Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward

Book – When she was six years old, Lauren’s mother was murdered, her father arrested for the crime. Lauren’s brother Alex has always been convinced that their father is innocent, but Lauren doesn’t buy it. She remembers seeing something – she’s not sure what, but it was bad – and she trusts her memory. But when Alex disappears during a tour in Iraq with Doctors Without Borders, Lauren is forced to come to grips with her memories, her father, and her family’s history. Meanwhile, a pregnant young woman has left her boyfriend, hoping to reunite with her best friend — but she, too, has childhood memories that have yet to be resolved.

I enjoyed this psychological thriller about the unreliability of childhood memories. The characters are not always sympathetic, but they’re well-drawn and intriguing. This isn’t really a fast-paced thriller; the story moves from one point to another in the abrupt staccato way of memories itself. While the point of view shifts can be a little disorienting to start with, the whole story weaves itself together in the end in a most satisfying way.

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Books – A rogue SecUnit is one of the most terrifying things imaginable: a part-living, mostly-machine entity designed for security applications, without a working governor module, free to kill and destroy at will, and unstoppable by human agency.

The narrator of All Systems Red is technically a rogue SecUnit. It hacked its governor module, but instead of going on a murderous rampage, mostly it keeps doing its job and watches media in its downtime. (It particularly enjoys Sanctuary Moon.) That is, until a neighboring science mission goes dark and the humans SecUnit has been assigned to protect are threatened. SecUnit (who also calls itself Murderbot, although never out loud) doesn’t particularly like interacting with humans, but it doesn’t want them to die. After all, if all the humans died, who would make the media?

The Murderbot Diaries are short science-fiction thrillers, full of corporate espionage and underhanded dealings, but the real joy of them is watching Murderbot try to figure out how to be a person – because despite its continued insistence that it’s a bot, it’s one of the most intensely relateable characters I’ve ever met. (After all, who doesn’t want to spend long, boring shifts at work watching TV?) It struggles with human interaction, interactions with other bots, and how to handle personal responsibility, all while staying far enough under the radar to avoid being captured and reprogrammed. Artificial Condition follows Murderbot’s attempt to understand it’s own past (and its reluctant friendship with a science research transport). The series continues with Rogue Protocol in August and Exit Strategy in October.

A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

Book–Amateur comic book artist and high school student Jess Wong is painfully, unhealthily in love with her best friend Angie. Jess is content to obsess over Angie secretly until Angie enters into a relationship with Margot Adams, a beautiful student from the nearby posh boarding school. Naturally, Jess thinks Margot is no good for Angie, but is this just sour grapes on Jess’s part or is Margot really bad news? When tragedy strikes at an off-campus party and everyone is a suspect, Jess must face up to what really happened that night. Or must she?

This is a dark, twisty thriller, like Pretty Little Liars meets Gone Girl meets The L Word. The book is split in two parts: the beginning is told in first person from Jess’ POV and the end is made up of police interviews and third person limited POV following multiple characters. This allows Lo to build up the tension without giving it all away too quickly. If you enjoy A Line in the Dark, you might also like twisty young adult books like We Were Liars and Last Seen Leaving.

Get Out (2017)

Movie–I don’t really like horror movies. But, I do like good movies, and I’m always motivated to see as many Oscar-nominated movies as possible. So, that’s how I found myself checking out and somewhat begrudgingly watching Get Out, a horror movie with serious racial themes.

Chris, an African American photographer, hesitantly goes to his white girlfriend Rose’s house for the weekend to meet her family. His best friend warns him that no good will come of this. In scenes reminiscent of The Stepford Wives, Chris notices that something is “off” about the African American groundskeeper and housekeeper. Then the family’s friends come for an annual party, and things get even weirder. Chris quickly realizes he needs to leave. But, will he be able to get out?

Written and directed by Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame), Get Out has been getting critical acclaim since its release in early 2017, so it was really no surprise when it earned nominations for four of the big categories at the Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actor for Daniel Kaluuya). Although it was outside my comfort zone, I’m glad I watched it (well, all except for the parts that got so violent that I covered my eyes). If you are interested in a well-made horror movie that also tackles race issues and might just win an Oscar, then this is for you.

47 Meters Down (2017)

Movie – As someone who’s claustrophobic and terrified of drowning, this movie made me tense.  However, I always love a good shark film. In 47 Meters Down, we meet Lisa and Kate, two best friends on holiday in Mexico. Lisa just broke up with her cheating boyfriend and they’re hoping to escape it all.  Then two handsome gents invite the friends to go cage diving with the sharks, promising the experience of a lifetime. From the get go, things seem a little shady, but Lisa and Kate know this is a one time opportunity. The red flags are there every step of the way, yet as in any creature feature/sharky shark film, all logic must be ignored.

I enjoyed all the scenes featuring our great white friends, though there weren’t nearly enough, in my opinion. The psychological aspect of the film was unexpected and added yet another layer of uncomfortable tension, but was really well done.

The whole situation is terrifying to me: a limited air supply with a very real risk of getting the bends swimming to safety. Swim to the surface too fast, and the pressure increase will be too much for your body to handle. Definitely not a good predicament to find yourself in when there are sharks circling hungrily nearby. This definitely solidified my desire to never tank dive–not that I was so determined to do so anyway. A good film, not enough sharks.  There really are never enough sharks.

For another shark escape adventure, check out The Shallows, with actress Blake Lively.

