PET SEMATARY – STEPHEN KING; “sometimes dead is better.”

STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: When the Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true: physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son-and now an idyllic home. As a family, they’ve got it all…right down to the friendly cat. But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth-more terrifying than death itself-and hideously more powerful. The Creeds are going to learn that sometimes dead is better.

2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: Stephen King is one of those writers that are known as bestsellers and one of those writers that truly lamented themselves – numerous of his novels got developed into motion pictures and numerous of those motion pictures had the same global success. It is impossible to not give him credit for the work he has done. Even so, I never had the wish to read him. When I first heard of the name Stephen King, I knew he was writing in the kind of genre that I simply was not interested in. Years went by and I found another excuse not to read him, as I was certain that his writing style would not fit me, due to him being an older writer. Way too often I simply did not enjoy books of older writers, as odd as it seems to admit that. I think this has to do a bit with the fact that I am not a native speaker of English – even though I have great knowledge of the language itself, it’s really difficult for me to be reading writers that do not have a modern way of expressing themselves in this said language. Let’s call it how it is – I expected Stephen King’s writing style to be complicated and dull and that’s why I avoided him. Once my friend recommended Pet Sematary though, (thank you, Tina!) I was willing to give him a chance. And boy did he prove me wrong.

Stephen King being dull? That is absolutely impossible. As if water could be dry. First 10 pages into the book, I was instantly drawn in. No, he isn’t dull. In fact, he has a very modern way of expressing himself and a very vivid way of explaining the surroundings and events in the novel. It is very easy to follow him, and enjoy him.

His strong suit would be the painting of characters’ emotions. If a character is scared, we will be scared with them. If they’re happy, if they’re sad, if they mourn … We feel all of these emotions WITH THEM. He seems to understand emotions, and human behavior itself, very well. All of the descriptions are completely spot on, but what he really impressed me with was the description of human grief. Especially because grief isn’t something we tend to discuss very often. And when we are in mourning, let’s be honest, it feels like us against the world. It feels as if the other people, who are not grieving, simply do not understand us. To have King depict the background of mourning as honestly as he does, is simply a beautiful experience for us as a reader.

Similarly, the way he talks about death is insanely impressive. Death is a very important topic, and element, in this novel. Firstly, because it adds to a lot of the horror in the novel, giving it its necessary darkness. Secondly, because it is an attempt to normalize the conversation about death and the fact that it is completely inevitable. None of us, in the real world, can outrun death, yet it is an element in our lives that we are very inclined to ignore. Sometimes, it scares us. And we find it unpleasant to discuss it. Other times, it feels like a waste of time to discuss it. But King normalizes the conversation about death. Look, it happens. And we have to deal with it. And, as unpleasant as it is, “sometimes dead is better.” That surely applies both to his novel and everyday life.

The way this novel develops is brilliant. Like a horror movie, it starts off lightly. It gives us the opportunity to get to know the characters, becoming comfortable with them. Through and through, though, King is developing anticipation and warning us to expect horror. He even teases us all the time, which is an insanely interesting, and even nerve-wracking experience. He dares to tell us: “This was the character’s last happy day.” Or: “This character will be dead in two weeks.” Truthfully, he is the perfect read for all us spoiler junkies who enjoy skimming through pages and reading the ending before we are there. He will give us all the spoilers we need, in perfect time, and it will be far more dramatic than if we searched for them ourselves.

Simply put, this has to be one of the creepiest and well-written books a reader can find. King builds the events in the novel perfectly. Even when it comes to the point where we can anticipate what happens next, as one does in a horror movie, we do not have any comfort in knowing what we know, at all. Stephen King wins. We’ll understand, and know, what he wants us to understand and know. He is in control, but we’re willing to let him have this control, since he is such an insanely talented writer.

3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? I would and I have. I sent numerous messages to reader friends that this is a book they have to read. King is modern, fascinating, and I’m quite sure he has awoken love for horror in me, which I never had in the past.

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LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY – BONNIE GARMUS; “Change is what we’re chemically designed to do.”

STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel-prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with–of all things–her mind. True chemistry results. But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: From the very beginning, Lessons in chemistry absolutely draws you in. I believe that certain writers have a special gift when it comes to storytelling and Garmus is definitely one of these gifted writers. While she presents relatively tough topics, connected to (toxic) masculinity, feminism, abuse and so on and so forth … She also has a very down-to-earth, simple tone of presentation.

Garmus is direct and doesn’t try to present fictional life in a perfected way. Which is admirable. The novel is placed in the early 1960s and follows a FEMALE chemist who wants to succeed, so it would have been unfair to paint life in any other way than a realistic style. It is very clear that our protagonist, Elizabeth Zott, will be facing a lot of issues in her life story, and it is fairly so.

Facing plenty of battles and obstacles in this novel, Elizabeth Zott turns out to be an incredible character. She never backs down. She is direct and always says exactly what she is thinking, even if her truth isn’t something the other characters in the novel want to hear. She is a true fighter, even a revolutionary for the times she lives in. She is determined to succeed, whatever it takes. She is determined to prove people wrong. She is determined to fight for the things she wants, and deserves. She is a truly inspiring character that one has to root for.

But, Elizabeth Zott is not the only star of this book, at all. Garnus gives a fair amount of attention to all the side characters, who are just as important to the story, and they do not bore us in any way. Some of them grow up and mature in front of us. Some of them meet the faith they deserved. Which is very satisfactory. And *one* of them is a wonderful dog who has his own thoughts and feelings and is a lovely character on its own – Six Thirty. Six Thirty is capable of loving, grieving, worrying and taking care (or trying to take care) of his humans. I’ve actually learnt that Garnus has a dog on her own, named 99, and I believe a big part of construction of Six Thirty has to be based on her love for her own little creature.

Garnus included more elements from her life: having grown up in the 1960s herself, working in technology, medicine and education, being a rower … It turns out that Elizabeth Zott, in many ways, is based on Garnus herself. This is why the novel has such a heartfelt feeling. It’s not just some story, it’s a story that the writer poured a lot of heart in.

The message of the novel is clear: never back down and never be somebody you are not. Life is short, live it. Be fair to yourself. Be fair to what you are capable of and what you can accomplish.

I won’t spoil what Elizabeth Zott accomplishes, but I promise: you want to read this novel and find out. As it inspires us, it also makes us laugh out loud at what certain characters say, how they act or how ironic life turns out to be. If I were to write a book, it would contain the same amount of wit, sarcasm and absolute irony. Having said that, it is clear that I instantly had so much love for Garnus’ writing. 

So, while Lessons in chemistry presents “difficult” topics, it also presents inspiring characters (whether they inspire us to be more like them, or less), devastating events and hilarious moments. Lessons in chemistry is very fair to us: life isn’t easy, but it is worth the ride.

3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? Yes. We need an empowering female character that is smart, resilient, hilarious. We need a character that never backs down. And overall, we need this story and the lessons it presents.

Now let me present my favorite part of this novel:
“Whenever you feel afraid, just remember. Courage is the root of change – and change is what we’re chemically designed to do. So when you wake up tomorrow, make this pledge. No more holding yourself back. No more subscribing to others’ opinions of what you can and cannot achieve. And no more allowing anyone to pigeonhole you into useless categories of sex, race, economic status, and religion. Do not allow your talents to lie dormant, ladies. Design your own future. When you go home today, ask yourself what YOU will change. And then get started.”

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it ends with us – colleen hoover; “Sometimes it is the one who loves you who hurts you the most.”

STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: Sometimes it is the one who loves you who hurts you the most. Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up – she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true. Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place. As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan – her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: It’s been years since I sat down and took a romance novel into my hands, excited to read it. Lately, my go-to has been crime, fantasy and I have been flirting with sci-fi a bit as well, but … Romance? I left it behind. The reason why I made an exception for This is us is because it was immediately clear to me that this won’t be a typical romance book. This will be a way more difficult, and even interesting, read.

