TANGERINE

4.25 STARS

  • Author: Christine Mangan
  • Publication date: March 27, 2018

 

What is it about obsessive friendships between women?  I’m always drawn to books that feature this type of female-frenemy-relationship. I think there is so much more that can be added to the plot than just the usual he/she torrid love/hate affair that dominate this genre’s selections.

Tangerine is truly my idea of a dreamy, escapist novel. It is first and foremost a character analysis of two women that meet at a high-brow East Coast university as roommates. Lucy and Alice each depict two distinctive and contrasting personalities. One is meek, timid, hand-wringing. The other is brazen, steely, opportunistic. Mixed and stirred like an ice cold martini, the result is pure toxic poison with only one dreaded outcome.

Tangerine takes place mostly in Tangier, Morocco, during a political uprising in the 1950’s. One year after university, the women meet in the exotic desert setting of Tangier. The word “atmospheric” is thrown around to describe a lot of fiction these days, but in this case, atmospheric is more than an accurate label.

Christine Mangan is a lovely, old-fashioned writer. She’s a new author and I’m not exaggerating to say that Tangerine will remind you of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Mangan doesn’t linger on descriptions, but the reader is always very aware of the setting and mood and it feels authentic.

The book’s cover is sheer perfection for this novel that reads like film noir. A kind of combo of stories, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Single White Female come to mind, but it still feels fresh and original.

It is light on action and I feel I should warn you, some readers will find this style of storytelling a bit repetitive. However, I adore the slow burn and did find it suspenseful with tension growing throughout. It is a book for fans of Unraveling Oliver.

A quiet, fascinating portrayal of the complicated connection between sociopath and victim.

BONUS ALERT! The audiobook is exceptionally well done. Lucy sounds exactly like Scarlett Johansson (but it’s not her, I did check). However, the real ScarJo is already cast to play Lucy in the upcoming film production. Perfect choice!

YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS

4.5 STARS

  • Author: Michelle Sacks
  • US Publication date: June 19, 2018

When Sam inherits a cottage in the Sweden countryside, he and his wife, Merry, pack up their hectic lives in NYC and begin a brand new life in an cold, isolated country with their infant baby.

In Sweden, they are the very picture of domestic contentment. Merry gardens and bakes with a fervor that would put Martha Stewart to shame. Sam begins working at his dream career as a film documentarian. Their adorable baby is a fat little cherub, at the family’s center of adoration and devotion.

Sounds so beautiful and la-dee-da perfect. However, after this setup, we are in for a shock as Merry and Sam take turns narrating their own short chapters. Buckle up. What you are about to learn becomes more alarming with each page. (This may be a good time to warn you there are definite triggers throughout for a sensitive reader.) Dark, twisted, painfully disturbing.

Just as we are learning about Sam and Merry’s shaky foundation, Merry’s best friend from childhood arrives for a visit with the young family in Sweden. Her name is Frank (Frances) and she knows Merry better than anyone else in the world. She immediately sees right through Merry’s phony happy homemaker act. At this point, Frank joins in the narration with her own chapters and we start to see that Frank has her own ugly secrets. These three characters are positively nasty and the perfect storm is set into motion. AS THE UNRELENTING SUSPENSE BEGINS, YOU CANNOT TURN YOUR EYES AWAY FROM THE PAGE. I LOVE IT!

Michelle Sacks has written an almost perfect psychological thriller. She writes in a fluid, spare manner- the kind of dialogue without quotation marks, yet it is absolutely cloaked in a haunting, dread-filled mood. Sacks is an intelligent writer and I have great appreciation for her sophisticated style. You know how I love to go deep in these sicko character profiles, and Sacks boldly goes to the deepest corruptions possible. And she doesn’t even blink.

If what I’ve told you hasn’t scared you away– then you, my friend, are in for a treat!!! Highly recommended for lovers of books like The Perfect Nanny, Unraveling Oliver, The Visitors and White Bodies.

YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS hits the shelves June 19, 2018. Thanks so much to Little, Brown Publishers for my gorgeous copy! All opinions are my own.

THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY

FIVE STARS

  • Author: Ruth Ware
  • US Publication date: May 29, 2018


So, here’s the thing. You can’t really compare Ruth Ware to any contemporary writers. The pure “old-fashioned-ness” of her writing style is so refreshing that it comes across as modern. Weird, huh? You gotta go way back to find Ware’s influences. Yep, that’s Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie and Patricia Highsmith.

These fantastic female authors constructed some of the best psychological suspense novels ever written, but they aren’t quickly devoured like a lot of this genre’s current output. Fine literature like fine wine requires some savoring time.

Sniff, sip and swish this one around your mouth a few times. What’s the hurry? Just sit back with your glass, soak up the formidable atmosphere, and enjoy the leisurely experience.

This is by far the best of Ware’s novels. THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY is the book I have been waiting for Ware to create!! It is an immediate classic and the story of mistaken identity is an absolute perfect fit to Ware’s charming, gothic style.

