Tag Archives: mystery

Review: Cujo

cujo.jpgRecap: It’s been five years since a serial killer was on the loose in a small town in Maine, but that doesn’t mean the serial killings are over.  When a massive St. Bernard chases a small animal and becomes rabid, no one is safe. The problem is no one knows the pain he’s feeling. No one know he’s sick. So his owner, Joe, lets him roam around the property. Joe’s son and wife, Brett and Charity, leave town to visit her sister. By the time Donna and her four-year-old son, Tad, go to Joe’s house to have her car repaired, Cujo has already killed several people including Joe.

Donna notices he’s rabid right away; by this point, he’s become more sick and his red eyes and foaming mouth prove as much to her.  She has no choice but to stay in her car with her son but the car is in such disrepair, it won’t start. The July heat doesn’t allow them the fresh air they need, and they have no access to food or water other than what they’ve packed. Because it’s 1980, Donna has no cell phone and no way to get help.

As she waits for a postman to come, for the police to come, anything, her husband Vic is away on business, trying to save his company and contemplating how to save his marriage after he learns Donna had cheated on him. Ultimately, no matter how much he wants to, Vic can’t quit Donna and when his calls go unanswered, he calls for help only to find the devastation Cujo has left behind.

Analysis: For my first Stephen King novel (I know, I know, it’s crazy), this was phenomenal. I was more than pleasantly surprised by the character depth and development he offered throughout the novel. It’s much more than just a “horror novel,” which is what I was expecting. Cujo is a monster, but he’s a completely plausible monster and King interestingly takes us inside the rabid dog’s mind as well as Donna’s heat delirious mind, and Vic’s marriage obsessed head as well as many others.

This level of character depth and plot thickening allows for a slow build until Donna and Cujo are left no choice but to face off. For days as I read the last pages of the book, I found myself repeatedly muttering “Please don’t let Donna die.” King made me care. It’s the stuff real horror novels are made of.

MVP: Vic. While Donna’s a badass, it takes her a while to get there. Vic instinctively and instantly knows something is wrong and uses his intelligence and logic to break open what’s going on and attempt to make a rescue.

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Review: Baggage

91vkke5j99lRecap: Anna Ray has a secret. For years, she’s carried it around with her, and every on February 17th, she relives the same traumatic incident from her childhood that she can’t talk about. And then she relives the other traumatic incident from her adulthood — the day her husband killed himself. Those two deaths have permanently cursed February 17th for her, only to be made worse when yet another person she knows well dies on the very same date.

Her cousin, Jeannie, has already flown in to stay with her for the week that haunts Anna so much. Now the two of them together become wrapped up in a murder investigation a professor at the college where Anna works. He just so happened to have had a crush on Anna and used to date Jeannie. Investigators won’t leave them alone, even as one of Anna’s students becomes a prime suspect in the case. But the date and the baggage of February 17th also won’t leave Anna alone, and ultimately she has to come to terms with what this all means for her.

Analysis: Author S.G. Redling does a good job of showing us how torn Anna and Jeannie’s characters are and how much baggage they really have. But with all that baggage, it was frustrating to me that the reader doesn’t learn exactly what happened in Anna’s past until the very end. I think it would have made the story’s climax more climactic had we had more insight beforehand. The details about that traumatic childhood incident also could have been explained more plainly — I found that section a little confusing and had to re-read it several times.

That said, Redling builds great suspense as the end of the novel nears, and it has a very Gone Girl thriller feel. The twist at the end is great mystery writing and exactly the kind of twist any reader hopes for. The relationship between Anna and Jeannie is also great, though I found it hard to believe that growing up, Anna never told Jeannie exactly what happened on that February 17th of yesteryear.

MVP: Jeannie. She’s a bit of a hot mess, like Anna, but she’s there for her. She’s a good role model for Anna and completely nonjudgmental, which is exactly the kind of woman Anna needs in her life.

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Movie vs. Book: Dark Places

Libby Day didn’t have an ordinary childhood. She grew up alone — not because her parents both died, nor because she was left behind, but because her mother and two sisters were murdered by her brother. “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas” is her claim to fame even 25 years later, and in many ways, the murders still rule her life. She spent decades surviving off money earned through life insurance policies, donations and book sales from the memoir she wrote. Now her money is running out. Her brother is still in jail. They still don’t talk. And Libby hasn’t started a new life because she can’t let go of her past.

