Category Archives: Rated C

Review: The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom

Title: The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom
Publisher: Talos
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense, Horror
Length: 296 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

A young musician receives an unusual offer from a wealthy stranger in this haunting story of psychological horror.

Bent is a jazz pianist living gig-to-gig in a dark city of dead-ends. With no family, and no friends, he has resigned himself to a life of quiet desolation. That is, until the night he meets the enigmatic Leonard Fry.

After accepting an invitation to his countryside mansion, where Leonard resides on his own, Bent is offered a deal of Faustian proportions.

“There is a room in this house. There’s only one way in and one way out . . . There’s one lock on the door, and only one key to that lock. Now, what I’m going to ask may seem strange to you. I don’t necessarily need you to understand, but what I do need is for you to agree to help me.”

Disillusioned with his life of excess, Leonard has decided to explore the final frontier of his existence, the margins of his mind, by locking himself in a small room in his mansion for a year. In exchange for Bent’s assistance, everything Leonard owns will be Bent’s for the duration of his self-imposed imprisonment.

But there are two sides to every locked door. As the days go by, and Leonard’s true intentions become clear, Bent will find himself venturing beyond the one terrifying boundary from which he can’t be sure he’ll ever return . . . the boundary of his own sanity.

Review:

The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom is an unusual novel with an intriguing but rather convoluted storyline.

Raised by a single mother who died when he was a teenager, Bentley “Bent” Croud is a talented jazz pianist who plays in local bars a few times a week and lives in a rundown apartment he has dubbed the “Crack Radisson”.  Learning of his barely recalled father’s death, he receives a bit of a puzzling inheritance.  Not long after hearing this news, he is offered a hefty sum to perform at weekend party on Leonard Fry’s large estate.   After the weekend is over, Fry has another proposal for Bent which is rather bizarre. In exchange for access to all of his possessions for the next year, Bent agrees to serve Fry three meals a day after he locks himself in a room in his mansion.  At first enjoying his luxurious accommodations, things take a rather odd turn after Bent meets Leonard’s friend, Jolene.

Bent is an interesting character who does not seem overly unhappy with his life when he first meets Fry. He has a passing acquaintance with his neighbors  and although the bars where he plays piano are not high end, he is comfortable with the bartenders and patrons. Bent agonizes over his decisions to Leonard’s two very different proposals, but in the end, he is curious enough to agree to his benefactor’s somewhat peculiar propositions.

The Inside Out Man is well-written and at first the storyline is engaging and interesting. However, the novel quickly takes a very strange and dark turn and readers will have a difficult time knowing whether or not Bent’s experiences are real.  Fred Strydom brings the confusing novel to a twist-filled conclusion that is somewhat ambiguous and rather unsatisfying.

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Filed under Contemporary, Fred Strydom, Horror, Rated C, Review, Suspense, Talos, The Inside Out Man

Review: The It Girls by Karen Harper

Title: The It Girls by Karen Harper
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

From New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper comes a novel based on the lives of two amazing sisters . . .

One sailed the Titanic and started a fashion empire . . .

The other overtook Hollywood and scandalized the world . . .

Together, they were unstoppable.

They rose from genteel poverty, two beautiful sisters, ambitious, witty, seductive. Elinor and Lucy Sutherland are at once each other’s fiercest supporters and most vicious critics.

Lucy transformed herself into Lucile, the daring fashion designer who revolutionized the industry with her flirtatious gowns and brazen self-promotion. And when she married Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon her life seemed to be a fairy tale. But success came at many costs—to her marriage and to her children . . . and then came the fateful night of April 14, 1912 and the scandal that followed.

Elinor’s novels titillate readers, and it’s even asked in polite drawing rooms if you would like to “sin with Elinor Glyn?” Her work pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable; her foray into the glittering new world of Hollywood turns her into a world-wide phenomenon. But although she writes of passion, the true love she longs for eludes her.

But despite quarrels and misunderstandings, distance and destiny, there is no bond stronger than that of the two sisters—confidants, friends, rivals and the two “It Girls” of their day.

Review:

Beginning in 1875 and spanning several decades, The It Girls by Karen Harper is a fictionalized novel about real life sisters, Lucy (Lucile) & Elinor (Nellie) Sutherland.

