West Side Story: A Novelization by Irving Shulman

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ The author can’t capture the music and dancing of the musical, but he makes up for it with backstories that build on the plot in interesting ways.

🖋 🖋🖋 The story is written in that pulpy, mass market paperback style so popular in the 1960s, and for the most part it still works. Some of the dialogue feels archaic and the writing melodramatic, but in the end this style fits. West Side Story has always been a romantic, almost overripe melodrama, and pulpy writing captures that atmosphere without making it overwrought.


Published November 16, 2021 by Gallery Books (first printed in 1963)

Written by Irving Shulman, based on the play conceived by Jerome Robbins

ISBN: 9781982147150

Genre: Fiction, Romance

🔪🔪🔪🔪  Various scenes of gang violence, stabbings and shootings, references to weapons. Blood and gore are always minimized, with more emphasis on how people react to the story.ove the plot forward). None of the sex scenes include much detail, but one has quasi-violent undertones.
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 There is one scene which features an attempted rape, described with no anatomical details.

💣 Occasional use of 1960s racial slurs, or dated slang.

💋💋💋 One sex scene described with minimal detail, a fight scene involving attempted rape, and various scenes of teenagers referencing sexual activity.


Whether you’ve seen the story on stage, watched the 1961 film or Steven Spielberg’s remake, West Side Story is a story that continues to enchant new generations. This novelization by Irving Shulman puts the musical’s dialogue and plot in book format, with some changes. Since musical numbers don’t translate into novel scenes, one dance scene (Tony and Maria meeting at the community center’s dance) remains, the others are left out. New lines of dialogue supplement scenes, making up for moments where musical solos moved the plot along.

Shulman also gives characters more backstory. Maria and Benardo’s parents show up in several scenes, instead of being offstage the entire time. Tony’s family life (where his father is, his own immigrant status since he was born in Poland) gets more detail. Minor characters – particularly Baby-John, a young Jet with a passion for comic books – get fleshed out, becoming more than just side roles. Shulman uses a third-person narrator voice to give setting details about 1960s New York City, and the role that gangs played in its culture.

Given that this novel is based on a musical, one would expect it to rehash the musical’s plot without adding much. In fact, Shulman makes some clever additions. Adding the aforementioned backstories lets him probe the characters’ motivations, making it clearer what drives their destructive behavior. The narrator’s voice lets him describe past events – what kind of violent acts the Jets and Sharks usually do, etc. – which highlight how the Jets and Sharks affect their neighborhood. The musical focuses on how the Jets and Sharks interact with each other, their rivalry that feels so all-important. Shulman shows how everyone outside the gangs see both gangs a threat, and comments on just how many other gangs are in New York City.

These narrator’s details add interesting commentary to the story. Showing how subjective the Jets and Sharks are makes it clear that their justifications (“protecting the street from outsiders”) are flimsy. It also helps Shulman put one of the musical’s implied themes in the forefront: this is a story about people busy dying young. They live violently and not for very long, unless they find something beyond the gangs. This makes Tony and Maria’s doomed love affair, their chance to find something new, all the more tragic. West Side Story isn’t quite the same without the music, but this novel shows that a good musical’s plot is compelling on paper as well.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ It may not have the re-readability of the author’s best books, but it’s a great ride while it’s happening.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋 The writing style has a clinical, “true crime” feel that fits the subject matter perfectly, and the set pieces are juggled with precision. The character development is also quite good, although it feels less than the sum of its parts.


Published May 21, 2019 by Grand Central Publishing

ISBN: 978-1538750148

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Crime, Serial Killers, Psychological Thriller

🔪🔪🔪🔪🔪 Many gun battles, references to child soldiers in South America, human trafficking, as well as various serial killer details (descriptions of body disposal, etc.).
💋💋💋💋 There is only one sex scene in the book and it’s described with limited detail. There are various scenes of women being threatened, references to teen pregnancy and sadomasochistic activity (bondage bars, sexual fantasies).
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 This book follows characters who have lived in war zones (recollections of battle gore, abuse), as well as characters who have serial killer pathologies (kinky sexual obsessions, bizarre behavior).


