Lowell Reading Club: Horror/Suspense Edition

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It’s spooky time! Even if you aren’t into Halloween, the fall’s chilly weather and darker nights seem to make it prime time to read scary stories. Here’s a look at some spine-tingling and suspenseful tomes we’ve enjoyed.

Amanda’s Suspense Picks

The Last Flight by Julie Clark
4.0 stars out of 5

I enjoyed The Last Flight so much that I read it in one day – practically in one sitting. Claire and Eva are both looking to walk away from their current lives. Claire has set up an elaborate plan to get away from her overbearing, physically and mentally abusive husband. She’ll get on a plane to Puerto Rico and disappear. This book is more of a suspense/thriller versus a mystery but it’s still a page-turner.

At the last minute, she meets Eva, who is also looking to run away from her life. The two decide to switch plane tickets to further cover their trails. Claire heads to California. Eva’s destination changes to Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the plane to Puerto Rico crashes killing everyone on board. Because Claire is part of a high-profile family and is now thought to be dead, she now has to be even more careful. Should she change her appearance and assume Eva’s identity? As she starts to learn about the life Eva left, she wonders whether or not this is a good idea.

The plot is told from alternating Claire and Eva’s points of view. Claire is in the present after she’s in California and Eva’s point of view is from the past, leading up to the day of the crash. It was interesting reading a present and a past point of view. It was easy to remember which character was telling her portion of the story and the two flowed nicely even going back and forth.

The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex
3.5 stars out of 5

I love lighthouses so finding a book with a mystery surrounding one was right up my alley. The plot switches between life in 1972 at a remote lighthouse for three men in charge of the light and 1992 as the women they left behind recount what they know and remember about those they lost. Within these timelines the point of view switches between the three men and the three women. For me, it made the plot too choppy. I didn’t feel like I got to really know any of the characters. I enjoyed reading the 1972 parts compared to the 1992 sections.

Twenty years after the unsolved disappearance of three men keeping the light going at a lighthouse an author is looking to write a book about the mystery. He sets off to interview the women who were left behind. It seems as though the three couples have secrets to hide, which are revealed bit by bit as the plot goes on. The descriptions are sometimes dark and daunting, lending to the overall mysterious feel of the book.

A House at the Bottom of a Lake by Josh Malerman
1.5 starts out of 5

Why review a book if it wasn’t enjoyable? It may be for someone else. I liked the concept of A House at the Bottom of a Lake. The cover is pretty cool and intriguing as well. But that’s about all that I liked. I was expecting something creepy but that’s not what I experienced. If this hadn’t been such a short book I may have abandoned it.

There is some mystery surrounding this house at the bottom of a lake and what’s inside of it. There are different possibilities as far as what’s going on as well with the ending left up to the reader. These aren’t bad things. But I felt no connection to this book and kept thinking “this is stupid” throughout the whole thing.

James and Amelia are teens who, on their first date, go canoeing on a lake. It’s known that there are two lakes connected yet they find a third. And once there they find a house submerged, sitting on the bottom of the lake. They hold their breath and go down to explore.

The plot goes on as the two fall in love not only with each other but with their discovery.

Julie Anna’s Suspense Pick

Rebecca by Daphe Du Maurier
5 out of 5 stars

This was my first experience with the work of author Daphne Du Maurier, and it certainly won’t be my last. Reading Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ was like taking a Masterclass in writing in itself. The immense attention to detail, in the beginning, felt like a lot to get through at first; but as the story unfolded I found it impossible to put down.

Released in 1938, Rebecca has all of the nostalgia, elegant language and imagery of another place and time. I’ve always been fascinated by this era, when everyone was always so impeccably dressed and used words and phrases like, “dare I say.” I found myself diving deep down a rabbit hole as I usually do after reading a novel written ages ago, and my fascination with this epic novel quickly turned into a minor obsession.

What truly captivated me was not just the story itself, but the note from the author that followed. Between the ending and the epilogue, Maurier shares the incredible story of how her Rebecca came to be. I learned that the home that is the setting for this story and practically its own entity, was based on her own fascination with an estate known as Menabilly located in Cornwall, England. For this enchanting work of gothic fiction, Maurier’s Menabilly, also nicknamed ‘The House of Secrets,’ is known as Manderley.

Set in Cornwall, England, Manderley is a renowned estate owned by the de Winter family for generations. Maxim de Winter, the current owner of the estate, impetuously marries a much younger woman he meets while on holiday only months after his wife’s death.

Returning to Manderley, the new Mrs. de Winter (who interestingly is never given a first name), begins her new life as mistress of Manderley with a whole new cast of characters. Frank Crawley, Maxim’s loyal assistant, quickly proves himself to be a kind and gentle ally of the new Mrs. de Winter. Alternatively, Mrs. Danvers, the cold and sinister head housekeeper at Manderley, makes it known that the new Mrs. de Winter is not at all welcome in her new home and that her loyalty lies with Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca.

The new Mrs. de Winter struggles with her ability to exist outside of the shadow of the widely adored and famed Rebecca de Winter, until a series of shocking events unfolds and she finds herself standing firm in her power and claiming her place as the new mistress of Manderley. Until one final shock that alters the reality and the future of Mr. and Mrs. de Winter, and their beloved Manderley, forever.

In 1940, Rebecca was made into a film produced by David O. Selznick and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. With the exception of a slight variation of one small event, the movie did the book immense justice and gave me the visuals and feeling I was looking for. Another version was also released to Netflix in 2020, but I got everything I needed from the Selznick/Hitchcock version and prefer to hold onto the nostalgia of the original.

If I had just read the book from beginning to end and had known nothing else, I might have given it 4.5 stars for the almost overly elaborate descriptiveness and rather abrupt ending that leaves so much to the reader’s imagination. But for the author’s story, the history, and the inspiration behind this impeccable work of art, I’d give it a whole galaxy of stars.

Maryalene’s Horror Picks

Almost Anything by Stephen King
4 out of 5 stars 

Can you really have a list of horror books without mentioning Stephen King? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

But really, if you’ve never read any of King’s horror stories, here’s what you need to know: lots and lots of swearing and, more often than not, some type of explicit sexual content. The latter seems to be more frequent and graphic in his newer books, in my opinion.

I started reading Stephen King books in junior high, and my parents had no idea what was in them. Now that I’m a mom myself, I am horrified on their behalf. While I know opinions can differ, I strongly recommend parents read a book or two from King before they hand a copy off to a preteen.

So why recommend books with potentially questionable and/or objectional material? Because, quite frankly, the stories are page turners. They are creepy, inventive and unlike anything else being turned out nowadays. If you like horror, there is nobody who does it like Stephen King.

Personally, I like his older books best — titles like The Shining, IT and The Stand. They seem to be less about shocking you with graphic details and more about developing well-rounded characters and plotlines. Many of King’s books have a supernatural element, and I must admit that I am not a fan of his endings. My impression is always that he does a great job building up these fantastical scenarios and then can never quite figure out a logical way to conclude them.

By my count, I’ve read 19 of his books, and other titles by him that I’ve enjoyed include Pet Sematary, Christine, The Dark Half and The Dark Tower series. The only book I’ve read by King that I would NOT recommend is Gerald’s Game. I found it overly gory, and if I think too much about it, there are sections of the book that still make my stomach turn years later. So reader beware!

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