[780]: The Good Son by You-Jeong Jeong

I’ve always found that novelists from Scandinavian and Asian countries to be first class story tellers in the Thriller genre. I don’t know what it is but their books, as well as the movies just give me the chills.

The Good Son definitely fit the bill as well. Written by a Korean author, this book tells the story of a man who woke up bloodied but somehow relatively unharmed. Upon further examination, he finds scratches and bite marks on his arm. And as he moves about his house, he finds his mother in her bedroom — in a bloodbath with a deep slash across her neck. He realizes too soon, and with uncanny calmness that he may have had a hand in her death.

The story pieces together in a series of flashbacks while he tries to figure out the next step: turn himself in? Bury his mother? Or dispose of her body then leave the country altogether. But the more time he spends trying to decide his next move, the more bodies fall.

The terrifying thing about the story is the undetached way he spoke of the deaths. Because, yes, soon enough, the readers will realize that our character gets a thrill out of killing people. Especially the process of how he stalks his prey then calmly watch them bleed. As if he’s roasting marshmallows or something.

We also learn that he’s always been deranged even as a child. The first time he saw his dad used an antique razor while shaving, he asked with cold-blooded intensity if he could have his blade when he dies. Which was the reason why his mother hid it from him over the years. But he found it anyway. It was especially chilling to find out that he had a part in the deaths of his father and brother.

The Good Son challenges the basic idea of nurture vs. nature. And while in most cases, someone can be nurtured into someone not homicidal, this is an exception where nature definitely wins over nurture.

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[779]: Silent History by Eli Horowitz, et al.

I was under the impression that this book is a horror. But as the chapters flew by, it quickly become clearer that it was more Sci-Fi than anything. I enjoy Sci-Fi/horror anyway, and since I don’t have very many of those, I’m always game to dive in. However, I felt that this book went way too long for my taste and it didn’t have the sustainability to keep a reader like me.

In here, we find a generation of children without voice and no means of communication. It was as if they were born without that part of their brain. Parents, doctors, scientists were confounded. The children can’t speak, and unable to make any sounds at all. They were shunned by other children who can speak, treated as if they were mentally handicapped. But the worst part of all was that they were vulnerable to predators. Case in point, a kid who was abducted while shopping in a mall when he couldn’t scream for help.

Told in part as chronicles of testimonials, The Silent History contains a world whose ability to communicate vastly changed. Half of the world spoke in a telepathic manner but was not taught and can’t be learned. Though this book is 500-some odd pages, I found myself racing through 50% of it. It was a fascinating world, one where half the population scrambled to learn about a new kind of language all together.

However, it doesn’t take time until I found myself lost — not in the story, but literally lost. The plot quickly becomes convoluted. With the discovery of nanotechnology that enabled the children to speak, the Science of it all complicated what was an otherwise absorbing story. And as the cure was slowly introduced, so were the factions that contributed to the chaos. It was harder to keep track of the number of points of views — and there were many.

The cure, while great on the surface, became a bone of contention for some parents and the government. After the kid was saved from the sexual predator that kidnapped him, the government instituted a law that aimed to protect children under the age of 6. They made it a law to have all outfitted with the cure. And while I can understand why the parents would want their kids to have the ability to speak, I also saw why some parents were against it. In essence, the cure would invariably change their children into different people altogether. Some chose to let the children decide for themselves as adults.

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[771]: The Starlight Claim by Tim Wynne-Jones

I was able to get through Tim Wynne-Jones’ The Ruinous Sweep with great impatience. It was slow, and frankly, so weird. So I approached this book with trepidation. Thankfully, this was far from his 2018 release. Firstly, it wasn’t as verbose, nor as dense. It was a straight forward story telling that The Ruinous Sweep severely lacked. As well, this novel isn’t as ambitious as that Dante retelling.

Four months after his best friend disappeared, Nate is suddenly plagued with nightmares. Dodge, his best friend, was like a ghost or a restless soul that kept appearing in his dreams, pleading for Nate to find him. It is Spring in northern Ontario and winter has barely left, but he was confident enough in his survival skills to trek through the frozen landscape to the cabins both their families owned. It is where Dodge’s entire family perished and where he hoped to find Dodge. The bodies of his father and his brother were found, frozen and drowned. Dodge’s however, wasn’t. He was meant to go with someone else on this pilgrimage, but when his classmate was grounded, he decided to go on his own without the knowledge of his parents. It was a costly decision that would not only threaten his life, he would also come face to face with a family secret he thought was long buried.

