Posts Tagged ‘Psychological Fiction’

Best New Books of 2014: Janet L’s Picks

December 8, 2014

Winter is coming, with its cold days and long nights.  In other words, perfect reading weather.  It’s also the traditional time to look back and choose favorite reads of the past year.  If you are a fan of humor, mystery, travel, or food (not to mention good writing) I can highly recommend the following five books:

A Man Called OveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
Neighborhood curmudgeon Ove is not amused when a lively young family moves in next door.  Imagine everyone’s surprise, especially Ove’s, when instead of the expected disaster, something wonderful results.  Fredrik Backman’s debut is an amazing mixture of comedy, pathos and social commentary.  Will appeal to almost everyone, especially fans of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce and The No. 1 Ladies Detective series by Alexander McCall Smith.

The Bone OrchardThe Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron
Life would be much easier for Mike Bowditch if he could just keep his mouth shut, but then reading about him wouldn’t be so much fun.  No longer a game warden for the state of Maine, Mike finds himself drawn into a case when good friend and former mentor, Kathy Frost, is gunned down and critically injured.  One of my favorite mystery series; if you haven’t had the pleasure, begin with The Poacher’s Son.  Especially recommended for readers of the Alex McKnight series by Steve Hamilton, the Conway Sax series by Steve Ulfelder and the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr.

Smoke Gets in Your EyesSmoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
Caitlin Doughty, founder of The Order of the Good Death, is a Los Angeles mortician.  She wrote this book to give people a behind the scenes look at funeral home. Death is a somber and scary subject, but Doughty handles it with humor and compassion. If she hoped this book would demystify death and make it more comfortable to contemplate, she succeeded with this reader.  Recommended for fans of Mary Roach and Sarah Vowell.

The Age of LicenseThe Age of License: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
Graphic artist Knisley shares the ups and downs of her book tour to Europe and Scandinavia.   Honest, charming, yet serious, this graphic novel will appeal to fans of travelogues and mouthwatering descriptions of food—and isn’t that almost everyone?

The Black HourThe Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day
Sociology professor Amelia Emmet has made violence the focus of her academic research.  When a student she has never seen before appears outside her office and shoots her, theory becomes all too horribly real.  Back on campus, Amelia attempts to resume her life.  Relying on painkillers, a cane, and her sardonic sense of humor, Amelia struggles to find the answer to the questions that haunts her:  Why?

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Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn

August 29, 2014

ComplicitJamie and his older sister Cate had a tough start in life. Their mother was just a teenager when they were born. She was raising them in a run-down basement apartment in a rough neighborhood near San Francisco when she bled to death from a gunshot wound. The orphans were adopted by the Henry’s, a wealthy couple offering them all the advantages, including but not limited to, a private school, new cars, and horseback riding lessons.

James both thrives and wilts in this environment. He’s a gifted student and talented piano player, but he finds it hard to make friends and suffers from several psychosomatic illnesses. For instance, his hands go numb when he is under stress and he has a tendency to faint under pressure.

Cate does well at first, but then grows wild as a teen. She dabbles in drugs and becomes known as the school slut. When a fire at the stable where she rides kills several horses and seriously injures her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, Cate is found responsible and sent to juvenile detention. Now Cate is out, and the first thing she does is call her brother Jamie. Jamie teeters between trying to find and meet Cate, and trying to avoid her, just hoping to hold himself together long enough to figure out how that fire really was set – and what really happened to their mother.

This is a finely crafted, dark and disturbing psychological thriller from William C. Morris Award winning author Stephanie Kuehn.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Little Face by Sophie Hannah

August 22, 2014

Little FaceAlice was clinically depressed and alone in the world when she met David Fancourt. David was wealthy, attractive, and gentlemanly. So what if his mother was a little controlling or his relationship with his ex-wife was especially acrimonious. So what if he preferred living in his mother’s mansion to finding a flat of their own. It was, after all, a large and meticulously maintained home. It was a terrible shock when David’s ex-wife was murdered, but David and Alice were still content together. Soon Alice was pregnant, and now they have a beautiful baby girl, Florence. Or do they? Alice walks into the nursery one morning, looks at the baby there, and is positive that it is not her Florence. How and why would someone switch babies? Is Alice playing a cruel trick on her husband, losing her mind, or just becoming aware of suspicious circumstances that have always been there, threatening to engulf her?

Detective Constable Simon Waterhouse and his Sergeant Charlotte “Charlie” Zailer of the Spilling Criminal Investigation Department (CID) are called in to find some answers. The story is told in chapters alternating between Alice’s viewpoint and Simon’s and Charlie’s viewpoint, so you see things through both the victim’s eyes and detectives’ eyes as the story progresses, in a uniquely suspenseful writing style.

