Showing posts with label suspense. Show all posts
Showing posts with label suspense. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell (Giveaway!)


Title: The Girls in the Garden
Author: Lisa Jewell
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: June 7, 2016  (originally published in 2015 as The Girls)
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Imagine that you live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses. You’ve known your neighbors for years and you trust them. Implicitly. You think your children are safe. But are they really? 

On a midsummer night, as a festive neighborhood party is taking place, preteen Pip discovers her thirteen-year-old sister Grace lying unconscious and bloody in a hidden corner of a lush rose garden. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery, and the games both children and adults play all swirl together in this gripping novel, packed with utterly believable characters and page-turning suspense.


My Review:

If you want a thriller that you can gobble up quickly, I can't recommend The Girls in the Garden enough.  This is a fairly short read, but it moves along quickly and throws so many red herrings at you along the way that you definitely won't feel like you're being shortchanged!

Normally I find that mystery novels with too many suspicious characters begin to feel implausible after a while (could ALL of these people be THIS shady?  Really?!).  However, Jewell finds a way to cast doubt upon nearly every person in the book, while still keeping your interest (and your faith in the story).  You may decide early on that you know who the culprit is, but even if you're correct, you won't be disappointed because you'll have taken so many interesting segues along the way.

I also think that Jewell has really nailed the angst and confusion of 13-year-old-girl life here.  Several of the main characters are in that age range, and much of the story hinges upon the quest for maturity and self-understanding that comes along with that stage of development.  Having been a 13 year old girl once (albeit many moons ago...), many of the struggles the characters faced rang true for me, which made for an even more engaging reading experience.

The Girls in the Garden isn't going to overwhelm you with extraneous detail and long-winded diatribes.  Compared to many other thrillers, it's rather concise and to the point.  But the writing is solid, the characters are fleshed out just enough to keep your attention, and the mystery at the heart of the novel will certainly make you want to devour it as fast as possible.

As always, much thanks to Lisa at 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 Lisa Jewell on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.


GIVEAWAY TIME!  TLC Book Tours is running a giveaway for 5 copies of this book, open for entry until October 3, 2016.  Enter using the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, June 13, 2016

He Will Be My Ruin by K.A. Tucker


Title: He Will Be My Ruin
Author: K.A. Tucker
Publisher: Atria
Publication Date: February 2, 2016
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Twenty-eight-year-old Maggie Sparkes arrives in New York City to pack up what’s left of her best friend’s belongings after a suicide that has left everyone stunned. The police have deemed the evidence conclusive: Celine got into bed, downed a bottle of Xanax and a handle of Maker’s Mark, and never woke up. But when Maggie discovers secrets in the childhood lock box hidden in Celine’s apartment, she begins asking questions. Questions about the man Celine fell in love with. The man she never told anyone about, not even Maggie. The man who Celine herself claimed would be her ruin.

On the hunt for answers that will force the police to reopen the case, Maggie uncovers more than she bargained for about Celine’s private life—and inadvertently puts herself on the radar of a killer who will stop at nothing to keep his crimes undiscovered.


My Review:

I haven't jumped into the mystery genre in a while, but I was happy to give this one a shot after reading that description.  I'm new to K.A. Tucker's work, but recognized her name, and this was a great first novel of hers to jump into.  He Will Be My Ruin combines a sassy protagonist, several shady suspects, and of course, a few good red herrings along the way.  I was pleasantly surprised by the end result.

At first, I thought for sure that I had this mystery all figured out from the get-go.  I had it narrowed down to two possible suspects, and couldn't see how Tucker would manage to have it NOT be so predictably one of them.  However, even though I kept going back to my two main targets, by the end of the book I had suspected EVERYBODY (except maybe Maggie) at least once.  Tucker builds just enough oddity into each character that it's easy to concoct a motive for nearly any of them.  Plus, she creates unexpected side plots that flesh out the mystery more and more as the novel goes on.  I won't give away the ending, but I'll say that it was a spectacular finish that left me happy to have gone on the journey to get there.

This review is about as straightforward as it gets: if you love a good whodunit, with lots of quirky characters and a little bit of romantic spice thrown in, then He Will Be My Ruin is a good bet.

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. And connect with K.A. Tucker via her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

December Minis: A Library, A Bazaar, and Earthquakes

Yup, it's that time again.  More mini-reviews!  I am enjoying this format for the time being, and I hope you all are too.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
Crown, 2015
borrowed from the library

While this book doesn't seem to be super widely-known, several bloggers that I love and respect were singing its praises, so I had to check it out.  That said, I was a little nervous, because many reviews mentioned "magical realism" and "fantasy", two genres with which I haven't had much luck.  But, I gave it a go.

Quick synopsis: Carolyn and a dozen other children were "adopted" long ago by the mysterious Father.  Each child was taught one category of Father's knowledge over the years.  Now, it's 20 years later, and Father has disappeared.  Carolyn & co now have to fight to see who has the power (and the knowledge) to take Father's place.

