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Bigwig

Bigwig

Joined September 2020

Book reviews from the warren
review
Bigwig
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Mehso-so

I really enjoy nonfiction that reveals the inside story of an institution, and this tale of Ford‘s dance with doom (and ultimate resurrection) in the late 2000s is well-told and full of juicy details about the company‘s ridiculously toxic, dysfunctional corporate culture. The depiction of turnaround expert Alan Mulally borders on hagiography at times. Recommended for anyone interested in the auto industry or leadership in extreme situations.

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Bigwig
Conan | Robert E. Howard
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For days when you dream of calling your enemies “fatherless curs” just before enjoying some aggressive negotiations with your Crom-given broadsword…there is Conan. The original and best still holds up with imaginative short stories of adventure in a long forgotten time. You don‘t have to know or care about any of the modest world-building…each clever, funny, exciting tale catches up with Conan right before the mayhem begins. Crom protect you!

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Bigwig
Deeper: A Novel | Jeff Long
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This is a great sequel to Long‘s “The Descent.” It jettisons much of the science and world building of the prior novel for a leaner, provocatively spiritual narrative about a doomed expedition entering the subterranean depths in pursuit of kidnapped children. The whole thing crescendoes in what can only be described as Miltonian Grand Guignol. The frightening, nameless antagonist is quite intriguing, as is his novel means of imprisonment.

The_Book_Ninja The Decent is a masterpiece. Haven‘t read this though. 2mo
Bigwig It‘s worth a read! I agree about The Descent…a terrific novel. Hard to get it out of your mind. (edited) 2mo
10 likes2 comments
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Bigwig
Mere Christianity | C. S. Lewis
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This classic C.S. Lewis (but I repeat myself) book starts with very simple ideas and uses them to reveal profound truths of our place and role in the universe. Lewis‘ humble, curious, questioning conversational style really makes the text accessible, which figures because the first few chapters were written as a radio address. No preaching to the choir, just an invitation for a broad audience to ponder serious questions.

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Bigwig
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Mehso-so

In space, no one can hear you scream with joy as you read an alternative future for Ripley, Newt and Hicks in this enjoyable collection of pre-Alien 3 comics. The art is a mixed bag but the writing is true to the spirit of the first two films in the series. The coolest part was when the plot tackles the mystery of the “Space Jockey” twenty years before “Prometheus.” The story takes some bold swings and not all connect, but fans won‘t mind.

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Bigwig
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Panpan

Is it funny? Yes, I laughed out loud several times. Subversive? Yes, but being post-parody in 2023 soured even the best-placed 1970s arrows. Clever? Somewhat, but its ambition is modest. Self- indulgent? Very. Afterwards? I felt empty. Some ingredient of great satire was missing. Maybe I just like Vonnegut‘s short stories more. You know late-era Stephen King? Fine, but missing the special sauce? This felt like that. I really wanted to love it.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

Confession: I chose this volume because I like the eponymous Iron Maiden song. Luckily for me, these stories about the hardscrabble midcentury English working class were a slam dunk and I feel richer for it. Two in particular, about a defiant runner and a soldier‘s bittersweet memories of youthful adventure, were especially poignant. I like how Sillitoe doesn‘t romanticize or condemn, but rather aims for the tough, sooty truth. Kippers and all.

Leftcoastzen I love this book, glad you liked it too. 3mo
8 likes1 comment
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Bigwig
The Golden Gate | Alistair MacLean
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This totally fun 70s thriller delivers a no-frills suspense showdown between a criminal mastermind holding the U.S. president hostage on the Golden Gate Bridge and an undercover FBI agent with no equipment, weapons, or hope…at first. Once the battle of wits commences, the carefully contained plot hums like a precision motor. The author knows and clearly relishes the rules of the game and a dollop of snarky satire adds to the fun.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

A solid overview of why you can‘t buy a house, can‘t afford your college loans, and why someday you may need to pay a subscription for heated seats in your car. Basically, the ultra-wealthy and government actors have realized that making us rent everything, and I mean everything, will be wonderfully lucrative for them. Connecting this many dots between disparate fields necessitates breadth over depth, but perusing the bibliography can fix that.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

This book‘s highest achievement is to take the reader into the mental and emotional reality of a possessed individual. The sensationalist stuff is set aside in favor of vivid, intelligent descriptions of what the five victims felt and experienced over many years as their free will was slowly and patiently subverted. It is terribly frightening but also tremendously empowering to understand the role that will and choice play in these situations.

