Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for THE CHEERLEADERS & MY PLAIN JANE

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for THE CHEERLEADERS & MY PLAIN JANEThe Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
four-stars
Published by Delacorte Press on July 31, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Library
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

There are no more cheerleaders in the town of Sunnybrook.

First there was the car accident—two girls gone after hitting a tree on a rainy night. Not long after, the murders happened. Those two girls were killed by the man next door. The police shot him, so no one will ever know why he did it. Monica’s sister was the last cheerleader to die. After her suicide, Sunnybrook High disbanded the cheer squad. No one wanted to be reminded of the girls they lost.

That was five years ago. Now the faculty and students at Sunnybrook High want to remember the lost cheerleaders. But for Monica, it’s not that easy. She just wants to forget. Only, Monica’s world is starting to unravel. There are the letters in her stepdad’s desk, an unearthed, years-old cell phone, a strange new friend at school. . . . Whatever happened five years ago isn’t over. Some people in town know more than they’re saying. And somehow Monica is at the center of it all.

There are no more cheerleaders in Sunnybrook, but that doesn’t mean anyone else is safe.

iew:

Kara Thomas’ The Cheerleaders is a gripping mystery that kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.  The story focuses on Monica Rayburn, who attends Sunnybrook High, where five members of the school’s cheerleading squad died five years ago.  Two of the girls were killed in a tragic car accident, and very soon after that, two more were murdered by a neighbor for reasons no one has ever determined.  The final tragedy was when Monica’s own sister died in an apparent suicide.  The school decided to disband the cheerleading squad because no one wanted to be reminded of the losses they had suffered.  When the administration decides five years later that they want to do a memorial service to remember the girls, it opens up old wounds for Monica, who has never come to grips with the idea that her sister could have possibly killed herself.

Monica’s step father was one of the police officers who worked the murder case, and Monica decides to sneak into his office and see if there’s still anything there that has to do with the Cheerleaders’ case.  What she finds makes her realize that things may not be as they seem when it comes to this case and she becomes determined to find out the truth of what happened to those murdered girls. Her sleuthing takes her on a wild and potentially dangerous ride and the author builds so much suspense into the narrative that I was literally on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next!  I thought her use of flashbacks was especially effective.  She shows us scenes from five years ago from the perspective of Monica’s sister.  Those scenes really fleshed out the story and added a lot of depth that we couldn’t have possibly gotten from Monica.  I was thoroughly engaged not just because like Monica, I wanted to know what really happened to these girls, but also because I was terrified that Monica was going to open up a can of worms that was going to put a target on her own back if the murderer really is still out there somewhere.

What really made The Cheerleaders an even more engaging story, however, was that it was so much more than just an entertaining mystery/thriller.  It also packs a raw and emotional punch as we watch Monica try to work through the loss of her sister.  There’s a part of her that really wants to find evidence that proves her sister did not take her own life because it kills Monica to think that she did.  If you’re looking for a riveting thriller that also packs an emotional wallop, I’d highly recommend The Cheerleaders. You won’t be disappointed! 4 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs: Mini Reviews for THE CHEERLEADERS & MY PLAIN JANEMy Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
three-half-stars
Series: The Lady Janies #2
Published by HarperTeen on June 26, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 464
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GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

Review:

After the success of their Monty Python-esque My Lady Jane, the Lady Janies are back at it again, this time bringing their readers a highly entertaining retelling of the classic novel Jane Eyre.  For those familiar with the classic tale, Jane is still an orphan who is preparing to secure a job as a governess. The primary difference is that in the Lady Janies’ version of the tale, Jane also has the ability to see and communicate with ghosts.  Her talents are recognized by famed supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood who becomes determined to recruit her to join his ghost hunting society.  I don’t want to give anything else away, but as the book’s synopsis states, “prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportion!”