He was in a race against a brewing blizzard, and the elements that was far from forgiving. With only two days to do what he set out to do, finding the cabins occupied by escaped convicts was not his idea of a good time. Now, not only is he pressed for time and the storm that was coming, he was also fighting for his life.

This was a fast pace read; it took me a day to finish it. Wynne-Jones’ writing didn’t let up from beginning to end. And though, I saw the twist from the get-go, it was still fun to see come to fruition. If you’re looking for an honest to goodness thrilling read, The Starlight Claim fits that bill. Bonus: the author perfectly captures the ambiance of frozen Canada and the coziness (if you can feel cozy whilst being hunted) of the cabin life.

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[751]: Aftermath by Kelley Armstrong

Aftermath
by Kelley Armstrong


Have you ever thought about what it was like for the families of the shooters who killed innocent people? Not in the way that they are victimized, but just how life goes on after one of their own shoot up a school and are labeled as murderers for the rest of their natural born life?

Kelley offers a fascinating perspective into the life of a victim in his or her own way. It was interesting, heartbreaking, and frustrating because this victim is the sister of one of the suspected shooters.  She was shunned and was treated like she pulled the trigger herself. On the other side of the coin is Jesse, whose brother was actually one of victims of the shooting itself. Once upon a time, Jesse and Skye were the best of friends. But because Skye’s brother was one of the shooters, their friendship was just one of the many things that ended on that day.

Being back in the town that Skye left soon after the tragedy happened was in the list of things she’d rather not do. But with her mother’s deteriorating state of mind, and her grandmother’s recent stroke left her no choice but to move back in with her aunt. To nobody else’s surprise, the town did not give her the warmest of welcomes – especially in a school where most of the students knew her and of her brother.  Everyone treated her like a pariah, even Jesse, her former best friend.

Everyday she’s faced with a reminder of the shooting. People haven’t moved on. Skye has known in her heart that Luka, her brother, was not the villain everyone had painted him to be. And as life in town and in school got even harder, she’d awaken a determination to get to the truth.

This was a hard read all around. I have read a lot of books by Ms. Armstrong but nothing as relevant a subject as a school shooting.  It’s a sensitive subject in it that the senseless loss of lives is involved, and an author needs to paint a clear view of both sides. I feel that Kelley did the best she could in presenting a non-biased view. She invoked a sincere empathy that made the readers feel all the difficult struggles on both sides, post-shooting.

Kelley is the equivalent of M. Night Shyamalan in the book world. She knows how to plot a twist that will leave you breathless upon reveal. The same goes in this novel. She crafted a convincing story that is a page turner of a thriller. Time and again, her characters are well padded, not necessarily wholesome; neither perfect, but the realest you’ll ever read.

Armstrong the veteran knows how to give her readers something new, compelling, and brave and she proves it with every book that she pens.

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[737]: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

A dark, suspenseful dive into small town shady cover-ups starring a complex and flawed character.


Bonfire
by Krysten Ritter

It took me a while to realize that the author of this novel is none other than the Jessica Jones. But it sure didn’t take long for this book to get its hooks on me, no matter how frustrated I was with the heroine.

Historically speaking, I’ve always had a difficult relationship with deeply flawed characters. Complex though as they may be, I found myself wanting to reach into the book and shake the living daylights out of them. But perhaps that feeling is clear evidence of the efficacy of one’s writing. Their ability to incite such an emotion conflates with the feeling of confusion or a battle within yourself to either root for the character or hate them altogether.

Such was my dilemma with Abby Williams.

Growing up in the town of Barrens, Indiana hasn’t been all that easy for Abby. She wasn’t so much as the paraiah, but more like the kid that everyone ignored. Her history with the town and its people was forgettable, humiliating, and hurtful. So when her next case as an environmental lawyer takes her back to her hometown, she was filled with trepidation and somewhat morbid curiousity. Especially since the case was against the very life force that kept the town going.

There, Abby will be reintroduced to her past – all the good and bad. The bullies that made her life miserable; her father with whom she’d had a strained relationship over the years. The boy who kissed her in the woods and made her promised not to tell. But most of all, she was forced to confront the one thing that ate at her after all these years: the disappearance of her former friend and enemy.

Reminiscent of Erin Brockovich, Abby Williams peeled the layers of secrets to get to the bottom of the swamp. Pay offs, teen prostitution/pornography ring, blackmail, and murder, were just some of the dark secrets the small town had been harboring. Optimal Plastics has been the only source of income for most of the residents of Barrens. People were hesitant to talk, but most could no longer ignore the unexplained illnesses, birth defects, and severe rashes that plagued the town.  In a way, Abby was the perfect character to unearth the truth. She has a built in connection with the town, as well an underlying need for revenge. Though that connection sometimes got her in trouble. It blinded her to the truth at times and made her transparent to her enemies. But she was strong minded and determined to make those who were responsible pay.