Years ago in her home country, Cari Mora saw terrible things. Now she works in Miami, a caretaker for at an occasionally-rented mansion that belonged to Pablo Escobar. Hans-Peter Schneider knows that there is more to this house than meets the eye: Escobar’s friends left something there that any man would kill to have. All Hans-Peter must do is get into the house, and take care of some locals who are “watching the home” for a certain man in South America. He thinks this lovely housekeeper may be just what he needs …
It’s hard to read a new Thomas Harris novel without considering his legacy. He started his career with three excellent crime novels (Black Sunday, Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs). The latter two books featured the iconic Dr. Hannibal Lecter, making Harris wealthy and acclaimed. However, his follow-up Lecter novels (Hannibal, Hannibal Rising) left much to be desired, and there’s a 13-year gap between Hannibal Rising and Cari Mora. So, this is a book by an author who has shown his mastery, if not consistency.
The book starts well, pulling readers immediately into its high stakes plot and exotic setting. It becomes clear that Harris is using the “Beast obsessed with Beauty” motif that appears in his other books, but gives readers a new angle on it. Cari’s backstory is dramatic but not overdone, and her struggles as a Temporary Protected Status refugee makes her a different kind of heroine than Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. The scenes of her navigating a male-centric crime world create some interesting drama (especially since some of the men are smart enough to take her seriously). Hans-Peter Schneider is a serial killer like many other Harris villains, but with unique obsessions. Some scenes showing Hans-Peter’s “tools and toys” are quite inventive, showing that Harris has stayed current on technology that humans can use for terrible purposes.
However, even though Cari is fascinating and Hans-Peter is disturbing, neither of them add up to what they could be. Harris’ best heroes have potent images or details that feel specific to them, urges that only they can fill. His best villains have their own urges, ones that complement the heroes in unexpected ways, generating primal competitions to see who survives. Cari has a sympathetic backstory, some interesting images, but no unique drive that sets her apart from other refugee survivor characters. Hans-Peter is creepy but has no vision that drives his crimes, and no special reason why Cari attracts him. Thus, this book has great elements, but they never coagulate into something iconic. It’s well worth reading once, but lacks the “extra something” that made Harris’ best work unforgettable.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Dear Henchman by Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ It trades some of the previous book’s pathos for more humor, but the characters and comedy are still spot-on.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 The “characters texting/emailing each other” concept reads clearer in this book, and the sassy dialogue is as good as ever.


Published May 2021 by INtense Publications

ISBN: 9781954601031

Series: Dear Hero #2

Genre: Fiction, Superhero, Comedy, Romance, Chat Fiction

🔪 🔪 Various fight scenes, some played for slapstick comedy or dark humor, and occasional bloody details.
💋 💋 With some of the previous book’s characters now dating, the romantic chatter and kissing/cuddling has gone up a notch, but nothing overtly sexual happens.


Once upon a time, Kevin and Himari were just sidekicks working for a superhero and supervillain that happened to fall in love with each other. Himari happened to be the superhero’s sister as well as the villain’s sidekick, which made things awkward. Now, Vortex has given up the nastier side of supervillain work, so the four of them get along fine. In fact, Kevin is beginning to realize that he and Himari are, well… perhaps getting along too well. Unless, that is, they want to take a new direction. All those ideas stall when a strangely polite villain hits his hero, Cortex, with a serum that strips him of powers. Now Kevin and Himari have to infiltrate the Shadow Assassins and find out what new threat is coming for the superhero world … and maybe get closer to each other along the way.


The authors take a character who mostly served as campy comic relief in the previous book (Dear Hero), and successfully reveal new depths in him. Kevin proves to be funny, flawed and human enough to carry the protagonist role, while his friends each have great moments along the way. The antagonist is built on the idea, “what if a polite Midwestern guy was also a supervillain?” which makes him highly entertaining, too. Just when it looks like he’s the Jim Carrey figure in this superhero comedy, hints of his backstory show that there’s something more substantial going on. As the second act develops, the authors use these details to go deeper into the “do we really need superheroes?” themes of Dear Hero.


Arguably, if there’s a problem with Dear Henchman, it’s that given the antagonist’s backstory, he could have been a lot darker. Adding more bite to his behavior could have given the plot more sense of danger, deep bass notes to complement the lighter material. However, going too far down that path might have made the story too dark. Most superhero deconstruction stories are pretty brutal, as anyone knows who has read Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns or The Killing Joke. Both Dear Hero and Dear Henchman aim for witty humor over harsh realism, so the authors’ choice to go lighter makes sense. Fortunately, the humor is smart and satirical enough to make up for any sense that the book is lightweight.


