3.5 Stars. McCreight's newest novel is centered around a small university town where the body of a newborn infant has been found in the river. Molly,3.5 Stars. McCreight's newest novel is centered around a small university town where the body of a newborn infant has been found in the river. Molly, local small-town community reporter, finds herself in the unenviable position of reporting on the crime when the town's regular investigative reporter is conveniently out sick that day. Even worse, the death hits hard for Molly since she is only just recovering from a late-term miscarriage herself.
It probably goes without saying that Molly uncovers far more than just the death of an infant here. Instead, she begins to discover town secrets that go back decades....secrets people in this small town do not want revealed.
That's pretty much it in a nutshell.
I really enjoyed McCreight's previous novel, Reconstructing Amelia, which won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel. This one? Not as much. Perhaps my expectations were set far too high. I found the plot a bit too contrived: the good guys-disguised-as-bad-guys but it was obvious they'd be revealed as good guys in the end (and vice versa) was fairly obvious. There was your stock bitchy mother who got what was coming to her in the end -- no depth to her whatsoever. Our protagonist, Molly, was such a Pollyanna that it became difficult to like her, either, as she martyred herself chapter after chapter. Maybe this wouldn't have stood out so much if any of the characters had had more depth to them...they felt quite cardboard throughout the story.
All this said, I think the novel will still have commercial appeal. It's an easy read - I zipped through it in less than 8 hours of reading time - that requires little concentration. There's enough of a thriller element that will please a lot of readers and I can see it selling well in airports, etc. As mentioned, I liked the author's previous work so I hope this one does well for her even if I didn't particularly warm to it....more
4.5 Stars. Everyone seems to be chattering about Tim Johnston's new thriller DESCENT and for good reason, this is some damn fine writing that doesn't4.5 Stars. Everyone seems to be chattering about Tim Johnston's new thriller DESCENT and for good reason, this is some damn fine writing that doesn't sacrifice either the literary side of things or the thriller side, proving that there are indeed novels that are both gorgeously written while keeping the reader on the edge of their seat for nearly 400 straight pages. Bravo.
Caitlin Courtland is in the full bloom of youth. Eighteen years old, just graduated high school, and getting ready to leave for college in the fall. A track star who lives for running, her graduation gift is a family trip to the Rocky Mountains to train her already honed body to meet even greater competition in college. But Caitlin's golden life is about to change forever.
When she goes up in the mountains for a training run with her younger brother Sean, only Sean is later found. The Courtland family is torn apart at the seams --- what happened to Caitlin?
This may sound like your standard thriller/mystery and all I can do is assure you that it is most assuredly *not.* Because Caitlin is not dead. And the Courtland family is each about to go through their own personal hell, a journey Johnston chronicles meticulously as he builds the tension with each chapter.
Ultimately, there is not one loose end here that isn't tied up and done so admirably - not an easy task in a novel such as this. Each character remains true to their own plot line throughout and this is key, because it builds a novel of such intense believability that the reader has a difficult time putting the book down even for basic tasks like sleeping or eating (gah!).
It's not hard to find good literary fiction out there. It *is* hard to find good lit fic that is also a fine thriller. Seek this one out. ...more
The secrets women carry and the lengths they will go to in order to preserve those secrets are hot in genre fiction right now. Done well, these novelsThe secrets women carry and the lengths they will go to in order to preserve those secrets are hot in genre fiction right now. Done well, these novels can be utterly compelling and difficult to put down as our inner voyeur rushes to discover the big reveal and pass judgement on the protagonist. Done poorly and the novel is an exercise in frustration and one giant eye-roll.
After reading an unfortunate spate of less than stellar novels in this genre lately, I found Seskis’ effort a refreshing change: One Step Too Far was well plotted, the scenario plausible, and the characters quite empathetic all around. This is how a well-done book in the genre *should* read.
Seskis’ story caught my attention from the first chapter with her introduction of a wife and mother running away from her family. We don’t know why she is running, but I was immediately interested. The story shifts with each chapter. One chapter might fall back to her childhood, revealing something relevant. The next chapter might bounce back to present day as she creates her new identity. The next shifts back to her wedding day. And so on. Something is revealed each time, but not enough to figure out the big picture. The tension just increases until everything explodes and, of course, we finally find out why she ran away. And the fall-out in everyone’s lives that comes after.
The entire novel had a tightly-plotted feel to it and I couldn’t find any loose ends lying about, something I’ve developed an appreciation for. This is an author to watch. She originally published this novel and another herself before Harper saw the sales potential and grabbed them. I expect to see more from her and suspect as her style matures, the novels will get even better. Recommended. ...more
Clearly based on the Amanda Knox case, The Perfect Mother is one mother's story of events that occur when her oldest daughter, a Princeton UniversityClearly based on the Amanda Knox case, The Perfect Mother is one mother's story of events that occur when her oldest daughter, a Princeton University student attending a study-abroad program in Seville, Spain, is suddenly accused of murder and the emotional, legal, and family chaos that then ensues.