Rising from humble beginnings, Lucy and Elinor’s professional lives took divergent paths, but their personal lives bear startling similarities. Both women are rather impetuous and neither of them make the best decisions regarding the men in their lives. Each of their marriages are somewhat disastrous and they both embark on somewhat scandalous love affairs. Lucy’s love of fashion results in a lucrative career as a designer while Elinor goes on to enjoy success as an author even though her books are rather risqué.  Lucy survives the sinking of the Titantic and later goes on to face a few legal challenges regarding her fashion designs.  In addition to her novels, Elinor pens a few screenplays and mingles with some the famous actors of the silent film era.

Despite the sisters’  fascinating accomplishments, The It Girls is rather slow moving and a little choppy since the novel covers several decades of their lives. The characterization of the women is a little superficial and despite their very different interests, they lack individuality on paper.  While the story is not without flaws, Karen Harper effectively brings attention to two successful women who were very much ahead their time.

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Filed under Fiction, Historical, Karen Harper, Rated C, Review, The It Girls, William Morrow Paperbacks

Review: We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards

Title: We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

A new romantic thriller—with a dash of horror—from the author of One Was Lost and Six Months Later

Theo’s always been impulsive. But telling Paige how he feels? He’s obsessed over that decision. And it’s time. Tonight. At the party on the riverbank, under the old walking bridge, site of so many tales of love and death.

Paige has had a crush on Theo since they first met, but she knows her feelings are one-sided. She’s trying to move on, to flirt. A party at the river is just what she needs. Except a fight breaks out, and when Paige tries to intervene—Theo’s fist lands in her face.

All Theo and Paige want to do is forget that fateful night. But strange events keep drawing them back to the bridge. Someone, something is determined to make them remember…and pay for what they each did.

Review:

We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards is a suspenseful young adult novel with a few supernatural elements.

Theo Quinn and Paige Vinton-Young are best friends who rely heavily on each other to help deal with their respective mental health issues. Theo is struggling with a fairly severe problem with ADHD and he has gone through a host of medications to try to help manage his disorder. Paige has been plagued with rather intense anxiety from a young age.  Just as Paige is ready to move on from her unrequited crush for Theo, he realizes he has feelings for her.  Attending a party together one night, Theo jealously lashes out at the guy she is interested in and when Paige attempts to stop him, things go horribly wrong.  Six months later, they are estranged but when both of them begin experiencing eerie occurrences that are connected to that fateful night, will Paige and Theo reunite in order to discover the truth about what is happening to them?

Paige’s parents are extremely overprotective and due to their strong influence over her after the events with Theo, she cannot trust her instincts about him.  Trying to respect their wishes, she has cut Theo completely out of her life.  When she begins finding objects associated with the night things went so drastically wrong between them, Paige wants to give Theo the benefit of the doubt, but she is having difficulty deciding whether to trust Theo or listen to her parents.

Theo is spending the summer with his uncle Denny who understands all too well some of the problems his nephew is going through. Theo is committed to adhering to his new medication regimen and when he begins experiencing unexplained phenomena, he cannot figure out whether it is side effects from the meds or something more sinister. He accidentally runs into Paige one day which sets the stage for a possible reunion, but Paige’s trust issues remain a source of conflict between them.

We All Fall Down by Natalie D. Richards is a rather slow moving novel with likable characters that seem defined by their respective mental health issues. The storyline is initially intriguing but it becomes a little repetitive as Theo tries to make sense of what is happening to him. Paige’s parents’ interference in her life is also extremely exasperating due to their lack of faith in her ability to manage her anxiety and day to day life. The supernatural element falls a little flat as does the explanation for Paige’s discoveries.   The conclusion is a little rushed but all of the loose ends are nicely tied up.

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Filed under Contemporary, Mystery, Natalie D Richards, Rated C, Review, Sourcebooks Fire, Suspense, We All Fall Down, Young Adult

Review: The Visitors by Catherine Burns

Title: The Visitors by Catherine Burns
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 304 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

With the smart suspense of Emma Donoghue’s Room and the atmospheric claustrophobia of Grey Gardens, Catherine Burns’s debut novel explores the complex truths we are able to keep hidden from ourselves and the twisted realities that can lurk beneath even the most serene of surfaces.

