Do we ever know anyone?

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Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Billie Flanagan is the mother of teenager Olive and the wife of Jonathan. She’s a bit on the rebellious side and despite warnings of hiking alone, she sets off for Desolation Wilderness and doesn’t return nor has her body been found.   A year after her mother’s disappearance, Olive begins to have visions of her mother asking that Olive find her which convinces Olive that her mother is still alive.  Jonathan is trying to have Billie officially declared dead so he can access insurance money that the family desperately needs but he’s having doubts as to what happened to Billie as he has found secrets that she has kept from him.

I had trouble getting into this one. Some of the characters’ decisions just didn’t gel with the characters’ nature as the author described them.  Some of it was hard to believe, especially the ending.  The parts concerning Olive mostly seemed written in a YA style.  The author does do a good job of describing the characters’ grief and their struggles following Billie’s disappearance.  And it certainly did keep me guessing right up to the end.  While I did find some enjoyment in reading t, the book didn’t impress me enough that I want to read the author’s other books so I can’t give it more than 3 stars.

An average book that I enjoyed.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

What an imagination King has!

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Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

What can I say? I’ve been a fan of Stephen King’s since I read his first book, “Carrie”, in the 70’s.   He seldom, if ever, disappoints and he has produced another gem in this novella.

Gwendy (combination of Gwendolyn which her father wanted to name her and Wendy which her mother wanted) is a young girl who is determined to lose some weight so has been running up and down the Suicide Stairs in Castle Rock. One day she meets a stranger who gives her a very special box.  But is that box a blessing or a curse?

Stephen isn’t the only one listed as author of this book. Richard Chizmar also worked with him on this.  I’m not familiar with Mr. Chizmar’s work so can’t tell what his influences are in this story.  It does seem like all King to me.

As always, King’s books are not just about horror. He’s an expert at characterization, which is what I love about his books.  He makes his characters so accessible, so down to earth and so relatable that you understand them immediately and care about them.  That’s what makes his horror so horrible because you only want good things to happen to these people, nothing bad.  But of course you know they’re headed to that dark side of life.

Entertaining and recommended novella.

A fast, entertaining book

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The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Cass takes a short cut through the woods one stormy night, even though her husband had made her promise not to. She sees a stopped car with a woman in it but she’s too frightened to stop and just wants to get home.  The next day she learns that the woman in the car had been killed.  Cass is overcome with remorse and shame that she didn’t stop to help the woman.  As she struggles with her guilty secret, she also struggles with her fear that she is losing her memory – or her mind.  The silent phone calls she’s receiving haven’t helped as she believes they’re from the murderer.

What I liked about this book was the fact that not only did Cass not know who she could trust but she couldn’t even trust her own mind. Sure, there were times she over reacted but she was under a great deal of stress.  I felt that the author’s decision to add in a fear of early-onset dementia was what held the book together for me.  It made it all seem very realistic and I was pulled into the suspenseful plot.  I did figure out what was going on fairly early but I still had to see what happened.  I didn’t expect the ending and thought the author did a good job of pulling it together.  It’s also one of those books where you just want to shake the main character and say “Just tell someone, you fool!”  But of course that’s all part of the fun.

A fast entertaining book. Recommended for light summer reading.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Not for me

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Who is Rich? by Matthew Klam

Book Review:  2 out of 5 star rating

I can’t recommend this one and only finished about half of it. Netgalley recommended this book in an email to me and I clicked on the link to see what it was about; however, that automatically placed it on my shelf to be read and reviewed.  I appreciate all the books I’ve received from Netgalley but I will definitely be more careful with their automatic email requests as I would not have chosen this one.

The main character is Rich Fischer, a married cartoonist who is teaching a class at an arts conference. The year before he had a brief fling with one of the students, Amy, who is married to a very rich guy but is unhappy.  Rich and Amy have been sending provocative emails to each other.  Now they’re together again at this conference.  The book basically takes a look at Rich’s struggles as an artist, as a husband and as a father.

