Showing posts with label psychological thriller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label psychological thriller. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

September Reads: Generation Chef, and new Herman Koch

In between all the craziness going on around my house this month, I've actually still managed to READ!  Here's the latest and greatest from 'round these parts lately:

Generation Chef by Karen Stabiner
Avery Books, 2016
copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Hey, remember how I love foodie nonfiction?  Yeah, you probably forgot, because it's been so long since I reviewed any!  But when Generation Chef was offered up to me for review, I absolutely could not resist.  Journalist Karen Stabiner shadowed up-and-coming New York City chef Jonah Miller as he embarked upon his life's dream: opening a restaurant of his own.  As Miller opened the door to his restaurant (Huertas), Stabiner bore witness to everything: the bureaucratic frustrations of real estate, investors, and liquor licenses; the continual management of both kitchen and service employees; the painstaking balance between making a menu that's true to the chef, and one that gets people in the door.  I was fully impressed by the depth of detail that she was able to include--this is one of those nonfiction books that almost reads like fiction, because so much emotion is embedded in the text.
The book stands out for another reason: Stabiner takes the story beyond Miller's journey with Huertas, and weaves in the journeys of other, more seasoned chefs, and how they did (or did not) find success.  All of these side stories compliment the central narrative perfectly, without taking away from the flow of the book.
Generation Chef will amaze you (with Miller's persistence and drive), amuse you (there's a fair amount of restaurant-style humor included), and make you incredibly hungry.  Seriously, if I didn't live 7 hours from NYC, I'd be at Huertas right now ordering nonstop pintxos.  Foodies and nonfiction fans alike will love this read!

Dear Mr. M by Herman Koch
Hogarth, 2016
copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

I am doing a bang-up terrible job of turning down ARCs lately, especially those from authors that I've enjoyed in the past.  I know Herman Koch's The Dinner was not for everyone, but I was a huge fan, and Summer House With Swimming Pool worked equally well for me.  I couldn't wait to see what Koch had in store with this latest release, Dear Mr. M, which deals with the disappearance of a high school teacher after he has an affair with one of his students.
Since this is a mini review, the short version is that I did not enjoy this one as much as Koch's other two novels.  It started off in typical Koch fashion: narrator is a creepy, possibly psychotic?, stalker-type, and the constant flashbacks make the storyline continuously more mysterious.  However, about halfway through the book, the narration switches to the girl who had the affair with her teacher, and Koch lost me.  Her story was too drawn out and lacked the suspense of the earlier section.  By the time we switched to other, more engaging narrators, it was hard for me to jump back on board and enjoy the (admittedly twisty) conclusion.  This one definitely had a whiff of the Herman Koch I remember from his first two books, but didn't pack the same punch.

What are you reading this month?

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Twinning (and Giveaway)! Beside Myself by Ann Morgan


Title: Beside Myself
Author: Ann Morgan
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: January 12, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Beside Myself is a literary thriller about identical twins, Ellie and Helen, who swap places aged six. At first it is just a game, but then Ellie refuses to swap back. Forced into her new identity, Helen develops a host of behavioural 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? Exploring questions of identity, selfhood, and how other people's expectations affect human behaviour, this novel is as gripping as it is psychologically complex.


My Review:

If you like thrillers, family dramas, and complex psychological mysteries...I have a book for you to read, my friends!

I asked to review Beside Myself because the description intrigued me--haven't we all heard stories about identical twins who try to pull one over on their parents/teachers/friends by swapping identities for a day or two?  I was interested in how Morgan would be able to pull off such a swap for an entire lifetime.  How could you convince the twins' entire family (and me, the reader) that they are able to swap places for that long without anyone knowing?

Not only did Morgan make this entirely believable, but she did so to the point where it was disturbing.  I was devastated and angry for Helen as her sister Ellie slowly usurped every bit of her life: friends, social standing, intelligence, and bright future included.  However, the novel slowly opens up into a much more complicated story that goes beyond Helen's loss of self.  I was worried that this book would eventually become too narrowly focused, but Morgan introduces a whole host of mysterious elements that kept me engaged to the very end.

This book becomes much more than a tale of two estranged sisters.  In the end, you're left grappling with questions about mental illness, identity (how much is genetics, or personality, or environment-based?), and loyalty.

Great twists, beautiful writing, unexpected questions to ponder...this one is a good bet, reader friends!

As always, much thanks to Lisa and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  You can also connect with Ann Morgan via Twitter or her website.

GIVEAWAY TIME!!  TLC Book Tours is giving away one copy of Beside Myself to one of my lucky readers.  US/Canada entrants only.  Giveaway ends 1/21/16.  Enter with the Rafflecopter below!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 30, 2015

October Minis: Dracula, Meg Wolitzer, & more!

