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Book Review: “Closer Than You Think” by Lee Maguire

41053893Dr. Bryce Davidson is a well-respected psychologist who is struggling through a divorce. When a new patient shows up in the hospital he is working at, things take a sinister turn as he begins to receive threatening messages and “gifts” from an unknown stalker.

Closer Than You Think (A Broken Minds Thriller) is the debut novel from author Lee Maguire.

Closer is a tense thriller that weaves an interesting narrative from start to finish. Since it is written in first-person POV, we’re along for the ride with Dr. Davidson as he tries to unravel the mystery of his threatening and enigmatic stalker. He’s a sensitive and likable guy, but not without faults. As tension rises, his paranoia and anxiety begin to take their toll. Even a nightly stroll with Max, his beloved basset hound, becomes an exercise in fear.

Maguire does a great job of keeping the reader guessing. As the story progressed, I was pulled into Dr. Davidson’s thoughts. While he checked potential suspects “off the list”, it became harder and harder to determine what was reality, or some sort of paranoid delusion. The added cast of characters including his co-workers and creepy apartment groundskeeper are well fleshed out, and make for a believable mystery for Bryce to weave his way through.

I also need to comment on the accurate use of psychology and healthcare terms. Maguire’s own experience in the field and research really shined through in the prose.

While Closer Than You Think leads to a satisfying conclusion (no spoilers!) I have to say there were a few parts where the story dragged a bit. I also caught a few more grammar and spelling errors than I would have liked, but nothing so egregious that I was pulled out of the story.

Overall I can recommend Closer Than You Think as a strong debut offering, to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers or the cat-and-mouse tension of a tale involving stalkers.

What I Liked:

  • Likable and engaging protagonist.
  • Complex, but follow-able, plot
  • Good use of tension, paranoia

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Story dragged a bit in places
  • Book could have used another line-editing pass

 

Note: A review copy of Closer Than You Think was generously provided by TCK Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Check them out on Facebook and Twitter

 

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Writing in Your Books is Good Fun

image of Herzog book
image credit: LitReactor.com

If his soul could cast a reflection so brilliant, and so intensely sweet, he might beg God to make such use of him. But that would be too simple. But that would be too childish. The actual sphere is not clear like this, but turbulent, angry. A vast human action is going on. Death watches. So if you have some happiness, conceal it. And when your heart is full, keep your mouth shut also.

It’s Friday, and I’m ripping this incredibly controversial topic straight from the headlines.

It’s a dispute that can destroy relationships, families, and book clubs.

The question at hand?

IS IT OK TO WRITE IN YOUR BOOKS?????

My answer?

YES.

I actually like to look back over highlighted passages that spoke to me, as well as jot little notes in the margins of stories to capture my in-the-moment thoughts on them. I use the “highlight passage” feature on my Kindle regularly.

Plus, when I purchase a used paperback, I actually like finding highlights and notes from the previous owner. In a way it makes me feel like that particular copy is more special and has a bit more to tell than it’s mass-pressed brothers and sisters.

David Cranmer over on LitReactor agrees with me.

Change our minds.

book review

Book Review: “ARTEMIS” by Andy Weir

image of book cover artemis by andy weir

Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN was a breakout hit. The originally self-published book went on to sell millions of copies and become a popular motion picture. His follow up ARTEMIS, while having sold well, really doesn’t live up to the quality of its predecessor

Artemis holds the unsavory distinction of the first DNF (Did Not Finish) book on my 2018 reading list.

An action-packed science fiction tale of smuggler “Jazz” Bashara who lives in a space station on the moon, it is much more deeply rooted in fantastical science fiction than The Martian was.

I enjoyed The Martian, with all it’s clever Macguyver-on-Mars moments, and the tension it built around primarily one character.

Artemis, on the other hand, fell flat. Getting to the point, it’s just not a well written book. It’s a successful book, but not a well written one. The dialogue is stilted, the pacing is inconsistent, and while the protagonist is enjoyable enough, Weir cannot help himself from inserting pseudo-science (or non-pseudo-science) lectures into the narrative roughly every three minutes. Even during action scenes. It just feels completely unnatural that someone in high-tension, life or death situations would stop to deliver a lesson on altered gravity. It worked well in the context of The Martian, but not here.

The other issue that stuck out to me (and this one is debatable) is the books “diversity”. It had a diverse cast which is great, but Weir’s references and description to physical appearance, clothing, and culture are extremely shallow and don’t really serve to enhance any of the characters or their stories beyond face-value. It felt pandering and that Weir didn’t particularly care outside of completing a checklist that included “don’t make your MC another white dude in space”. I’m not an expert in genre novel diversity, and while I applaud the attempt, something about the execution felt off.

