Thrills, Chills, and Unfortunate Events
Tom Franklin, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
Emily Whitted recommends this tale of two crimes, one unsolved from the past, and one present and threatening to dig up the former. More importantly, this is the tale of two people, both with many secrets, and both unavoidably connected to each other.
Set in a tiny rural town in Mississippi, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" shows how racism, small town secrets, and the power of friendship can combine to create not just a well-written thriller, but a deep insight to human loneliness and blind prejudice. Larry Ott, a white boy addicted to Steven King novels, and Silas Jones, the athletic African American son of his single mother Alice, become unlikely friends in the 1970s. When Larry takes his drunken neighbor's daughter Cindy to a drive-in movie for his first date and she disappears, Larry is thrust into the town's spotlight as the prime suspect. Although he never confessed and isn't charged, the entire town, including Silas, shuns him. Larry grows up completely alone, and Silas leaves town and comes back to be the town constable. Now, twenty years later, another girl has disappeared, and the town's silent hatred for Larry is unleashed. Silas must race against time to clear Larry's name and protect him, while forcing himself to admit that Larry is not the only one with secrets.
The crimes are not the central story of the book, as they serve as a way to explore the relationship between these two ex-friends, and reveal how one mistake can ruin a man's life. Readers will keep turning pages not only to solve the crimes, but to solve the mysteries of the true characters of Silas and Larry. Most pleasantly surprising, this book steers clear of any gore or graphic scenes, leaving the intense moments for Larry and Silas as they delve into their less-than-perfect pasts. For a thriller that will continue to make you think long after you've read it, "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" is definitely worth taking off the shelves (or downloading to your eReader).
Stephen King, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
Rachel Maderik rescues Stephen King from the horror pigeonhole we may assume he belongs in. She writes, "I had heard a lot of good things about Stephen King, but as I don't like horror and gore, I had avoided his books until a friend recommended The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. This short novel is about a nine-year old girl, Trisha McFarland, who gets lost in the woods while hiking the Appalachian Trail with her family. She quickly learns that her biggest danger is succumbing to her own fear (or, as Trisha calls it, "nasty, no-brain panic"), and to keep her spirits up, she spends each night listening to Boston Red Sox games on her Walkman radio. Her favorite Sox player is Tom Gordon, and she begins to draw strength from imagining that he is present with her in the wilderness, giving her advice and keeping her company through the lonely, frightening days.
The story doesn't have scares that will make you jump out of your seat, but King does a great job of making you share Trisha's terror as her first night alone in the woods approaches, or her vague sense of dread when she begins to feel a presence stalking her in the woods. This book also made me appreciate King's ability to take a simple image (for example, some mundane situation I've encountered in the woods numerous times), and describe it in such a way that sends chills down my spine, even though it's a familiar sight that's never bothered me before. If you've been wondering what all the hype surrounding Stephen King is about, but you prefer to avoid big scares, monsters, and other nightmare fuel, then consider giving The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon a try. It's a heartwarming story of how, when put to the test, people can draw surprising amounts of strength and courage from unexpected sources.
Ronald Malfi, The Floating Staircase
Horror novelist Travis Glasgow has spent much of his young adult life being plagued by the death of his younger brother, Kyle. Even though the accidental drowning occurred when they were both young boys, Travis blames himself for his brother's death. Now in his mid-thirties, Travis and his wife, Jodi, are moving to a small town in Maryland. Jodi hopes that the move may bring Travis closer to his other brother, Adam, who helped them secure a home near his own wife and family. At first, their new home seems to be a perfect fit for the couple. Soon, however, things take an eerie turn when Travis begins to suspect that the house is haunted. Strange noises wake him up in the middle of the night. He sees phantom footprints leading through the kitchen into the basement. And, he finds a child's handprint on a wall formed from a specific color of paint he was certain he sealed shut. The creepiest factor of all, though, is his discovery of an odd set of stairs that seem to magically be hovering in the middle of a frozen lake in his backyard. As Travis begins to investigate the strange occurrences surrounding his new house, he quickly learns that the house has come into his possession carrying some very sad and tragic secrets. Is the house really haunted by a ghost? Or, are Travis' personal demons getting the better of him? Sharing elements of both horror and mystery novels, "The Floating Staircase" will be a perfect read for the upcoming season. Set predominantly in the winter months, the book really sets an atmosphere of cold temperatures and forbidding emotions. Jami McDonald says this is a must read for fans of the thriller genre.
Georgia Bragg, How They Croaked: the awful ends of the awfully famous
Barbara Justice says "The title of this book caught my eye as something that might be delightfully ghoulish. The cover was even more encouraging: it showed a skeleton wearing a doctor's white coat, a stethoscope, and one of those flat, round mirrors with a hole in the middle that doctors used to wear. This book was looking more and more appealing. When I opened the cover and saw a skull and crossbones and a warning that stated "If you don't have the guts for gore, do not read this book" on the inside flap, I was hooked. And guess what? The content lived up to expectations. From King Tut to Albert Einstein, this little volume with only 184 pages gave the sometimes disgusting details of how some of the most famous people in history REALLY died. The style is rather tongue-in-cheek with some snide remarks along the way. For example, in the story of Pocahontas' death, when the English kidnapped and civilized her, they "taught her English and told her about important things like Christmas and guilt." Another example of the writer's rather flippant style is this comment about King Henry VIII's wives: "Six lucky ladies got to be his queen at different times, but not one kept the tiara for long." In addition to the stories of the demise of 19 of the world's most famous people, the book also includes wonderful illustrations. Each page is adorned with pencil drawings of the victims and some of the more interesting minor characters or obscure medical treatments. Plus, at the end of each chapter, there are two pages of bonus material of a truly interesting nature. These pages are filled with the last words of some famous people, a list of famous people who were at one time or another in prison, a history of the guillotine, and a list of common phobias, among other things. I also liked the chart at the end of the book called "Connections." The writer used this chart to show how the 19 lives discussed in the book intersected in fascinating ways. The book is a quick and easy read—a sure hit with YA readers who like off-beat trivia AND a side order of ghoulish details."
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