You guys, THIS BOOK IS AMAZING.  Yup, it's full of fantasy and magical realism and things you would never believe in real life, but Hawkins wrote it so well that it DOES NOT MATTER.  It is horrifying and hilarious and mysterious at the same time.  The story unravels in such a way that there is always another piece of information you need, that you can't put down the book for, and as such you will indeed never put down the freaking book.  Full disclosure: I did not love the ending (it was less explosive than the rest of the novel, and as such felt unfitting), but I still recommend it.  Highly.  (As long as you can take some gore.  A lot of gore, actually.)

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King
Scribner, 2015
borrowed from the library

It's been a while since I ran out and read the latest King release, but I knew that a new collection of his short stories was a good excuse to do it.  My love of SK began with his short stories.  Where his novels, while often excellent, can enter the territory of being overly verbose, his short stories are more concise, hitting readers hard and fast right between the eyes.

This collection is no exception.  While not every story worked for me ("The Bone Church" was one--more of a poem, and an odd one at that), I was wow'ed by the majority of them.  I know many people hear Stephen King and immediately think horror, but that is not the overarching theme here.  (Though some are certainly horrific..."Mile 81" comes to mind immediately. Avoid if you're queasy, or if you dislike children in distress.)  Instead, I'd say there is a general sense of unease in each of these stories.  Questions of morality, of good conscience, of what it means to be just.  You are left feeling disturbed, rather than scared.  And if the stories aren't enough, the book is made even more amazing by the notes King has left before the start of each one, giving you the background on what inspired it and how he wrote it.  Is there anything better than a Stephen King introduction?  And now you get 21 of them.  Winner winner, chicken dinner.  A great read for die-hard King fans and newbie SK followers alike.

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
Random House, 2013
borrowed from the library
The latest pick for my MOMS Club book club.  Discussion is this Sunday, and I think it's fair to say there'll be a lot to discuss!  Basic premise: Kate and Vi are twins who were born with psychic abilities.  As they get older, Kate distances herself from these "senses", while Vi embraces and hones them over time.  Now in their 30's and living in St. Louis, Vi predicts very publicly that a disastrous earthquake will soon hit the city, throwing Vi, and Kate, into the spotlight.  Kate is forced to reconsider her own abilities, as well as her roles as sister, daughter, wife, and mother.

I am a Sittenfeld fan (Prep and American Wife are truly excellent reads, if you haven't gotten to them already).  That said, the novel started out very slowly for me, and I felt like the narrative was wordy and jumpy for no discernible reason.  Plus, I found Kate to be positively grating.  She's weak, whiny, impulsive, dispassionate, and seems to be just going through the motions in what boils down to a very comfortable life.  (It could also be that I hate the picture she portrays of stay-at-home moms.  She makes us look ridiculous.)

However, Kate finally does something so outrageously stupid that it makes the last quarter of the novel completely un-put-down-able.  I ATE IT UP.  So I'm not sure if I should love this book because I was so entirely enraptured by it for the second half, or if I should dislike it because the protagonist is godawful and it's her ridiculous godawful mistakes that make the second half of the book worth reading.  I don't know.  I guess I need to discuss that at book club.  :)

What did you read so far this month?

Friday, November 20, 2015

November Minis: Lisbeth Salander & Nonfiction!

Hi, friends!  I know that November is not over, but I don't really want to include more than 3 mini-reviews in one post, so here's a little recap of what I've read so far this month.

The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
Knopf, 2015
borrowed from the library

You've heard of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson, yes?  One of my FAVORITE series in the history of all series.  When I got to the end of the 3rd book and realized that Larsson had died before he could continue Salander and Blomkvists's stories, I was devastated.  However, David Lagercrantz got permission from Larsson's family to continue the series on his own, and now we have this 4th installment of Larsson's brainchild.

Here's the deal: if you're a devout Salander/Blomkvist fan, you have to go into this book knowing that Lagercrantz can't resurrect the dead.  He can't write in EXACTLY the same tone and style that Larsson did.  But you know what?  He does a damn good job trying.  I found myself being very critical and picky at the beginning (how could I not?).  Some of the new characters introduced were basically walking stereotypes, the overall tone didn't feel dark enough, etc.  But suddenly I was 300 pages in and realized I was completely sucked into the story, differences be damned.  Lagercrantz has still managed to create an excellent mystery full of espionage and seedy doings, and the spirit of the originals is certainly there.  I will say that the ending was a bit kitschy (full of too many sudden romantic successes, presumably for a "happy" ending?).  But otherwise, I was happy to have Lisbeth Salander back in my life, and would welcome more of her besides.

Run Like A Mother by Dimity McDowell and Sarah Bowen Shea
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2010
borrowed from the library

I run!  And I'm a mother!  So I felt like I definitely had to check this book out.  This is a nonfiction guide to running specifically for busy moms who are juggling husbands, kids, jobs, etc. with their love of getting on the road (or the trail).  The introduction and first chapter had me completely HOOKED.  I felt like McDowell and Shea were totally speaking my mother-runner language.  It was great to read stories about how other moms manage to balance running with all of the other priorities in their lives.  However, after that first chapter, I did realize that this book is primarily geared towards beginner runners--a lot of the next sections covered things like choosing the proper running attire, how to do speed/track workouts, etc...things that more seasoned runners are already quite familiar with, though I did appreciate the reminders here and there.  Towards the end, they get more into the balance of family and running life, which was more of what I was looking for.

