Lately I was lucky enough to read both of Erik Therme's latest books, and even luckier, he let me ask him a few questions about himself, his writing, and the books! Here is the first in a two part review and interview series. Find the second one on Mortom here.
In Resthaven, a group of young girls venture to an abandoned nursing home to explore and do a scavenger hunt, but the place ends up not being as empty as they thought. Once they find they are locked inside, the real hunt begins—for a way out and for a way to stay alive.
The mission is doomed from the start: none of the girls really get along, from haughty, dominant, mean girl Jamie who is obviously in control; to mild-mannered, nervous Anna, who just wants Jamie to like her; to silent and closed-off Wren; to flighty, friendly, easy-going Sidney; and finally, to our protagonist Kaylee, who’d prefer to be anywhere but here and has a tendency to stick her foot in her mouth and alienate people.
The perfect storm, really.
The teen dialogue is fast-paced and not too overwhelming. While not always true to life—teens aren't that witty, are they?—I found it extremely fun to read and it was an interesting peek into these girls' internal lives. It reminded me of a heightened reality sort of dialogue, like that of the film Heathers.
The interactions between the girls is the reader's first point of contact, immediately hitting you and drawing you into the story. From there, you are just on board for the duration—keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times, please.
By the time we make it to this creepy, abandoned retirement home, all the personalities are established, but also some sad back-stories and some obvious self-doubt that is boiling just beneath the surface. Ah, to be a teenager.
It only gets more interesting from there, as though unlocking the front door also unlocks something in the girls and unleashes a torrent of emotions, secrets, and insecurities.
They fight, they split up—every horror fan is screaming NO! NO! NO!—and the adventure, or the horror, truly begins.
I really can't say much more without giving away some juicy plot twists! I hope that is enough to spark your curious appetite.
While the book is mostly about young teen characters, I wouldn’t necessarily say it is strictly for a YA audience. It would probably resonate well with kids that age, though I won’t presume! As far as adult fiction goes, I found it a perfectly engaging, speedy read.
And now, for a special interview with the author, Erik Therme!
Shelf Stalker: What are you currently reading?
Erik Therme: I just finished Serenity (Craig A. Hart), which is a fast, fun read that leaves you buzzing for more. I’m currently reading The Broken Ones (Sarah A. Denzil), which is just as excellent as her first novel, Saving April.
SS: Can you choose three favorite authors? Why those authors?
ET: Stephen King has always been at the top of my list, as I basically learned to write by reading his work. I’m also a big fan of Gillian Flynn, who creates the most amazing (albeit dark) characters that you love/hate to root for. Last, but certainly not least, is Joshua Gaylord, who has written one of my favorite books of all time: The Reapers Are the Angels. His prose is borderline poetry, and I would happily read this man’s grocery list if he published it. Yeah, he’s that good.
SS: I think it’s probably a fantasy for all of us crime buffs or amateur ghost sleuths: a neat abandoned building that we could skulk around in the dark. What made you want to write this story?
ET: I have two teenage daughters, and I wanted to write something they could relate to. I’m also a big fan of scary movies, and it was a ton of fun to employ a creepy, abandoned building as a backdrop for the story.
SS: How long did it take you to write this book? Was this the first book you ever wrote? What made you want to become a writer?
ET: I’m not a very prolific writer, and it easily takes me two years to finish a novel. I began writing stories when I was in my teens, and—to date—I’ve completed four novels with a fifth one in the works.
SS: The dialogue for the girls is so fun—fast-paced, witty, and enjoyable. It is really the aspect that draws you into the story. How did you discover their voices?
ET: Fortunately, I had heavy inspiration: Kaylee is based on my 17-year-old (who was 15 when I started the book), and Anna, Wren, and Sid are loose composites of her friends. Jamie, I’m happy to say, is not based on anyone that we know.
SS: What was your experience like publishing this book?
