The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay


Every once in a while, a novel comes along that surpasses your expectations and defies explanation. Such is the case with Paul Tremblay's latest book The Cabin at the End of the World. I really enjoyed A Head Full of Ghosts when I read it last year, but this novel sees Tremblay take his storytelling to new heights. Even the master of horror himself, Stephen King has called the book "Terrifying". If you manage to scare Stephen King, you've got to be doing something right!

To provide a full summary of this story would be a disservice to anyone planning to read it. Like most great horror, the books hinges upon a pretty simple setup. It starts innocently enough. Young Wen and her fathers plan to celebrate some family time at a cabin in the woods, away from distractions and the rest of the world. Little do they know that the rest of the world will soon be invading their little getaway.

As husbands Andrew and Eric enjoy some quiet time on the back deck of the cabin, their adopted daughter Wen is capturing grasshoppers in the front yard. She carefully catalogs each of her finds, giving each insect a name. Wen is surprised to look up and see a lone man walking down the road to the cabin. She doesn't remember seeing any other houses on the drive into the woods, so she's not really sure where he could be coming from. First, she thinks about alerting her dads to this strange figure but then thinks better of it. She doesn't want to disturb their relaxing vacation.

The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterfully relentless novel of horror and suspense. Tremblay lures the reader in with an ever-growing sense of dread and terror. At times, I was so horrified by what I was reading, I had to pause. Despite my fear, I couldn't stay away for too long. I had to see this story through. Tremblay smartly presents the events as they unfold with little suggestion as to why these things are happening or how they came to be. This only adds to the suspense.

Beyond being a solid thriller, The Cabin at the End of the World features well-drawn characters that helped keep me thoroughly invested into the story, even when I didn't understand everything that was happening. Tremblay writes of a gay couple who are refreshingly normal. They face universal challenges with parenting, religion, and trauma that all readers will be able to relate to. Frankly, in 2018 it is surprising that there aren't more diverse characters in the genre. Hopefully, the success of Tremblay's novel will help fuel a shift in representation within horror and thrillers. Through a mix of old-school horror, believable characters, and non-stop suspense, Paul Tremblay's The Cabin at the End of the World ends up being a remarkably effective thriller that makes for the perfect summer read.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 27)

Find You in the Dark by Nathan Ripley


Martin Reese is harboring a secret that threatens to completely alter his life as he knows it. He knows that his unique hobby is unconventional. That's putting it mildly. Others might see it as downright obscene, but Martin sees it as a kind of public service, an act of vigilantism that only he can perform. He keeps it secret from his wife and daughter. It's easier to keep this part of his life hidden. He's developed a pretty solid routine that helps him separate this piece of himself from the rest of his life. Retirement and a mass fortune from the tech company that he founded certainly help. Now, his years of caution seem to be for naught. Someone has discovered his secret.

Martin's obsession started innocently enough. He carefully took notice of his future wife Erin when he realized they attended the same university. How could he not notice the woman whose sister disappeared and was purported to be the victim of the brutal serial killer Jason Shurn? When Erin realized she was being watched, she approached Martin. Strangely, the two began a romantic relationship and the rest is history. Years later, the couple is married, have a daughter, and seem to be living a picture perfect life. If only Erin knew what Martin did during his periodic "camping trips".

Detective Sandra Whittal has seen a quick rise in her professional life due to a quick instinct and superior record of closing cases. She's been haunted by the work of the Finder, a mysterious person who has taken it upon themselves to dig up the long-lost bodies of murder victims. Some of her colleagues see this Finder as nothing more than a lone crazy person who is not harming anyone by his intermittent antics. If anything, at least some families are finally getting closure. Sandra is not so optimistic. There is something about the Finder's digitally altered voice that sends a chill down her spine. No sane person would investigate decades-old murder cases and dig up the victims' remains. When the freshly murdered body of a girl is discovered at the site of the Finder's latest dig, Sandra is convinced. She must find and stop this Finder.

