THE DRY (Aaron Falk #1)

5/5 Stars

  • Author: Jane Harper
  • Hardcover published by Flatiron Books, 326 pages
  • US publication date: January 10, 2017

I blame Aaron Falk. He just made me add a new shelf on Goodreads. Series. You see, I don’t like book series. With a few VERY exceptional characters preceding Aaron Falk (Harry Potter, Christian Grey, Edward Cullen, Kinsey Milhone) have I read an entire series. It’s just too much of a commitment and then I feel guilty if I miss a book in the series. I will not be missing any book that Aaron Falk is in. Ever. No way, no worries, mate.

I am so late to THE DRY party that I almost didn’t read it. Finally, feeling caught up and proud of myself for all my ARC reading, I picked up one of the few hardbacks I have actually bought and opened up.

“It wasn’t as though the farm hadn’t seen death before, and the blowflies didn’t discriminate. To them there was little difference between a carcass and a corpse.”
–Jane Harper, The Dry

What a terrific first sentence! Jane Harper, you hooked me at page 1, sentence one.

As a reader, I am immediately FEELING this dusty, angry, Australian farm town as it reels from one of the worst droughts in history. I could hear the flies buzzing, see the rabbits eating the last bits of vegetation and smell the despair of the townspeople as they try to hang on to their livelihoods without any rain. I have not experienced this type of magical transportation in a long time. It is perfectly intoxicating.

Stay with me, because that is just the setting of the book. Now, add a hardworking federal cop, Aaron Falk, who has relunctantly come back to his hometown for the funeral of his best friend. Aaron Falk is not a perfect hero, he has issues and secrets, but he tries to do right by his friends and he knows something is wrong here. Aaron’s childhood friend, Luke, has been accused of murdering his own family before turning the gun on himself. Aaron and Luke shared a secret many years ago which we learn of during the investigation of the family murder. Does this old secret have anything to do with Luke killing his family?

Aaron Falk is a tough nut to crack. The author shares just enough about him to make you want more. He is interesting, smart. A loner, a good guy, but what makes him tick? Oh, I’m a devoted fan. I will follow Aaron Falk through every one of his next books, even if there are fifty more to come.

Is this a character or plot driven mystery? BOTH! Plus, that Aussie setting! It is so real, you better keep your chapstick handy for the parched lips you develop while reading.

Sidenote: As I was reading THE DRY, Oregon’s beloved Columbia Gorge was on fire for weeks (still is). Portland was enveloped in smoke, ash and heat! So hard to breathe! My own atmospheric reality definitely contributed to the transforming ability the book had on me- haha. Not to diminish this captivating story in any way. It stands on it’s own, even if you read it at the North Pole!

AMAZON The Dry: A Novel

WHITE BODIES

  • 5/5 stars
  • Author:  Jane Robins
  • U.S. publication day:  9.19.2017

Have you ever googled a question and fallen down a rabbit hole for a couple of hours?  Yes, everyone has!

Imagine for a moment that you have a family member that you are worried about. Let’s say you think your sister may be in a dangerous relationship. You stumble onto a site called controllingmen.com. You find an enormous amount of helpful information. You linger on the site and end up chatting online with a couple of other friendly members. Now, what if you are a highly suggestible type personality? Do online strangers start getting you all revved up in a battered woman cause? Wait, is your sis really in trouble?

This is what happens to Callie. Her twin sister, Tilda, has always been worrisome and Callie feels it is her duty to rescue her, especially now that Felix has entered Tilda’s life.

This is the setup to what may be the best domestic suspense novel I have read all year!  I give WHITE BODIES all the stars and possibly even a coveted position in my TWISTER HALL OF FAME! I’m in love.

The entire novel is told from Callie’s POV in a first person narrative. It is a writing style I love when done well.  The style naturally propels the story in a fast, suspenseful manner. I also love the fact there aren’t any flashback chapters. Callie recalls a few memories of younger days, but the narrative is always in the present. The pages fly like fire. We discover clues when Callie does. She is the one investigating a troubling situation and the reader is along for the ride!

All the characters in the book are interesting, eccentric, and masterfully drawn. Jane Robins has created the best mix of odd-ball players I’ve read in a long while. Our protagonist, Callie, is clumsy, awkward and blurts out her thoughts before thinking. She is funny in a Bridget Jones sort of way. Tilda, her twin sister, is self-assured and graceful. An actress, she adores the spotlight and plays every situation as dramatically as possible. We also have Felix, Tilda’s new charming, controlling boyfriend. Tilda and Felix, together, have a toxic connection.