This is the first in Sophie Hannah’s Spilling CID series of psychological mystery thrillers, set in the fictional British town of Spilling. Hannah is also the author of the upcoming book The Monogram Murders, featuring Agatha Christie’s iconic character Hercule Poirot in a new mystery authorized by the family of Agatha Christie.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

August 21, 2014

House of LeavesBefore we begin, I need you to imagine, as clearly as you can, the interior of a nautilus shell. You’ve probably seen one cut into a cross-section: a long spiral of rooms opening from rooms opening from rooms, onward and onward. Or, better still, think of the infinite view that comes from a mirror facing a mirror or the visual feedback of a video camera viewing its own live feed on a television screen. Bear these things in mind.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is the book I would like to tell you about. It is a novel about a scholarly discussion of a film, The Navidson Record, which is about a photojournalist’s attempts to document the sudden appearance of a dark, cold, featureless, labyrinthine complex of rooms, hallways, chambers, spiral staircases, and outright mazes (remember the nautilus?) that has appeared in his family’s house. Elderly, blind scholar Zampanò had been writing an academic critique of this film—until his death, at least. Here, then, we are presented with Zampanò ‘s manuscript of his critique of this documentary along with interviews and transcripts and editors’ remarks and documents related to the film—and now with added annotations and autobiographical footnotes by the finder of the manuscript: one, Johnny Truant, a Los Angeles tattoo parlor employee and all-around unreliable narrator.

No, House of Leaves cannot be called a “simple” book—not in storyline nor in structure. Visually, too, the book is a maze, with unconventional typesetting, different fonts for different narrators, coded messages in colored words, and footnotes within footnotes. Nor is it a happy book, generally speaking (most would categorize it as horror; the author has referred to it as a love story): angry Johnny Truant writes like a refugee from Fight Club, Zampanò came to a mysterious and violent death, the explorers of the house fall victim to desperation and insanity, and the house itself growls.

It is not an easy book. It is not a simple book. But what maze should be simple? A maze without turns would in all ways always be a hallway. Be ready. But try the maze.

“Well, now, after all that thinking, wouldn’t it be fine if we could take a little trip? We will do it. I know a game we all like to play inside la casa, the house.

“We will play hide and seek.”

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Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

April 14, 2014

Dark Places by Gillian FlynnEveryone has hobbies. I enjoy reading and cooking. In Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, members of the Kill Club make murder their hobby. The Kill Club is comprised of individuals obsessed with horrific murder cases. Those obsessed with “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas” reach out to Libby Day, the only surviving victim of the massacre that took the life of her two older sisters and mother. Her brother, fifteen at the time, spends his life in prison after being convicted of the brutal crimes. Members of the Kill Club obsessed with her family are also convinced that her brother Ben did not commit the crime.

Libby has spent the last 25 years “not thinking about it” which really has not worked out too well for her. Her Aunt Diane truly tried her best to help Libby, but could not handle her violent and destructive acting out. Libby was eventually sent to distant relatives until she reached adulthood. Now in her mid-thirties, she is finally running out of the money donated by those once concerned with the fate of “Orphan Day” as she was nicknamed by the media. Her desperation for money is matched by members of the Kill Club’s need for information. They want to ask her questions, buy her family souvenirs and convince her to help free her brother. Libby stands by her testimony and her survivor sense of self-preservation is fierce. She gives into their demands for information and to reconnect with her past. She finds out new things about her family and the horrible event that defines her world.

What really puts this book into page-turner overdrive is how Flynn alternates viewpoints each chapter between:

-extremely jaded, present day Libby,
-the confused teenager, soon to be convicted murderer Ben,
-and the worried, always at loose ends, soon to be dead mom Patty.

So you have the present day Libby trying to process the past that she refers to as “dark places” while trying to survive financially and emotionally. You also have Ben and Patty on the day leading up to and the day of the murder adding unknown facts to an infamous case. The twists and turns are reminiscent of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster from a few years ago, and the setting is very similar to In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This book also examines the 80’s frenzied fear of Satan worshipers as well as today’s current obsessive rush to exonerate those wrongly convicted. Dark Places is a well-constructed, exciting and disturbing page turner.

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Emil’s Picks

December 30, 2013

Here are some older books that made an impression on me in 2013. And I am, partly, what I read.