I was right. This is us is very emotional. The novel depicts an abusive relationship that starts normally, romantically, sweet … But as time goes on, we are presented very clear red flags in the main male lead, Ryle, who is stubborn, odd, and has many other issues that I will not get into. Getting to know him and Lily, the woman who loves him, we end up answering the question we always ask ourselves whenever we see anybody, in real life, in an abusive relationship: why is it so hard for them to leave?

I loved this novel so much because it gave me a fresh perspective. Whereas it has always been so easy for me to be judgmental of women staying in abusive relationships, this novel really touched my heart, my soul, my thoughts … This novel showed me how insanely wrong I have been in thinking that of course it is easy to leave an abuser. This is us teaches us: it is not easy.

It is not easy because this abusive relationship is not simply black and Hoover shows us that. She delievers an abusive relationship, which also consists of romantic, cheesy moments. Moments when the main character, Lily, loves the man who is hurting her, and we find ourselves loving him with her. He can be charming. He can be sweet. He is still an abuser.

Hoover is an insanely skilled writer. She writes the things we do not want to hear and then she writes the things we need to hear. All at the right timing. We find ourselves crying while reading this novel, then we find ourselves laughing. She tells us herself, in the author’s note, that she usually writes her books for the purpose of entertainment, not to inform or educate. But the purpose was different with It ends with us. She found it gruelling and hard to write. And, honestly, a lot of the times, it is gruelling and hard to read. But because she takes this novel so personally, it ends up being a beautifully written, vulnerable piece.

She is simply good at both: writing the hard, cold, much needed truth, but also light-weighted and humorous moments. And the conctruction of her characters, let me tell you, is done incredibly well. For example – one of my favorite characters of this novel is not even one of the main characters. Alyssa is a woman who is a best friend, a sister, a wife … But she is also so smart, funny, direct and all in all incredible: she gives an ode to what women nowadays are or strive to be. I was interested in Lily, Ryle and Atlas – Lily’s childhood love, and how their lives and stories are going to play out, but I was also interested in getting bits of Alyssa, and her husband Marshal, who are these wonderfully written characters that drag attention even though they aren’t the centre of it.

I love that this romance novel seems so realistic. It portrays characters that are capable of both the good and the bad, characters who make mistakes in their lives and either learn from them, or they don’t.

To me personally, Hoover causes a revolution in the romantic genre. Because – when in romance novels it’s so normal to use red flags as a starter to a great romantic relationship that will blossom and be the best thing that ever happened to the female leadHoover tells us this: sometimes, the red flags you witness in a person are not “charming” or “attention grabbing” – the way so many authors portray them as. They aren’t something you can fix.

3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? Yes. I’d go so far as to say that, in my opinion, it can be an incredibly important read for younger girls and women who are still learning and who are still receiving false portrayals of what a relationship is supposed to look like. Hoover says it best herself: “Sometimes it is the one who loves you who hurts you the most.” And this is something that we have to put more light, and stress, on. Toxic love is toxic love. Not romantic, not sweet, not a challenge you’re supposed to take on. It’s toxic love.

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THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK – RHYS BOWEN; Lasting love and tragedy …

STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: Caroline Grant is struggling to accept the end of her marriage when she receives an unexpected bequest. Her beloved great-aunt Lettie leaves her a sketchbook, three keys, and a final whisper…Venice. Caroline’s quest: to scatter Juliet “Lettie” Browning’s ashes in the city she loved and to unlock the mysteries stored away for more than sixty years. It’s 1938 when art teacher Juliet Browning arrives in romantic Venice. For her students, it’s a wealth of history, art, and beauty. For Juliet, it’s poignant memories and a chance to reconnect with Leonardo Da Rossi, the man she loves whose future is already determined by his noble family. However star-crossed, nothing can come between them. Until the threat of war closes in on Venice and they’re forced to fight, survive, and protect a secret that will bind them forever. Key by key, Lettie’s life of impossible love, loss, and courage unfolds. It’s one that Caroline can now make right again as her own journey of self-discovery begins. 

