Friday, September 28, 2012

'Gone Girl'

It takes a brilliant mind to come up with a story that, on the surface, seems so simple.  So 'cut-and-dried'.  

What really pulls me into mystery stories is the fact that I actually get to exercise my mind.  Did he/she do it?  Or was it the butler in the bathroom with the butterknife?  Most of the time, we find that we are wrong.  Dead wrong.  We can read all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries that we want, thinking we'll have a 'heads up' when we explore contemporary suspense thrillers, but...

...we'll be dead wrong.

Gillian Flynn is one of many mystery writers who has a huge fan base.  I've enjoyed her previous stories; 'Sharp Objects' is a particular favorite; so when I heard that her new novel, 'Gone Girl' had been released, I was eager to partake of the mystery meal.  I was even more eager when I learned that it was garnering very positive reviews.  Then it appeared on bestseller lists.

I'll admit it:  I am proud of Gillian.  I've been an advocate of her books for a long time, finding great pleasure in putting her books in customer's hands.  Gillian has one of those brilliant minds.  And she's clever, to boot.

'Gone Girl' opens with a typical scene:  In North Carthage, Missouri, Nick and Amy Dunne are preparing to celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary.  Presents are wrapped, reservations are made.  A mysterious silver gift box sits hidden in Amy's closet.  Nick begins work at the bar he and his twin sister, Margo, own...until he receives a phone call from a neighbor with the news that Nick's front door is open and his wife is gone.  

It doesn't help that Nick has daydreamed about the slope and shape of Amy's head.  And Amy's diary reveals a perfectionist who would drive anyone totally crazy.  After the police are informed, Nick demonstrates inappropriate behavior and each lie makes you wonder if he had anything to do with Amy's disappearance.

Did he do it?  And if not, just where is Amy?

Flynn has written a story full of her trademark clever dialogue, and she leads readers in so many directions, making us suspect anyone and no one.  But, like a magician, her sleight-of-hand keeps us from noticing what's really happening.  The suspense doesn't let up, and you might find yourself finishing the story within a day.  Because it's good.  Very, very good.  

Once you discover the mystery of 'Gone Girl', you'll wonder just how well you know the one you love.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

'The Uninvited Guests'

Rare is the original story that comes into my life in the midst of time-worn tales of divorce, reconciliation, fantasy, sisterhood, and foreign intrigue.

Even rarer is the story that puts me in a comfortable setting, leading me along, until, like a kidnapper, it throws a cloth bag over my head, only to reveal its true self when the bag is lifted.  But because I had become so well-adjusted, the changes were subtle.

And that was a mistake.  A big mistake.

In Sadie Jones' new novel, 'The Uninvited Guests', you are at once pulled into the Edwardian setting; the wealthy family, their romantic longings, their selfishness.  And there is their ramshackle manor, Sterne.  There is societal humor and angst.  It has an 'Upstairs-Downstairs' type of feel; you can almost smell the food, hear the tinkle of wine goblets, and delight in the shallow desperation of each character.

But there are secrets, and they are doozies.

On a Spring day in 1912 in the countryside of Edwardian England, Emerald Torrington is preparing for her twentieth birthday party.  She has invited two dear childhood friends, and a neighboring young, wealthy landowner to the festivities.  The housekeeper and her helper are busy in the kitchen, baking a special cake and cooking delicacies.  Charlotte, Emerald's somewhat selfish mother, is in her bedroom, saying goodbye to her second husband, Edward, who is traveling to town to secure funds in order to prevent financial disaster.  Emerald and her brother, Clovis, engage in sparkling repartee (most of the barbs aimed at their stepfather), while their little sister, Imogene (a.k.a. 'Smudge'), has taken to her sickbed while preparing her Great Undertaking.

But then tragedy strikes, which turns the party on its ears.  A few miles away, a railroad accident occurs, which forces the Sterne household to take in the survivors.  And with them arrives a man ready to unveil a secret which could destroy the Torrington family.

As I said, this story will sneak up on you.  Athough it isn't 'Downton Abbey', the feeling is much the same.  But here's the thing:  It is purely original.  

For that alone, I thank Sadie Jones... kidnapper.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Although Book Hog doesn't usually review Young Adult titles (don't get me wrong; I have quite a few of them on my bookshelves), I recently finished a YA book that is worth your attention.

Once again, I read this book in under a day.  It's that good.

Fast-paced and with such well-developed characters, 'Crewel', by Gennifer Albin, drew me in and didn't let me go.  

Based on the myth of the Fates, three women who control destiny, this novel is narrated by Adelice, herself destined to become a Spinster, a female weaver who has the talent to manipulate the strands of time and place.  Although her parents try to teach her to hide her skill, it is soon discovered via mandatory testing, and Adelice is taken to the Tower, where she will spend her life weaving the threads of destiny.

But simmering under the government control is discontent and outrage, which are cleverly hidden from those in power.  It is in the Tower where Adelice finds her enemies, discovers allies...and finds the one who will stand by her side.

Gennifer Albin has truly spun a clever tale which will leave you hungry for more.

But don't just take my word for it:  Check out my friend Michelle's blog, at a later date for a more in-depth review.

'Crewel' will be released by Farrar Straus Giroux in mid-October 2012

Friday, September 7, 2012

'The Key'

There are those of us who unashamedly adore religious conspiracy stories.  'The DaVinci Code' may not have been the first book published dealing with 'all things hidden', but it certainly fed our appetites, merely for its subject matter.  Jesus married?  And the father of a child?  Why not, I say.  Dan Brown wrote a delicious story that left me hungry for more.

I found quite a few written in the same vein.  Some were so-so; most were extraordinary.  I took to the internet and library, and studied.  Of course, the truth didn't quite quench my thirst.  I found I wanted more religious mysteries.  The more fictiony, the better.  More relics!  More blasphemy!  More women standing up and defeating religious misogyny!  More 'good vs. evil'!

When I read 'Sanctus', by Simon Toyne (Book Hog October 2011), I was mesmerized by the group of monks bound and determined to keep their astonishing sacrament hidden.  But then, along comes a woman, and their whole world in the secretive Citadel is almost blown to hell.  Go, women!

When I finished reading the last page, I was delighted to learn that Mr. Toyne would be continuing the adventures of the mad monks.  I couldn't wait to read it.

Just one year later, I opened 'The Key', and I was lost for a day and a half.  The laundry could wait.  My husband could feed the cats.  I had the sequel I'd been dying to read.

And it was worth it.

Courageous journalist, Liv Adamsen, having escaped from the Citadel, is now isolated in a hospital, where she has lost most of her memory of that horrific time.  Despite that fact,  something stirs within her, bringing with it strange dreams and whispering voices.  But when others hear of this, they know exactly what it means, and are bound and determined to silence her.  A desert mercenary, known as 'The Ghost', knows that Liv holds the key to a very powerful secret.  The monks, now suffering from a brutal plague, want her returned.  And the only man she trusts, her beloved Gabriel, does his utmost to rescue her from danger.  Together, they race against time to reach the cradle of civilization in order to fulfill a prophecy of the 'end times'.

It was good to become acquainted with Liv and Gabriel once again.  The villains pursuing them were merciless and contained no warmth, which is how a good villain should be portrayed, in Book Hog's opinion.  Surprises abound, the action is relentless, and some people are not who they appear to be.

And when you finish this well-written story, I hope that you will share my theory.

Let's hope it plays out in book number three.

Laundry be damned!