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels, so I of course adored Jane in this book too.  She’s smart and feisty, and every bit as likable as her classic counterpart.  I also loved that the Lady Janies managed to effectively incorporate Charlotte Bronte, the author of Jane Eyre, into their story as well. In many ways, young Charlotte was actually my favorite character.  I thought it was brilliant how they wrote her in as an aspiring young author who is struggling to get people to take her seriously.  Ah, the life of a woman in Victorian society.  Those who follow my blog know I’m always a big fan of the underdogs, and orphan, penniless Jane and unappreciated author Charlotte were the underdogs I was cheering on in My Plain Jane.

While I really enjoyed My Plain Jane overall, especially its Gothic atmosphere with a Ghostbusters twist, my one complaint is that it didn’t quite have that same feeling of whimsy that My Lady Jane had.  I laughed out loud so many times when I read that book, but with this one, while I did find myself laughing a few times, there were several other times where the humor felt a little forced and fell flat for me.  I definitely still plan to continue the series, especially since the next book focuses on Calamity Jane, but I’ll probably lower my expectations a bit based on my experience with this book. 3.5 STARS

four-stars

About Brodi Ashton

From Brodi Ashton Writer (In Ms. Ashton’s own words):

Because of two parents who were Greek myth geeks, I grew up thinking the latest fashion trends were inspired by Aphrodite, and a good conversational opener was, “So, which mythological character do you most resemble?” Despite these social shortcomings, I found a great husband who’s always my first reader. We live in Utah with our two young boys, who still have no idea why I’m at the computer all the time.

I received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Utah and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics.

 

About Cynthia Hand

Cynthia Hand is the New York Times bestselling author of the Unearthly series with HarperTeen: UNEARTHLY, HALLOWED, RADIANT (an enovella) and BOUNDLESS, and the NYT bestselling contemporary, THE LAST TIME WE SAY GOODBYE. She lives with her family in Idaho, where she teaches courses in creative writing at Boise State University. Her latest book, MY LADY JANE, (cowritten with Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows) was released on June 7, 2016.

About Jodi Meadows

Jodi Meadows wants to be a ferret when she grows up and she has no self-control when it comes to yarn, ink, or outer space. Still, she manages to write books. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy, the ORPHAN QUEEN Duology, and the FALLEN ISLES Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen), and a coauthor of MY LADY JANE (HarperTeen). Visit her at www.jodimeadows.com.

About Kara Thomas

Kara Thomas is a true crime addict and the author of THE DARKEST CORNERS, LITTLE MONSTERS, and THE CHEERLEADERS, all published by Delacorte Press. You can find her on Twitter (@karatwrites), Instagram (@kara__thomas), or at http://www.kara-thomas.com.

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYES

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYESThe House of One Thousand Eyes by Michelle Barker
four-stars
Published by Annick Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 354
Source: the Publisher
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Who can Lena trust to help her find out the truth? Life in East Germany in the early 1980s is not easy for most people, but for Lena, it’s particularly hard. After the death of her parents in a factory explosion and time spent in a psychiatric hospital recovering from the trauma, she is sent to live with her stern aunt, a devoted member of the ruling Communist Party. Visits with her beloved Uncle Erich, a best-selling author, are her only respite. But one night, her uncle disappears without a trace. Gone also are all his belongings, his books, and even his birth records. Lena is desperate to know what happened to him, but it’s as if he never existed. The worst thing, however, is that she cannot discuss her uncle or her attempts to find him with anyone, not even her best friends. There are government spies everywhere. But Lena is unafraid and refuses to give up her search, regardless of the consequences. This searing novel about defiance, courage, and determination takes readers into the chilling world of a society ruled by autocratic despots, where nothing is what it seems.

Review:

Michelle Barker’s gripping new novel The House of One Thousand Eyes is set in the early 1980’s, a few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall.  The novel follows Lena, an orphan whose parents were killed in a factory explosion, thus leaving her to be raised by her aunt, who is a devout member of the Communist ruling party.  The bright spot in Lena’s weeks are when she gets to visit her uncle Erich, who is a famous author and who is NOT a devout member of the Communist Party.