Krysten Ritter succeeded in writing a suspenseful novel. It was fast-paced and full of sinister vibes. Other than the obvious culprit (Optimal Plastics), she did very well in hiding all the town’s secrets and specific perpetrators. I’ve had my doubts with celebrities publishing fiction but I must admit, this was an outstanding debut.

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[710]: The Girl Before by JP Delaney


A modern suspense that echoes the gothic secrets of Jane Eyre.


The Girl Before
by J.P. Delaney

Last year, I’ve developed an affinity for the minimalism movement. I’m not a pack-rat by any means, but it was still hard to get rid of stuff. I am infinitely in awe of the people who practice this lifestyle. Not only do they live the uncluttered life in physical terms, but their way of thinking is streamlined as well. They’re focused, determined and disciplined.

In this book, you’ll meet a person whose practice of minimalism goes to extreme – borderline insanity, to tell you the truth. Initially, I was like, yes, a man who speaks my language! But that slowly dissolved into horrified reaction as the novel progressed. His ability to distance himself from thoughts and feelings with which he felt bore no significance made him cold and calculated. He’s a controlling man who hates a deviation from schedules and plans. Everything in his life has a place and a meaning. You’re discarded if he considers you an excess. And yet, for all the clean lines and openness of the house he built, there was no place in which he could keep his secrets.

Edward Monkford is a genius; a much-sought-after architect notoriously known for combining minimalist and technologically smart construction. One of those builds is the house on One Folgate Street. The house has been empty since the death of his wife and son and has become a revolving door for renters, whom in one way or the other, found the house’s oddities just too strange for their liking. The story unfolds in alternating chapters between Emma and Jane. Emma, the former tenant, and Jane, the present. The first sign of trouble was their uncanny physical resemblance. Weirder even, that they looked like Edward’s dead wife.

Edward has an irresistible magnetism; he’s attractive, filthy rich, and mysterious. As you get to know him further, you’ll find that Edward shares the same need to control his women with one popular control freak, Mr. Christian Grey. They got the same “I don’t do regular relationships” speech; they were given pages-long rules and regulations. Then pearl chokers to complete the look. Both women knew what they were getting into when they entered the relationship but with one glaring difference: one pushes her boundaries, and the other pushes his. Arguably, Christian Grey was redeemed by love – as cheesy as that may sound. Edward, on the other hand, wasn’t dictated by any romantic notions and was as realistic a character as one can be. There was not a cuddly bone in his body even if some of his actions proved otherwise.

But if you think the novel is cut and dry, you’ll be wrong. The mysteries that unravel is nothing short of surprising. It’s easy to consider Monkford as the guilty party here much like we immediately wrote off Rochester in Jane Eyre. This book is just as mysterious as the owner of One Folgate Street and the crumbs we were given were the perfect follies for the amateur sleuths trying to solve all its mysteries. Overall, this is one of the best mysteries I’ve read this year. It’s morbidly sexy, frustrating at times, but holy hell, I could not put this down.

 

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[709]: I See You by Clare Mackintosh

A scopophobia inducing thriller that will take you on a journey full of twists and turns by way of the London underground.


I See You
by Clare Mackintosh

 I don’t have much experience in public transportation. I know for a fact that bussing in my city is an adventure in itself. I’ve heard some horror stories.  After reading this book, I’m kinda glad that I don’t have any to share. I’ve only used a train system twice: whenever we’re in San Diego and when I went to New York. I wasn’t courageous enough to take them at night, though.

The New York subway system is a whole other beast altogether. There, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, it always feels like either the walls are going to cave in on you, or a rat is going to drag you to its nest. But that’s nothing compared to the menace hiding in the dark corners of the London underground, apparently. The feeling that you’re being watched is worst than you could ever imagine. This book, in comparison, will make you forget the normalcy of taking the public transport. It will have you looking over your shoulder, unsettled and a little anxious. But you’ll never know who’s hunting you until it’s all too late.

I See You started ordinarily enough. Zoe Walker was looking forward to spending a quiet night after a hard day’s work. Somewhere in her house was a bottle of wine with her name on it. So when her train stalled during her commute, she hardly paid any attention. She picked up a paper in an attempt to pass the time while they sort out what was happening on the tracks. As she was browsing through, an advert of a woman looking for romance caught her attention. Upon closer inspection, she realizes that she’s staring at her own face. Coincidence, right? Her family thought so, too. But things went from odd fortuity to scary reality in an instant when the women on the ads started dying.

