Good Neighbors

Good NeighborsGood Neighbors by Sarah Langan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sarah Langan’s new novel is a riveting and brilliantly realized character-driven thriller. Full of tension and tightly controlled prose, GOOD NEIGHBORS is also achingly suspenseful, aided by brief forward flashes in the form of after-the-fact articles and interviews that build a steady sense of dread as the story careens toward its shocking climax. It reminded me in some ways of Jack Ketchum’s classic THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, that frustration and worry that comes with reading about characters who ought to know better making the wrong choices over and over. Of course, that’s partially the point of Langan’s novel, how easy it is for people to make the wrong choices while convinced they’re making the right ones, and how easily they can be led to believe something they’re already predisposed to believe. It’s really well done and never falters in its realistic and immersive depictions of the residents of Maple Street. GOOD NEIGHBORS more than fulfills the promise of Langan’s earlier novels and leaves me eager to see what comes next. Sarah Langan is on my list of must-read authors!

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The Scariest Part: Mark Allan Gunnells Talks About 2B

This week on The Scariest Part, I’m happy to welcome back Mark Allan Gunnells, whose latest novel is 2BHere is the publisher’s description:

Berkley Simmons died…for five minutes.

Berkley woke up to find himself in the hospital. He discovered that his ex is dead after a failed murder/ suicide attempt. With nowhere else to go, Berkley must return to the apartment where it all happened. It doesn’t take long for Berkley to begin to suspect that his ex never left the apartment, and still wants him dead.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Mark Allan Gunnells:

I’ve done a few of these columns in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever been as scared to write something as I was my current release, 2B. I was excited to write it, I believed in the power of the concept, but I also entered into it with great trepidation.

Why? you ask. Because the idea for the novel had been rattling around in my head for nearly twenty years, and over the course of those two decades it had taken on almost a mythic quality. To me, it seemed like a gem of an idea that I worried I wouldn’t be able to do justice.

The origins of the novel actually date back earlier than twenty years. For that, we have to stretch back to my college years. I wrote a short story that was built around what became a big reveal near the end of 2B. To be honest, I thought the short story was rather crap, definitely not my best work, and yet…the concept itself I thought was golden. If only I could find a way to work it into a better story.

Then about twenty years ago I was living in an apartment, and I came home one night and the light in the breezeway outside my apartment was flickering and buzzing. A short, no doubt, but I had the thought that it was the kind of creepy scene you’d see in a horror movie. Maybe a haunted house story.

In this case, a haunted apartment story, I thought with a laugh, but in the next instant I had an idea for a novel. Almost fully formed, realizing I could do an interesting take on the ghost tale and finally incorporate the concept of that college-era short story into something worthy. I even instantly came up with the title, 2B.

At the time, however, I was having a lot of work stress and personal stress, and I wasn’t writing much, so the idea went onto the backburner. A few years later when I finally got serious about my writing again, the idea was there but I didn’t want to touch it yet. Perhaps I felt too rusty and wanted to knock the dust off.

The years continued to pass, and I worked on other projects, but 2B never left my thoughts. At times it almost seemed to cry out to be written, but again I kept putting it off. The idea seemed too good almost, and I remembered that short I’d written in college and feared I would take a great concept and screw it up.

About ten years ago, I did try my hand at a beginning. However, almost right away I could feel it going off the rails and I stopped after a chapter and a half. I still have that chapter and a half, and while they aren’t terrible, they also aren’t what I wanted them to be. This made me even more afraid to really tunnel into the novel.

And so another decade passed. Then last year, I was offered the opportunity to write a short novel for a cool new publisher, Valhalla Books. I provided the editor with several ideas, and I included 2B among them. This brought my haunted apartment concept back to the forefront of my mind and while there was still fear, suddenly excitement overcame that fear.

When I sat down to actually start it (ignoring the aborted chapter and a half from ten years ago), my head was filled with doubts and worries and once more I wondered if I could do this idea justice. Having a publisher waiting for the book, however, helped me to push all that aside and simply start.

And much to my amazement, the novel just flowed from me. I wrote it over a two-month period, writing every single day with no breaks. And with every completed page, the doubts and fears began to dissipate like smoke. I simply dove into that world, lived with the characters, and it seemed like before I knew it, I was writing “THE END”.

Considering that many of my novels were started then put aside for months or years before I returned to them to finish, it is actually amazing how smoothly and quickly this one came to me. Only two months.

Twenty years and two months.

2B: Amazon

Mark Allan Gunnells: Blog / Twitter / Goodreads / Amazon Author Page

Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.

The Troop

The TroopThe Troop by Nick Cutter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes you just want a good, fast-paced, gross horror novel, and Nick Cutter’s THE TROOP certainly delivers on that, but Cutter also gives us well-drawn characters we come to care about and situations that both terrify (that cave!) and move us emotionally (the outstanding turtle scene). The book started off slowly for me, but boy did it pick up! By the end, I was convinced I was reading a horror novel that would be remembered as a classic for years to come. Highly recommended, as long as you can stomach a lot of very gross body horror and gore.

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And Then There Were None

And Then There Were NoneAnd Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Believe it or not, I hadn’t read any Agatha Christie before, so I thought I’d start with what is perhaps her most famous mystery, AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. The book held a number of surprises for me, some good, some not. Getting the things I didn’t like out of the way first, I was very surprised by how sparse the prose is. There’s very little in the way of description or detail, to the point where it reads almost more like a script than a novel. (Although in Christie’s defense, I found there was often just enough for my imagination to fill in the blanks.) There’s not much in the way of characterization, either. In the earlier parts of the novel, I had trouble telling the difference between several of the characters, particularly the older male characters like Justice Wargrave, Dr. Armstrong, and General Macarthur.

Still, once I got used to Christie’s style, I enjoyed AND THEN THERE WERE NONE very much, especially as the story went on and the number of suspects dwindled while the number of victims grew. I’m proud to say I figured out at least one small part of how the mysterious U.N. Owen pulled it off, but certainly not all of it, and I most definitely did not guess Owen’s true identity. I can see why this is such a popular novel. It’s the ultimate locked-room mystery, where the room is a remote, isolated island and there’s a good chance the killer is still be locked in with you. Definitely worth reading!

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