In this novel, Barker graphically portrays what it’s like to live under a government that rules with an iron fist.  If the Communist leaders don’t like what they think you’re up to, they have ways of making you disappear so as to quash down any signs of resistance.  Lena learns this lesson the hard way when her Uncle Erich suddenly goes missing and all traces of his existence disappear along with him.  She does everything she can to try to find him or find out what happened to him, but has to do so carefully so as not to put herself on the government’s radar.  Barker increasingly builds up suspense as Lena becomes more and more distraught. Everyone she talks to denies her Uncle’s existence, even her aunt who is Erich’s own sister.  I found the story absolutely riveting as Lena refuses to give up even though there are spies and informers everywhere who would love nothing more than to turn her in and score some points with the Stasi/German secret police.

The House of One Thousand Eyes is a novel about courage, strength, and determination.  The world that Barker paints is often brutal and terrifying and so it becomes very easy to cheer Lena on as she risks everything to resist the East German’s efforts to snuff out both her uncle and free speech.  If you’re interested in seeing what life was like in East Germany before the Berlin Wall came down, I would highly recommend this book.  4 STARS

 

ARC Mini Reviews for LIES & THE HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND EYESLies by T.M. Logan
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 11, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
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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.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

What if you have the perfect life, the perfect wife and the perfect child—then, in one shattering moment, you discover nothing is as it seems? Now you are in the sights of a ruthless killer determined to destroy everything you treasure.

It’s the evening drive home from work on a route Joe Lynch has taken a hundred times with his young son. But today, Joe sees his wife meet another man—an encounter that will rip two families apart. Raising the question: Can we ever really trust those closest to us?

Joe will do whatever it takes to protect his family, but as the deception unravels, so does his life. A life played out without any rules. And a cunning opponent who’s always one step ahead.

Review:

T.M. Logan’s Lies is an exciting psychological thriller that will take you on the ride of your life.  It follows English teacher Joe Lynch, a loving father and devoted husband who makes what turns out to be a life altering decision – to follow his wife’s car when he happens to see her pulling into a hotel parking garage.  That one decision sets off a chain reaction of events, including a fight with a family friend named Ben who subsequently goes missing, that turns Joe’s entire life upside down and threatens his career, his family, and even his freedom.

Joe was a pretty likeable protagonist.  He’s a bit naïve at times, but I could easily see myself falling for some of the same things he did so, in that sense, I found him easy to relate to.  He’s also a great dad.  Watching him interact with his young son really made me all the more sympathetic to him.  He’s a man who definitely cares about his family above all else.

Lies is an easy read that I binge read in a couple of sittings.  It’s fast-paced and filled with plenty of twists and turns both for Joe and the reader.  The author also effectively builds up suspense with the missing family friend, by way of an active police investigation and also with mysterious messages that Joe starts receiving – messages that threaten to take everything away from him.  Lies also features a messy, and at least for me, totally unexpected, jaw dropping ending.  Kudos to T.M. Logan for keeping me guessing all the way to the end.  4 STARS

four-stars

About Michelle Barker

Michelle Barker was born and raised in Vancouver. She attended Arts One at UBC, studied for a year at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and graduated with a BA from UBC in English literature. After a short foray into comp lit, she left the Master’s program and worked as a research/editing assistant to Sherrill MacLaren. Sailed across the Pacific from Vancouver to Hawaii, had four children, lived for a summer in Montreal, a year in France, and then the Eastern Townships of Quebec for 10 years. After spending 7 years in the Okanagan, she returned to Vancouver. She received her MFA in creative writing at UBC’s optional-residency program in 2015.

Winner of gold National Magazine award in personal journalism (2002). Finalist for TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award (2016), OLA Forest of Reading Golden Oak Award (2017), Chocolate Lily Book Award (2016). Winner of 2017 Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller Award.

Besides a chapbook of poetry called Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii, a YA fantasy novel, The Beggar King (2013), and a picture book called The Year of Borrowed Men (2016), she has also published poetry, short fiction, and a variety of non-fiction. Her poetry has appeared in the Best Canadian Poetry anthology (2011).

Barker’s newest novel, The House of One Thousand Eyes, will be out in Fall, 2018, with Annick Press.