I listened to this one on audio book, and made it about halfway through. That’s why the review ends here.

What I Liked:

  • The main character “Jazz” was snarky and fun.
  • Rosario Dawson did an excellent job reading on the audio book edition.
  • The first two chapters worth of scientific description.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Uncontrolled outbursts of scientific lecturing.
  • Cringe-worthy dialogue, including overuse of profanity.
  • Mediocre writing (description, pacing, character development)
book review

Book Review: “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness has been considered for most of this century as a literary classic, and also as a powerful indictment of the evils of imperialism. It reflects the savage repressions carried out in the Congo by the Belgians in one of the largest acts of genocide committed up to that time. Conrad’s narrator encounters at the end of the story a man named Kurtz, dying, insane, and guilty of unspeakable atrocities.

Oh Joseph Conrad, could you ever have imagined you’d get such conflicting reviews about your work on social media over a century after you wrote it?

Of course not, but at least his book has staying power.

I picked Heart of Darkness back up for the first time since high school, after watching “Apocalypse Now” on basic cable, and thought to myself “Let’s see if this little book is as dense as I remember it being.”

Yup.

This isn’t an easy read, nor is it particularly cheery or fun. It’s not the type of book you crack open to feel good about on a short flight or relaxing at the beach, but it’s not without merit.image of book cover of heart of darkness

The novella is a condemnation of imperialism, specifically Belgian atrocities in the Congo, and a bizarre misadventure heralded by an unreliable narrator. The subject matter is intense, and it speaks to capacity for evil that men are capable of.

I enjoyed Heart of Darkness for what it is, and it’ll definitely challenge readers more than the standard YA vampire novels that are churned out these days. I’m just glad that this time around I didn’t have to write a 4-page essay about the deeper meaning behind Kurtz’s last words.

If you’d like to grab a copy of this classic, you can use the affiliate link below and help support this blog.

Heart of Darkness (AmazonClassics Edition)

What I Liked:

  • The main character isn’t the narrator. This is kind of easy to miss, but Marlow is telling a story, and the narrator is an unnamed person sitting on a boat listening to him.
  • It’s one of the best examples of the “stream of consciousness” style in classic literature
  • The story is evocative. Its themes still resonate today.

What I Didn’t Like:

  • This story defines “purple prose”. Conrad was great at description, and loved his unnecessary words. That, along with the “stream of conscious” style can make things difficult to follow at times.
  • This book is a denouncement of European colonialism, and as such, features a LOT of racism. There are all sorts of metaphors and even some allegory in Heart of Darkness, but not when it comes to the racism. That’s just right in your face. If you’re sensitive to reading about things like that, it may turn you off.
  • The language is dense. At times I found myself re-reading passages just to assure I really understood them. It took way longer to read than a 100 page book has any right to.

 

book review

Book Review: “the Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town” by Gregory Miller

The Uncanny Valley…

… is a macabre serenade to a small town that may or may not exist, peopled with alive and dead denizens who wander about the hills and houses with creepy fluidity. Told by individual inhabitants, the stories recount tales of disappearing dead deer, enchanted gardens, invisible killer dogs, and rattlesnakes that fall from the sky; each contribution adds to a composite portrait that skitters between eerie, ghoulish, and poignant. Miller is a master storyteller, clearly delighting in his mischievous creations.

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I love horror anthologies. Something about collections of short stories just feels right to me when I delve into the genre.

That said, I just finished The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town by Gregory Miller, and I can definitely recommend it to fans of the genre who are looking for some lighter horror fare.

The book takes a a unique approach, posing as a documented collection of essays submitted to an NPR contest. The entries were supposedly written by the residents of a strange Pennsylvania town named Uncanny Valley. As the book progresses, what begin as quirky tales become increasingly ominous and supernatural.

Most of the letters (stories) range between 2-6 pages, and are told in different narrative voices by each of the residents. This works to varying effect, and like all anthologies, some entries are better than others. However, overall Miller does a good job weaving so many tales from so many different perspectives. He doesn’t stray too far down the path of extreme horror or gore, and many of the stories are more akin to Twilight Zone than Tales from The Crypt so I think this would be a great series for younger horror fans. I also enjoyed the illustrations by John Randall York, which reminded me of Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark (my first true horror anthology).

If you’re looking for some satisfying, light horror that you can read in short sessions, then Uncanny Valley is definitely worth checking out. If you want to grab a copy, consider using my affiliate link below, and help support the blog.

The Uncanny Valley: Tales from a Lost Town (The Uncanny Chronicles)
 

What I Liked:

  • Interesting concept for an anthology
  • Varying narrative voices
  • Great illustrations

What I Didn’t Like:

  • Some stories were much stronger than others
  • I wanted certain entries to last longer