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  • Micro-Review #116: The Disappearing Act
    by Catherine Steadman

    This psychological thriller focuses on actors trying to make it in Hollywood. When one performer disappears after an audition, another’s life is turned upside down. What happened to Emily? Why is Mia now in danger? Mia’s story unfolds at a fast, voicy clip that’s easy to follow.

    The story is intriguing enough, and there are plenty of insights into the acting life, but certain questions of logic do arise. Chief among them: when dangerous things happen, why not call the police? You might also start to tune out before the thrilling climax (I did), but the good in this story outweighs the bad. It’s a pacey, digestible work of escapism.

  • Micro-Review #115: Invisible Girl
    by Lisa Jewell

    Here’s a domestic thriller that will keep you happily turning the pages—an easy, rewarding read from a British author who knows how to make the most of the genre. The story isn’t earthshattering. A girl goes missing, lives are affected, whodunit? The characters don’t have Shakespearean depth, but they do come across as signally real. They’re easy to get behind, and the tension is palpable even if there’s no real threat of violence.

    The only downside: an ending that lacks oomph. The finale feels mailed in (like so many endings in pop thrillers these days), but the journey toward the climax is a lot better than watching TV. This is a good book to read if you need a break from heavy, serious literary fare.

  • Micro-Review #114: Feed
    by Mira Grant

    In the near future, zombies roam the American landscape. Society has learned to live with them, keeping them largely at bay through smart science and government-mandated caution. The world has changed in other ways, too. In the information sphere, the country is ruled by bloggers rather than journalists, including a brother-and-sister team working on a senate campaign.

    Will the bloggers get chomped by the undead? Will the senator? Or is there a dark, zombie-related conspiracy lurking on the campaign trail? Despite the painstaking world-building in this novel (and although NPR ranked this the 74th best thriller novel of all time), it’s hard to care. There are worthy moments, but the novel ignores Elmore Leonard’s often-quoted rule for fiction writing: “Try to leave out the boring stuff.” The tale takes too long to unfold. You shouldn’t have to be patient when you’re reading a zombie novel.

  • Micro-Review #113: A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman

    This heart-warmer of a novel is one of the most emotionally rewarding things I’ve read in a long time. Ove is a grumpy old man who literally just wants to die. An idiot has driven over his mailbox, a pregnant immigrant has infiltrated the neighborhood, and a moronic cat won’t do its business anywhere except inside his house. Good god, why can’t the world just let him commit suicide in peace?

    Beneath Ove’s joyless exterior lurks a goodness that the gruff old guy can’t hide, as well as a strangely appealing moral code. His story is chick-lit for dudes—and for everyone. It’s warm and life-affirming and almost guaranteed to make you laugh and cry and feel a little wistful once you’ve finished reading, because you’ll want to spend more time with the story. It’s a powerfully affecting book.

  • Micro-Review #112: Dangerous Inspirations
    by Greg Stone

    Here’s a traditional mystery with a lot of elements that make for an entertaining read. A half dozen people are trapped by a storm at an artists’ colony in Vermont. The group includes actors, a sculptor, a photographer, a ballerina and a few others. The hero, Ronan Mezini, is a cop turned P.I. turned novelist. He has a condition called synesthesia, which transforms sights and sounds into colors. When bodies start to pile up, the hope is that Ronan’s unique window on the world will lead to a gripping whodunit.

    The story clips along at a bracing pace, and the killer or killers aren’t easy to predict. This is a modern work that feels like Agatha Christie-era cozies. If you like orthodox mysteries with traditional sleuths, you’ll find worse stories.

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