Find You in the Dark sees author Naben Ruthnum (writing here as Nathan Ripley) present an intricately plotted and darkly thought-provoking thriller that will have you questioning where the line between good and evil truly lies. Both Martin Reese and Sandra Whittal are flawed characters who face grim realities that only add to the intrigue and believability of this novel. At first, I wasn't sure what to make of the novel. Ripley purposefully omits the darker details of the Reese family during the opening portions of the book. This allows for an adequate development of the family dynamic that created even higher stakes when the more traditional thriller elements kicked in later in the story. Beyond being the kind of slow-burning, read into all hours of the night novel I've come to expect of a summer release, Find You in the Dark breaks the mold by providing an intelligent commentary on justice, grief, and good vs. evil. All in all, you really can't ask for more from a serial killer thriller.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 26)

Cross Kill by James Patterson


There's no denying the mixed quality of James Patterson's massive output. I've always maintained that his best books continue to be those that he authors on his own. The Alex Cross series, in particular, has been his most consistent in terms of both quality and originality. But now Patterson has found a way to get even more work published in the novellas that he calls BookShots.

I'm of the opinion that this constant flow of content, often created with a co-author, only dilutes Patterson's brand. When I learned that he had a BookShot featuring Alex Cross, I almost lost my cool. How could he mess with the only thing that has continued to be quality?! Because the novella Cross Kill has a plot that rolls into the next Cross novel, I begrudgingly picked up a copy to read for myself.

Cross Kill reads like the opening portion of a fully formed novel. The opening starts with a bang as Alex and his partner are ambushed by a shooter while serving meals at a local shelter. In the chaos, his partner takes a bullet and is left fighting for his life. Alex thinks he knows the identity of the shooter, but can't see how the identity could be correct. How could a man who Alex watched die come back to shoot at him?

Like most Patterson novels, Cross Kill burns through plot at a rapid pace that makes for an extremely quick read. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy reading one of my favorite characters again. My only complaint is that the novella feels like a first go at the opening of a fully formed novel. It would almost work as the first act of a story but fails when presented as a complete novella. Luckily, the short work took little time to read, so I don't feel like I wasted my time. I probably won't be reading another one of these BookShots any time soon, but you can bet I'll be reading the next Alex Cross novel when I get a chance.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 25)

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline


We are at a point in pop culture where nostalgia seems to be the hot topic. Star Wars and Jurassic Park rule the box office while revived shows like Hawaii Five-0, Roseanne, and the upcoming reboot of Murphy Brown play on our televisions. I mean, even American Idol, which saw its historic run end only two years ago, has been brought back for another go. Not everyone is on board with the constant reboots and revivals that we seem to be obsessed with, but you can't deny that they are selling.

In his blockbuster novel Ready Player One, Ernest Cline presents a highly original adventure set in a future that is steeped in the nostalgia and throwbacks that we can't get enough of. The year is 2045 and all of Earth has been explored. The ever-expanding human population has stripped the planet of most resources. Teenage Wade Watt lives in the stacks, a large collection of stacked trailer homes that tower throughout what used to be bustling major cities. To escape the stress and downright bleakness of their lives, people spend the majority of their time in the digital playground known as The Oasis.

The Oasis was the brainchild of the late genius James Halliday. It serves as a center for education, entertainment, and commerce. Essentially, anything that can be dreamt can be programmed into The Oasis. Upon his death, Halliday announced that he programmed an easter egg into the world. Whoever finds the egg will gain complete control of The Oasis. Naturally, large corporations are stopping at nothing to retrieve the egg and control. If the unlikely hero Wade Watts has anything to do with it, he'll find the egg first!

After waiting for years to read this novel, I was finally inspired to pick it up before seeing the movie adaptation. Both book and movie differ in huge ways, so I'm definitely happy I read the book. I'm a huge nerd, so I especially enjoyed the references to video games, movies, and Dungeons and Dragons. While many of the plot points hinge upon pop culture references, I don't think you have to know about the references to enjoy the book. The plot works completely on its own as a fast-paced race to discover the easter egg. This is the perfect summer read that seems to have hit at the perfect time in our culture. Ready Player One is pure escapist fun that will have you reading late into the night.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 24)

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson


This year is shaping up to be the year with books about lies. After the success of books like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl, and The Girl on the Train, it seemed like every new thriller had the word "girl" in the title. I started this year with J.T. Ellison's Lie to Me, and it seems like a plethora of other thrillers have opted to include the word "lie" in their titles. I've yet to read enough of these "lie" books to know if this titling trend will have the same middling results as the majority of the "girl" books, but I'll definitely keep you posted!

