Book Review: The Devil’s Banker by Christopher Reich (2003)

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Review #14

 

If post-9/11 hysteria ever attained sentience and wrote a novel, it would bear a striking resemblance to Christopher Reich’s The Devil’s Banker. Here can be found all of the elements that would make any upstanding rifle-toting American break into a sweat. A secret Muslim terrorist group. A bomb detonation on the streets of a major city. A radicalized youth with plans for murder. And only a few dashing patriotic government agents racing against the clock to foil their plots and save the day.

This was the January pick for my monthly book club, and it marks my very first foray into the world of spy-thriller novels. I’ve avoided them like the plague in the past, and at least now I can say that my reluctance was wholly justified.

Holy anti-Muslim sentiment, Batman! Within just the first few pages we’re introduced to one radicalized man who is plotting to “kill the infidels”. He is quickly joined by a threateningly shadowy group of other Muslims who also hate our beloved Western values. They all have names like Mohammed Al-Saleeb Al-Mohammed and exist only to be thwarted at the proper moment by our democracy-loving group of agents.

In this novel, all Muslims are hell-bent on the destruction of the Western world. The French are surrender monkeys. The British are only as useful as their alliance with the United States. Torture is totally acceptable as long as they get the answers they need. The Patriot Act is touted as the most sacred doctrine since the Declaration of Independence. At one point a character unironically states:

If you’re not stepping on someone’s rights, you’re not doing your job”

Seriously everyone, this book pissed me off. I get that this was written in 2003, when the U.S. was still recovering from the September 11 attacks. I get that the spy-thriller genre needs a villain. And I get that this genre is primarily targeting men who perhaps will enjoy the “chase” and not focus so much on the glaring xenophobia.

But I couldn’t. And I have to ask, are all the books in the spy-thriller genre this repulsive?

My rating: 0/5

You can find The Devil’s Banker here on Amazon or here on Book Depository.

Happy reading everyone!

Book Review: The Bell Witch: An American Haunting by Brent Monahan (2000)

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I found this novel on a Buzzfeed list of scary novels to read around Halloween. I had high hopes that it might be a historical account of the Bell family and the facts surrounding the numerous accounts of the Bell Witch. I was very, very wrong.

Written in the voice of Richard Powell as a letter to his children, The Bell Witch is a fictionalized account of the famous Tennessee haunting that took place in the early 1820s.

The Bell Witch is a short little novel, under two hundred pages. All I can say is thank goodness. By page one hundred, I was frustrated. Fifty pages later, I was getting ready to tear my hair out. I finally finished the book yesterday evening and actually gave a sigh of relief.

I can sum up my problem with The Bell Witch in one short sentence. It is boring. Presented in its book jacket as nonfiction, this is instead a fictionalized account masquerading as a recovered letter. This letter, which drags on with no chapter breaks, chronicles in agonizing detail the account of the least frightening spirit ever recorded. An unnecessarily racist spirit too, as the author insists on dropping the n-word around like bigoted breadcrumbs. If this was supposed to add historical accuracy it was a horrid misstep, as it simply upped my lack of sympathy for any of the idiots that were supposedly involved in the haunting.

My rating: 1/5

You can find this novel here on Amazon or here on Book Depository. However, if you’re looking for a ghost story with actual ghosts, I would recommend Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Or The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson if you enjoy a true life account of a haunting.

Happy reading everyone!

This Post Has a Shocking Twist Ending That Will Leave Your Jaw On the Floor!

I was browsing through Pinterest the other morning, on the prowl for new books, and I came across this.

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Decent title. Cover looks promising. But upon closer inspection…

blurb

I promptly took the Nope train all the way to Screw-That ville.

Why are you announcing your plot twist on the front cover? Why do publishers DO this? It’s not even as if this is an isolated incident. In fact, it seems to be a growing trend throughout the mystery/thriller genre.

   Image result for harlan coben tell no one Image result for k. l. slater the mistake Image result for patricia gibney the missing ones

See the pattern? Why would anyone advertise the surprise plot twist at the end of the novel? It completely ruins the surprise of the surprise plot twist at the end of the novel!

