The new tenants have a terrible secret. So do the landlord and his daughter…
Ever since Lucy was two, she’s been on the run alongside her mother. She’s never understood the reason for a lifetime of paranoia, aliases, and lies. All she understands are the rules: never lock eyes with strangers, never let down your guard, and always be ready to move on.
Finally, after thirteen years and eleven states, their next hideaway seems perfect. An isolated, fortresslike place in the New Hampshire woods is the new home they share with its owner, a gentlemanly pianist, and his lonely daughter, Gretchen. She’s Lucy’s age and soon becomes Lucy’s first real friend.
But Gretchen and her father have secrets of their own—and an obsession with puzzles that draws Lucy into a terrifying new game of hide-and-seek. Lucy’s dark past is about to come calling. And this time, for her and her mother in the house on the hill, it might be too late to run.
My top 14 books of all time are as follows, in the following order--as in, if I was allowed only 14 books to bring to a deserted island where I was marooned for the rest of my life, these are what I would pack:
1. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabo) 2. Orphan Master's Son (Adam Johnson) 3. The Mummy Market (Nancy Brelis), tragically out of print, which makes ZERO sense because it's a classic 4. The Incarnations (Susan Barker) AMAZING 5. Life of Pi (Yann Martel) 6. Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) 7. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) 8. Swamplandia, and every single word ever written by: (Karen Russell) 9. Everything is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran Foer) 10. The Keep, Jennifer Egan 11. The Sea (John Banville) 12. Someone Else's Love Story, Joshilyn Jackson. 13. Kiss the Girls (Patterson) 14. The Great Alone, Kristin Hannah
Further to my literary likes, I consider Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Charles Dickens to be actual, literal geniuses; if we had brain scans of their brains, we wouldn't understand what we're seeing. I prefer more prose than dialogue; prefer poetry over intricate plot, but love if I can have both (hence, Love in the Time of Cholera being #1 and Orphan Master's Son #2).
But I'm never really consistent with this anyway. If I'm pulled to keep reading the book, I'll keep reading the book.
My reviews are all and will only ever be of books I love. I do not finish books I don't like, so it's not fair for me to review them.
In my case her name was Francine Sharp (please don't let her be reading this and come butcher me in my sleep). Gretchens are friendless, awkward outcasts with a tendency to glob onto anybody that shows them the least little bit of attention. Oh, and lest I forget, they are always BATSHIT CRAZY.
As fun as Gretchen is she's not the MC. That would be Lucy and it's been awhile since I've loved one as much as I did her. She's smart and snarky and uber relatable.
This story is rife with mystery and tension and wacko characters and everything else I love about a psychological thriller.... UNTIL IT'S NOT.
At 74% it's like a different author takes over with a whole new plot. And it ruined what was, up until that point, an exceptional book. For that reason I had to knock off a star from my rating.
Gretchen is a complete departure from Kirk's In the Vines, which reached a new level of madness, but equally captivating. Kirk's writing is magnetic and the true star of her books.
Despite it's failings near the end, this book is creepy fun and I can't wait for the next offering from this author.
Side note to Francine Sharp: please don't kill me 😬
I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
How do you neatly shelve a book that defies genre boundaries and stands in a league all on its own? Well, you clearly create a new genre titled WTAF! Also? I mean that in the highest complimentary way, because it made for an absolutely unputdownable read. Gretchen is the title of the book, but the story really focuses on things from Lucy's perspective of her tumultuous life thus far. While this is being billed as a psychological thriller, and it is one by all means, I think it falls neatly into the horror category as well, but don't let that scare you away if you aren't typically a horror reader.
As stated about, the story focuses on Lucy and her mother, and the upheaval that they've experienced in her short life. Things are starting to look up when they settle down in New Hampshire, where Lucy even makes a friend around her own age. Enter Gretchen! Gretchen is like a pesky case of head lice that you just can't shake. Oh sure, it seems harmless at first, and after you treat it you think it's gone, but it keeps coming back due to some unforeseen infestation. Now, imagine those head lice are actually a demonic little child who is obsessed with puzzles and you have the disease that is Gretchen.
Friends, I cannot emphasize enough what a wild ride this story provides. The tension is there instantaneously, but it continues to fester and roil in your gut until the explosive ending, and MY GOD SHANNON KIRK. I tip my hat to you woman, because you are a master at writing about the things we pretend are horrifying, but secretly, in our deepest and darkest of hearts, we greedily consume like rubberneckers, and tuck away to tell ourselves that at least we aren't as screwed up as those people. Have you met Gretchen yet? If not, I'd be happy to introduce you to each other, just know that you can't bring her back here when you're finished with her. Muahahahaha
*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.