Marion Zetland lives with her domineering older brother John in a crumbling mansion on the edge of a northern seaside resort. A timid spinster in her fifties who still sleeps with teddy bears, Marion does her best to live by John’s rules, even if it means turning a blind eye to the noises she hears coming from behind the cellar door…and turning a blind eye to the women’s laundry in the hamper that isn’t hers. For years, she’s buried the signs of John’s devastating secret into the deep recesses of her mind—until the day John is crippled by a heart attack, and Marion becomes the only one whose shoulders are fit to bear his secret. Forced to go down to the cellar and face what her brother has kept hidden, Marion discovers more about herself than she ever thought possible. As the truth is slowly unraveled, we finally begin to understand: maybe John isn’t the only one with a dark side….

Review:

The Visitors by Catherine Burns is a rather dark character study featuring a middle aged woman who lives in the family home with her brother who harbors a chilling secret.

Marion Zetland is in her mid fifties and she has never moved out of her family home. Now residing with her brother, John, she escapes her somewhat dreary existence with her elaborate daydreams about people she meets, watching TV and binge eating. Marion also lives in fear of disappointing John who has a quick temper and a dark secret. After John falls ill, Marion has no choice but to face what her brother has been doing all these years in their cellar.

Life in the Zetland household has always been dysfunctional. The youngest of the siblings, Marion was never anywhere close to being John’s intellectual equal and she struggled to pass any of her classes. Plagued with social awkwardness, she endured painful bullying from her classmates but Marion could always count on John to make her feel better about herself. Their parents had extremely high expectations for John’s future, but Marion always fell short of the mark and as a result, she does not feel worthy of anyone’s love or respect. Her loyalty to John is absolute and she will do anything to make him happy.  Even if that means turning a blind eye to his activities and never questioning what he is doing in their cellar.

The pacing of the story is quite slow since the main focus is the minutiae of  Marion’s day to day life.  These chapters are boring and repetitive since she does little beyond watching the TV while soothing herself by overeating.  She has a rich fantasy life in which she  lapses into elaborate daydreams about her imaginary relationships with people from her real life.  There are also long passages that flashback to her childhood and while these chapters offer insight into what shaped her into the woman she is today, they are overly detailed and excessively long.  Marion is occasionally worried about the strange noises emanating from the cellar but she easily pushes her concerns aside.

The Visitors has an unusual premise but readers might be a little frustrated due to the lack of suspense surrounding John’s cellar activities and a rambling storyline. It is not very difficult to deduce who the visitors are or what John is doing with them. Marion is initially a sympathetic character but it is easy to become impatient with her complacency. With a few not completely unexpected revelations, Catherine Burns brings the novel to a twist-filled conclusion.

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Filed under Catherine Burns, Contemporary, Gallery/Scout Press, Mystery, Rated C, Review, Suspense, The Visitors

Review: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Title: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
Publisher: Simon & Schuste
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Digital Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

WHO ARE YOU WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING?

When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both. In crystalline prose, Danya Kukafka offers a brilliant exploration of identity and of the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory.

Compulsively readable and powerfully moving, Girl in Snow offers an unforgettable reading experience and introduces a singular new talent in Danya Kukafka.

Review:

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka is a dark and brooding novel that revolves around the murder of fifteen year old Lucinda Hayes. Although there is an ongoing investigation to catch the killer, this is not a typical whodunit; it instead reads as character study of the story’s three narrators.

Lucinda is a popular student and the news of her murder sends shockwaves through the community.  Fellow classmate Cameron Whitley is rather troubled and his crush on Lucinda has become a full-blown obsession. Cameron has an unsavory habit of peering into other people’s (including Lucinda’s) windows under the cover of darkness. However his behavior in regards to Lucinda crosses the line into stalking and while this is somewhat creepy, does his unhealthy fixation  on her make him a killer?

Classmate Jade Dixon-Burns has an extremely unhappy home life due to an alcoholic mother and checked out father. She loathes Lucinda with every fiber of her being and she has resorted to a voodoo curse to exact her revenge on her nemesis.  Obviously Lucinda’s death is not from voodoo but did Jade’s extreme dislike drive her to murder?