A very entertaining sequel, and a great example of telling a funny superhero story without descending too far into camp.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts 1 and 2 by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Not every element lands perfectly, but the story works far more often than it fails, and proves to be just as exciting as the earlier stories.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋 The plot successfully balances elements from the novel series with a new generation of characters. The book isn’t written solely by Rowling, and being a play, it has some farcical elements that wouldn’t work in a novel, but it still captures the books’ tone.


Published July 31, 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books

ISBN: 9781338099133

Genre: Fantasy, Theatre Play

🔪🔪🔪🔪 Fantasy violence sequences happen throughout the story, none of them bloody, but sometimes shocking.


Nineteen years have passed since Harry Potter and his friends saved the wizarding world from the evilest sorcerer in history. However, Harry and his wife Ginny have to face the fact that saving the world doesn’t make them cool to their kids – in fact, a famous legacy can be a handicap. When their middle son Albus goes off to Hogwarts and befriends Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius, it seems like life has no more surprises. Then Albus and his friends discover time travel secrets that could allow them to save people that their parents couldn’t help. Reality itself is about to change in ways that the Potters would never expect…

Writing a sequel to a well-loved series is never easy – especially when the series told a complex story about a prophesied hero changing his world. In this case, the time travel elements let the writers “have it both ways.” They can reference great moments from the books, while generating new insights about the past that make the concept more than a retread. Like David Eddings’ The Malloreon (a sequel series to his fantasy epic The Belgariad), there are plot twists that cast doubt on what’s come before. Much like Eddings, these twists are clever but don’t completely work – it’s hard to write a fantasy epic that asks big questions, resolves them, then wrenches them open again. In the forced moments, this book feels less like Harry Potter, more like Doctor Who.


However, even when the twists feel forced, the characters are interesting enough that it’s worth seeing them to the end. Harry and his pals are older but no less fascinating, and their adult struggles feel genuine. Harry’s parenting concerns particularly take fans into unexpected territory: the novels talked a lot about his mother, less about his father. As he painfully finds out, being a legendary wizard doesn’t make up for the fact that he is a father with no example to follow. Albus Potter and his Hogwarts friends are equally interesting, especially when their struggles link them to their parents in unexpected ways. Some of them find that they’re more like their parents than they would ever admit. Others have to live down the consequences of their parents’ choices, pain maturing them before their years.


While it has its rough edges, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child captures that thing which made the Harry Potter novels so good. It combines fast-flying adventure with interesting character drama. It introduces plot twists that couldn’t be predicted but make perfect sense in hindsight. The play script format makes it different from reading a novel, but no less exciting.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Dear Hero by Hope Bolinger and Alyssa Roat

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ One of the very few books that truly is laugh-out loud funny.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 As a book made up of characters’ texts/emails to each other, it doesn’t have a “recognizable writer’s voice.” That being said, the writers organize events clearly, the formatting is well done, and characters’ dialogue clearly sets them apart.


Published September 2020 by INtense Publications, ISBN: 978-1947796799

Series: Dear Hero #1

Genre: Fiction, Superhero, Comedy, Romance, Chat Fiction

🔪 🔪 Being superheroes and supervillains, the characters organize their lives around fights (minor and major), but the violence is described in minimal terms.
💋 There is increasing “romantic chatter” as the story goes along and a few brief kissing scenes, nothing more explicit.


In a world not unlike our own, superheroes and supervillains exist. But they have a problem: how to find nemeses to fight on a regular basis? Enter Meta Match, an app that allows heroes and villains to meet up and plan fights. Cortex needs a new villain fast, so he uses the site to connect with another young kid on the block: the nefarious Vortex. They hit it off well, but as they get to know each other better… it may be that they’re hitting it off in ways they never planned.


Chat fiction, much like choose your own adventure stories, is a concept that sounds great but is hard to do well. Roat and Bolinger overcome this problem by replicating many kinds of chat rooms – text messages, online message boards, mistyped emails. The descriptions of fickle side characters trying to dominate online discussions makes the story clever and also topical. They also have a great ear for dialogue – smart-aleck comments, villains joking about what they do to their victims, etc. This makes it easy to tell the characters apart, even in the most complicated battle scenes where several characters are sharing messages about what’s happening.


As far as the superhero elements go, the authors use the romantic elements to consider a classic question: what cost does the superhero life carry? The story begins feeling like a Marvel story, but slowly gets darker as the protagonists consider whether these fights are really just games, and whether the game will leave them cynical. The plot never enters grungy Zack Snyder territory, but faces these questions honestly while keeping things witty.


