Category Archives: Book Reviews

Language is the issue in YA suspense Ask the Dark

Review of YA suspense Ask the Dark by Henry Turner The following is my review of Ask the Dark by Henry Turner, a new YA suspense to be released this coming week.

HEADS UP: Ask the Dark contains very graphic language, including frequent F-bombs.

When I began reading Ask the Dark, it immediately reminded me of a modern Huckleberry Finn—the uneducated, poorly-spoken trouble-maker kid who actually has more wisdom and a better heart than most others around him. I’ve read other reviews since then and seen that I’m not the only one drawn to make that comparison.

I loved so much about this book, particularly the main character, Billy. He was a very loveable protagonist. Yes, he had been a troublemaker in the past, but most of his infractions were minor. And since his mother passed away, he is determined to keep his promise to be a better person. I loved his determination to be better, as well as his intense love for his family. It was heartbreaking to see this ill-prepared youth take on responsibility that his father and older sister seemed incapable of.

I also enjoyed the creepy atmosphere and the plot, even though it wasn’t exactly full of surprises.

Two elements of this book almost ruined my enjoyment, however. First, the foul language was SO foul—I really didn’t expect it to be that extreme in a young adult book.

Even more than that, the style of writing was a huge stumbling block. I know the author is writing as though an uneducated kid is speaking the story. I know he was aiming for realism, but I think authors have to strike a balance between raw realism and coherence. The sudden, inexplicable switches from present to past tense, the curious spellings, the constant apostrophes inserted into the middles of words—as one example, there were so many abbreviations like “should’f” and “must’f.” Yes, I know what those are abbreviations for, but if I were typing up the transcript of someone who talks that way, I would have typed “should’ve” or “shoulda.” Those are normal abbreviations for that kind of speech and aren’t as jarring, or don’t call as much attention to themselves. Not only was I constantly being jerked out of the story to try to understand the writing, but I was much too aware of the writing. I caught myself constantly thinking of the author and the spelling and the tenses instead of getting lost in the character and story. I don’t think that’s what the author was aiming for.


New psychological suspense: review of Hide and Seek

New psychological suspense review. Compared to Gone Girl.



I was asked by Amy Bird to review her new novel, Hide and Seek, because she saw my review of Gone Girl, and read that I love psychological suspense. Both of those reasons for approaching me were very appropriate. Hide and Seek is most definitely psychological suspense at its finest—and comparisons with Gone Girl will be inevitable.

Hide and Seek starts more gently than Gone Girl—not with an apparent kidnapping or crime, but with a mystery. Why does thirty-four-year-old Will look so much like the genius pianist Max Reigate? Why does Will’s mother have Reigate’s CD hidden away in her study? Why is Will so drawn to the music? The mystery does arise at an eventful time in Will and wife Ellie’s life. She has recently lost her parents, and they’re about to  become parents themselves. Ellie is six months pregnant at the start of the story. Her pregnancy and her loss actually jumpstart the disturbing events of this story. And what it is to be a parent, to be family—to lose family—are recurring themes.

Unfortunately, one of the reasons for this book’s comparison to Gone Girl will be the unlikableness of the characters in both books. I’m beginning to wonder, though, if that’s almost a prerequisite for the kind of twisty, surprising fiction whose suspense is based on the shocking choices characters make—and the depths they’re willing to plumb to get what they need or want. Generally in a novel, really likeable characters may have terrible things happen to them but they don’t surprise you with their actions.

There are many, many surprising and regrettable choices by a whole host of people in this book, and I think they’re made for a variety of reasons. One of them probably doesn’t even realize what he or she is doing. At least one may be emotionally damaged. One or more think they’re being protective. And that’s one of my favorite things about Hide and Seek or any other suspense novel—complex characters, who keep me guessing not only as to what they’re going to do, but also as to why they’re so motivated.