Posts Tagged ‘details of New York City’

Bedbugs by Ben H. Winters

October 31, 2012

Bedbugs CoverTitle: Bedbugs

Author: Winters, Ben H.

Publication Date: 2011

Pages: 256

Geographical Setting: New York City

Time Period: Present Day

Genre: Horror Stories, Suspense Stories

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: When Alex, Susan, and little Emma Wendt move into a New York City brownstone boasting a prime location and an amazingly cheap rent, they happily embark on a new chapter of their lives.  Sure, the landlady may be slightly eccentric, and the previous tenants may have disappeared inexplicably, but these are small grievances compared to the perfection of the place.  Until the bedbugs show up, those notoriously hardy pests swarming ever-increasingly across the city.  When an exterminator finds no trace of the insects, Susan’s sanity shows signs of cracking.  Where are these bugs?  Why aren’t Alex and Emma being bitten, and what exactly is in the basement?  Winters’ story preys on our collective fear of creepy-crawlies delivering a good, old-fashioned horror story wrapped up in a modern-day package.  He draws inspiration from the best conventions of great horror classics: the hopeful beginning, the slightly off-kilter secondary characters, an ominous warning to stay out of the basement, the escalating psychological torture of a progressively unstable narrator, even a portentous portrait a la Dorian Gray.  This fast-paced novel will keep the pages turning until the chilling and twisted end; it will keep the lights on much longer than that.

Appeal Characteristics: creepy, menacing, fast-paced, foreboding, paranoid, plot-twist, details of New York City, dark, resolved-ending, off-kilter, manic, unsettling, compelling, plot-driven, suspenseful, movie-like

Subject Headings: New York City, Brooklyn, Bedbugs, Family, Haunted Houses, Secrets, Apartment houses, Paranoia

Three Terms Best Describing this Book: Creepy, Unsettling, Fast-Paced

Similar Fiction: 

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This horror classic shares many themes with Bedbugs chief of which is the unstable nature of the narrator’s mind.  Where Winters’ tale is completely resolved, Jackson’s leaves the reader with a little more ambiguity.  Read this as both source material and a genuinely scary story.

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Another classic horror story this time featuring the psychological torture of a young woman by neighbors whose eccentricities begin taking on a malevolent tone after Rosemary becomes pregnant.  The similar frame—everyday life slowly replaced by darkness—and paranoid feeling of this novel should appeal to readers who enjoyed Bedbugs.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

For anyone who wants a terrifying read with plenty of turns and surprises set in the modern landscape, look no further.  The menacing bed bugs are replaced here with a menacing—and very real—ghost.  Similar to Winters, though, Hill adds layers of poignant everyday struggles that interweave with the overall fight against the supernatural.

Bonus Watch-alike: The Innkeepers written and directed by Ti West

During the last operating days of the Yankee Pedlar Inn, Claire and Luke, the last remaining employees, are determined to expose the ghosts that haunt the one hundred year old building.  As the final night wears on, Claire’s psyche begins to unravel as the line between reality and imagination begin to blur.  A modern-day ghost story that feels like an homage to its predecessors, the movie finds plenty of common ground with Bedbugs.

Similar Non-fiction:

Wicked Bugs: The Louse that Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart

This natural history contains not just the story of the bed bug but all manner of creepy and devilish insects.  Stewart proves that bugs don’t have to be supernatural to be scary.

Death Sentence: The True Story of Velma Barfield’s Life, Crimes, and Punishment by Jerry Bledsoe

The horror story staple of sweet, grandmotherly, ladies hiding a menacing secret isn’t just fiction, as proved by this true crime.  An account of the life and murders of the only woman executed in the US between 1962 and 1998, this book will chill readers with accounts of Bledsoe’s crimes as much as it shows redemption by prison.

Songs from the Black Chair: A Memoir of Mental Interiors by Charles Barber

A closely detailed look at mental illness and the real tortures of the psyche from the mouths of the sufferers, this book is part memoir, part investigative science writing.  As a man himself living under the dark shadow of obsessive-compulsive disorder, Barber tells the stories of the insane with balance and respect.

Name: Jessica

Tell No One

October 3, 2012

Tell No One by Harlan CobenTitle: Tell No One

Author: Coben, Harlan

Publication Date: 2001

Pages: 339

Geographical Setting: New York City

Time Period: Modern Day

Genre: Suspense

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: For eight years Dr. David Beck has been living under the shadow of his wife Elizabeth’s abduction and murder.  It was supposed to be a celebration, a trip to the family’s private lake commemorating the anniversary of the first kiss they shared when they were twelve years old.  What followed instead was a scream piercing the placid summer night and Beck’s last view of his wife before she was taken from him forever.  Unable to move on, Beck has thrown himself into his work at a pediatric hospital serving New York City’s poor.  But the absence that is Elizabeth cannot be filled.  That is until he receives an email containing information that only Elizabeth would know.  With only this one piece of desperate hope, Beck plunges into the middle of a web of secrets, lies, and hidden truths that all lead back to one central question: Did Elizabeth die all those years ago, or is there something else afoot?  Coben really moves the story along with quick chapters that shift viewpoint from first-person (Beck) to third-person.  Vivid language that verges on poetic draws the reader into the space of the novel.  Characters, both good and bad, doing all manner of surreptitious and shadowy things, populate the pages and lead the reader on a twist-filled sprint that is at the same time heartbreaking and hopeful, ruthless and tender.