Hellooooo, readers!  And HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVE!  I will be celebrating this weekend by trick-or-treating with a small monkey and a Ninja Turtle.  Let's honor the holiday with my first round of mini book reviews for the month of October.  Three books to discuss with you today...

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
Harper, 2011
personal purchase

Here we have a psychological thriller with a unique premise: Christine has suffered a brain injury that erases her memory almost completely every evening when she goes to sleep.  So each morning, she wakes up unaware of where she is, or who is sleeping next to her (poor, forgotten husband).  She has to re-learn her entire life.  Unfortunately, this also means that Christine is easy to manipulate--who can she really trust if she never remembers anyone from day to day?  She finds a journal that she's begun keeping with the help of her doctor, and realizes that her life may be very different than what is being presented to her.

While the suspense and twists in this book are intense (as expected), for me, they were slowed down quite a bit by Christine's journaling style (which is how much of the book is narrated).  For someone who has to furtively write in her journal each night before her husband catches her doing it, she writes in such flowy, painstaking detail.  This felt disingenuous and made it hard for me to find her believable as a character.  However, the story itself is delightfully convoluted and will get your heart rate up (even though I did figure out the "bad guy" a good bit before he/she was actually revealed).

Dracula by Bram Stoker
Grosset & Dunlap, 1897
personal purchase

The most famous vampire story!  I'd been saving this book as a spooky October read for years, and finally got around to it.  It was well-worth the wait, as this was a perfect novel for this time of year.  If you're unfamiliar, Dracula is the tale of how Jonathan & Mina Harker discover, and attempt to take down, the wily vampire Count Dracula, along with their mentor, Van Helsing, and a few brave friends.  There's garlic and wooden stakes and bats and a castle in Transylvania!  How can you go wrong?!?!  The story is told through letters, diary entries, telegrams, and journals written by the main characters.  I loved this format, as it gave the narrative a more modern, fast-paced feel than its publication date would have you expect.  I was a little annoyed by how Mina Harker is treated as a female character (Stoker alternately builds her up as a smart, independent woman, then breaks her down as the male characters keep her out of the loop in order to protect her delicate lady-brain), but otherwise this book was fantastic.  Do yourself a favor and put this one on your Halloween reading list!
(Has anyone seen the film adaptation of this from the early 90s?  From what I can see, it looks like Coppola kind of massacred the plot.  Also, Keanu Reeves?  Srsly?)

The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
Scribner, 2003
personal purchase

This story is told by Joan Castleman, in her mid-60s and wife of the (fictional) famous novelist, Joe Castleman.  It's immediately clear that Joan is a tad bitter about her life these days.  As she flies to Finland with Joe to a ceremony in his honor, she flashes us back to their early days of courtship and marriage.  By the end of this quick 200-ish page read, you have a REALLY good understanding of why Joan is disgruntled.

This was my first Meg Wolitzer novel, and I was beyond pleased.  The writing is fantastic: snappy, beautiful, intelligent, and humorous, all at once.  While the title left me thinking that the purpose of the novel was a character study of Joan-as-wife, I soon realized that Wolitzer was also making some interesting statements about the "wife" role in general: what it symbolizes, its value within a family, and how much some women give of themselves when they take on the title.  There was even a surprising twist at the end.  I'm impressed with everything that Wolitzer was able to pack into such a short book, and I can't wait to read more of her work.

What was your best read of October?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll


Title: Luckiest Girl Alive
Author: Jessica Knoll
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: May 12, 2015
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancĂ©, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that's bigger than it first appears. 

The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?


My Review:

I remember hearing about Luckiest Girl Alive back around the time when I was reading Hausfrau, and The Girl on the Train was still fresh, and everyone was all WE NEED TO FIND THE NEXT GONE GIRL.  (A book that I love, but can we agree that we need to stop looking for the next one?)  That said, I am a sucker and will read anything compared even tangentially to Gillian Flynn's magnum opus--even this book, which honestly seems to get more lukewarm reviews than solidly good ones.

I am happy I fell for the bait here though, because my review is decidedly not lukewarm.  I adored this novel from cover to cover.

My first draw was to the protagonist, Ani, who in the beginning gives off a real bitchy, biting vibe.  I liked her despite this harsh edge.  Ani is judgmental, vain, and sneaky.  However, she's also quite the faker, as she keeps many of her unflattering opinions to herself, manipulating those around her to see only the parts of her that she allows them to see.  This was my first clue to the fact that Ani is not what she initially seems.  Her character transforms immensely over the course of the book.  She exposes weaknesses that I never imagined when I met her tough exterior on page 1.  The Ani of the final page is nearly unrecognizable from the one you meet early on, but given the events that are revealed throughout the novel, I found that to be a perfectly believable shift.

