Review: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY

Review:  THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAYThe Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
four-half-stars
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on May 29, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Even though I’m typically a huge fan of suspenseful thrillers, for some reason I had not gotten around to trying one of Ruth Ware’s popular novels yet. I don’t really have any real excuse other than I sometimes tend to shy away from hyped books and this was one of those cases, especially since I’ve seen Ware referred to as the Agatha Christie of our time and that seems like a pretty tall order for any author to try to live up to.  The synopsis of The Death of Mrs. Westaway captivated me, however, and I decided it was past time for me to try my first Ruth Ware novel.  How did it work out?  I’d say the fact that I’ve ordered copies of all of Ware’s novels since finishing this one is a pretty good indicator of how it went.  While I might not go so far as to call her the Agatha Christie of our day, Ruth Ware is a superb mystery author in her own right.

 

Sympathetic Protagonist:  Harriet Westaway (or Hal as she is more often referred to) is a character that tugged on my heartstrings from the first pages of the novel.  She is a 21-year-old tarot card reader who works on a pier in Brighton, England.  Hal fell into this line of work a few years earlier when her mother, also a tarot card reader, was struck and killed in a hit-and-run accident.  The driver was never caught and so Hal was forced to drop out of school and take up her mother’s work in order to keep a roof over her head and food on the table.  There’s no father and no other family in the picture so Hal is all alone in the world and is struggling to make ends meet.  When we meet Hal, she is up to her neck in trouble, having borrowed some money from a sleazy loan shark who keeps changing the terms of her repayment and has sent his goons to deliver a message to her, that message being threat of bodily harm or even worse if she doesn’t cough up 3,000 pounds, which she clearly doesn’t have.

Although Hal is a sympathetic character, she’s still pretty savvy and street smart, which is another thing I liked about her, as well as the fact that she also has a bit of a morally gray element that adds even more interesting layers to her personality.  When a letter from an attorney’s office arrives in the mail telling Hal she has been named as a beneficiary in the will of a Mrs. Westaway who has just passed away, Hal knows it can’t possibly be her, as she has no family.  That said, however, she can’t help but wonder if her ability to read people – so finely honed by years of reading tarot cards and telling fortunes – is sharp enough for her to fool people so that she really can claim the aforementioned inheritance.  Yes, there’s a risk she could go to jail for fraud, but if she can pull it off, it’s the answer to all of her prayers.  That in itself makes it a risk worth taking.  It’s so wrong of course, but I just couldn’t help but admire her guts and determination.

Atmospheric Quality: In addition to the wonderfully well-rounded character that is Hal, my other favorite part of the book is the atmosphere that Ware has created. Everything about the atmosphere has an air of suspense to it but it takes a turn for the creepy and Gothic once Hal arrives at the residence of the late Mrs. Westaway.  The house itself is dusty and ill-maintained, some of the windows are barred, It’s filled with endless dark corridors and stairways, and to top it off, there’s a mean old housekeeper, Mrs. Warren, that Hal seems to find lurking around every corner.  Everything about the house just had this ominous feel to it and had me wanting to yell at Hal to get out while she could.

Family Secrets – Web of Lies:  If you’re into books that focus on messy families and their dirty little secrets, The Death of Mrs. Westaway is the book for you! As soon as Hal arrives and hears the will reading, she can tell that something is amiss with the Westaway family and that she has landed herself right in the middle of a hornet’s nest.  Nothing is as it seems and although she knows she should just cut and run before she ends up in potentially deeper trouble than she already is, she feels compelled to find out the truth about the family and whatever it is they appear to be hiding.  Ware does a marvelous job with the pacing of the novel and I remained enthralled as I waited for each strand of the web of lies to unravel.

 

I don’t really have anything at all here. It was a phenomenal read that I couldn’t put down once I started reading.

 

While this was my first time reading Ruth Ware, it will definitely not be my last.  I’d recommend The Death of Mrs. Westaway to anyone who is a fan of mysteries and thrillers as well as to anyone who enjoys a good domestic drama.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

four-half-stars

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway for BABY TEETH, a riveting thriller due out this summer

Blog Tour – Review & Giveaway for BABY TEETH, a riveting thriller due out this summerBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage
three-half-stars
on July 17, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sweetness can be deceptive.

Meet Hanna.

She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.

She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette's husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

 

 

Today is my stop on the St. Martin’s Press Blog Tour for Zoje Stage’s upcoming thriller, Baby Teeth.  Thanks so much to St. Martin’s Press and Jordan Handley for inviting me to take part in this tour, and course to Zoje Stage for allowing me to preview her book.

 

MY REVIEW:

 

Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth is a dark and twisted tale of a seven-year old girl named Hanna who has one goal in life – to get rid of her mother so that she and her father can live happily ever after together.  As a mom, I found Baby Teeth to be perhaps my worst nightmare come true – that my child would hate me and want me gone – so in that sense, it was an incredibly uncomfortable read for me.  At the same time, however, it was still such a riveting read that I couldn’t stop turning the pages no matter how uncomfortable it made me.

Hanna is a troubled young girl.  For reasons doctors haven’t established yet, she does not speak.  In addition to being mute, she also has severe behavioral issues and has thus been expelled from every school that her parents have enrolled her in.  Suzette, Hanna’s mom, makes the decision to stay home with Hanna and home school her.  It’s not a permanent solution but at least Hanna won’t fall behind academically until a better solution presents itself.

Somewhere along the way, Hanna decides that she hates her mother and only loves her daddy.  While she and her mom are alone together all day, Hanna goes out of her way to let her mom know just how much she hates her and then even starts scheming about ways to get rid of her.  Then when Daddy comes home, she turns on the sweetness and perfectly plays the role of Daddy’s little angel, keeping him in the dark about how she really feels about her mom and of course frustrating her mother to no end.

As Daddy remains oblivious to Hanna’s dark side even as Hanna steps up her attacks on her mom, Suzette truly begins to fear for her own safety.  Can she get through to her husband and make him understand that they have a serious problem on their hands with Hanna before it’s too late?

 

It’s hard to review books like this because I don’t want to give away any of the twist and turns that make it such a compelling read, but here are some elements of Baby Teeth that I really thought the author did a wonderful job with:

Two Points of View – I thought it was brilliant to present this story in alternating chapters between Suzette and Hanna.  Being able to get a glimpse inside each of their heads as this disturbing family dynamic played out was what really made the book such an engaging read for me.

Suzette’s perspective was especially easy to relate to because all she can think about is what did she do wrong as a mother to make Hanna hate her so much.  Not only does she question where she went wrong as a parent, but then she feels tremendous guilt because there are times when Hannah pushes the envelope so far, that Suzette finds herself thinking horrible things about her child and sometimes even saying horrible things to her because she has been pushed to her limit.  In many ways, Suzette starts to really question herself as a mom.  How could she possibly think such terrible things about her child, who she really does love with all her heart, no matter how troubled she is?  Again, I found Suzette’s perspective to be very relatable and could imagine myself thinking many of the same things if I was in her shoes.

Hanna’s perspective added another disturbing layer to the narrative because even a quick glance at what’s going on inside her head reveals that she is truly a troubled little girl on many levels.  She’s callous, unfeeling, manipulative, and frankly, just all around creepy.  As soon as I’d read a chapter from Hanna, I’d instantly be all the more sympathetic to Suzette because she clearly had her hands full and was on her own thanks to Daddy Oblivious falling for all of Hanna’s tricks.

