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Book Review 51: The Circle by Dave Eggers

26 Dec

I desperately wanted to read this for book club, because there are a thousand things I want to discuss after reading this. I think I enjoyed the concepts of privacy and work/life balance raised in this book more than the book itself. The plot can be obvious; the twists are easy to see; the ending is basically written before you finish the book. It is long, and can be preachy at times. But it’s the kind of book that raises interesting questions, and ideas, and fosters fun conversations about the future of the internet. So I think that it’s ultimately worth a read.

Mae Holland goes to work for the Circle, a kind of Google/Facebook hybrid company that seems to control everything internet related. She feels special working there; it’s seen as a hip, desirable place to work and she used to be stuck in a dead in job. And who doesn’t want to feel special?

This book is sort of a “worst case scenario” about the decreased level of privacy in our lives. People are frequently outraged about how their personal information is being “taken” from them – by Facebook, to sell to marketers, and so on and so forth. But I think the more interesting problem is that people are giving up their privacy. They are willingly logging on, documenting their every move, and storing it with a third party. We live so much of our private lives in public now. And no one really questions why they’re giving up their own privacy; the questions seem to surround what the third parties do with that information once it’s out there. Continue reading

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Book Review 49: The Expats by Chris Pavone

26 Dec

I bought this at the airport and was pleasantly surprised. The book was a top seller in Europe for months, and I grabbed the English language translation. I can’t really explain why I enjoyed it so much. It skews a little closer to the psychological thrillers I tend to favor, because it’s ultimately about a husband and wife who don’t know if they can trust each other.  You could anticipate when the plot twists were coming, but the expected twist usually veered off into an unexpected direction.

The basic plot summary is that Kate and her husband spontaneously move to Luxemburg, ostensibly for her husband’s boring tech job at a bank. Once they get there, you slowly start to unravel secrets about Kate, her husband, and their new couple friends. It’s a fun read, partially because you’re never sure if the next plot twist will be personal (a surprise infedility perhaps?) or more professional (a set up of her husband? a government conspiracy?).

Highly recommended for airplane or beach reading!

Book Review 37: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

17 Jun

This book was delightful in many ways, and disappointing in others. My issue with this book is more an issue with the back cover summary, which induced me to pick it up. The back cover implied that this was going to be “Real World: London,” where 12 or so gods move into a London townhouse, “stop being polite, and start getting real.” I was expecting trashy reality television, with Greek gods.

This book is not that. I took Latin when I was younger, and most of our class was spent learning about the analogous Roman gods and learning very little about actual Latin. The stories are fascinating. This felt like a modern update of a classic story.

Aphrodite and Apollo are engaged in an epic battle of wills. Thousands of years of living among mortals has induced incredible boredom in most of the gods. Their powers are waning as people’s belief in the gods falls. The infighting between Aphrodite and Apollo eventually draws two innocent humans, Neil and Alice, into the world of the gods.

What I didn’t like was the fairly standard “innocent girl dragged into conflict, heroic man rescues her” plot line of Neil and Alice. It was boring in a book that had an otherwise interesting premise and set of characters. While Neil is a reluctant, nerdy hero, he’s still a hero nonetheless. His journey to rescue Alice is fun, and interesting, but it’s still such a cliche and I’ve read a thousand books and seen a thousand movies about these kinds of rescues. It’s not that I wanted Alice to rescue him, necessarily.It just that their plot line was boring. Continue reading

Review 23: The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

14 Apr

I like to read high concept books, simply based off of their premise.  In The Brief History of the Dead, we see two parallel stories.  First, are the people living in the space between their life on Earth and whatever comes next.  They believe they only exist in the inbetween for as long as someone on earth remembers them. And second, we see a young woman, living in Antarctica, as the rest of the world dies from a plague.

The premise alone makes the book worth reading. It’s unique, and Brockmeier does a great job exploring the intricacies and logistics of how this type of passing on would actually work. And the descriptions of how people slide from their earthly life into the next are amazing, beautiful, incredibly creative.

