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July 2017 Reads – #fantasy, #thriller

December 27, 2017 Leave a comment
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July saw me seeking out a bunch of thrillers – 3 in fact, plus 2 dark fantasies.

I started the month with the much talked about Irish lit The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle. This book is somewhere between fantasy and mystery with an unreliable narrator leaving the reader uncertain if the fantastical things are really happening or just in the main character’s head. I was quite disappointed by this book in multiple areas. First, I felt queer-baited by this book as it was buzzed about having great queer content but in actual fact all of the queer characters are secondary characters with little “screentime.” It also has pacing issues. It starts really slowly and most of the action happens in the last 25% of the book. I also didn’t feel the fantasy elements added to the book at all; they just made it more confusing.
(2 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

Next I read another much talked-about book The Girl on the Train a thriller by Paula Hawkins. If you haven’t heard much about this one, it’s about a woman who commutes on a train and watches a couple in their backyard when she goes by every day but then she sees something shocking and finds herself getting involved in their lives. I loved this book and felt it totally lived up to the hype. For me there was something just delightful about listening to this woman’s train commuter life and problems while also commuting on a train. Similarly, I really enjoyed how Rachel’s alcoholism isn’t the point of the story but the problems it causes (or issues it makes worse) are also acknowledged. This is a book I would read again even knowing the ending. (Indeed, I did watch the movie, although I must say moving the setting from London to NYC removes a lot of interesting plot points).
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: Audible)

Next I decided to finally get around to reading a Richelle Mead series I hadn’t started. I love her Succubus series so I thought this would be a great bet. I picked up Gameboard of the Gods, the start of another of her fantasy series, but unfortunately this one didn’t do it for me. The plot is almost too complicated to explain quickly. Suffice to say, there’s a future world with competing large governments, one of which has outlawed many religions. An exile is brought back in to investigate supernatural claims. My issues with this book mostly boil down to it being way too much set-up and not enough plot. It feels like the set-up to an epic series but it’s setting up a society I didn’t enjoy about learning about or visiting, which is problematic. I learned after reading this that the series is held up as it was dropped by the publishers due to low sales so I’m also not sure it’s worth investing the effort into reading this much set-up only to never get resolution.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

Up next was another thriller What Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross. This covers one of my favorite thriller plots – the abduction of a child. In this case, it’s the snatching of a baby from a distracted mother in a supercenter (that is clearly meant to be Ikea). What happens when the child grows up and figures out that her mother is not her mother? I absolutely loved this book right up until the ending. The ending was awful. I had to go back the next day and re-read it to ensure I hadn’t misread it. Let’s just say, the ending felt very out of touch with reality to me.
(3 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

I wrapped up the month with one final thriller, Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson. I read Swanson’s first book and really liked it – he sets most of his thrillers in the Boston area and New England and since I live here, I find it even more thrilling to see the areas I know rendered so well and having such thrilling things occurring in them. This thriller revolves around another of my favorite plot devices – the house swap. Kate swaps houses with her distant cousin in Boston and while she enjoys his posh Beacon Hill residence she soon starts to suspect not everything is as it seems. Kate suffers from PTSD and high anxiety and I loved seeing her as a heroine sometimes in spite of and sometimes because of these things (her anxiety makes her more attuned to certain things in the house). While I did know whodunit early on, there were enough plot twists that I wasn’t expecting to keep me entertained.
(4 out of 5 stars, buy it)
(source: library)

My total for the month of July 2017:

  • 5 books
    • 5 fiction; 0 nonfiction
    • 4 female authors; 1 male author
    • 3 ebooks; 0 print books; 2 audiobooks
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Book Review: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

November 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Grownup by Gillian FlynnSummary:
A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.

Review:
I’m not a huge short story person but I generally really enjoy Flynn’s writing so I decided to pick this up anyway. Flynn surprised me by excelling at the short story. I think part of why I struggle with wanting to read short fiction is because so much of it is done poorly. This isn’t. It’s the perfect tale for the length, tightly told, with surprisingly real characters drawn in such a short amount of time.

The first paragraph struck me like a female Palahniuk (that’s a complement) and drew me in immediately. Every time I thought the story was taking a turn for the cliche, Flynn surprised me by twisting it away in another direction. It’s not easy to take a style you usually write in full novel length and transform it into short fiction, but she does it well. I would gladly read more Flynn short fiction, although I admit to selfishly hoping for more full-length novels so I get to spend more time in the story she creates next.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

October 23, 2016 Leave a comment

Book Review: The Kind Worth Killing by Peter SwansonSummary:
On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

Review:
You know from that description that this is going to be a thriller. I was fairly certain it would be in the vein of Gone Girl, and it certainly was.

This book takes you on a delightful rollercoaster of emotions. It’s hard to determine precisely who to root for because they’re all just so darn despicable. In a way, you’re kind of glad that they’re taking things into their own hands amongst themselves because then society won’t be burdened by dealing with it ourselves. On the other hand, there’s certainly an aspect of “look how off the rails things get when we let just any individual decide who deserves what.” That said it’s never heavy-handed. It has more of a delightful sneaky glance into disastrous lives ala a murdery Lifetime movie.