All told, Bolinger and Roat produce a highly entertaining read. This book will appeal equally to superhero fans interested in a prose take on the genre’s tropes, or romantic comedy fans seeking a new angle on the “enemies become something else” trope.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Run Away by Harlan Coben

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ I’d give this book four stars for incredible pacing, mystery, and plot. My only disappointment is that as focused as the story was on Paige, I didn’t feel her story was woven through the resolution well enough to leave me satisfied in regard to her. But the rest of the plot was phenomenal.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 This book is expertly written and I enjoyed every part of it—the plot twists, the unveiling, and the mystery itself kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat.


Published March 12th, 2019 by Grand Central Publishing

ISBN: 9781538748466

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Mystery

🔪🔪🔪 This book gets three knives for violence. There are quite a few murders, but the way they’re written (mostly) leaves the gore out of it. It’s very matter of fact and the violence is handled well. All in all, not as violent as would be expected from a book with hit men, drug dens, and murder mysteries.


Simon Greene’s daughter Paige has been missing for months. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to track her down, until he finally gets a lead that she’ll be playing at Strawberry Fields at Central Park.

When that meeting goes wrong—leading to a few moments of unwanted viral fame as a video of Simon seemingly assaulting a homeless man takes over YouTube—he loses his only chance to save his daughter as she is sucked back into the drug addict life her boyfriend, Aaron, provides for her.

Not long after the internet craze has faded away, Aaron shows up dead in he and Paige’s apartment, and Simon sets out once more to find his daughter. But try as he might, Paige is in the wind, and now he’s a suspect in Aaron’s murder.

States away, Ash and Dee Dee continue down their hit list, taking out man after man until they draw too much attention to themselves and Ash has no other option than to return Dee Dee to the cult that acted as her home—to keep her safe from the police. Ash doesn’t know who hired them specifically, but someone in this cult wanted those men dead. And as long as he got paid, he didn’t care who died.

Private Investigator Elena Ramirez enters the scene in search of a missing boy named Henry Thorpe, and her investigations lead her to Aaron’s murder scene. Uncertain if the cases are connected but not wanting to miss any vital information, Simon and Elena begin comparing notes and sharing information.

But the question remains: how is Paige connected to these cult murders? Who killed Aaron? And where did Paige disappear to?

I really loved this book, all the way up until the end. Coben kept me on my toes, weaving the tapestry of the murders and the characters lives together so that even I, an experienced weaver myself, was left guessing. The final effect was one of a story where nothing is unbelievable—except for the plot thread that kept you reading in the first place. As I’ve already said, I was disappointed with the resolution for Paige’s character. I guess I had hoped she’d have a larger part to play in the murders, a larger part to play in the mystery. We spent much of the book trying to unravel her story, only to have her be connected to the main tension and plot by a very narrow thread that seems too weak to pull the weight.

I am a tough sell, and Coben had me gripped from paragraph one.


Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published March 9, 2020.

Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old compiled by Miriam LeBlanc

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ If you want Christmas stories that capture the season without being syrupy, this book is for you.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 The writing is consistently good in every entry, and many authors show they are not afraid to show a sad situation before showing the goodness.


Authors:  Henry Van Dyke, Pearl S. Buck, Beatrice Joy Chute, Ruth Sawyer, Elizabeth Goudge, Selma Lagerlöf, Rebecca Caudill, Madeleine L’Engle

Published October 5, 2021 by Plough Publishing

ISBN: 9780874860313

Genre: Fiction, Short Story Collection, Holiday Stories, Christian Fiction

🔪 Some stories occur in poverty scenes with stark imagery, or feature threats of violence that aren’t carried out.
💋 No sex scenes, little romance.
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 A Trigger Warning: this book has references to alcoholism, sex with masochistic dialogue.


Christmas is a time that inspires many, and makes them reconsider just what they think about God (and more particularly, Jesus). For writers willing to lean into the questions that the season brings up, Christmas stories can convict as well as inspire. This collection includes twenty acclaimed Christmas stories from authors in different cultures and periods. From stories about Christmas in gritty urban environments (“Transfiguration” by Madeleine L’Engle) to historical tales set in Siberia (“The Guest” by Nikolai S. Lesskov) to fantasy stories about supernatural encounters (“The Cribmaker’s Trip to Heaven” by Reimmichl), these stories show Christmas in its many shades and environments.