Loved the book, but I did not enjoy the audiobook version. Imogen Church is so wonderful when she is straight reading the book. However, there are numerous characters in this one and the overacted, squealing voices she portrays are just cringe inducing. Also, Ware uses the old diary device prominently in this story and I was confused so many times while listening (is this now? or reading from the diary again?). Ugh, I hate that I can’t hear italics!😂😂 I went with Kindle in the end and was so glad I switched.

THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY is not in the least “action packed”, but it is thoughtfully creepy and has so many twists in store for you. Wait for a thunderstorm. Break out the Courvoisier. Light some candles and crack open this beautiful, haunting and dark novel…just don’t be in a rush! It’s meant to be enjoyed.

Goodreads Summary: On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the centre of it.

JAR OF HEARTS

FOUR STARS

  • Author: Jennifer Hillier
  • US Publication date: June 12, 2018

After feeling duped into reading a few too many light weight “thrillers” that are promoted as dark and twisted, all I can say is:  Thank God!! this book doesn’t read like chick-lit! It really is dark and twisted, a bit gritty and graphic and best of all, set in the Pacific Northwest!! Hooray! Also, the pacing is extremely fast, I read the entire thing in a matter of hours.

All good things, yes? Ok, to be honest, YES! My minor complaints: a little deeper characterization would have been most welcome. Also, the book felt too short! I wanted so much more to the final reveal. The ending felt rushed and was over too soon.

JAR OF HEARTS refers to a mason jar of cinnamon candy hearts, not a jar of real hearts (whew!)…This isn’t a Jeffrey Dahmer story, but it does sidle right up to the borderline between thriller and too many violent details. I know, I know, I love my dark and disturbed characters! BUT, I don’t really enjoy reading graphic details first hand in a novel. I like to keep my distance and let the the investigator read the autopsy report. Thankfully, this one is brief on the Patricia Cornwell-type ickiness, but it gets a bit close for me.

The mystery feels fresh and original, even if it’s not. It’s written in an engaging, addictive manner and I was immediately pulled into the complicated friendship between Georgina, Angela, and Kaiser. When Calvin enters the story, all their lives are changed forever. The high school flashback parts are brief and essential to the story. I never felt like the story lagged, even between time switchbacks. The parts of the story focused on life in a women’s prison were fascinating to me! Most of the book felt very authentic, realistic and thoroughly researched.

Well done, Jennifer Hillier! Now I just need to dig out my copy of Creep, I LIIIIIIKE YOU AND WANT TO READ MORE!

I definitely would recommend this book if you enjoy a serial killer/crime fiction every once in awhile. This one is fast, engrossing, gritty– but, not too graphic. JUST about perfect!

Thanks to NetGalley and the author for my galley copy. The book is set to be released on Tuesday, June 12, 2018. All opinions are my own

Goodreads Summary: This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .

When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.

But fourteen years later, Angela Wong’s remains are discovered in the woods near Geo’s childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.

To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he’s something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo’s first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.

For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.

While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.

How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it?

THE PERFECT NANNY

FIVE STARS

  • Author: Leila Slimani
  • US Publication date: January 9, 2018
  • UK Title: LULLABY

Goodreads SummaryWhen Myriam, a mother and brilliant French-Moroccan lawyer, decides to return to work, she and her husband are forced to look for a caretaker for their two young children. They are thrilled to find Louise: the perfect nanny right from the start. Louise sings to the children, cleans the family’s beautiful apartment in Paris’s upscale tenth arrondissement, stays late whenever asked, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on each other, jealousy, resentment, and frustrations mount, shattering the idyllic tableau.

I still have chills days after finishing THE PERFECT NANNY. I’ve skipped over this novel many times thinking it would be the old “hand that rocks the cradle” plot. I could not have been more wrong. This unusual book got under my skin in the quietest, creepiest way possible and it deserves nothing less than 5 stars.

The story opens with a brief graphic scene of violence depicting the death of two young children at the hands of their nanny. I almost put down the book, I was afraid it would continue. But, no, that is only the first two pages. An unsettling and disturbing framework is set and the reader now views the rest of the story from the beginning, all the while knowing how this is going to end.

Since we know WHO, the driving force of this tense character profile is WHY? As in real life, we see glimpses of madness in a person, but rarely is there a definable answer as to why someone would commit such a heinous act. Instead, it is a combination of inexplicable factors in a disturbed mind that may quietly lead to violence.

The terrifying part to me is how the loving parents unknowingly invited a madwoman into their home. She appeared to them to be an angel, an actual Mary Poppins. Until, the unraveling began. And then it was too late.

“She has the keys to their apartment; she knows everything; she has embedded herself so deeply in their lives that it now seems impossible to remove her.”

