as much experience as some players, he is the one who stumbles on the first clue of the game and sets off the competition.

Though it certainly helps, you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s nerd culture to read this book. At its heart, the book reads like a virtual reality version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If I had a complaint, it’s that I would have liked to see more world-building of the world outside the OASIS, but the game world is so immersive for both the reader and the characters that it’s not a serious issue. Ready Player One will appeal to fans of young adult dystopias, video games, and science fiction. Also, the audio version is narrated by Wil Wheaton.  Who can resist?

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

find herBook –Check out Find Her by Lisa Gardner for a murder mystery you can’t put down.

For 472 days, Flora Danes was held captive in a wooden coffin. On the occasions that she was released, Flora was raped and tormented by her kidnapper. But she is a survivor. Five years later, Flora is still trying to find a sense of normalcy in her life. She has the support of her mother, and her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. But Flora is caught in the past, actively searching out other girls like her that have gone missing, dedicated to hunting down their perpetrators.

Detective D.D. Warren arrives at a crime scene where a young women was left bound, naked, yet was somehow able to kill her attacker. Because Flora is no ordinary victim.  After learning of Flora’s traumatic history, Detective Warren grows suspicious of the intentions of this possible vigilante. When Flora herself ends up missing, Detective Warren must team up with the famed Samuel Keynes to find Flora against all odds.

I found Find Her to be reminiscent of author Gillian Flynn: an intense, driven thriller with a strong female lead. I thought the details of Flora’s captivity were terrifying, especially as someone who’s claustrophobic. It was an unsettling read, which for me constitutes the makings of a great murder mystery.

 

Day Four by Sarah Lotz

imagesBook – The first three days of the Beautiful Dreamer‘s cruise are perfectly normal. It’s a budget cruise line, so sure, there are some problems, but nothing to draw anyone’s attention. And then, on the fourth day, things start to go wrong. A usually cantankerous psychic becomes generous and welcoming, even to people who haven’t paid her fees. Security covers up the fact that they’ve found a young woman dead in her cabin; the man who’s killed her tries desperately to pretend that everything is normal. A housekeeper sees a boy who couldn’t possibly be there. A fire breaks out in the engine room, stranding the ship at sea.

And then things get weird.

I absolutely adored Lotz’s debut solo novel, The Three, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised that Day Four was so good, but I was. A good horror novel can be hard to find, but Lotz has a deft touch with atmosphere and she never lets the plot slow down. She doesn’t let you get too attached to the characters, though – which can be a good thing in a story like this, where you almost wish she’d start killing people off just to relieve the tension.

Day Four is technically a sequel to The Three, but the connections are thin; you wouldn’t miss much if you haven’t read the first one. (You should read it anyway, of course, it’s excellent.) If you’re looking for a good, disturbing, plot-driven horror novel, give Day Four a try. But if you’ve got a summer cruise planned… maybe wait until you come home.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Book – What if everything we know about science were wrong, just a side-effect of a particularly orderly-minded god who is just the last in a long line of forces controlling the universe? And what would happen then if that god were dethroned? That’s the central premise of The Library at Mount Char, one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve read in years, but it’s not the central focus. The focus of the book is on Carolyn, one of several orphans who were raised and trained in the mysterious, convoluted Library, who is now fighting for her life and her independence after her father – the orderly force holding the universe together – has been murdered.

Part fantasy, part thriller, part – well, I don’t know what it is, but it’s a fascinating, fast-paced story. There’s time travel, so some things don’t make a lot of sense to start with, but Carolyn’s narration is so confident that it’s easy to trust her. It is a very violent book, with several scenes of graphic torture, which I’m not usually sensitive about, but the first thing I told people about it when they asked was, “It’s so violent!” It’s got a great payoff, though – and although it doesn’t need a sequel, I’d love to read one anyway.

The Imposter (2012)

Movie – There are some who feel truth is just as good as fiction and at times better. The Imposter is one of those stories that may be better than fiction. For watchers of Spanish cinema, like something out of a Pedro Almodóvar film. It is a documentary about a missing child, Nicolas Barclay. In 1994 a family in Texas reported their son missing. He turns up three and a half years later in Spain. Or does he? The Barclays do not see their “son” for the first time until he is back in Texas. Their child was a blond hair blue eyed boy. The person they are reunited with is neither blond nor blue eyed, with a profound Spanish accent, and seems to look older than 16, which is the around the age Nicolas should be.

The Imposter will take you on a trip with twists and turns throughout only to leave you with more questions. There are questions about the person claiming to be Nicolas. Who is he, what is he doing, and why is he doing this? In addition, why does the family accept this stranger as their son? Serious criminal accusations will keep the viewer questioning what is going on in this family. All of this will leave you with more questions that may or may not be fully answered by the end of the film.

Whether you like true-crime or enjoy fiction, The Imposter will give you a good story, almost as good as, or even better than most mysteries. This one is for those who enjoy mysteries, thrillers, true-crimes, and love plot twists.

The Surrogate by Judith Henry Wall

Book – The Surrogate, by Judith Henry Wall is a fantastically thrilling drama.  Twenty-year old Jamie Long is completely broke..  Then she discovers something that will pay a pretty penny, becoming a surrogate.  Thinking she’s hit the jackpot, Jamie immediately agrees to take the job for the Hartmanns, a famously powerful evangelical family.  When she is forced to sign a contract that demands complete secrecy of the surrogacy, Jamie begins to wonder if she’s made a mistake.  While Jamie initially thinks she is merely helping a couple to conceive, she soon discovers the family’s hidden secrets that leave her fearing for her life.