Twists and Turns – Another aspect of Baby Teeth that really entertained me was that it was fast-paced and filled with twists and turns that constantly kept me guessing about what was really going on with Hanna.  At times, the story had the feel of a horror movie so it really had me considering any and all possible explanations for Hanna’s behavior – is it psychological?  Are we going to find out she was somehow abused?  Is there something supernatural afoot?  I liked that the story really had me open to so many possibilities, no matter how over the top they seemed.

 

I’m guessing that you’ve picked up on the fact that I was not a huge fan of Hanna’s dad.  I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt – that Hanna was just that good of a manipulator – but it really just frustrated me to no end that he just didn’t get how dysfunctional their whole family situation was and how troubled his daughter truly was.

The only other real issue I had with Baby Teeth was that sometimes I found it hard to believe that a 7-year old child could devise some of the intricate and truly evil plots that Hanna came up with against her mother.  I know some kids are more precocious than others, but some of her schemes and just some of her thoughts in general came across as way too sophisticated for a child of that age.  In some ways it bothered me because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it and sometimes it felt like maybe the author was just trying too hard to make the book shocking, but at the same time, it still kind of worked for me because it made my own imagination run wild, which added to the dark and twisted nature of the book and to the horror vibe that I was already feeling:  Does she have multiple personality disorder or some other mental illness?  Is she a psychopath?  Do we have a case of The Exorcist going on here?  Has she been possessed?  Those last ones probably sound a little silly, but the book really just sucks you in that much!

 

Baby Teeth is sure to please readers who enjoy thrillers and/or horror.  It’s a wild, dark, and twisted ride that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat as you watch the battle between Hanna and Suzette play out.

 

WATCH THE TRAILER FOR BABY TEETH

 

 

* * * * * *

 

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN AN ARC of BABY TEETH (U.S. residents only, sorry!)

Use the Rafflecopter below to enter for your chance to win an ARC of this book.  I have 3 copies to give away and the giveaway will run until June 8th.  Please be sure to follow me on twitter as I plan to DM the three winners to get mailing addresses.  I do apologize in advance that this giveaway is U.S. only since I always prefer to do international.  I have the ARCs in hand to pass along to the winners and sadly I just can’t afford to ship them internationally.  🙁

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

three-half-stars

About Zoje Stage

Before turning to novels, Zoje Stage had a deep and eclectic background in film and theatre. Highlights include being a 2012 Emerging Storytellers Fellow from the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP.org), and a 2008 Fellow in Screenwriting from the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA.org). In 2009 she won the Screenplay Live! Screenwriting Competition, which afforded her the opportunity to direct a staged reading of her winning script, THE MACHINE WHO LOVED, for the High Falls Film Festival (Rochester, NY). Zoje has written-directed-produced numerous zero-budget films, including the documentary short BEST OF LUCK (“an amusing take on the travails of aspiring writers” – The New York Times). Her films have screened at venues such as Anthology Film Archives and Two Boots Pioneer Theater (both in NYC), Film Kitchen (Pittsburgh, PA), and Emerging Filmmakers (Rochester, NY). As a playwright, Zoje is most proud of her play MONSTER, which was produced in Pittsburgh by the Upstairs Theatre (“Ms. Stage now makes her own contribution to holocaust literature with a demanding and intensely felt play… a must-see for those wanting another view of why and how the holocaust happened.” – The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). After living in Rochester, NY for many years, she is back in her hometown of Pittsburgh, PA.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for DARK MATTER and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for DARK MATTER and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOWDark Matter by Blake Crouch
five-stars
Published by Crown on July 26th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 342
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

From the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy, Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

Review:

Dark Matter is a fast-paced sci-fi novel that, at its essence, explores how far a man will go to get back to his loved ones.  It follows Jason, a man who has a pretty decent life.  He’s got a wife who loves him, a great teenage son, and a job as a science professor at a local university in Chicago.  One night Jason goes out to buy ice cream and his entire world turns upside down.  He is abducted at gunpoint, drugged, and wakes up in a world that he doesn’t recognize.  It’s still Chicago, but it’s not his Chicago.  In the version of Chicago Jason wakes up in, not only does he not have a wife and child, but he’s also an award-winning physicist who has been working on and apparently testing a way to travel in the multiverse.  His theory is similar to time travel, except that instead of actually traveling through time, you can travel to an unlimited number of parallel universes, each of which were created at key moments in one’s life when choices had to be made.  Jason quickly realizes that someone has used his invention to steal his life and deposit him here in this alternate version of his world and begins a desperate race to find his way back home to his family.

I loved pretty much everything about this book.  I thought the premise was unique and I thought the author did a brilliant job of incorporating many complex scientific ideas like string theory, while still making the storyline entirely accessible to even a reader who isn’t into science or science fiction.  I thought the pacing of the book was fantastic as well. It was an incredibly suspenseful read and the pacing never lagged.  It actually just got faster and faster until it reached a breakneck pace each time Jason tried and failed to find his way back home.

It was definitely a plot-driven read, although I thought it also posed some very deep philosophical questions, the main one being how far would you go to be reunited with your loved ones…Would you kill someone if it meant you could have your family and your life back?

I’m probably the last person on the planet to read this book, but if you’re looking for a wild ride that will keep you turning pages way past your bedtime, Dark Matter will not disappoint!  5 STARS

 

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for DARK MATTER and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOWThe Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
four-stars
Published by William Morrow on January 2nd 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 427
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Review:

The Woman in the Window is a riveting psychological thriller that follows main character Anna Fox, a child psychologist who has been forced to retire because she was recently diagnosed with agoraphobia and is afraid to leave her home.  Because her whole world is now confined to her house, Anna has minimal contact with actual people.  She has standing appointments with her psychiatrist and a physical therapist, who are willing to make house calls, but aside from that, Anna spends much of her time online playing chess, taking French lessons, and taking part in an online agoraphobia forum where she, ironically, counsels others who are suffering from her condition and helps them move forward with their lives even though she has been trapped in her home for 10 months now.  When she’s not online, Anna spends the rest of her time either drinking wine, popping prescription pills, or standing at her window with her camera observing her neighbors. She knows all of the comings and goings of her neighbors, and takes a special interest in the new neighbors that move in across the street.  When she accidentally witnesses what appears to be a crime one night while staring at their house and no one believes her when she tries to report it, it turns her entire world upside down to the point where she doesn’t know what is real and what isn’t anymore.  Did she imagine it?  Is there danger across the street?

One of the mysteries of the book that I found most compelling was that there are hints that Anna has suffered some kind of horrific trauma that has led to her agoraphobia, but we must follow the clues throughout the story to get to the truth about what has happened to her.  I actually guessed this plot twist fairly early on, which on the one hand, was a little disappointing, but on the other hand, it also made me feel tremendous empathy for Anna, which I might otherwise not have felt.  This also helped me to better accept why she is such an unreliable character and it made me very invested in wanting to see her get better.