Even all these years later, our fascination with the Amanda Knox case remains unabated. Did she or didn't she? This was obviously the impetuous for Darnton's novel. Although told in third person POV, the story revolves around the accused's mother, Jennifer, a woman who prides herself on being "The Perfect Mother." A former bit actress who gave up any thought of a career after marrying a lawyer and having children, Jennifer has thrown herself into raising perfect, successful children. And she was under the impression she has succeeded, despite some bumps along the way. After all, Emma, our Princeton/Spanish/Jailbird was everything a mother could hope for: she was pretty, popular, honor roll, and worked tirelessly on the Freedom Project to release prisoners unjustly convicted. This is a young woman with morals and values.
When Jennifer receives the middle of the night phone call from Emma that she has been arrested in Spain, she immediately travels to Spain to sort this "misunderstanding" out. Of course, as you may have already guessed, it isn't nearly that simple. And as Jennifer is about to find out, she may not know her daughter nearly as well as she thought.
That, then, is your premise. Pretty compelling, don't you think?
Now I need to talk about the execution of that premise. This is going to be one of those novels where a lot of folks are going to be just great with it, while others are going to be very disappointed, thinking it was far too simplistic. Unfortunately, I'll just tell you straight up that I fall into that latter camp.
While the book was a very fast read (I whipped through it in one day), it read like a B-movie to me. The characters never read true to me. Some more so than others (Emma's dad was possibly the worst, I spent the first couple of chapters wondering if he was her step-father because his reaction to her arrest was so blase that I kept thinking there was no way *this* was her father). I kept waiting for everything to be taken up a notch, so to speak; for the real action to begin, but it never did. The character's actions were slightly unbelievable (see below for actual examples if you care to read that far). I want to emphasize that this wasn't a *bad* book, just a largely forgettable one that could have been so very much better if it had been taken to the next level, so I felt more than a little frustrated. There is a love story of sorts in here, which I never felt but it was obvious I was supposed to, as well as a big twist at the end which wasn't really a twist but I won't spoil it in any case. So on to specifics.....
From the very first page I thought that the characters were cardboard cutouts. The father. I mentioned him. When the phone call comes in the middle of the night from his daughter saying she has been arrested for murder and please come help her his reaction is blah. When his wife repeats the phone conversation to him his response, rather than shock or dismay or any other 'normal' father reaction is (to his wife), "Shh, honey. Hold on. She'll be okay. We'll take care of this. Please, Jen, you have to be calm if you're going to help her." As his wife is packing in the middle of the night, there is then a paragraph drift to tell the reader about Jen's "striking blue eyes and thick, lustrous brown hair" and how she "spent three mornings a week at the gym to maintain her toned, elegant body, still firm and youthful although she had celebrated her forty-sixth birthday a month earlier." Not sure we needed that or that it's helpful. Sigh.
Okay, let's fast-forward to Spain. The author does a very good job with Emma, the student in jail. She is a giant pain in the ass. And she does a good job portraying her mother's denial of everything that is wrong with her daughter. So kudos for that. My problem was with the other main character introduced during this time, Roberto, a private detective hired by Jen to obtain evidence needed to get Emma out of jail. Oh, he's a nice enough character. But for the 5000 Euros his retainer cost, he is the most incompetent detective I've ever seen on paper. He doesn't *do anything* that even I, a stupid layperson, didn't think of doing myself about 50 pages earlier. This becomes frustrating because were I the mother, I would have fired his ass, I don't care how much "Johnny Depp beautiful" he looked like. (Author's description, not mine, lol.) And yes, again, he was a bit cardboard. He had a bit of a backstory to flesh him out, but at no point did I feel him spring to life, nor did I feel his connection with Jen to be authentic.
So besides falling in love with our incompetent detective, Jen spends all her time in Spain making phone calls. I'm not kidding. Page after page after page of her making calls to one person or another. Now I realize that she would probably actually be making a lot of phone calls. But this was going on *so* much that even I noticed it after the 100th phone call being described and I don't normally get bothered by stuff like that in books. Really, I don't. But when something is very repetitive, it comes to my attention and then every time I see it after that, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard. So I'm just telling you right now, the woman must have a phone bill in the thousands of Euros.
I realize by the length of this review that it must seem like I hated this book which isn't true. I'm sorry if it comes across that way. I really didn't hate it, I just didn't love it and wanted to give the reasons why. I think it was a competent novel (heck, I couldn't write anything this good....feel I need to say that because the last thing I need is someone angry or stalking me, but it's true, I couldn't write anything this good!), but wish it had been taken up a notch to make it a *really* good novel because then it would have been memorable.