But she then learns a “Kill Club” exists, where people investigate some of the nation’s most infamous crimes and murders. The Day murders are a favorite in the club. When Libby realizes she can take advantage of the club by accepting money from them in return for speaking to other people associated with her brother’s murders, she does it. She is desperate for money. But she soon realizes that most members of the “Kill Club” think she’s weak and a liar. They believe her brother isn’t the killer. Being seven at the time of the murders, Libby doesn’t remember much, so she sets out to re-investigate the murders herself and encounters an entire secret history of the Day family that she never knew existed.

Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places includes many of the same things that readers liked about her more famous bestseller Gone Girl: rotating — and untrustworthy — narrators and perspectives, suspense, mystery, a big twist and general creepiness. Gone Girl has its bloody, gory moments, but Dark Places trumps those. The killing scene is gruesome, and there are sections about sacrifices to Satan that can’t help but cause goosebumps. Generally speaking, the film does a good job of portraying the same creepiness the book offers, but still doesn’t compare.

The casting is a little off. Charlize Theron as Libby Day is all wrong; she is too beautiful, too confident, too “cool” to be the unconfident misfit that is Libby Day. Similarly, Chloe Grace Moretz is too angelic to play a Satan-worshipper. But it’s more than just the casting. The flashback scenes including killing scene is hokey. Shot in black and white and shaky, it looks more “Blair Witch Project” than “Psycho.”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong with the movie, other than to say it just doesn’t feel right. There are a few characters that are left out or killed off, including Libby’s Aunt Diane. Some of the interviews Libby conducts are also excluded. I understand those choices were made for time purposes. Otherwise, the movie follows the book closely enough. But there’s something about it — maybe it’s the fact that the book is just so creepy, so dark, so twisty that it’s hard to create a visual version that can even remotely compare. The movie doesn’t allow us to connect with the characters like the book does — and suddenly I found myself more curious about when the movie would end than “Did her brother really do it?”

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Review: The Girl on the Train

Recap: Rachel rides the train two hours a day from home to her office in London. Much of that train ride is spent drinking, and most of it is spent thinking about, staring at, or creating a fake backstory for the people who live in a house she passes on her ride. Rachel has become obsessed with the attractive couple who lives there, not only because they’re along her train route, but also because they live down the street from her old house, where she once resided with her ex-husband.

Her ex, Tom, has since remarried and has a child with his new wife, Anna. But Rachel isn’t as estranged from Tom as he and Anna would like her to be. Rachel’s drunken days and nights have done nothing but lead to dozens of phone calls to Tom and countless embarrassing moments.

But one day, Rachel witnesses something while she’s on the train — a moment involving the woman with whom she’s obsessed. So when that woman goes missing the next day, Rachel realizes she might have a very important and useful clue. She reports it, and quickly finds herself completely wrapped up in the mystery. But with all her drinking and knowledge not more valuable than that of a girl on the train, investigators and those involved don’t know whether to trust her.

AnalysisThe Girl on the Train has been touted as “the next Gone Girl.” It’s a bestseller that has flown off the shelves in the last several months. It’s obvious why. Its similarities to Gone Girl are strong — chapters alternating between the perspectives of several different characters, unreliable narrators, and a suspenseful mystery, mixed with a fair amount of violence. But there are differences too. The end of the novel is sadder than Gone Girl, but better justified.

Ultimately, The Girl on the Train is a page-turner, even to the final pages. Just when I thought the story was over, it wasn’t. The book is full of twists and turns, and each character is more pathetic and crazy than the next. Even as we, as the reader, are inside the heads of several characters, they each have so many issues, it’s hard to tell what they’re actually thinking and where the story will actually go. Dark and twisty, The Girl on the Train is compelling and raises the question how well do you really know anybody?

MVP: Rachel. She is a hot mess. Most of the book, I cringed on her behalf, wondering why she couldn’t get it together. But I wanted her to be right, and despite her repeated failures and embarrassment, she’s never gave up, and resilience is commendable.