The story of what happened to Anna, coupled with getting to the bottom of what actually happened across the street, made for such a gripping read. I literally could not put this book down.  At one point, I even had my Kindle propped up next to the stove while I was cooking so that I could sneak in a few more pages.  It’s always such a treat to find a book that grabs my attention like that, so with that said, if you’re looking for a suspenseful and twisted thrill ride that will have you questioning what is real vs. what is imagined, I’d highly recommend The Woman in the Window. 4 STARS

five-stars

About A.J. Finn

A.J. Finn has written for numerous publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the Times Literary Supplement (UK). A native of New York, Finn lived in England for ten years before returning to New York City.

About Blake Crouch

Blake Crouch is a bestselling novelist and screenwriter. He is the author of the novel, Dark Matter, for which he is writing the screenplay for Sony Pictures. His international-bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy was adapted into a television series for FOX, executive produced by M. Night Shyamalan, that was Summer 2015’s #1 show. With Chad Hodge, Crouch also created Good Behavior, the TNT television show starring Michelle Dockery based on his Letty Dobesh novellas. He has written more than a dozen novels that have been translated into over thirty languages and his short fiction has appeared in numerous publications including Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Crouch lives in Colorado.

The best way to stay apprised of new releases is to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review: Into the Black Nowhere, An UNSUB Novel

Book Review: Into the Black Nowhere, An UNSUB NovelInto the Black Nowhere by Meg Gardiner
Also by this author: UNSUB
four-half-stars
Series: UNSUB #2
Published by Dutton on January 30th 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 384
Also in this series: UNSUB
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I read the first book in Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB series earlier this month and absolutely devoured it. It was a 5-star read for me that was filled with suspense, memorable characters (including a badass heroine), a disturbing yet riveting storyline, great action scenes, and just an overall fascinating look at the psychology of a serial killer.  Because I enjoyed UNSUB so much, I began reading its follow-up Into the Black Nowhere with very high expectations.  And thankfully, I wasn’t at all disappointed.  Just like its predecessor, Into the Black Nowhere hooked me from the first page and didn’t let me go until I reached the nail biting conclusion.  I think I’ve found myself a new favorite series!

As in UNSUB, Into the Black Nowhere follows Caitlyn Hendrix, only now, instead of working as a police detective in California, she has taken a job as a rookie FBI agent in the Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Virginia.  Caitlyn is still adjusting to her new job and life in Virginia, as well as trying to make a long distance relationship work with Sean, whom we met in UNSUB, but ultimately she is dedicated to her career and ready to catch a predator.

Caitlyn’s team is called to a town in Southern Texas where blonde women have been disappearing – one from a movie theater, one from a car that was stopped at a traffic light, and one from her own home.  Local law enforcement suspects they have a predator on their hands and so Caitlyn’s team is called in to help build a psychological profile of the UNSUB so that a suspect can hopefully be identified before any other women go missing.  When the bodies of two of the women are found in the woods, dressed in white nighties with heavily made up faces and slashed wrists, it becomes clear that they are looking for a serial killer, one that was likely inspired by Ted Bundy.  What’s even more disturbing is that not only has the UNSUB posed the bodies of these victims, but he has also surrounded them with Polaroid photos of other blonde women, potential victims that law enforcement hasn’t identified yet.  It becomes a race against the clock for Caitlyn and her team to catch this UNSUB before he hurts anyone else.

They are quickly able to get inside of their killer’s head and build a profile of the suspect, and with the help of a phone tip, they actually think they’ve found their guy.  This guy is a piece of work too. He’s arrogant, cunning, and manipulative, but is also charming enough to get almost anyone around him to let their guard down so it makes sense how he’s so easily able to accumulate so many victims.  Even though Caitlyn and her team are sure they have the right guy, the problem is that all they have on him so far is a lot of circumstantial evidence and so he keeps eluding them.

It seems like it’s almost a game to him, like he thrives on this game of cat and mouse, trying to stay one step ahead of law enforcement, but then he even manages to get inside of Caitlyn’s head. He finds and exploits her weaknesses, bringing things from her past up that she had hoped would remain buried and leaving her feeling vulnerable and exposed.  This of course makes her all the more determined to bring him down.

Can Caitlyn keep the UNSUB out of her head so that she can effectively do her job?  And can she and her team find the evidence they need in order to stop this monster once and for all?

 

I’m still loving Caitlyn Hendrix in this second book.  She’s just as fierce and focused on tracking down killers as she was in UNSUB, but still has that slightly vulnerable side as the killer manages to get inside of her head and make her face some demons from her past.  I like for the characters I’m reading about to have those layers of complexity so they don’t just come across as cardboard cutouts, which can often happen in thrillers because the characters take a backseat to the case at hand.  Not Caitlyn, she is fully-fleshed out and shows a lot of growth from the first book to the second, and even within the second.

In addition to adoring Caitlyn, I also thought her partner, Rainey, was amazing.  Rainey is the other female agent on her team, and Rainey is even more of a badass than Caitlyn.  Together the two of them make a formidable team and so I loved every scene that paired them together.  I hope to see them work together a lot more in future books in the series.

Gardiner not only writes fantastic characters, she is also a master at writing suspense.  I love following along with Caitlyn and the other agents as they uncover detail after detail about the killer and get ever closer to nailing him.  I was literally on the edge of my seat watching them frantically search for any clues that could help them take him down.  The added detail that he only takes his victims on Saturday added an extra layer of suspense and tension because the agents know they’re on a race against the clock and know exactly what their deadline is before another woman goes missing. The tension and sense of unease is so real in this book that I found myself looking over my own shoulder while reading.  It was just that creepy.

With all of that tension and suspense building up, I guess it goes without saying that this is a fast-paced book.  I read it from cover to cover in two days and found myself irritated every time I had to put the book down because I was so invested in the story.

 

My only real issue with Into the Black Nowhere was that rather than address the cliffhanger that we were left with at the end of UNSUB, Caitlyn and her team instead move on to a new case, and it’s one that doesn’t appear to be at all related to the case from the first book.  In my mind, it does makes sense not to immediately revisit that case. Based on the way the first book ended and how soon the second book seems to follow the first, it’s probably too soon, but I’m just impatient and really want to know how that cliffhanger is going to play out!

I also would have liked a little more interaction between Caitlyn and her boyfriend, Sean.  They worked the first case together and I loved their chemistry together, both personally and professionally, so I missed that this time around since their relationship was relegated to the occasional phone call.  There were some hints along the way in this book, however, that lead me to believe they may end up working together on a future case, so I definitely look forward to that possibility.

 

Considering that I’m already anxiously awaiting the third book in this series, it’s safe to conclude that I recommend Into the Black Nowhere just as highly as I recommended UNSUB earlier this month.  Meg Gardiner has blown me away with the first two installments of this series and is now on my list of auto-buy authors.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Inspired by real-life serial killer Ted Bundy, an exhilarating thriller in which FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix faces off against a charming, merciless serial killer.

In southern Texas, on Saturday nights, women are disappearing. One vanishes from a movie theater. Another is ripped from her car at a stoplight. Another vanishes from her home while checking on her baby. Rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix, newly assigned to the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis Unit, fears that a serial killer is roaming the dark roads outside Austin.

