Julie Clarke is in her final year of school and has her future sorted. Move out of Ellensburg, move in with her boyfriend Sam Obayashi, attend her dream college Reed, write while he plays guitar, and spend a summer in Japan. Then Sam dies. Julie skips the funeral and struggles to work out how to pick up the pieces. She’s ready to chuck out all of Sam’s things and pretend he never existed. Then Julie decides to call Sam one last time. And Sam picks up the phone.
You’ve Reached Samis a 2021 contemporary romance by Dustin Thao. I was lured by this novel because, despite almost never reading contemporary romances, it sounded very similar to a short story that haunted me as a kid—Shake by Paul Jennings. Who knew a short story collection I got in a cake mix would have such an effect? I’m glad I read You’ve Reached Sam—it’s not a genre I would typically read, but sometimes it’s nice to branch out of our comfort zone.
Timothy Blake isn’t your typical FBI civilian consultant. He’s a cannibal who solves crimes for the FBI purely so he can be given death row inmates to consume. Behind closed doors, he’s constantly starving and poor as dirt, solving riddles online—originally as a method of stealing credit card numbers—but soon it’s part of his personality. He’s also a genius who catches the eye of Houston FBI Director Peter Luzhin. When a 14 year old boy vanishes on his way home from school, the FBI employs Blake to help them out. But has Blake finally met his match?
Hangman by Australian author Jack Heath is the start of a trilogy I devoured in just over a month, alongside its sequels Hunter and Hideout. I came across Hangman because I was lured by the prospect of a book that’s basically the midpoint between Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan. Having already read two of the Hannibal books this year, I thought, “Why not read more cannibal books this year?” Is there such a thing as reading too much cannibal fiction in one year? How did I accidentally get my reading mojo back with such a specific subgenre of crime novels? Without answering these questions, I can only say I raced through the Christopher Ragland-narrated Timothy Blake trilogy. Ragland’s Texan accent makes listening to the trilogy a complete delight. I got myself absolutely immersed into this series. “But, surely,” you start, wide-eyed and confused. “The series can’t possibly remain good over three books…can it? The Dexter series devolved into hot garbage far too quickly. Does this?”
Nora Seed’s life is going nowhere. Once an aspiring swimming star, rockstar and glaciologist, her relationship with her boyfriend Dan is over and her brother’s barely in contact, she’s just lost her part-time job, and her cat Voltaire is found dead on the side of the road. Thinking her potential is lost, and everything is over, Nora plans to end everything…until she wakes up in the Midnight Library. The Midnight Library’s is Nora’s consciousness’s way of dealing with quantum immortality and alternative universes, with its head her former school librarian and only real maternal figure, Mrs Elm. Now she has the chance to relive her lost lives, make her way through her book of regrets, what could have been. In the process, we wonder what could have been if we’d diverged a different path in life. What will Nora Seed learn?
The Midnight Library is a 2020 novel by Matt Haig, part-fantasy and part-philosophical manifesto. During the lockdown, everyone and their cat was talking about this novel, and I was lured by the prospect of another book about a bookstore/library where magical things happen. Just see my previous reviews for Pages and Coby Anna James and The Left-Handed Booksellers of Londonby Garth Nix. I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but when I do, apparently there’s a lot of magical bookstores and magical libraries. Need more? I’m also intrigued by The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu and The Little Shop of Found Things by Paula Brackston. But…back to The Midnight Library. Everyone and their cute cats (named after literary references a la Leo in Elegance of the Hedgehog) were fascinated by The Midnight Library. I was late to the train until early this year, when I chanced upon the Carey Mulligan-narrated audiobook on Borrowbox. Ooh, I thought. I liked her in Never Let Me Go. And Promising Young Woman was okay, but it got me obsessed with Juice Newton’s Angel of the Morning, so it has that going for it. So I started listening. But was it worth it?
The name Clarice Starling is iconic thanks to Jodie Foster’s portrayal of the whip-smart young FBI Academy student, pitted against charismatic serial killer Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter, in the Academy Award winning film from 1991. But her roots begin, as always, in the original book. Starling is a trainee at the FBI Academy, one of the brightest students in her class, and that’s how she draws the attention of the one and only Jack Crawford. Crawford knows imprisoned cannibal Dr Hannibal Lecter knows more than he’s telling the Feds about the string of murders happening around the U.S. by a killer the press have dubbed Buffalo Bill. Since he lost his previous protégé, Will Graham, after the events of Red Dragon, he turns his sights on pretty, intelligent, female student Starling as his last resort.
The Silence of the Lambsby Thomas Harris is a 1988 psychological horror novel, and the sequel to Red Dragon. I both listened to the audiobook narrated by Frank Muller and read the physical book borrowed from the library. I had this book in my possession for a few many months, and it was only when it reached overdue status at the library that I finally pulled it out and read it in a couple of sittings. It’s been over a decade since I watched the Jodie Foster film, and basically nothing stuck except the basics, which made the book an exciting, fresh reading experience. Back then, I didn’t appreciate the film and was basically, like, “Oh, it’s just a lot of talking”. Over a decade on, I definitely appreciate the psychological element more.
2021 is finally over, and I know there’s more than a few of you thrilled to see the back of 2020: Part II. 2020’s sequel. Not like we were ever going to escape from that dreaded year.
It’s been a year. COVID-19 continued its dreaded wave of destruction. I commemorated getting out of two lockdowns by getting tattooed each time. Anne Rice died and, as a not-so-secret lover of vampire media (my hot take: Dangerous Girls by R.L Stine is the best vampire novel), it was definitely not the news we needed to hear. I watched a really good Netflix TV series, Perfume, this week, and Dexter: New Blood‘s surpassed all my expectations so far. I was surprised that I enjoyed the Chris Rock Saw movie. I stopped consuming news for the most part, and my mental health has improved considerably. Probably a good thing, since Australian Prime Minister Scott “Scummo” Morrison’s trying his damndest to censor the internet under the guise of “protecting children” from “internet trolls”, which is code for “only allowing his pre-approved legacy media hacks to bleat his propaganda without any criticism whatsoever”. But enough of that.
