Book Review: The Chill by Scott Carson

The Chill by Scott Carson

Rating:  ★★★

The Chill is about a small town, Galesburg, that was once drowned underwater to make a new dam. We follow the ancestors of the people from that small town, now living in the “new” town of Torrance.

When I first started reading, there were a lot of jumps in the POV. So much that I wondered who the main characters even were, and if I’d ever get to spend enough time with any of them to care. The answer is yes and no. Focus does slow down to a handful of main characters, but I still think there were too many, and while I cared about a couple of them, I didn’t care about all of them.

In addition to the POV jumps, the book is weighed down by the description about dams and dam construction. It wasn’t as much as say, the church construction in The Pillars of the Earth, and some of it was interesting, but a lot of it went over my head.  Towards the end, I was confused by a lot of the description about where the characters were and what they were doing.  For example, at one point I swear Aaron swims into a tunnel, and a chapter later I swear Gillian is climbing into the same tunnel.  I think maps of the tunnels might have helped.  (I read an ARC, so it’s possible one is included in final copies.)

It was hard to feel excited about the plot when I was never entirely sure what the stakes were. The characters keep mentioning how they are going to get back at New York City, but I was never really clear on precisely how that was going to happen (flood? tainted water supply?). The Chilewaukee reservoir (The Chill) the story centers on, is a reserve basin and not connected to anything else. Specifics are mentioned towards the end, but by then I was mostly over it.

I feel like the true climax, and the story that felt suspenseful, came much earlier than the end.  I was enjoying the book for the most part until then, and after that point everything came to a full stop for me.  Ultimately, pacing and structure were an issue for me.

That being said- I did like the supernatural part of the story and unraveling the mystery. There’s a lot of suspension of disbelief needed for it to work but those were my favorite parts. I just wished they’d been a little more frequent? It was like the author wasn’t sure if he was writing a thriller or a horror or a science fiction story. It wasn’t quite enough of any one of those things to be effective, and the result was muddied.

All in all- not a bad book, I just wished it had been a little more exciting.  The Chill can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who provided an ARC for review.

Book Review: The Better Liar by Tanen Jones

The Better Liar by Tanen Jones

Rating:  ★★★★

The Better Liar is about a woman, Leslie, who inherits a large sum of money from her father. In order to collect her half of the insurance, she must appear before the lawyer with her sister Robin. It takes Leslie three months to track Robin down, and by the time she arrives at her sisters apartment, her sister has OD’d and died. On her way back to Albuquerque, Leslie chances across a woman (Mary) who looks a lot like her sister, and hatches a plan to collect her inheritance anyway, using Mary as a double.

We read this story from three points of view, Leslie, Mary, and Robin’s ghost. All three women are liars. The reader is never sure at any given moment which of them to trust. The lies here aren’t necessarily outrageous, jaw-dropping lies. Calling them lies might even be a stretch- some of them are more like secrets or half truths. While they never made me stop to question what the heck was going on, the whole novel manages to be suspenseful. A lot of it was because I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the big reveal.

When we finally get to that point, it was a pretty awesome moment. Some readers may guess it, but I sure didn’t. This is a low-key sort of suspense. I was never bored and I read the book in just three sittings, always compelled to keep turning the pages, but I think it was more about the characters than the plot, which is not usually what I expect in a suspense novel. At its heart- this is a novel about both sisterhood and motherhood, and I think Jones did well with portayals of both.

The writing and structure were wonderful. The chapters were quick and the overall length was just what it needed to be.  I only gave it 4 stars instead of 5 because I think there is a lot of suspension of disbelief needed for the plot to work. I can’t say why that’s needed without spoiling a lot of important plot points, so I’ll just leave it at that. I can see it being a sticking point for some readers.

Anyway- I really enjoyed this debut effort by Tanen Jones and I’ll look forward to more of her work in the future.  The Better Liar releases on January 14, 2020 and can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.  Thank you to the publisher who sent an ARC in exchange for review.

Book Review: The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters

The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Waters

Rating:  ★★★★

The Dead Girls Club is a supernatural thriller full of nostalgia. It flashes back and forth between the present moment with Heather, as her past catches up with her, and flashbacks to moments shared with her best friends when she was 12. It brings back memories of sleep overs and sneaking out after dark, telling ghost stories in the dark, and playing games like Bloody Mary or Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board.

The author nailed the character of 12 year old girls, the fights, the love between them, the back and forth chatter. She had me remembering things I hadn’t thought of in ages. Overall I liked most of the characters and felt they were pretty fleshed out. I did grow frustrated at times with Heather’s inability to communicate with her husband and friends, as well as her increasingly erratic behavior, but it makes sense in the context.