“…Mag, I hope this isn’t weird, and I truly mean it as a huge compliment, but I think you’re a Jenny too. Maybe even the truest Jenny.”
Are you a Gretchen or a Jenny? Sometimes a Gretchen can BE a Jenny. And vice versa. Got that?
Shannon Kirk is an outstanding writer. She cleverly weaves together a mirrored double plot line that has the reader climbing a ladder of suspense. You had best hold onto tight to each rung because when you reach the top, watch out!!! You’re about to be pushed off that ladder into a climactic scene I still can’t get my head around.
I had a difficult time rating Gretchen: A Thriller. For 75% of the book, I was 120% invested. LOVED IT. We have an astute and insightful main character, 15-yr old Lucy, who is on the run with her mom. Her father tried to abduct her when she was a baby and now that mom is in charge, she is not about to let that happen again. So, they run. And move towns a lot. Eventually, Lucy meets Gretchen. Gretchen is a weird kid with personality to spare. I loved everything about needy little Gretchen until I didn’t.
Okay, now about that last 25% of the novel. I admit to some eye-rolling and skimming some long passages about bones. Yes, bones. (By the end of the book, you will never look at lemons, jig saw puzzles or skeletons the same ever again!) I just wasn’t crazy about the direction Kirk took with the narrative. Despite some convincing writing, it was a tough sell on this psychological suspense fan. And I knocked off a whole star for the absurdness of it all.
I got over it. As that great American poet, Cardi B, says, OKURRRRRR!
The ending is INSANE and scary! Pure horror and a bit supernatural. It helps me put it into perspective and look at it like a Stephen King paperback. Gretchen could actually be a sister to King’s creepy Carrie.
I promise you will be entertained and isn’t that what we’re all looking for with a summer read?
Thanks to the author for allowing me to read and review an advanced galley. All opinions are mine! Gretchen is set for a July 2019 publication date.
What is it about psychotic children that is so creepy yet appealing? Gretchen took disturbed to a whole new level.
15 year old Lucy and her mother have been on the run for 13 years. 11 states and endless hours cross country in their car later they end up in an isolated, fortresslike place in the New Hampshire woods. Their new landlords are a pianist, and his lonely daughter, Gretchen. It would be ideal, if each of these families weren't harboring so many secrets.
Shannon Kirk has a way of leaving her readers on high alert. This story is pure tension. You don't know who is crazier - each character seems worse than the last. But Gretchen - she's the worst of them all. Gretchen is creepy, has zero social boundaries and is absolutely CRAZY! There's no other word for her, the girl is demented. I was all in for this one but the end kinda lost some of its mojo for me compared to the lead up in the beginning. Still, the book was insane and had me hooked throughout. It was like a crazy, far fetched nightmare and I couldn't look away. If you like your books with suspense, horror and lots of tension - definitely pick this one up!
Thank you to Shannon Kirk, Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for an arc of this suspenseful, chills all around read!
I fell in love with Kirk's writing last summer with her release of In The Vines. In fact, In The Vines was one of my top 10 novels for 2018! So when I heard the fabulous Shannon Kirk was coming out with a new novel for this summer, I knew I needed to drop everything and read it. Kirk's upcoming horror novel Gretchen continues to follow in In The Vines's footsteps as she ventures further into the gothic suspense genre. Both In The Vines and Gretchen have similar Ruth Ware vibes, so if you are enjoying Ware's latest novels, then you'll definitely enjoy Kirk's writing.
Although the story is titled Gretchen, it really focuses on fifteen year old Lucy and her mother. Lucy and her mother are basically nomads hiding from their past. Lucy's mom refuses to let her get too close to people—she has to wear color contacts, she has to lie about her family life, and she can't use the internet without supervision. Lucy's mom is terrified of her daughter's father finding them due to his immense power and corruption. In fact, they have lived in eleven states since as long as Lucy can remember.
