Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell

Beat the ReaperSometimes the scariest thing about re-reading books is realizing how long ago you read them the first time… this one’s from waaaaaaaay back in 2009 when I was still posting reviews the day I finished every book. Oh, past self. You were so cute.

I picked this one out for my in-person book club because I remembered liking this book a surprising amount and because we’ve been reading a lot of relatively serious books lately and I thought a nice bonkers quasi crime novel would hit that beginning-of-summer sweet spot. After the turnout at the last few meetings, I was sure this ridiculous book would net me a handful of book clubbers, but instead this was our best turnout of the year. Don’t underestimate bonkers fluff, is what I’m saying.

My opinion on the book hasn’t really changed in seven years, although I thought it might when I started listening to it on audio. I guess I sort of had a voice in my head already for our hero, Peter Brown, and the narrator’s voice was just… not that. It was very impersonal and flat and matter-of-fact where I thought it would be more sarcastic and emotive, rather like that time I listened to The Eyre Affair. Also, I had forgotten about the twenty-seven (this is an estimate, I did not count them, though now I feel like I should have) F-bombs Peter lays out in the first, like, two pages, and I was very nervous that my book club would not make it past that minefield.

But either the narrator gets better or the story does or both, as I was quickly drawn back into the weird world of Peter Brown, ex-Mafia hit man turned doctor in Witness Protection. His hospital is weird and terrifying, especially when your fellow book clubbers tell you that yeah, no, it’s totally believable that that terrible thing would happen in a hospital. His childhood is weird and awful as you learn more and more about the circumstances of his grandparents’ untimely demise and his entrance into the Mafia world. His present circumstances are weird and nerve-wracking as everything keeps going wrong, and then vomit-inducing at the end when a certain weapon is procured. Ugh.

I’m not sure I liked the book quite as much this second time around, possibly due to the only-decent narrator and the lack of footnotes (!) in the audio version or possibly due to the lack of surprise when the craziest of things happen. But I still enjoyed it immensely, and I was happy to find out that most of my book club agreed save for two very upset members who came just to tell me, personally, how much they hated the book. But they showed up, so the joke’s on them!

If you’re intrigued by the “ex-Mafia hit man turned doctor in Witness Protection” conceit, and you like your crime hard-boiled, and you like your humor sarcastic and cutting, AND you don’t shy away from an F-bomb or twelve, this is definitely a book to pack in your beach bag this summer. There’s even a sequel, if you end up loving it!

Joyland, by Stephen King

JoylandPoor Stephen King. I remember when this book came out and it was a big deal that it would a paperback original, only in print, so that people would have to actually read a gosh darn book or whatever. But although I checked out the paperback from my library, I actually ended up reading this one mostly on my Kindle, as it has been long enough that the publishers gave in to those high-tech readers with their confounded devices.

And, really, it wasn’t that much different, reading it both ways like I did. I’m sure the floppy paperback was meant to evoke the early-seventies setting of the book and really get you into the story, but let’s be real, it’s Stephen King and the man can write — I was happily hanging out in rural North Carolina even when I was reading pieces of the book on my fancy smartphone.

This is one of King’s.. quieter novels, for lack of a better word. It’s not a horror novel or a doorstop or a book with Things To Say or some combination of the three, but it’s very obviously a Stephen King novel and it is delightful.

What this book is is a reminiscence by a present-day Devin Jones about his experience working the summer of 1973 at the Joyland theme park. You know from the beginning that something kind of weird and/or terrible is going to happen that summer, but most of the story is about Devin just growing up — spending the summer away from a girlfriend who’s going to (and then does) break his heart, learning how to be himself, finding out what he loves besides the idea of love, that sort of thing. But there is weird stuff, of course, because it’s King, and what we get here is a sort of haunted-theme-park-slash-murder-mystery subplot in which Devin and his friends first wonder about the woman whose ghost is meant to be haunting the park and then sort of accidentally solve her murder.