I didn't love the repetitively cheesy humor used by the authors, but it was manageable.  I DO like that Shea and McDowell are two very different runners, and as such, provided two very different perspectives on the sport.  McDowell, like me, is more of a laid-back runner who does not always push herself to the max, whereas Shea is more driven, always going for the PR and leaving everything out on the road.  So there's something for every momma here.  Overall, this was a fun read with a great angle, but may be better for beginning mother runners, rather than veterans of the road.

On Immunity by Eula Biss
Graywolf Press, 2014
borrowed from the library

Yes, I managed to read 2 nonfictions for Nonfiction November!  Amazing!  On Immunity has been on my radar since it first came out, because if you know me, you know that I don't stand on many soapboxes, but VACCINATING YOUR DAMN KIDS is one of them.  I was mighty interested in what Biss had to say here, and I am 100% open about the fact that I went into this with a biased POV--so you've been warned.  :)

This book was actually quite a bit different than what I anticipated.  I think I was expecting a straightforward, research-driven discussion of the immunization debate.  That is certainly the basis of her essays--Biss has done her research, and (unsurprisingly!) it throws in favor of vaccinations--but as the tone of the title suggests, this book is also a good bit of musing on her part, regarding the fears she faced as a parent when her son was born, and how that translated into the immunization issue as a whole.  I'm torn on how I feel about this approach.  I am partially thankful for the humanizing touch that this gave the topic, but at the same time, I was kind of hoping for a stronger, more hard-hitting book that could really be used to shut down the anti-vaccine stance.  This book wanders too much down the road of an academic waxing philosophical for it to be seen as that.

Overall, this one will certainly get the immunization discussion going, and it is a unique angle in the debate.  And while she never comes out and definitively says it, all of Biss's research points towards the need to vaccinate, which I appreciate.  However, this is not a focused discussion of the issues, so if you're looking for that, go elsewhere.

What did you read so far this month?

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, October 9, 2015

Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne

Title: Everything She Forgot
Author: Lisa Ballantyne
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication Date: October 6, 2015
Source: copy provided by the publisher for an honest review

Summary from Goodreads

They’re calling it the worst pile-up in London history. Driving home, Margaret Holloway has her mind elsewhere—on a troubled student, her daughter’s acting class, the next day’s meeting—when she’s rear-ended and trapped in the wreckage. Just as she begins to panic, a disfigured stranger pulls her from the car just seconds before it’s engulfed in flames. Then he simply disappears.

Though she escapes with minor injuries, Margaret feels that something’s wrong. She’s having trouble concentrating. Her emotions are running wild. More than that, flashbacks to the crash are also dredging up lost associations from her childhood, fragments of events that were wiped from her memory. Whatever happened, she didn’t merely forget—she chose to forget. And somehow, Margaret knows deep down that it’s got something to do with the man who saved her life.

As Margaret uncovers a mystery with chilling implications for her family and her very identity, Everything She Forgot winds through a riveting dual narrative and asks the question: How far would you go to hide the truth—from yourself…?


My Review:

Having never read any of Lisa Ballantyne's other novels, I was not sure what to expect from her latest thriller.  I've read a lot of thrillers lately, and I was wondering how Ballantyne would make hers stick out from the rest of the pack.  I was pleasantly surprised!  Ballantyne keeps this book going at a fast pace, and her writing excises the extraneous detail and description that I find often plagues other mystery novels.  The plot never lets up, and I was hooked right up to the end.

One thing that really impresses me about this book is that it is a thriller, but it is not bogged down in a lot of violent, gruesome detail.  I've found extreme violence to be commonplace with most of the suspenseful novels I've read lately, and while I don't have a problem with that as a literary tool in general, it can get difficult to read such graphic violence over and over.  There are some vicious scenes in the book, but they are few and far between, with much more focus placed on the motives of the characters and their personal struggles.

Ballantyne uses a multiple-narrator format, which works well for the type of mystery she weaves together here.  That said, I was surprised by a few of the details she chose to reveal before the end.  There was one "big" reveal in particular that I felt was let out of the bag a bit early, and there was also one primary narrator whose story ended up feeling rather ancillary to the rest of the plot.  The multiple POVs were definitely necessary for how the book rolled out, but I do think they could have been used a bit more poignantly, especially around the conclusion.

While I do think those caveats are worth mentioning, I don't think that should push you away from the book as a whole.  Everything She Forgot grabbed my attention right from the get-go, has a cast of characters that will make you run the gamut of emotions, and does a great job balancing the labels of "captivating thriller" and "heartwrenching family drama".

William Morrow is hosting a giveaway of Everything She Forgot!  Three lucky readers will win a copy at the end of this blog tour.  Enter below!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Purchase links:

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Feeling a tad seasick...Day Four by Sarah Lotz


Title: Day Four  (sequel to The Three)
Author: Sarah Lotz
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: June 16, 2015
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Hundreds of pleasure-seekers stream aboard The Beautiful Dreamer cruise ship for five days of cut-price fun in the Caribbean sun. On the fourth day, disaster strikes: smoke roils out of the engine room, and the ship is stranded in the Gulf of Mexico. Soon supplies run low, a virus plagues the ship, and there are whispered rumors that the cabins on the lower decks are haunted by shadowy figures. Irritation escalates to panic, the crew loses control, factions form, and violent chaos erupts among the survivors. 