Caitlin and the FBI’s serial crime unit discover the first victim’s body in the woods. She’s laid out in a bloodstained, white baby-doll nightgown. A second victim in a white nightie lies deeper in the forest’s darkness. Both bodies are surrounded by Polaroid photos, stuck in the earth like headstones. Each photo pictures a woman in a white negligee, wrists slashed, suicide-style–posed like Snow White awaiting her prince’s kiss.

To track the UNSUB, Caitlin must get inside his mind. How is he selecting these women? Working with a legendary FBI profiler, Caitlin searches for a homology–that elusive point where character and action come together. She profiles a confident, meticulous killer who convinces his victims to lower their guard until he can overpower and take them in plain sight. He then reduces them to objects in a twisted fantasy–dolls for him to possess, control, and ultimately destroy. Caitlin’s profile leads the FBI to focus on one man: a charismatic, successful professional who easily gains people’s trust. But with only circumstantial evidence linking him to the murders, the police allow him to escape. As Saturday night approaches, Caitlin and the FBI enter a desperate game of cat and mouse, racing to capture the cunning predator before he claims more victims.

four-half-stars

About Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner is a bestselling, Edgar Award winning author. A former lawyer and lecturer at the University of California, she’s also a three-time Jeopardy! champion. Born in Oklahoma, she grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and lives in Austin.

China Lake won the 2009 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original. The Nightmare Thief won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. Phantom Instinct was named an O, the Oprah magazine, “Best Books of Summer.”

Meg’s latest novel, UNSUB, has been bought for development as a major television series by CBS.

Find Meg on Facebook: Facebook.com/MegGardinerBooks Twitter: @MegGardiner1 and Instagram: @Meggardiner1.

Book Review: NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland

Book Review:  NEED TO KNOW by Karen ClevelandNeed to Know by Karen Cleveland
four-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on January 23rd 2018
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 304
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

If you’re looking for a gripping thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, look no further than Karen Cleveland’s debut novel Need to Know.  Not only it is an incredibly timely story with its focus on Russian operatives and sleeper cells in the U.S., but it’s also a well crafted one that takes us through one mother’s journey to see how far she will go to protect her family when she feels they are being threatened.  And as if that isn’t enticing enough, I’ve read that Need to Know is also being made into a movie with Charlize Theron in the starring role so there’s that as well!

Need to Know follows the journey of Vivian Miller, a counter-intelligence analyst at the CIA. Incredibly skilled at what she does, Vivian has risen through the ranks and has landed a coveted job in the department that investigates all things Russia.  When the novel opens, Vivian and her department have been looking for Russian sleeper cells in the U.S. and Vivian has developed an algorithm that can identify Russian operatives who handle the sleeper cells.

One morning, while remote accessing the computer of a suspected operative, Vivian locates a secret dossier containing information about deep-cover Russian agents who are currently living in the United States.  What she finds makes her realize that, if true, most of her life has been a lie, and it threatens not only her job but also her husband and even her children.  Vivian has taken a vow to defend the U.S. against all enemies, whether foreign or domestic, but now she finds herself in an impossible situation, one that could get her imprisoned and even charged with treason!

What will Vivian do? How far is she willing to go to protect her family? Is there anyone she can trust to help her or is she on her own?

 

This is another one of those stories where I feel like I’m going to be vague in what I say so as not to give away any spoilers.  Because giving away any spoilers at all would ruin it, please bear with the vagueness.

In a book like this, I need a likeable main character that I can relate to and I liked Vivian right away.  She’s smart, savvy, good at what she does, and she’s a great wife and a devoted mother to her four children as well.  I found her job at the CIA fascinating and so I enjoyed following her as she accessed the operative’s computer and sifted through his files looking for useful information.  That said, I think where I found her the most relatable was her reaction once she uncovers this threatening information and realizes her family could be in danger.  As a mom, I completely related to her need to do whatever it took to make sure her children were safe.  Even though I didn’t necessarily agree with what she did every step of the way, I understood that the information she found put her in a no-win situation. She was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t so the only course of action that made sense was to at least protect her children at all costs.

Need to Know is presented to the reader from Vivian’s point of view, which was probably my favorite part about the novel.  Seeing the story unfold through her eyes and having a bird’s eye view of what’s going on in her head as each new detail unfolded and the threat to her family grew just made the story all the more engaging for me.  Her thoughts and fears and her frantically trying to find a way to make everything in her life okay again are what really kept me turning the pages. Her desperation is palpable as is her growing paranoia as she doesn’t know who, if anyone in her life, she can trust.  I found myself right there alongside her, questioning everything and everyone and wondering if she would ever be able to find a way out of the mess she was in.

I also think having the story told from Vivian’s point of view added to the suspense and the tension in the novel.  As I mentioned, that’s what kept me turning the pages and unable to put the book down once I got started.  The suspense builds throughout and keeps the pacing of the story quick.  I was easily able to read the book in less than two days and even found myself getting ready for work with my Kindle on the bathroom counter trying to squeeze in a few more pages whenever I could.  That’s impressive for any book in my opinion but is truly impressive for an author’s debut novel, which this is.

A final area that really impressed me with Need to Know was how well researched the CIA portion of the novel seemed to be.  It felt like I really was watching the inner operations of a counter-intelligence department, and I realized that I basically was once I checked out the author’s bio and learned that she herself had actually worked as a CIA analyst for 8 years, 6 of that specifically in counterterrorism.  Karen Cleveland is definitely writing from experience here and I appreciated the authenticity it brought to the story.

I don’t want to say much about this, but if you’re a fan of “Long Cons,” you’ll love this story.  It takes the long con to a whole new level!

 

I did have one issue with the story and that was that I thought there was a little too much focus on the day-to-day family activities in Vivian’s life. I loved that she was a fierce mom who would do anything to keep her children safe, but I felt like I got a little bogged down a few times along the way while I was reading.  I’m dying to know what’s going to happen next on the Russia front, but instead I’m sidetracked reading about one of the kids running a fever and needing to be picked up from daycare.  As a parent I recognize that those kinds of things are part of life, but as a reader, I was just sitting there like “Hurry up and get back to the juicy stuff!”

 

Even if you don’t typically enjoy spy thrillers, I’d still highly recommend Need to Know.  Even though there is a heavy spy thriller element with the focus on the CIA and the sleeper cells, the story is still basically a story about how far a woman will go to protect her family.  That added layer is what really made this a phenomenal read for me, and as much as I enjoyed Need to Know, I look forward to reading more from Karen Cleveland. I’m hopeful that the way the novel ends has left the door open for a sequel because I would love to read more about Vivian.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, a CIA analyst uncovers a dangerous secret that will test her loyalty to the agency—and to her family.

What do you do when everything you trust might be a lie?

Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her—her job, her husband, even her four children—are threatened.

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

 

 

four-half-stars

About Karen Cleveland

Karen Cleveland spent eight years as a CIA analyst, the last six in counterterrorism. She has master’s degrees from Trinity College Dublin, where she studied as a Fulbright Scholar, and from Harvard University. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband and two young kids.

