Complex, clever thriller

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The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

All is not what it seems in this complex and clever thriller.  Nellie, a New York preschool teacher, is happy with her work and her lifestyle.  When she meets Richard, she’s swept off her feet into quite a different world of affluence.  There are hints galore about “something” that happened to Nellie in her past that has made her a very “nervous Nellie”.  Her telling of the story fluctuates with the telling of the story by Vanessa, Richard’s ex-wife.  She now lives with her Aunt Charlotte and drinks too much like her mother did before her.

The unreliable narrator has become a very popular form of literature these days.  This is one that I felt was quite well plotted and hard to crack before the author “tells”.  There’s a twist halfway through the book that had me sit up thinking “Whaaaat??” and had me questioning everything I had just read.  When you think all the twists have been revealed, there’s still one more that I never saw coming.

Quite an enjoyable read and kept me on my toes.  Recommended.  This book is being published on January 9, 2018 and can be pre-ordered through the publisher:

https://us.macmillan.com/static/smp/wife-between-us/

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

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A fun, fast read

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The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

Book review:  3 out of 5 star rating

12 year olds and summer – what a perfect combination.  Eddie and his friends, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hobbo and the only girl in the gang, Nicky, are enjoying every minute of it.  They like to leave each other messages with little chalk stick men drawings.  They’re having a great time of it until they’re led to a dismembered body.  And what has led them to this body?  Little chalk men drawings.  Now they’re grown up and each have received mysterious letters with a chalk stick man.  That’s when they realize that the past isn’t over after all.

The book fluctuates between 1986 and 2016.  I loved the atmosphere that this author created and was pulled right back to the 80’s.  Such fun running all over this English village with these kids, seeing what excitement there is to find on those hot summer days.  This book is reminiscent of Stephen King’s novella, “The Body”, which was made into the film, “Stand By Me”, and is impressive for a debut.  To me, King’s novella is a classic and Ms. Tudor has a way to go before her work can truly be compared to King’s but it did remind me of it but without the deep sadness that King’s book invoked.  It has a spooky feel without anything supernatural going on and I liked that the author didn’t feel the need to include gory details to make her book suspenseful.  Unfortunately, the end didn’t come as a surprise to me and I’m not that quick to pick up on clues.  These clues seemed to be a bit too obvious.  I almost felt like I was a step ahead of the author throughout the book and knew what was coming.  But the book is very addictive, the characters are likeable (at least when they’re children) and it was a fun read.

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

 

Intense and unforgettable

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Elmet by Fiona Mozley

Book Review:  4 out of 5 stars

15-year-old Cathy and 13-year-old Daniel have been living with their grandmother but when she dies, their father moves them to a land to which their family has some ties and builds a home for them there.  Their father, John, is a huge, strong man who sometimes will enter into a prize fight to earn some money.  He once worked as an enforcer for Mr. Price, the evil landlord of the story.  While there’s a violent side to John, there also is a very gentle one.  Their secluded life is fractured when Price starts questioning their right to remain on this land.

I’m feeling very conflicted about how I feel about this book.  So many parts of it are 5 stars for me.  And yet I’m left with too much confusion.  I usually don’t mind a book that doesn’t tie up all the loose ends.  But this one just leaves me with far too many questions.  It’s almost skeletal in nature, the bare bones of the story.  And yet I couldn’t tear myself away, compulsively wanting to know more.  I think I would like to re-read this book in time but read it with the knowledge that it’s partly a surreal fairy tale.  I think my first reading had too much of a realistic outlook and that’s why I was left hung up on many of the details.

It’s gorgeously written, intensely suspenseful and very moving.

Shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize.

Recommended.

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

 

A thriller with a lot of heart

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The Dry by Jane Harper

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

Aaron Falk has returned to his home town.  He and his father had been run out of that town when Aaron was a teenager due to suspicion of their involvement in a young girl’s death.  Now Aaron’s good friend, Luke, has apparently killed his family and then committed suicide.  Luke’s parents ask Aaron to look into what really happened.  Was Luke so despondent about the future of the farm during the area’s horrendous drought that he lost his mind, killing those he loved?  And will the town accept Aaron back or will the young Ellie’s death still haunt him and all who loved her?

