Tag Archives: suspense

Lost Boys

Author: Orson Scott Card

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature audience; also, 1) this book made me cry more than I have since Grave of the Fireflies, and 2) kids do get hurt here–it’s dealt with as the heinous, awful thing that it is, but it still happens, so worried moms might not want to read this if they want to sleep at night.

In 1983, Step and Deanne Fletcher move their growing family to the small town of Steuben, North Carolina, for Step to start a promising new job for the growing computer company Eight Bits, Inc. But right from the start, things seem to go wrong. Step’s new job turns out to be nothing like what he’d expected, being relegated to writing program manuals and being told to sneak around behind his immediate supervisor’s back, even though he had great success in the past as a programmer himself. Deanne’s pregnancy makes her constantly sick, adding to the burdens of caring for their three young children. Their oldest, eight-year-old Stevie is becoming withdrawn, spending his time talking to imaginary friends. The house they’re renting seems beset by plagues of insects. And little boys in the area have started disappearing, presumed kidnapped and murdered. But in the midst of all their stress and worry, the Fletchers are determined to not quit, throwing themselves into serving in their new church ward, parenting their children, and generally doing their best with the situation they are given, however difficult it may be to trust all will be well in time.

Lost Boys was an unusual and unexpected book. The only other think by Card that I’ve read is Ender’s Game, and this book is nothing like that. The majority of this story is just this story about this Mormon family and their lives–the most innocuous, simple thing imaginable. And Card does that aspect of the story well, giving us a deep, developed view of Step, Deanne, and Stevie in particular, as well as of their other kids, Robbie, Betsy, and later Zap. The pacing is slow, leisurely, giving us time to get into these people’s day-to-day existence, sharing in their concerns and their little joys and victories, feeling how much their faith and family bolster them. And you know what? I really came to like these people; they’re good people, doing their best to do what’s right, to protect each other, to love others and be compassionate. But underneath this innocuous slice-of-life story, you’ve got this constant undercurrent of something deeper and darker and possibly supernatural going on. It reminds me of some of Stephen King’s books, the way the tension lies just under the surface. There’s a slow, certain inevitability to the plot development in this regard that makes the ending (which I won’t spoil) an expected conclusion by that point–which makes it no less a tear jerker, but it’s kind of cathartic as well. Peaceful, strangely enough. In any case, Lost Boys was a story that struck a deep chord with me and that I would highly recommend, if you have the patience for the slow development.

 

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Ransoming Emrys (Merlin Fanfic)

Author: Emachinescat

FanFiction ID: 6735319

Status: Complete (25 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Rated T, mostly for whump

They were only out there hunting that impossibly hot summer day because Prince Arthur wanted to annoy his manservant Merlin–something he would later kick himself for, repeatedly. Because as unreasonable as it was to be out doing anything in that heat, the two young men were not alone in the forest. Set upon by a band of renegade druids, Arthur finds himself magically incapacitated and incapable of doing anything to help Merlin, the object of the druid’s attack–clearly a case of mistaken identity, since they keep calling Merlin “Emrys” and claim he has powerful magic that people will be interested in paying lots of money for. Arthur ought, by rights, to be insulted about being left behind (a prince!) while his manservant is taken to be sold to the highest bidder . . . but the truth is, he’s mostly worried. About where Merlin is and what’s happening to him. About what the druids will do when they find out the mistake they’ve made, kidnapping the wrong person. Or worse, about what could happen if they’re right and Merlin actually is this Emrys person.