Appeal Characteristics: Compelling, Breakneck, Intense, Dramatic, Multiple points of view, Plot twists, Suspenseful, Action-oriented, Cinematic, Details of New York City, Vivid, Complex, Descriptive, Heartbreaking, Resolved Ending

Subject Headings: Missing Persons, Murder, Frameups, Betrayal, Physicians, Husbands of murder victims, Serial murderers, Father and adult daughters, Husband and wife

Three Terms Best Describing this Book: Compelling, Dramatic, Action-oriented

Similar Fiction: 

Vanished by Karen Robards

This novel also features the return of a missing person presumed dead, this time the protagonist’s young child.  The plot is fast-paced and suspenseful like Coben.  But where Coben’s novel contains light romantic elements, Robards is downright steamy.

High Crimes by Joseph Finder

Betrayal and conspiracy feature high in this novel where a woman must learn the secrets of her husband’s past in order to defend him in a top-secret, military court-martial.  The examination of the relationship between husband and wife as well as the breakneck speed with which secrets are unveiled will appeal to readers of Coben. 

Money to Burn by James Grippando

Another wife who disappeared under mysterious circumstances may have returned from the dead, but this time, she’s out to financially ruin her husband.  A tale of corporate espionage set against the backdrop of Wall Street, this novel contains plenty of twists and deceptions to boot.

 Similar Non-fiction:

The Restless Sleep: Inside New York City’s Cold Case Squad by Stacy Horn

Mysterious and unsolved cases set against the backdrop of New York City.  This book offers an intriguing look at the detectives who work to solve cold cases against the obstacles of time, technology, and department politics.

The Company We Keep: a Husband-and-Wife True-Life Spy Story by Robert Baer and Dayna Baer

Here readers will find the true story of a couple who met while on a mission for the CIA that echoes the theme of husbands and wives under difficult circumstances.

Thunderstruck by Erik Larson

Scientific discovery and murder collide in this Edwardian era true mystery.  Those who appreciated the technology aspect of Coben’s novel may find similar ground in this non-fiction.

Name: Jessica

Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets

April 7, 2010

Author: Cadillac Man

Title: Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets

Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Publication date: 2009

Number of pages: 288

Geographical setting: New York City

Time period: Modern Time

Plot summary: Land of the Lost Souls is the memoir of the Cadillac Man, who lives on the streets of Manhattan. A divorced veteran, the Cadillac Man has lived on the streets for sixteen years (at the time of the book’s printing) starting in the early 1990s. Occasionally sexually explicit, unexpectedly humorous, and deceptively philosophical, the Cadillac Man tells of his life on the streets. He paints his experiences in detail, sometimes graphically, and introduces the reader to the various types of people who live in his world. His world is just that, a different society, which has a cast of characters with odd street names such as Old Crow and the Weasel. He offers a glimpse at a world not often looked at by society, either by lack of opportunity or by choice and does so with a vividness, candor, and poignancy that can’t help but touch the reader.

Subject headings: New York City – Manhattan, Homelessness, Mental Health, Social Classes

Appeal: compelling, tragic, fast-paced, quirky, unhurried, bittersweet, engaging, details of New York City, strong language

Three terms that best describe the book: Philosophical, Poignant, and Straightforward

Similar authors and works:


John Grisham’s The Street Lawyer. Michael Brock is a lawyer from a high powered law firm who is taken hostage by a homeless man while at work. Instead of being angry with the homeless aggressor, he sympathizes with his plight and starts seeing how shallow his life is. Brock then focuses his energy in helping the homeless at a pro-bono law firm. The Street Lawyer gives a glimpse of when the world of the homeless interacts with “normal” society.

John Berger’s King: A Street Story. In this story, King (who is interestingly a dog), acts as the narrator, who lives with two homeless people Vico and Vica. The three have even joined a community of homeless people and live as normal a life as a homeless family can live. That is until a murder in the community that changes everything for the small group. Like Lost Souls, this book discusses the societies and cultures the homeless have.

Rosemary Aubert’s Free Reign, is part of a series about Ellis Portal, a homeless man who was once a respected judge. Portal finds a severed hand with a ring on it that he recognizes. He must solve the murder while placing himself in danger. One important fact that the Portal books and Lost Souls bring up is that the homeless often have a former life in which they were a “normal” part of society.


Jim Flynn’s Stranger to the System (Life Portraits of a New York City Homeless Community). This work contains the story of 20 homeless people living in New York City. Flynn’s book connects with more analysis then compared to the Cadillac Man’s memoir. However, if one was intrigued by the memoir they may enjoy reading the personal stories in Flynn’s book.

Christopher Jencks’ The Homeless. Sociology professor Jencks, analyses the problem of homelessness in America specifically focusing on “visible homelessness”. Jencks theorizes that there are different reasons that cause one to become homeless. Given the Cadillac Man starts his book by stating he is no Rhodes Scholar, it is interesting to compare his philosophy with Professor Jenks.

Alyssa Katz’s Our Lot: How Real Estate Came to Own Us. Katz covers the role the government played (in some cases didn’t play) in the real estate boom. The result of the recent crash has been many of the new homeless are people who under qualified for loans they received and can no longer make house payments. There is a stereotype that the homeless are all crazy, lazy, or on drugs, Lost Souls and Katz’s work help dispel this myth.