I very much enjoyed this thriller.  It’s as suspenseful and engrossing as you would want any thriller to be but it also is an excellent study of how the past can affect the lives of so many for years to come.  And it’s also a look at how an environmental catastrophe can tear apart a community.  There are many layers to this absorbing book.  This is the author’s debut novel and she’s already nailed how to bring her characters to life.  These were people I knew and cared about, which made the stories of the past and the present all the more heart rending.  You’ll feel the heat from this town, both due to the weather and the anger that has been nursed for years.  An explosion is inevitable.  Perfect plot and perfect character development.  And the best part is that this is only the first of the Aaron Falk series.  There’s more to come with “Force of Nature” to be published in February, 2018.  I’m very much looking forward to it.

Highly recommended.

What a very special treat for readers!

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Sleep No More:  Six Murderous Tales by P.D. James

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

There was a reason P.D. James was the “Queen of Crime”.  She knew how to capture her readers.  I’ve read all of her work and was so pleased to see these new-to-me six stories being published.  They were such a very special treat!

I think “The Girl Who Loved Graveyards” was my favorite, if I had to pick a favorite as I loved each of them.  This was the most chilling tale.  A story of a young girl who fell in love with a graveyard and who couldn’t remember the first ten years of her life.

While some of these stories will give you chills, some of them will make you laugh, like “Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday”.  They take place in the 1920’s and 1930’s and have a wonderful old-fashioned feel about them.  Ms. James must have had so much fun writing these witty, delightful short stories.

Most highly recommended.

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

The fierce bond of family

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Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Book Review:  5 out of 5 star rating

“I had always believed my father capable of a massacre. Whenever I heard on the news that there had been a killing spree, I would hold my breath, unable to relax until it was clear that it couldn’t have been him.”  (Wording may not appear the same in final published edition).

Randolph Tiefenthaler grew up with a father who had an extensive gun collection. Not only were the guns loaded but Randolph’s father had a bit of a temper.  Randolph always had a fear that one night his father would come upstairs and kill him and/or his brother.  Randolph is an adult now with a wife and children when his father is arrested for murder.  It all started when Randolph moved his family to a new building where Dieter Tiberius is living in the basement apartment.  Dieter is an odd character who turns into a menacing one when he starts to stalk Randolph and his family and accuses the parents of sexually abusing their children.

This is an excellent psychological thriller with deep insight into family bonds and the fears implanted in us as children that we continue to live with throughout our adult life. I’ve seen other reviews saying the author lectures about issues but I thought the whole book was fascinating.  I hung on every word and loved the buildup of suspense.  No one seemed to be able to help this family – not their lawyer, not the police and not children’s services.    At times I thought, just move away, but they hadn’t done anything wrong to lose their home, but since it involved children, I would have been out of there.  Regardless, I was quite impressed by this author.  Apparently, the book is loosely based on the author’s own experience with a stalker so he had firsthand knowledge of what this type of situation can do to a person.

The author is from Germany and he has written 8 novels, many of which, including this book, have been adapted for film, television and radio in Germany. “Fear” is the first to be translated into English.  I’ll be keeping an eye out for any others that will be translated in the future for sure.

I don’t usually give thrillers 5 star reviews as I reserve 5 stars for books that really have a profound impact on me. But in a way I think the book did have a profound impact on me as I’m still thinking about it though I’m writing this review weeks after reading the book.  This story showing how quickly our immediate world can become one that’s horribly distressful fills my thoughts throughout the days.  If you’re looking for a thriller with psychological insight, I highly recommend this one.

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

The Dangers of Superstition

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The Good People by Hannah Kent

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Troubles have arrived at the Leahy home. When Nora and Martin Leahy’s daughter, Johanna, dies, they are left with their 4-year-old grandson to care for.  But Micheal is not as he was when they last saw him two years ago.  At that time, he was talking and walking and a normal little boy.  Now he’s unable to walk or even stand and he doesn’t talk.  He screams out in the night and flails his bent arms.  Nora sees nothing of her grandson in him but with Martin’s help, they care for him as best as they can.  But when Martin dies suddenly, Nora has difficulty dealing with her grandson and all of the other work now on her shoulders.  She hires a young woman, Mary, to come and help with the house and Micheal.