Am I the only one who is annoyed by this? If I am reading a book where I am aware that there is going to be a crazy plot twist, I’m not going to enjoy the novel. I’m going to spend all my time over-thinking everything in order to try to figure out the plot twist before it happens. And half the time, the “shocking” plot twist is going to either be a) visible from space or b) something completely nonsensical involving a character that wasn’t even involved in the main plot to begin with. Either way, my enjoyment factor is low.

Why does this only seem to happen with books? Movie producers get it. No one went into The Sixth Sense expecting Bruce Willis to have been dead the entire time. So when we found out that Bruce Willis was dead the entire time it was actually shocking. Which is also why by the time The Village rolled around and the entire planet had figured out that M. Night Shymalan was a one-trick pony, the fun was gone. Because the surprise was gone.

It’s irritating because it’s lazy. Can’t find anything interesting to say about your upcoming book? Say it’s the next Gone Girl because people liked that book! Except part of the reason why people liked Gone Girl was that the twist hits you out of nowhere with the force of a bullet train and doesn’t stop hitting you for another two hundred pages. That’s what makes it fun! Advertising your plot twists on the front cover is click-bait for novels. Next the blurbs are going to start saying things like “You won’t believe what happens in Chapter 16!” or “Women be sure to avoid this character’s failure on page 229!”.

Which is too bad. Because those four books up there might be highly enjoyable reads. But it’s unlikely that I will ever read them because they’ve had all the suspense sucked out. Let’s hope in the future that book publishers can find a slightly more subtle way to draw our attention to the upcoming novels. At this point, a baseball bat to the head would show more nuance.

Happy reading everyone!

Ten Most Disappointing Books I Read in 2017

I recently wrote a list of my favorite books of 2017. Continuing on with that theme, I now present to you a list of the ten most disappointing books that I read this year. This does not necessarily mean that they were bad or poorly written. Just that they left me feeling frustrated or unsatisfied in some way. I did manage to finish all of these, partially because my particular brand of perfectionism rarely allows me to walk away from a book before reaching the end.

 

Enjoy!

 

10. The Floating World by C. Morgan Babst (2017)

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The Floating World follows the Boisdorė family as they reunite in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Cora, who was left behind after refusing to evacuate, is struggling to come to grips with the horrors she witnessed during the flooding. Her sister Adelaide deals with survivor’s guilt after waiting out the storm in the comfort of New York City. Their parents, Joe and Tess are piecing through the rubble of their marriage. And Joe’s father battles the looming fog of Alzheimer’s as the New Orleans of his youth becomes confused with the present day destruction.

I put this novel on my most disappointing list because I waited for it to become available at my local library for nearly three months. I was so excited when I finally got to go pick it up. It was lovely and shiny and still had that gorgeous new book smell. I took it home, poured a glass of wine, opened it up and…was completely underwhelmed.

The Floating World is beautifully written with hauntingly elegant descriptions of the ruins of a once beautiful city and the struggles of a once happy family. However, Babst has a very jarring tendency to switch points of view from paragraph to paragraph with little warning, so it was difficult at times to know which character you were following. My main criticism is that none of Babst’s characters are terribly likable. Everyone is so wrapped up in their own struggles that they come across as unbearably selfish. There was no one I could root for and by the end I closed the book with a shrug.

 

9. Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill (2013)

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Apartment 16 is the story of Apryl, an American girl who discovers that she has been named the heir to a mysterious apartment in England left to her by a mysterious great-aunt who has died mysteriously. Upon her arrival at the apartment, mysterious occurrences begin happening, seemingly connected to the mysteriously abandoned apartment downstairs from hers. It’s super mysterious you guys!

It came as a surprise that this book found itself on my most disappointing list, especially since Nevills’ The Ritual landed a place on my favorite books of the year. But all the suspense, claustrophobia, and creeping horror that seeped into The Ritual was sorely lacking here.

In the 1995 film Scream, Neve Campbell’s character describes her disdain for horror films by saying:

“What’s the point? They’re all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.”

That’s how I felt the entire time I was reading this book. Apryl is dumb. The character’s around her are equally dumb. The dialogue is stilted and painful. Not a single person behaves in a rational manner. There were some redeeming features, particularly in the vivid descriptions of the artwork decorating the titular aparment. I loved the idea of paintings that change when you’re not looking. I would be in line for that exhibit. But I was very happy to close the door on Apartment 16 and move on to something different.