I really did try to give this book a chance but it just wasn’t for me. It was very drawn out and I couldn’t find anything to grab hold of that would spark the slightest bit of interest.  The book is touted as being hilarious but I never laughed, not once.  I did think the author has a lot of insight into marriage and parenthood but it wasn’t enough to keep me wanting to read more.  Rich is too self-indulgent and whiny and I just couldn’t get through the whole book.  Who is Rich?  I just didn’t care enough to learn more.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Will leave you teetering on the edge of the abyss

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Things We Lost in the Fire – Mariana Enriquez

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

These 12 short stories are all set in Argentina. Be warned – these stories often involve violence, sometimes towards children, and are often quite grotesque.  But if you enjoy stories that leave you off balance and that are completely unique and unpredictable, then you’ll like this collection.  The stories are very well written and are quite chilling.  The first story, “The Dirty Kid”, literally made the hair on my arms stand up.

What I liked most about these stories was that she left many of the endings up to your imagination. Of course, you knew where she was heading with her tales and our imaginations don’t have to go too far in order to envision what happened.  I think this made the stories seem more realistic.  The world of Mariana Enriquez is a dark, violent one and I’m very glad I only visited it through her stories.  And since it’s only through her stories, I’m hoping that more of her work will be translated to English.  She’s a very talented author and has created a fictitious Argentinian world that highlights both its beauty and poverty and the hauntings left there by some of its tragic history.

Recommended to those who enjoy dark horror.

This book was given to me by the publisher through Blogging for Books in return for an honest review.

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Such poetic beauty throughout this literary thriller

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The Trout by Peter Cunningham

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

 

Alex Smyth is living in Canada with his wife when he receives a strange piece of mail containing only a trout fly. Alex has always thought that something terrible had happened when he was a child but the memory is always just a bit past his grasp.  Memories now start coming back and he starts to believe that he may have killed someone when he was a child.  He must return to Ireland to confront his past and get to the bottom of these fragmented memories.

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read in a long time. I’m adding Peter Cunningham to my list of all-time favorite authors and will be reading the rest of his books soon.  This book grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go nor could I put the book down.  It was completely mesmerizing and awakened my love for truly well-written literature.  I read a lot of books but far too many pass through me without much lasting effect.  This is one that I will treasure and always remember.

The book touches on how elusive memories can be and how they can harm our lives if not brought to the surface. It also touches on how society can convince itself that what they’re seeing isn’t actually happening.  This book is set in such a beautiful location with valleys and hills and rivers and streams and yet what happened there is so tragic and heart breaking.   Predator and prey dominate this story and the author has included short snippets about trout and their lives and their most dangerous predator – man.  It’s a perfect accompaniment for this story that centers on horrific events that take place while fishing.

Most highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

I really love this author

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Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne

Rook Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

There are two “beautiful animals” in this book. One is Naomi, a young woman who is spoiled and rich and bored. She’s staying on a Greek island with her father and step-mother, neither of whom does she get along with. Sam is a naïve young woman who is vacationing with her parents. The two become friends. When they find a young man named Faoud hiding on the island, they believe him to be an Arab refugee. Naomi wants to help him and Sam is pulled unwillingly into Naomi’s plans. Naomi figures that money is what Faoud needs to make a new life for himself so she comes up with the plan to enable Faoud to rob her parents’ home.

I love the writing style of this author. I usually am a fast reader but when I’m reading one of Mr. Osborne’s books, his writing compels me to slow down and read every word. He has a beautiful way with words and pulls me into his stories as if I, too, were vacationing on this Greek Island and knew these people personally. This book is many layered, not only the suspenseful plot but also the dynamics between the characters and their families. This is a morally dark, disturbing tale and one that I became completely engrossed in.

Highly recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

Mystical tale of murder

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Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

Book Review:  3 out of 5 stars

Miles is a 10-year-old boy in the 1970’s. He’s playing Robin Hood when he sees his mother murdered by a man wearing a chicken mask.  Miles has always vowed to find the man who murdered his mother. Even when he grows up and marries Lily, he carries with him a secret that his father entrusted him with.  His father claims to have the plans to a very special machine designed by Thomas Edison himself.  With this machine, the living can speak to the dead.  When tragedy strikes their family, Miles’ wife, Lily, and their daughter, Eva (now known as Necco), become homeless.  But they can’t escape their past as the Chicken Man is still hunting them down.