When, at last, the ship is spotted drifting off the coast of Key West, the world's press reports it empty. But the gloomy headlines may be covering up an even more disturbing reality.


My Review:

First, Sarah Lotz ruined air travel for all of us in The Three.  Now, Lotz is back with Day Four to sabotage what is arguably my favorite mode of travel: cruising.
In a previous life, I vacationed without children and did ridiculous dances in life vests.
Seriously??  Can't a girl just go on vacation and enjoy herself without worrying about being stranded at sea with a creepy The Grudge-esque ghost child?  APPARENTLY NOT.

First and foremost, I've read a few reviews of this book that were written by people who did not read The Three first, and many of them did enjoy it as a stand-alone.  However, as someone who has read both, I absolutely think you should read The Three first.  There are SO many good connections between these two books, and while I wouldn't say Day Four is a sequel in the traditional sense (not much character overlap, completely different setting, etc), there are a lot of small details that clicked perfectly for me in this novel, simply because I knew how they played out previously in The Three.  Plus, the ending of Day Four is good on its own, but it is mind-blowing if you put it in the context of The Three.

But let's be clear...Day Four is not The Three.  First, it is much, much creepier.  Day Four would be an excellent horror movie; I can imagine just how spine-tingling some of those visuals would be.  The Three definitely was unsettling, but it's format (told via book excerpts, interviews, chat forums, etc) does not convey quite the same tone as Day Four's third-person narrative.

That said, I did find that the story moved a bit more slowly for me in Day Four.  I think the constantly-changing narrative in The Three is part of what made me read it so fast--there was always a new perspective, and that made the novel hard to put down.  In Day Four, you do have several different POVs between chapters, but they are all essentially telling the same tale from various viewpoints, and about halfway through the book I felt like the entire story hit the brakes.  We're stuck at sea...we're still stuck at sea...things are getting kind of weird...running out of food...stillllll stuck at sea...etcetera.  I was feeling rather disappointed, honestly, between the 50-75% marks of the book (I read it on Kindle).

However--the last quarter of the novel made the wait worth it.  I positively flew through the last section (as the book description alludes--this is when the ship is finally discovered in Miami), and I love love loved the ending.  The only caveat: the ending (and the entire message behind this book) is probably only going to be enjoyed by readers who liked the ending to The Three.  As you know from my previous review, I was a huge fan of it, but I've talked to several readers who didn't love the open-ended nature of its conclusion.  If that didn't ring well with you in the first novel, then you might have a bit of trouble with Day Four, as it builds on many of the same themes.

Overall, what Day Four lacked in fast pacing, it more than made up for in its crazy, mind-bending conclusion, and it is an excellent follow-up to The Three.  Sarah Lotz has a serious talent for exploring the fluidity of "life after death", and has most definitely earned a spot on my Favorite Authors list.  If you want a book that will leave your wheels turning for a long time afterwards, this is the read for you.

Where are my fellow cruise lovers??  What's the last cruise you took (destination, cruise line, etc)?  Or, if you've never cruised (or heaven forbid, hate cruising), what's your favorite mode of travel?  Perhaps you, too, can experience the privilege of having it ruined by Sarah Lotz in her next novel!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Fantastic Thriller Alert! Disclaimer by Renee Knight


Title: Disclaimer
Author: Renee Knight
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: May 19, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

Finding a mysterious novel at her bedside plunges documentary filmmaker Catherine Ravenscroft into a living nightmare. Though ostensibly fiction, The Perfect Stranger recreates in vivid, unmistakable detail the terrible day Catherine became hostage to a dark secret, a secret that only one other person knew--and that person is dead.

Now that the past is catching up with her, Catherine’s world is falling apart. Her only hope is to confront what really happened on that awful day even if the shocking truth might destroy her.


My Review:

I've read a few good books lately, a few "okay" book as well, but Disclaimer is the first one I've come upon in a while that really knocked my socks off.  The plot moves quickly (very short chapters that easily keep your attention), your perception of each character is constantly evolving, and Knight saves up some plot twists that pack a serious emotional punch.  This novel is everything I want in a thriller.

What really makes you fly through these pages is the mystery of it all--Catherine reads this book that she finds at her bedside, but does not make you (the reader) privy to its full contents.  As a result, you are left demanding answers--what is it in this book that is making Catherine so crazy--crazy enough that she feels it could ruin her life?  These revelations are worth the wait, especially because they will completely change your opinions of the protagonists.  I love it when a novel can take my perception of a character and turn it on its head halfway through the story.  Not only is this just fun for me as a reader (I like being kept on my toes), but it's a sign of great character development, as each person in the book becomes impressively multi-faceted.

Disclaimer is a perfect example of the old adage that "every story has two sides".  In this case, many more than just two.  And what happens if you take drastic action after hearing only one, or two, of those sides?  If one of those sides is no longer able to speak for itself?  Or if you never give one side a chance to explain itself?  The truth is a shifty thing in this novel--all the more engrossing for the reader.