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J.K. Rowling’s Detective Series to Be Adapted into TV Series

Harry Potter may not be coming back to the big screen — or any screen — time soon, but J.K. Rowling’s other novels are soon expected to make their TV debut.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the BBC has announced it will adapt J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike novels into a BBC One TV series. The detective series was written under Rowling’s pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The TV show will start with the telling of the first novel in the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, which was published last year. Rowling will be involved in the project, working with BBC and Bronte Film and TV. So far only two novels in the series have been published — The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm. A date for the TV series has not yet been announced.

But Bronte Film and TV is also helping Rowling adapt her other adult fiction novel, The Casual Vacancy, into a three-part series that will air on BBC One in February 2015. The Casual Vacancy is not part of the Cormoran Strike Series.

So…who will be watching?? Considering how much I loved The Cuckoo’s Calling, I know I will!

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Review: The Cuckoo’s Calling

Recap: It’s a death that has as much media coverage as the death of a One Direction member would warrant. Lula Landry, one of newest, youngest, and most gorgeous models in Britain has died. Lying on the ground next to her apartment building in London, Lula Landry appears to have fallen from her balcony. But was she pushed or did she jump? Considering her troubled history with drugs and mental instability, it is widely assumed that she jumped. After all, who would want to kill Lula Landry? But with all her fame, money, and beauty, the better question is who wouldn’t want to kill her?

That’s where Detective Cormoran Strike comes in. He’s hired by Lula’s adoptive brother, John Bristow, to delve deeper into Landry’s death. The offer couldn’t come at a better time for Strike, who’s been recently dumped, kicked out of his apartment, and is on the verge of bankruptcy. Considering how long it’s been since he’s had regular work, he’s a bit rusty. But when a new temporary secretary, Robin, starts working for him, she becomes more of an asset than he ever imagined a secretary could be.

Ultimately Strike and Robin unravel the case of Lula Landry, with lots of key players and lots of evidence previously overlooked by police.

Analysis: In one of only two books in her post-Harry Potter days, author J.K. Rowling (under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith) proves yet again that her easy-to-follow writing and complex web of characters with oh-so-many motives makes for a book that’s tough to put down. The more each character is described, the more we want to know what happens.

That being said, The Cuckoo’s Calling is — for the most part — your average detective novel. It also feels quite a bit longer than it needs to be. Written in third-person, the book comes from the perspective of Strike, so as readers, we get to play detective right along with him.

But Rowling/Galbraith does one thing that sets The Cuckoo’s Calling apart from the rest of today’s detective novels: considering Strike’s recent professional misfortune, it’s unclear if he’s actually capable of doing the job. Usually in a mystery like this, the detective is described as being one of the best, so it’s no surprise when he solves the case. Here, there’s some uncertainty – can Strike solve the case? Is there even a case to be solved? Those are the questions that keep the book moving.

MVP: Strike and Robin, collectively. The two make a good team. Even with little history or experience working together, their determination makes for a solid bit of detective work, while a friendship between them blossoms.

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Review: The Oracle Code

Recap: An archaeological dig in Afghanistan is where we find Professor Thomas Lourds and his friend Boris. Boris has recently discovered a set of scrolls, said to be the scrolls of Alexander the Great. But they’re written in ancient writing — writing that Boris cannot read or understand. That’s where Professor Lourds steps in.

Boris believes the scrolls will lead them to the tomb of Alexander the Great. But before Lourds can get a good look at the scrolls, their archeological group is attacked. Soon an all-out battle takes place, leaving Boris dead and Lourds to work alongside a young Russian newspaper reporter, Anna. It becomes clear to them that someone — particularly a Russian ex-military man — is after the scrolls and wants to see the two of them dead. To add to the hysteria, President Nevsky, of Russia, has invaded Ukraine, with plans to bring back the USSR.

Professor Lourds’ task of revealing the meaning of the scrolls has become a matter of life and death. Not to mention, it’s the only way he can honor Boris after he has died. But can he uncover the meaning? And do the scrolls, in fact, lead to the grave of Alexander the Great?

Analysis: The format, pacing and writing style in Charles Brokaw’s The Oracle Code is very similar to Dan Brown and his Robert Langdon series (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons). Even the character, Thomas Lourds, bears striking similarities to Robert Langdon — though the knowledge of symbols is replaced with a knowledge of ancient languages and mythology. While enjoyable, I couldn’t help but compare the novel to Dan Brown’s work.