There’s spookiness and intrigue and yet another kid with The Sight that King loves to give his characters, so if you’re over The Sight you may want to pass on this one, and there’s also wonderful description and spot-on emotional heft. I should probably mention that this book is intentionally a pulp-fiction, noir-y mystery, so the mystery-solving ending is almost necessarily contrived and quick, but the rest of the story is well paced and I probably would have enjoyed it even if the solving bit had been left out.

Reading this book, and even just thinking about it as I write this post, makes me want nothing more than to run off and join a carnival — but maybe just for a week or two because it sounds like a lot of effort, really, and I’ve got bills to pay that I don’t think carnival running can cover. But it’s a beautiful dream.

Recommendation: For chilly winter nights when you want to think about summer; for those who want to experience nostalgia for a place and time they’ve never seen.

Scarlett Undercover, by Jennifer Latham

Scarlett UndercoverOh, man. I don’t even know what to do with this book. I wanted to like it, because the description referenced Veronica Mars and I am a fluffy fluffy Marshmallow, but of course nothing is as good as Veronica Mars (even the VM books themselves!) and also this book was just kind of a hot mess.

So, problem one was obviously the Veronica Mars reference point, because this is not really that. There’s a teen detective, sure, but she’s not a scrappy teen following in her dad’s PI footsteps with his grudging permission/acceptance. Scarlett is instead a scrappy teen who graduated early from high school and instead of going to college set up some sort of detective shop with no discernible training nor method of paying rent. Her grudging father figure is an actual detective who investigated her dad’s murder and who apparently encouraged the whole PI career thing but also thinks she shouldn’t do it? I am super unclear on how Scarlett operates.

Problem number two is my problem with so many things, but on a much grander scale. No one uses their goddamn words in this book. I kid you not, the first at least half of the book involves Scarlett asking people questions and them saying “I can’t tell you” or “I won’t tell you” or “You’re not ready to know that” or “You’re asking the wrong question,” including one scene in which Scarlett asks her bff/quasi-boyfriend why he has a tattoo that he has just revealed to her, and his answer is “The better question is where did I get it?” I have finished the book, and I can tell you that the better question is WHY DOES HE HAVE IT. This answer would have saved so much time and frustration and outright danger, so of course no one answers it.

Problem three is the story itself, which starts out with Scarlett taking the case of a nine-year-old (!) girl who wants to know why her brother is acting weird, but as you may guess from the above problems the case turns out to actually be about a huge secret that was kept from Scarlett her entire life and which led to the inordinate amounts of danger she soon finds herself in. Which, I mean, okay, I guess, but seriously, COMMUNICATION, people. Anyway, the scant clues she gets lead her all over town to all these different people who won’t tell her anything but all kind of know her or her family and are all related in the most convenient of ways and everything is super weird the whole time and I just couldn’t even.

Problem four, the fact that Scarlett is black and Muslim, should have been a slam-dunk plus of a cool diverse character, but Scarlett’s religion was played as a teachable moment instead of a character facet, which was super lame. Information about Muslim culture was shoved into the narrative like, hey, Muslims pray five times a day except not always! Some Muslims are less observant than others! Some Muslims wear a hijab! Muslims have a traditional greeting! Muslims have interesting historical tales that you might not have heard before! I know it’s a book for teens and that I can’t expect teens to be interested in looking stuff up (my goodness, do they not want to look stuff up, says my librarian brain), but I would have found the book so much more interesting if the author (editor? publicist? who knows?) didn’t insist on explaining the heck out of every interesting Muslim tidbit.

So… that’s a lot of problems, and they don’t even include the general weirdness of the writing. But strangely, for all the problems I had with the book as I was reading it, and all the problems I still have now, I still think it was worth reading and that younger teens, including probably my twelve-year-old self, would find it a heck of a lot more entertaining than I did. There’s lots of action, there’s a black Muslim protagonist, there’s a love story that involves no triangles, and there’s some neat historical and cultural information for readers to chew on. I wouldn’t read it again, but I know a few of my library teens that would!