The writing style felt very heavily stream of consciousness, which isn’t always my thing and grew a little tiresome here from time to time. Otherwise the writing and dialogue were fine.

The pacing never feels slow, (I’d actually describe it as quick) but the actual action doesn’t really ramp up until the very end. It’s more of a slow burn, strange things happening throughout, each becoming more brazen and mysterious. I often found it hard to put it down, no matter which storyline I was following. The spooky parts are sufficiently creepy, but it doesn’t veer too far into horror territory.

The ending is not predictable (I sure didn’t guess it, I don’t think anyone else will either) but it also isn’t surprising, I don’t want to say it’s been done before, but I feel like things like it have been done before. There was no definitive OMG I can’t believe it! Moment.

Overall a solid entry into the thriller genre with mass appeal. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an electronic copy for review.

The Dead Girls Club releases on December 10, 2019 and can be found GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

Book Review: I Will Make You Pay by Teresa Driscoll

I will make you pay by teresa driscoll

Rating:  ★★★

I Will Make You Pay is a thriller about a journalist named Alice that starts receiving threatening calls and gifts on Wednesdays. I’ve been trying to branch out my reading a little more because I’ve been feeling a little burned out on SFF these days, but this book made me remember why I don’t read thrillers often.

The thing is, I think in order for a thriller to work you have to care about or connect with the character to some degree (to create suspense). Thrillers tend to focus heavily on secrets and twisty turny plots, so it’s not often I find characters in a thriller that I either love or don’t feel like card board cut outs. I also have grown very tired of damsels in distress, and we are reminded at every turn that Alice is a damsel in distress, between Matt, the PI who basically acts as her body guard, and Tom, the boyfriend, and Jack, the coworker, I never at any point in time felt like Alice was capable of sticking up for or defending herself. It was kind of frustrating.

In Gone Girl, Amazing Amy is incredibly despicable, and I wouldn’t say I cared about her, but that woman is absolutely not a damsel in distress. Those are the kind of women I want to read about. No matter how awful they might be. Any sign at all that Alice was actually trying to protect herself might have helped but she just refused.

I’m sorry if I sound like I’m being harsh or insensitive- I can absolutely see how a person who was being stalked would feel and is absolutely powerless in that situation, but I just would have liked to have seen something that said she was thinking of her own safety, either giving in and letting the PI act as her bodyguard, or actually purchasing that pepper spray she browsed online, or signing up for a self defense class. But she doesn’t do anything at all.

Anyway. I was worried the whole time that I knew very early on who the stalker was and I didn’t- so it had that going for it. There were also a few surprising plot twists along the way. (Content Warning: pedophilia abounds in this plot. It’s not graphic, but it is disturbing and I could have lived without it.)

Anyway- I skimmed a lot of parts towards the end that I just didn’t care about, Alice’s musings about her childhood, Matt’s musings about past cases. I’m still not sure why we were shown the whole Ian subplot. It was great that Matt was such a nice guy, but really it had NOTHING to do with the actual plot.

Finally, the line “I will use cheese wire on you” was introduced early on and repeated frequently. It made me laugh… which is not what it was supposed to do, but I just kept thinking to myself, and how the hell is that going to work? Cheese wire? It’s inventive I guess but I really don’t think that it’s all that threatening. And something about it is not very eloquently said? I don’t know.

Anyway- not a bad read but not a great read either. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for sending an eARC for review.

I Will Make You Pay can be found on GoodReads or ordered on Amazon.

Book Review: The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup

Hello Friends!  I’m sorry I haven’t been posting much this week.  It’s been crazy hectic at work with two late nights and to top it off, my daughter is sick.  I hope to be back to my usual schedule next week.

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

Rating:  ★★★★

I’ve been putting off this review because I feel like I really suck at reviewing thrillers.  I think the selling point of a thriller is mostly the plot, but for exactly that reason it’s not something I want to talk about.

My initial impressions upon starting this, was that there were a lot of view points to follow.  I was initially a little confused trying to keep them all straight, but things started coming together after you start following Hess and Thulin (our two detectives).  The introduction of new view points remains pretty consistent through out, but it becomes less confusing after the story is established.

The content of this book is super dark.  Not only are these killings gruesome (and graphic), but the plot focuses heavily on abused children.  I think if I had known that going in I wouldn’t have requested it.  As a mother child abuse is a topic I really struggle with, and there were points I almost quit.  Not because the book was bad but just because it was really that hard.