Emachinescat consistently crafts some of the best fanfiction out there, and Ransoming Emrys is no exception. The writing is excellent throughout, and moreover, it manages to capture the feels that make me love Merlin and these boys so much. The author manages to get in their heads, to show us not just what is going on at any one time, but also why. And there’s definitely a lot going on in this story. It manages to be a big plot sort of story while also giving us all the worried tension and emotional strain of a good whump story. And yes, there’s definitely whump here, but it’s the kind that brings out the BAMFery in Merlin, which is always fabulous. And we get a solid reveal here, with just the right amount of tension and bromance surrounding that and a nice open-ended conclusion so there’s some things left to the reader’s imagination. I loved the way Gwaine, Lancelot, and Percival get drawn in to the story, even when they’re not knights at Camelot yet at this point. The coincidence of Lancelot and Percival happening to show up on the scene would, in another author’s hands, have been just too convenient, but here it fit. And using Morgana and Morgause to move the story along was brilliantly done. It was also interesting to see the druid’s opinions on Emrys and his loyalty to Camelot and Arthur developed more, to see the disillusionment of some people in him. All in all, Ransoming Emrys is an exciting and feels-rich fanfic that I would highly recommend to Merlin fans.

Note: You can find Ransoming Emrys at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6735319/1/Ransoming-Emrys.

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The Most Deadly Alliance (Harry Potter/Merlin Crossover Fanfic)

Author: Emachinescat

FanFiction ID: 6282390

Status: Complete (32 Chapters)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Fed up with the difficulties he’s had disposing of one brat–the young wizard Harry Potter–Voldemort crosses time itself to form a dark alliance with Nimue, High Priestess of the Old Religion, combining forces to also help her with her own personal annoyance, the warlock Merlin. Harry and his friends Ron and Hermione find themselves stepping out of Hogwarts and into the past, meeting the man who is a legend in their time . . . only Merlin isn’t quite what they were expecting. He’s young and clumsy and a servant, while they were expecting someone old and imposing. Oh, and the king he’s supposed to advise and help isn’t even king yet and he has no idea that Merlin even has magic! Still, Harry and his friends come to see the greatness of the man of legend buried beneath the youthful exterior, and they and Merlin soon become fast friends. Which is good, because they’re going to have to work together if they are to survive the dark machinations of Nimue and Voldemort.

Emachinescat is a wonderful author, and I love everything I’ve read of hers. Having said that, I think The Most Deadly Alliance is one of my favorites. The premise and all the interlocking pieces of time travel and legend are just fascinating. But even more than that, the little choices of the timing within each story, the characters to involve, the details that are drawn in–it’s all expertly executed. I loved how well thought out the character interactions were. The people involved behaved in character, even when it made them clash or seem abrasive. And the people who should have hit it off with each other did so. There were even instances where character interactions caused changing points of view. (Arthur’s interactions with Hermione and his changing views because of that, notably, although Harry’s relationship with Morgana is also a great case in point. Actually, the development between Harry and Morgana may have been one of my favorite parts of the story, which kind of surprised me.) All of that was just crafted in a very credible and in-character way that I truly enjoyed greatly. Additionally, the larger-scale story was interesting–the tension and mystery, the complications of time travel, the flaws in Voldemort and Nimue’s alliance, all of it worked well and was fun to read. The writing style itself was also quite excellent, being fluid and natural and easy to read. On a technical side, there were a couple of chapters where chunks of text were transposed into the wrong place (like, into the middle of another paragraph or even into the middle of a sentence), making the reader have to sort through what is supposed to go where. But it’s all there if you’re willing to figure it out, and it’s only in a few places–probably a tech issue in the editing or uploading process. If not for that, I would have given The Most Deadly Alliance a whole 5 of 5 rating, but as-is, it’s still a new favorite of mine that I would highly recommend.

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A Little Birdie Told Me (Psych Fanfic)

Author: Olivia94

FanFiction ID: 6396248

Status: Complete (36 Chapter)

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Rated T for violence, whump, & crime scene descriptions

Santa Barbara’s favorite (fake) psychic detective has gotten himself stumped–not something he appreciates. Shawn and his colleagues are tracking down a killer who live tweets his crimes, but they just can’t seem to keep up. This guy is just too good. And too psychopathic for Shawn’s usual tricks to work; he’s finding the guy impossible to read. Which becomes problematic in the extreme when the killer takes an interest in Shawn personally. . . .