Recommendation: For teens who like plucky teen detectives and super weird weirdness.

Rating: 5/10

Normal, by Graeme Cameron

NormalDon’t you just hate it when you think you know what a book is going to be and then you’re wrong in the worst possible way? Like, you think a book is going to be pretty decent and then you’re just staring at the pages wondering how you even got here?

Yeah, that’s this book.

To be fair, it’s not the worst book I’ve ever read. That would be very difficult at this point. But the only reason I finished it is because it took me like three hours to read and I was already two hours in by the time I realized it was not going to get better.

It started off so promising, though, if you like a certain kind of story. It’s a book about a dude with a girl trapped in his basement who then meets a girl he doesn’t want to trap in his basement, and now he wants to go straight but a) can he and b) can he before the cops show up? And I really did want to know the answers to these questions, at the beginning.

But then I started learning more about our unnamed weirdo narrator, and I was like, wait. Because it’s one thing to empathize with or root for an unrepentant serial killer or whatever, but it’s another to root for a guy who just kind of… does stuff? And this guy just does too much stuff. At the beginning of the novel he’s killed one girl and is dismembering her body when her friend shows up and so he kidnaps the friend and takes her to his well-built and well-hidden basement dungeon thing (the builder of which is buried nearby), and then brings her a friend to play with whom he then takes out into the woods to literally hunt with a bow and arrow, and then later he’s gonna maybe kidnap some girl but he doesn’t and then he’s not gonna kidnap some girl and then he kills her instead and forgets to bury her and I am like DUDE. Pick a thing and stick with it. It is a great surprise to me that he evaded the law for more than ten minutes ever, but he does it for days in the course of this novel.

It feels to me like the author just watched a bunch of Criminal Minds (not that there’s… anything wrong with that) and picked out all the criminals he liked or whatever and made them one dude. And then he picked out some choice FBI interactions with criminals and threw those in, too. There’s just no internal consistency for how anyone is acting, and it obviously bothers me SO MUCH.

On the plus side, I loved the ending, in which (are spoilers spoilers if I don’t want you to read the book anyway?) weirdo dude completely effs everything up, still manages to nearly get away with it, and then one last final thing ruins him. This part of the book is almost satirical in its humor, and if the rest of the book had felt like that I think I could have been completely on board with this as the funniest psychopath story ever told. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what he was going for (based on the interview at the end of my copy of the book), so.

At least I got it over with quickly (which basement friend cannot say).

Recommendation: For those who watch way too much crime drama and who remember not to take this book as seriously as it takes itself.

Rating: 4/10

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainIf you’ve talked to me about books any time in the last month or so, you’ve probably heard me ask the following questions: Did you read and like Gone Girl? Were you okay with the fact that almost everyone in that book was an awful human being?

And then, if the answer is yes, an exclamation: You should totally read this book The Girl on the Train that’s coming out really really soon!

Really really soon is finally now, so seriously, if you liked Gone Girl, look into this one.

The story starts off innocuously enough. Our main narrator, Rachel, rides the train into and out of London every day, and passes by a house on the tracks where she sees a lovely young couple and imagines their wonderful life together. But then, one day, she sees the wife kissing a man who is not her husband, and then shortly afterward Rachel sees this woman’s picture all over the media on account of she’s gone missing. Rachel is sure that this mystery man had something to do with it, so she decides to go to the police and tell them what she knows. But as she gets more involved with the investigation, we (both the reader and Rachel) learn that Rachel’s life isn’t exactly what it seems.

It’s absolutely fascinating. Rachel is a super unreliable narrator, and we find out very quickly that she’s lying about her reasons for being on the train, lying about her interest in the missing girl’s neighborhood, lying about how much alcohol she drinks — really just lying to us and herself about a lot of things. We learn some of this through her admissions, but we learn even more when the narration switches over to her ex-husband’s new wife, Anna, and even more than that when we get narration from the missing girl, Megan. All three ladies’ lives are intertwined, more than any of them really knows, and the pieces from each story they tell add up to an even spookier story than it looks like from the start.