The chapters and structure are just what I want for a thriller.  Short, chapters and initially very quick pacing.  At 500+ pages I do think it is a little bloated for a thriller, and the book dragged a little before approaching the climax.  There is a turning point when Hess uncovers some new evidence, and it was full speed ahead from there, almost impossible to put down.

The imagery and tone are eerie and chilling.  The author uses a childhood nursery rhyme and a seemingly innocent childhood activity (the making of chestnut men) and turns them into something dark and foreboding.  This is a thriller that borders very heavily on horror.

I didn’t guess the ending (at all) so when the big reveal came I was pretty dumbstruck.  It didn’t come out of left field or anything and I loved the way all the pieces snapped into place.  There is a twist, but it’s not really in regards to the killer’s identity.  The twist was one of my only complaints (aside from the depictions of child abuse).  It’s not that it was a bad twist, it’s just that it wasn’t clarified enough.  The reader knows what happened, but the author skirts around the specifics.  I re-read that particular part a couple times and still couldn’t piece it together.  It frustrated me a bit considering the author doesn’t shy away from telling any other part of this story.

Overall, this is a solid thriller that I think would appeal to most fans of the genre.  Thank you to the publisher for providing an ARC for review.

The Chestnut Man releases on September 3, 2019 can be found on GoodReads or preordered on Amazon.

Book Review: The Need by Helen Phillips

I didn’t mean to go on hiatus- but I actually haven’t done a whole lot of reading this week, and I sort of feel like a fraud.  I am bummed I missed this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, but I’m looking forward to checking out everyone else’s posts, and will probably do a similar post anyway.

Yesterday I received an ARC of The Need in the mail.  I read it all in two different sittings.  While I don’t know that it really had that ‘can’t put it down’ quality we all love, it was a really quick book with super short chapters that made it easy to keep reading.

The Need by Helen Phillips

Rating:  ★★★1/2

Blurb (from GoodReads): When Molly, home alone with her two young children, hears footsteps in the living room, she tries to convince herself it’s the sleep deprivation. She’s been hearing things these days. Startling at loud noises. Imagining the worst-case scenario. It’s what mothers do, she knows.

But then the footsteps come again, and she catches a glimpse of movement.

Suddenly Molly finds herself face-to-face with an intruder who knows far too much about her and her family. As she attempts to protect those she loves most, Molly must also acknowledge her own frailty. Molly slips down an existential rabbit hole where she must confront the dualities of motherhood: the ecstasy and the dread; the languor and the ferocity; the banality and the transcendence as the book hurtles toward a mind-bending conclusion.

I was intrigued by the genre here, and before reading I couldn’t decide if it would be more horror, more science fiction or thriller.  It’s not quite science-fiction, more speculative, and more thriller than horror.  It reminds me a lot of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter.

Genre aside- the core of this book is about motherhood, and Phillips nails that part.  In some ways, while reading this, I was relieved to know I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t crazy.  My daughter is six, so a lot of the things Molly is going through I don’t have to cope with as often, but everything she endures is hauntingly, eerily familiar.  I felt like I could have written this book.  Kids will make you crazy, but your love for them will always trump all.

This book starts much stronger than it finishes.  I think, unfortunately the reveal for The Need comes far too early, and the end of the book stretches on a little too long.  I would have liked if there had been more suspense/mystery built into the plot, or if the MC had spent more time investigating what was going on instead of simply accepting what was happening to her.

Phillips does an excellent job of bringing the characters to life on the page.  Especially the kids who come out with some off the wall, nonsensical stuff (like ‘Can I lick your eye?’) that only four year olds can invent.  My one complaint with Molly would be that I really wasn’t sure the decisions she made felt reasonable or logical.  People all react differently to different things, of course, but there were some decisions she made that were mildly rage-inducing and made me want to shout at the page.  It was disappointing considering Phillips gets literally everything else right.

I did enjoy the writing.  The Need is definitely more literary than commercial, and while I wouldn’t describe it as lyrical, Phillips does some things with repetition and structure that feel hard hitting, if that makes any sense.

The ending is ambiguous.  Normally this is something I avoid, I don’t like ambiguous endings ever, but for some reason it works here.  I’m attributing it to the fast build-up of suspense and the slow unraveling of everything else, as well as the allegorical nature of the book.  It’s an ambiguous ending that I somehow understood perfectly, because the allegory makes a lot of sense to me.  

All in all- not a bad little book.  If you’re interested in this because Molly is a paleobotanist I’d skip it, that’s a very small part of the book.  Otherwise it’s a super quick read (258 pages) with fast, punchy chapters, that would make for a great lazy day beach read.

The Need releases in the US on July 9, 2019 from Simon & Schuster.  Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC for review.  It can be found on GoodReads or pre-ordered on Amazon.