I can't say too much more about Disclaimer without giving out spoilers, so I'll leave it at that.  I flew through this book in 3 days.  At my slow reading rate these days, who needs more of an endorsement than that?

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want some more opinions?  Some of my favorite other book blogs are reviewing this one!  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.
Renee Knight

Monday, September 8, 2014

Book Review: The Three by Sarah Lotz


Title: The Three
Author: Sarah Lotz
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: May 20, 2014
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

The world is stunned when four commuter planes crash within hours of each other on different continents. Facing global panic, officials are under pressure to find the causes. With terrorist attacks and environmental factors ruled out, there doesn't appear to be a correlation between the crashes, except that in three of the four air disasters a child survivor is found in the wreckage.

Dubbed 'The Three' by the international press, the children all exhibit disturbing behavioural problems, presumably caused by the horror they lived through and the unrelenting press attention. This attention becomes more than just intrusive when a rapture cult led by a charismatic evangelical minister insists that the survivors are three of the four harbingers of the apocalypse. The Three are forced to go into hiding, but as the children's behaviour becomes increasingly disturbing, even their guardians begin to question their miraculous survival.


My Review:

I first heard about The Three a few weeks ago from Julie over at Book Hooked Blog.  She posted about it on Instagram, and I was like, "A book about plane crashes and conspiracy! Count me in!" (I'm so morbid.)  My interest was piqued though, so I ran off to the library for a copy.  I was NOT disappointed.  This is potentially one of my favorite reads of 2014.

The Three utilizes a lot of varied literary elements that, when put together, create a unique novel that is fast-paced, suspenseful, and thought-provoking.  Unusual format + suspense/horror + political unrest + open-ended conclusion = this book.

The first thing you'll notice is the journalistic format (similar to World War Z).  The story is told through news articles, interviews, chat room transcripts, etc.  This is responsible for the fast pace, as each "chapter" is quite short, and you've got a steady stream of new information coming at you all the time, not to mention a wide variety of different perspectives to draw from.

Genre-wise, this book melts into several different categories.  I've heard some say horror, but I didn't find the material "horrific" enough to fully justify that description.  However, it is definitely suspenseful and creepy, because disturbing children are ALWAYS creepy (a la The Uninvited by Liz Jensen).  Alongside those eerie details, you also have a conspiracy going on that brings in political, religious, and moral questions, so you have to be ready to take your sinister leanings with a side of philosophical arguing.  This is what makes the book into more of a "literary thriller" and really got my wheels turning as I was reading it.

Finally, you've got the ending.  Based on the commentary I've seen on Goodreads, this is arguably the make-or-break issue for a lot of readers of The Three.  For me, it definitely MADE the book.  Yes, it is open-ended, and every little detail is not neatly wrapped up.  However, I don't think this novel was ever meant to end that way.  It was making me think from the very beginning, so why wouldn't it keep that up at the end?  Lotz gives you just enough detail in the final pages to allow you to extrapolate your own conclusions, and leave you thinking about the what-ifs for a good long while afterwards.  Honestly, I STILL have no freaking clue what happened, but I have a lot of ideas rolling around in my head, and the time I'm taking to agonize over all of them is entertainment enough.

Simply put, The Three was a truly impressive read.  I couldn't read it fast enough, it was creepy creepy creepy, and I loved the moral questions that were posed throughout.  MORE LIKE THIS, PLEASE.

What say you, readers: do you like an open-ended conclusion to a novel?  Or does that just drive you batty?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart


Title: We Were Liars
Author: E. Lockhart
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.
 
We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart. 
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.


My Review:

I heard crazy hype about this book for the last few months.  "It's the next Gone Girl!" they said.  "You won't believe the twist!" they said.  Plus, the summary (above) is reminiscent of the book jacket for Chris Cleave's Little Bee, which basically tells you absolutely nothing about the novel, and implores you to never tell anyone else about the novel before they've read it.  (In Little Bee's case, that description is entirely justified, so of course this piqued my interest.)  I had to see for myself.  To the library!

After waiting it out at #63 on the hold list, I finally got my chance at We Were Liars.  And I do see why this book is so hype-worthy.  From page one, you just get the sense that something is...off.  I wasn't sure if it was the protagonist (Cadence), her family, the setting (a secluded private island), or all of it.  But something was wrong, and I couldn't put my finger on it.  That eerie feeling compelled me to plow through the book at top speed...and yes, the climactic twist made it worth it.  It's one of those sudden plot changes that makes you want to go back and re-read the entire novel, because OH MY GOD, how did you not figure it out sooner?

That said...after I finished my speed-reading of the novel and had time to calm down after that rush of an ending, I did pinpoint a few things that I was a bit iffy on.  I can't go into too much detail (spoiler-free zone), but despite the amazingness of the big ending, I realized later that there were an awful lot of convenient details that caused that twist to happen.  Things that were ignored by the characters (or the author) that allowed that big event to be possible.  Thus, it all felt a little too neat, given the gravity of the circumstances.  I think this, more than anything, identified the book squarely in the YA genre for me, rather than giving it the ability to overlap with adult fiction.  I'm not trying to trash YA, but in general, those books tend to wrap things up more cleanly for a younger reading audience, versus the ambiguity that is more typical in adult novels.