We already know I’m a sucker for unreliable, multiple, and awful narrators, so clearly this book was made with me in mind. But it’s a really great work of suspense, with danger at every turn and terrible decisions being made and that sense of never knowing which way is up in the narrative. And for all that the narrators are terrible people, I really wanted things to work out for all of them. It’s hard to talk about any specific part of the book without spoiling how the story got to that point, so really you should just go read this now and come back and then we will talk about ALL THE THINGS.

I will say that the ending is weak compared to the rest of the book, with things wrapping up just too nicely, but I think for most people that’s a welcome change from the end of Gone Girl, which ending I liked way more than anyone else. For me, if I don’t know what the heck is happening in the rest of the book, it only makes sense not to know what’s going to happen after the book ends you know? That’s probably just me.

Anyway. Go read it. Do it.

Recommendation: For and possibly only for people who like unreliable, multiple, and/or awful narrators, because that’s pretty much the entire book.

Rating: 9/10

Descent, by Tim Johnston

DescentI picked this book up on a whim, knowing nothing except that the cover is cool and that the jacket copy promised a disappeared girl and a bereft family, and you know there’s nothing I like more than a bereft family. Okay, that’s totally not true, but I am definitely fascinated by how people react to trauma, especially a close-knit group of people, so I was intrigued.

The book starts off pretty okay, with a girl and her brother gallivanting about the mountains of Colorado on a family vacation. The girl, Caitlin, is a distance runner looking forward to athletic-scholarship-funded college in the fall. The brother, Sean aka “Dudley”, is, as you may expect by the nickname, less athletically inclined but still for whatever reason willing to grab his mountain bike and at least attempt to keep pace with his sister. But then an accident happens and the kids’ parents get that call that no parent ever wants to get, that Sean is in the hospital with lots of injuries. And Caitlin? She’s gone missing, in the mountains, where no one is going to be found who doesn’t want to be found.

So that’s pretty sweet, right? And really, this is the only reason I stayed ’til the end — I had to know what happened to Caitlin and whether she’d be found and how her family was going to survive this whether Caitlin survived or not.

But everything else, ecch. I just told a friend the other day that I love non-linear stories, but I forgot the caveat that I like non-linear stories when I can take the non-linear pieces and slot them into a timeline that will be nice and pretty by the end of the book. This one, not so much. Not only does Johnston hop back and forth in time, but he does so without warning, without segue, and without any darn proper nouns. He’ll set up a scene with a girl and a boy and you have no idea which girl and which boy they are or when they are or where they are for at least a paragraph and that’s an interesting style, sure, but I do not like it.

And then once you figure out what characters the author’s even talking about, they are mostly inscrutable. I have no idea what’s up with the dad or the brother for the most part, and there’s this whole extended bit with the brother and a hitchhiker and a bar that serves, to me, only to show that dudes are horrible even when they’re the good guys, which is a recurring theme throughout the novel. On the chick side, Caitlin’s plight is pretty straightforward and the mother’s issues are pretty standard, and for the most part they’re just weak and helpless women waiting for one of those horrible men-folk to help them out, which bah. The only character who gets any semblance of an arc is the sheriff’s deadbeat brother, who starts off one-dimensional and then is magically given new and interesting dimensions and becomes actually very cool, and I cannot figure out why all of the characters couldn’t be that cool from the start.

Luckily that gripping plotline comes around again to become this utterly horrifying and awful ending which would have fit better on a much different story, but I wouldn’t have read that story due to it being far too visceral. If I could have that ending as a standalone short story, though… that might work.

Overall there were enough good pieces to this story that I think it turned out decent, but knowing what I know now I would probably not have started this book. It’s like catching one of those murder-of-the-week shows on TV — I didn’t particularly want to stick around another hour (or several, in this case), but I just had to know.

Recommendation: For those who like suspense and intrigue, but really moreso for people who aren’t put off by unusual narrative styles.