Christmas books, like Christmas songs on the pop station, often lean so far into sentiment until they become silly and insubstantial. This collection aims for quality over sentiment, collecting pieces from many different decades (some going as far back as 1910, or the last 1800s). Famous Christian authors like Madeleine L’Engle are included, as well as more obscure ones like Henry van Dyke that are worth rediscovering. This gives the book a very diverse feel, and not all of the stories are for young children. However, the Christmas themes of generosity, beauty out of chaos show up in every story in some way, showing how Christmas’ core message and ideas truly resonate across social classes, generations and locations.


Quality storytelling makes this book that very rare thing: a Christmas story collection worth not only reading once, but poring over multiple times. Many readers will even find that it’s a book worth reading throughout the year.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

All the Lost Things by Michelle Sacks

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ I’d give this book five stars for incredible writing, characterization, and plot. It’s a slow-burn suspense, and the first half of the book is more fun and lighthearted as Dolly pretends the bad stuff never happened.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 This book is a unique read. It takes a very skilled writer immersed in the voice of the characters to pull off what Sacks pulled off in this novel—telling the story from start to finish from the perspective of a seven-year-old. This is a suspense novel for those who love soap operas—more family drama than suspense, but with all the fixings of a good kidnapping novel.


Published June 4th, 2019 by Little, Brown and Company

ISBN: 9780316475457

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Family Drama, Road Trip Novels

🔪 This book gets one knife for violence. Altogether, this is a fairly clean read. All violence is off screen and intentionally ignored by the narrator for most of the book. That said, if you’re sensitive to mentions of domestic abuse, be careful reading this book.

🚩 🚩 🚩 This book is a family drama fraught with memories of domestic violence and the conflicting feelings of a daughter toward her abusive father. It’s a picture of how abusive situations can slip through the cracks until it’s too late, and a depiction of how many kids learn to cope with trauma.


Dolly Rust likes dancing and playing pretend games with her best friend, Clemesta, a toy horse. (But if you asked Clemesta, you’d learn she was actually a magical horse queen, and also Dolly’s twin sister.) Clemesta and Dolly were in the middle of saving a stuffed lion’s life when her dad came and said it was time to go.

At first, they’re going on the best daddy-daughter adventure ever, and everything is amazing because Dolly has all of her dad’s attention and it’s a special trip just for them.

But the farther they drive, the less fun this special adventure becomes, and the more Clemesta insists that Dolly needs to remember the things she’s hidden away in the Secret Secret box of her brain.

Eventually, her dad starts acting strange, always checking behind them in the mirror and asking Dolly to wear a hat, cutting her hair and wearing glasses that he doesn’t need.

Will Dolly be able to ask for help before it’s too late and they’re too far lost?

This is an incredibly unique read. It takes a highly skilled writer to maintain an accurate voice of a seven-year-old narrator from start to finish, and to make a road trip where most of the time is spent in the back seat of a car with a toy horse interesting to read.

The suspense begins to ramp up about halfway through the book, and it doesn’t slow down after that. But even with a less suspenseful start, the plot’s mystery and the dramatic irony was enough to pull me through until I couldn’t put it down.

Dolly is an incredibly lovable character, in large part because of how she represents childhood. She has word slips and sporadic trains of thoughts and snippets of memory that reveal the drama of her home life bit by bit all the way up until the end. Some may feel this makes the story disjointed, but the longer I read in Dolly’s voice the more I got used to her thought patterns and was able to anticipate the narrative flow, which made it easier and easier to read as the book went along.


Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published April 14, 2020.

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ Perfect for classic crime noir fans, and for readers seeking a well-developed psychological thriller.

🖋 🖋🖋🖋🖋 The author creates an almost cinematic style with strong images, tight plotting and careful pacing the suspense elements.


Published December 7, 2021 by New York Review of Books

Edition: Movie tie-in edition

Originally published in 1946.

ISBN: 978-1681376103

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Crime

🔪🔪 One death by poisoning, a violent fight at the climax, various scenes of psychological suspense.
💋💋💋💋 Various sexual references in dialogue, and three to five brief sex scenes (all of which move the plot forward). None of the sex scenes include much detail, but one has quasi-violent undertones.
🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 🚩 A Trigger Warning: this book has references to alcoholism, sex with masochistic dialogue.