Book Review: UNSUB by Meg Gardiner

Book Review:  UNSUB by Meg GardinerUNSUB by Meg Gardiner
Also by this author: Into the Black Nowhere
five-stars
Series: UNSUB #1
Published by Dutton on June 27th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 366
Also in this series: Into the Black Nowhere
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

Meg Gardiner’s UNSUB is my first read for the 2018 Beat the Backlist Challenge and I have to say I don’t think I could have possibly picked a better book to start with.  UNSUB is a riveting serial killer thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat from the first page to the last, and not only that, but it will also have you screaming for the next book in the series because it ends with a cliffhanger that will blow your mind.

UNSUB follows a cold case that features a serial killer called The Prophet that appears to have been inspired by the Zodiac Killer.  The Prophet terrorized residents of the San Francisco Bay area for several years, leaving behind a trail of bodies, each with the ancient symbol for Mercury etched into its flesh, and accompanied by cryptic messages that were seemingly impossible to decode.  Not only did The Prophet excel in committing increasingly gruesome murders, but he also took immense pleasure in playing mind games with both the families of the victims and with local law enforcement, particularly the lead investigator on the case, Mack Hendrix.  The Prophet was never caught, but he left a trail of wreckage in his wake, including Mack Hendrix, who lets the killer get too far into his head and ends up in a psych ward for six months.  By the time he is released, his career and his marriage are over, and his relationship with his daughter Caitlyn appears to be on the same path.

Fast forward more than twenty years and bodies suddenly start turning up in the Bay area again, complete with the Mercury symbol and more cryptic messages.  All signs point to either a return of The Prophet or else they have a copycat killer on their hands.  It’s all hands on deck to stop the killer as soon as possible, only this time it’s not Mack Hendrix on the case.  Instead, it’s his daughter, Caitlyn Hendrix, who like her father, has joined the police force. Caitlyn is a rookie cop who typically works in narcotics, but because she possesses extensive knowledge of The Prophet’s original case, as well as access to the biggest resource of all, her father, she ends up being assigned to the new case.

Caitlyn immediately seeks out her father, but he is understandably reluctant to help.  This case has already destroyed his life once and he doesn’t want to let it in his head again. And he most certainly doesn’t want The Prophet to target his daughter and ruin her life as well.  Caitlyn chooses to ignore her father’s pleas that she stay far away from the case.  She is determined to capture this killer and bring him to justice, not just because of all of the murders he committed, but also because he haunted her childhood and destroyed her family as well.

Is this killer actually The Prophet returned or are the police just dealing with a clever copycat?  Whoever it is, can Caitlyn find and stop him? And most importantly, can she work the case without letting this killer get inside her head, thus avoiding the mistakes her father made?

There’s so much to love about this book.  Serial killer cases have always fascinated me, as do shows like Criminal Minds, where so much emphasis is placed on behavioral analysis and building profiles of the killers law enforcement is trying to catch.  In many ways, UNSUB reads like an episode of Criminal Minds, which made it a great fit for me.

I loved the pacing, the constant building of suspense as more and more bodies piled up, along with more and more of those cryptic messages.  The author’s use of those messages was actually one of my favorite parts of the book. At times, I felt just as desperate to decipher them as Caitlyn and her team did.  There was something so familiar about them, yet their overall meaning felt just out of reach, and it was maddening at times but, man, did it keep me turning the pages!

Caitlyn Hendrix was also a big draw for me.  I really liked this character and thought Gardiner did a wonderful job fleshing her out and giving her more depth than I was initially expecting from this kind of book.  She’s smart and tough, with great instincts for her job, but then there’s also a touch of vulnerability to her because of the way The Prophet case has impacted most of her life and strained her relationship with her father.  I loved the exploration of the father-daughter relationship that we get throughout UNSUB too. I think it adds a layer of emotional depth to the story without distracting from the serial killer case itself.  That personal touch really took the book to the next level for me and made it a much stronger read than if it had been a straight procedural.

That cliffhanger ending!  I’m kind of kidding here because the cliffhanger in UNSUB is actually brilliant, but I just hate cliffhangers so much.  Thankfully I was approved for an ARC of the second book in the series so I was able to jump right in and continue this gripping story.

UNSUB is truly an outstanding read.  If you’re into serial killer thrillers, you won’t want to miss this one!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A riveting psychological thriller inspired by the never-caught Zodiac Killer, about a young detective determined to apprehend the serial murderer who destroyed her family and terrorized a city twenty years earlier.

Caitlin Hendrix has been a Narcotics detective for six months when the killer at the heart of all her childhood nightmares reemerges: the Prophet. An UNSUB—what the FBI calls an unknown subject—the Prophet terrorized the Bay Area in the 1990s and nearly destroyed her father, the lead investigator on the case.

The Prophet’s cryptic messages and mind games drove Detective Mack Hendrix to the brink of madness, and Mack’s failure to solve the series of ritualized murders—eleven seemingly unconnected victims left with the ancient sign for Mercury etched into their flesh—was the final nail in the coffin for a once promising career.

Twenty years later, two bodies are found bearing the haunting signature of the Prophet. Caitlin Hendrix has never escaped the shadow of her father’s failure to protect their city. But now the ruthless madman is killing again and has set his sights on her, threatening to undermine the fragile barrier she rigidly maintains for her own protection, between relentless pursuit and dangerous obsession.

Determined to decipher his twisted messages and stop the carnage, Caitlin ignores her father’s warnings as she draws closer to the killer with each new gruesome murder. Is it a copycat, or can this really be the same Prophet who haunted her childhood? Will Caitlin avoid repeating her father’s mistakes and redeem her family name, or will chasing the Prophet drag her and everyone she loves into the depths of the abyss?

five-stars

About Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner is a bestselling, Edgar Award winning author. A former lawyer and lecturer at the University of California, she’s also a three-time Jeopardy! champion. Born in Oklahoma, she grew up in Santa Barbara, California, and lives in Austin.

China Lake won the 2009 Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Paperback Original. The Nightmare Thief won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year. Phantom Instinct was named an O, the Oprah magazine, “Best Books of Summer.”

Meg’s latest novel, UNSUB, has been bought for development as a major television series by CBS.

Find Meg on Facebook: Facebook.com/MegGardinerBooks Twitter: @MegGardiner1 and Instagram: @Meggardiner1.

Book Review: Origin

Book Review:  OriginOrigin by Dan Brown
four-stars
Series: Robert Langdon, #5
Published by Doubleday Books on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 461
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

MY REVIEW:

I know Dan Brown has a lot of critics who say that his books have become too formulaic, that they follow a predictable pattern.  While I won’t deny that may be true, especially with respect to his Robert Langdon series, I will also be the first to stand up and say “So what?”  I personally LOVE the formula and get ridiculously excited every time I hear that a new Dan Brown book is coming out.  I’m not sure what it is about Brown’s books that consistently draw me in – in some ways, I think they bring out my inner conspiracy theorist – but whatever the draw is, he always sucks me in from the first page and keeps me turning the pages well into the night.  And Origin was no exception.  I devoured its nearly 500 pages in less than two days!

For those unfamiliar with Robert Langdon, he is a professor of symbology and religious iconography at Harvard University.  He has become somewhat of a household name in academic circles as his expertise in those subject areas have helped to uncover and stop some pretty major conspiracies over the years.  In Origin, Langdon has been invited to an event at the prestigious Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain by one of his former students, Edmond Kirsch.  Kirsch, who is now a 40 year-old billionaire and futurist, plans to make an announcement at this event.  He claims to have made a discovery which he believes will change the face of science and will turn all of the world’s religions upside down. Kirsch says that his discovery answers two of the most fundamental questions of human existence:  1) Where do we come from?  and 2) Where are we going?  Because his announcement involves Langdon’s specialty, Religion, Kirsch wanted to have his former professor present at the announcement.

