Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen ~ Book Review

You Are Not Alone with Oreos

St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: March 3, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

My very first bookstagram post was a review of An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, so the author pair has a special place in my heart for that reason at the very least. Their newest thriller, You Are Not Alone follows a young woman in New York who’s feeling a bit adrift. If this sounds familiar, that’s probably because it mimics the structure of their last book. I do not, however, find fault in this fact. They know this setup works for them, and I fully agree.

Shay Miller as a character did not stand out to me. Her personality seemed pretty watery and passive. The further into the narrative I got, the more I realized that this worked in her character’s storyline, but I still would have liked a little more depth so that I had a reason to really care about her. Shay is unlucky in love with her roommate who’s girlfriend has practically become a third member of their apartment. She’s been laid off from her job and then, the ultimate showstopper, she enters a subway station just in time to see a woman jump in front of the train. Shay can’t get the site of the woman’s vacant stare out of her head.

Shay becomes increasingly set on learning about the woman, Amanda. She attends her memorial service where she meets the mysterious Moore sisters. The two women are unbelievably chic and connected, and Shay, desperately needing something to cling to, becomes enamored with them.

The Moore sisters were an intriguing set of characters, used by Hendricks and Pekkanen to guide the story. I loved the way different threads from their past were woven in around Shay’s story, and did not foresee how they would tie together. 

Much of this book felt like watching Shay getting helplessly tangled in a spider’s web. The actions and mannerisms of the Moore sisters make it clear that Shay is being deceived, but it was not until the conclusion that the details of what exactly was happening clicked together, and the premise for the entire setup fell into place. Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for an ARC!

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The Poison Garden by A.J. Banner ~ Book Review

The Poison Garden with almond cookies

Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: October 22, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

The Poison Garden is a succinct read. At less than 200 pages, it felt like it was concluding as soon as it got under way. Elise Watters is caught between her husband Keiran, whom she catches cheating on her on their first wedding anniversary, and her ex-husband, who seems increasingly intent on stalking her. 

Elise’s habit of sleepwalking, combined with the herb garden in the backyard, sets up a very unstable setting with many possibilities for disaster. It felt like too much to me. The sleepwalking cliché plus a literal poison garden, plus a cheating husband, plus a stalking ex (and a few things I won’t spoil)? It may have all worked in a longer book, but in The Poison Garden it just felt crowded. For me, the reading experience felt disjointed.

The character motivations in the storyline felt too glossed over to me. I did not get a clear sense of thought process. I finished the book because of its brevity, but I never really got into it.

My Rating: 🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The Two Lila Bennets by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke ~ Book Review

The Two Lila Bennetts with cake

Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: July 23, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

I strongly disliked the main character of this book. I do believe that you can have an unlikable main character and still have a great story, but unfortunately my annoyance with her kept getting in the way of my enjoyment of the plot. 

The book is split into parallel storylines, in two different “what-if” scenarios. We don’t know which one is “real,” and in fact, I am doubtful that the authors did either. I find it interesting that a book with two plots was written by two authors. It makes me wonder if one was ‘steering’ for each of the different narratives. I generally enjoy books written in this structure (think, Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid), but I had trouble with the way it was carried out here. Different pieces of the narratives kept popping up in one another. One version of Lila cuts her hand and the other one, in the totally separate, not concurrent storyline suddenly has pain in her hand. It made the story feel jumbled for me as a reader.

The general gist of the narrative was different than other thrillers I have read, which can tend to blur together. That was a welcome relief. Lila is a defense attorney and, as such, has made a lot of enemies as she fights to defend clients who are often guilty. And she does it well. It is understandable that she has made enemies, and I liked trying to figure out who, in particular might be after her. 

Lila’s job alone did not make her unlikeable, but her character was selfish and disloyal, and I did not care what happened to her. Essentially what I got from the end of this book is that bad people cannot change their ways. Although I was sucked into the storyline and finished the book, I closed it feeling pretty disheartened.