Rating: 6/10

Broken Monsters, by Lauren Beukes

Broken MonstersThe other day we got this huge pile of YA and children’s fantasy books in at my library, and I told my coworker that I expected her to take home at least half of them, because that kind of book is totally her thing. Then I said, hey, speaking of things that are totally your thing, I am reading this amazing book right now that you would absolutely hate! That book? Broken Monsters.

If you’ve ever read Lauren Beukes before, you will understand. She does not do cute, fun, adorable stories with magic and/or dragons; her books are far more bleak and gory and weird, and this one is no exception.

We start right off in this novel with the gory; there’s a detective and a dead body, or more accurately half of a dead human body attached to half of a dead deer body. That’s… great… so as a palate cleanser we meet another one of our protagonists, a thirty-something dude in the midst of finding himself and his muse and whatever. He is soon to become the bane of our detective’s existence when he decides to become the “journalist” who reveals everything about this dead kid case.

Then we meet a guy who’s made a career out of looting abandoned houses, of which there are many in Detroit, and after that the detective’s daughter, who gets caught up in an extremely effed-up internet “prank” that leads me to preemptively take the internet away from my hypothetical children until they’re 30. Then we finally meet the guy who turns out to be the killer, whose chapters are all supremely creepy but fascinating in their own special way.

All of the protagonists’ stories connect to each other in some way, which is my favorite thing, with people and places intersecting in foreboding ways until the end where Beukes just throws everyone into an abandoned plant and lets the batshit crazy flow, kind of literally. That’s the weird part, where this strange magical-realism conceit that’s been brewing throughout the novel becomes way less realistic and way more scary as what.

Adding to the creepy factor is the fact that the book is set in Detroit and focuses a lot on the idea of abandoned buildings and neighborhoods and the strange fascination that people have with the city and its deterioration or rebuilding, depending on the person. It’s hard to tell if Detroit is creepy on its own or if it’s creepy because people really really want it to be. I like it.

I was completely entranced by this book, alternately worried about certain characters and whether they would be okay after doing not-terribly-smart things (spoiler: not everyone is okay) and really curious to see how all of this insanity could possibly come together at the end. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ending, which is just too weird for the tone of the rest of the book, but it was definitely exciting. I continue to fangirl for Lauren Beukes, and am glad there’s still some backlist of hers I haven’t gotten to yet so that I can go find it and devour it when I am in a mood for a book that is nothing like any other book.

Recommendation: For lovers of the strange and anyone with an affinity for Detroit.

Rating: 9/10

The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

The Word ExchangeI was really excited for this book when I first heard details about it — a dude disappears from the dictionary and disappears in real life, everyone walks around carrying “Memes” that start to take away people’s ability to use language, there’s this thing called the Word Exchange where people can buy meanings of words but then it start to become corrupted. It sounded intriguing and fantastical and I admit I felt like maybe Thursday Next would show up on the scene.

I was so wrong.

Okay, not super wrong. The story is intriguing, but it is most decidedly not fantastical, instead positing a near-future near-dystopia where our smartphones have become Memes that do every dang thing for us including divining our thoughts to tell us what restaurants are nearby right as we’re realizing it’s time for lunch. Which is AWESOME but of course also pretty creepy.

There are two sort-of narrators to this book, Anana and Bart. Both narrators tell the story of how Anana’s dad Doug, the head of the last print dictionary, went missing one night very mysteriously, his encyclopedia-like entry in his own dictionary missing from the electronic version and a weird note in his pneumatic tube bin (yes, really). Anana sets out to find him with the help of Bart, another dictionary employee, but things start to go wrong very fast. There’s new technology coming out and people who very much want to make sure that it comes out and are willing to make sure with violence (and sloppy eating no I can’t help myself), and of course a faction against new technology who have quite a good case because the new tech and to a lesser extent the old tech are causing word flu which gives you aphasia and then sometimes kills you, yay.