Clare Mackintosh builds a layered story in a slow crescendo which makes the race to the end even that much more exciting. The readers stumble through the mystery blindly – effectively. She made a case for each red herrings, giving the readers the confidence with the suspects they had in mind. May it be Zoe’s boyfriend/partner, her ex-husband who was very much still in love with her, and the boss whom may or may not still be carrying a torch for her.

This smart thriller erases any doubts (if there were ever any) of the one-hit-wonder assumptions left on the trail of her debut novel, I Let You Go. It is easy to see that she’s found her niche so easily in the age of Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train wannabes. I haven’t read I Let You Go, but if I See You is any indication of the kind novels we can expect from this author, I say she’ll be a household name in this genre in no time.

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[705]: The Burning World by Isaac Marion

An Unrecognizable sequel that sheds all the heart-warming fluff of its predecessor.


The Burning World
by Isaac Marion

Question: Did you read Warm Bodies? If so, do you remember how it ends? How about the movie? Did you see it? Yes? No?

Well, let me spoil it all for you with this little scenario: most of the zombies slowly gained back a semblance of their humanity. Gone are the instincts to devour human flesh, replaced by a pause that gives them a chance to hold back the monster that hungers for the living. So much so that they’re able to cohabit with the humans inside the wall. The last scene had Julie and R watching as the walls were blown to bits. The sun is setting; they were holding hands…fade to black. Really hopeful shit, right? Makes you think that a peaceful coexistence between zombies and humans are entirely possible.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble but The Burning World did not start right where Warm Bodies left off. At least, the atmosphere was not the same. If you’re expecting much of the same lighthearted and somewhat funny shtick of the undead in this novel, you’ll be disappointed. Because these zombies are just a sad caricature of the rabid monsters we’ve come to fear and love. They’re stuck in between the beast that craves for warm flesh, and the humans inside of them clamoring to be born again. It was dark, nostalgic, and terrible in the sense that they’ll break your heart (R’s zombie wife and kids. *Sobs*) It was depressing, and it made me wish they were the terrifying stuff of nightmares we’ve all read about our lives. Because then I won’t feel so heartbroken.

This is a changed world; one that you won’t recognize from the first book. There’s a new villain in town whose primary goal is to convert the changing zombies into an army of drones possessing some robot-like consciousness. The last vestige of humanity left are being hunted and “phased out”. And this includes the tiny population inside the wall. They especially want R and Julie for their ability to speak to the evolving zombies. In short, this sequel had become the action-packed, pulse-pounding, scary-as-shit thriller that Warm Bodies never were. I’d even go as far as to say, it echoes the atmospheric dread of Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Yeah. I can’t believe it either. But reading The Burning World brought out the exact feelings when I binge-read Cronin’s vampire series last year.

By the by, R slowly gains his memory as a human – and from what he can remember, he was not a good person at all. He is miles remove from the sweet zombie we’ve come to know. We also see Julie in a different light. Driven by her sense of familial loyalty, she becomes a completely different person. She’s angry, compulsive, and even a little selfish. She’ll make you mad. She’ll make you cry but eventually, she’ll gain your sympathy albeit, tentatively.

We’re introduced to new characters and new plot lines that converge with the old ones. There are far more nuances explored; surprising and thrilling revelations. If I were to keep it simple, I say Warm Bodies was stripped of everything that was cute to show its true form. It had me on edge at all times because at the back of my mind, I keep waiting for the “awaken” zombies to revert back to their monstrosity – most especially R. Over all, The Burning World opens the series to a whole new set of possibilities. And with that ending, I say Marion has a lot more dark days in store for his ardent readers.

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[701]: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

Weird, gory, and not of the teen wolf variety.


The Last Werewolf
by Glen Duncan

I’m not new to this rodeo. I’ve had my fair share of lycanthrope stories. And while vampires and zombies are my typical go-to whenever I get a hankering for the supernatural, I must admit that I’ve been missing them lately.

Now, I will be the first one to say that I’m prejudiced when it comes to werewolves. I always assume that there will be super alpha males drumming their chest as soon as they find their “mates”. I know that instant-love is almost always a key ingredient; and that most will go through the angst of accepting the monsters inside themselves. This book is certainly all of that.  Jake goes through the self-hating phase soon after killing his first human. He’ll feel the pull of his intended once he finds her. But while most of the novels in this variety are littered with the emotional dramatics of the main character, Jake Marlowe, however, will disappoint the most ardent readers of paranormal romance.

