Archive for March 2019

Pet Sematary by Stephen King


"Death is a mystery, and burial is a secret."

With the upcoming release of a new film version of Pet Sematary, I decided to revisit Stephen King's classic novel. I first read the book years ago and remember it being a different kind of horror. Unlike some of King's more graphic stories, Pet Sematary was a slow-burning family drama that chilled me to my core. This time, I opted to listen to the audiobook narrated by Michael C. Hall.

The unease begins to mount from the very beginning. Louis Creed has moved his family from the city to rural Maine. They seem to be the perfect family. Doctor Creed, his wife, daughter, and son exude normalcy. But from their first moments in their new home, they know something isn't right. Louis quickly befriends his elderly neighbor Jud who warns the Creeds to be wary of the busy road that separates their two properties. Jud has seen that road claim countless pets over the years and recommends the Creeds have their cat fixed before it becomes the next victim.

Jud's warning becomes prophecy when Louis discovers the battered remains of the family cat lying on the road. His family isn't home, but he knows his daughter will be devastated. Jud suggests Louis burry the feline in the 'Pet Sematary' on the edge of Creed's property. The pair take a moonlit stroll into the former Native American burial ground to put the family cat to rest. Little does Louis know that he's about to find out why "sometimes dead is better."

Originally released over 35 years ago, Pet Sematary remains as terrifying and relevant as ever. I've always argued that the strength of King's writing lies not in his ability to conjure spooky scenarios, but in the way he crafts relatable characters who transcend genre and time. Louis Creed is recognizable as a young father trying to give his family the best life possible while facing the same kind of obstacles that any parent encounters. How do we teach our youth about life, death, and the unfairness that tragedy brings? King's fable smartly ponders these questions while weaving a tale of suspense that culminates in an ending that will leave you reeling for days and weeks to come. As King seems to say in all of his work, sometimes the scariest things in life lie not in the nightmares of our imagination but in the everyday moments of life itself.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 11)

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware


"There's a reason why we keep thoughts inside our heads for the most part---they're not safe to be let out in public."

Ruth Ware's The Woman in Cabin 10 found quick success after its publication in 2016. On the heels of other female-driven thrillers like Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, it seemed like Ware's novel was the next "must-read". Never one to miss out on a book that everyone seems to be reading, I quickly snatched up a copy. As has happened with far too many books on my shelf, The Woman in Cabin 10 sat there, unread, for the next couple of years. I'm on a mission this year to put a dent into my ever-growing "to be read" list, so I decided to finally dust off my copy of Ware's novel and see what all the fuss is about.

Like many of the "girl" books that have come before it, The Woman in Cabin 10 wastes no time in introducing the titular "woman" and the traumatic event that is supposed to shape our sympathy for her. Lo Blacklock's night of drinking ends as she stumbles into her modest apartment. She awakens in the night to find an intruder clad in black and burglarizing her home. After what feels like hours of torture and uncertainty, Lo escapes and is left with unrelenting paranoia and fear.

If the trauma of that night weren't enough, Lo has just had a fight with her longtime boyfriend and is expected to take a cruise for her job as a travel reporter in just a few days. Eager to escape the drama of her personal life and to further her budding journalism career, Lo boards the exclusive ship for its maiden voyage. Little does she know that her escape is about to become the biggest nightmare of her life.

I'll admit that up to this point, I couldn't see what all the hype was about. To this reader, it seemed like Lo's troubles were mostly self-inflicted, and I couldn't really get behind her as a character. Fortunately, Ware took the story in another direction. Lo boards the ship and meets the woman in the cabin next to her. That first night, she is awakened by the noise coming from that same cabin. Lo looks out of her window just in time to see a body being thrust overboard. When Lo runs to cabin 10 to notify her shipmate, she is shocked to find the room empty. In fact, there were no guests booked to stay in the cabin and all passengers and crew are safe and accounted for.

As soon as The Woman in Cabin 10 revealed itself to be a locked room mystery, I was hooked. The impossibility of what Lo witnessed combined with her overt paranoia shrouds the entire novel in suspense that doesn't break until the twist is revealed. Even though I never truly connected with Lo as a character, I found the mystery too intriguing to pass up. Ware takes the conventions established by other similar books and shifts them enough to make The Woman in Cabin 10 stand as its own unique story. I'm certainly happy that I pulled it off my shelf and finally gave it a read.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 10)

Parkland by Dave Cullen


On February 14th, 2018 gunfire broke out at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. By the end of that day, 17 students and staff had lost their lives, and the Parkland shooting surpassed Columbine as the deadliest high school shooting in history. Dave Cullen is considered an expert on mass shootings. His landmark book Columbine is considered one of the definitive accounts of that tragedy. Since then, he has become a go-to resource to comment on the countless similar tragedies that have plagued the United States. Cullen thought he was done writing books about mass shootings. In fact, he's been developing a book on another subject for years. When he saw glimmers of the kids taking action after the Parkland shooting, Cullen's journalism instincts kicked in and he began to follow the birth of their movement.

In sharp contrast to Columbine, Cullen devotes little of this book to discuss the specific details of the shootings or the motivations of the killer. This is not a retrospective of the event, but rather a focus upon the political and social movement that it inspired. Cullen writes of the difference in reactions from the survivors of Columbine and Parkland.  While the students and staff of Columbine were struck with mostly shock and uncertainty, the Parkland students had grown up in a world where mass shootings were part of the norm. Instead of feeling shocked, a large number of students were simply angry. How could these shootings still be happening? Nearly 20 years after Columbine shocked the world, the kids in Parkland were fed up.