This convenience factor was the only significant downside for me.  A smaller caveat was the overly-dramatic style of Cadence's narrative--she was always melting into puddles or bleeding on someone (figuratively, of course) and I started to roll my eyes a bit at the unnecessarily theatrical descriptions that were fairly constant in the text.  However, these did get less glaring as the novel went on, likely because the plot action picked up to a pace that started to match her emotional upheavals.

Final verdict on this hit novel of the summer?  Yes, I think you should read We Were Liars.  It's short and fast-paced, great for a beach read.  And the twist is 100% as good as the critics say.  Stylistically, it leaves a bit to be desired, which places it below a suspense novel like Gone Girl for me.  But if you want a novel that's going to keep you on your toes, it's an awesome pick.

Have you read We Were Liars this summer, friends?  What did you think?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Book Review: Blaze by Richard Bachman


Title: Blaze
Author: Richard Bachman (aka Stephen King)
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: June 12, 2007
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

Clayton Blaisdell, Jr., was always a small-time delinquent. None too bright either, thanks to the beatings he got as a kid. Then Blaze met George Rackley, a seasoned pro with a hundred cons and one big idea. The kidnapping should go off without a hitch, with George as the brains behind their dangerous scheme. But there's only one problem: by the time the deal goes down, Blaze's partner in crime is dead. Or is he?

My Review:

For those unfamiliar with the connection between Richard Bachman and Stephen King, Bachman was the pen name that King occasionally wrote under in the 70's and 80's.  Bachman "died of pseudonym cancer" (as the book jacket explains) in 1985, when King was basically outed.  However, he continued to occasionally release books under that name, including this one, which was actually written before King made it big with Carrie but was not published until 2007.

This is my second "Bachman book" (I read The Long Walk the year before I started blogging), and I have to say that this one definitely has a different feel to it than your average King novel...I suppose that could be because it was written in his very early days, even before Carrie.  The Long Walk is extremely King-esque in nature (macabre, gory, with an all-around dreadful premise), but Blaze is distinctly...not.  It has some elements that are recognizable from his other work (namely, a LOT of suspense, and a child playing a fairly central role), but otherwise I'd say this one could have flown under the pseudonym radar pretty cleanly.

Blaze is not a terribly long novel, but even so, it took me a bit to get into it.  It opens with a slow build as you learn more about Blaze's background, his now-dead crime partner George, and the kidnapping plot that he plans to execute alone.  I was finding the whole thing a bit blah, honestly, for the first 25% or so.  However, after that point, two things happen.  One, the story starts to flash back for longer periods into Blaze's past--and you learn a lot of things about his history that are rather disturbing.  And two, the actual kidnapping gets underway, which is pretty nail-biting.

(Side note: reading about a 6-month-old baby getting kidnapped (albeit fictionally) while you are feeding your 2-month-old baby is a good way to induce a blood pressure problem.)

The ending isn't particularly earth-shattering...in fact, it winds up pretty much the way you would expect, once you get to know Blaze.  But that's where the hook of this novel lies--with the characters.  As with so many other King works, he creates an amazingly complex protagonist, and given the short-ish length of this book, it's rather impressive that he was able to do that with Blaze.  If this book was really about the kidnapping, it would be called...The Kidnapping.  Or something.  (WHATEVER, nobody ever said I would be good at choosing book titles, you get my point.)  But it's not, and by the end you'll know why.

So, despite the slow start, Blaze hooked me well before the mid-point and kept me along for the ride all the way to the last word.  A bit of a cleaner ending than I'm used to with Stephen King, but if you want to see a different side of his repertoire, definitely give this one a try.

This was my second pick from the TBR Book Baggie and a good one at that! My next pick from the baggie is:

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell!

Oooooh a 30 Before 35 book!  EXCITING!!  Gonna take me a while to finish that chunkster though...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: Queen of the Night by J.A. Jance


Title: Queen of the Night
Author: J.A. Jance
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: July 27, 2010
Source: given away to me by a friend

Summary from Goodreads

Every summer, in an event that is commemorated throughout the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Queen of the Night flower blooms in the Arizona desert. But one couple's intended celebration is shattered by gunfire, the sole witness to the bloodshed a little girl who has lost the only family she's ever known.

To her rescue come Dr. Lani Walker, who sees the trauma of her own childhood reflected in her young patient, and Dan Pardee, an Iraq war veteran and member of an unorthodox border patrol unit called the Shadow Wolves. Joined by Pima County homicide investigator Brian Fellows, they must keep the child safe while tracking down a ruthless killer.

In a second case, retired homicide detective Brandon Walker is investigating the long unsolved murder of an Arizona State University coed. Now, after nearly half a century of silence, the one person who can shed light on that terrible incident is willing to talk. Meanwhile, Walker's wife, Diana Ladd, is reliving memories of a man whose death continues to haunt her.

As these crimes threaten to tear apart three separate families, the stories and traditions of the Tohono O'odham people remain just beneath the surface of the desert, providing illumination to events of both self-sacrifice and unspeakable evil.