UPDATED:  **SPOILERS AHEAD**

This is my most viewed review on my blog, and I think readers are looking for a clarification to the ending.  So here’s my interpretation:

The book is a metaphor for motherhood.  How being a mother can almost split you into two people.  You love your kids.  You’d do anything for them, to help them, give them every opportunity.  Your kids are your life.

And then there are days when you really just think: “What the hell was I thinking becoming a mother?  I could be backpacking in Europe right now!  Drinking margaritas in Mexico!  Getting a full eight hours of sleep… EVERY NIGHT.  Doing pretty much anything aside from constantly cleaning the house, picking up toys, making food and snacks, cleaning up vomit, potty training….”

I am a mother, and I know, those first few years are hard.  So hard, they make you feel like you are losing your mind.  I don’t feel like I will ever get a full eight hours of sleep ever again.

So I took the ending to be the reconciling of those two Mollys, into one Molly.  (The Molly we start with does on occasion say she considered stepping back and letting the other Molly take over, that she was a better mother, etc.)  The time warp closed, the two Mollys became one, she accepted her motherhood-dom… I don’t know.  It doesn’t work if you are looking for a literal answer.

I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer for you.  I am one of the biggest haters of ambiguous endings, and this one is far from satisfactory (like many of you, I think I’d have preferred something less ambiguous).  But for some reason in this single instance, the metaphorical ending worked for me (and it’s probably because, let’s face it, no literal ending could have buttoned up this book nicely).

 

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

This is my first experience with Lauren Beukes.  The blurbs on all of her books sound super exciting, but this particular book would not have been my first choice if my library had had some of her other books readily available (Moxyland is the one I really want to read).

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. Curtis stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

I wanted to read this based on the time period (yes to all things Capone era Chicago) and the idea of Kirby stalking her killer back.  I was hoping for something more like Peppermint:

Jennifer Garner in Peppermint

I wanted a thrilling cat and mouse game.  What I got was:

Ace Ventura Detective Gif

Except Kirby is not really as entertaining as Ace Ventura.  When the blurb says “hunting him back,” what it means is, she ‘digs through cold case police files, interviews victim’s families, and tries to establish a pattern.’  She is not literally hunting him.

The format this book follows reminds me a lot of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes.  The identity of the killer is known from page one.  The issue is Harper Curtis isn’t really as compelling a villain as Brady Hartsfield.  His chapters weren’t all that exciting.  You already know what his goal is.  He doesn’t do much to surprise you. There’s no mystery to solve.

And without there being a mystery to solve- there’s not much else to sell this story.  The House and the time travel pieces felt gimmicky.  *Possible mild spoiler* The Shining Girls are just normal girls.  They aren’t magic.  They aren’t destined to save the world.  Killing them is not prevent some all important wonderful thing from happening.  Without there being anything significant about them, the House just feels like a gimmick so that Beukes can dazzle us all with the circle she draws in the timeline.

Stephen Colbert Slow Clap Gif

Listen- the timeline thing is nifty.  Really, Beukes did a great job with it.  But when it didn’t serve any greater purpose in the story I was left asking myself what the point of it was.  Nothing about the House is really explained.  There are no rules.  Neither of the two (three?) MCs are particularly compelling.

Almost every other character was far more interesting.  The Shining Girls.  Kirby’s mother Rachel… I sighed with relief every time one of their chapters popped up.  I particularly adored Alice’s story, but they just weren’t enough.

I think I’d have appreciated this more as a science fiction mystery than a science fiction thriller.  I like it when books keep me guessing.  When Kirby starts discovering clues and putting the pieces together, I would have loved to have been kept guessing about these different clues.  How they fit together, what the answer is.  Have the House and the time travel aspect be some crazy weird twist that was revealed closer to the end than in the beginning.

It’s not a bad book by any means.  The writing was great.  And while Harper Curtis is not going to go down as one of my most memorable villains of all time, he’s pretty creepy.  There are a couple chapters that will make you cringe.  Sometimes genre benders work.  They feel fresh and new and exciting.  In this case the book waffled too much.  It wanted to be a thriller, it wanted to be time travel, it wanted to be an amateur detective story with the protagonist solving the clues, and the overall effect fell a little flat for me.

Anyway, I intend to try some of Beukes other work and hope for better results.  I can see that she’s smart, and technically a great writer, I just hope the rest of the blurbs aren’t as misleading as this one was.

The Shining Girls can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

 

Book Review: The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Following the fantastic Sometimes I Lie, I was very excited to pick up The Couple Next Door.  I think I read them in the wrong order- because there was just no way The Couple Next Door was going to have as many twists and turns as Sometimes I Lie.