My Rating: 🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica ~ Book Review

IMG_3115Park Row
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: February 18, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

When Will Foust’s sister passes way, she leaves her home, and custody of her daughter Imogen, to him. He and his wife Sadie uproot their own two children, and move to her remote home on an island in Maine. Teenage Imogen is moody and sullen, dressing in black and frequently skipping school. Sadie is so uncomfortable with her that she’s actually afraid. As she notices things amiss about the house, she fears what Imogen might do to her family, and how she responded to her mother’s death.

The setup is well constructed for a murder. Not only are the Fousts in a creepy, unfamiliar home that has recently seen death, they are also on an island. If, let’s just say, there were to be a storm preventing ferries from running, no one would be able to get in or out. When one of the Foust’s neighbors turns up murdered, Sadie is distinctly aware that the murderer remains on the island with her and her family.

The story is split between several different perspectives. Sadie seems to be the leader, as she adjusts to her creepy new island house, but we also get excerpts from Camille, who appears to be obsessed with Will Foust, and Mouse, a timid child in an abusive home. I somewhat guessed the relationship between these narrators fairly early on, but that did not take away from my enjoyment of the story and my impatience to understand how everything else fit together.

This was a fairly long book, and I was initially concerned as to how the story would be able to support itself for so long, but I was not disappointed. Mary Kubica knows how to layer on suspense, and surprise a reader with shocking character insights that are unexpected, but, in retrospect, believable.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus ~ Book Review

One of Us is Lying and Peppermint cookies

Delacorte Press
Genre: YA Thriller
Release Date: May 30, 2017
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

I don’t generally read YA, but I’d been seeing One of Us is Lying all over the place, and the intrigue of a different style of thriller plus high school drama propelled me over to the library to pick it up.

The characters in this story really made it stand out for me. Writing about high schoolers can tend to fall into very pigeon-holed, stereotyping, but Karen McManus creates characters who are distinct and believable. They have layers. Even if they are outwardly trying to fit into stereotypical roles (because, high school), there is more to them than what is apparent at first glance.

The actual storyline here is a lot darker than I expected. We start out with a group of kids in detention (which felt very The Breakfast Club-esque to me at first), but throw in some anaphylactic shock and the (spoiler alert!) sudden death of a student notorious for posting nasty, secret-exposing blog posts about his classmates, and you’ve suddenly got a very twisted and tangled plot.

The explorations of mental health in this narrative were important. The characters each had very different struggles: familial pressure, insecurity, manipulative romantic relationships, or academic stress. I think that this would really resonate with readers of the same age as the characters, but even as someone older, I could recognize, to some extent, what was plaguing each person.

The story was set up as a mystery, and makes the reader feel kind of like a part of the group of kids, working with them to figure out what is going on. Let me just say, it was much more twisted than anticipated. 

I definitely liked this book more than I expected to, but I was also aware that it was YA while I was reading, and it clearly catered towards a younger audience than books I normally choose.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson ~ Book Review

A Nearly Normal Family and baked goods
Celadon
Release Date: June 25, 2019
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

A Nearly Normal Family is, as the title indicates, an in-depth exploration of familial relationships. When seventeen year old Stella Sandell is accused of the murder of an older man her parents have never heard of, it turns their world upside down. Adam, Stella’s father, is a pastor, while her mom Ulrika is a lawyer. The disconnect between Ulrika and Adam’s careers adds an interesting dynamic to the book, and seems to make it more difficult for them to fully understand each other. 

The story is split into three sections, each narrated by a different character: Adam, Ulrika, and Stella. In this way, the reader pieces together the events that led up to the night of the murder, and those that directly followed it. We see the ways that the characters try to protect one another, along with the ripple effect that these actions cause. There are several moments from Stella’s childhood that each character ruminates on. The way that they misinterpret and misunderstand each other is eye-opening. From the outside, the family appears to be ‘nearly-normal,’ but the lack of solid communication tears them apart, as illustrated by their different memories of the same events through the years. 

The story heavily focuses on where it is acceptable to draw the line when lying in order to protect loved ones, although in the cases this book explores, there isn’t really a line, as everything is pushed to the extreme. Rape, murder, and abuse are heavily referenced, and the lasting influences these circumstances have on everyone involved. The layers of secrecy and interconnectedness between characters kept me fully invested in the writing. 