In my quest to discover if these "lie" novels have any merit, I picked up a copy of Peter Swanson's latest All the Beautiful Lies. The novel sees Harry Ackerson dealing with the unexpected death of his father. The soon to be college grad hastily returns to the small town in Maine where his father shared a life with his stepmother Alice. The details surrounding his father's death leave more questions than answers. His father fell to his death during a run. Investigators are not convinced the death was an accident. Was his father suicidal or was he murdered?

At its core, All the Beautiful Lies is a character driven novel. Swanson gives plenty attention to pushing the mystery, but it is the characters and the revelations of their past that truly propel the novel. Harry has a strange relationship with his stepmother Alice. Alice has always been kind to him. Harry is is bit embarrassed by his own sexual attraction to her, not that he'd ever act on it. Still, there is something about the way that she treats him that makes him think the feelings may be mutual. When the police begin to ask Harry questions about Alice, he realizes how little he knows about the woman his father married.

Without pushing this review into spoiler territory, I think it is important to touch upon a few more details that anyone looking to read it should know. First, Swanson employs the technique of switching time periods by alternating the narrative from present day to flashbacks in each chapter. I do think the technique is overused by thriller writers, but I can't deny that it is very effective in this book. The flashbacks provide valuable insight into the characters' pasts and effectively wind the suspense as small revelations about the mystery are revealed. This also allows Swanson to make the story mainly about the development of the characters without losing the momentum of the plot.

Finally, there is a good deal of sexual content, disturbing violence, and extremely startling emotional turmoil and abuse. If you are sensitive to any of those topics, you should probably skip this novel. If you're one of those readers who doesn't mind the graphic content, this book is well worth a read. While many of the scenes where quite explicit, I never felt that Swanson included them for any reason other than to serve his characters. Go ahead and add this one to your summer reading list. All the Beautiful Lies deftly defies expectations by providing a strong depth of character and all the tension and twists of a top notch thriller, and that's no lie!

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 23)

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo


Jo Nesbo is one of those authors who I'm familiar with, but wish I would read more of. I can't begin to tell you how many of my book blogging buddies have read and enjoyed Nesbo's novels. Beyond reading The Redbreast long before I started my blog and recently tackling a Shakespeare retelling in Macbeth, I've never read through any of his other books. During a backpacking trip through Europe last year I bought a couple copies of Nesbo's books in Sweden. And so finally, after years of hearing great things about his books, I've picked up The Snowman.

Harry Hole is the hero of this series. As an investigator for the Oslo Police, Hole has an infamous reputation for finding serial killers. Recently, his life has taken a dark turn. His long time partner has left him and has started seeing another man. The end of this relationship has also strained his relationship with her son. Harry has turned to alcohol to soothe his pain, a habit that is increasingly inhibiting his ability to do his job. Worst of all, his colleagues at the police department are beginning to question his role within their unit.

A make or break moment arrives in the form of the disappearance of a local woman. Her young son is left at home alone. Even more strange, someone has built a snowman adorned in the missing mother's scarf. Harry and his new partner are assigned to the case. As the pair dig into the circumstances surrounding the woman's disappearance, the uncover a pattern of similar missing women throughout the years. When Harry receives the taunting letter from the person behind the vanishing women, there is no denying that a serial killer has emerged. Harry will have to overcome his own personal demons to find and stop this mysterious snowman from striking again.

Nesbo's series has seen a rather unconventional publication in the US. Translated into english, the novels have been released out of chronological order. As such, I don't think it is required that you read the series in order. The Snowman is the seventh in the series, and Nesbo does an adequate job of filling in the gaps of the past so that I never felt lost while reading it. Everything about this novel, from the characters to the disturbing details of the crimes, is dark. Nesbo compliments this darkness with a brisk and transactional prose. Harry Hole is a far cry from the usual heroes in detective fiction, but he is endearing in spite of his grim demeanor. With an ever present suspense, shocking twists and revelations, and an extremely satisfying ending, I can see why many readers have called The Snowman one of Nesbo's best.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.

(2018, 22)

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