Anana’s chapters are written as a sort of journal from the future looking back on the craziness, so there are a few places where she is like, if only I had known X or if only I hadn’t been an idiot here, and that’s the kind of thing I eat up with a spoon so plus ten points to Graedon.

Bart’s chapters, on the other hand, are actual journals during the events that happen, including when Bart comes down with word flu and every fifth word is gibberish and after two chapters of that I was like, I GET IT, but there were still so many chapters left to go. I really wanted to know what was going to happen to everyone but I actually found myself dreading having to read the book because of all the strange words, so minus, like, a hundred points to Graedon there.

So basically, the problem with me was that I was expecting fantasy and got a technothriller, and the problem with the book (for me) was that it got too caught up in its conceit and lost the already thin thread of plot that it had. But outside of those problems, the book had a really interesting premise, great scenes, and a pretty solid ending, so your mileage may vary.

Recommendation: For those expecting a technothriller and who don’t mind looking warily at their smartphones for the next ever.

Rating: 7/10

Brilliance, by Marcus Sakey

BrillianceI initially picked up Brilliance because I had been hearing a lot about it from the same places that told me lovely things about Lexicon, which I adored, and because those places told me it was a book about people with special powers who have to live in a world that doesn’t like special powers, which, yes, I am going to read that. But then I thought that Scott might also be interested, seeing as how we’ve watched the not-terribly-good-but-entertaining-anyway TV show Alphas together, which seemed to be of a similar nature to the book, and so I found it on audio and brought it along on our northern migration.

I’m not sure if it was the expectation of a different kind of story, or the fact that the audio narration felt bigger than the story itself, but I was not as thrilled with this book as I wanted to be.

First, the story. The premise is that back in the eighties, kids started being born with special brain skills that allowed them to think faster or bigger or more creatively than their peers, and they were eventually labelled Brilliants or Abnorms or Twists or “those guys that we hate for being smarter than us and taking our jobs.” As you do. In this particular book, we’re following along with a Brilliant called Nick Cooper who works for a department that corrals Brilliants who are trying to kill government people or blow up buildings full of citizens in an attempt to create some sort of Brilliant-ocracy. His department gets wind of a huge plot of the latter kind, and he tries to stop it but fails, and then he convinces his boss to let him use this failure as a way to “go rogue” and infiltrate the bad guys and take them down. As you may guess, Cooper soon finds out that things are not what they seem.

The world-building in this book is really fantastic. Sakey presents an incredibly plausible reality where technologies are advanced by Brilliants and prejudices that might normally have turned into, say, constitutional amendments have been ignored in favor of anti-Brilliant sentiment and the government has figured out a way to harness the power of Brilliants without having to consider them human beings. Things start out seeming pretty much the way they are in our actual world, but as the differences are doled out throughout the novel you slowly realize just how messed up the world has become.

But plot-wise, things are pretty predictably thriller-shaped, with our protagonist with the home issues and the secret organizations and the femme fatale and the things not being what they seem. And that’s not a bad thing, if you like thrillers, but I was hoping for something a little more think-y and a little less action-y and I did not get it.

I had a hard time with the audio narration, its one redeeming quality being that the narrator gave everyone a distinct voice and I always knew who was talking. However, those distinct voices were taken way over the top (and here I’m not sure whether to blame the narrator or the producer or both) and often they were imbued with emotions that seemed incongruous with what was actually being said (see: Dumbledore in the Goblet of Fire movie). This is not a short book, but by the time I was getting sick of the thriller plot and the voices I was too invested in finding out what was going to happen to give up on it, and besides we were in, like, West Virginia and I wasn’t going to be able to acquire a new book!

So I don’t know. It may be that if you eyes-read this book, you’ll get a better narration from your brain than from the audio, and maybe the plot reads better, too? I liked the world that Sakey created so much that I don’t want to steer anyone away from this book, but if you eyes-read it and it’s still got problems, let me know!

Recommendation: For fans of alternate realities and super-brain-powers.