Domestic noir usually involves a husband/wife relationship that’s gone awry. But, WHITE BODIES is a study of the relationship between the twin sisters. What a strange relationship these two have. When certain characters die, you will drive yourself nuts trying to figure out this plot. The end of the book is shocking, plausible and written in such a clever way, it will blow your socks off!

I just can’t say enough how much I loved this book. It is written so well with a plot that is woven into the very structure of the pages. It was a thrill to read!

Amazon link White Bodies: An Addictive Psychological Thriller

GOOD ME BAD ME

4/5 stars

  • Author: Ali Land
  • Published 1.12.2017
  • by Penguin Books Ltd.

“More disturbing than hurt is love when it’s wrong.”
― Ali Land, Good Me, Bad Me

The very first sentence of the blurb reads: “Milly’s mother is a serial killer.”  WHAAAT? That’s not a phrase you read every day! I knew right then I wanted to read this debut novel by Ali Land.  This book does not disappoint! Start reading on a Saturday afternoon and you might as well cancel any plans you had for going out, ’cause you ain’t going’ nowhere! 

A psychological study, this book is more of a brain-teaser than a chilling cliff-hanger type story. And I’m okay with that. I love to climb inside a head and poke around. I’d much rather read a disturbed person’s musings than read about any horrific killing scene they may have engaged in.

The story is told solely through Milly’s eyes and consists mostly of internal thoughts over dialogue or action. Still, it reads at a fast clip, and the first-person narrative is so very effective here.  You are never sure if Milly is a reliable narrator, especially since she straight up admits she struggles with being good and bad. And like most humans, she presents her good side to the world, so is she showing the reader only her good side??Just when you think you’ve got Milly figured out, NOOOOO. You’re wrong! I love it!!!!

As far as the ick factor of a female child molester/killer, there are a few disturbing flashback moments, but I stress MOMENTS, not full on chapters. The foundation of this story is built on Milly starting her shiny new life at the age of 15, having just turned in her mother for the atrocious crimes.

I was really on track to give GOOD ME BAD ME a five star rating on Goodreads.  But somewhere about 1/2 way through, it felt a bit draggy.  Still worthy of 4.25 stars in my humble opinion! I think the problem lies in the plot structure. There isn’t a classic murder puzzle to solve and some of the situations felt implausible. For instance, I could never figure out how Milly’s mom was able to continue killing without getting caught. For heaven’s sake, the bodies are all in the basement (not a spoiler). Wasn’t anyone investigating these missing children?

I’m also wary of what I call the “coincidence factor”.  Too many coincidences in the story for my liking. Milly’s foster father is also her psychiatrist. He has a daughter the same age as Milly. The daughter just happens to be a mean girl, etc.

There is a major plot twist at the end of the book that you may see coming. Milly also frequently “talks” to her estranged mother and sometimes it is confusing to me as a reader. All minor issues, I still highly recommend the book.

Ali Land is a talented, skillful writer with a background in child mental health. She obviously knows of what she writes! She is a master creator of characters. Absolutely flawless in that department.

I think of myself as preferring character driven novels over plot driven ones. OBSESSION, by Amanda Robson, is one of my favorite new character driven novels. But, after reading GOOD ME BAD ME, I realize I do like a bit more plot and action.

Ali Land’s sentences are concise, no commas needed. (LIFE GOALZ). The pace of the writing is on point and completely effortless. A joy to read. I’m really looking forward to this young writer’s future career!
Good Me Bad Me: A Novel On sale on September 5, 2017.

DARK PLACES

5/5 stars

  • Author: Gillian Flynn
  • Publication date: 5.5.2009
  • Shaye Areheart Books

“I was not a lovable child, and I’d grown into a deeply unlovable adult. Draw a picture of my soul, and it’d be a scribble with fangs.” Gillian Flynn, Dark Places

Gillian Flynn is the MUTHA of all domestic noir. She’s my spirit animal. I feel defensive about her books, I think sometimes she gets a bad rap because her novels are so dark. Her characters unlikeable. Her plots are crazy. True, true, true.

Underneath it all, it is impossible to overlook her talent in characterization. Every book I read in this genre, I cannot help but compare the writing to Flynn’s.

She can craft a character out of thin air that is as real to a reader as the book they are holding. She doesn’t just tell about a character, she SHOWS us the character. The mannerisms, the habits, the insecurities, the tics and tells of their face. How they walk, talk, eat, drink, drive a car. As a reader, you are whisked into her novels for the plot and get so much more in return. My favorite kind of book!