2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: After reading Where the crawdads sing, which absolutely blew me away in every way, it was difficult for me to choose my next book – I didn’t expect I’d find something just as incredible to read, but I was hoping for it nonetheless. I decided to give the Venice sketchbook a chance and this turned out to be a great decision!

This book starts off in the past, rather slowly, with Juliet visiting Venice, which quite fast becomes her favorite city. The descriptions of Venice and Italian culture in general are so realistic, we might as well be part of this trip. Bowen tells us about the beautiful Italian architecture, wonderful art, loud and lovely people, good food and coffee. We get to fall in love with Venice, just as Juliet does.

Then, the perspective shifts to present, where Juliet’s niece is facing some rather difficult choices in her life and once Juliet suddenly gets sick to the point of dying, she points Caroline in one direction – to the city she fell in love with when she was only a young lady. It is unclear what is aunt’s secret message: why Venice, what is the point of this trip? So little is known to Caroline about Juliet’s life as a young adult, it simply does not make sense why Venice would be so important.

But as Caroline embarks on this journey, and we embark on it with her, we both simultaneously get answers about everything that Juliet has lived through. Juliet has kept a diary and documented her incredible journey in this absolutely wonderful city – and it is a journey filled with both wonderful and awful experiences.

As we read about Juliet’s life, we feel everything. We feel anticipation and excitiment due to her eagerness for personal discovery and pursuit of her passions – it is wonderful to read a story about a young woman who grows up infront of us. On the other hand, as the story goes on, we also witness the gruelling growth of war, which forces us to feel fear and simpathy for every character that this novel presents.

The story is not simply one thing – it is not just a romantic or just a historic novel … It is a story that presents yearning between young people who have love for each other, in the background of an awful historic event that seeds uncertainty into everyone’s veins.

This is a fairytale with beautiful events. It is also the story that can quickly change into a nightmare. With powerful characters that are forced to adapt, protect themselves and their loved ones, we find ourselves being invested into what happens next.

3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? Yes. If you want to sink into the beauty of Italy with realistic events that can shift the perspective rather quickly, this is the book you should have.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING – DELIA OWENS; a piece of art, a life story …

STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet fishing village. Kya Clark is barefoot and wild; unfit for polite society. So in late 1969, when the popular Chase Andrews is found dead, locals immediately suspect her. But Kya is not what they say. A born naturalist with just one day of school, she takes life’s lessons from the land, learning the real ways of the world from the dishonest signals of fireflies. But while she has the skills to live in solitude forever, the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. Drawn to two young men from town, who are each intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new and startling world—until the unthinkable happens.

2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW:

It is difficult for me to write this review. On one hand, there is so much I want to say, but on the other, I have no idea where to start. Maybe I can start by saying that this novel instantly became one of my favorites, but why is that so?

“Queen’s gambit” and “To kill a mockingbird” are also on the list of my favorite books and when I dive into the reasons why I loved those stories, I realize “Where the crawdads sing” reminds me of them in certain ways.

“Queen’s gambit” presents a flawed character that grows up in front of us – an outcast that we feel sorry for and root for at the same time. Well, say hello to Kya, also known as “the Marsh girl.” Kya is brilliant and so misunderstood. She never belonged to the society. Having grown up in completely different circumstances than a child with a normal childhood – Kya hardly went to school, hardly made friends in her life … And Kya never felt safe in her home, due to an alcoholic father and family members who have fled, but left her to fend for her own … Kya has to be independent and grow up a lot faster than her peers, who fear her. She is the “odd one out” to them.

As readers, though, we get to know the real her. The girl that learnt how to survive on her own, the girl that could sometimes drown in loneliness. We see her innocence. We see her fears. We see her need to be loved and provided for in the sense of security. We see a child in need of help.

Resilient, brave, smart – she is the character that is not hard to love. We want Kya to be safe and find a silver lining in life. As she grows up, we keep hoping that she will be OK.