Local police Officer Russ Fletcher did not know the victim but he is connected to the case by two of the suspects. In a strange twist of fate, Fletcher’s first partner was Cameron’s dad who, for unknown reasons has  mysteriously (and perhaps, ominously) vanished from town.  Russ wants to carry out his ex-partner’s request to watch over Cameron, so he is a bit conflicted throughout the investigation.  His tie to another suspect is much closer to his own troubled home which does nothing to alleviate the very real possibility that he will try to deflect attention away from Cameron during the investigation.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka focuses more on the novel’s narrators than the actual investigation into Lucinda’s murder. The pacing of the novel is slow since Jade, Cameron and Russ are mostly lost in self-absorbed introspection.  None of the narrators are particularly likable or interesting and although Lucinda’s murder is solved, this feels more like an afterthought to the ongoing drama of the three principal characters.

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Filed under Contemporary, Danya Kukafka, Girl in Snow, Mystery, Rated C, Review

Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Title: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 324 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Or did she?

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most spellbinding murder cases of all time into a sensitive and humane portrait of two sisters caught inside a volatile household—and what it means to be free and truly loved.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid Bridget: Someone’s killed father. The discovery of the brutal axe-murders of Andrew and Abby Borden under their own roof in Fall River, Massachusetts paralyzes the small community. No one can understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens. But secret witnesses to the crime have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful step-mother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? Before or after she last spoke to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Through the overlapping perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, we return to what happened on that fateful day.

Review:

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is a fictionalized novel about the infamous Lizzie Border and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother.

On August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden made a gruesome discovery when she found her father Andrew’s lifeless body in the parlor.  Not too long after the family doctor and local police arrive at the Borden home, her stepmother Abby’s remains are found in the upstairs guestroom. The only other person in the house at the time of the murders is the Borden maid, Bridget.  Also visiting at time of the deaths is the Borden sisters’ maternal uncle, John Morse, but he is out of the house at the time of deaths.  Lizzie’s older sister Emma also still lives at home but she is currently staying with a friend out of town so she is not considered a suspect.  Although Lizzie is eventually arrested and tried for the double homicide, she is ultimately acquitted and the world has remained fascinated with the Borden family and the deaths ever since.

In  See What I Have Done, the narration rotates between Lizzie, Bridget, Emma and a completely fictional character, Benjamin, a thug hired by Uncle John for a somewhat mysterious purpose. The four voices are distinct and each brings a unique perspective to the Borden household.  Lizzie is portrayed as quite manipulative and she comes across as somewhat childlike despite the fact she 32 years old at the time of the murders. She is definitely the least sympathetic or likable person in the novel and she certainly has the motive, means and opportunity to commit to commit the murders. Bridget is an Irish immigrant who wants nothing more than leave her position with the Bordens and return to Ireland but Abby Borden convinced her to remain with the family. However, Bridget has managed to save enough money to put her plan in motion, but will Abby allow her to leave? John’s relationship with his nieces is portrayed as somewhat troubled with a  kind of an icky factor that comes across as somewhat incestuous (shudder). The inclusion of Benjamin in the novel is rather odd and further muddies an already muddled narrative.  Emma is incredibly loyal to Lizzie and she easily capitulates to her sister’s selfish demands.

For the most part, the storyline focuses mainly on the  day before and the day of the murders with a few other dates thrown in near the end of the novel.  The chapters from Lizzie’s perspective support the widely held theory she is a murderess and that she made more than one attempt to commit murder before finally succeeding.  The writing style for Lizzie’s chapters is off-putting which makes it difficult to maintain readers’ attention. There is also a great deal of repetition that contributes to the slow pacing of the story.

If you are new to Lizzie Borden and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother, then See What I Have Done is the book for you. However, if you are looking for new information about the case, you might not enjoy the novel because, outside of the addition of the fictional character Benjamin, Sarah Schmidt remains true to the known facts of the case and offers very little new insight into the murders.

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Filed under Atlantic Monthly Press, Fiction, Historical, Rated C, Review, Sarah Schmidt, See What I Have Done