About T.M. Logan

Tim was born in Berkshire and studied at Queen Mary and Cardiff universities before becoming a national newspaper journalist. He currently writes full-time and lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children. LIES is his first novel – published by Bonnier Zaffre in January 2017. His next thriller, 29 SECONDS, comes out in January 2018 and is currently available to pre-order. For exclusive writing and new releases from TM Logan, sign up to the Readers’ Club: www.bit.ly/TMLogan.

Review: THE POINT by John Dixon

Review:  THE POINT by John DixonThe Point by John Dixon
four-stars
Published by Del Rey Books on August 7, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
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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 really enjoyed John Dixon’s last two novels, Phoenix Island and Devil’s Pocket.  They were fast-paced, action-packed reads that kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading them.  Since I enjoyed those so much, I was eager to get my hands on a copy of The Point as soon as I heard about it, especially once I read the synopsis and saw that it was set at West Point Military Academy.

The Point follows the story of Scarlett Winter, a rebellious, thrill seeking teenager who has no interest in conforming to whatever life plans her parents have dreamed up for her. She just wants to do her own thing and be left alone.

That is, until one night when she finds herself on the wrong side of the law.  Scarlett tries to sneak into a party one of her former friends is having.  She knows she’s not invited but thinks it will be a good time to sneak in and shock everyone.  Instead, she stumbles upon some other folks who are lurking on the property planting a bomb.  She throws herself on the bomb and when it explodes, she walks away, basically unharmed.  Witnesses see her at the scene of the crime and before she knows it, two military recruiters come knocking at her door.  They know that she has some kind of superhuman power and they present her with an ultimatum – she can either attend West Point and serve in the military for a few years, or she can go to prison.

Scarlett chooses West Point, of course, but has no idea what’s in store for her once she gets there.  Can she tame her rebellious nature enough to keep from getting kicked out of West Point?  And what happens when a threat from the school’s dark past emerges placing Scarlett and all of her fellow classmates in danger?   Scarlett may be the only one with powers great enough to neutralize the threat, but will she rise to the occasion for the greater good?

Scarlett.  I’ll confess right now that I was not a big fan of Scarlett’s at first.  While I admired her sense of independence and her adventurous spirit, I was a little put off by the way she completely blew off her high school graduation ceremony –without telling her family – so that she could go off and get high with her boyfriend.  Scarlett just lets her parents go to the school and sit in that audience, only to end up shocked and embarrassed when her name was called and she’s not there. All I could think at that moment was “What kind of person even does that?”

That said, Scarlett also quickly began to grow on me the more I got to know her and could see firsthand the dysfunctional family dynamic that she was surrounded by.  Her father is abusive towards her older brother Dan, who then proceeds to hand down his own brand of abusive behavior to Scarlett, while their mother just sits by and lets it all happen.  It became so much easier to understand why Scarlett had such a rebellious streak.

I actually flat out fell in love with Scarlett once she arrives at West Point.  I am always one to cheer on an underdog and it’s clear from Scarlett’s first moments on campus that that’s exactly what she is.  Everyone around her is out to make her life hell and I became extremely invested in cheering on her successes and seeing her really grow and mature as she comes to embrace a life where she is part of something bigger:  the Long Gray Line.

West Point (and The Point).  I have a thing for books that are set in schools so I was thrilled to learn that the bulk of this book is set at West Point military academy.  Dixon has clearly done his research and beautifully captures the atmosphere of what it’s like for a plebe to walk onto this prestigious campus for the first time.  I also thought the whole concept of The Point, a secret training unit for superhumans located beneath the main campus was brilliant.

Superhuman Powers.  The superpowers were, by far, my favorite part of The Point.  And when I say superpowers, I’m talking X-Men, Marvel, whatever — pick your favorite superhero and imagine someone with their powers being trained to serve as a special strike force in the U.S. military.  There are students who can engage in combat using telekinesis, students who can walk through and manipulate the dreams of others, and then there’s Scarlett, who may truly end up being the most important weapon of all:  Scarlett has the ability to absorb and temporarily store any raw energy that is directed at her, and then redirect and release it toward whatever target she chooses.  I thought it was fascinating to watch Scarlett and her classmates practice and hone their incredible powers.