In the mid-1990s, in Claremont, Western Australia, three young women went missing after visiting local nightclubs, and two of them turned up dead. Despite a massive public outrage and an unprecedented police investigation, no killer was arrested as the so-dubbed Claremont Serial Killer until December 2016.
So goes the tale in Bret Christian’s true crime nonfiction Stalking Claremont: Inside the hunt for a serial killer. It’s not the first book to tell the story of the elusive, threatening Claremont Killer who haunted Australia for two decades, but this January 2021 release is the first to tell the full story now the killer, Bradley Edwards, is behind bars.
I first took notice of the Claremont Serial Killings probably around 2015, somewhere around the time of a report on the case on current affair TV, and spent much time poring through the news articles and Websleuths/Big Footy forums (which it was later revealed the killer himself had an account), and had heard about the many details from Debi Marshall’s ‘The Devil’s Garden‘ recited to me by someone else interested in the then-unsolved case, before the big news was announced in late-2016. Bret Christian is a local journalist in Western Australia, and his story is the first full, respectful, comprehensive account of everything surrounding the case, dispelling myth and portraying the facts.
In what’s supposed to be a slightly alternate 1983, Susan Arkshaw is about to start university, but first she wants to find her biological father. Before she can even begin to start her new life in London, Susan’s life is turned upside down. She meets up with a man who may know something about her dad, crime boss Frank Thringley, but before anything can happen, Frank is dead at the hands of Merlin, a left-handed bookseller, and her life will never be the same again.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London is a 2020 fantasy novel by Australian author Garth Nix. I’m not much of a fantasy reader, that stage passing me in my early teens after the Harry Potter urban fantasy trend died down. But I was on Borrowbox, which is like Libby, and this audiobook rekindled something in me. I’m certain I read Nix as a child, so I decided ‘Why not? Why not read his fiction again?’ Left-Handed Booksellers, in its plot, sounded similar to Pages & Co by Anna James, and while it wasn’t that similar once I got into it, I still surprisingly enjoyed this 11-hour audiobook.
Ellen Saint, by pure chance, sees a man on top of The Heights, a fancy, exclusive apartment building in London. He’s subtly different, older now, but she’d recognise him anywhere. Which doesn’t make sense. Because he’s been dead for over two years. She knows this because she’s the one who had him killed.
The Heights by Louise Candlish is a 2021 psychological thriller about an unlikeable protagonist—aren’t they all?—called Ellen Saint who devolves into madness and hate after the death of her son Lucas Gordon at the hands of the aforementioned man at The Heights, Kieran Watts. Most of the story is told through the lens of Ellen, in excerpts of her book ‘Saint or Sinner’, but interspersed in the middle and at the end with third-person narrative of her ex-partner Vic Gordon, and in parts a review by Sunday Times Magazine journalist Michaela Ross.
Amanda is just your typical thirtysomething middle class semi-successful architect, married to Ed and having moved into the house of her dreams in the middle of a desolate, abandoned neighbourhood. Then begins the scratching at the walls. The voice in her head. Missing time. Dreams of blood seas. Memory lapses. Outlandish behaviour. As Amanda struggles to take control of her life, she comes across stories of demon possession and Adam’s second wife Naamah. Is she possessed, insane, or is there something more to the story? Time’s running out, and if Amanda doesn’t take control soon, she won’t have anything left.
Come Closer is Sara Gran’s 2003 short horror novel. I can’t remember how I came across this novel, but I couldn’t find this book at my library, and was interested enough in the premise that I bought it on my Kindle as soon as it was possible. One of the elements in this story is similar to my current manuscript, so I wanted to see how Sara Gran wrote it, and hoo boy, I was surprised. Being a novella, I finished Come Closer very quickly, and was surprised when I opened it up on my Kindle as to how short it was and wish it could have been longer, delved more into Amanda’s mental state and her descent into madness, but this book is almost twenty years old. What can one do?
When her sister is injured in a freak rhinoceros accident, Katherine Fontenot is forced from her decades-long, self-imposed exile in New York back to her hometown in Lousianan Cajun country. Katherine, or Katie-Lee to her family down South, is laughing along with the rest of her co-workers at the wacky news, filed briefly away as the weird news of the day for everyone, until she realises her baby sister Karen-Anne is the one who was harmed. Fifty years old and in fear of the constant stream of layoffs, Katherine eventually decides it’s time to return to the place she escaped from three decades ago, and to confront the events that sent her packing halfway across the United States in the first place. Will she be able to bury the demons of her past? Or will she discover if that’s even necessary?
Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tearsis a 2014 fiction novel by Ken Wheaton, and is something I’d never normally pick up. But in the name of research, and a plotline that seemed interesting enough, I bought this on Kindle and decided to try it out. I started on a slow read-through last year, in the midst of the pandemic, reading like a page a week when I could manage, getting roughly forty per cent through, but it wasn’t pushed to the forefront until this year. I had a bunch of library books waiting for me (the rest of the Hannibal Lecter series, among them) and I decided to pull out my Kindle, considering its portability and how I could just pick up any of the dozens of books I’d downloaded and read whatever took my fancy. Unlike a physical book, I could just decide I wanted to read one book, and it’d be there for me, even if I’d wholly intended on reading another. So I picked up Sweet as Cane, Salty as Tears, and read it at a much faster pace this time, immersing myself in the life of Katherine Fontenot for a week. And well, you know what? I actually enjoyed it!