Lucy and her mom finally settle in rural New Hampshire, hoping that the isolation of this small town will be the destination that they can finally call their mainstay home. They find a perfect cottage owned by a single father and his daughter Gretchen. They live on the ranch as well with another property nearby, and have a full listing ready for Lucy and her mother to move into. As Lucy and her mother settle into their new digs, they start getting to know their new landlord and his daughter. Gretchen is around the same age as Lucy, and is desperate for friends. Not having anyone besides her mother in her life, Lucy accepts Gretchen's intensity as genuine interest and forges a friendship with her. As the two get to know each other, Lucy begins to question her new friend's behavior. Gretchen is a very domineering friend, and she has a peculiar obsession with puzzles. (I won't go into that obsession further in this review, but let me tell ya, OH BOY.) The longer Gretchen and Lucy maintain a friendship, the more information she finds out about her own life. As Lucy begins to uncover the past about her dark family secrets, Gretchen begins to be force to be reckoned with.
Gretchen is literally the most insane book I've ever read. Shannon Kirk dives deep into the darkness with this story, and I can't get the book out of my head! The pacing is very similar to In The Vines, so if you enjoyed how that story was told, you'll definitely be ready for Gretchen. The book goes deeper in its characterizations than Kirk's last novel, and it sets the right formula for the reader to fully be immersed into these characters' lives. As you read the story, you will believe that you know how this story will play out, but listen, you really, really don't!
There were multiple moments throughout the book where I was genuinely shocked at how the story was progressing, and I legit yelled, "What the &$%#!?" multiple times (in a good way). Gretchen has multiple story arcs that develop throughout the novel, and it allowed for each character to really play a role in the plot, which made for a really enjoyable horror novel. I wonder how fans will enjoy this story, and how they would categorize this book. I would say this is more of a horror novel than a thriller, but it really is in a league of it's own. Gretchen will be out July 23, and I want to thank Shannon Kirk for providing me an advanced copy in exchange for a review. I can't wait to see what you all think of it, and I can't wait for you to meet Gretchen!
Let me just say, I'm so glad I read this during the daytime, when the sun was shining and I was in a plane full of people bc OMG. This book is creepy in the best possible way, and waaaaaay scarier than what I'm used to reading. The poor lady sitting beside me had her arm grabbed more than once because we've all known a Gretchen, a strange loner who turns out to be a batshit loon, only mine was named Pamela. Pamela, if you're reading this, I'm talking about a different Pamela. 😬 Five terrifying stars.
Just WOW! a creepy thriller a read done with a Buddy Read on Instagram. The first part was slow though I’d leave it but thank god i stuck with it. The beginning was weird had weird characters especially the relationship between mother and daughter it was so strange it made you think are they really but the following parts you found out the truth about everything! It does leave you wondering what happened to a few major characters! I do recommend this book!
Ughh. What a shame! The beginning was so creepy & fun... I couldn't put it down! I loved certain characters & thought maybe i was going to be an outlier- & was getting excited cuz i could totally see it being a great 1!! But then i got bored.. The middle felt tedious & repetitive, & then the last bit was utterly ridiculous. Such a tease to have such an intense, creepy setup... & then bam, silliness. & did i mention that parts of the "mystery" (the parts that weren't pure fantasy!) were totally predictable?! Just not my cup of tea. But i still have faith in this author.. We'll have to see what's next!
I received Gretchen: A Thriller by Shannon Kirk as a Goodreads Giveaway. My sincere thanks for the free book, and I’d love to be able to write a positive review, but it’s so awful I couldn’t finish it. If it were a physical book, I’d at least skim through it, but I find skimming ebooks to be difficult so I’m abandoning it because life is too short to read books this incredibly bad. There is nothing I like about this book. The plot is ridiculous, the dialogue is terrible, the prose is terrible and I don’t give two shits about anyone. Except the cat, Allen. I hope nothing bad happens to him.
A mother and her teenage daughter, Lucy, are on the run. They don’t stay in one place very long because they are worried about being recognized. They’ve been running for years but Lucy is tired of this and wants to stay in one place long enough to make at least one friend. When they rent an idyllic cottage in a rural town, Lucy is sure they’ve found the perfect place to settle down, but her mother is worried—with good cause. The family they are renting from is creepy and hiding secrets, but that doesn’t stop Lucy from becoming friends with Gretchen, the teenage daughter. Nothing good comes of this.
I don’t know what happens in the end (or even the middle) because I quit on page 60. This book has so many problems that even if I could overlook the unbelievable plot, the writing is so godawful I cannot plow through it. The pacing is constantly dragged down by the most inane and excessive descriptions of physical settings and turkey subs (they’re moist! They’re delicious!) that I just can’t. I don’t think I’ve done anything so awful in life that I need to atone by finishing this book.