The entire town starts to have troubles. The cows aren’t producing much milk and the hens aren’t laying many eggs.  Could it be the fairy people (the Good People as they are known) who are causing their troubles?  Or is it the odd little boy, Micheal?  Is he a changeling left by the fairies?  Nora takes Micheal to Nance, the old woman who is known to have “knowledge” of the fairy world in the hope that she can bring back her “real” grandson who has been changed for this distorted version of Micheal.

I enjoyed this book very much. The author quickly creates a tense, unsettled atmosphere.  This Irish community in the 1820’s is inundated with superstition and folk lore.  They see signs in everything and their fears grow out of control.  The book is actually based on a real-life incident.

I’ve had the author’s first book, “Burial Rites”, on my TBR list for quite a long time but just have never gotten to it. I definitely will now.  This author reminds me of one of my favorite authors, Sharyn McCrumb, who writes of the people of the Appalachian Mountains with their own superstitions and knowings.

Recommended.

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

An average unreliable narrator book

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Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

What a perfect husband Paul Strom is and what a perfect husband and provider. He’s happily married to the lovely Mia and has two sons.  They’re financially well off with no worries.  At least that’s what Paul would like you to believe.  He’s planned the “best day ever” for he and his wife by taking her to their lake house for a romantic weekend of wining and dining.  But how will that get away end?

The whole book encompasses one day in the lives of Paul and Mia. It’s a very easy to read and quick moving book and whenever I had to put the book down, I did look forward to picking it up again.  Paul is an easy character to despise.  The reader learns fairly early just how psychopathic Paul is and once you learn that, I felt that he quickly became very annoying.  I also had a hard time relating to Mia.  I also found the book to be too predictable with very few surprises.  I didn’t feel the wrap-everything-up-neatly ending was necessary as I had already “gotten it” from what had previously been told and felt it was just repetitive.

But it was a fun read and I’m glad I gave it a try. Maybe I’ve just read too many unreliable narrator books lately.  But if you enjoy this type of book and haven’t been overloaded yet with the unreliability aspect, then I think you’ll enjoy this entertaining book.

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

Dragged for me

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The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr

Book Review:  3 out of 5 star rating

Cora goes to the lakeside to enjoy the sun and water with her husband and young son. There she inexplicitly stabs a man to death.  There are witnesses and Cora’s own confession but the police commissioner does his own investigation into Cora’s past, uncovering secrets even Cora has trouble remembering.

I, like many others, was pulled in by the trailer for the USA mini-series starring Jessica Biel. I figured the book had to be good to have been made into a TV series.  But it really dragged for me and I can’t count the times that I thought of putting the book down for good.  But something kept making me pick it up.

This is yet another unreliable narrator book. Sometimes Cora admits to the reader that she’s lying but sometimes she’s not even sure if she’s lying.  So it’s a bit hard to follow what’s happening.  Events are gone over again and again, each time a little bit differently.  The book has its merits as the story is quite unique and I didn’t see the reveal coming.  I’ve recorded the TV series and will probably watch it even though I now know what’s going to happen.  I’m not sorry I read it but I really didn’t find it as gripping as described.

The stuff nightmares are made of

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The Hole by Hye-Young Pyun

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Oghi has woken from a coma only to learn that he has been involved in an accident that has left him paralyzed and unable to speak and his wife dead. He is left in the care of his mother-in-law and is the object of neglect and abuse.  He only has the small bedroom and his memories and has no control over anything in his life – his health, his money, his home, his future.  His mother-in-law obviously doesn’t have Oghi’s best interests at heart.  She starts to work in her dead daughter’s garden, strangely digging larger and larger holes.

To say more about the plot would be to spoil the author’s meticulous rendering of this chilling story. She builds up a feeling of dread and suspense that had me on the edge of my seat.  There was one scene in the book where I literally jumped out of my chair and walked around the room reading it.  I flew through the book and am looking forward to more of this author.  It’s a short read but definitely intriguing.  Quite a literary accomplishment in the thriller genre.

Recommended.

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