ET: Unique, to say the least. Resthaven wasn’t a good fit for my primary publisher (Thomas & Mercer), so I entered the book into the Kindle Scout program. Scout is basically a “contest” where authors upload their manuscripts to a website, and from there, readers vote on whether or not they believe the book “deserves” to be published. Thirty days later, the Scout team makes a decision, and Resthaven was fortunate enough to earn a publishing contract.
SS: And finally, are you working on anything new currently?
ET: My third novel, Roam, is going through the editing process and will be released in February 2017. The story follows a young man who believes he’s being haunted by his dead father, and the only way he can redeem himself is by “saving” someone else. It’s a very character-driven story and very different from Mortom and Resthaven. Readers can follow me on Amazon to be notified when the book is released.
Get your copies of Resthaven and Mortom
Find out more about the author, Erik Therme
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It's getting colder every day, winter is really here (unless you live in some static wonderland like California) and you're starting to think about the hectic holiday season. If you are looking to pull yourself out of that stressful mindset and sit down for a bit of fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat entertainment, look no further!
Scott is visiting the Hamptons, which sounds fun until you find out it's wintertime and all the houses are vacant. He and his wife Elise are looking after her terminally ill father, Victor, as he struggles through what (they hope) are the last stages of cancer.
He is a sort of cancer on their lives himself as he is a horribly mean man and Elise and Scott basically only aspire to inherit his sizable fortune once he is gone.
All the relationships in the book are a bit unstable. Scott hates Victor, who was abusive to Elise. Scott doesn't quite understand why Elise continues to support her father despite his behavior. Scott also isn't really sure how their marriage is holding up. . . Both of their jobs are on the rocks as well. Everything is a bit of a hot mess.
There isn't a whole lot to do. He notices that the house next door has this system of lights on a timer that go on and off at the same time every night and it irks him.
He wants to go investigate, so he does. It turns out that the front door is open, so he goes inside. . .
The secrets in the house next door get stirred up and start to circle closer and closer to home. They are secrets that were probably better off left alone in the dark.
While the setup is definitely intriguing, the book lags with the characterization, especially with Scott, who is the narrator. I never really understood the motivation behind many of his actions. Potentially this is because he was never fully fleshed out as a person for me.
Elise, on the other hand, is much more interesting. Possibly this is because we aren't inside her head, hearing her every thought. I wasn't sure where she was coming from and she really surprised me again and again.
Looking back at the book as a whole, it seemed like there should have been some sort of event that made Scott so curious about the house, some inciting incident, but there isn't. In retrospect, is just too perfect a setup, which is a bit bothersome.
Who is the winter girl, you may ask? Well, I can't tell you that, but I will say, there is a bloody mattress at the house next door, a key taped under Victor's desk, and not everyone is telling the whole truth about who they are. Sufficiently intrigued?
You'll have to find out the rest on your own.
Marinovich definitely doesn't hold back, this book gets dark and twisted in a real way. It isn't grotesque or overly salacious with details, but it did go to some cobwebby corners that I hadn't expected. He's got a dark mind, that's for sure, and there's nothing wrong with that!
There is an abundance of twists—it really picks up speed towards the end—and that's probably the main reason I stayed absorbed in it. I didn't guess the ending until I was right on top of it even though there were a few moments throughout that should have been fairly good indicators of what was to come. So job well done on that!
This is a quick, seat-of-your-pants sort of thriller. I read it in one sitting and enjoyed all the twists and turns, but it didn't really stand out from the crowd in an extraordinary way.
Get your copy of The Winter Girl
Find out more about the publisher, Vintage (Penguin Random House)
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“What’s the real way to make a horror movie?” (256)
You are an actor, but you’ve never been in a movie yet. All of a sudden, your agent calls: you’ve been given the chance of a lifetime, the role you’ve been waiting for, your big break. But you have to get on a plane to the Amazon right now, leaving everything behind, no time to let anyone know what’s going on, barely even time to pack a bag. You don’t know what the role is, or even what it movie is about, but you have to decide right now.