Excellent Pacing and Lots of Action.  If you like a fast-paced novel with plenty of vivid action scenes, you won’t be disappointed.  This book grabbed my attention from the first page and I devoured it in a day!

The only issue I had with The Point is that I would have liked the explanation for how those with the superhuman powers actually acquired them to have come earlier in the novel. I was glad to finally get the explanation towards the end of the novel and I thought the explanation itself was very well done, but I would have preferred it earlier so that I didn’t spend so much time wondering about it while reading.

John Dixon’s The Point is an action packed thriller that I’d highly recommend to anyone who enjoys military and/or superhero novels.   It also has a powerful coming of age story woven in with Scarlett and her journey, so I’d also recommend it to anyone who likes stories that feature strong heroines.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

What if you had a power you had to hide from everyone–until now? In this bold sci-fi action thriller, a secret training program at West Point is turning misfits into a new generation of heroes.

Welcome to The Point, future leaders of the Posthuman Age.

New Cadets, society is not ready for you. The oldest, fiercest fear is ignorance. The general population would burn you at the metaphorical stake.

Here, you will train alongside other posthumans. You will learn to control and maximize your powers and to use them for the greater good. You will discover camaraderie and purpose.

You will become a part of something bigger than yourselves: the Long Gray Line. 

Scarlett Winter has always been an outsider, and not only because she’s a hardcore daredevil and born troublemaker–she has been hiding superhuman powers she doesn’t yet understand. Now she’s been recruited by a secret West Point unit for cadets with extraordinary abilities. Scarlett and her fellow students are learning to hone their skills, from telekinetic combat to running recon missions through strangers’ dreamscapes. At The Point, Scarlett discovers that she may be the most powerful cadet of all. With the power to control pure energy, she’s a human nuclear bomb–and she’s not sure she can control her powers much longer.

Even in this army of outsiders, Scarlett feels like a misfit all over again, but when a threat that endangers her fellow students arises from the school’s dark past, duty calls and Scarlett must make a choice between being herself and becoming something even greater: a hero.

 

four-stars

About John Dixon

John Dixon’s debut novel, Phoenix Island, and its sequel, Devil’s Pocket, won back-to-back Bram Stoker Awards and inspired the CBS TV series Intelligence. A former boxer, teacher, and stone mason, John lives in West Chester, PA, with his wife, their daughter, and a freeloading dog. When not reading or writing, he obsesses over boxing, chess, and hot peppers.

Review: BELIEVE ME by J.P. Delaney

Review:  BELIEVE ME by J.P. DelaneyBelieve Me by J.P. Delaney, Tony Strong
Also by this author: The Girl Before
three-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on July 24, 2018
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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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:

J.P. Delaney is back with another riveting psychological thriller that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.  Believe Me follows Claire Wright, a young British woman living in America who aspires to be an actor.  When we meet Claire, she is struggling financially.  She doesn’t have a green card which makes it difficult to find legitimate employment.  She ends up working on the sly for a team of divorce lawyers, where she uses her acting talents to entrap cheating husbands and obtain video evidence for their wives.

Everything changes in Claire’s life, however, when one of the wives she is trying to obtain evidence of cheating for turns up dead.  Believing that the woman’s husband is the murderer and that his wife might not be his only target, law enforcement officers approach Claire about using her talents to try to lure the husband into a confession.  With the promise of a green card and a lot of cash dangled in front of her, Claire agrees.

Claire is a brilliant actor, but will she be able to help law enforcement catch the killer or will she end up in over her head?  All I can say is buckle up and prepare for a wild ride!

Believe Me is one of those novels that I feel like I can’t say much about because I don’t want to give anything away, so I’m just going to mention a couple of quick highlights that I really enjoyed.

It probably seems weird to start off talking about the structure of a novel, but I have to admit this was my favorite part about Believe Me.  The main character Claire, who as I’ve mentioned is an aspiring actor, often goes through life imaging incidents in her life as if they are scenes from a script.  Since we are watching the events of the story unfold from Claire’s perspective, Delaney actually weaves together a tale that is mostly straight narrative, but which occasionally has little bits of script incorporated in as well to mimic how Claire imagines certain scenes playing out, complete with stage directions and dialogue she has scripted out in her head.  At first, I worried that the script bits might seem a little gimmicky, but in the end, they really worked well for me.