Gah, writing summaries for mysteries is nigh on impossible to do well! Anyhoo. A Little Birdie Told Me actually has quite an intriguing plot and premise both, regardless of how poorly I describe them. And with 36 lengthy chapters, the author takes the time to develop the ideas properly. There’s a good balance of mystery, romance, and excitement throughout, including some nail-biting moments in the latter half of the story. The writing itself is absolutely solid; very nice to read. But what I probably love most about this fanfic is the way in which the author captures the characters. The tale is told in first person, alternating between Shawn’s (primarily) and Juliet’s voice–and the characters are spot on. I’ve seen writers capture Shawn pretty well in the past, but this author goes the extra mile to pull together nuances, details, all the little absurd things that make Shawn, well, Shawn. I love it! The relationship building between Shawn and Juliet is really cute as well, very them. I would definitely recommend A Little Birdie Told Me to Psych fans everywhere, and I will be checking out the author’s other work in the near future.

Note: You can find A Little Birdie Told Me at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6396248/1/A-Little-Birdie-Told-Me.

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Back in the Game

Author: Christopher Keene

Dream State Saga, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

Noah is gradually recovering from the car crash that killed his girlfriend and left him fighting for his life in the virtual reality world of the Dream State. But he’s got unfinished business with Wona, the creators of the game and the company responsible for orchestrating the crash to begin with. Somewhere in the Dream State is an item encoded with video evidence that could put Wona out of business, make them take responsibility for what they’ve done. To get this item, though, Noah must return to the game where he was previously trapped, reunite with his old team members, and race to find this item before someone else does . . . except, when he gets back to the Dream State, he finds that someone already has.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, Stuck in the Game, and I think that Back in the Game is a solid continuation of the story. The author does some really great stuff with the setting, focusing less on explaining the mechanics of the game (which you should already know from the first book) and more just letting the game setting affect the way things play out in the story. There are aspects of the story that just couldn’t work in any other setting, and there are also some really neat ideas and nuances that are developed here that I liked a lot–the way that leveling, items, and spells affect the battles or the wide variety of locations, for instance. That said, the type of story presented here is actually pretty different from that of the first book; Stuck in the Game is more of a survival story, whereas Back in the Game is much more revenge-focused. It works, and I enjoyed the plot, but I think I personally like the story-type of Stuck in the Game a bit better–but that’s just me. Also, not to give out too many spoilers, but I felt very personally betrayed by one character in the story . . . and I’m intrigued to see how that betrayal will end up playing out in future volumes. I did enjoy getting a variety of character perspectives throughout the book; they were balanced out quite well and provided some interesting insight into the various players. Overall  I think Back in the Game would be an enjoyable read for anyone interested in LitRPG stories, light novels, video games, or cyberpunk/fantasy/sci-fi stories in general.

NOTE: I received a free review copy of Back in the Game from the author in exchange for an unbiased review, which in no way affects the contents of this post.

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Finders Keepers

finders-keepersAuthor: Stephen King

Bill Hodges Trilogy, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

In his obsession with the writings of reclusive author John Rothstein (whom he considers a sell out), Morris Bellamy devises a plan to break into the old man’s house and exact his revenge. There’s also the tantalizing rumor that Rothstein has been writing in private and has volumes of unreleased work hidden somewhere in his home. Morris’s plan works, and he gets away clean, burying dozens of Moleskine notebooks full of Rothstein’s writing as well as several thousand dollars in cash that Rothstein also kept in his safe . . . only to find himself imprisoned for life on other charges before he gets to read a single one of those notebooks. Decades later, thirteen-year-old Pete Saubers finds Morris’s buried treasure by accident. And who could fault a kid for secretly passing the money along to his struggling parents, bit by bit–or for obsessively reading the Rothstein notebooks, fueling an already burning passion for literature. But things get messy when Morris is released from prison and comes looking for what he buried (what he killed for) so long ago.