Do you go? Could you leave everything behind? Or would you wait for something with less unknowns?
We Eat Our Own is a literary psychological horror novel that also delves into political turmoil as well incorporating interesting film history throughout.
The main plot is that famed Italian horror director Ugo Velluto is filming a new experimental documentary-style film deep in the Amazon in the 1970s. Think The Blair Witch Project, but this is about 30 years before that movie was made. His American actor for the leading role of Richard, is cast late due to another actor dropping out.
The actor (only called “Richard” by the book) flies to South America, but nothing seems to be quite right—the director doesn’t really care that he is there, no one will give him a script, he can’t call home or potentially even leave, they are doing dangerous stunts that are nothing like movies in America... What is going on?
At the same time, the area of South America they are in is in dangerous political turmoil due to guerillas, drug traffickers, and even a mysterious American who runs the hotel they are all staying at. If the film doesn’t kill him, Colombia might.
Each chapter is told by a different character, some characters repeating frequently, some only being used once or twice. The book borders on experimental at times, with main actor Richard’s sections being told in second person—like my opening paragraph—which is very unusual for novels.
Even from the start, there is a sinister tone to Richard’s sections; there is always some sort of reference like: “Here’s what you don’t know…” which makes the reader uncomfortably omniscient, with this growing sense of dread that something terrible is coming, something horrible is going to happen to Richard.
The other chapters are not in second person, but they use other alienating features, like the lack of quotes around dialogue, which can make the reader lose track of who is speaking as the dialogue runs together a bit.
Interspersed throughout the main plot of the movie set, and a side plot of a few young political guerillas (that comes into play later, you’ll see!), there are transcripts from a trial that make the reader aware that everything we are experiencing in the Amazon has already happened, and Ugo is on trial for something, though we aren’t sure what.
Being a horror movie buff, what really drew me to this book in the first place was the idea that it was inspired by the cult exploitation film, Cannibal Holocaust, along with the Italian giallo tradition, a type of horror movie with crime elements, often featuring a slasher, most prevalent throughout the 70s.
I really enjoyed the chapters from the point of view of the special effects team, a husband and wife who have worked with Ugo on many of his previous films. It’s obvious that Wilson did a lot of research about special effects in horror movies to write these scenes.
There is great detail about how bodies and body parts are created out of gelatin molds and sometimes (when you are in the jungle with no resources) even butchered animals to create horror effects. I loved every second of it.
It’s a mix of schlocky horror like Cannibal Holocaust, with literary horror like Heart of Darkness, and documentary horror like The Blair Witch Project. An ambitious and experimental novel that is deeply unsettling and written to great effect.
Get your copy of We Eat Our Own
Find out more about the author, Kea Wilson
Find out more about the publisher, Scribner (Simon & Schuster)
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This is a story of rags to riches to rags—Charles Wang had nothing but urea when he came to America and he turned that piss into a thriving multi-million dollar cosmetics industry in California. Us Americans will put anything on our faces… Two wives, three children, a few bad decisions and then the 2008 economic collapse comes and all of a sudden, Charles has nothing.
It’s all gone faster than you can say, do you want a side of fried rice with that.
OK, I should probably not be a stand-up comedian like Andrew, the middle Wang child, aspires to be, but if you even had a slight chuckle there, you would probably be on board for a lot of the satirical, fun-loving, and witty humor that Chang is constantly tossing around. Some of it is so subtle and quick, it’s easy to miss.
Once the Wangs lose it all, Charles takes his wife Barbra (who renamed herself after Barbra Streisand) and embarks on a wild cross country road trip, collecting his two younger children, Grace and Andrew from their respective schools and then journeying to New York State to meet up with his oldest daughter, Saina. What his plan after that could be, is anyone’s guess.
Grace, the youngest is a burgeoning fashion blogger, while Saina was an extremely respected avant-garde artist who had a recent show that was not well-regarded. It was so bad in fact, that she’s gone into hiding to regroup and restart. She’s also having boyfriend trouble.
