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.

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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.

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.

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.

 

A bewitching story that falls flat

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Book review:  3 out of 5 star rating

A woman is found dead in the water, water where many other women have drowned. In fact, this water is known as The Drowning Pool.  Nel’s death has occurred just months after Katie, a friend of Nel’s daughter Lena, was found drowned.  Now Nel’s sister Jules has returned home though she swore she would never return.

This is quite a complex story involving many characters. The book goes back to 1679 during the Witchfinder Trials, where women suspected of being witches are thrown with bound hands into the water with the idea if they floated, they could be declared witches.  But if they drowned, oh well, guess they weren’t witches after all.  Legend has it that The Drowning Pool is haunted by one of these girls.

The author jumps back and forth between the story of the girl drowned for being suspected of witchhood to the present story of Nel’s drowning, the recent story of Katie’s drowning and also a woman who had died a couple of decades ago. I thought the author did a very good job of creating an eerie, haunting atmosphere and I enjoyed that part of the book.  However, I never really got too involved in the mysteries of these drownings and felt the red herrings went in too any directions and became confusing.  There was an overabundance of statements such as “after what I did” or “how can I bear this guilt”, which of course left you hanging not knowing what they did.  But I can’t say that I ever really cared what they did or didn’t do or who did what to whom.  Though I did enjoy parts of this book.  I think it just went in too many directions.

It’s quite a different book from “The Girl on the Train”. It had great potential of being a good psychological character study but I can’t help but feel that the author was trying too hard.  The stress of writing a follow up to her immensely popular first book must have been quite intense.  Here’s hoping that her next one will pull together better as there’s no doubt that she’s a talented author.

No big surprises in this one

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It’s Always the Husband by Michele Campbell

Book Review:  3 out of 5 stars

Kate, Jenny & Aubrey, although coming from very different backgrounds, become friends when they room together at college. After all, as Kate says, “They say your freshman roommates become your best friends for life”.  But it soon becomes apparent that their friendship has serious flaws.

The book starts out promising with a well-written scene of an unsuspecting woman being led to a bridge and then being encouraged to commit suicide there. Then it switches to 22 years before when the three young women arrive on campus and first meet each other.  I at first liked the girls but that soon started to unravel.  I wasn’t really interested in their daily activities but something certainly did keep me turning those pages.  The first half of the book, which covers the college years, seemed to read as a young adult novel, which I don’t personally care for.  I thought that I would become more involved in the story when the second half of the book starts with the present day occurrences, but unfortunately by that time I didn’t really care enough about which one of them ends up on the bridge or who had led them there.  I didn’t find the ending to be surprising.

But as I said, something kept me turning those pages to find out what happens so I’ll give this one my “It was okay” rating of three stars.

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

Great start but then went downhill for me

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Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Book Review:  3 out of 5 stars

When Rachel Childs was a journalist, she encountered an extremely bad side of human nature. As a result of the trauma, she has a breakdown and virtually becomes a recluse, afraid of people.  Her husband, Brian, has the patience of a saint and lovingly tries to help her break through her fears.  I can’t really go any further with the plot in fear of writing spoilers.

The beginning of this book is 5 star, with Mr. Lehane’s usual expertise in bringing his characters to life and finding a place for them in your heart.   I was completely engrossed in the story, knowing that “something” was going to happen to change things and dreading it because, in spite of Rachel’s agoraphobia, the marriage between Brian and Rachel was so strong and loving.  When the change came, it was completely unexpected and the author began to lose me.  The book veers off from being a heartfelt novel about a woman struggling with her demons to an action thriller.  The changes of character in both Rachel and Brian just didn’t ring true to me, though I was still engrossed in the story.  What bothered me most about the second part of the book was the author’s seeming efforts to justify the characters’ actions while trying to get you to still like and respect them.  His efforts didn’t work with me and the longer I had contact with these characters, the less I believed in them.

It seems to me that this book was written more as a movie script and I’ve read that the movie rights to the book have already been snatched up. I grabbed this book because of the author and his phenomenal “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island”.   I never looked into what the book was about.  Possibly if I had known it was a thriller before starting it, I would have been better prepared for the switch in gears.  With the beginning being such a beautiful character study of a damaged woman, I truly wish the author had chosen to continue in that line.  I still enjoyed the book but what started as outstanding turned into just OK.

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

 

Fascinating descent into obsession

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Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen

Book Review:  4 out of 5 star rating

Hannah is bursting with excitement after hearing that she’s headed for a big promotion at her job. She’s worked hard for it and she’s ready to celebrate.  But when she comes home from her business trip, she’s astonished to see that her live-in boyfriend Matt has taken each of his possessions and is gone.  Not only are his belongings gone but all photos and texts from her phone are missing and he’s disappeared from social media.  She’s completely at a loss as things had been going so well for the two of them.  She just can’t understand why he would leave and knows she has to get to the bottom of what’s happened.

Thus starts Hannah’s descent into obsession. She starts getting strange texts and phone calls and sees signs that someone has been in the house when she’s not there.  She’s sure that Matt’s trying to contact her.  Is she mad or is there someone watching her?

It was quite sad to watch Hannah’s deterioration as she struggles to come to terms with Matt’s apparent abandonment of her. I could definitely empathize with her as she went over and over in her mind everything that Matt said and did in the days and weeks before his disappearance, trying to work it all out.  She longs for closure but can’t stop thinking about Matt.  She has a friend, Katie, but their relationship has always been a competitive one and Katie isn’t always as supportive as Hannah needs.

I didn’t see the plot twist coming though in looking back, I realize there were clues so others may guess. The twist touches on something that not many authors write about.  All in all, this is a rip-the-pages-turning-them-so-fast book that is recommended.

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