I like plot twists, and I got a lifetime supply here.  Ani's background at Bradley is slowly revealed, and when the BIG problem of her past was finally thrown open, I never saw it coming.  But there were plenty of smaller issues to keep me riveted along the way as well.  This, in combination with the emotional upheaval that Ani is experiencing, literally left my heart racing at many points in the book.  I love it when I have to put down a book for a little while because I am just TOO WORKED UP to continue.

Bonus of this book: amazing flashbacks to high school days, circa early-2000s.  Abercrombie & Fitch cargo pants and Steve Madden clogs for the win.

In the end, I think Luckiest Girl Alive, despite its difficult and violent themes, is actually a bit of a lighter read than many of its contemporaries.  Much of this is due to Ani's character, who brings in more humor than a Rachel in Girl on the Train, or an Amy in Gone Girl.  So it's really the tone that's lighter, not so much the subject matter.

Either way, I recommend this book up and down.  Yay for Ani, yay for books about off-kilter, misunderstood bitches, and yay for Luckiest Girl Alive.

What's the last book you read that you had a different reaction to than many other readers?  (Either you loved it and they disliked it, or vice versa?)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon


Title: Finding Jake
Author: Bryan Reardon
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

While his successful wife goes off to her law office each day, Simon Connolly takes care of their kids, Jake and Laney. Now that they are in high school, the angst-ridden father should feel more relaxed, but he doesn't. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines. And now, his darkest fear is coming true. There has been a shooting at school. 

Simon races to the rendezvous point, where he’s forced to wait. Do they know who did it? How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are led out of the room to reunite with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone.

As his worst nightmare unfolds, and Jake is the only child missing, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn’t really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought?


My Review:

It was hard for me to go into this novel and not compare it, at least in the beginning, to We Need To Talk About Kevin.  There are some basic similarities: a fiction novel about a school shooting, told from the perspective of a parent of the shooter.  However, Finding Jake quickly dovetailed into its own unique tale, as there were important differences that became apparent early on.  Most importantly, Jake is only a suspected shooter in the killing that takes place, and you spend much of the novel trying to figure out if he was actually involved or not.  Related to that, Jake is not nearly so damaged (demonic?) as Kevin in Lionel Shriver's novel.  These details, paired with the fact that the narrator is Jake's father Simon (a self-critical stay-at-home dad), give you a novel that tells a story unlike any other.

With an event so catastrophic as a school shooting at its core, it's easy to expect that Jake will be the center of this novel's universe.  However, I found that Simon's story was truly the driving force for most of it.  When he realizes that Jake could be a killer, Simon delves into the last 17 years of his parenting to figure out where he could have gone wrong.  Did he socialize Jake enough?  Did he let him hang out with the wrong friends?  As the parent who was primarily responsible for child-rearing for so many years, it's easy to see how Simon would want to overanalyze even the most minute decisions he made as a father through the years.  Did he do the right things for his son?  Does he even truly know him?

I found Simon's perspective to be engaging and relatable--yes, likely because I, too, am an overly-critical-of-myself stay-at-home parent, but even if I wasn't, Reardon writes this character with a clarity that brings Simon's reality to life for any reader.  Simon's job has been his kids for nearly two decades, and now he finds that one of them may have committed a horrible atrocity.  How can he not second guess his entire life as a father?  His journey is heartbreaking, but also intriguing, as his position as a stay-at-home dad (vs. the more common stay-at-home mom) adds a distinctive twist to the narrative.

I do have to note that, as well-developed as Simon's character is, I felt that his wife (Rachel) was given short shrift.  Even though Simon is central to the novel, Rachel's actions are important enough to the story that I should have been able to get a better read on her.  However, I often felt there was a disconnect between her personality and her actions, and was sometimes left scratching my head at why she made certain decisions (at one point, she basically abandons Simon during a fairly critical moment in the book, which based on the knowledge I had of her previously, seemed unfitting).  This is not a huge detractor from the novel, but worth mentioning, as I felt it was quite a contrast from Simon's character.

That detail aside, this book was well worth the read, and I was hooked from page one.  While comparisons to novels like We Need to Talk About Kevin might make you start reading Finding Jake, by the time you finish it, those comparisons will be a distant memory.  This novel has a powerful, emotional story to tell, and a unique perspective from which to tell it.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.  And connect with Bryan Reardon on Facebook.


 
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