Libby Day, our flawed protagonist, is one carefully constructed and disturbed character. She is the sole survivor of a Kansas massacre. Final Girls, anyone? The story begins 25 years after the murders and Libby Day is being dragged into resolving the mystery by a group of true crime aficionados (even though she fingered her own brother as the killer). The setting is rural, impoverished America; a stark contrast with most of the urban London-ish settings in this genre.

This is my least favorite of Flynn’s books, mainly because the plot is too crazy and contrived even for me. However, the writing is so first rate, I gladly give it full 5 stars.
Amazon  Dark Places

FINAL GIRLS

5/5 stars

  • Author: Riley Sager
  • Publication date 7.11.2017
  • Penguin Group Dutton

Go with me for a second. Are you under the impression that FINAL GIRLS is about a horror movie?  Please tell me I’m not the only one that thought that!

That’s a huge misconception….The blurb says something about a “horror-movie scale massacre” and that’s all I remembered reading before thinking, “SKIP”. Not interested in  a horror movie re-make.

Well, I’m proud to announce that FINAL GIRLS is not about a movie. And double proud to announce it is a fun, scary and highly entertaining book!

There has been so much hype surrounding this current book of the month club that I was standoff-ish about rushing to it. I’m weird like that. Plus, like I said, I’m not much of a horror-movie-slasher fan. But then, Penguin Group Dutton publishers sent me an ARC and how could I not read it? I am so happy they did!

Do you know what a Final Girl is? A final girl is the sole survivor of a horrific murder scene. Movies like Halloween and Scream inevitably end with a final girl left standing.  Yet, another movie reference, sorry. Author Riley Sager has written a startling story about three final girls (all survivors of different gruesome scenes) who eventually have their separate lives intersect under troublesome circumstances.

Quincy Carpenter, aside from having a cute name, is a final girl. She lived through a mass murder scene ten years before and has tried her best to get on with a semi-normal life. A tad dependent on Xanax and dealing with a mild kleptomania problem, she has steadfastly stuck to her story that she didn’t remember anything about the night of the killings. She has dealt with her survivor guilt by becoming a successful baking blogger and by refusing to talk about that grisly night.

That’s really all you need to know about the set up of this addictive story. I was hesitant about the degree of slashi-ness, but it’s actually not that bad (nowhere near a Patricia Cornwell book!) and the narrative switches just fast enough between the murders 10 years ago and the new mystery Quincy is currently caught up in. So you never really have time to get tired of the bloody stuff!

Despite the subject matter, I wouldn’t call FINAL GIRLS a dark or disturbing horror novel. Big surprise to me! For one thing, author Riley Sager, is no Gillian Flynn. Sager’s writing is lighter, an almost superficial style, never diving below the surface of words. No need to read between the lines, just read.

There are a couple of plot twists, the pages turn fast, it is a very quick, compelling mystery. I love the character of Quincy. She is an imperfect, somewhat unreliable narrator and an interesting protagonist.

I have no doubt, FINAL GIRLS, has all the elements in place to be THE beach read book of 2017. And deservedly so.

THANK you to Penguin Group Dutton for the ARC. I appreciate the opportunity to give my honest opinion.
Final Girls: A Novel  Amazon

OBSESSION

5/5 stars

  • Author: Amanda Robson
  • Publication date: 5.4.2017
  • Avon Books

Armchair psychologists, REJOICE! This is your book! Take out your pen and paper because your skills are needed to DIAGNOSE a mental patient.  The only issue is to decide WHICH character is mentally obsessive and potentially homicidal. 

This book is so deliciously dark, I’m tempted to say something corny like “Your only obsession will be with this novel.” I would never say that.

BUT IT IS SO FREAKIN’ GOOD! I could not do anything else except glue my eyeballs to every page until I finished it off. Whew! You lucky reader, this mental rollercoaster awaits you. This is my kind of book, a deep character study and a sense of dread coming with each plot turn. You have no idea how this will end, but you know it is not going to be a happy one.

The novel starts innocently enough when Carly drunkenly asks her husband “Who else would you go for, if you could?” Oh Carly. Why did you ever have to ask that question? Rob’s answer is like a dagger to her heart and brain. The die is cast, fates are sealed, destiny is determined. An obsession starts growing roots.