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Bigwig
The Descent | Jeff Long
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We‘re not alone, and the “others” live below our feet. Scientists, soldiers, and then ordinary people encounter the Hadal, a hominid species from continents deep beneath the surface. The brutal, enigmatic Hadal culture is torturously interesting, as are the ways humans fight it, study it, exploit it, even adopt it. The main adventure is epic in scope and perfectly brief subplots sting with unexpected consequences. Looking forward to the sequel!

The_Book_Ninja One of my favourite books. Yet to read the sequel 4mo
8 likes1 comment
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Bigwig
Subterranean | James Rollins
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Mehso-so

Secret military base under Antarctica: check. Tough scientist-mom with kid in tow: check. Rough-and -ready ex-military Aussie cave diver: check. Red-shirt military escorts: check. Secret tunnels, monsters, lost civilizations, and a terrorist thrown in for good measure: check check check check. Lots of C-4, (because the 90s!). Check. I wanted a fun diversion, and this was both familiar and suspenseful enough for a satisfying one-time read.

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Bigwig
Polar Star | Martin Cruz Smith
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You can feel the cold in your bones as you read this excellent sequel to “Gorky Park.” An exiled Arkady Renko is working on a massive Arctic fishing trawler when a girl turns up dead in the nets. The captain puts Arkady on the case, and as usual the unendingly corrupt and nonsensical Soviet culture is the real (expertly rendered) enemy…Arkady may be covered in frozen fish guts but his resilient sense of humor and stubborn honor shine through.

6 likes1 stack add
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Bigwig
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Pickpick

This meaty tale of Vatican intrigue and conspiracy (set during the middle years of John Paul II‘s pontificate) kept me up late turning pages and Googling all the pseudonyms to figure out who‘s who. A supposed basis in fact amps up the suspense. Fans of Dan Brown thrillers might enjoy this (though its theological perspective is different). I love books that plausibly deliver on insider knowledge of secretive or otherwise closed groups.

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Bigwig
Mantis | Richard La Plante
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Panpan

I was disappointed in this 1992 serial killer/police thriller, mostly because the cover endorsement name drops “The Silence of the Lambs” and this novel is not remotely in the same class. For genre fans it has a few eerie moments, but the procedural aspects are nonexistent and the character development is a bucket of cliches. It‘s the first in a four-book series so maybe the sequels are better. I think I‘m one and done though.

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Bigwig
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Mehso-so

This is an intriguing little tale of the paranormal. After the 1966 Aberfan coal mine disaster, a psychiatrist worked with a London newspaper to collect premonitions from the public in an effort to predict and prevent tragedies. A couple of psychics emerged with some chillingly accurate predictions. The narrative is meandering, despite its brevity, but the side quests are generally interesting. I‘d only recommend it for fans of parapsychology.

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Bigwig
The Looming Tower | Lawrence Wright
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This Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the formation of Al Qaeda is a must-read for foreign policy buffs. Wright details the absurd intelligence failures, particularly by the siloed CIA, that led to catastrophe. The book also serves as a fascinating biography of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, illuminating their personal lives beyond the headlines. Their chief adversary, tenacious FBI agent John O‘Neill, is given a poignant rendering.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

This engrossing book uses new archeological, genetic, and cultural evidence to make a convincing case that PreColumbian Indigenous American societies were much more populous, complex, and active in environmental management than has been assumed by generations of scholars. I really enjoyed how many of my assumptions this author identified and deconstructed with paradigm-shifting insights. The picture Mann paints is tragic in its lost grandeur.

Purpleness He‘s got a sequel, too! It is also great if you want to learn about potatoes. 8mo
Bigwig Neat, I didn‘t know that! I will check it out. We all love potatoes. 8mo
9 likes1 stack add2 comments
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Bigwig
A Place to Come to | Robert Penn Warren
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Jed Tewksbury is born dirt poor in Alabama but strives for a place in the “kingdom of the mind” by becoming a classical scholar. His choices box him into a seemingly endless purgatory of solitude, alienation, and disappointment. He serves as a spectator of his own life, searching in war, career, and sex for an identity he can never quite grasp. This autumnal 1977 novel is beautifully written and Jed contains multitudes within his tortured mind.

Leftcoastzen Love seeing the old hardcovers 8mo
Bigwig Me too. They add so much to the reading experience…the scent of the old paper as well. 8mo
9 likes2 comments
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Bigwig
The Cave | Robert Penn Warren
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Jasper Harrick, a tough loner, goes missing in a cave in rural midcentury Tennessee. Warren uses this inciting incident to lay bare the simmering internal conflicts of Harrick‘s family, friends and neighbors as time runs short and every character is forced to face difficult truths. Warren masterfully interweaves layers of drama, suspense, cynicism, humor, despair…and, to my surprise, a powerful sympathy. Fascinating magic from RPW‘s typewriter.