The plot is kept moving forward and twisty and full of surprises partially through alternate viewpoints (more than two). This is a technique I really enjoy when done well, and it was done quite well here. The transitions felt smooth and natural. Never cheap.

I also must say as a New England local that the author got both the logistics and the vibe of multiple New England locations right, everywhere from the ritziest Boston neighborhoods to central Massachusetts towns to rural Maine. If you want a true sense of the area and can handle some murder, definitely pick this up.

I’m not sure how I feel about how the book ended, which is what kept me from loving it. I knew where it was going by about two-thirds of the way through, and I just don’t think it was as smooth as the rest of the book. That said, I do think it ended at the right point in time (with the particular plot it was telling). It left me perfectly satisfied, unlike quite a few thrillers lately.

If you’re still looking for a quick Halloween read, pick this one up. It’ll keep you up and on the edge of your seat waiting to see who comes out on top.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

October 9, 2016 4 comments

Book Review: The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate HamerSummary:
Carmel Wakeford becomes separated from her mother at a local children’s festival, and is found by a man who claims to be her estranged grandfather. He tells her that her mother has had an accident and that she is to live with him for now. As days become weeks with her new family, 8-year-old Carmel realises that this man believes she has a special gift…

While her mother desperately tries to find her, Carmel embarks on an extraordinary journey, one that will make her question who she is – and who she might become.

Review:
I picked this book up after seeing the title for kind of a ridiculous reason. I’m a big fan of the tv show Pretty Little Liars, and at the time I was in the season where the Big Bad is known as “Red Coat.” I was so stoked to see another mystery surrounding a woman/girl in a red coat that I just had to investigate it. Of course I discovered that it was also a missing/abducted child mystery/thriller (one of my favorite mystery/thriller subgenres), so it quickly ran up my tbr list.

This book tells the missing/abducted child story from both the grieving parent’s and the child’s point of view simultaneously. This is interesting because we can see how they are both changing as time passes, and the mystery becomes not “what is happening to so-and-so” but more “will these two ever find each other again and will they be able to salvage their relationship if they do?”

The mother’s storyline deals with parenting, guilt, and complicated grief. It acknowledges her faults without demonizing her for them. I truly found reading about her struggle to accept and move on without losing hope to be heart-wrenching.

The daughter’s storyline deals with a small girl feeling angry at her mother, grief at her supposed injury and death, and then dealing with having everyone around her believe she has the power to heal through laying on hands. Laying on hands in Evangelical Protestantism is the belief that God can work miracles through you if you lay your hands on a sick person and pray for them. What’s interesting here is that the book takes the position that Carmel does have some sort of mystical healing power, it’s just that it’s not directly related to Jesus and shouldn’t be used to get money from people, the way the man who abducted Carmel uses her to get money out of people. It’s an interesting position to take — that some people can just heal others. I’d say this might be the first magical realism book that worked for me. Because I was really ok with Carmel having this ability just randomly in our world. I also thought that the book manages to not demonize religion. It’s not that religion is bad per se it’s that bad people can twist it to harm others (ain’t that the truth though).

What I found most interesting was the underlying question throughout the book. Carmel and her mother were just not getting along before she was abducted. They didn’t get each other. Is that something they would have been able to get past? Is it something they could get past now if they find each other again?

I think the book answers the most straight-forward questions but it stopped too soon to answer my questions about particular relationships. I think the book either needs a sequel or needed to continue along longer. The point isn’t will this child return physically but rather is this a relationship that could ever be healed.

Recommended to those looking for a child abduction story told from both the parent and the child’s point of view.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Try Not to Breathe by Holly Sedon

Book Review: Try Not to Breathe by Holly SeddonSummary:
Amy Stevenson was the biggest news story of 1995. Only fifteen years old, Amy disappeared walking home from school one day and was found in a coma three days later. Her attacker was never identified and her angelic face was plastered across every paper and nightly news segment.

Fifteen years later, Amy lies in the hospital, surrounded by 90’s Britpop posters, forgotten by the world until reporter Alex Dale stumbles across her while researching a routine story on vegetative patients.

Remembering Amy’s story like it was yesterday, she feels compelled to solve the long-cold case.

The only problem is, Alex is just as lost as Amy—her alcoholism has cost her everything including her marriage and her professional reputation.

In the hopes that finding Amy’s attacker will be her own salvation as well, Alex embarks on a dangerous investigation, suspecting someone close to Amy

Review:
I devoured this book so quickly that I forgot to mark it read in GoodReads for a few weeks. It’s a thrilling read on a lot of levels. Amy’s questionably vegetative state would give anyone chills, as would how she wound up there. Even before full details of the attack are known, everyone knows it was pretty gruesome. Alex’s “functional” alcoholism also sends chills down the spine. She’s lost almost everything,  but she still drinks enormous amounts of alcohol every day. The juxtaposition of the two women is what makes the psychological thriller so thrilling. They’re both being held paralyzed in a state by an illness and any one of us could fall to either of those states.

