I’m not sure I’ve actually done more reading than usual this week, but finishing five books in seven days sure feels like I’m accomplishing something. Yes, Novella November is rolling right along and I read some really excellent, and varied, stuff this week. I’ve also still got a damn mountain I hoped to get through this month that seems more and more unlikely. Lucky for me, I’m pretty sure that anyone taking the time to read this has the same problem. So many books, so little time.
The Shatter Point by Jon O’Bergh
I posted a full review earlier this week if you’d like to find out more about this book. If you’d rather the short version, The Shatter Point is an excellent psychological thriller that explores what it takes to bring a person to their breaking point, and the things that can happen when they get there.
The approach follows two sets of characters who seemingly have no ties, and the reader sits back to watch as the stories of a musician trying to impress his girlfriend and a couple trying to celebrate Halloween in a pretty extreme way spiral towards their inevitable collision.
The pacing is well-done, and even though it was one of the longer novellas I’ve selected this month, I blasted through in less than two days. Make sure to stick around until the end for this one. You will be justly rewarded with multiple twists, turns, and some of the best sleight of hand I can remember gracing a story I’ve read in recent memory.
In the Scrape by James Newman and Mark Steensland
Again, my full review for this absolutely stellar piece of work went live earlier this week. It’s a five star read, and as fellow twitter review guy Well Read Beard(@KevinWhitten62) had to say, there’s just nothing here you can take points off for.
In the Scrape is a gloriously told coming-of-age story that does a novel’s worth of character development in a fraction of that time. Authors James Newman and Mark Steensland certainly deserve a great deal of credit for that.
- Great story ✔️
- Compelling protagonists ✔️✔️
- Relatable antagonists ✔️
- Perfect use of novella form ✔️
- Believable character growth ✔️
- Surprising story turns ✔️
- Satisfying ending ✔️
Sorry for literally turning to a checklist in a review, but the alternative was me typing READ THIS BOOK in all caps 34 times.
Manifest Recall by Alan Baxter
I loved this book, but instead of anything resembling a review, I’m just going to treat you to some rejected opening lines for a review:
- Alan Baxter wants the reader who has never done cocaine to understand what’s its like to do cocaine.
- Reading this book, I consistently had to remember to breathe. The action was unrelenting and wouldn’t quit long enough for me to grab a Diet Coke.
- I’ve never seen any of the John Wick movies, but I’m assuming there aren’t enough ghosts! This has that! And more!
- Ever wish Jack Reacher cursed a lot more and had extremely questionable morals? Have I got a story for you.
Manifest Recall was a thrill-a-minute read, and it’s a damn shame that this book is not already being developed as a Netflix movie or some such.
Dear Laura by Gemma Amor
What a ride this book took me on. We follow the titular character, through past and present, on a journey to find out what happened to her childhood boyfriend. He was abducted in front of her thirty years before, and never seen or heard from again. Laura, however, hangs on to a dim hope that she might find him, and at the very least be able to provide an answer to his family as to why this happened.
The hope is dangled in front of her by X, the kidnapper, who leaves her letters every year on her birthday. X offers to tell her where Bobby is, but for a price. Items that become increasingly more personal as the story goes on. Potentially the worst and scariest thing about X is that he’s not a supernatural entity, or an unstoppable force. There are people in the world like this. The horror aspect in the story derives from the fact that, oh shit, everything in here could happen, and it could happen to anyone.
This debut novella by Gemma Amor is well-plotted, well-paced, and just generally well conceived. I’ve already picked up her short story collection, Cruel Works of Nature, and I eagerly anticipate the other two releases Ms. Amor has on tap so she can hurt me again. Bonus points for doing her own incredible art for the front cover.
Ritual by Steve Stred
“Steve Stred writes dark, bleak horror fiction”.
Yep, that’s about the size of it. I certainly can’t say I wasn’t warned. Ritual is a story that contains I don’t know how many pages because Mr. Stred refuses to number them. Combine that with a non-traditional way of formatting the paperback and you’ve got an unsettling approach to an unsettling story.
We follow the main character, Brad, as he trudges through his daily life anticipating the coming, and nominal, Ritual. The narration is presented in a very detached way, so the reader keeps their distance as things go from a little off to more debased to what in the name of Beelzebub’s car keys am I reading?
The last 20 pages or so(again, an estimate), lift the train off the tracks and send it careening towards destruction and mayhem. We go from weird, messed up people to full-blown supernatural and mythological mania. After being relatively subdued throughout most of the book, the end gives us some truly horrifying and grotesque stuff to walk away with. Well played, Mr. Stred.