Stan Carlisle isn’t planning to spend the rest of his life as a low-level carnival lackey. He’s got plans, and a taste for stage magic which Madam Zeena helps him develop. Before long, the carnival isn’t big enough for Stan’s dreams, so he and his new wife Molly hit the road as a mentalist act. When Stan changes masks to become Reverend Carlisle, Spiritualist minister and counselor to those interested in the other side, Molly worries that they’ve gone beyond putting on a show for honest money. As Stan targets a wealthy new “client,” he nears the line that he may never return from.
This novel was a bestseller when it came out in 1945, then in and out of print for decades – this edition was released for Guillermo del Toro’s new movie version. C.S. Lewis fans may be familiar with it, since the author’s ex-wife Joy Davidman went on to marry Lewis (an unusual courtship captured in the movie Shadowlands). Like many noir novels, Nightmare Alley is an antihero story about a character’s lusts taking him into dark territory. Gresham makes Stan likeable enough that even as he descends, he’s still fascinating to watch. Molly increasingly becomes the moral voice, but the story balances her warnings and Stan’s hunger for more, making each compelling. The balance is helped by Gresham capturing the suspense in magic acts – the magician collecting or deducing information, pretending he’s struggling to get a reading, the climax as he shocks the audience. Like a great thriller novelist describing a heist, Gresham transports readers into these scenes, making each detail feel vital. Thus, even as it becomes hard to imagine how Stan can survive his journey, readers stay to see how he reaches his destination.
Stan isn’t the only fascinating character – Gresham describes the carnival and its inhabitants with vivid language. Many have compared the carnival scenes to Tod Browning’s 1932 movie “Freaks,” an inside look at circus performers that makes even the most unusual performers (the man with no legs, the conjoined twins) seem human. This helps the book enormously, keeping the “weird events at the carnival” setting from becoming garish or cliché.
Overall, Gresham tells a classic noir tale of someone flirting with forbidden things, a journey that feels preordained but can’t be missed. The characters walk dark paths, but the book never lands in nihilism. Readers see how characters lose their way, but the morals are implied rather than preached. Decades later, this gut-wrenching thriller still holds up.


Reviewed by G. Connor Salter

G. Connor Salter is an award-winning journalist, freelance writer and storyteller. His short story series “Tapes from the Crawlspace” is available to watch on YouTube, as are various pieces published by Tall Tale TV. He has published over 300 book reviews in publications like Aphotic Realm and The Waynesdale News. He will read anything once, but prefers thrillers, fantasy and horror.

Annabel Lee by Mike Nappa

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ If you like suspense and mystery novels, you’ll like this book.

🖋️🖋️🖋️🖋️ The plot was predictable at times, but altogether enjoyable even when I knew what was coming.


Published March 1, 2016 by Revell

ISBN: 9780800726447

Genre: Fiction, Suspense, Supernatural Suspense

🔪🔪🔪🔪 There are many deaths, though few are gruesome, and at least one dog attack.


Leonard Truckson was always a secretive man. Annabel knew he had secrets. She also knew she was one of those secrets. Why else would he need a German Shepherd trained to eat fingers?

None of that really prepared her for the day he woke her in the middle of the night, told her to get dressed, and brought her out to where that dog lived. She also wasn’t prepared for him to pull a  lever next to the dog house that revealed a secret bunker. She was least prepared to be locked in that bunker with that dog with the strict orders to not let anyone in unless it was him and he said the safe code.

Trudi Coffey and Samuel Hill had once been married, but his covert missions had put stress on their relationship and led to a divorce. So, when he shows up asking for a book he gave her years ago, she knows something is up. She’s even more suspicious when Dr. Jonathan Smith shows up and questions her as one used to receiving answers.

Driven by a need to discover the truth about Dr. Smith and the strange clues Leonard Truckson left in his absence, Trudi finds herself wrapped up in an intense plot involving the CIA and other secret societies. Soon, what began as a desire to know the truth becomes a race against Dr. Smith to get to Annabel first.

This is a binge-worthy read. Nappa has a wonderfully unique style and tone that plays into the way he crafts mysteries and characters.


Reviewed by J. J. Hanna

J. J. Hanna is a writer from Littleton, CO. She has a B. S. from Taylor University in Professional Writing, and has worked in various roles in the publishing industry including literary agent, freelance writer, virtual assistant, and publicist. Her favorite genre is suspense, but she also enjoys Fantasy and SciFi. Connect with her online @authorjjhanna and http://www.authorjjhanna.com.

This review was originally published March 25, 2019.