My Review:

Let me get this out of the way first.  You absolutely CANNOT name one of your main characters Brian Fellows and expect to be taken seriously.  Authors, make sure you Google search all of your character names before choosing them.  Trust.
(There was also a minor character named David Blaine, so, you know.  Magic.)
Sorry, I had to start with that, IT WAS BUGGING ME SO MUCH.

So, this was the first pull from my TBR Book Baggie.  I ended up with this book in my collection a few years ago, because a friend was clearing her bookshelves and offered me a bunch of her stuff.  I'd never heard of this one, but I never turn down a free book, so home with me it went.

As the description says, this book has a whole lotta plot going on.  I will say that the primary plot line (regarding the murder of the little girl's family) was absorbing.  A cold-hearted murderer, on the run from the cops, will he make it over the border?, etc.  The suspense-lover in me was more than satisfied here.

However, this novel is definitely an example of how much is too much.  There's the story about the murder, but then there's also this years-old cold case that a separate set of detectives are trying to solve.  This cold case is introduced right at the start of the novel, implying that it has a major bearing on the rest of the story...but it most definitely doesn't.  In fact, the resolution of the cold case is so maddeningly underwhelming, I could not for the life of me figure out why it was mentioned at all.

Add that to the fact that there are WAY too many characters, with WAY too much backstory for each of them--it was just overkill.  At the heart of this story is the potential for a great, suspenseful thriller, but all this extraneous information made it more complex than it needed to be.

I did find out partway through that this is part of Jance's "Walker series", which all center upon the same family.  Each novel is supposed to be able to stand alone, but in my opinion, this one is likely much more enjoyable if you've read the other novels first.  Much of the information that I felt to be extraneous was probably detail related to those other novels.  I imagine that you'll have a lot less catching up to do if you join the series at its start.

Final verdict: this novel has a great story to tell at its core, but I wish it wasn't so bogged down with extra baggage (side plots, characters, background stories, etc).

Well, my first TBR Book Baggie pick was...not great.  But, I'm excited to announce that my next pick from the baggie is:

Blaze by Richard Bachman! (aka Stephen King)

So stay tuned...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (#SleepAlong!)


Title: Doctor Sleep
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: September 24, 2013
Source: personal purchase

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless—mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and spunky twelve-year-old Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.”

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival. This is an epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of devoted readers of The Shining and satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.


My Review:

As you all know, I took part in the Doctor Sleep Read-Along hosted by Tif Talks Books and Charlene at Cheap Thrills.  You can read my first two check-in posts HERE and HERE (caution, some spoilers).  However, now that I've finished the entire novel, this is a SPOILER-FREE full review to recap my thoughts.

So, a sequel to The Shining.  At first, I must say I was unsure that it could be done well.  King admits as much in his note at the end of this novel, saying that The Shining is one of the top books fans mention to him when naming a list of his novels that scared the bejesus out of them.  How do you top that?

I wouldn't necessarily say that King "topped" The Shining here.  Doctor Sleep is not nearly as horrifying, in my opinion, and if that's your basis of comparison, you may be disappointed.  However, what King has managed to do is create an entirely different storyline that still brings in enough overlapping detail from The Shining to make the novels compliment each other perfectly.  From that perspective, I think King nailed this sequel.  He doesn't try to bring Danny Torrance right back into the world of the Overlook--I think that's an effort that would have bored fans and led to too much direct comparison to the first novel.  Instead, we get to see how the Overlook experience has changed Danny over time, while also bringing in an entirely new cast of characters.

And speaking of that cast of characters, I was captivated by them--especially the members of the True Knot, King's "bad guys" in this story.  Not quite humans, not quite vampires, they travel the country in RVs and hunt down little kids who have "the shining".  Creepy, eh?  Other than the interest I had in their particular brand of scariness, I also love how King took such an innocuous group of people (middle-aged RVers that travel the country relatively unnoticed) and turned them into this menacing force.  I'll surely never be looking at a Winnebago the same way again.  Muahahaha.

A few notes on the reading experience as a whole: the prologue of the book moves a bit slowly, and I know this has turned a few people off.  For me, I do think it took me a while to dive in at the beginning, but being familiar with King's brand of slow pacing, I hung in there.  By the end of the first chapter, I was hooked, and by the end of the novel, you'll see exactly why the prologue was important.

I was a little surprised that I predicted one of the biggest "twists" in the novel well before it was revealed.  I mentioned in one of my Sleep-Along check-ins that I had a prediction about a family relationship between two of the characters, and it ended up being spot-on.  Unusual for me (I NEVER see twists coming), but especially in a King novel.  I wouldn't say that this ruined anything in the book for me, but the amazement that comes with a big reveal was lost on me--something that I think other readers really enjoyed.  Ah well.  I guess I need to pay less attention next time?

One of the Sleep-Along questions this week was whether we feel it is necessary to read The Shining before reading Doctor Sleep.  Even though the storylines are so different, I would answer this with a resounding YES.  There are many small details that overlap between the two stories--for example, a quote during a job interview that Danny goes to is taken directly from a quote his father had during a job interview in The Shining.  Another example: Abra (the young girl in Doctor Sleep) has the same nervous tic that Jack Torrance had in The Shining.  Plus, the ending weaves in some very important information from Danny's childhood experience at the Overlook (details from the book, not the movie--so don't just substitute the Kubrick film!).  Is it imperative that you know these details before reading Doctor Sleep?  I suppose not...but your reading experience will not be nearly so fulfilling if you don't have this background beforehand.  If you want the full Doctor Sleep experience, get thee to The Shining first!

