Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The Safe Place by Anna Downes ~ Book Review

The Safe Place with Lemon Bars
Minotaur Books
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: July 14, 2020 (Thanks to BookishFirst for my ARC)
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

I love an atmospheric thriller. When the setting takes on a life of its own, I am all about it (which I think I’ve reiterated in many reviews). The Safe Place absolutely has this characteristic. Emily, our down on her luck, broke, jobless protagonist jets off to a sprawling estate in France to be a housekeeper for a virtual stranger. Emily falls into a very overused thriller character mold, but I was mostly able to look past that as the story ramped up. Her ditziness and inability to take control of her life made me believe that her character would accept a job abroad when the handsome, charming CEO of the company she used to work for, Scott, offers it up suddenly. His special treatment makes her weak at the knees, and I could perfectly see how Scott’s charisma would have someone like Emily dangerously spellbound.

One aspect of the writing that really stood out to me is Downes’s ability to write incredibly unique characters. In sharp contrast to Emily’s airheadedness, was Scott with his shocking yet subtle self-injury practices. The constant state of pain he forces himself into allows the reader to see that he is deeply unsettled, and made me want to know why. Once Emily arrives at Querencia, the French estate, she meets Scott’s wife Nina and daughter Aurelia. Nina seems glamorous at first, but her compulsions about her daughters safety and mysterious illnesses indicate that all is not what it seems.

Emily is cut off from the outside world little by little, and believes she is forging a close connection with both Nina and Aurelia. The more she observes about their lives and their mysterious family house, which she is not supposed to enter, the more Emily begins to question what is really going on in their little slice of paradise. The contrast between the description of the beautiful setting and Nina and the house’s sinister qualities and occasional eerie scent of rot and decay, had shivers running up and down my spine.

The twists in this book strayed away from those common to other thrillers. I couldn’t guess all how the clues and secrets fit together and I was pleasantly shocked as the story unfolded. 
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

Final Girls by Riley Sager ~ Book Review

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

Dutton
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: June 11, 2017
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

I’ll take a good thriller any day, but the premise of this one was DARK. I’d be tempted to classify it as ‘thriller leaning strongly toward horror.’ Quincy, our narrator, Lisa, and Sam all share one thing in common. They are the lone survivors of massacres: the Final Girls. Quincy’s trauma occurred in college, when she and a group of friends took a trip to Pine Cottage for a sex and alcohol filled getaway. By the end of their final night, Quincy is the only one alive, haunted by the killer she calls Him. She is entirely unable to recall the night. The majority of the book takes place when Quincy is grown, living in Manhattan with her boyfriend and putting on a front of having completely moved on from her past. 

I did not trust anyone while reading this thriller. Sager, as always, does an incredible job of making a reader (or at least me) suspicious in a way that doesn’t seem forced. The hints along the way had me building up my personal case only to be entirely thrown for a loop by the ending. As Sam shows up unexpectedly at Quincy’s doorstep and they begin to spend time together, their relationship is definitely questionable and toxic. Quincy’s insane naivety frustrated me incredibly, especially after having lived through such trauma.

The last few chapters of this story were a wild ride, with flashbacks to the night at Pine Cottage as Quincy’s memories slowly come back into focus. I had no idea where the story was going, but it didn’t seem so far-fetched that I was annoyed by it. There was a weird sort of sub-storyline near the end (it’s hard to explain without giving anything away) that I thought could have been clarified further, but overall, I was enthralled by this book. I read this as a buddy read, and after having our discussion, it definitely made me rethink the writing somewhat, especially the problematic representation of mental health. As far as Riley Sager’s books go, this one is lower on my list, but it was a solid thriller.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5
Final Girls on Goodreads
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon ~ Book Review

Sister Dear with Babka

MIRA Books
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: May 26, 2020 (Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin for the ARC!)
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪🍪

I spent the first half of Sister Dear wondering why it was classified as a thriller. Don’t get me wrong, I was fully invested in the story, just a little confused. There’s an underlying creepy factor for sure as Eleanor Hardwicke discovers that the man she grew up calling Dad is not, in fact, her biological father, and begins a quest to get to know her biological family. She tries to confront her ‘real’ dad first, and upon his rejection, instead decides to try to get to know her biological sister, Victoria, without telling her how they’re related.