On Heaven and Earth by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka
When On Heaven and Earth was published in 2010, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a cardinal in Buenos Aires. In 2013, he became pope to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and On Heaven and Earth offered a marvelous opportunity to get to know the new Bishop of Rome. The book is a series of conversations between Bergoglio and his friend, Buenos Aires rabbi Abraham Skorka. In the book, the two Argentinians share their wisdom, and their dialogue often reveals applied faith. “Our true power,” Bergoglio says, “must be service. We cannot adore God if our spirit does not include the needy.” And his friend the rabbi agrees.

Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Evgeny Bunimovich and James Kates
Some time ago, researchers asked about three hundred Moscow teenagers to name twenty famous people who had influenced the formation of their identity. Over thirty percent of the students named Aleksandr Pushkin, the most celebrated of Russian poets, as their first choice. But while the poetry of the Russian Golden Age continues to attract readers, it has been harder for contemporary Russian poets to reach an audience. Which is a pity, because for the first time in Russian history, Russian poetry is now free from censorship and stylistic restrictions, and these poets have a lot to tell those who will take the time to listen. Here is post-Soviet irony and the mesmerizing voices of poets like Marianna Geide, Anna Russ, and Maria Stepanova – young women just beginning to make themselves heard. And this anthology also reveals the revival of faith the country is going through, as in these words of Olesya Nikolaeva: “A fledgling winter flickers through me/ and the holidays of my Lord – Christmas, home,/ transformed into a manger. From there the word comes:/ you have everything that you yourself are/ you have that which you are!”

Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Isserley motors about Scotland, looking for men. However, it can’t just be anyone – ideally, they need to be single and muscular to fit Isserley’s purposes. Her worldview in clearly unusual and Isserley – with an enormous chest, short legs, and thick glasses – is not what she seems. Neither are her co-workers at Ablach Farm. The men Isserley gives a ride are soon in the midst of horrors that outdo their worst nightmares – horrors that are not far removed from what is going on in the world today.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published the first edition of their compilation of folk and fairy tales. In 2012, Penguin Classics asked Philip Pullman to curate 50 of Grimm’s classic tales, and he “leapt at the chance.” But how do you get at something that has already been done so perfectly? Pullman stays true to the spirit of the tales and finds strength in their immense storytelling power. Thus, he helps introduce this treasure to a contemporary audience that may be more familiar with Pullman than with these tales and their deep, deep Germanic roots.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
After spending four years in “the bad place,” a neural health facility in Baltimore, Patrick Peoples is back at home with his parents, living in their basement, and trying to get his life back on track. Pat believes that he has spent but a few months in the psychiatric ward, and his world view is dominated by magical and delusional thinking. He feels that he and his wife, Nikki, have been forced into “apart time” because he was a mean husband who got fat and made the wrong decisions. He has returned to New Jersey to make things right, become fit, and be “kind instead of right.” However, the people who surround him seem convinced that Nikki is gone for good, and instead some of them try to get him to spend time with Tiffany – a very strange girl, indeed. She’s obviously crazy; but then again, who isn’t?

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

November 4, 2013

Esther Greenwood, the narrator of this autobiographical novel, is a complex and troubled young woman. It’s the summer of 1953 and Esther should be happy. She is working for a magazine in New York City as a college intern, along with other high achieving girls. But, Esther is something of an outsider. She wants to be a writer, and she isn’t interested in marriage, babies, or in learning stenography for a backup career as a secretary.

When she returns home, she discovers that she has not been accepted into a prestigious writing course that she had been counting on to keep her moving forward. Instead, she spirals into depression, unable to read, write, or sleep. Her mother simply doesn’t understand that Esther can’t just snap out of it. After a disastrous electroshock therapy treatment, Esther begins to seriously consider suicide.

The author herself committed suicide just a month after the publication of The Bell Jar in England in 1963. Her death created a lot of interest in her work, and the novel was published in America in 1971 after Plath’s mother failed to block its publication. (She doesn’t come off looking too good in the book.) The book became a feminist classic, a sort of female Catcher in the Rye. Esther talks frankly about subjects that were formerly hidden from view, including sex and mental illness. She struggles with becoming her own person in a society trying to mold her into someone she isn’t interested in becoming.

It’s impossible to say how we would feel about The Bell Jar if Sylvia Plath had not committed suicide at the age of 30. The English reviews were not particularly positive, and if Plath had lived, she would not have allowed the book to be published here until after her mother’s death in 1994. By then this groundbreaking work would not have seemed quite so daring. However, The Bell Jar still has a lot to say about social pressure, about men and women, and about growing up female.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Disquiet by Julia Leigh

September 26, 2013

This is a deeply atmospheric and tense novella — a brief book that could be read in an evening or a long rainy afternoon.