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Bigwig
Just Killing Time | Derek Van Arman
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This was a five course meal of a crime novel. Plot: A bitter old detective and a haunted Vietnam vet try to save a number of potential victims from multiple (very scary) serial killers. It‘s a long read, probably too long, but the characters are solid and there is plenty of room for all the mind games, detective work, and villainous mayhem to breathe. Not the top of the genre, but a quality one-time read for fans of novels like “Red Dragon.”

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Bigwig
The Cave | Anne McLean Matthews, Anne Streiber
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Mehso-so

A beautiful widowed psychologist vacationing at a rural New Hampshire cabin is targeted by a sadistic serial killer…you know, the usual. A simple, scary setup, quick pace, and interesting-enough psychological angle make this 1997 thriller a worthwhile genre read (it earns a so-so because I wanted a better ending). If you want a competent one-night jolt of suspense and dread, this author delivers the goods.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

Strange things have been going on at the Gorman Ranch in Utah for decades…extra-deadbolts-on-the-doors sorts of things. A group of scientists bought the ranch in the mid-90s (the previous owners, a family of cattle ranchers, were driven to despair and near-bankruptcy by the mysterious, sadistic, and eventually destructive phenomena) and this book documents their findings over many years. Impossible to explain…and impossible to explain away.

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Bigwig
Rabbit Is Rich | John Updike
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This third novel in Updike‘s “Rabbit” series is the best yet. Rabbit is 43, the year is 1979, and he is making money while the economy swan-dives and the culture moves past him. His frantic inner runner still broods and panics and petulantly lusts but it‘s all counterbalanced by the inertia of age and comfort. Old pains plague his college dropout son, though. Trouble is brewing there. I am truly excited to see how this grand, witty series ends.

Leftcoastzen I‘m going to reread it some day , it captures Rabbit & his generation,demographic so well. 9mo
17 likes1 comment
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Bigwig
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Pickpick

Ignore the sensationalist cover; this is a thoughtful, sober book written by a prominent psychiatrist who has consulted on severe cases of distressed individuals - some of whom, the author believes, are possessed, for the simple reason that there is no other conceivable explanation for their nightmarishly unlikely symptoms. Your mileage will vary based on your beliefs, but I recommend it based on the author‘s intelligence and compassion alone.

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Bigwig
Soldiers Live | Glen Cook
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A terrific ending to an extraordinarily unique and entertaining fantasy series. “The Black Company” books have a reputation for bleakness, but I found the tough-love camaraderie among the characters to be the series‘ defining characteristic (along with the humor and unpretentious style). The ending was quite moving and caught me by surprise. Supposedly Glen Cook has one more novel planned…tick tock, Glen. Finish it before World War III please.

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Bigwig
Slaughterhouse-Five | Kurt Vonnegut
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I appreciated this iconic novel about the many horrors of World War II more than I enjoyed it. The (nonlinear) plot: Billy Pilgrim, the author stand-in, travels through time as he visits different eras of his life, including (but not limited to) the Allied firebombing of Dresden and an abduction by aliens. The reading experience was complex…powerful, unpredictable, funereal, brisk and confident yet thematically heavy as a sledgehammer.

15 likes3 stack adds
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Bigwig
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Mehso-so

Russell Crowe is about to play the late Fr. Gabriele Amorth in an upcoming film, so I thought I‘d check out the legendary “Vatican Exorcist.” This book is a series of interviews with Amorth and a half-dozen of his closest co-workers and friends. The portrait presented by the interviews was surprising (he was a socially inept prankster) but I would have liked more info about his team (another priest, an M.D., a psychiatrist) and the process.

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Bigwig
The Twilight Pariah | Jeffrey Ford
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Panpan

Great concept, disappointing execution. A trio of bored pot-smoking college kids (including an archeology major) find a very unusual skeleton while illegally excavating part of an old, abandoned manor property. The setup is creepy and fun, but the plot feels undercooked. I wanted grand horror, but the result was pulpy, lacking in any real emotion, glib, and reminiscent of forgettable mid-2000s scary movies with poor cgi.