The story is presented from each of the four character’s P.O.V.  The chapters are short, but the book is long. Get ready to go in deep. Scandalous, frightening innermost thoughts are revealed and it’s not pretty. Downright uncomfortable. I find it so fascinating to compare a person’s thoughts with their contrasting behavior.

It’s been awhile since I read a psychological suspense that contained so many graphic sex scenes. But I didn’t find it to be gratuitous, since one of the characters suffers from a sex addiction and it is pertinent to telling the story.  I just point it out as a minor warning if you don’t want to read sex. Besides sex and drug addiction, you may be surprised to find yourself reading quite a bit about God and religion, medical professions, and child rearing. Listen, I told you! This book goes deep. No subject is too sensitive or off-limits for this author to tackle.

I’m really excited, if you couldn’t tell, to recommend this book about two couples with a “schizophrenic” relationship between all four members. Just when you think you know who is obsessing, who is the unreliable narrator, who is just an ordinary flawed human, you have to start all over again because until the very last page, you don’t know for sure.

This is Amanda Robson’s phenomenal debut novel. It has been the #1 e-book all summer in the U.K., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. The US publication is scheduled for September 19, 2017. Many thanks to Harper Collins for allowing me to read the ARC via Edelweiss. Opinions are mine.

About The Author (taken from her website)

After graduating, Amanda Robson worked in medical research at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine, and at the Poison’s Unit at Guy’s hospital where she became a co-author of a book on cyanide poisoning.

This has set her in good stead for writing her debut novel, Obsession, a dark and twisted tale about love affairs gone wrong.

Amanda attended the Faber Academy writing course in 2011, and now writes from home full time. She lives in London and Wales, with her lawyer husband, one–eyed dog and unfriendly cat. Her two sons, also lawyers, have more or less, fled the nest.

Obsession Amazon

HIDE AND SEEK

3/5 stars

  • Author: Richard Parker
  • Kindle Edition, 393 pages
  • Expected publication: August 31st 2017 by Bookouture

I love the way this book starts! Page one and BOOM! You are right in the middle of a mom fighting a backyard intruder who has scooped up her 4-year old son and is making his way over the fence and….I don’t want to give anymore away, but it’s a race until the end of the book. AND this is one tough mama bear.

Richard Parker is the solid writer of this thriller (and my favorite tiger name from LIFE OF PI). He knows how to keep up the suspense and the pages turning fast. The bulk of the plot takes place in the span of two days as Lana and Todd fight to get their son back.

The two parents have different ideas about who took their son and why. This is where the story divides up and they each go their own way to rescue the kid.

Lana is into a website/app called “Right Where You’re Standing” a type of Murder Wikipedia of kill-sites.  Is there an app like this?  I’m asking for a friend. 

She is convinced the app has something to do with her son’s abduction and a notorious serial child rapist, dubbed Mr. Whisper, is her main suspect.  Todd, her husband, thinks his wife is wrong. Todd has a secret and he believes this secret is the reason for the kidnapping.

For me, the plot would work better without the secondary story of Todd and his secret. I would have enjoyed a more in-depth character analyses of Todd and Lana. But, that’s just me. The story is really an active, plot driven novel. I feel the ending is too much, too implausible and over the top.

There are some really cool settings: a psychiatric prison hospital, an abandoned water park, an old school. The images are memorable and creepy. HIDE AND SEEK is a quick read and a perfect light mystery for a poolside read.

Author: Richard Parker
Kindle Edition, 393 pages
Expected publication: August 31st 2017 by Bookouture
AMAZON KINDLE DEAL click below!

Hide and Seek: An absolutely gripping thriller with heart-pounding suspense

10 INVIGORATING Bookclub Selections

What kinds of books do you like to read and discuss with a group of friends?  Does your bookclub go for the controversial themes or the safe ones, so that no one member feels offended? Nothing wrong with that. Some bookclubs are polite like that.

My bookclub “babes” tend to go….all over the place! We go through the historical fiction period for a few months until we get tired of that and switch it up with something hot and current. We always have more lively discussions with the “controversial” books. One book that was definitely a love it or hate it topic for us was ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS by Bryn Greenwood.

“I was lying on the tracks under a train I was in love with.”
― Bryn Greenwood, All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Personally, I find this book absolutely heartbreaking and brilliant. The subject matter is tough and heavy, but honest. And definitely provocative. Talk about a conversation starter!