That’s the setup for this wild adventure ride. What could go wrong?
While it’s definitely humorous and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, it is also introspective about race, identity, and different levels of economic hardship—all of which are things that have been thrown harshly into the spotlight due to the results of this long and difficult election.
The Wangs are all trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in this new American landscape. For Charles, it’s just another step, a step forward, a step backward—he’s been through it all and he’s always come out the other side on top.
But for his children, they have never known anything but security, wealth, and being able to do basically whatever they want. What does this uncertain future hold for them? During the book, each kid starts to explore who they are and what they really want to do, despite potentially not having the means to do it. They start to learn what it means to work for something that you love, something that you want, just like their father did.
Throughout, the chapters switch back and forth between the perspectives of all the characters, so you really get to see each of their intimate thoughts, superficial, private, groundbreaking or not. How their lives intersect and separate felt so realistic; they are a family, but they each have their own separate lives, worries, and hopes for the future.
At the same time, they mold together like a real family, with past experiences that sometimes come out on the page, and sometimes are just felt through character interaction.
My favorite part of the book is probably when Andrew goes to an open mic standup night and totally bombs. Just. Completely. Sucks. It was a perfectly written scene that made me cringe and wince and try to look away from the page but I couldn’t stop reading—it was so realistic, it was like being there. Great writing!
The book delves into identity, both cultural and racial. I felt like the Wangs were sort of stuck in a limbo space, as though they didn’t really belong in America and they didn’t really belong in their homeland of China, though Charles is pretty intent on returning to that land that he hasn’t seen since he was in his early 20s.
So where is home then? Where do they belong as Chinese-Americans? And what sort of identity are you left with when the ground you stand on is ripped out from under you?
I had some questions left as I finished the book, but as I thought about the open-ended nature of the story, especially for some of the characters, it felt perfect, it felt like the American way. Like leaving space for them to write their own American Dream, just like Charles did.
This book was a joy to read and I loved the experience of Chang’s delightful writing. An excellent and ambitious debut.
Get your copy of The Wangs vs. the World
Find out more about the author, Jade Chang
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Find out more about the publisher, Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt
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This is a book for times like these.
Things you thought never had a chance in the world of happening, things the whole world is watching in horror, things there’s no possible way back from, things like that are occurring.
Think 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, hell, even Hunger Games.
Then mix in Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, and American Psycho.
Is that the world we’re creating for ourselves? The world of people we are surrounded ourselves with? I wonder. For now, we still have books to turn to, books to bring creative release and to supply us with worlds to explore and provide us with understanding, escape, and some form of solace.
This is Samuel Bradbury’s story. His is not a happy one—I’ll warn you now—and he doesn’t end up in good places. His mother leaves early and he’s (barely) raised by his religious, emotionally abusive, and absent father. No one understands him and from an early age, Samuel had bad impulses, urges to kill, and he doesn’t feel a bit bad about it. He only feels he’s becoming something more.
He’s telling his story from a point later in his life, when an eager governor gets backing to create a criminal zoo—if your crime was bad enough, you are locked up for the pleasure of the paying public. To make matters worse (or better, I suppose, depending on your point of view), you can pay an extra fee to join the criminal in their cage and torture them for just a few minutes. If the criminal lasts one year in the zoo, they are released to a normal prison to live out a life sentence.
They asked for it, right? Take a human life and treat it like nothing but dirt and you deserve to be subject to the worst that humanity can offer.
The book raises so many interesting and provocative questions. From the beginning, I felt sorry for Samuel. He is mistreated and emotionally stunted and abused his whole childhood, and even suffers from a bad head injury that went without proper treatment; without a doubt that could contribute to some of his psychopathic tendencies.
But there’s also something off about him. He doesn’t seem to feel at all. And, he has a sister who was raised in the same circumstances who turned out just fine. So, it’s the age old serial killer debate: nature vs. nurture?