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Bigwig
House of Leaves | Mark Z Danielewski
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A tortured-soul tattoo artist becomes unmoored from reality as he diligently edits a blind man‘s pretentious commentary on a fictional(?) documentary film chronicling the terrifying experiences of a family who discover that their house is bigger on the inside than on the outside. Much, much bigger. This visionary, unclassifiable novel is a maze of footnotes, parallel frames, astounding imagery, fear, satire and psychedelic imagination. Amazing.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

The most lovable of lovable rogues return in this penultimate entry in the “Black Company” series. In this one, the remnants of the company are trapped in an occupied city and hunted by a supremely powerful sorceress while their entire leadership is frozen in an impossible-to-reach fortress. The solution? Create almighty chaos and hilariously brazen hijinks for 15 years while planning the rescue. It‘s impossible not to root for these characters.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

Mortality and memory were on the master‘s mind when he wrote these late-career stories. They are steeped in bittersweet, affable sadness as they struggle to derive truth from relationships: aging parents, old friends, old loves, the last surviving classmates at a reunion, a half-remembered childhood town. The endings are abrupt and hit as your hand reaches out, wanting more. Like the characters, the reader must instead reflect and make do.

8 likes2 stack adds
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Bigwig
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Pickpick

Something about this novel keeps me up at night, wheels turning. It‘s a haunting coming-of-age tale set in a quiet 1960s Long Island neighborhood. The way Ford reveals the young narrator‘s innocence slowly slipping away during a year of strange happenings, mysteries, and danger is subtle and sad and oblique. If you still find yourself up late at night, unable to fully grasp or fully let go of your own childhood mysteries, this one‘s for you.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

This is a scholarly analysis of United States diplomatic, military, and economic strategy for denying any one nation the ability to undermine U.S. allies and coerce its way to regional hegemony anywhere in the world. China is the focus, but Russia and a few other nations are discussed. The text is dry but exceptionally methodical as it defines terms, explains concepts and lays out a framework for understanding dynamics between nations.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

From the mysterious, foggy alleys of 1890s London to wild cursed mountains in Wales, Arthur Machen weaves tales of imagination and terror with luxuriant language and plots that lean heavily on ancient pagan evils being explored by doughty and clever investigators. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft need to discover this amazing author, who lived at the turn of the century and inspired generations of storytellers of the macabre.

9 likes2 stack adds
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Bigwig
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Pickpick

I really enjoyed this 2013 narrative about the young men on the U.S. 9-person rowing team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The focus is Joe Rantz, who was cruelly abandoned as a boy and forced to live a nearly animalistic existence during the Great Depression. There are elegant insights into the physical, psychological and emotional craft of rowing, shell-building, and the trials of life in 1930s America and Germany. A good tale very well told.

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Bigwig
Penpal | Dathan Auerbach
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I read this 2012 novel in one captivated sitting, and spent much of that time shivering from the profound creepiness of the experience. The adult narrator reflects on disparate childhood events, weaving together their horrifying significance strand by strand. The plot builds a believable world with efficiency, clarity and subtlety - Auerbach leans heavily on the frightening power of implication. What you don‘t see or understand is always scarier.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

Of particular interest in this entry in the increasingly popular missing persons series is the number of cases involving toddlers and small children who disappear nearly instantaneously and are found days later, generally unharmed, miles away and frequently on mountainsides or across rivers. Cases go back over a century. They are usually confused and unable to relate anything about their disappearance. I mean…what the heck. True head-scratchers.

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Bigwig
Carrion Comfort | Dan Simmons
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A holocaust survivor, a sheriff, and a journalist face hopeless odds as they battle a group of secretive, powerful “mind vampires” who vicariously indulge in violence by controlling the minds of ordinary people. The antagonists are taken very seriously and grounded in historical realities (with dire implications for black and Jewish victims). This epic thriller dives into history, religion, race and genocide…scary, inspiring, and hugely powerful.

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Bigwig
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Mehso-so

This is Whitley Streiber‘s follow-up to “Communion,” his 1987 bestseller - and one of the scariest books ever written (whatever you think of the UFO/UAP phenomenon, I dare you to go read “Communion”…you‘ll sleep with the lights on for a month). This book explores some of the ongoing issues in the field as of the early 2000s. It‘s thought-provoking and whatever one thinks of him, Streiber is an intelligent, curious writer.

11 likes1 stack add
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Bigwig
Joyride | Jack Ketchum
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Panpan

Nope. Ketchum is in a category all his own, for better or worse. Some of his thrillers define “page-turner,” but this one was just a dog. Don‘t bother.