HILLBILLY ELEGY: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance, is a fascinating book, more about the state of our nation than a memoir. I highly recommend it for a book club, so many topics ranging from Appalachian poverty to the Rust Belt and the coal and steel industry, and though the author does not even mention the word TRUMP, there is a widespread belief that this book, at least partially, explains Trump’s win over Clinton. He writes knowledgeably about education, unemployment and the general “angriness” of the white poor man in the United States.

“We don’t study as children, and we don’t make our kids study when we’re parents. Our kids perform poorly in school. We might get angry with them, but we never give them the tools—like peace and quiet at home—to succeed.”
― J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

No matter how you feel about the state of our country right now,  your bookclub may want to consciously choose books of importance, diversity, and relevance this year. In the last few months we have read HOMEGOING, AMERICANAH, THE BOOK OF UNKNOWN AMERICANS, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. We have also enjoyed discussing EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU, THE TORTILLA CURTAIN, THE ROUND HOUSE and THE INVENTION OF WINGS.  I can confidently say that any of these “NEW” classics are perfect for your discussions and observations. They are all immediate classics to add to your bookclub TBR.

Click on any of the images below to get your copy and start reading today!

THE KIND WORTH KILLING

5/5 stars

“I don’t think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing.”
― Peter Swanson, The Kind Worth Killing

This first-rate domestic thriller has never gotten the attention it deserved. It won a couple of awards when it was released in 2015, but The Girl on the Train was published around the same time and that press junket steamrolled over any serious consideration The Kind Worth Killing was gaining as the go-to novel that year.

giphy

A modern take on the Patricia Highsmith classic, Strangers on a Train, the story is told mostly through the voice of Lily. I read this over two years ago, and I still remember Lily! She is a terrifyingly, unreliable narrator due to her psychotic tendencies. Here’s the weird part: I started sympathizing with her and hoping she would get away with murder in the end. This is a talented writer, people! To turn readers into serial killer sympathizers, kudos to the skillful Peter Swanson!

If I summarize this book, it would be filled with spoilers. You’re most likely familiar with the Highsmith book or the Hitchcock movie, so you already know the plot. It is a cat and mouse game played with the highest stakes. But there is so much more in the way of characterization (especially Lily!) and plot twists and shocks and murder and…MAYHEM! Amen to that.

Now is the time to pull THE KIND WORTH KILLING out of your TBR stack. You will be rewarded with lots of creepiness and an unputdownable story.

AMAZON LINK: The Kind Worth Killing: A Novel

DARK MATTER

5/5 stars

  • Author: Blake Crouch
  • Crown Publishers
  • Published 7.26.2016

“We’re more than the sum total of our choices, that all the paths we might have taken factor somehow into the math of our identity.”
― Blake Crouch, Dark Matter 

Sometimes the perfect book comes into your life at the perfect time. Dark Matter kept catching my eye in the year that it has been published. But, ya know, sometimes I like sci-fi and sometimes I don’t. I happened to hear Anne Bogel on her podcast “What Should I Read Next” recommend this book to a reader. She said it’s not too science-y. She’s right. I would describe Dark Matter as a suspenseful love story with a lot of cool sci-fi elements thrown in.

Jason, our main character, goes out to buy ice cream one evening and is abducted at gunpoint, drugged, and wakes up in a Chicago that is not his own. His wife and child are not his wife and child anymore and he is a prize-winning physicist in this new world who has invented a way to travel to an infinite number of universes (the multiverse).  He is on a mission to get back to his universe with his wife and child in his own life. The story that follows is one of lost opportunities, what ifs, and how the smallest decisions affect our life. It’s kind of a “Sliding Doors” premise with a sci-fi twist.

Blake Crouch writes in an exciting fast manner, you can read this book in a matter of hours (and you will want to!). I heard he’s writing the screenplay for the movie and I have no doubt it will be amazing. His writing is well suited to a screenplay. Short and to the point on descriptions, dialogues, relationships.

The book is suspenseful because he is on the run and desperate to find who has taken his place in his original universe with the love of his life, Daniela.

He’s not time traveling, he is jumping between different universes at one point in time. Sometimes he encounters a horrifyingly post-apocalyptic Chicago and another time he finds an angelic, seemingly futuristic Chicago. But all of these worlds are existing now because of choices we made as the human race in that world.  AAHHHH, I can’t even explain it, but it works!

After a summer filled with reading the same-old-domestic-suspense stories, Dark Matter was a breath of fresh air.  I absolutely loved it. You don’t need to understand quantum physics to understand this book. Suspend all disbelief, buckle your seatbelt and let Blake Crouch do the driving.

Dark Matter: A Novel AMAZON link