 

Funny Games (2008)

MovieFunny Games is, without a doubt the most infuriating film I have ever watched.  I should mention first that horror and thriller films are definitely not my genre of choice, but I can still appreciate what goes into the suspense and jump scares that give me the jitters.  After seeing Funny Games just one time, I adamantly refuse to ever watch it again.  However, I do acknowledge that what enrages me could be someone else’s favorite movie of all time.  To each their own.

It starts as horror stories often do: a family goes on holiday, anticipating a nice, quiet vacation.  Then two strangers show up (stranger danger!), and the trip quickly becomes their worst nightmare.  The two men first arrive at the house of the family requesting to borrow some eggs, but the offenders return with more sinister demands.  The men create a game of torture and violence against the family, who must struggle to stay alive.

Funny Games is brutal, and the way the offenders break the fourth wall and stare down the audience through the screen really makes my skin crawl.  I hate tension in movies, and the tension in this movie is excruciating for me to sit through without wanting to scream.  Maybe this film is worth watching for the horror or thriller enthusiast.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015)

Movie – It’s Thanksgiving, and all the girls are going home from their rural boarding school — all the girls, that is, except for Rose, who wants a chance to talk to her boyfriend before meeting her parents, and Kat, whose parents are dead. Fenced in by snow and isolation, things begin to go slowly but inescapably wrong within the near-empty school. Meanwhile, Joan is hitching a ride in the direction of the school with a kindly married couple. If they have any idea what’s waiting for them at the school, they show no signs of it, but they won’t be pleased at what they find.

The Blackcoat’s Daughter is a slow-burn kind of horror movie, the kind where the eerie wrongness creeps up behind you so slowly you hardly know it’s there. If you’re in the market for thrills, look elsewhere, but if you want to become completely terrified of the thick blanket of snow that traps you indoors with whoever — and whatever — is inside with you, this movie directed by the son of Anthony Perkins, made famous by his role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, will be just your cup of tea.

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Movie – I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of the whole genre of action films, but after being coerced into seeing the newest King Kong film, Kong: Skull Island, I was pleasantly surprised that it actually exceeded my expectations.

In Kong: Skull Island, we meet the eccentric Bill Randa.  Most people think he’s mad, but he manages to find funding for a crazy expedition disguised as a geological study, with  military escort in tow.  In reality, Randa is out to find something big on unexplored island where all planes, ships and people who’ve ventured there were never heard from again.  A Bermuda triangle kind of place.  However, Randa’s comrades and the military personnel are none too pleased to discover the monstrous inhabitants that lurk beneath and above the ground, especially the incredible Kong.  It’s a fight to the death for the remaining survivors.

The moral of the story? Don’t explore remote islands from where no one returns.  Don’t inflict the wrath of a giant ape beast (he’s not stupid). And please try really hard not to unearth some demon-like alien creatures that will surely kill all of your men.  Just turn back now while you can, and never look book.

I enjoyed this film.  The reason?  I often find myself bored by  intense and lengthy fight scenes that seem neverending and repetitive.  (That might also just be a me thing, though)  Luckily for me, this film came across as more creature feature, a genre that I love.  It’s an unrealistic story (Because giant apes), with a fair share of comedic elements and some pretty cool creatures.

 

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

30689335Book – Lane Roanoke only lived in Roanoke House, a sprawling Kansas estate, for one summer, but it’s shaped her entire life. Her mother ran away from there, and her cousin Allegra refused to leave. Allegra was who was the one who told Lane, “Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.” When Allegra goes missing, eleven years later, Lane forgets the promise she made to herself to never go back and goes to look for Allegra, and hopefully to lay to rest some of her own ghosts.

I love a good Gothic novel, and this has all the elements: an isolated house too weird for its own good, terrible family secrets, codependency, hidden messages. Lane is a fascinating character in the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Libby Day: broken by the secrets she’s had to keep, but unable to fully break free of them. The difference between a traditional Gothic novel and a modern one is that the unthinkable comes much more easily to mind nowadays; it’s pretty clear early on what’s been going on in Roanoke House, and the tension is in waiting for Lane to come to terms with it and, finally do something about it. This book doesn’t quite have the sharp edges I was expecting it to, but it was so compelling that I read it all in a day.

Nerve (2016)

10768Movie –  A new game has hit the internet. Its a game like truth or dare, but without the truth option. If you want to participate in this came you become one of two positions. A Player or a Watcher. A player is given dares. If the dare is completed with self photographic/video graphic proof then they win money and move on to another dare more intense than the last. If you are a watcher- you watch others doing dares, and can suggest to the creator what the next dare should be for specific Players. The more watchers a player has the higher up in the ranks you move, therefor the more money you can make.

Venus (Emma Roberts) is a safe boring high school girl who has a “popular” best friend that is at the top of the leaderboard. After its made abundantly clear Venus is super lame, she decides to become a Player in the game of Nerve herself. She finds herself paired up with Ian (James Franco) per the watchers request. The dares get more and more extreme as she tries to prove to everyone that she really does have what it takes to be cool.

I found this teen thriller mildly predictable in the overall story line. It was certainly entertaining, fun, and intense. The dares that are in this movie are all natural things that would/could really be dared by someone. I was nervous that it would be blown way out of proportion, but I am happy to report that is not the case. I am sure everyone can relate to at least one person in this high school drama movie. I found the ending brilliant and suspenseful. The colors and graphics are outstanding. It really shows how this game is played in real life.