10 likes1 stack add
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Bigwig
Missing 411- Hunters | David Paulides
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I caught the eponymous documentary and was curious about reading a book from this popular series. The author recounts the disappearances of people throughout the 20th and 21st centuries - specifically, patterns of disappearances with unusual circumstances in certain geographical areas. Thought-provoking, and it sounds the alarm about how missing persons are basically memory-holed from L.E. databases by being declared dead without clear evidence.

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Bigwig
The Collector | John Fowles
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According to the internet, this 1963 tale of abduction has been a favorite of certain infamous murderers, adding a certain chilliness to the reading experience. The novel‘s sympathies lie with artist Miranda, the abductee, while creepy butterfly collector Clegg (the perp) exhibits some interesting class resentments. Miranda‘s tragic section of the split-POV is epistolary. The subtle cruelty is served up like an afternoon tea laced with arsenic.

BarbaraBB Loved this book! 1y
Bigwig It‘s a classic that I missed somehow. I‘m working my way through an online list of the scariest books of all time. This was a worthy entry. @BarbaraBB (edited) 1y
13 likes2 comments
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Bigwig
THE CIPHER | Kathe Koja
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Mehso-so

This 1991 cult classic takes Nietzsche‘s “If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you” to its inevitable conclusion. Nicholas and Nakoma, starving artists living in grungy existential despair, discover a black hole of pure nothingness in an apartment storage closet. Experimentation, chaos, and madness ensue as these bitter psyches meet their own nihilism face to skull. Koja swings hard, asking (but not answering) some big questions.

8 likes1 stack add
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Bigwig
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Pickpick

Forget the films, the pop culture references, Ryan Reynolds, and the old Reddit arguments over historical accuracy. Pretend it‘s 1975, find a vintage copy of this retelling of what may (or may not?) have occurred to the Lutz family in the infamous Long Island house…and just try to sleep without the lights on. This classic isn‘t disturbing or thought-provoking as much as it‘s downright scary, plain and simple - maybe one of the scariest ever.

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Bigwig
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Pickpick

A harrowing journey into the mind of Frank, a 16-year-old living on a tiny Scottish island with his secretive father. Frank is a stunningly original character, and his unusual brand of wry, upbeat madness, shaped by isolation and cruelty, is captivating (and very disturbing). You may be both appalled and proud of your inevitable sympathy as the extent of the horror on this island is revealed. This batshit crazy book is bonkers to the final word.

JoeMo That is a spot on description of one‘s experience in reading that book. I remember finishing it and being unsure if I liked or hated it. I remember ultimately giving it a positive review due to the fact it made empathize with a seemingly horrible character! 1y
BarbaraBB Great review. I “loved” it too. 1y
9 likes2 comments
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Bigwig
Chasing the Boogeyman | Richard Chizmar
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Mehso-so

Thanks to the review by @vivastory I gave this hybrid a try. I‘m glad I did. Chizmar tries something new by blending his real 1980s small town Maryland nostalgia with a fictional tale of serial murder (complete with convincing period-style photos). The characters are bland, even the nonfiction ones, but the mystery is very creepy. I wanted an innovative ending and was left dissatisfied, but overall this novel nails that special true-crime “feel.”

vivastory Yeah, this one left me wanting more. I saw recently he was working on a follow-up. I might be intrigued to read it just to wrap it up but I don't know if I will lol 1y
13 likes1 comment
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Bigwig
Hell House | Richard Matheson
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This 1971 novel might be the mean-spirited granddaddy of all modern haunted house tales. A paranormal scientist, his wife, and two psychics accept a job to uncover the secrets of a legendary mansion - the site of evils committed by a uniquely depraved (and interesting) commune decades earlier. There‘s a strong mystery intertwined with frightening and genuinely shocking moments. Be warned: Matheson does not pull punches, and he knows his craft.

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Bigwig
Piercing | Ryu Murakami
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Mehso-so

A young father plans the ritualistic murder of a prostitute as a way to dispel his perverse desire to harm his child. The prostitute has serious issues of her own, and their various traumas collide in a mutual psychological breakdown. Good times. Not Murakami‘s best, but suitably weird, scary, suspenseful, and unpredictable, with a strong dose of sympathy for the characters. He‘s an acquired taste, but he takes you places no one else does.

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Bigwig
Billy Summers | Steven King
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Panpan

Like its hitman protagonist, this novel has an identity crisis, and as it lurched from one half-baked cliche to another, I smelled a rat: this thing was written to be a lucrative TV miniseries. Warmed-over plotting, a female character who feels disturbingly like wish fulfillment, and King specifying the politics of EVERY CHARACTER. We get it, dude. There‘s a decent novel about trauma and writing buried in here somewhere…bring a big backhoe.