This is not your usual werewolf story that’s for damn sure.

The Last Werewolf, as the title implies, is the story about the last remaining werewolf in the world. Jake will find out that there’s nothing remotely glamorous or even reverent about the distinction, however. Enemies left and right will be coming out of the woodwork to rid the world of this last abomination. He wouldn’t know whom to trust, and anybody close to him faces certain death. He’s not going to enjoy being the hunted this time.

He’s not a teen heartthrob who stalks the halls of his school in all his emo glory. Nope. Jake Marlowe is a 200-year-old cynic who’s seen everything, done everything, and ready to peace out of this world. But…he wants to do it in his own terms.

Jake’s type of werewolf is the kind that needs to eat people in order to survive. The cycle of the moon also plays a pivotal role in prolonging their lives. While waiting for the full moon, they can live by gratuitously imbibing on alcohol and smoking like a chimney. They also need sex – and plenty of it! In a way, this brand of werewolves is like the vampires. They thrive on the indulgence of flesh and excessive vice. The author certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Violence, sex, gore are described in explicit details. But for the amount of sex included in this book, not a single scene was written with sexual arousal in mind. There’s a distinct dismissive casualty and banality to the act. He didn’t loiter in the scenes and didn’t dawdle. You wouldn’t feel any warm fuzzies or the need to smoke afterward.

Glen Duncan will probably annoy some of you. He comes across as a pretentious jerk for name-dropping some literary greats in his book. But I do see his point. Jake Marlowe is 200 years old, after all. How else would he occupy his immortal life but read?

He will make you feel as exhausted as Jake feels; as tired of life as he was. In that respect, Duncan is a very convincing writer. He spent most of his time ruminating about the life he led, the loves he lost, and the people he ate. But nowhere did he try to get the reader’s empathy. Duncan’s writing is very “male” for lack of a better word.

I am, however, sorry that I felt no emotion whatsoever while reading this book. That doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t enjoy it. It’s not a bad quality, per se. But sometimes, you just got to take what you’re reading with a grain of salt. It’s a change of pace and it’s great to read something that doesn’t put me through the wringer for once.

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[700]: A Darkness Absolute by Kelley Armstrong

Armstrong’s talent in writing smart thrillers on full display.


A Darkness Absolute
by Kelley Armstrong

We’re thrust back into the remote Northern Territories with Casey Duncan on the hunt for another killer. An unforeseen storm that throws them off track led them to a girl who has been missing for more than a year. Trapped in a hole no more than the size of a small person, the emaciated girl is rescued from her harrowing isolation. Days and months of endless physical, sexual, and mental abuse left her on the brink of madness.

Now, the Sheriff’s office has to track down a killer who upon further investigation might be responsible for several deaths of missing women.

Casey Duncan has all but acclimated to the life living in remote Northern Territories. Rockton and its people have grown on her – especially one person in particular. But if peace and quiet were what she’s after, Rockton apparently is the wrong place. Because once again, the town is facing deadly crimes with very little suspects to consider.  And since this is Rockton –  remote, a touch primeval, and wild – finding the killer will prove to be difficult. They’re not only racing against time, there’s also the brutal changing weather to contend.

Kelly Armstrong does a marvelous job in immersing her readers in her story in such a way that descriptively immortalizes an otherwise fictional town. The town of Rockton and its vicinities are beautiful as they are harsh. Not only do we get to experience all its wildness, but the townspeople themselves add a certain brutality that makes it seemed more sinister. Characterization has always been Armstrong’s forte. She writes the most credible kick-ass women.  Surprisingly enough, the men play a pivotal role in further empowering her heroines. It’s hard to explain. I guess the best way to describe it is like a marriage between a couple and each unit has the ability to qualify each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

She keeps the pacing of the story at an even keel. Giving her readers time to adjust and savor their own observations. Short chapters also help as she effectively pulls the readers into the nuances of the plot. Armstrong was very stingy with suspects. Since the town’s population is small, I felt like I already know everyone so you can pretty much tick off one townie at a time.  But in the end, and after the pieces of the puzzle have been connected, she made a very convincing case for the killer’s motives, psyche, and eventually, his identity.

A Darkness Absolute is a fantastic sequel. It hits the ground running right from the first page and doesn’t let up until the very end. There’s never a dull moment and you’ll feel like you can’t flip the page fast enough. This is the perfect book to cozy up to on cold winter nights with your reading socks and a nice cup of tea on hand.

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