As soon as the presentation begins, Langdon senses that Kirsch’s announcement will be controversial and that it will have the potential to send shockwaves through the religious community.  Prior to the big reveal, however, tragedy strikes and Kirsch is assassinated before he can unveil his discovery.  In the midst of the ensuing chaos, Langdon makes a split second decision that could put his own life in danger –  if someone was willing to kill Kirsch rather than let his discovery see the light of day, then Langdon owes it to Kirsch to not let his secret die with him.  Langdon teams up with Ambra Vidal, the museum director who was most closely working with Kirsch on the details of his presentation and announcement. Vidal knows that Kirsch’s presentation was protected by a cryptic password and that without that password, they have no way of unlocking the truth.  So begins a quest to discover Kirsch’s password that takes Langdon and Vidal on a path marked by modern art, enigmatic symbols, and of course danger once those who killed Kirsch realize what Langdon and Vidal are trying to do.

Will Langdon be able to unlock the mystery of Kirsch’s discovery? And if so, what ramifications will Kirsch’s discovery have on the rest of the world?  Where do we come from?  Where are we going?

 

Okay, so I’m going to start simple here and say that I just love Robert Langdon. There’s not a lot to Langdon in terms of character development because Brown’s novels are primarily plot-driven, but I just really enjoy watching Langdon get his geek on when it comes to following and deciphering religious-based clues. He can find meaning in the most seemingly insignificant symbol and even five books into the series, it never ceases to fascinate me.  I also love that he’s kind of a famous nerd, and that as brilliant as he is when it comes to symbology and religious iconography, he still has this sense of fun and quirkiness about him. I mean, seriously, the guy wears an antique Mickey Mouse watch!  And I know Tom Hanks was cast to play Langdon in the movies, but in my mind, Langdon doesn’t look like Tom Hanks. Instead, he looks like Harrison Ford. So yeah, Langdon is a handsome, nerdy guy with a Mickey Mouse watch. What’s not to love?

Another aspect of the Langdon series I’ve always enjoyed involves the setting.  Dan Brown always places the trail of clues Langdon must find and unravel in such exciting cities.  In Angels & Demons, he took us through the streets of Rome, and in the DaVinci Code, we traveled through Paris and London. The Lost Symbol then took us through Washington, D.C., while Inferno transported us to Florence, Venice, and even Istanbul.  Origin doesn’t slack in the setting department either as it transports us to the glorious cities of Bilbao, Madrid, and Barcelona.  If you want to travel without ever leaving your reading chair, pick up a Dan Brown book and off you’ll go!

I also think that, formulaic or not, Brown does a masterful job of building up the suspense in his novels.  He structures the narrative so that we get alternating chapters between different characters in the story – some of whom are, like Langdon, clearly protagonists, while others are clearly antagonists who are trying to stop Langdon.  I liked not only seeing the story unfold from both sides of the equation at the same time, but also feeling the suspense build as each side inched forward toward their ultimate goal. The question of “Who’s going to get there first?” coupled with the desire to know the truth about Kirsch’s discovery really drives the story forward at a rapid clip.  I just couldn’t put the book down until I knew everything.

Origin also doesn’t disappoint in the action department.  The story is infused with danger and action-packed scenes as Langdon and Vidal try to stay one step ahead of those who are desperate to stop them!

 

The one issue I have consistently had with the Robert Langdon series is that Langdon always seems to end up paired with a beautiful woman on his quest for the truth.  These pairings are never really romantic — the pair is usually just sifting through clues and bouncing ideas off of one another while trying to keep from getting killed by whoever doesn’t want the truth to come out — so that’s not my issue.  But when it happened again in Origin, I found myself wondering why it’s always a woman.  I think it’s time for Langdon to team up and geek out over symbols and religious iconography with another guy.  Langdon needs a bro-mance!

 

I adore Dan Brown’s novels and Origin is no exception to that.  Do I think his works are destined to be considered great works of literature?  No, probably not.  But that said, they are consistently entertaining and intense, and now that I’ve finished the fifth book in the series, I’m already hoping that there will be a sixth.  So, if you’re looking for an action-packed thrill ride that will also make you think about potentially life-changing questions like “Where do we come from?” and “Where are we going?” then I’d definitely say to give Origin a read. And if you’ve never read any of the Langdon series, I’d most highly recommend Angels & Demons and The DaVinci Code. Those were both 5 star reads for me.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the ultramodern Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao to attend a major announcement—the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever.” The evening’s host is Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old billionaire and futurist whose dazzling high-tech inventions and audacious predictions have made him a renowned global figure. Kirsch, who was one of Langdon’s first students at Harvard two decades earlier, is about to reveal an astonishing breakthrough . . . one that will answer two of the fundamental questions of human existence.

As the event begins, Langdon and several hundred guests find themselves captivated by an utterly original presentation, which Langdon realizes will be far more controversial than he ever imagined. But the meticulously orchestrated evening suddenly erupts into chaos, and Kirsch’s precious discovery teeters on the brink of being lost forever. Reeling and facing an imminent threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape Bilbao. With him is Ambra Vidal, the elegant museum director who worked with Kirsch to stage the provocative event. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

Navigating the dark corridors of hidden history and extreme religion, Langdon and Vidal must evade a tormented enemy whose all-knowing power seems to emanate from Spain’s Royal Palace itself… and who will stop at nothing to silence Edmond Kirsch. On a trail marked by modern art and enigmatic symbols, Langdon and Vidal uncover clues that ultimately bring them face-to-face with Kirsch’s shocking discovery… and the breathtaking truth that has long eluded us.

 

four-stars

About Dan Brown

Dan Brown is the author of numerous #1 bestselling novels, including The Da Vinci Code, which has become one of the best selling novels of all time as well as the subject of heated debate among readers and scholars. Brown’s novels are published in 52 languages around the world with 200 million copies in print.

In 2005, Brown was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine, whose editors credited him with “keeping the publishing industry afloat; renewed interest in Leonardo da Vinci and early Christian history; spiking tourism to Paris and Rome; a growing membership in secret societies; the ire of Cardinals in Rome; eight books denying the claims of the novel and seven guides to read along with it; a flood of historical thrillers; and a major motion picture franchise.”

The son of a mathematics teacher and a church organist, Brown was raised on a prep school campus where he developed a fascination with the paradoxical interplay between science and religion. These themes eventually formed the backdrop for his books. He is a graduate of Amherst College and Phillips Exeter Academy, where he later returned to teach English before focusing his attention full time to writing. He lives in New England with his wife.

Brown’s latest novel, Origin, explores two of the fundamental questions of humankind: Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Book Review: The Wife Between Us

Book Review:  The Wife Between UsThe Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 9th 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 

 

 

*

8

 

MY REVIEW:

Okay, so I have to admit I was a little nervous when I started seeing my fellow reviewers compare The Wife Between Us to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  Even though I loved Gone Girl, not many of the novels that have been compared to it since its rise to popularity have lived up to the hype.  And boy have there been a lot of them.  I’m thrilled to say that not only does The Wife Between Us live up to the comparison, but I enjoyed The Wife Between Us even more than I enjoyed Gone Girl.  I think we’re looking at what is going to be one of the must-read books of 2018.  I also recently read that there is already a deal in place to make it into a film and I’m really excited about that.