What I found is that Brokaw took the action that existed in Brown’s Angels and Demons, but left out much of the analytical research and explanations of The Da Vinci Code. That was a good move on Brokaw’s part; it certainly kept the story moving. That being said, I found myself hoping for more explanation of Lourds’ work. Brokaw presented several scenes in which other characters comment on Lourds’ sleep-deprived state. He explains that he was up for hours working on the scrolls, and he shares what he learned from them. While it was great to finally learn what was in the scrolls, I wanted to know what Lourds was doing in those late-night hours to interpret them. How did he figure out the language and the scripture?

The last moments in the book also felt rushed, making it a bit difficult to keep up. The epilogue, however, does a good job of wrapping up the few subplots that the last chapter seemed to bypass, certainly leaving it open to yet another Code book with Thomas Lourds as the leading man and a historical mystery as the leading lady.

MVP: Anna, the reporter. A complex character with a shocking story line, Anna personalizes the story that’s otherwise about a set a scrolls. Her courage is commendable and her loyalty to getting the scoop admirable.

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Review: Deuce Delaney

Recap: As young teenagers, we all made mistakes, but not like middle schooler Deuce Delaney. Deuce — whose real name is Mansfield, but prefers “Deuce” — sets off stink bombs, steals money to buy tranquilizer guns, and does some of the normal teenage stuff too, like smoking, drinking, and terrorizing his younger sister.

In this modernized story about the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf,’ Deuce starts off as a boy with an imaginative mind. He thinks he sees a ghost or creature near his secret hiding spot in the woods. He follows clues through a sewer to find out what the creature is. But the story quickly moves past the ghost story to one of a boy who can’t escape trouble. Deuce is constantly being grounded. He gets his friends into trouble. In an attempt to do well, he joins clubs but is soon kicked out of them. He gets suspended from school, fails a class, and has to attend summer school. And that’s where he meets another troubled boy like himself, named Russell.

That’s when things start to escalate. When Deuce tries to put out a fire in his school, he is blamed for starting it. He realizes that Russell probably had something to do with it. But Russell mysteriously dies, and Deuce is the only one who knows how. He must prove it to those who don’t believe him.

Analysis: Deuce Delaney is a coming-of-age story, combined with mystery, action and thriller. Sadly, the most exciting parts of the novel are saved for the beginning and end. Upon beginning the book, Delaney reminded me of Now and Then in that it combined themes of growing up with uncovering a mystery. But that ghost/creature story was completely dismissed until the end.

Much of the middle of the novel was devoted to Deuce’s mishaps and troublemaking. I understand that this is what the author, Michael Murray, intended. Showing what a “bad kid” Deuce is serves to explain why people in authority positions wouldn’t believe him in the end when he uncovers the mystery. But while this character-developing portion of the book serves a purpose, it’s very long; so long, in fact, that the reader forgets about the “creature” from the beginning altogether.

That being said, the writing itself is well-done. Told in first person, the author does a good job of writing or speaking as a 13-year-old would. It’s a little disorganized, but very self-centered and straightforward, which is fitting for Deuce’s personality. At the end, Deuce proves his point, but it leaves me wondering how much he really learned and if he grew from this experience at all.

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Review: Lethal Circuit

Recap: Michael Chase is on a hunt for his father. He was told his father had died about 6 months ago, but with no body and no evidence, it was pretty hard to believe. So when he’s told that his father is still alive somewhere in China, he’s determined to find him, whatever the cost. Upon his arrival in Asia, he learns his father worked for the CIA and was deeply involved in a case involving a Nazi-related aircraft.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific Ocean, scientists are tracking a satellite that has been launched into space, has spiraled out of control, and is now heading directly for America’s West Coast.

How are these two things related? And how does Michael Chase find his father and save millions of people in California without getting himself killed? He meets up with Kate Shaw, another agent on a mission and together they work to uncover some of his father’s secrets. But she’s not the only one lending Michael Chase a helping hand.

