A Door That Shouldn’t Be Opened

SPOILER warning!

I finished Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris a couple weeks ago, which is the first fiction book I’ve read in a long time. The only reason I’d give it even 2 out of 5 stars is because I was so desperate to read fiction that it seemed excellent. Kind of like when you’re really hungry and even that cardboard-like leftover pizza from five days ago is wonderful.

Anyway, Behind Closed Doors is the typical domestic violence thriller, pitting husband against wife. Grace is a 30-something woman, and her younger sister, Millie, has Down syndrome. Grace is finding it difficult to get a decent guy who accepts her and her sister. Her dreams appear to have come true when Jack Angel appears out of nowhere, dances with Millie at the park, then asks Grace out. Of course, is the perfect guy: good-looking, intelligent, and makes a ton of money as a highfalutin lawyer who defends battered women. Naturally, Grace falls for him, and in a matter of only three months, he asks her to marry him. She accepts. Her life becomes hell.

My first thought upon learning that the villain’s name was Jack Angel was “well, that’s a screamingly obvious technique to reveal that a seemingly good guy is in fact the bad guy.” Turns out that Jack is not actually his real name but a “clever” alias he developed for himself after he murdered his own mother. Classy guy.

I found it a bit unbelievable that Grace would end up marrying Jack in the first place. She supposedly had a lot of experience with dating, so you’d think she would know the warning signs, or her “creep radar” would start going off. But if you read the literature about psychopaths, which Jack revealed himself to be in short order, you know that they are initially charming and adept at fooling people. The entire time I was reading the book, I was picturing Jack looking something like Ted Bundy.

Behind Closed Doors is the kind of book in which you want to reach inside the fictional world and and kill the character yourself. It was also the kind of book that makes you feel uncomfortable the entire time you’re reading it, because you’re waiting for the next horrible thing to befall the protagonist. I didn’t particularly care for that kind of suspense vibe because everything that happened to Grace was just plain sick. Jack ended up wanting to get to Millie because she would be easier to scare (being that she had Down syndrome), and he apparently lives off the feeling of fear that he invokes in his victims. Fortunately nothing happened Millie, but just the thought that Jack would hurt her was very off-putting, like the author was making a cheap shot at people with disabilities.

Most suspense novels are incredibly fast paced and don’t have much description of settings and characters. Both applied to Behind Closed Doors, which I finished in less than 24 hours. Because there was so little description, it was hard to picture anything beyond Ted Bundy in an immaculate house torturing Grace, who I vaguely imagined to look like Gwyneth Paltrow. At a couple points in the book, the characters traveled to Thailand, but I couldn’t picture it at all from the author’s (lack of) description.

Other reviews have made comparisons to The Girl on the Train, but Behind Closed Doors was not as good or as memorable. What would have been more interesting is if the story had been written from Jack’s perspective; I would have liked to know more about his backstory. I suspect he was lying when he told Grace that he killed his mother. It is also rare to read a book from the perspective of the villain, especially a book in this genre.

Basically, I’d recommend this one if you have a few hours to kill or if for some reason, you want to feel very uncomfortable. Other than that… stay away from it.

My Blasphemous Exorcism


My Best Friend’s Exorcism. With a title like that, how could you not want to read it? I thought the book would make an excellent indie movie with weird Tarantino-like special effects. The library classified it as horror, but I wouldn’t quite put it in that category; it was actually fairly difficult to categorize. I would’ve called it chick-lit with some comedy, gross-out moments, and the right amount of suspense. The horror only came through in about the last quarter of the book, but the first part was fast-paced enough to keep readers interested. Like Ready Player One, which I read about a week ago, this book was full of 80s references because it actually took place in the 80s. All of the chapter titles came from lyrics of popular 80s songs.