 

 

I know this is the part of my review where I would typically describe the book without giving away spoilers.  In the case of The Wife Between Us, however, I can’t really do that.  To write any kind of description of even the basic plot points and characters would just spoil it. So all I’m going to say is just know based on those Gone Girl comparisons that you’re diving into an addictive psychological thriller filled with twists and turns and complex characters, and that there are also questions regarding narrator reliability.  Most importantly, as the synopsis indicates, assume nothing!

My favorite part of The Wife Between Us is that it really did keep me guessing from beginning to end.  I read the synopsis, which told me to ‘assume nothing’ because everything I assumed would be wrong. And then I proceeded to jump right in and start making assumptions anyway.  The book just lends itself to that and no matter how hard I tried to keep an open mind, I continued to make snap judgments about characters and situations, and yes, as the synopsis warned, I was dead wrong every time.  And that may sound like it should have been a frustrating reading experience, but I LOVED every page of it.  Nothing about the story was predictable and that was just fabulous and refreshing.

There is one plot twist about halfway through that was such a shock to me that it made my head spin.  I actually had to backtrack a few pages to make sure I had read what I thought I had read.  It was truly mind blowing!

The characters in The Wife Between Us are also so well drawn.  They’re complex, flawed, and utterly human, and unlike in many of the Gone Girl-style books, they are actually quite sympathetic in spite of the unreliable narrator issue.  I won’t go so far as to say that I liked any of them, but I did feel tremendous sympathy for what at least one of them was going through.

The book also weeds into some dark territory as we navigate the various plot twists — mental illness, addiction, abuse, jealousy, the struggle to let go and move on after a failed relationship, etc.  All of this dark subject matter weaves together seamlessly into an enthralling tale that you won’t be able to walk away from until you know the whole truth behind ‘the wife between us.’

The only thing that kept this from being a 5 star read for me was that the pacing felt a little inconsistent before that huge plot twist vs. after it.  There wasn’t a huge difference but just enough that it was noticeable in terms of how quickly I moved through each half of the book.

I also can’t say that I was 100% satisfied with the book’s resolution either. I liked it for the most part, but I’ll be curious to see if that is tweaked at all when it is made into a film.

 

The Wife Between Us is a mesmerizing thrill ride that will keep you guessing from beginning to end.  I would definitely say to go into it knowing as little as possible for the most suspenseful reading experience possible.  As the synopsis says, ‘Assume Nothing.’

 

Thanks to Netgalley, St. Martin’s Press, and of course, authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen for allowing me to read and review this book on my blog in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way impacts my review.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.

You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing.

Discover the next blockbuster novel of suspense, and get ready for the read of your life.

About Greer Hendricks

GREER HENDRICKS spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure Magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, The Wife Between Us is her first novel.

Follow Greer Hendricks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

About Sarah Pekkanen

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen’s newest book is THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS. She is also the co-author of the upcoming THE WIFE BETWEEN US (out in January 2018).

Her prior novels are: THINGS YOU WON’T SAY, CATCHING AIR, THE BEST OF US, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, SKIPPING A BEAT, and THESE GIRLS.

Sarah’s linked free short estories, published by Simon&Schuster exclusively for ereaders, are titled “All is Bright,” and “Love, Accidentally.”

Sarah is the mother of three young boys, which explains why she writes part of her novels at Chuck E. Cheese. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true.

Her website is www.sarahpekkanen.com and please find her on Facebook Instagram and Twitter @sarahpekkanen!

Book Review: Depth of Lies by E.C. Diskin

Book Review:  Depth of Lies by E.C. DiskinDepth of Lies by E.C. Diskin
four-stars
Published by Thomas & Mercer on September 26th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 288
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

E.C. Diskin’s Depth of Lies is a gripping, fast-paced thriller that will not only keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time you’re reading, but it will also make you question how much you really know about the people that you consider yourself closest to.

The story opens with a mysterious death.  Shea Walker, a happy, easy going mom, who is beloved by all around her, is found dead in a bathtub at a B&B.  An empty pill bottle is found in her room so everyone believes that she has unexpectedly ended her own life.  All of Shea’s friends are of course distraught because they have lost their friend and because they simply cannot fathom how Shea could have possibly killed herself without any of them realizing she was at such a low point in her life.

One of Shea’s oldest and closest friends, Kat Burrows, takes it a step further.  She absolutely refuses to believe that Shea killed herself and suspects foul play.  She decides to do a little amateur sleuthing on her own, along with their mutual friend Tori.  Kat is also wracked with guilt because on the night she died, Shea had tried to call Kat but Kat chose not to answer the phone.

Once Kat starts digging, she begins to uncover lie after lie, and seemingly endless secrets and betrayals.  More and more details emerge that make Kat realize she didn’t know Shea nearly as well as she thought she did.  Nor did she really know anyone in their circle of friends, for that matter.  What she finds not only makes her question the truth about what happened to Shea that night, but it also makes her take a hard look at everyone around her.

The aptly named Depth of Lies explores the questions of not only what really happened to Shea Walker but also the thought provoking question of ‘Do we ever really know everything about anyone?’

 

I thought the author very effectively used the structure of the novel to unravel the mystery of what happened to Shea.  The story is presented to the reader in alternating chapters from the point of view of both Shea and Kat.  We get to follow the last few months of Shea’s life and see what is really going on with her, while at the same time, we follow Kat as she is investigating Shea’s death.  The two storylines parallel each other until they ultimately merge into one as both Kat and the reader learn the truth about Shea’s death.

I also thought the pacing was fantastic.  I got hooked immediately and with each clue Kat and her friend uncovered, the suspense just kept building and building.  I also liked the added tension of having Kat’s spouse as well as all of her friends start to get agitated because she keeps asking so many questions and won’t let anything go.  Wanting to know if any of them were hiding anything made the story that much more compelling for me and I devoured the novel in less than two days because I just had to know the truth.

Not only is Depth of Lies a well-crafted mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but it also does a wonderfully realistic job of portraying the different relationships between the characters.  We get to see all of the lingering guilt between the friends because they feel like they weren’t there for Shea, but then on top of it, the more the friends talk after her death, the more we start to see little bits of resentment and anger toward Shea come to the surface.  They might be mourning her loss, but a few of them clearly have emotional baggage when it comes to the impact Shea had on their lives.

I also found the relationships realistic in terms of the novel’s central question of how well we really know someone.  I found this idea especially believable and relatable.  Don’t we all tend to keep certain things to ourselves?  I know as much as I love my friends and family, I still don’t tell them everything.  I think it’s normal to keep secrets, especially if those secrets are things that could be really embarrassing if they were to become known.  This aspect of the novel left me with a lot to think about in terms of my own little secrets and in terms of what my friends and loved ones might be keeping from me.