I loved the complexities of Eleanor. In a genre overwhelmed with seemingly perfect women (read: wealthy, gorgeous, married to Prince Charming), I liked that the protagonist in Sister Dear did not fill that role. Eleanor’s struggles with binge-eating, growing her own business, and trying not to let her terrible relationship with her mom get to her, made her seem real. She tries to dye her own hair and it goes wrong, she runs into a cute guy while she’s holding her polka-dot underwear in the laundry room: she has a definite relatable factor.

As Eleanor finds herself suddenly devastated by the death of the man she always thought was her father, combined with the indisputable rejection from her biological father, she begins unhealthily obsessing over Victoria. The two of them fall into a cautious friendship, under the guise of Eleanor helping Victoria with building a website, and Eleanor begins to believe she has found the inseparable sister-slash-best-friend she never had in her non-biological sister, Amy.

I was really hoping there would be a shocker of a twist in this book, and I was not disappointed. The deeper Eleanor becomes enmeshed in Victoria’s life, the faster I found myself reading, anticipating that things were not quite as Eleanor saw them. The levels of deceit and darkness that played into the ending of this story were incredibly unexpected. In the end, Sister Dear absolutely lives up to its thriller categorization. 

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

The Girl Before by JP Delaney ~ Book Review

The Girl Before and cookies

Ballantine Books
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: January 24, 2017
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

I got major Riley Sager vibes from this book (although it definitely came out before any of the Sager books I’ve read). I love the premise of a creepy residence with a life of its own. ‘Settings that almost become characters in and of themselves’ seems to be its own subset of the thriller genre, and I’m not mad about it. One Folgate Street is just such a setting. A futuristic fortress designed entirely to teach its inhabitants to be more minimalistic and alter their morals, it is also steeped in tragedy. Initially designed to be the home of the architect, Edward Monkford, and his family, it was instead put up for rent after Edward’s wife and child were killed in an on-site construction accident.

The book is split between Emma and Jane’s narrations, fifteen years apart. Both women apply to stay at One Folgate Street, a process which includes an extensive and intrusive questionnaire as the first step. Each one is reeling from a personal tragedy, and sees the strange residence as an opportunity for a fresh start despite the strange rules and regulations that they agree to upon signing the lease.

Before moving in, both Emma and Jane meet Edward Monkford, the alluring architect of the home. Both women find themselves instantly attracted to him and the feeling appears mutual. Packed full of desolation, lies, mistrust, instability, and sex, this book was a rollercoaster from start to finish. I will say that there were times when it felt like there was too much trying to be crammed in (the sudden introduction of an eating disorder and excessive compulsive lying caught me off guard), but nonetheless, the parallel stories of Emma and Jane kept me utterly enthralled and on the edge of my seat to know what would happen next.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5
The Girl Before on Goodreads
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Book Review, Fiction, thriller, Uncategorized

The Twin by Natasha Preston ~ Book Review

The Twin with Muffin

Delacorte Press
Genre: YA Thriller
Release Date: March 3, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪

I want to preface my review by saying that I’m not the target audience for this book, and I think that had a lot to do with me not loving it. This is a YA thriller, and as such, focuses a lot on high school drama, but doesn’t get super crazy messed up. (Okay, maybe kind of toward the very, very end, but not overwhelmingly so). I actually haven’t read any thrillers with the good twin/bad twin thing going on that I can recall, but it’s a trope we’re all familiar with.

Ivy and Iris are twins who were separated when their parents divorced, but after their mother’s sudden death, Iris comes to live with Ivy and their dad. From the get-go, Iris doesn’t have any discernible grief about her mother’s death, and what seems like clinginess in an attempt to have her sister to lean on, soon becomes something more sinister. Preston illustrates ways that Iris seems to be trying to overhaul Ivy’s life entirely, but the action unfolds very slowly. A lot of the book is used to define Ivy’s relationships with her friends, boyfriend, dad, and therapist, which I thought was great world building, but was a bit slow.

I think what I really needed more of here were character motivations. It wasn’t clear to me what Iris’s agenda was, and I didn’t get why Ivy’s friends and teachers would be so quick to turn against here. Everyone in her life seemed to be freaking out about how much she changed, but it wasn’t made super clear to the reader. I do think if I was in the YA target age range, this may have been something I wouldn’t care so much about, so I would encourage younger readers to give this one a try.