As I said up front, some people are really going to like this one. You might be one of those folks.
*I received an advance copy from Penguin Books in exchange for an absolutely honest review of the book. ...more
For readers who have discovered the dark and twisted delight of Tana French's critically acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series, the upcoming release ofFor readers who have discovered the dark and twisted delight of Tana French's critically acclaimed Dublin Murder Squad series, the upcoming release of The Secret Place - the fifth book - is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. French has already secured her place as the queen of psychological crime novels; the Washington Post recently named her "one of the most talented crime writers alive." With a bar set so high, there is always that short moment of fear when you open each new novel: the fear that this time the magic French seems to imbue in each book won't be there.
Sigh of relief.
One of French's endearing traditions: every novel's protagonist is plucked from a previous novel where they made an appearance as a secondary character. The Secret Place has harvested Stephen Moran, who fans will remember from the 2010 novel Faithful Place where the eager young detective assisted one of French's most memorable characters, murder squad Detective Frank Mackey, solve a rather gruesome crime. But that was years ago and Detective Moran's career didn't accelerate the way he hoped. Languishing in the Cold Case Department, he's both surprised and oddly excited the day Holly Mackey - Detective Frank Mackey's teenage daughter - walks into his office with fresh evidence in a cold case murder of a sixteen year old boy that occurred on the grounds of St. Kilda's, Holly Mackey's exclusive Dublin boarding school.
Assigned to team up with Antionette Conway, the one murder squad detective all the lads hate for not being a lad, Detective Moran at last has a chance to prove himself worthy of the big time: the murder squad. And thus Moran and Conway enter the byzantine halls of St. Kilda's where they find that the apparatus of the teenage mind can be far, far darker and more twisted than the most deviant sociopaths stalking the streets of Dublin.
French brilliantly pulls off a dual timeline throughout the novel: Moran and Conway's detecting efforts take place throughout the course of one single day as they interview students at St. Kilda's, while the alternative timeline follows the students in the months leading up to the murder. It's a crafty technique and her success in pulling it off so seamlessly proves that French is at the top of her game in the crime writing scene.
"Late in January, half past ten at night. Fifteen minutes till lights-out, for third-years and fourth-years at Kilda's and at Colm's. Chris Harper - brushing his teeth, half thinking about the cold soaking into his feet from the tiled floor of the bathroom, half listening to a couple of guys giving a first-year hassle in a toilet cubicle and wondering whether he can be arsed stopping them - has just under four months to live."
Moran and Conway are one of French's better detective teams. Although this case could potentially boost their professional reputations, failure to find answers at St. Kilda's in this one single day might very well do significant damage to their respective career paths. It's a refreshing, if somehow ironic, change to see law enforcement characters dump the Protect and Serve motivation that most often pepper crime novels. A distrust that slowly evolves into grudging mutual respect adds to the acerbic banter between the two detectives, a relationship that doesn't reach it's full potential until the very end of the novel making it somewhat sad, knowing we won't be seeing them again, as protagonists anyway, in future books.
As for our suspects --- oh, our suspects. A girl's boarding school makes for a virtual viper's nest of suspects. These are, after all, sixteen year old girls. But French goes much deeper than that. She understands the vitality that pulsates just underneath the surface there and the myriad of ways that can be expressed - good and evil. Perhaps most disconcerting is the acknowledgment that teenage girls do indeed have to deal with the themes such as slut-shaming and women viciously cutting down other women at so young an age. Disturbing? Yes. Fascinating? Yes.
All of this isn't to say the novel isn't without a glaring problem. For reasons unexplained, French introduced an element of magic (as in witchcraft magic) to the story. While the idea of boarding school girls playing with magic might have played well, actual magic - however small - added nothing of value to the plot and only served to detract from the seriousness of her writing.
Aside from that misstep, The Secret Place is an excellent addition to an otherwise notable series. French's uncanny ability to capture the psychological nuances flowing between her characters - both adult and teen alike - keeps everything nicely taut from the very first chapter. Longtime fans will of course be watching the secondary characters -- who will star in the next Dublin Murder Squad novel?
Highly recommended for fans. First time readers are encouraged to begin with In the Woods, the first book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, although that isn't strictly necessary to enjoy this novel. ...more
Author Megan Abbott has simmered just shy of the limelight in a slow burn for several years now, gaining more attention with each novel and acquiringAuthor Megan Abbott has simmered just shy of the limelight in a slow burn for several years now, gaining more attention with each novel and acquiring a cult-like fan base in the process. Known for her neo-noir depiction of the American teenage girl, Abbott pulls no punches: she does not write feel-good YA. She plumbs the depth of the teen psyche and the result can be downright repulsive and yet still captivating. It is a combination that leaves little room for reader ambivalence. One either loves it or hates it.