I know the average reader is probably most interested in the mystery aspect of the thriller–the whodunit. I will say in short that it’s a well-done mystery. I had my suspicions but exactly how things ultimately went down was still enough of a surprise that I was delighted, and I thought the resolution was well-done. What I was much more fascinated by though was Alex.

A “trouble-making journalist” or a detective who drinks too much is the norm of thrillers and noir but usually that is played up as something slightly dangerous but also sexy. Here there is nothing sexy about Alex’s alcoholism. She wets the bed every night. It at first seems this is because she drinks at least one glass of water per glass of alcohol to stave off hangovers but later it’s clear it’s from her body shutting down from her alcoholism. Alex is a great example of a “functional” alcoholic. She’s holding down a job (sort of, her alcoholism stole her dream career from her), she runs every day, she’s capable of looking into this mystery of Amy. But slowly other things are revealed that makes it ever clearer that no, she’s not homeless, but she is far from functional, unless by functional you simply mean she can sort of exist in human society. She is nowhere near what she could be because of the alcohol, and she’s lost almost everything (career, husband, and more). I really liked that the reader is both compelled to respect Alex’s smarts and tenacity as a reporter but also to feel empathy and horror at how much alcoholism is stealing from her. Even if the reader doesn’t have an interest in addictions, it still makes Alex a well-rounded character. She is more than just that smart journalist. There are whole worlds going on in her own life outside of her investigation.

Overall, if you’re looking for a thriller with a twisting plot that also turns some thriller/noir conventions on their head (not least of which the fact that both leads are women), then you should pick this book up.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

Buy It

Counts For:
Mental Illness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge
Specific illness –> Addictive Disorders

Trigger Warning/Content Note:
Contains discussions of rape and sexual assault.

Book Review: Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

August 24, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: Beside Myself by Ann MorganSummary:
When Helen agrees to swap places with her identical twin sister Ellie at the age of six, she thinks it’ll be a short fun game. But then Ellie refuses to swap back.  Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioral problems, delinquency and chronic instability. With their lives diverging sharply, one twin headed for stardom and the other locked in a spiral of addiction and mental illness, how will the deception ever be uncovered?

Review:
This book is an amazing depiction of gaslighting. Gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse where the abuser insists to the abused that reality is not in fact reality, and the abused is crazy. (For more about gaslighting, see this great information from the National Domestic Violence Hotline). This book makes gaslighting completely real and understandable for anyone, whether they’ve gone through it themselves or not. It’s easy to see immediately how poor Helen gets slowly tortured and driven mad by everyone denying to her that she is who she says she is. The author takes care not to demonize Ellie though, since it’s abundantly clear part of why Ellie doesn’t want to switch back is because their mother has pre-decided which twin will be the good twin and which the bad, and she consequently treats Helen far better than she treats Ellie. Why wouldn’t she not want to switch back?

How this childhood trauma has wounded Helen becomes more clear over the course of the book. But it’s not just a plain recounting of they switched places then Helen went crazy. The book opens with Helen trying to rebuild her life from addiction and Ellie being in a coma from a car accident. Ellie’s husband reaches out to Helen in the hopes that hearing from her twin will bring her out of it, and slowly long-held secrets reveal themselves.

I thought the whole way through the book that it was slowly building to a certain ending. Then something else came at me out of left field and I was left breathless and aching for Helen. That’s not to say it’s a tragic ending, but it is a shocking one. One that left me with a very different “bad guy” than I thought I had the whole book.

It’s a stellar read, and one of those books that I wish I was able to read for the first time again. It’s that good. Recommended to lovers of psychological thrillers and/or twin swap afficionados.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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A Trio of Disappointing Reads Reviewed in Haiku

August 15, 2016 3 comments

A Trio of Disappointing Reads Reviewed in Haiku

The Maze Runner
By James Dashner

Summary:
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

Haiku Review:

Surprisingly dull
Who made the maze and monsters?
Oh, that. Is that it?

3 out of 5 stars
Source: PaperBackSwap
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house

House of Leaves
By: 
Mark Z. Danielewski

Summary:
A young family moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

Haiku Review:

Someone impressed his
Lit prof but not me with his
Wasteful pretention.

2 out of 5 stars
Source: PaperBackSwap
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A Trio of Disappointing Reads Reviewed in Haiku

The Quality of Silence
By: 
Rosamund Lupton

Summary:
On 24th November Yasmin and her deaf daughter Ruby arrived in Alaska. Within hours they were driving alone across a frozen wilderness. They are looking for Ruby’s father. Travelling deeper into a silent land. They still cannot find him. And someone is watching them in the dark.

Haiku Review:

Don’t you fucking dare
Keep me up at night worried
Then grant no closure.

2 out of 5 stars
Source: Library
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