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

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier ~ Book Review

Little Secrets with coffee and cookies
Minotaur Books
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: April 21, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪.5

Thank you to Minotaur Books and NetGalley for an ARC of Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier (out April 21!).

The depths of this book were seriously impressive. The premise of a thriller based on the a disappeared child was different than many of the domestic thrillers I read and I was interested to see how the pacing of the plot played out. Man, did it pack a punch. Hillier fit so much into this book! Luckily, it was pretty lengthy, so it never seemed like too much was happening at once to the point of disbelief.

Marin struggles to live with herself each day after her son is kidnapped from her side at a busy market. Some days she is more successful than others. Hillier paints a rounded picture of Marin’s work life, her grief group, and her relationship with her husband and her best friend Sal, and how each is impacted and influenced by her loss. Marin has also hired her own private investigator, employed after the police have long given up actively searching for her boy, Sebastian. Marin keeps the investigator secret from her husband, but she soon learns that she is not the only one in their marriage keeping secrets.

As Marin focuses in on the deceit in her relationship, the other parts of her life seem to distort around her. Reading this book was like watching a carefully constructed life fall apart piece by piece. It highlighted the darkest corners of the human psyche, and the truly twisted ways different people react and lash out when they are hurting. 

I never could have guessed how each thread of this story was interconnected, and what elements of Marin’s past were informing her present. I’m not sure how, as a thriller-lover, I am just now discovering Jennifer Hillier, but I can say with confidence that I’ll be seeking out more of her work!

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

The New Husband by D.J. Palmer ~ Book Review

The New Husband and cookies

St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: April 14, 2020
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪.5

I’ve taken a little break from thrillers, so I was excited to jump into The New Husband (coming April 14!). The book follows a very typical domestic thriller setup. Nina Garrity moves in with her new boyfriend, Simon, two years after her husband Glen mysteriously disappeared. Her children, Connor and Maggie have extremely different views of Simon. Connor seems to love him, while Maggie is increasingly concerned about the flashes of intense anger she catches in his eyes. Who to believe…?

We get to see a few character’s points of view through different chapters, which really allowed the reader to see how they justified actions to themselves. This was alternately disturbing, and clarifying. It allowed me to get to know the characters and their motivations a lot better.

This book was almost 400 pages and the first half really dragged for me. We watch Simon’s manipulative ‘nice guy’ nature slowly chip away at Nina’s life and sanity, in a series of very repetitive vignettes. When the second half of the book hit, however, I was completely shocked. The twist was not at all something I saw coming, and the plot became next-level messed up.

Nina as a main character was not particularly likeable. She fell into a typical thriller ‘clueless female protagonist’ for the most part. I loved that Jewell had Maggie, instead, as the suspicious one who brought things into her own hands, and tried to protect her family. The push and pull between Maggie and her mom was extremely frustrating, but in a good way. I couldn’t wait to see how Maggie would be able to convince her mom that Simon wasn’t all he seemed.

By the end of this thrill-ride I was totally hooked, but the distribution of the action and excitement definitely felt uneven to me.

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

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell ~ Book Review

The Family Upstairs and Banana Bread
Atria Books
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: November 5, 2019
My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪

At first glance, the premise of The Family Upstairs seems not unlike other thrillers: character X inherits mysterious giant mansion filled with secrets. Don’t be fooled! This book was nothing like I was expecting. I’ve never read anything quite like The Family Upstairs, and certainly wasn’t expecting to be thrown head over heels into a narrative chronicling a family-turned-cult. The horrifying and manipulative behavior that’s described within the walls of 16 Cheyne Walk is shocking. 

The story takes place across two time periods, one chronicling Lucy and Henry’s experience growing up in the mansion, and one following Libby as she begins to uncover the secrets surrounding her new inheritance. I loved the way that Jewell had Lucy and Henry hint at the sinister changes that were soon to befall them. The transformation from a happy, wholesome family unit to a disturbing, controlling prison was hard to look away from when narrated by the children.

Towards the end of the book, the two narratives begin to bleed into one another. It took me a while to connect all the threads, but the ultimate confusion, and cohesion of them was wonderfully constructed. This was one of the rare thrillers where every stray piece fits perfectly when reviewed after finishing the entire story. If you’re okay with being distinctly uncomfortable with the circumstances you’re reading about, I highly recommend delving into the darkness within 16 Cheyne Walk.

My Rating: 🍪🍪🍪🍪
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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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