Analysis: I’ll admit, when I first began reading Lethal Circuit, I had trouble getting into it. I couldn’t keep track of all the characters that were so suddenly introduced — many of them with Chinese and Japanese names. I had trouble determining who was “good” and who was “bad,” and I didn’t understand how the two seemingly separate plots were connected. Not to mention, the beginning felt like any thriller I’d ever read before. Nothing new here.

But as the story continued, the relationship between Michael and Kate grows stronger, and they become closer to locating the Nazi aircraft. That’s when I couldn’t put the book down. In retrospect, I realize that my frustrations with keeping track of who was a “good” and who was “bad” were not accidental. That was the point of the story — to keep the reader guessing, questioning who to trust. Initially, I thought obvious foreshadowing about the “bad guys” gave the whole story away. But in the end, I realized it was a huge set-up for a major twist ending. Lars Guignard makes us realize there are so few people we can honestly trust, and perception is everything.

Upon finishing the novel, I’m excited to see what comes next. Lethal Circuit is meant to be the first in a series of Michael Chase spy thrillers by Guignard. The major storyline was left wide open — a perfect setup for more books to come. But how will Michael Chase grow? How will Guignard keep us guessing? It’s hard to say, but I have every intention of reading on and finding out.

MVP: Michael Chase’s father. Throughout the novel, we get a glimpse of some flashbacks between Michael and his father. We learn where Michael came from, what his father taught him, and how Michael parlays that into everyday life. A father-son bond is a special one, and that much is evident here. Even though Michael’s father plays a small active role in the story, he’s there in every decision Michael makes, and that makes him commendable.

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Movie vs. Book: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

****Spoiler Alert: Because so many people are familiar with the bestselling novel, the Swedish movie version and the American movie version, I felt no obligation to refrain from spoilers. They are included. Consider yourself warned.

It’s a story that begins when a well-known journalist is asked to investigate a 40-year-old murder mystery. But readers of the Millenium series know The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not just about journalist Mikael Blomkvist, but also his research assistant and computer-hacking friend/lover Lisbeth Salander.

Not only is this a murder mystery, but the beginning of one of the most adult relationships either character has ever had. They round each other out, thus helping to solve the murder of young Harriet Vanger, the niece of a wealthy Swedish entrepreneur.

The movie version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo follows the plot of the murder mystery in close detail. Blomkvist’s discoveries with the old photographs and Lisbeth’s research into the Biblical references in victim Harriet Vanger’s journals are played out in the movie. What’s changed here are some of the aspects of the characters’ personal lives.

For instance, in the novel, Blomkvist is much more of a playboy, sleeping with not only his co-worker, Erika Berger, and Lisbeth Salander, but also Cecilia Vanger, one of the many relatives of murder victim, Harriet. But the movie doesn’t acknowledge the sexual relationship between Cecilia Vanger and Blomkvist. The movie also leaves out the subplot about Lisbeth’s mother dying. The movie doesn’t feel lost without it — in fact, it’s very jam-packed — but it would have been nice to see that played out, if for no other purpose than to give viewers a glimpse into Lisbeth’s personal life.

Despite the relatively minor plot changes, the movie not only does justice to the book, but enhances it. The only problem I ever had with the novel is that keeping track of the Vanger family — and all the characters, really — grew to be exhausting. But seeing it onscreen and being able to put faces to names helped.

A few other highlights of the movie are the performances, the music, and the graphic scenes. Rooney Mara kills it as Lisbeth Salander, in the way she speaks, works, and even carries herself; and Daniel Craig as Blomkvist is a perfect fit — believable, smart, and sexy, just as I imagined Blomkvist to be. The strange and ominous music, written by Trent Reznor (The Social Network), helps to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. The soundtrack is as uncomfortable and piercing as some of the scenes are.

David Fincher does not shy from the graphic style of the book, clearly portraying the scenes of Lisbeth’s sexual abuse and rape, her violence against her abuser, and the torture of Blomkvist at the end. I admit, I had to close my eyes for much of these scenes, and the rape had me so upset, I cried. As a woman, reading that scene was extremely difficult. But to see it played out onscreen was excruciating.

All in all, the power of the novel comes through on camera, and whether you loved the book or couldn’t quite get through it, the movie is definitely worth seeing — especially before awards season starts.

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