This was also an interesting exploration of the criminal justice system in Sweden, which I was no previously familiar with. Ulrika’s ability, given her career specialization, to identify loopholes in Stella’s trial added an unexpected element to the story, the extent of which the reader does not become fully aware of until the end.

Overall, this was a compelling and thought-provoking thriller. It does deal with difficult and troubling themes, but they are not thrown in randomly to add dramatic flair, and are rather placed in the story thoughtfully to highlight the way that members of the same family interact with these problems. 

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

Verity by Colleen Hoover ~ Book Review

Verity with cookies

Independently Published
Release Date: December 10, 2018
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

This book was the epitome of a thriller. It was a wild ride from start to finish, and I could not flip the pages fast enough. I will preface my review with this: I am not a big romance reader. Picking up a Colleen Hoover novel was distinctly out of character for me. That being said. This is not a romance. Sure, romance exists within the story, and there is (lots of very detailed) sex, but it doesn’t define the story enough to push it into the romance genre. I will repeat, however: there is a lot of sex. If you’re reading this on crowded public transportation, you’ve been warned. I was not warned. I kept the pages very close to my face on the train.

Lowen Ashleigh (what an epic character name — I would love to hear how Hoover comes up with names) is a writer. Well, a struggling writer. Her books have done fine, and she seems content with that reality. She does not aspire to be famous, or have a big fan base, and, in fact, gets utterly terrified when meeting readers. When her manager tells her he has set up a meeting with her and a client, Lowen doesn’t know what to expect. Her mother recently passed away, and she finds herself in solitude, and quickly running out of money. 

On the way to the meeting, Lowen runs into dreamy and caring Jeremy Crawford who, spoiler alert, just happens to be going to the same meeting. I smell romance. Crawford’s wife, Verity, an acclaimed author of thrillers (some writer inception going on here) was recently injured beyond the ability to complete her series. The request of Lowen is simple: complete the final books in Verity’s series. Although incredibly uncertain about the entire situation, the hefty payment Lowen is offered, along with the recurring eviction notices on her apartment door, push her to accept. 

The majority of this story takes place in the Crawford home, as Lowen struggles to get inside Verity’s head to understand her writing process, and hopefully discover where she intended to take her series. The Crawford’s house, although not described as inherently creepy, was a terrifying setting. Lowen sleeps alone on the first floor in Verity and Jeremy’s bedroom, while Jeremy stays upstairs with his son Crew, and Verity lays, practically comatose, in her own room. Behind the house sprawls a lake, from which Jeremy pulled one of his drowned daughters months earlier — following the death of her twin sister. If nothing else, the house seems cursed. Add to that Lowen’s history of sleepwalking, and her subsequent terror of herself. She requests that she be locked in her room each night to ensure she stays where she is supposed to. Yikes.

The attraction between Jeremy and Lowen is electric, and especially devilish with his wife barely conscious upstairs. It was hard to parse out how to feel about their relationship. Once Lowen discovers an unpublished autobiography hidden in Verity’s office, it appears that she may not be at all the wife and mother Jeremy believes her to be. Does that justify infidelity?

Lowen’s increasing paranoia constantly kept me guessing. I was a little incredulous about some of the discoveries in the final chapters, but the ultimate twist left me shocked. You know when you get to a crazy twist in a book only to discover that there’s another even bigger twist that negates the first one? Yeah, that happened. 

By the end of the story, I completely lost track of whether or not Lowen actually finished (or even started trying to finish) Verity’s series. Although that was the entire premise of the setup, it seemed to lose all relevance as the plot picked up. There is a distinct possibility that this was addressed, and I was just distracted by all the sex and secrecy.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller

Layover by David Bell ~ Book Review

IMG_2017

Berkley Books
Release Date: July 2, 2019
Genre: Mystery
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

This book made very little impact on me. I found the premise generally unbelievable: our protagonist, Joshua, sees an attractive woman at the airport and decides to drop everything to hop on her flight and follow her. The narrative is split between Joshua’s perspective and Detective Givens’s. I was confused about why the Detective’s side of the story was necessary, although I am generally not a fan of ‘detective stories,’ so that may be my own bias coming into play.