A woman and her two young children turn up at a somewhat decaying family estate in rural southern France. From the very first scene there is a sense of a resigned desperation that lives in all the characters, perhaps except for the youngest and most innocent in this sad family group. Death, abandonment and brutality live close by love and honesty.

The reader is kept at a bit of a distance from the inner psychological workings of our adult characters by dispassionate language, lack of inner dialogue, and descriptions of time and place instead of much dialogue. This distance is obviously well-thought out, and exquisitely rendered. The audience must supply a lot of the connections and assumptions about the family. While there is much beauty in the writing and a profound sense of timelessness in this contemporary tale, there is darkness and brutality and sorrow. The combination of the splendors of nature and the harsh realities of life make for a compelling reading experience.

Australian-born author Julia Leigh has multiple talents, including screenwriting and film directing. She wrote the novel Hunter which was made into a movie in 2011, and she also directed and wrote the screenplay for the film Sleeping Beauty, made in 2011.

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Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason

September 23, 2013

“The meek Jason Getty buries a body in the backyard. It haunts him daily. His anxiety expands exponentially when the landscapers uncover a body and then the police uncover yet another body. Here is the catch- neither of these are the body he buried. The police scrutiny is intense even though he is not at all a suspect. He has only lived in his home a few years, too recent based on the decomposition of the bodies. Being the scene of the crime requires the police to scour every inch of his home. Jason is beside himself wondering when they will uncover his buried secret.

Mason creates an intense sensory experience for the reader as she describes the cloying squish of decay, adrenaline filled chases in the darkest of nights and the hopelessly empty need for acceptance. At times I felt like I could taste the dirt, hear the blood pulsing in my ears and feel the desperation.

Told from the vantage point of several of the characters in almost a stream of consciousness style, the reader gets to see what motivates each character as they are connected to one another by the evil web of coincidence. Leah’s need to know what happened to her missing fiancé, Reid, morphs into something else. Jason’s desperate need for acceptance takes a bad turn. Boyd’s need for control violently bubbles through his tightly moral appearance. Fraught with delicately synchronized suspense, these worlds collide and their lives are changed forever.

 Jamie Mason artfully weaves a tale that would put Alfred Hitchcock on the edge of their seat. I can’t wait to read more from this debut author.”

Jamie Mason along with several other local authors will be at West Regional Library on September 24th, visit our website for more details.

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Under the Dome by Stephen King

September 17, 2013

If you watched the CBS TV series of the same name this summer (filmed in the Wilmington, NC area), you may think you already know what happens in the book. Trust me, you don’t. Although Stephen King is a producer on the series, quite a lot was changed from the book. Characters were deleted or changed to varying degrees, plot elements were similarly altered, and the strong rumor is (this review was written before the end of the TV season) that the conclusion and the answer to where the dome came from will also be different from the book. What is the same? The small town of Chester’s Mill, Maine is suddenly and completely sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible dome and the residents slowly run out of food, fuel, medicine, patience, and in some cases, sanity.

I don’t really “do” Horror, and while I love Stephen King’s writing, I tend to stay with his more Fantasy and Sci-Fi type novels than his Horror (see my reviews for The Gunslinger and 11/22/63). While there are a few scary moments and some pretty gruesome bits in the book version of Under the Dome, I would classify it mostly as a Suspense / Psychological Thriller novel. Another difference between the book and the show is that there is a much larger cast of characters in the book, although (minor spoiler) quite a few do not survive until the end. It’s almost as if George R.R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) wrote a small town sci-fi suspense thriller. In addition to many more characters, there are naturally many more events, twists, turns, red herrings, and dead end leads in the novel as Dale “Barbie” Barbara, Julia Shumway and others go up against “Big Jim” Rennie and try to figure out where the dome came from, how to survive inside it, and if there’s anything they can do to make it go away. Of course, to make a TV series or movie based on a book, much has to be edited out and the pace generally has to be picked up, and in the case of TV, the story arcs need to happen episodically.

I generally liked the TV series, despite how much is different, but I really enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of the novel. Raul Esparza does a fabulous job embodying the characters of Chester’s Mill, Maine, as the pressure is slowly turned up on those trapped inside this invisible and apparently indestructible dome. One other amusing note about the series: Maine is certainly not known for streets lined with Southern Live Oaks or for having smooth, sandy beaches, although that is what we see on TV. But, don’t let that minor detail detract from your enjoyment of the show, or better yet listen to or read the book instead.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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