 

The only real issue I had with Depth of Lies was that I would have liked to have felt more connected to the main characters.  I was glued to the book to find out the truth about Shea and whether or not Kat would alienate her entire friend group because she just wouldn’t let it go, but otherwise, I didn’t really feel all that attached to any of the characters.  I usually like to feel some kind of connection to at least one character but instead I just felt like an outsider observing the lives of these women and their spouses.  It definitely didn’t impede my enjoyment of the story, which I thought was fantastic, but I think that’s what makes it a 4 star instead of a 5 star read for me.

 

If you’re looking for a fast-paced thriller that will keep you guessing until the end, I’d definitely recommend Depth of Lies.  I enjoyed it so much that I can’t wait to read more from E.C. Diskin.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When Shea Walker, a sunny, easygoing mom, is found dead in a bathtub with a stomach full of booze and pills, the shocking discovery shatters the complacency of her comfortable suburban community.

Kat Burrows, Shea’s longtime friend and former neighbor, is hit hardest. How could a woman she thought she knew so well come to such a sordid end? What could lead happy, well-adjusted, responsible Shea to accidentally overdose on alcohol and narcotics? Or, worse, drive her to suicide?

Compelled to uncover the truth of Shea’s final months, Kat delves beneath the orderly surface of her familiar world to discover a web of thwarted desire, shameful secrets, and shocking betrayal that suggests a scarier explanation for what happened to Shea. As her carefully constructed reality begins to crumble, Kat must question every reassuring assumption her life is built upon to solve the mystery…and summon the courage and resourcefulness to survive it.

four-stars

The Bookish Libra reviews the riveting thriller ONE PERFECT LIE

The Bookish Libra reviews the riveting thriller ONE PERFECT LIEOne Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on April 11th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Lisa Scottoline’s One Perfect Lie is a riveting thriller that sucked me in from the very first sentence:  “Chris Brennan was applying for a teaching job at Central Valley High School, but he was a fraud.”

From the first moment of the novel, the main character Chris Brennan is painted as a master manipulator and liar.  As Chris sits in the principal’s office interviewing for a job as a government teacher and assistant baseball coach at Central Valley High School, it immediately becomes clear that he is lying every step of the way.  While presenting himself as the picture perfect candidate to fill the teaching position, Chris is also sitting there contemplating his real motivation for securing this job… and guess what? It has absolutely nothing to do with teaching.  Chris’s thoughts are dark, sinister, and potentially deadly.

Because he’s perfect on paper and is able to easily lie his way through the interview, Chris lands the job and immediately begins to put step one of his real plan into motion.  He needs a teenage boy to help him carry out his plan and, through prior research he has conducted of the classes he will teach and the baseball team he will coach, Chris has identified three prospective boys.  First is Evan Kostis, who is popular, good looking, and comes from a wealthy family. Then there’s Jordan Larkin, who is shy and tends to be a bit of a follower, and the final candidate, Raz Sematov, who has a bit of a bad boy vibe.  Like a predator, Chris observes these three boys intently for several days trying to determine which of them possesses the qualities he needs.

Scottoline had my full attention by this point as Chris’s ominous plot started to unfold.  I ended up reading One Perfect Lie in less than a day.  I literally could not stop turning the pages because the suspense was so great. I just had to know who Chris really was, what he was up to, what his motivations were, and most especially, why he needed a boy to help him carry out his seemingly sinister plan.

Holy Plot Twist, Batman!  One of my favorite parts about One Perfect Lie was that after all of the setup that I just wrote about, Scottoline throws an unexpected wrench into the story that made me have to throw out every assumption I had built up in my mind about Chris Brennan and start all over again.  I can’t really go into any details without spoiling the main action of the story, but it definitely threw me for a loop and took the story in an entirely different direction that I was expecting it to go.

I also liked the use of multiple points of view to unravel the mystery of this story.  One Perfect Lie is told from the perspective not just of Chris Brennan, master liar, but also from the perspectives of the mothers of Evan, Jordan, and Raz. While Chris was the expected point of view, the mothers surprised me since I would have expected to hear from the boys.  I really liked Scottoline’s use of the mothers though.  From Susan Sematov’s perspective, we learn that Raz’s whole family is reeling from the unexpected death of Raz’s father a few months earlier, while from the perspective of Mindy Kostis, we learn that Evan is caught up in a life of drama that would rival Desperate Housewives. And finally, from Heather Larkin’s perspective, we learn that she is a single mom trying to make ends meet and therefore isn’t around for Jordan as much as she would like to be.  Watching the story unfold from these POVs gave a lot of insight into the home lives of the three boys and what it was about each of them that drew Chris to them.  It also revealed that Chris Brennan isn’t the only one walking around with secrets and lies, adding an element of juicy domestic drama to an already captivating mystery.

Scottoline does a fabulous job building up suspense throughout the story too.  As I mentioned earlier, I literally could not put this book down once I got started.  The mystery was just so engaging, and then there were just so many lies that needed to be unraveled.  The pacing was quick and consistent, which was nice, and I can’t recall ever being bored while I was reading.

Even though I plowed through the book in less than a day, I still had a couple of issues with it.  I sat on this review for a week just to see if these things still bothered me and yes, they still do.

  1. There’s some drama early on about needing to rent a truck from a business that would allow a teenage driver to pick up the truck. I’m intentionally being vague here because of spoilers, but the gist of my issue is that this scene is presented in such a way that it makes it seem like it’s crucial to the storyline, but then it’s never mentioned again. It left me very confused since I kept waiting to see when the truck would fit into the storyline.
  1. There’s an action sequence near the end that just felt didn’t feel realistic to me. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely made for great entertainment, but since the rest of the story felt so realistic, it just felt really out there in comparison, like something out of an Arnold Schwarzenegger action hero movie.  Trust me, you’ll know exactly the scene I’m referring to when you get there.

Even with the couple of issues I had, I still very much enjoyed this read.  With its intricate plot, riveting suspense, and a memorable cast of characters, One Perfect Lie is sure to please any reader who enjoys a great mystery.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.

But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.

Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he’s being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil.

Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Jordan’s baseball games. But Jordan is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans.

Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon’s wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them.

At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it?

Enthralling and suspenseful, One Perfect Lie is an emotional thriller and a suburban crime story that will have readers riveted up to the shocking end, with killer twists and characters you won’t soon forget.

three-half-stars

About Lisa Scottoline

Lisa Scottoline is the New York Times bestselling author and Edgar award-winning author of 28 novels, including her latest, ONE PERFECT LIE, which releases in April 2017. Her previous emotional thriller, MOST WANTED, has been optioned for a TV series. Lisa also co-authors a bestselling series of humorous memoir with her daughter, Francesca Serritella, which is based on their weekly Philadelphia Inquirer column titled “Chick Wit.” These witty and hysterical books examine life from a woman’s perspective, and the most recent book is, I’VE GOT SAND IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES. The first in the series, WHY MY THIRD HUSBAND WILL BE A DOG, has been optioned for TV. Lisa reviews popular fiction and non-fiction, and her reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Lisa has served as President of Mystery Writers of America and has taught a course she developed, “Justice and Fiction” at The University of Pennsylvania Law School, her alma mater. Lisa is a regular and much sought after speaker at library and corporate events. Lisa has over 30 million copies of her books in print and is published in over 35 countries. She lives in the Philadelphia area with an array of disobedient pets, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.