Much as “To kill a mockingbird,” this novel is a life-story. A story that shows the faces of side characters in their true color. We meet people who love Kya. People who know how much she has been through, though she never confided in them due to her fear of abandonment, but they do have the need to shield her from all the unnecessary evil that they KNOW she has already dealt with. And we meet people who are blinded by the stories they have heard about her, blinded by their fear, by their misinformation and their judgment. Both novels raise moral questions. In this case in particular, we find ourselves asking, why is the outcast the suspect of murder? Why are the people of this novel, but also we as a society, so prejudiced?

On the other hand, knowing Kya’s story, we also ask ourselves … If the girl that has been an outcast her entire life, never been given the opportunity to be on the inside, never been properly loved or taken care of – comitted murder of somebody who might have been a big part of her life in all the wrong ways, is there right or wrong to her actions?

If I find myself asking questions like these and reevaluating certain points, that’s a good novel. That’s a novel that didn’t only allow me to “spend some free time” … It is also a lesson on its own. Love, loss. Comfort, judgment. Prejudice, growth. All occurring in this story, these elements make sure that “Where the crawdads sing” is not one dimensional.

This is a novel that makes you ache, makes you laugh … A novel that satisfies. It doesn’t leave out any difficult question or any silver lining, even.

3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? Absolutely. This is a novel that everyone should read. t is important to dive into the lessons that Owens presented in “Where the crawdads sing.” And if you do read it, maybe it gives you some answers to the questions I have asked in this review.

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THE KINGDOM – JESS ROTHENBERG; WHERE HAPPILY EVER AFTER IS A RULE …

  1. STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: Welcome to the Kingdom … Where ‘Happily Ever After’ isn’t just a promise, but a rule. Glimmering like a jewel behind its gateway, The Kingdom is an immersive fantasy theme park where guests soar on virtual dragons, castles loom like giants, and bioengineered species–formerly extinct–roam free. Ana is one of seven Fantasists, beautiful “princesses” engineered to make dreams come true. When she meets park employee Owen, Ana begins to experience emotions beyond her programming including, for the first time … Love. But the fairytale becomes a nightmare when Ana is accused of murdering Owen, igniting the trial of the century. Through courtroom testimony, interviews, and Ana’s memories of Owen, emerges a tale of love, lies, and cruelty–and what it truly means to be human.

2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: “Never judge a book by its cover,” we say, but I have to admit I was instantly interested in the Kingdom after I noticed its lovely design. A colorful cover, filled with fantasy, convinced me to hold this book, read its storyline and then – I was absolutely hooked. A sci-fi young adult novel that portrays all the negative sides of a fairytale? That is exactly what I wanted to read! 

This is a thrilling adventure from start till finish, with a wonderful progression of events that connect the present and the past. We follow Ana, a programmed Fantasist. She is basically a robot, but in contrast to robots, she is also able to feel things that programmed objects shouldn’t feel, and she grows in front of us as she learns everything that she is capable of doing. As we know, she is even capable of murder! Alongside the past, where we follow her day-to-day life, we read about the present, which projects scenes of testimonies of Ana (and the people who have worked with her) that give answers about what happened, how and why – she is on trial for murder, after all. 

The structure of this book is really enjoyable – the pace is just right. All the important events in the past find a way of intertwining with the present, showing us why they are important. All in all, the way that Jess Rothenberg writes is so enjoyable. She has a way of dragging us in by presenting us this interesting world that is a work of fiction, but it seems so real to us, as if it’s something we have read about in the newspaper. I believe it isn’t easy to come up with a fresh idea in a sci-fi (or a fantasy) world, as so many ideas have been brought to life already, it is simply hard to be original at this point. But the Kingdom doesn’t seem like a writing challenge to Rothenberg, at all. 