It was still pretty good though! Once again, I read it all within one 24 hour period.  I think the structure of thrillers works well for me.  A good thriller should move at a quick pace, and these two books in particular had short punchy chapters, which I love.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Rating:  ★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

The author wasted no time getting to the heart of the issue.  Anne and Marco’s babysitter cancels on them at the last minute.  They decide to go to the dinner party anyway, being that it’s right next door, and bring the baby monitor so they can listen for their daughter. Sometime between 12:30 AM and 1:30 AM their daughter is snatched from her crib.  Detective Rasbach immediately suspects that the couple is involved, because that’s how most of these cases go.

That’s as much as I’ll say because I don’t want to spoil anything.  I think a lot of the suspense was lost on me, because somewhere along the line, I read a spoiler for the book.  I thought it was on the book jacket, but looking back I see that it wasn’t.  I’m thinking it must have been in a review and I didn’t realize at the time it was a spoiler.

Anyway- as the secrets start to unravel, there are plenty of them, but I don’t feel like any of them were particularly shocking.  I don’t want to say this story has been told before, but if you’ve ever watched Law & Order you probably won’t have much trouble guessing where it was going.  I had the crux of it pegged early on (and not because I read the spoiler, which wasn’t unrelated, but had nothing to do with the whodunnit).

I did feel that Detective Rasbach’s POV was a little unnecessary.  He doesn’t reveal much that couldn’t have been relayed via dialogue with the other characters, and in fact, most of the relevant aspects of his POV are.  He’s largely absent from the middle of the book, and only makes a brief appearance again at the end.

The writing was fine.  It was a little clunky and awkward in a couple places but not enough to detract from my enjoyment from the book.  I also feel that the title is misleading.  The couple next door plays a very small role in the book, and they didn’t feel entirely relevant.

All in all- not a bad read at all if thrillers are your thing, but I’m also not chomping at the bit to recommend it to anyone.

The Couple Next Door can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.

 

 

Book Review: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

So the past few weeks I’ve had a craving to read something similar to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.  I think Amy Dunne’s character, despicable as she is, is absolutely brilliant.  Maybe you read the book and found her intolerable, but there’s no doubt that anyone who did read it was left feeling some type of way about Amy.  To me, that’s the hallmark of a great character.

I stumbled across Sometimes I Lie at the B&N book sale.  I’d seen it around during release time, but didn’t know much about it.  I wasn’t sure Amber Reynolds was the Amy Dunne character I was hoping for, but I am so glad I took a chance on it.

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Rating:  ★★★★

Here’s the hook:

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

Okay so there’s more to that blurb, but when I was looking at the cover at the store I read that much before I put it in my basket.  I love everything about the premise.  From the beginning, you already know you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator, but is she telling little white lies?  Or is she telling a whopper?

The book starts simply but sinister enough.  Amber is in a hospital bed.  She can hear the nurses talking, but she is unable to respond.  She’s trapped in her own body.  She was in a car accident, and she can’t remember what happened.  It’s Christmas, her husband is MIA, and no one has reported her missing.  

The setup of Amber being aware but unable to respond created a genius opportunity for the author to tease the reader with snippets of conversation from the people in the hospital room, nurses talking about her condition, her husband talking to her sister, people talking about Amber without realizing she can hear them…  but then someone will administer medicine, or Amber will fade out, and you never catch the rest of the conversation.  The opportunity was not wasted, although I guess one could argue that the timing of Amber drifting in and out of an aware state makes the suspense feel a little forced. (I didn’t personally feel that way- but I could see it feeling that way to others.)

There are three different timelines to follow, the present timeline in the hospital, the past timeline leading up to the accident, and the distant past from Amber’s childhood.  All along the way little suspenseful incidents keep happening, a stranger visits Amber’s room at night, Amber’s boss threatens to fire her, etc.  Amber does have a few deliciously wicked Amy Dunne moments (and I reveled in every single one of them), but once the twists start coming, it feels like every other chapter reveals another piece of the puzzle.

Each chapter takes you one step closer to the answer, while also feeling like it’s taking you one step farther away.  There is absolutely nothing about this book that you will see coming.  I wasn’t even able to guess.  The whole book was just one big, wtf is going on here? kind of moment.

I read this all in one night. I could literally not put it down.  The only thing keeping this from being a full five star read- is that the full picture does feel pretty far fetched.. but it’s so much fun it hardly matters.  If you like dark thrillers- definitely check out Sometimes I Lie!  I’ll be on the lookout for other work from this author in the future.

Sometimes I Lie can be found on GoodReads and Amazon.