The writing is smooth, yet spare. Leila Slimani has won many writing awards in her home country of France and it is easy to see why. I love this style of writing with one omniscient narrator telling the story in a simple, almost hypnotic manner. The short book is absolutely riveting and compulsively readable.

This is for readers that loved Unraveling Oliver or We Need to Talk About Kevin. However, this novel feels completely fresh and is a much faster read than either of these. Truly, one of my new favorites.

LYING IN WAIT

FIVE PERFECT STARS

Go ahead, add this book to your TBR. Because you do want to read this. You will. You must. I insist.

I’m at a loss here. Positively verklempt. How do I tell you how perfect this book is without gushing? When other books fail to reach my expectations, I can rattle off the reasons I didn’t like it. With great ones, I just stumble all over myself. I apologize.

I knew this book would be good, I just didn’t know how good. The answer is: LYING IN WAIT is the new standard that all psychological suspense and crime fiction novels should strive for. Liz Nugent just wrote the handbook and I fear that very few writers could achieve such perfection in this genre.

The thing is, if you found Nugent’s debut UNRAVELING OLIVER too much of a slow burn –I know a ton of readers did, you will not find that with LYING IN WAIT. I read this book almost in one day. It is utterly addicting and you will be hooked at the very first line. The need to know what is happening becomes almost unbearable as you read.

Once again, Nugent has created an engrossing family drama that spans many years and is set in Dublin. It is simply the story of two families linked inexplicably by a murder. At the heart of the novel is a morbidly unhealthy, but completely fascinating, connection between a mother and son. There are only a few characters in this book and each one is fully dissected for the reader to analyze. Each character has a chance to tell their part in the story side by side with the others. I am in awe of how Nugent was able to superbly structure this story in such a natural flowing way. There is no flipping back and forth between timelines (ugh, I’m so over that).

Nugent is a master at pushing the uncomfortable envelope towards the reader, without going over the top. The story is tense and exciting, full of twists and unexpected turns. It’s dark and dramatic. Gothic feeling and weird! That ending – all I can say is GENIUS. I can’t stop gushing, please forgive me.

Now, mark your calendar for June 12 or just go ahead and pre-order it. Place a hold or get in line at the library. You will not want to miss this one!

Thank you to Netgalley! I was given the galley to read and review, all opinions are my own.

SUNBURN

3 STARS

  • AUTHOR: LAURA LIPPMAN
  • PUBLICATION DATE: 2/20/2018
  • BY: WILLIAM MORROW/ HARPER AUDIO

What happened, Laura Lippman? This could have been a 5 STAR book! I’ve never read any of your books and as I began this psychological thriller, I was hysterically delighted to have discovered my new favorite author! But, then. Never mind.

I’m truly at a loss to explain the downward spiral this book unexpectedly went on. The first half completely sucked me in with villainous, questionable characters involved in….murder? insurance fraud? arson? The reader is not sure what, but you can bet it’s not on the up and up! We’ve got two strangers that both begin working in a road side diner. The cook, Adam, is actually a private eye, hired to investigate Polly, a runaway wife and mother, now working as a waitress.

Instead of an adversarial relationship, our two main characters fall in love and as the tension ratchets up, we are not quite sure which one is the “bad guy”. The perfect setup to a great story, right?

Wrong. It’s like the second half completely fell apart, or more accurately, stagnated in place and went nowhere. Can you hear my tears hitting the pavement as I listened? (I’m one of those weirdos that walks and listens to books, not music. )

What a shame! This is a film noir-type read in the vein of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE or DOUBLE INDEMNITY. I love those old twisty, gritty movies based on books by the godfather of noir fiction, James M. Cain.  I was in love with SUNBURN until I wasn’t. It was right on point up until somewhere around 60% and then it becomes rambling, repetitive, and worst of all, the dreaded B-Word. Boring!

I’ve had the ARC for months, but ended up using an Audible credit for the audiobook. And, yes, I really want that credit back, thank you.

I followed the audiobook along sometimes from my Kindle ARC. I never realized how many changes there are from ARC to finished product. Is that unusual? Not just a few different words, but sometimes whole passages were changed. It was interesting to compare the two and the finished product was greatly improved over the ARC. Hmmmm.  Maybe the editor fell asleep during the last half of the book and forgot to E-D-I-T. Puhleeeze.

The uneven pacing, sadly, did not improve in the end. Why, why, why? I feel like too many plot angles and character narratives were revealed so early in the story that the reader is just left hanging around for the second half of the book, waiting for the other shoe to fall. I usually will stick with a novel, especially one that had such a fantastic beginning.  That’s me, always hoping for a big payoff with a twisty ending. I was decisively disappointed in the end with SUNBURN, that other shoe never did drop.

SIDENOTE: The audio production was 5 STAR ALL THE WAY; the narrator was so brilliant! I actually went all fangirl and stalked her on Twitter. I did unearth this tidbit: SUSAN BENNETT is the voice for your iPhone SIRI. “Siri, what happened to Sunburn?”