Final thoughts?  Doctor Sleep is the perfect compliment to its predecessor.  I love that it didn't try to repeat The Shining, but instead added on to it in a way that made many of the relationships from the first book (especially the one between Danny and his father) that much fuller.  It has a great blend of creeptastic-ness and suspense, plus a new world of characters that leaves you with more than enough to sink your teeth into.

Ever wonder what happened to little Danny Torrance?  Then you MUST read Doctor Sleep and find out.

Have you read Doctor Sleep?  How do you feel it compares to The Shining?  If you haven't read it but you did read The Shining, do you have any interest in the sequel...or do you want to leave little Danny as he was at the Overlook?  :)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: The Shining by Stephen King


Title: The Shining
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: 1977
Source: paperback copy that I've owned for ages

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

This tale of a troubled man hired to care for a remote mountain resort over the winter, his loyal wife, and their uniquely gifted son slowly but steadily unfolds as secrets from the Overlook Hotel's past are revealed, and the hotel itself attempts to claim the very souls of the Torrance family. 

The Shining stands as a cultural icon of modern horror, a searing study of a family torn apart, and a nightmarish glimpse into the dark recesses of human weakness and dementia.


My Review:

I suppose I've made no secret of the fact that I am JUST A LITTLE excited about the upcoming release of Doctor Sleep, Stephen King's sequel to The Shining.  In preparation, I felt it was necessary to do a re-read of this King classic, since I'm pretty sure I was in 7th or 8th grade the last time I read it.  (I know, hold the phone, what was a 12-year-old doing reading this freakish novel?  This explains so much about my mental health.)

Returning to this book 15+ years after my original reading was a completely different experience.  Yes, I already knew what was going to happen--and I pretty much did the first time around too, thanks to the movie.  (Oh my God, why did I watch this movie when I was younger than 12 years old?  Do I even have parents? (Kidding, Mom. It was Dad who let me watch it anyway.))

But even if you've seen the movie, or read it before, The Shining doesn't get any less haunting upon subsequent reads.  The novel focuses on the Torrance family (Jack, Wendy, and 5-year-old Danny), recently relocated to Colorado after Jack lost his job in Vermont.  Jack has signed on as the winter caretaker for the Overlook hotel, a gigantic resort in the Rocky Mountains that gets so snow-bound in the winter, the hotel has to shut down completely from October to May.  So yes, that's right--Jack and family will be living alone, in this enormous hotel, for 6 months.  Before you say "NBD, loves me some Candy Crush time," let's keep in mind this is 1977 and once the snow flies, they're cut off from the world except by CB radio.

I'm not doing spoilers here, but this is Stephen King, so obviously the entire scenario goes downhill fast.  That's no secret--in fact, King starts to plant the seeds of impending doom in the earliest pages, building your sense of dread all the way up to the inevitably dire conclusion.  Even though Danny is arguably the star of this show, I definitely found myself most fascinated by Jack's decent into madness throughout the novel.  If you've seen the movie, this is a central portion of its plot.  Jack Nicholson's character slowly turns from (semi) responsible family man to raving murderous lunatic.  The difference in the book (and what makes me love it justalittle more than the film) is that it's not just about Jack--it's about the hotel.  The movie does incorporate this, but not nearly to the extent that King does in the book.  Yes, Jack begins to lose his mind--but why?  How much of it can be attributed to his alcoholic past, or his abusive father...and how much of it is the hotel itself?  It's much more complex than what you'll see in Kubrick's screen version, and I love that.  King has a knack for the supernatural elements in his stories, and this is no exception.

However, during this reading I also paid particular attention to Danny.  Doctor Sleep picks up with Danny as an adult, so I wanted to really focus on his role in The Shining.  Danny has a gift of precognition, or the "shine" as it is described to him, and this is the driving force behind much of The Shining's plot.  Danny, that poor kid--he has to do a lot of growing up as his parents slowly lose control of the situation.  I can't wait to see how these horrible events come back to haunt him (probably literally) in Doctor Sleep.

This was less of a review and more of a "let's get pumped for part two," but obviously, The Shining is one of my King favorites.  The suspense is intense and the character development alone is a great reason to delve into it.  If you're not sure about SK horror, I will warn you that there is some gore, and you may not want to read this one at midnight as you're trying to drift off to sleep.  But I hope you won't let that deter you.  I was happy to revisit it as an adult, and I can't wait to see what else is in store for Danny in the sequel.

Have you read The Shining, or seen the movie?  (If you've done both, I could have a whole separate conversation with you about the differences...)  And if you have read it, what are your thoughts/hopes about the upcoming sequel?

UPDATE: In a random coincedence, my friend Damen (who writes for the film blog Hey U Guys) wrote a blog post today about some crazy theories re: Stanley Kubrick movies (including The Shining).  If you've seen the movie and want more Shining fix today, check it out HERE.
 
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