What really struck a chord with me is the idea of trying to figure out how many people you know, or are acquainted with.  We can catalog our lives much easier with social networking, but beyond your 500 or 1,000 Facebook friends are probably 10,000 other people you’ve met at some point in your life.  Every UPS person you ever signed for a package from.  The woman who does your nails, and all of her coworkers she gossips with in the salon. Your acquaintance’s grandmother who you only met one time at their wedding. Thinking about the seemingly never ending web of connections you make during your life was interesting, and I started wondering how many people would be surviving in the in between space if I were the only person left on earth. And it made me want to reach out more.

Book Review 19: Let the Right One In by John Lindqvist

7 Mar

This book is dark. I haven’t seen either of the movies, but the central character at this book is a vampire, and the story spirals out to encompass those whose lives the vampire touches. Eli’s…companion, for lack of a better word, who secures food for Eli when Eli cannot. Eli’s lonely, bullied neighbor who is desperate for a connection, for a friend, and latched on to Eli. The friends of Eli’s dead victim. The friends of one of Eli’s victims who survives, transforming into a vampire herself.

What made this book special is that despite the vampires, the mystery at the core, and the violence, it tackled surprisingly human themes. The young, lonely bullied boy. The ramifications of divorce. Young love. The acceptance (or lack thereof) of homosexuals. The dangers of pedophilia.

I don’t have that much to say about the book. It was suspenseful, tense, keeping me on the edge of my seat. It ultimately left me feeling sad, for almost all of the characters in the story. It was a much more interesting take on the vampire genre that I normally read, and as such, it was refreshing.

Book Review 11: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

13 Feb

I finished The Secret History in 24 hours, which happened to be the same 24 hours in which Donna Tartt announced she’ll be releasing a third novel in the upcoming future. The Secret History tells the story of 6 prep school kids studying the classics under an eccentric professor at a small liberal arts school in Vermont, and the secrets, conspiracies and fall out from one fateful night in the woods.

This book is part psychological thriller, part straight suspense novel, and part psychoanalysis of the main characters.  Honestly, I would compare it to Gone Girl in terms of the depth of character analysis, suspense and tone. It’s like a much more literary Gone Girl. I honestly don’t recall ever reading a book in the suspense or thriller genre where I found the prose to be beautiful or worthwhile in it’s own right, but here it was.

The characters in this book are offbeat, but not in an overly quirky, annoying way. There are the too-close twins dressed all at white who overcome their creepy first appearances to make everyone feel warm and welcoming. There’s the reckless Bunny, too smart for his own good and too incapable of reading social situations to save himself. There’s the charismatic, homosexual red head Francis who seems to draw men to him like a magnet.

And then there’s the narrator, Richard, who for me was the most untrustworthy character in the whole lot. Tartt created a weird phenomenon, where at first I identified with Richard, and his longing to belong to someone or something and his desperate fear of missing out. But as the novel progressed, I trusted Richard less and less. I started to feel as if he was hiding something from me, the reader, or that he wasn’t as socially intuitive enough to satisfy me. Continue reading

Book Review 9: Watchmen by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons

8 Feb

This is my first ever graphic novel! It seemed like a fun, interesting way to branch out from my usual selection of mysteries and airport quality chick lit. On reading a graphic novel, it was extremely challenging for all the reasons I thought it would be. I struggled with reading the words, and looking at the images. Watchmen is dense, you have the read the words to really follow the story, and it took me like 75 pages to get the hang of the reading and looking and feeling the flow of the story. At first I would read, look at the pictures, read, look at the pictures, but it interrupted the flow and I felt like I wasn’t fully appreciating the fantastic imagery.

I selected Watchmen by Googling “graphic novels for beginners” and this was the right choice for me. It was a world of super (nonsuper?) heroes I knew nothing about, so I could build my expectations and the world from the ground up. The story has some of the black and white appeal of a classic good v. evil comic book story, but it’s dark. The characters are far more morally gray. You’re rooting for the vigilantes, the men and women who took up masks to fight crime on their own when the government wasn’t doing enough, who were eventually replaced by actual superheroes. You don’t really fully believe they’re heroes, because their imperfections are out on the line more so than any other heroes I’ve been exposed to. Continue reading

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