Joshua comes to realize that Morgan, the woman he is pursuing, is currently listed as a missing person. Despite knowing nothing about her or her situation, he continues to pursue her, and tries to understand what she is running from. She actively voices her displeasure at him following her around. Despite being made out as a ho-hum everyday guy, Joshua seems to me like another man who can’t accept that a woman doesn’t want to be with him. 

The narrative touches on gender inequality in the tech industry, which isn’t something I would expect from a mystery/thriller. Morgan voices her frustration at not being paid in accordance to her male colleagues. I found this addition very interesting, and would have loved for it to be opened up and explored more.

There were segments of Joshua’s life, too, that could have been explored more. We learn that he works for his dad’s company, but is deeply dissatisfied there. If I’d had some backstory as to how he felt pressured into joining the business, and how that was influencing his current actions, it could have made for a very interesting character, and a greater understanding of his motivations.

Overall, I was interested enough to finish the story, but ultimately found the ending inconclusive.

My Rating: 🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The Man She Married by Alison James ~ Book Review

IMG_2758.JPG

Bookouture
Release Date: January 13, 2020
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

Alison James is a master at crafting compelling cliffhangers. The Man She Married is split into three sections, and the ending of each of the first two left me shocked. The first segment is narrated by sweet, trusting Alice as she is swept up into a whirlwind romance. It’s obvious that the relationship is unhealthy, to say the least, but Alice doesn’t have much of a support system in her life, and she embraces Dominic’s readiness to become her husband. Although she has a successful career running her own catering company, Alice is blinded by her apparent good fortune at finding a man as wonderful as her new husband.

Part two of the book is told by Dominic. His perspective of his courtship with Alice, and the backstory that led him to her, are both vastly different from the ‘Alice’ chapters. The layers of deception and deviance that sum up his life are shocking.

I enjoyed the way that James used Dominic’s section to go back and fill in the questions Alice posed through her thoughts and dialogue. It was done very neatly and cleverly, and tied the two perspectives together completely.

The third part of the story was slower than the other two, and dragged on a little longer than seemed strictly necessary. It became more of a detective plot at that point, as Alice tries to uncover the truth about Dominic, much of which the reader already knows. The setup felt like it may have been aiming to ensure that Alice had some semblance of a happy ending despite her (extremely) unfortunate circumstances, which I didn’t have a problem with. This was a very unique, twisted, and enthralling thriller that I highly recommend. Thank you to Bookouture and NetGalley for providing me with a free galley in exchange for my honest review.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald ~ Book Review

 

Behind Every Lie with Jingle Jangle

Gallery Books
Release Date: February 4, 2020
Genre: Thriller
My Rating: 🍪🍪.5

What really knocked this book down for me was the dialogue. It was unrealistic to the point that I questioned whether the author was doing it on purpose. It felt incredibly stiff, and I was acutely aware that I was reading dialogue, not actually listening to a conversation. It was obvious to me from very early on who the true antagonist was, and I got bored waiting for the plot to catch up to me.

The storyline follows Eva, upon awakening in the hospital after having been struck by lightning. She comes to find out that her mother, Kat, has been murdered, and it soon becomes apparent that she is the prime suspect. Unable to recall anything from the night she was injured, Eva is easily able to convince herself that she is capable of murder, and must have been the one to kill her mom. I love a good unreliable narrator, but the plot was pushing Eva’s memory loss too hard for me to believe that she was as unreliable as she seemed convinced she was, if that makes sense? 

Eva goes on a hunt to discover the truth about her mom’s past. This portion of the narrative kept me intrigued. The segments from Kat’s youth, with baby Eva, and the heartbreaking abusive relationship she was involved with were difficult to read, but added a much appreciated level of depth to the book. It was an interesting secondary storyline to have in a thriller, and set the book apart from other similar stories.

My Rating: 🍪🍪.5
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