Rating: 7/10

Night Film, by Marisha Pessl

Night FilmOne of the very first books I wrote about after creating this blog (well, the Blogger version, anyway) back in 2008 was Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which I picked up because physics and then didn’t like terribly much, possibly due to the book’s decided lack of physics. But even though I did not love the book as much as I wanted to, it’s been in the back of my mind ever since, so when Pessl’s new book started making the rounds of my internets to glowing acclaim, I knew I had to read it.

And good freaking lord this book deserved all that acclaim. I failed to read it in time for RIP but holy heck it is a perfect creepy, haunting book for putting on your list next year if you can possibly wait that long. Or if you’re still experiencing fall, like I am here in Florida, grab your coziest blanket, a mug of hot cocoa, find a fireplace to curl up next to, and read this story right now.

The book opens with our protagonist running around Central Park in the middle of the night, as no one does, and being watched by a shadowy figure in a bright red coat. He is smartly spooked by this fact, one of the last smart things he’s going to do in this novel.

After this prologue, we get a title page and some news-site slideshow-style faux screenshots giving us some backstory — there’s a girl called Ashley Cordova who has just committed suicide and was the daughter of a reclusive filmmaker, Stanislas Cordova, known for dark psychological thrillers shown only in (sometimes literally) underground showings and available only in expensive bootleg copies. Then we meet our protagonist again and find out that his name is Scott McGrath, he’s a disgraced journalist, and it was his obsession with Ashley’s father that caused that second fact. So of course when he finds out that Ashley is dead he thinks it’s going to be a great idea to delve back into that whole investigation. Mistake number [very large number, I’m sure].

I kind of want to tell you about all the crazy places Scott goes and all the crazy people he meets and allows to tag along with him, but I would just end up telling you the entire story because it’s all so bonkers so you might as well just go get the book and read it yourself.

Instead I will tell you that in having Scott adventure to all of these places with all of these people, Pessl creates a lot of really fantastic and suspenseful scenes that had me flipping pages as fast as I could read them and cursing the inevitable end of my lunch break as I squeezed in the last pages of a chapter. I had to know what would happen next, and every time I found out I also found a new thing to worry about in the hours between reading times or to give me strange dreams later that night.

I do have to say that I nearly gave up on this book due to Pessl’s over-reliance on italics (see that quote above). They are everywhere, all the time, and I get that they are probably meant to help me hear the way that the characters speak but they mostly made me wonder where the characters learned to speak English (see: my exact same rant about Fables). These italics pulled me out of many an otherwise absorbing scene and it took sheer force of will and an intense interest in the story and the characters to ignore them. Ugh.

But the characters! Even though I think Scott is kind of an idiot, I was rooting for him completely in his investigation and in his personal life, a lot of which we get to see. He’s also got some annoying manic pixie dream sidekicks whom I wished would get the heck out of the novel, but I found their strange backstories intriguing and so I will allow them to stay (because that’s totally my decision). But of course the most interesting person in the book is Ashley, who for being dead the whole time has a heck of a character arc.

I really loved the way Pessl took the weird underground film aspect of her story and made it an integral part of the story and the book itself. As I mentioned above, the book’s prologue acts as a cold open, followed by a title card, with the real story starting after. There are also many pages that are just screenshots of the story’s internet or case files or photographs that lend a visual component, as well as three completely black pages that delineate the book’s four acts. The characters get into a lot of discussions about Cordova’s films and how they work and their structure leaks into the book’s structure (to the point where a character actually says “I think I’m inside a Cordova film”) and it is super interesting in a really nerdy way. Also, the ending, oh my goodness.

This is absolutely a book (like one Mr. Peanut) that is going to require a re-read or two or seven to really get the whole story and find all of the tiny details that I know are hidden in it, and I hope I will find the time to give it all the re-reads it deserves.

Recommendation: For fans of psychological terror, creepy films, and stories that refuse to give you closure.

Rating: 9/10 (with the story just barely overpowering the italics to keep it from an 8, seriously, I hate those italics)