Rumblings of the movement to come started that same day. Student David Hogg recorded interviews with his fellow classmates on his phone. The shocking recordings from inside the school during the shooting were just the beginning. In interviews with news outlets, Hogg proclaimed his disgust at the adults who failed to enact legislation to prevent these massacres from occurring. Three days later, Emma Gonzalez made waves with her impassioned speech at a gun control rally. Within a week, a group of students organized together in a call for increased gun control and stricter legislation. They vowed that their generation would put a stop to senseless gun violence.

In Parkland, Dave Cullen chronicles the rise of the youth organization March For Our Lives. This is not a book about mass murders, the causes of gun violence, or politics. Cullen never attempts to do anything more than depict the way a group of teenagers turned their horrific experience into a movement of hope. Out of the initial calls for action rose a nationwide campaign for change that seeks to get the people in power to take preventative actions against gun violence. I was struck by the way this group seeks to avoid political affiliation of any kind. In these divided times, it is refreshing to see people focused on solving a problem and not fighting about political ideology. It seems like we see news of mass shootings nearly every week. With the increased in youth involvement on big societal issues like the one highlighted in Parkland, I'm hopeful that tragedies like this will only be part of our history books and not our everyday life.

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 9)

Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson


Hen and her husband Lloyd have just started to settle into their new suburban home and are ready to leave their troubled past behind. Hen, short for Henrietta, has a past of mental breakdowns. When she was in college, she was convinced that a fellow student was guilty of a heinous crime. Hen took her suspicions to an unhealthy level that resulted in a psychiatric intervention. Thankfully, Lloyd stepped in and has helped her to control her irrational fears. Now she works as a successful illustrator. Life seems to be back on track.

During a neighborhood block party, Hen and Lloyd paired up with the only other childless couple, and they decided to spend more time together. The dinner party started innocently enough.  They met at the other couple's home and had a lovely evening of small talk and bonding. It was during the grand tour of the home that things got strange. In the husband Matthew's office, Hen noticed a fencing trophy. Her eyes lingered a bit too long. She caught herself, but it was too late. Matthew seemed to notice her noticing the trophy too, a flash of dark recognition on his face.

Hen knows she is being unreasonable. Matthew and his wife seem normal enough, but she can't shake the feeling that she knows that fencing trophy. It is the same trophy that was missing from the scene of a brutal murder she recently obsessed over. As she starts to observe Matthew and his peculiar behavior, her suspicions evolve to certainty. Matthew is a killer, and Hen must find a way to prove it before she becomes his next victim.

I was first introduced to Peter Swanson's writing in All the Beautiful Lies, his stellar thriller that was released last year. Before She Knew Him sees Swanson tackle psychological suspense that slowly pulls the reader along until the entire plot unravels into a twisted and startling conclusion. Swanson's story unfolds through shifting perspectives between Hen and Matthew. Hen's history of mental trauma makes her an unreliable witness. She grows more and more uncertain of her own ability to separate reality from paranoia. At the same time, seeing the events from Matthew's point of view on increases our own certainty of his guilt. The combination of both creates ever-mounting suspense that had me racing through the pages to see what happens next. Before She Knew Him is easily one of the best thrillers I've read this year and has turned me into a huge fan of Peter Swanson's writing.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 8)

Origin by Dan Brown


With only seven novels to his name, Dan Brown is one of the most-read authors of all time. His novel The Da Vinci Code became an instant bestseller, a worldwide phenomenon, and cemented his Robert Langdon series as must read fiction. Following that smash hit, Brown's next two novels were met with a more mixed reaction. Hollywood even skipped an adaptation of The Lost Symbol in favor of the better-reviewed Inferno. Complaints aside, there is no denying Brown's ability to engage a wide audience with his fiction. Having read each of his other novels, it was only a matter of time before I would pick up his latest, Origin.

Edmond Kirsch is about to announce a discovery that he believes will change the world. The billionaire futurist is known for his revolutionary and often controversial inventions and innovations, but his latest is set to be his most impactful. The eccentric futurist has been working on the age-old questions, "Where do we come from and where are we going?". Finally, Kirsch believes he has the answers. Before he presents his revelations to the world, he consults with three leaders of the world's main religions, each of who is certain that Kirsch's breakthrough threatens thousands of years of theology.

Robert Langdon is brimming with anticipation for Kirsch's announcement. Kirsch was one of Langdon's students, and the two have cultivated a long friendship built upon their mutual intellect. Kirsch has partnered with the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to host his unique presentation and has promised that Langdon will share an integral part in it. The interactive demonstration begins with the precision and spectacle that Kirsch excels at, but things soon take a tragic turn. With the entire world tuned in, Kirsch's evening turns to complete pandemonium. With chaos surrounding him, Langdon must step in and work to ensure Kirsch's discovery is not lost forever.

Critics of Dan Brown will say that all of his books follow a similar narrative formula, are too far-fetched, and come off as pretentious. There is certainly truth to each of these complaints, but I feel like those naysayers miss the point. At the outset, Origin teases a revelation that has earth-shattering ramifications. Brown is writing about big topics and ideas, specifically the battle between science and religion and where the two intersect. It is this very big thinking that made his early books so much fun to read. Sure, the odds of one man being involved in five controversial and history challenging situations is a bit unbelievable, but in suspending our disbelief we are taken along one heck of a ride. I'd argue that this is the first novel since The Da Vinci Code to actually deliver on its promise. More so, the topics that help drive the drama of this book are all more timely than ever. While Origin will never pass for high-brow literature, it certainly succeeds as a page-turning thriller that will keep you enthralled and make you ponder its themes long after the last page. 

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads.
(2019, 7)

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