I was gulping up the pages of this book, so much so that I basically found it too short. The Kingdom gives space to a possible continuation, but (unless Rothenberg comes up with something truly amazing) that isn’t necessary at all. The Kingdom itself could have given us A BIT more, especially when it comes to the depth of other characters, alongside Ana (and her victim, Owen.) Certain events and the issues they carry that are hinted at, are not unraveled either, which is truly a shame. Perhaps had Rothenberg focused a teeny tiny bit less on young adult fiction (and thus its element of romance) and simply stuck more to sci-fi (and the tragic feeling that this story carries), it would have been a 5-star read for me personally, rather than a 4-star one. However, it feels that Rothenberg is capable of doing more if she continues writing, and that’s a refreshing thought on its own. The Kingdom is completely satisfying, with an ending that gives us peace and lets us move on from this Fantasists’ world, but also makes us think – if this ever gets a continuation or even a movie, I’ll be down to hop on the train to Fantasy world once again.

3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? I would recommend the Kingdom, but – to younger readers. It flows nicely, the pace and the structure are great, but it does show a bit of immaturity at times, as well. It is a young adult, sci-fi novel with elements of crime and romance and a feeling that while things are bad, they will not be bad forever. A lovely read, but definitely more suitable for younger readers.

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THE SHADOWS – ALEX NORTH; when supernatural meets crime …

  1. STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile – always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet – and inspired more than one copycat. Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree – and his victim – were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and senile, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home. It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Reading the news, Paul learns another copycat has struck. His mother is distressed, insistent that there’s something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago. It wasn’t just the murder. It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again …

2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: The last book that I reviewed was Alex North’s The Whisper Man and it was one of those books that instantly became a favorite. I even suggested the book to my parents – my dad, who hasn’t read anything since Stieg Larsson’s novels came out, read the book as well, and ended up loving it. So, needless to say: North wrote a legendary book. Because of that, I had to read the Shadows – another thriller of his, that I simply needed to be just as great.

I have to admit the Shadows did not deliver in the same way, but it is unfair to put so much pressure on an author simply because one of his books was a masterpiece. Even though the Shadows did not reach the same level that the Whisper Man did, there is so much beauty in this thriller that we can absolutely celebrate nonetheless.

There are plenty repeated elements from North’s other novel that we can notice once again: one of them being the supernatural element, which is once again very important and very nicely executed. I love the unexplained mystery of events that runs through the entire novel and is not untangled till the very end. Yet, once it is explained, it all makes complete sense. This keeps us on the edge of our seat, making us worry for the events that are coming – we know something bad will happen and we keep expecting it.

North’s storytelling is simply gorgeous. Though the Shadows is not as action-filled, it is far from a boring read. We get to dive into the main character’s childhood, which means the novel keeps on progressing. It starts slow, even harmless, yet we know it is going to explode in our face at some point. Once it does explode, it’s fully an “OH MY GOD!” moment.

In my opinion, the construction of this novel, which consists of past and present events and takes its time to develop to a decent conclusion, is really smart. The pace enabled us to get to know the characters rather well – get used to them, even get attached. Whatever happens in the story itself, causes a lot more damage and drags us in more if we find ourselves being able to understand the characters.

For those who have read North before: we’ve seen his incredible ability to create relationships in a very natural way. The Shadows really puts focus on friendships, those that we dive into in our younger age. It shows us how badly a decision to become somebody’s friend can truly impact us. Generally speaking – we all know that childhood actions have consequences in people’s adulthood, but when North shows us this in his novel, we end up feeling rather amazed.

3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? This is my honest opinion: it is hard to top the Whisper Man, but the Shadows isn’t mediocre at all. It is good enough to put North on the list of writers to watch out for, and support in the future. Therefore, I would suggest the Shadows. Perhaps I would suggest it to younger readers who do not mind reading a novel that, at least at first, reminds more of a young adult book (with topics and events that would fit in a Riverdale setting.) Though not as action-filled, the Shadows does keep us excited and thrilled.

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THE WHISPER MAN – ALEX NORTH; a true celebration of a thriller

  1. STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town: Featherbank. But Featherbank has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed “The Whisper Man,” for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night. Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter’s crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man. And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window.