The author (Grady Hendrix) absolutely nailed the teenage dialogue. He did a far better job of this than many YA authors, and I was disappointed that this book wasn’t categorized as YA. I think I know why: because it was too genuine. YA is normally watered down and offers a mere simulacrum of what the teenage experience is actually like. As far as I know, he captured the essence of Charleston (South Carolina) pretty well, too, but what was really impressive was his successful use of a female main character when he is not a female. I had to keep reminding myself that the author was in fact a man.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book (and this is totally biased and says more about me than it does about the book) was that the exorcism was not performed by a Catholic priest. Some motivational speaker/weight-lifting preacher performed it, but he bailed out halfway through, leaving the main character to perform the exorcism herself, using the “holy symbols” of the friendship rather than the typical holy water and prayers. As a matter of fact, the whole “ritual” was actually pretty blasphemous. That being said, the book also did a great job of portraying the undying love between two best friends, which is not something you read about in most novels or even in real life. Many times, women and girls feel as though they have to compete with each other, so they lie and backstab and generally act like bitches to stay on top. (Some of this bitchery did happen in the novel, but it was all cleared up at the end.)

Highly recommended if you want something that’s purely entertaining. You won’t learn a darn thing from this book, but it’s a ton of fun. There are some disgusting scenes, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it while eating or if you get grossed out easily.

Nerd Novel of Nostalgia


I had been hearing rave reviews about Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, so I finally got the chance to read it this past week. It’s an interesting sci-fi mashup of 1980s pop culture, Ender’s Game, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and total nerdiness. The novel is set in 2045, and the world is basically a huge video game called the OASIS (which is like the Internet, Second Life, and World of Warcraft all rolled into one). When the creator of the OASIS died, he hid an Easter egg somewhere in the worlds of the OASIS, and the lucky person who finds the egg by completing a series of video game–like quests would win a fabulous prize. Our protagonist, Wade Watts (AKA Parzival), is only 17, but he’s been immersed in the OASIS all his life and made it his life’s mission to study the work and mind of the OASIS’s creator, his greatest role model. Wade would appear to be well positioned to win the egg if not for a gang of evil corporate drones that are out to kill him, win the egg for themselves, and use their newfound power to absorb the OASIS into their own company and use it for their own ends.

There was a lot to love about this book, especially if you grew up in the 80s and knew all the video game and pop culture references. I was clueless about most of them because I was born in the late 80s and can’t remember anything from that decade, but the book still grabbed my attention because of the meticulous detail the author put into it and the obvious love he had for his subject. (And the author did mention Neon Genesis Evangelion, the best anime series ever, and Quake, a 1996 video game and probably the Greatest First-Person Shooter of All Time.) I don’t typically read science fiction because I find the worlds difficult to get into and the scenarios hard to envision, but the world this author created was not much of a far cry from the world we live in today, so it was easy to become immersed in it. Because of that, the book’s pacing was very quick—it sucked you in and kept you interested all the way until the end.

A few dislikes: I didn’t care too much for the romantic subplot because I felt as though it didn’t add much. Wade falls in love with one of his competitors on the quest for the egg, a “girl” (well, her avatar is a girl) called Art3mis, having never met her in real life. The author had a wonderful opportunity to expound on the dangers of getting romantically involved with a person you know only on the Internet (or, in this case, the OASIS), but the romance totally worked out in the end and thus was boring and predictable. (I would’ve liked for Art3mis to secretly be part of the evil corporate entity out to destroy Wade.) But people are probably not going to read this book for the romance, so I guess that’s OK. The characters’ dialogue and banter sometimes seemed a little stilted or cheesy, but I suppose that was because it was the author’s first novel. There were several redundant phrases such as “yellow in color” or “and also” that bothered me because a good editor should have caught them.

If you’re looking for a few hours to kill with a fun, adventurous book and you love the Internet, the 80s, and/or video games, you will get a lot of enjoyment out of Ready Player One. (At some point in the near future, this is going to become a movie directed by Steven Spielberg, which might be good if it isn’t destroyed by too much CGI.)