REVIEW: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is a dark book. So I’ll give you the Lemony Snicket warning that if you are looking for a happy story with uncomplicated, loveable characters then this book is not for you.

gone girl cover

Gone Girl is a love story of sorts. A classic he-said/she-said. Husband Nick Dunne comes home on his wedding anniversary to find that his wife of five years is missing. Nick is emotionally unavailable and withdrawn but he’s no idiot. The cops always suspect the husband first, right? Nick searches for his wife and reminisces over their time together. The only lead he has to find his wife and clear his name is the anniversary scavenger hunt his wife left behind. Then there’s the she-said. Amy, the girl who tries to be the “cool girl.” The girl that was the star of her parent’s children’s book series Amazing Amy. Her story is told through the pages of her diary, beginning with their first meeting and leading up to the day of her disappearance.

Thematically Gone Girl tackles much of what many adults experience—the frustration of your dreams not turning out quite the way you planned, but feeling too stuck to do anything about it. Also, the depression that comes with realizing that you are not the person you thought you’d be at this stage of your life.  Younger readers may find this off-putting or cynical.

Flynn’s characters are so well-crafted and believable that we feel safe entering their minds, then she slams the  door shut behind us and shows us the inner workings of some very damaged people.

I would not be surprised to find out that Flynn has studied psychology. She clearly understands what it is that makes people tick. Bad people are never completely bad and more importantly, they don’t see themselves as bad. That is how the antagonist of this story is but laced with all the hatred swimming around in this person’s head are some astute critiques on our modern media obsessed culture and romantic relationships.

“We all watch the same shows, we read the same stuff, we recycle everything.”

Another major theme is that the media makes us feel the need to portray characters in our real lives. We repeat lines from movies and mold ourselves into personas like ‘cool girl’ or we ‘what’s-my-line-again?’  in distressing situations—not trusting our own instincts. The media subjects us to so many perfect, unrealistic characters in TV shows and movies that we are left feeling that who we are at our factory settings is not good enough.

We are either heroes or antagonists. There is no gray area. Gone Girl lives in the gray area and delivers many surprises that lead to a chilling ending that should defy most readers move-fed expectations.

AUTHOR: Gillian Flynn
PUBLISHER: Random House
RELEASE DATE: June 5, 2012
GENRE: Thriller, Mystery
LENGTH: 432 pages

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REVIEW: Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

I always read the book first…well, almost always, but Hemlock Grove snuck up on me. I loved the show and as soon as I heart that it was a book first, I knew I had to read it.

The television series is true to the book. Probably because McGreevy wrote and developed much of it. Usually with adaptations, the biggest complaint is that so much is left out. Surprisingly, the television series expanded the plot, adding subplots and details not found in the novel.

The Hemlock Grove of the book is familiar to those like me who have seen the show, and yet it is darker, and somewhat more fantastic. It is not a typical small town, but a place of monsters and magic, mad scientists and werewolves, and even a girl with giant cubes filled with potting soil for shoes.

Beautiful, Gothic language wraps around the reader like vines, pulling us into the story on page one and never letting go. This is a far cry from the slower pace of the television show.

An omniscient first person narrator takes us a layer further, into the complex minds of the characters. The narrator voice is a cross between Stephen King and the Brothers Grimm.

McGreevy revisits the classic movie monsters that horror fans know and love and revamps them. The vampires and werewolves of Hemlock Grove are unique to this story while still paying tribute to the legends that preceded this novel.

My favorite character is Shelly, a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster. While her appearance is more monstrous than the rest of the cast, she is the purest soul.

While Shelly is physically flawed, the rest of the characters are emotionally and mentally flawed. I found that I loved these characters despite their darkness—particularly Roman and Peter, the mismatched pair of high school boys on the hunt for the vargulf, the crazed werewolf they believe is preying on their town.

Hemlock Grove is a breath of fresh air for the genre, which has become stale in the wake of the tween vampire and werewolf craze but I fell in love with this book, not for what it has to say about monsters but, for what the monsters have to say about people.

An enchanting dark fairy tale for grown-ups and one of my new-found favorites.

AUTHOR: Brian McGreevy
RELEASE DATE: March 27, 2012
GENRE: Gothic Horror
LENGTH: 336 pages

Find Hemlock Grove on Amazon and Goodreads.

REVIEW: Sleeping with the Fishes by MaryJanice Davidson

This is a fun light romantic fantasy about a not-so-typical mermaid named Fred. It’s sort of like that other MaryJanice Davidson romantic fantasy series about a not-so-typical vampire queen. I enjoyed this book a great deal. MJ has a gift for comedy and I found myself laughing out loud in the dentist office as I read this one.

If you enjoyed the Betsy series, you will likely enjoy this one. The cast is almost identical. Fred talks and behaves just like Betsy. She is self-absorbed, abrasive but at her core, lovable and heroic. She also has a thing for big, stoic dudes who want to make her their queen.

Yeah, Prince Arthur is Sinclair with a tail.

Then there is the flamboyant best friend who was gay as Marc in the Betsy series and is essentially the same in the Fred series only he goes by Jonas and likes women. There are a handful of characters that I haven’t seen in the MJ universe before like Fred’s hippie mother but the characters being recycled from the Betsy series didn’t ruin the book for me.

Something unique to this book that I really enjoyed was the third-person point-of-view. I was fun experiencing the story from multiple character angles. This is something I have not seen before in either the Betsy series or MJ’s werewolf series. I particularly enjoyed the subplot between Jonas and Barb.

Sleeping with the Fishes delivered everything that is great about MaryJanice Davidson’s writing. My only real critique is that I would have liked it to have been longer so that the relationships between Fred and the men who are head-over-heals in love with her could have been better developed. I get that they think she’s swell because she’s a mermaid or in Arthur’s case, the one that got away but I would have liked to see this developed beyond the initial infatuation phase. Looks like there are two more books in the series for this to happen and I look forward to reading them and spending some more time with these characters.

AUTHOR: MaryJanice Davidson
PUBLISHED: November 28, 2006
GENRE: Paranormal Romance
LENGTH: 268 pages

Find Sleeping with the Fishes on Amazon and Goodreads.

REVIEW: When the Dead by Michelle Kilmer

A gripping study of apartment tenants choosing to shut in and wait out the zombie apocalypse from the confines of their building.

When the Dead cover

Kilmer is honest and unflinching in her exploration of ordinary people forced to rely on one another to survive.

The tenants of Willow Brook are not Brad Pitt with the flowing hair and the perfect family. They are desperate and at times ugly but then who wouldn’t be in this situation? For some the struggle to retain one’s humanity is greater than the struggle to survive.

Tom Vaughn, for one is a misogynistic drunk, but there were many points in the novel where I rooted for him, laughed at his dark humor, or found his sporadic and unexpected compassion endearing.

When the Dead delivers chilling horror and leaves readers asking themselves if they have what it takes to survive the apocalypse, and if so, at what cost?

One of the more realistic and gritty zombie survival stories I have read. A must-read for horror fans.

AUTHOR: Michelle Kilmer
PUBLISHED: September 3, 2012
GENRES: Horror, Survival
LENGTH: 386 pages

Find When the Dead on Amazon, Goodreads and Michelle Kilmer’s website.

Hayley Knighten's Writing & Reviews