Tag Archives: suspense

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.

Get The Girl on the Train in hardcover for $16.17.

Or on your Kindle for $6.99.


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Review: In the Company of Educated Men

Recap: When three friends graduate from Harvard, they feel like the world is their oyster. Sort of. In reality, they’re clueless about where they want to go and what they want to do. Lennie comes from a wealthy family and can virtually do whatever he wants. Paul is quite the opposite. Louisa is the beautiful brainiac with all the potential and no particular goals. A few weeks after they leave school, Lennie is on a mission; he wants an adventure. So he enlists Paul and Louisa — whether they like it or not — and sets out on a cross-country road trip.

But things get interesting — and frightening — when the trio is held up at a gas station in the middle of nowhere by a man with a gun. The man turns out to be a teenager who then hops into their car, looking for a ride to California. As they ride along, scared they’ll be shot and killed, the group realizes there’s yet another person in the backseat — a little girl who followed them out of a diner and into the car with plans to run away from her parents.

Lennie, Paul and Louisa all have different plans for what they should do next — what’s the safest and most ethical option? But while Lennie continues looking for adventure, everything falls apart in a tragic, horrifying and life-altering way.

Analysis: When I first started reading In the Company of Educated Men, I thought this would be just your average coming-of-age story. But when the three friends got held up at the gas station, I scratched my head wondering where this was going. Suddenly, the story became completely unpredictable to me.

The best way to describe this novel is to call it an “extreme” coming-of-age novel — one that portrays how how an eclectic group of young adults from different socioeconomic backgrounds handles a bizarre, rare and extreme situation. Along with fighting for their lives, the friends fight amongst themselves, leading to betrayals and changing their friendships forever.

For Lennie, the incident does more than just alter his friendships. It changes the entire course of his life, as he realizes he became more focused on having an adventure than taking caring for others. In an effort to avoid hurting others anymore, he goes on to lead a life of solitude and correct his earlier mistakes. The story is written through a series flashes — jumps between the incident and 10 years after the incident until the reader finally learns at the end of the novel what happened and how Lennie resolved it.

In the Company of Educated Men exemplifies that young people make mistakes, but how you deal with those mistakes is what most affects your life. In the Company is dark and frightening, but full of lessons about growing up, growing apart and learning from your erroneous ways.

MVP: Louisa. She’s the only character that truly stays calm and holds herself together both during and after the “incident.”

Get In the Company of Educated Men in paperback for $11.05.

Or get it on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Review: Room

Contributed By Samantha Holle

Recap:  Jack is five years old today.  To celebrate his birthday, he and Ma bake a cake, run on Track, watch TV, and get to sleep before Old Nick comes.  But Old Nick isn’t the jolly old man who knows when you are sleeping, and Track isn’t outside.  Track is the floor around Bed in their eleven by eleven prison room, and Old Nick is a kidnapper who has kept Ma in a shed in his yard for seven years.

Jack has become a beacon of hope for Ma, and on his fifth birthday she begins to tell him the truth about the world outside that he has never seen.  Driven by her desires to escape and prove to Jack that there’s a world outside of Room, Ma and Jack hatch a plan that will free them.  But will Jack be able to adapt to Outside, with all its people, cars, and wide open spaces?  And will Ma be able to return to living a normal life?

AnalysisRoom is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy who has only ever seen the inside of four walls and who thinks everyone on television is made up.  Jack is an unlikely cheerful spirit in a repressive environment, and it’s a testament to his mother’s hope for freedom that he doesn’t sense her despair.  In the story, Jack becomes a symbol of her remaining optimism.  She raises her son to have manners, a wide vocabulary, and an active lifestyle despite their living conditions.  (Track, for example, is when they move all of their furniture onto the bed and practice running.)

Readers may question how a five year old can retell dialogue and use terms like “post-traumatic stress disorder”; author Emma Donoghue easily resolves this by explaining another game Ma and Jack play called “Parrot,” where they listen to the television, mute it, and have Jack recite what he has just heard.  It’s a lesson in vocabulary and memorization all in one that solves the dialogue problem.

In addition to a unique narrative structure, Jack unknowingly references literary works and authors that connect to their desperate lives.  Jack mentions poetry by Emily Dickinson — who is known for secluding herself, in stark contrast to Ma and Jack’s unchosen imprisonment,  calls himself Jack the Giant Killer and marvels at the story of Jack and the Beanstalk — the story of a boy who so badly wants to make his mother happy that he takes on a giant to gain material happiness — and even marvels at how life Outside keeps getting “curiouser and curiouser”, as Lewis Carroll’s Alice did when she took her tour of Wonderland.  It not only enriches the text and the characters, but it makes the voice of Jack all the more sweet because he is so naive about the terrifying situation in which he’s been raised.

MVP:  Ma. Though she becomes frustrated when Jack doesn’t believe her about Outside or when he insists on remaining in Room, she never loses her cool; she is never violent or mean to her child.  She is a heroine despite her flaws — Jack describes days where Ma is Gone; she lays in bed unresponsive for hours, sometimes days, at a time — but one cannot help but sympathize with her plight and her unavoidable depression.  There is a moment of panic for both Jack and the reader, but just like during her time in Room, Ma goes to great lengths to rebound and try to become whole again.

Get Room in paperback for $9, down from $15.

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