2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: I almost didn’t read the Whisper Man. I tend to avoid thrillers as much as possible, since I haven’t ever read a thriller book that would actually entertain me. Add a creepy storyline to that and you are simply left of any reason to pick up this book. But, something in me kept wandering toward the Whisper Man, pushing me to read reviews, to listen to the readers, and somehow I ended up deciding to let go of my judgment and simply give this book a chance. I am SO glad I did.

Any thriller writer I have read up to now has honestly bored me, but Alex North did not. I found myself really enjoying his writing style. It pulled me in! Being a page-turner read from start to finish, I found myself almost deciding to take a day off from work just to be able to sit in my room and read this book without any distractions.

North is good at creating suspense, giving us just the right amount of information. Some writers struggle with the creation of suspense, in the end creating rather ambiguous hints that add up to confusion and annoyance among the readers. But not North. Being an incredible planner and executioner of his ideas, he shows us that a book has to be an adventure, a unity, and not a mess of quickly-thought out plot entanglements.

He gives us clues we do not even immediately pick up on, thinking that it is needless information. When we continue reading, we realize at some point that every single thing he has told us is oh-how-much-important and everything comes together in the most beautiful way. He truly brings us to a point of epiphnany.

It seems that the balance is North’s strong point. Just as he balances out the suspense very well, he does the same with the element of creepiness. Obviously, a book about disappearing children can not be an easy read. Add some supernatural elements to that, and theoretically the Whisper Man gains a lot of weight. In practise, though, we notice the book is creepy “just enough.” I remember reading Chris Carter and not being able to finish one of his books, because I found it mentally draining. And I was fearful the same thing would happen with the Whisper Man, especially reading the reviews that kept emphasizing how “you won’t be able to sleep at night!” or “this will disturb you so much!” No, I slept quite fine, which tells you plenty, given the fact that I get startled rather easily and I always invest a huge portion of myself into any book I read. North does present us a heavy topic to deal with and, no, nobody enjoys reading about disappearing children, this is a very delicate thing. Yet somehow, he truly does have the right balance with it.

Among creepiness and supernatural, North presents many other topics and elements in this story. It is the development of relationships – namely the connection between the child and a parent, that I found insanely fun to read into. It is not easy for a writer to develop connections in a decent way. The relationship has to be natural and truthful, showing both the bad and the good.

Jake and his father, Tom, are so similar to each other, yet they struggle to understand one another. All Tom wants is to make his son safe, make sure he is happy. All Jake wants is to make Tom proud. There is so much love between them, but they still struggle with their relationship. This is such a heartfelt thing to see. Their relationship made me think of my own with my father, since we are also so similar to one another, which I was always proud of, but this was also the reason why we often ended up clashing with each other.

It is important to point out the fact that certain moments between Jake and Tom, were actually inspired by North’s own son who mentioned “the boy in the floor” to him, something that Jake mentions to Tom. I think the fact that North is actually a father really shines through – in addition to the naturally developed child-parent relationship, the dialogue between the children in this book seems very accurate, as well, with the actual essense of a child’s mind: there is curiosity that brings freshness and youth to the story.

One of the most beautiful sentences to read in this book is Tom’s heartfelt opinion:”Even when we are fighting, we still love each other.” We hurt for Tom’s desperate need to show Jake how much he truly loves him and we celebrate Jake’s childish and innocent mindset. We find ourselves cheering for them to be OK. Even more so with the additional elements of grief and loss caused by the mother figure of this book, who was the “head’ of their family and guided the two boys through life, somehow still guiding them even after passing away. The element of loss is heartbreaking. A child missing his mother, looking for comfort and a father missing his wife, constantly feeling as if he is not adding up to the best role of a father. It really makes our heart ache for the pair that has an indescribable bond, but is feeling so lost without the woman they love most.

All in all, the Whisper Man is everything you could wish to get in a book. It delievers in the terms of what a crime book is supposed to give us: suspense, creepiness, fear, sadness … But it is also so much more than that. It is a celebration of the characters, the love they have for each other, the growth that we get to witness.