When I think of the word surrogacy,  I remember Phoebe carrying triplets for her brother on Friends, (the tv series), or the comedic perfection of Amy Poehler and Tina Fey in Baby Mama. The Surrogate takes a much darker turn, creating a suspense-ridden thriller.  Throughout the story, I was a bit frustrated at the naivety of the main character, Jamie.  She is so overly trusting of this family of strangers, and not at all concerned that the contract demands she move into their home for the pregnancy.  However, all in all I really enjoyed the novel.

Moral of the story?  You can’t trust anyone.  Especially secretive strangers.  Who are extremely wealthy.  And sketchy as heck.

Children of the Corn (1984)

Movie – When I think of horror movies, I picture monsters, deformed killers out for revenge (Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers…), and those awful moments where you know somebody’s going to jump and freak the living daylights out of you.  Of course, there’s the occasional demonic force taking over a doll, a child, or a loving mother too.  Yet I feel the film Children of the Corn is in a category all its own.

A nice young couple finds themselves lost and stranded in a rural, seemingly abandoned town.  But then they hit a child with their car, who they appear to have killed.  Of course.  However, as it happens they are not responsible for his death. And as it goes in horror films, they find it necessary to load the body in their car and find the nearest policeman to explain what happened.  (This is reminiscent of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, where picking up a terrified suicidal stranger ends up backfiring big time).  The couple soon discovers that they are being hunted by the only residents of the town–children.  As they uncover the mystery of what happened to all the adults, the couple must fight to survive the worst road trip of their lives.  Creepy and filled with evil children, this cult classic is one everyone should watch at least once.

Watching this film as a child, my eldest brother assured me I wouldn’t be scared because instead of monsters, the villains of this film are children.  Because I was also a child, there was nothing to fear.  Luckily, it was actually the vast fields of corn where the children hunted their prey that really freaked me out.  I shivered in fear at the thought of being lost in an endless maze of tall corn stalks, with no hope of escape.

If you want a good scare this Halloween without the special effects and CGI monsters, check out this film, and be forever terrified of corn mazes, and possibly children.

The Other Side: a Memoir by Lacy M. Johnson

other sideBook – Lacy M. Johnson shares her haunting experience with readers in The Other Side: A Memoir.  Within these pages is the terrifying account of Lacy’s kidnapping and rape by her abusive ex-boyfriend.  It details the events leading up to, and following her escape from the brutal imprisonment.  The book begins in the middle of the night, where a beaten and bloody Lacy bangs on the door of a police station, finally free from her abuser.  Lacy shares her story with startling honesty, revealing the raw, horrifying details of her kidnapping and rape.

Something I thought was simple yet very well done in the memoir was the use of anonymity.  Lacy addresses no one by name instead calling the array of characters by their roles/titles, such as: The Detective, My Older Sister, My Handsome Friend, and My Good Friend.  I haven’t encountered an author who does this and I think it works exceptionally well.  I am curious to know why Lacy chose this method to identify her characters, perhaps to put distance between herself and the characters, or to simply give anonymity to the real people she writes about.

I also felt that this memoir was highly relevant in our society today.  Violence against women is so prolific in this day and age; it’s crucial to raise awareness of the issue in order to fight against it.  Lacy is one of many victims, who has bravely come forth with her story.  One voice, of many, giving more women the courage to tell their own experiences.  However, there are still many obstacles in the fight against violence against women.  Rape Culture shows how society has normalized the occurrence of violence and rape against women. On the Women Against Violence Against Women (WAVAW) website, rape culture is described as a “term..designed to show the ways in which society blamed victims of sexual assault and normalized male sexual violence.” This view of rape as inevitable, something women deserve to happen to them still exists today, and voices like Lacy’s raise awareness to the reality of violence against women to readers.

The Other Side: A Memoir, is in no way an easy read, nor an easy story for anyone to write but Lacy’s story deserves to be heard

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

sharpBook – Gillian Flynn is becoming a household name, due to the success of the recent film adaptation of her suspense novel, Gone Girl.  But before Gone Girl took over the big screen, Gillian debuted her first novel, Sharp Objects.  

Sharp Objects is a phenomenally demented mystery.  It centers on reporter Camille Preaker, a woman still struggling with her past and a tormented inner self.  When an assignment sends Camille back to her childhood home to cover the murder of two young girls, she is forced to confront everything she tried to leave behind.  Back in her childhood home, things are not as they appear and Camille soon discovers that there is far more at stake than simply uncovering the truth behind the murders.

I strongly believe the power of Gillian Flynn’s writing comes from her leading ladies.  In each of her novels:  Gone Girl, Dark Places, and Sharp Objects, it is the strong female lead that first pulls you into her dark world.  There is something sinister about all of these women and the pasts that burden them.  In Sharp Objects specifically, it is the relationships between the women that I found most compelling, and again, sinister.

Dark and emotional, I couldn’t put this book down.  I discovered Gillian Flynn awhile ago, when I was going through an intense murder-mystery phase.  As a reader who generally favors fantasy and romance–more lighthearted tales–Sharp Objects was a gulp of fresh air into this wonderful genre, and I encourage booklovers of all genres to give it a shot.

Also, as a side note to all the Gillian Flynn fans, get psyched, because both Dark Places and Sharp Objects are scheduled to hit the screen!  The film adaptation of Dark Places recently finished shooting and is set to be release in August of 2015.  The cast looks wonderful, starring Charlize Theron; from first glance, it seems that this film will not disappoint.  Meanwhile, Sharp Objects will be produced as a television series by Entertainment One, though there is still limited information regarding the specifics of the project.  Just knowing that there are TWO more Gillian Flynn projects coming out…there’s a lot to be excited about!

 

 

 

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.