No matter which camp you fall into, Abbott's talent is undeniable. Her 2008 novel Queenpin was the recipient of a prestigious Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original and her subsequent novels, including Bury Me Deep, The End of Everything, and Dare Me each received critical and popular acclaim.
Her newest release, The Fever, returns to what she knows best: the teenage psyche. When unexplained seizures start afflicting some local high school girls, one by one, a community is stricken with fear. The Nash family, in particular, is hit hard. Tom is a teacher at the high school where his two children, Eli and Deenie, are both popular students. The stricken girls, in fact, are all a part of Deenie's close circle of friends. In small towns, gossip runs deep and strong. Family secrets won't stay secret forever.
As one after another of Deenie's friends falls prey to this unknown disease - virus? supernatural? bacteria? vaccination reaction? - the town grows more and more explosive. Fingers are pointed, secrets are exposed, paranoia ensues.
Drawing from Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Abbott tries to recreate the contagious panic of hormone-driven, teen-girl angst, but falls a bit short here. What made her previous novels so memorable was her ability to dig deeper than the typical, superficial - and hence, ubiquitous - teen motivations. Abbott unnerves us because we are uncomfortable with the thought that teenagers, irritating and shallow though they may sometimes appear, can be driven by desires as dark and twisted as the most jaded adult. The Fever fails in this regard. Without revealing any important plot details, it is enough to say that where Abbott usually succeeds, here she falls back on trite teen cliches.
Her plot, however, is still taut, the writing still tense, and a frenzied apex still present -- all elements that are sure to please readers, but long-time Abbott fans are likely to feel slightly let down. For those who haven't yet read her work, Dare Me would be a far better choice to delve into Abbott's brilliance since The Fever tends to read like just another - albeit well-written - YA thriller.
Recommended with the understanding that it's not Abbott's best work. ...more
Despite the atrocious formatting of this e-version, I muddled through if only because Kubica wrote a helluva debut. Cut it with the Gone Girl comparisDespite the atrocious formatting of this e-version, I muddled through if only because Kubica wrote a helluva debut. Cut it with the Gone Girl comparisons....this is much better than any crap Flynn has written. (eyeroll insertion) Review forthcoming. But wait for the final release, don't try to torture yourself with the ridiculous e-arc the publisher put out ---- it's nearly not worth it....more
Great idea for a novel. Lots of things I liked. But ultimately the characters and the story never pulled together for anything cohesive, making the reGreat idea for a novel. Lots of things I liked. But ultimately the characters and the story never pulled together for anything cohesive, making the reading experience not as satisfactory as it might have been....more
Author Rosamund Lupton certainly has an original premise for her thriller "Afterwards." The entire novel is related in first person by Grace, a wife aAuthor Rosamund Lupton certainly has an original premise for her thriller "Afterwards." The entire novel is related in first person by Grace, a wife and mother who is in a coma. Badly injured in a fire, both Grace and her teen daughter Jenny are amazed to find themselves in the hospital, yet outside their bodies. They can communicate with each other, but no one else. Oddly enough, it's easy for both Grace and Jenny, and more importantly the reader, to easily accept this.
When Grace's young son is accused of starting the fire, it quickly becomes apparent that there is much more behind the story of the fire than anyone knows. So our thriller/mystery/whodunit unfolds as Grace's husband, other family members, and the police begin to sift through it all. Our 'otherwordly' protagonists, Grace and Jenny, of course become privy to quite a bit of information (being invisible does have it's advantages, you know) but are unable to share.
Meanwhile, it quickly becomes obvious that whoever started that fire wants to finish what they started.
Whew...did you get all that? In a nutshell, the novel is a typical thriller simply told from a unique POV. That part I liked. The actual "whodunit" part? Bah....nothing special there except for, in my opinion, far too many twists and turns at the end deliberately set to throw the reader off, which felt contrived. Mr. X did it. Story concluding. Ah HA, no Mrs. Y did it. Gotcha. Story concluding. NO, Mr. Z did it, in the library, with a candlestick. Return to heart breaking denouement.
If that makes it sound like I didn't enjoy reading the novel, that would be the wrong impression. I did. Read the whole darned thing in two days. Just felt a little cheated at the end (or maybe manipulated). It's worth the read, though, and I would recommend it!...more
I'm so glad Grisham has returned to writing legal thrillers. The Racketeer kept me rapt with attention, despite the ending....not a bad ending, just aI'm so glad Grisham has returned to writing legal thrillers. The Racketeer kept me rapt with attention, despite the ending....not a bad ending, just anti-climatic considering the thrill of the rest of the book. Nevertheless, it was a great read and I had fun with it....more