I have found every Stephen King book I’ve read so far to be quite enjoyable, including Finders Keepers. Having said that, I think King does his best work when there’s something paranormal involved. This book is more of a crime thriller, and while it’s still quite excellent, it’s not his best in my personal opinion. I should note that this is the middle volume of a loosely connected trilogy (preceded by Mr. Mercedes and followed by End of Watch), but it’s entirely possible to read it independently (I did) without missing much; all the background you really need is worked into the plot. I thought the characters were solid enough, although I never strongly connected with any of them–Pete and Holly were probably the closest I came, but even they weren’t particularly immediate to me. The plot was fairly interesting though, all of the seemingly disconnected pieces fitting together like a puzzle. As far as the pacing goes, this is a fairly slow-burn thriller, if that makes any sense at all. There’s definitely action, suspense, and intensity, but as far as the story chronology goes, it takes decades to build, and for the reader, it takes place over several hundred pages. I wouldn’t plan to read the whole thing through in one night, that’s all.  It never got boring or stalled out though, at least not for me. Fair warning that, since one of the characters is a murderer and a convict, this book has more than its fair share of violence and language, so don’t come complaining to me if it’s shocking. Just saying. One of the most fascinating aspects of Finders Keepers for me was the obsession the characters had with Rothstein’s story; that’s something I can sort of relate to, and it’s also a good warning. I think most of us can agree that Bellamy is just stark raving mad, completely losing sight of the boundaries between fiction and reality. The greater warning is Pete’s story, that fine wavering of those boundaries that we can explain away logically while still doing nutty things to feed our obsessions, losing sight of what’s really important–like the people we care about. In any case, although it’s not my favorite of King’s books, I still think Finders Keepers is a good read, especially for those who enjoy the crime genre.

 

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Ouroboros (2015 TV Series)

TBSouroboros

Status: Completed, 10 episodes

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Growing up together in the orphanage of Mahoroba, Danno Tatsuya and Ryuzaki Ikuo found love, inspiration, and strength in their caregiver, Yuiko-sensei. . . . That is, until one night when she is murdered and the case is covered up by a police man wearing a gold watch. Young Tatsuya and Ikuo vow to find Yuiko’s murder and exact their own justice. Twenty years later, Tatsuya is a leader in the yakuza and Ikuo is rising through the ranks of the police, working together to ferret out any clues as to Yuiko’s killer. But will they be able to handle the truths they find?

Ouroboros is probably the best J-drama I’ve seen to date. Of course, part of that is the fact that it stars both Shun Oguri and Toma Ikuta, two of my favorite actors. They have a really great dynamic when they work together, and their part in this show was definitely a huge plus for me. But I think that even for those unfamiliar with these two, the show has a lot to offer. It’s a cops and yakuza story, with lots of interconnecting plots, tragic backstory, and a nice balance of drama and action. There are some nicely choreographed fight scenes, even. And an adorable but tragic love story (more than one, depending on how you look at it). Of course, being a J-drama, there’s a certain amount of just plain goofiness, especially at the beginning (then again, can you put Toma in a show without some goofiness?). But again, it balances out, and by the end of the show, it’s just plain heartbreaking. This is a tear-jerker, to be sure, but I think the writers did a great job of making the story fall the way it needs to, not the way you necessarily want it to. . . . It feels like hitsuzen when you get down to it, I guess. Also just have to mention that the character development is remarkably well done–especially for this sort of show–and even the relatively minor characters are interesting. And one last point of note: the casting for the childhood versions of Tatsuya and Ikuo are fabulous. So often, kids seem just picked at random, but the kids chosen for the roles here are perfect, both in appearance and in how they act. Ouroboros is high on my list of recommendations, both for those who enjoy J-dramas and for those who like detective stories in general.

Note: At this point, I don’t know of an official English version of this show, but there are some quite decent fan-subs available.

Based on the manga by Kanzaki Yuya/Directed by Yasuharu Ishii/Music by Kimura Hideakira/Starring Toma Ikuta, Shun Oguri, & Juri Ueno

 

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