 

8. The Hand That Feeds You by A. J. Rich (2015)

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In this novel we are introduced to Morgan, a university student who is finishing her thesis on victim psychology. Her life is turned upside down when she enters her apartment to find her fiancé brutally murdered in her bedroom, apparently mauled to death by her beloved rescue pit bulls. Morgan must now race to try to prove her pets’ innocence, while also coming to terms with the fact that the man she loved may have been a stranger the entire time.

This novel had me at “rescue pit bulls”. I will never understand why this particular breed of smart, caring, and endlessly loving dogs has been so unfairly maligned. However, The Hand That Feeds You only dealt with this issue in the background, focusing instead on the dead fiancé who becomes increasingly enigmatic with every page. The problem is that the story of the fiancé is not compelling, nor is it suspenseful, nor does it make a lick of sense. The ending could be spotted a mile away and any sense of justice for the poor pitties was left behind long-ago in a tangle of needlessly convoluted nonsense.

 

7. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995)

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Practical Magic follows the lives of the Owens sisters Gillian and Sally, as well as Sally’s children and their eccentric aunts as they deal with the everyday challenges of life and love with a little bit of magic.

It was probably my own fault that I didn’t like this book, because the 1998 film was one of my favorites when I was a teenager. Granted, it doesn’t hold up all that well after twenty years, but there was a strong nostalgia factor going in which perhaps set me up for disappointment.

The only thing that Practical Magic the book has in common with Practical Magic the film are the names of the characters and the broadest of plot points. The aunts are shadowy far-away figures instead of the zany fun-loving women I remembered. The entire plot with Gillian’s abusive boyfriend is relegated to the background. Sally and Gillian seem to hate one another and the spirit of female camaraderie that I identified with as a teenager watching the movie was completely lost here. Again, this is my fault for bringing my preconceptions with me when I read the novel but it was still a real let-down.

 

6. A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena (2017)

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Tom and Karen Krupp are the seemingly perfect married couple, until Tom comes home one evening to find his wife gone, with her purse, phone, and ID all left behind. Then the police come to knock on the door. That’s really all I can say without giving away the first quarter of the book.

I saw this novel on a list of best suspense novels of 2017 and had to check it out. And it wasn’t necessarily bad. It just wasn’t…suspenseful. The “shocks” and “twists” I had been expecting were more like gentle winding curves that could be spotted from the International Space Station. And while Tom is presented as this perfect husband who loves his wife so much, he sure manages to behave like an utter tool the majority of the time.

Sometimes there is a very fine line between suspense and frustration. With suspense you can’t wait to figure out what’s going to happen next, and you’re on the edge of your seat the entire time. Other books just leave you rolling your eyes and inwardly thinking “get to the point already”. A Stranger in the House definitely fell into the latter category for me.

 

5. Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (2017)

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Meddling Kids catches up with the Blyton Summer Detective club and the descendant of their faithful dog twenty years after their adolescent sleuthing led to the capture of a man in a mask who was conning the locals of a small lake town. Now they must return to the sight of their previous victory in order to finally put to rest the nightmares that have haunted them since that fateful summer. Basically, picture Scooby-Doo gang if they’d all grown up and developed alcoholism, PTSD, or nymphomania.

This book made me legitimately angry because the premise is utterly, fantastically brilliant. I was so excited to explore how the teenage detectives dealt with the long-term repercussions of their summertime exploits. It sounded hysterically funny. The major problem was that Cantero’s writing style was essentially unreadable.

Cantero plays so fast and loose with the rules of the English language that I could never just sink my teeth into the story and enjoy. Writers can feel free to create new words and adapt dialogue to fit a real-life conversation. But when they just make shit up for the sake of making shit up, it is incredibly jarring. For example at one point a character “tragichuckled”. Another one “triviaed”. Later, a house is “howlretched”. There are ways to be hip and relevant without juxtaposing random ass portmanteau into your writing. What a waste of an amazing idea.

