The Woman in Cabin 10 – Ruth Ware

★★★☆☆

I hadn’t heard great things about this novel, but when I picked it up in the used bookstore, the first page or two read well. Lo (Laura) wakes up to a burglar in her house, and she fights him off (basically) and she goes to the police. The police say that statistically, most burglars will break into your place more than once.

Okay!

So I’m on my toes waiting for this bad guy to come back, but Lo goes on a work cruise and the bad guy isn’t waiting for her there, ready to tie the story together, so I’m already wondering where this story is going.

But she does sort of witness a murder on the cruise, and because she’s still freaked out by the burglary, nobody believes her. That’s all the burglary was there for: credibility reduction.

What I did like about this book was the author’s use of description: the way she described the burglar at the beginning by saying (paraphrased) “that’s how I described him to the police” (which let us know not only what she saw, but provided foreshadowing). And when she got to the cruise and they’re assigning her to her cabin — you think, “she’ll be in cabin 10, surely” but no, she’s not. And you look at the book title at the top of the page, and it makes you a little nervous. Like … who’s in cabin 10 and what’s her deal?

I also liked the author’s placement of emails — but it would have been more effective if she’d labeled the chapters with the date, because I didn’t realize at first that the emails were from a few days in the future.

What I didn’t like started pretty soon after Lo wakes up hearing a murder going on. I mean, of course that’s what she’s hearing. I didn’t like Lo. She’s mean to just about everyone (including her boyfriend, who she leaves on very uncertain terms, but claims to love). Maybe she doesn’t have the built-in niceties I’ve noticed in almost everyone I encounter — you know, that voice inside that reminds you you’re in polite company and to maybe temper your response before you spit it at someone. If I’d been on the cruise with her and she behaved the way she did, I wouldn’t have believed her either and I would have avoided her. I wished I could, but because it was a book, I was tethered to this woman to the bitter end. (That’s not a spoiler, I mean the end of the book.)

As a person who’s dealt with anxiety and some PTSD, I know it can make you a little tweaked sometimes, so I tried to be patient with her. She’s just flying off the handle because she’s been hurt in the past and this is how she deals. Fine. But the plot just drags for a little while. Nobody believes her for about a fourth of the book, and that’s really all that happens. She doesn’t do cruise activities or work stuff (even though she’s there for work), and the other characters are basically cardboard cutouts. And then! It looks like the climax starts about a third from the end, and I’m fanning the remaining pages thinking what could possibly take so long?

But it did take so long. It wasn’t nail-biting, I stopped caring what was going to happen. For me, this book was good enough to finish, but it’ll go back to the used bookstore.


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My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix

★★★★★

It’s the 80s, and there’s so much of it. Abby invites everyone in school to her birthday party at the roller rink, and only one person, Gretchen, shows up. Gretchen gives a disappointing present, but the two girls become best friends. We follow them through the grades, the boys, the catty friends, until a small group of them try some drugs, try to go skinny dipping, and Gretchen gets lost in the woods. She comes back with maybe some PTSD, and she gets worse before she gets better. Stops bathing. Stops changing her clothes. Stops being normal. Everyone’s worried, but the more 

Abby tries to get to the bottom of what happened and how she can help her friend, everyone turns on her instead. Why is Abby spreading lies, they ask? Why is Abby being such a bad influence? Abby is surely the reason behind Gretchen’s downward spiral, and we don’t want our daughter associating with her anymore. If it’s not Abby . . .

I, like everyone else in the world, just finished watching Stranger Things 3, and needed to go back to the creepy 80s. This book (with that amazing, eye-catching VHS style cover) was exactly what I needed. So much 80s nostalgia, and just the right amount of creepy and heart that I stayed up past my bedtime every night with this book. Eager to read everything else Grady Hendrix has written.


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More than This – Patrick Ness

★★★☆☆

Seth drowns and wakes up alone in an abandoned city, or the weirdest afterlife I’ve ever imagined.

Coming from a religious background myself, the idea of an afterlife is a) ever-present and b) a total mystery (and well-worth imagining). While it seems like Seth might be in Hell, it’s not explicit. For the first 40% of the book, he’s alone (except for the occasional animal, which may or may not be in his imagination), and I’ve never been so engrossed in a book in recent memory. 

The idea of exploring an abandoned city, totally alone, is something I think about all the time. Sometimes when I’m out and the city is crowded, I imagine what I might do if everyone disappeared. Where would I go in my own peaceful time? Would I take things from the stores (because no one’s coming back, it wouldn’t be stealing), or go into the employees only section of a museum and have a private look around, or just lie in the grass and listen to the birds? It’s a lovely dream.

This book took that idea and let me luxuriate in someone else’s imagination. Yeah, I mean, if everyone disappeared, eventually all the food would rot, and the electricity place would stop working, so it was nice to have someone else take the reins. But just like a peaceful moment alone, all that was ruined when other people showed up.

It’s hard to talk about what happens next that won’t ruin the rest of the book, should you choose to read it, but I will say it reminded me too much of The Matrix, and that’s basically all I could think about until the last word. It was fine. The added characters were stereotypical and annoying, and really, I preferred to be alone.

5 stars for the first half of the book, 2 stars for the last half.

The Devil and Jimmy Biscuits by Taylor Dunn

★★★★☆

Jimmy is a 15 year with some demands for the Devil (wishes, to be specific). As you might expect, ol’ Satan had his own ideas.

This story is an easy, quick read that left me smiling the whole way through. It has moments of humor, thoughtfulness, and because we’re dealing with a character as basal as Satan, it challenges ingrained ideas.

“I’m not sure you fully understand the implications of the proposition,” Lucifer replied slowly. “Your soul, the part of you that lasts forever, in exchange for three wishes. Wishes that I presume will benefit your temporal personage?”

Jimmy stared with a perplexed expression.

“Your earthly body, genius.”

“Oh,” Jimmy said brightly. “Yeah, exactly.”

“Go home kid,” Satan said, “before you get hurt.”

Lucifer is powerful, able to grant a wish, and already suggesting said wish will not be chosen well. The “Go home” suggests maybe he’s not as big a dick as culture portrays. 

Thinking Satan isn’t a dick goes against everything I learned as a lifelong Christian. Instead, I should wish him to sit on a tack (ouch!), not be afraid of him, and most of all: never, ever mess with him (this means not entertaining witches like Harry Potter, not hugging trees like those nature-worshiping faeries in Fern Gully, and not acknowledging someone else has power, like that hussy Synergy on Jem and the Holograms). 

The nice thing about being an adult and letting a piece of fiction be a piece of fiction is that I can read about someone who’s supposed to be my enemy and see the good in them. Or at least be curious about who they are.

But as great as the main characters are in this story, the supporting cast is just as good. Mig, I love you.

This short story is funny, it challenges ideas we already have, but also conforms to the idea that people get what’s coming to them. I mean, you don’t expect a story about Satan to be completely above board, do you?

Taylor Dunn is also the author of another short story called Fear and Loathing in Shanghai, which I beta read, but haven’t read the finished product. Also available is a full-length novel (also featuring Lucifer) called Clockwork Angels (which I beta read as well, and it’s one of my favorites). If these works are anything to go by, this author will be entertaining us for a long time.

http://www.taylordunn.org

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