I remember enjoying “The Winter People” by this author so thought I would give her newest book a try. I enjoyed the beginning of the book which is mostly about Miles, both as a child and as a man.  But when the section about Necco started, I began to lose interest.  It felt too much like a young adult book at that point.  I seem to be reading far too many books lately that start off about adults and then morph into stories about teens.  They’re not listed as young adult books and yet they feel like they are to me.  For that reason, I can only give this book 3 stars.

What I did enjoy about the book was its fairy tale atmosphere, particularly the inclusion of the circus fat lady, Pru, with her miniature circus and fanciful dreams. What I really didn’t like was the subtle acceptance of the drugs taken by The Fire Eaters, a group of eccentric women Lily became involved with.  These drugs apparently gave them special insight into the present, past and future.  The book was entertaining and quirky but I can’t say it’s one that I would recommend.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for discussion in the Goodreads group, “Keep Turning Pages”.

Fascinating portrayal of one day in a marriage that’s on the edge

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Small hours by Jennifer Kitses

Book Review:  4 out of 5 stars

The entire book covers 24 hours in the marriage of Tom and Helen. They are the parents of three-year-old twins and have recently moved from Queens to a small town on the Hudson River.  Helen is working from home and is finding it stressful finding enough time to manage work, home and children.  Tom commutes to his job at a news wire service.  They have come into some financial difficulties and have been less than honest and upfront with each other so things start to unravel.

This is one of those books where everyday events can lead to a powerful punch. The author expertly rackets up the suspense as Tom and Helen’s day proceeds.  I’ve been trying not to rely too much on advertising blurbs and comparisons but I think the publisher’s comparisons to Richard Russo and Tom Perrotta are very close.  I cared about Tom and Helen and I kept wishing they would just sit down and talk things out instead of trying to handle their difficulties on their own.  It was obvious they cared about each other.  The suspense comes into play because you’re just not sure how far the author is going to take the story and you can only sit and watch in dread as the hours go by.  I found Tom and Helen’s story to be realistic and believable and I very much enjoyed the time spent with them.

I did find the section involving Tom’s work place to be a bit slow and that was my least favorite part of the book, though at times it was humorous. Maybe that’s because I’m retired and really don’t want to spend any time at “work”, even in a book.  I could certainly feel Tom’s frustration there.

This is the author’s debut novel and I’m very interested to see where she heads next.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.

 

Very good psychological drama

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The Child by Fiona Barton

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Kate Waters is a news reporter hot on the trail of a story that she hopes will be a big one. A baby’s skeleton has been found in a construction site.  Kate can’t get the baby out of her mind.  What tragedy was behind the burial of this infant child?  Could this baby be the one who was stolen from a maternity ward decades ago?  As she digs deeper, secrets come to the surface that will change the lives of three women forever.

The reporter Kate also appears in Ms. Barton’s first book, “The Widow”. The chapters in her new book alternate between three women.  First of all is, of course, Kate Waters, the reporter.  She’s relentless in the pursuit of truth.  Angela is the mother of little Alice who she alleges was stolen from a maternity ward shortly after her birth.  Although Angela has two other children, she has never gotten over the loss of her child and longs for closure.  And Emma, a woman who seems obsessed with this baby.

The beginning of the book starts off slowly as the author builds her story. It was slow enough that I was considering giving the book 3 stars but the second half of the book pushed my rating up to 4 stars because that’s when I truly became involved in the story. The twist didn’t come as too much of a surprise but it didn’t matter as the main thrust of this book isn’t the “who done it” or even the why but the effect on the characters.  I loved how much Kate cared for the people she connected with.  I think we have such a callous opinion of reporters, only out for the story no matter what it costs others, so it was refreshing to read of one with a heart.  This isn’t so much of a thriller as an in depth character study of three women.  We know from the beginning that the baby has died so there’s no suspense there.  But the author does a very good job of giving us a look into the hearts and minds of women whose lives were so monumentally affected by one act.

Recommended.

This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.