3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. This book has landed onto the list of my favorite books, it deserves all the praise and all the love.

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SLOW HORSES – MICK HERRON; a wonderful spy story

  1. STORYLINE, taken from Goodreads: London, England: Slough House is where the washed-up MI5 spies go to while away what’s left of their failed careers. The “slow horses,” as they’re called, have all disgraced themselves in some way to get relegated here. Maybe they messed up an op badly and can’t be trusted anymore. Maybe they got in the way of an ambitious colleague and had the rug yanked out from under them. Maybe they just got too dependent on the bottle—not unusual in this line of work. One thing they all have in common, though, is they all want to be back in the action. And most of them would do anything to get there – even if it means having to collaborate with one another. River Cartwright, one such “slow horse,” is bitter about his failure and about his tedious assignment transcribing cell phone conversations. When a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to broadcast his beheading live on the Internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself. But is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone has his own agenda.

2. SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: Slow Horses opens up in a very exciting way, with a chapter that throws us into a day of River Cartwright’s life where things go wrong to a point that he loses his job. The description of events is exciting and very graphic. It has the essense of a spy story as we read along. I actually started imagining that I am part of an alternative Sherlock Holmes universe.

It’s the dialogue that is very exciting, as well. It’s very realistic and natural, with repetition, sarcasm, metaphorical questions, anger and other emotions clearly stated in people’s conversation. Quite often, I am disappointed with dialogue – it can feel robotic or overly done, scripted. But Herron delievers. His words are believable.

A refreshing thing, worthy of a mention, is the fact that there is no true protagonist in this book, instead we actually sink into every single character, with perspectives changing every couple of pages. I believe plenty of readers will tell you they do not like the constant perspective shift, as it can contribute to confusion. And usually I would absolutely agree. Not long ago, I was skimming through a book that was written in the same structure and it was indeed confusing, exhausting and even boring. However, I do not believe Slow Horses is any of that. The prevailing reason why this structure is used in this book in particular is for us to be able to get to know the characters better. We sink into each “slow horse” spy and learn a bit about them – why did they become a “slow horse” to begin with and what exactly went wrong with their career. In my opinion, this is a needed thing.

Usually, I do want action. I want a murder first ten pages in and I want to be drawn to the story. Slow Horses does not give us that. It takes its time and develops the introduction carefully and slowly, but in my opinion, it is absolutely worth “the wait.” Given the fact that Slow Horses is the first book in a series, I am grateful for the slower and dedicated introduction, as it is important for us to resonate with the characters if we want to be a part of their journey that is going to last longer than just one book.

After the introduction of characters, action does start to unveil and during a couple of chapters, the multiple perspective appears to be frustrating, but not necessarily in a negative way. Suddenly, a lot happens at the same time and it is ambiguous; jumping from one point to the other, while not giving us any answers. However, it is a tactic to build suspense and it works in Herron’s favour once we understand how the events have been unveiled. Politically colored, the story tells us what we actually already knew: the people in charge can do whatever they want. We unveil knots, secrets, buried past, power and hypocrisy, dominance and fear and we follow the consequences of people’s actions. Having said that, Slow Horses is absolutely a spy story – it consists of a lot of events and actions that we do not see through at the very beginning – it surprises and excites us. 

Appreciative of the overall journey that Slow Horses takes us on, I also have to admit I was absolutely satisfied with the ending of this book, as Herron could have indicated that he is creating a series, thus pulling us into the next book by creating a cliff-hanger. Yet he does not do that. Knowing that there is a series, I can see through the fact that Slow Horses is not completely finished – there is absolutely room for more creation. However, it finishes in a peaceful way that lets us make our own decision whether we’re going to read the next book or not.

3. WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK? Yes. I think the reading of this book was absolutely a journey – you might not love it at the very beginning, but at no point in time is it actually a regretful read. It is developed with time and care, with realistic and natural storytelling that eventually absolutely draws us in. It takes its time, but it is worth it. I will be reading the next book in this series, as well. 

♡♡♡♡/♡♡♡♡♡

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