 

4. The Broken Ones by Stephen M. Irwin (2011)

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On a seemingly normal day in the near future, the world descends into chaos in the blink of an eye. Every single person, all across the globe, suddenly becomes haunted by their own personal ghosts. Ghosts that are not capable of speaking or inflicting harm, but just stand silently, staring. Governments fall, the economy collapses, and crime skyrockets. Enter Detective Oscar Mariani who is working to solve the murder of a woman who was ritualistically murdered by a sadistic serial killer.

When I was scrolling through the books I read in 2017 in preparation for this list, I had to go back into Goodreads to remember even the smallest detail of the plot. I had completely and utterly forgotten reading it. And once I refreshed my memory, I still felt nothing for this novel. I didn’t connect to any of the characters. I didn’t get pulled into the plot. It was, apparently, completely forgettable.

I would recommend picking up Irwin’s The Dead Path instead. That one will stick with you.

3. The Girl Who Would Speak For the Dead by Paul Elwork

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England, 1925. Emily and her twin brother Michael are caught up in a lie spinning out of control after Emily claims she can perform spirit-knocking. What begins as a game to frighten the local children becomes much more serious as the adults in the area ask her to begin communicating with the spirits of their lost loved ones.

I found this novel in a used book store and bought it primarily for the cover and the short excerpt in the back. I was expecting a novel about the dangers of pretending to communicate with ghosts. Instead, The Girl Who Would Speak for the Dead slogged through three hundred pages without ever quite getting to the point. The characters never move with any real purpose. What is the motivation behind Michael’s insistence that they continue? What is their mother’s motivation for anything that she does? Everyone seems to move from one rather dull situation to the next without any driving force.

Also, the plot device of Emily being able to crack her ankle to make a knocking sound was just silly. I can crack my ankle too, but it seemed utterly implausible that anyone could do it without perceptibly moving their ankle.

2. Cera’s Place by Elizabeth McKenna (2011)

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Cera’s Place takes place in San Francisco, 1869. Our main character, Cera, owns a saloon that welcomes in women who are fleeing from any number of bad situations. She serves liquor and food, but anyone seeking out a more “personal” touch they must look elsewhere. One night a distraught Chinese girl appears at her doorstep with tales of kidnapping, prostitution, and murder. Together with battle-scarred Civil War veteran, Jack Tanner, Cera must work to unravel the mystery and end the prosecution of women in her town.

This is another novel that it’s probably my fault that I didn’t like it. I didn’t look carefully enough, or I would have noticed that it was a romance novel. Well written, as far as romance novels go, but still a romance novel with all of the inherited clichés of the genre. The tough-talking heroine with a heart of gold. The brooding male who conceals a wealth of love and feeling beneath a gruff exterior. The bare bones of a setting and the straw man of a plot. The very well described sex scene complete with creative euphemisms for the male genitalia.

None of this is necessarily bad. There are plenty of people who have rated this book very highly. It’s just definitely not my favorite genre and I had to grit my teeth to finish it.

1.The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics (2016)

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After her Aunt Penelope wanders into the woods one day and doesn’t return, Lucy Acosta finds herself increasingly isolated and frightened in her Victorian manor home. Her cousin Margaret begins behaving strangely, claiming that she can hear her mother’s voice calling from within the walls. Lucy must now face up to the haunting legacy of the Acosta family before she too, is claimed.

I read this book because I really enjoyed Lukavic’s other novel, Daughters Unto Devils. However, The Women in the Walls fell short on almost every level. If you are going to write a “trapped in the house” narrative, it makes sense to explain at some point why any of these people are trapped. Why can’t Lucy just leave? This is only one of numerous plot holes that peppers this novel and makes it ultimately unbearable. There is zero suspense leading up to the big finish. And the conclusion was so confusing that I gave up trying to figure out what the hell was going on and just considered myself lucky to be finished with this book.

 

 

I had a hard time writing this list because I have so much respect for writers. It takes an incredible amount of courage for someone to bear their soul and put it out into the world in a book. It takes very little courage for me to criticize them from the safety of a blog. However, the truth is what it is. Not every novel is going to be a home-run for everyone.

Do you have a different opinion? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Up next, we gear up to begin the OneYear/OneHundredBooks Challenge! Happy reading everyone!