Aside from the unique structure, I also enjoyed that the plot was filled with suspenseful twists and turns that kept me guessing from start to finish.  The twists were such that it oftentimes made it hard to distinguish between what was real and what was fake in terms of Claire’s role in the murder investigation as well as what exactly was going on with the husband.  I tried to predict what direction the story was taking a few times along the way but was so wrong each time that I finally decided to just settle in and enjoy the wild ride Delaney was taking me on.  The fact that his writing flows so smoothly makes it easy to do that and just trust that the ride is going to be worth it in the end.

The main issue I had with Believe Me was that I just never really felt a connection to Claire.  Because she played so many different roles throughout the course of the novel, I never felt like I knew who the real Claire was.  Whenever she said something about herself, I took it with a grain of salt because I was never convinced she was being honest.  While that kind of personality was helpful in terms of maintaining the novel’s premise of not knowing what was real and what was fake, it left me feeling very detached from Claire.  Even when she was potentially in danger, I found that I didn’t really care.  I wanted to know what was going to happen, of course, but it wasn’t a case where I was worried for her well being at all.  If I had been able to better connect with Claire, this would have easily been a 4 star read for me.

There’s so much more I would love to say about Believe Me, but because I don’t want to spoil the mystery, I’m just going to say that I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys riveting psychological thrillers and to fans of Delaney’s last book, The Girl Before.  If you enjoyed that one, I think you would also enjoy Believe Me.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

In this twisty psychological thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Before, an actress plays both sides of a murder investigation.

A struggling actor, a Brit in America without a green card, Claire needs work and money to survive. Then she gets both. But nothing like she expected.

Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Hired to entrap straying husbands, she must catch them on tape with their seductive propositions. The rules? Never hit on the mark directly. Make it clear you’re available, but he has to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not coercion. The innocent have nothing to hide.

Then the game changes.

When the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered, the cops are sure the husband is to blame. Desperate to catch him before he kills again, they enlist Claire to lure him into a confession.

Claire can do this. She’s brilliant at assuming a voice and an identity. For a woman who’s mastered the art of manipulation, how difficult could it be to tempt a killer into a trap? But who is the decoy…and who is the prey?

 

three-half-stars

About J.P. Delaney

J. P. Delaney is the pseudonym of a writer who has previously published best-selling fiction under another name. .

Review: THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley Sager

Review:  THE LAST TIME I LIED by Riley SagerThe Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager
Also by this author: Final Girls
four-half-stars
Published by Dutton Books on July 3, 2018
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Fiction
Pages: 370
Source: Netgalley
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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:

 
Last year I read and loved Riley Sager’s suspenseful thriller, Final Girls, so when I heard he had a new book coming out this summer, The Last Time I Lied, I couldn’t get my hands on it fast enough.  I got my hands on a copy and sat down one evening to read what I thought would be just a few chapters before bedtime, but instead, ended up being about half the book.  I remember the same exact thing happened to me when I read Final Girls.  There is just something so addicting about Sager’s writing – he draws you into his tale so thoroughly that you just can’t even come up for air until you’ve followed every plot twist and devoured every clue.

Like Final Girls and other thrillers, The Last Time I Lied is one of those books that I think is best to go into knowing as little as possible, but what I definitely want to share with you are some reasons why I think you’re going to want to read this book.

 

4 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD ADD THE LAST TIME I LIED TO YOUR READING LIST:

 

  1. Complicated Protagonist. If you like your characters complex, Emma Davis is your girl. Emma, an up and coming artist in New York, attended Camp Nightingale when she was 13 years old. When the older three girls in Emma’s cabin decide to sneak out in the middle of the night, they leave Emma behind, telling her she’s too young to come with them.  That was the last time anyone saw the girls.