I think it’s a bit of both. Perhaps you could be born with a bit of wiring out of place, a tendency toward sociopathic behaviors. But those behaviors can be channeled into good. With the neglect, injury, and confusion that Samuel went through as a child, his mind shut down and turned against his humanity.
But does that mean he is unfixable? Irredeemably broken? Should he be turned into a scapegoat, forced to suffer through unspeakable torture at the hands of supposedly normal citizens who have some cross to bear, some deep wound they think will be healed if they can cut his face with a switchblade?
And that’s not even mentioning the voyeurs. Sure, we all enjoy watching movies—I’m the biggest horror fan you know. But if it were real, if you could go watch people being tortured right in front of you, would you do it?
They are still people after all. The most inhumane, monstrous acts throughout history have always been done by people. And don’t we become the monsters if we treat them with as little regard as they treated their victims?
Doesn’t that make us just as bad as the criminals?
Where is the line drawn?
It feels prescient to be reading Criminal Zoo during election week. I feel like the emotions that comes out of the people who visit the zoo in this book is the same anger, hatred, and confusion that came from many voters this week—as shown by the results of the election.
Is this who we are? Is this what it means to be American? To support hate, bigotry, racism, sexism, and divisive, angry speech? I don’t think the criminal zoo is the way. I don’t think that anger is the way. We need to come together to show the world that we are bigger than this, despite the results. Or this could be our future.
We didn’t see this coming. What will be next?
Get your copy of Criminal Zoo
out November 15, 2016
Find out more about the publisher, Rare Bird Books
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As the weather gets colder, we look for books to snuggle up with and keep us warm!
Alice Hoffman’s newest centers around a tragedy that completely stops Shelby Richmond’s life and sends her into an internal spiral. She holes up in her parents’ basement, buys weed from the kid she used to make fun of at school, and hides away from the world.
The details of this tragedy are slowly revealed throughout the first half of the book, so I don’t want to give anything away, but what is more interesting is how Shelby reemerges into the world—her starts and stops, her mistakes, her successes, and her truly lovely and real personality that comes heartbreakingly to life on the page.
Finally moving out of the basement in Long Island and into an apartment in New York City, Shelby discovers a love for animals: working at a pet store, rescuing drugged dogs from homeless people who use them for money, and later, even saving a monster (you’ll have to read the book to figure out what that means).
Her compulsive rescuing and need to care for these (adorably sad sounding) creatures perhaps comes from her desire to have control over situations that she feels need fixing. When she can make the situation better for the dogs, those dogs that really deserve it, she feels empowered and in control—nothing like the night of the accident, the night she is always trying to forget.
Because Shelby can’t change what happened that night, and she’s been blaming herself all these years, not letting herself move forward.
All the while, she receives intermittent illustrated postcards from some unknown person, urging her to “Do something,” or “Say something.” These notes weigh heavily on her—someone notices her; someone has not forgotten.
Where Shelby falters is with people. She isn’t sure how to accept love from or give love to others and is wary of romantic relationships and friendships alike. What can she give? With the dogs, it is different. They rely on her. They need her, and in return they love her. It makes sense.
But people are so much more complicated and you can get hurt. It takes some rambunctious children, and some time, before she can ease back into letting people into her life.
Hoffman interweaves a brilliant and strong narrative of a young girl trying to find her way in life and redefine who she is without everything she used to be. It is a story about loneliness, dogs, heartbreak, and letting the world find you just as you are—whole and ready to face it.
The postcards come back at the end in a fitting finish. (I have to go find my copy of Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man now!) I liked how it tied up the story and gave Shelby closure and a new beginning all at once.
I truly enjoyed this book. It is a quiet yet filling narrative that offers a real-to-life story that you can still escape inside. Shelby isn’t a perfect heroine, but she is someone who has been through everything that life has thrown her way and she still came out the other side. Something we can all aspire to.
Get your copy of Faithful
Find out more about the author, Alice Hoffman
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Find out more about the publisher, Simon and Schuster
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Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.