Fifteen years later, Emma is still haunted by their disappearance so much so that she includes the girls in each of her paintings, burying them beneath layers and layers of paints so that only she knows they’re there.  She realizes that she can’t continue like this forever, that it’s becoming an unhealthy obsession. When the opportunity to return to Camp Nightingale unexpectedly presents itself, Emma decides that she needs to go.  If she can figure out what happened to the girls, maybe after all of these years she can finally get some closure and move on…

What makes Emma so complex is that even though I felt tremendous sympathy for what she must have gone through as a 13 year old when those girls went missing and for what she has continued to go through as an adult, I still sometimes got the vibe that she wasn’t being completely honest, that she was keeping secrets.  I found myself skeptical of her version of events, which had me turning the pages even faster, because I wanted to know if I could trust her or not.  Not knowing if I could trust Emma or not really added to the overall suspense of the novel.

  1. Creepy Camp Setting. This is such an atmospheric read.  Sager does a phenomenal job of creating the eeriest girls’ summer camp ever.  Everything about the setting has a real horror movie vibe. The unsolved mystery of what happened to those girls casts a huge shadow over the camp and creates tension and suspense around every corner.  Even though it has been fifteen years, it still feels like something could happen to anyone at anytime.  The land the camp is built on is also the subject of legends and folklore that will make your hair stand on end and wonder if something supernatural is afoot on Camp Nightingale’s  lands.
  1. Dual Timeline.   The Last Time I Lied is presented to the readers in a dual timeline format.  Emma is the narrator in both timelines, the present day one and the one from fifteen years ago.  The modern day timeline follows Emma as she returns to the camp and plays amateur sleuth, trying to see if she can solve the mystery that alluded police detectives all those years ago.  The other timeline follows Emma while she was a young camper at Camp Nightingale. It follows her from her arrival at the camp up through the disappearance of her cabin mates and the ensuing investigation.  Sager does a brilliant job of weaving together these two intricate storylines, revealing key details in the modern timeline and then revisiting the past and showing why exactly the details we’ve just seen are relevant.  I found the story all the more compelling watching the details unfold in this manner.
  1. Web of Secrets and Lies. If you enjoy a mystery that is filled with plot twists that keep you guessing, The Last Time I Lied should be a book after your own heart.  There are so many secrets and lies swirling around throughout the novel that it gets very difficult to know who can be trusted, if anyone, and the lies just further the suspense and add intricate layers to the plot twists.  A popular game the girls played at the camp is Two Truths and a Lie, and the more I read, the more appropriate the game seemed because this is a book filled with people who cannot be trusted.

I especially enjoyed the detective story aspect of the novel as we follow Emma playing detective, trying to uncover some of those secrets and lies and piece together what happened to the girls fifteen years ago.  Emma even requests to stay in the same cabin she stayed in all those years ago in hopes of uncovering some clues that were overlooked that could possibly lead her to the truth of what happened to her friends.   In many ways, the story reads like a modern day Nancy Drew novel.

 

MY FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE LAST TIME I LIED:

 

As much as I enjoyed Riley Sager’s Final Girls, I actually enjoyed The Last Time I Lied so much more.  Maybe it’s the timing – reading a book about a creepy summer camp in the middle of the summer – or maybe it’s just Sager’s superior storytelling abilities, but whatever the reason, this is one of my favorite reads of the year so far.  It kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, which is all that I could possibly want from a thriller, so I definitely look forward to reading more from Riley Sager.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present.

And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.

four-half-stars

About Riley Sager

Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer who previously published mysteries under his real name.

Now a full-time author, Riley’s first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, became a national and international bestseller and was called “the first great thriller of 2017” by Stephen King. Translation rights have been sold in more than two dozen countries and a film version is being developed by Universal Pictures.

Riley’s next book, THE LAST TIME I LIED, will be published in July. It was inspired by the classic novel and film “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and one horrible week Riley spent at summer camp when he was ten.

A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When he’s not working on his next novel, he enjoys reading, cooking and going to the movies as much as possible. His favorite film is “Rear Window.” Or maybe “Jaws.” But probably, if he’s being honest, “Mary Poppins.”

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
Goodreads

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.