The plot is immediately unbelievable. Lucy was apparently a baby or a toddler when she and her mother first went on the run. So they’ve been running and hiding for over ten years. However, their situation is presented at first as if their fugitive status is fairly recent, perhaps under a year. They are so paranoid about being discovered that Lucy doesn’t make many friends at school, they rarely appear in public together and Lucy wears contacts to disguise the true color of her eyes. It’s reasonable to think that they are being featured on 24 hour cable news shows, are trending in social media, etc. If you keep reading, you discover why they are running and hiding (and even later there are hints that that reason isn’t the truth) and that they’ve been doing so for YEARS. In that time, Lucy has grown into a teenager. Her mother has aged. Maybe the mother will be recognizable, but who the hell is going to look at Lucy and say, “oh yeah, you’re that baby I saw on tv 10 years (or so) ago”? But the author presents this almost exact situation as happening (and happening more than once). If, IF, the author had dropped in a line like, “Lucy and her mother’s paranoia increases whenever CNN runs an update on their story and shows a computer-generated image of what a 15 year old Lucy looks like,” then I could have believed it. At least enough to stop my eye-rolling. But the author does not and so I’m left with my skeptical “no way in fucking hell will the general public remember—much less recognize—this girl as the missing/kidnapped/whatever toddler from years ago” thoughts. Not a promising start to a thriller.
The other huge problem: the writing is TERRIBLE. Sentence construction is awkward, dialogue is tortured and unnatural, the very odd and excessively long food descriptions are flat out fucking weird…I mean, it’s awful. The writing is so bad that I cannot decide if that some of the word choices are deliberate by the author to make certain characters look strange (because Gretchen and her father are seriously not right), but based on all the dialogue (both spoken and Lucy’s blabbity blab blab constantly running inner dialogue describing physical settings in words no teenager or even normal fucking person would use) and really, just about every word in the book, I’m going with it’s terrible writing overall.
Because the writing is so bad, I’m just going to quote stuff and add comments. I can’t say much else about the novel except, it’s obvious that Gretchen and the father are serial murderers or something. It’s so fucking obvious that it’s absolutely ridiculous that Mom (whatever her name is), who has spent a great chunk of her life trying to keep Lucy safe from (whatever), doesn’t stuff the kid back in the car and go. I don’t care how delicious those damn turkey subs are, when some guy tells me his property is secured by a “boundary fence, house perimeter alarms, and, yes, net traps, ankle snatchers, electrical gates” (55), I’m hauling ass as fast and far away as possible from this dude and his creepy kid. I will also say that chapter four presents a new unnamed character who apparently is traveling and living out of her car (?), which she appears to call the Beast, and this woman makes no sense at all. She’s following/searching for someone (can we guess who???) and yet stops every morning to get her physical fitness on: some planks and five-minute knee-lift sprints. Oh, yes. The WTF-is-going-on-fun never ends in this novel.
“But I did note her hiding a relief of a smile at my answer” (6). What is a “relief of a smile”? Why, Shannon Kirk, would you write such a terrible sentence when you can easily write: “I noticed her trying to hide a relieved smile at my answer”?
“I’ve noticed how ever since I started my period a few months ago, and since my body and face have been changing more and more, she winces more and more” (13). Ugh. First, it’s however, not how ever. Second, awkward repetition of “more and more.”
I’m not one for always following grammar and punctuation rules, but if you’re going to ignore them, it should be for creative reasons—not because it looks as if you can’t write a damn decent sentence.
“Mom bounces her head…” (14). Can she now? That’s talent!
“And the way it’s decorated, I place myself inside reading a book, in its cozy-colorful-artiness” (16). I hate everything about this sentence.
“I think this means I want to be a chef someday, and Mom thinks I must think that too” (17). Eye roll.
Here are some bad dialogue selections. When the characters talk, the words they use may be okay, but the order in which they use them is weird. At one point, her mother says to her: “Lucy, love you, Bug” (8). That’s not normal. Wouldn’t she just say: “Love ya, Lucy Bug?” And: “Such a good girl, Lucy. Okay. A quick ice cream by the lake” (8). Not only does that sound weird, but how old is Lucy? It sounds as if Mom is talking to either a small child or her dog. After the scene in the park when Lucy takes off her sunglasses and looks at the man and he recognizes her (eye roll), Lucy and her mother both use the word “engage” to describe speaking to the man. Lucy says that she is “sorry for engaging that man” (13). Who uses that word choice? Wouldn’t you say, “Sorry, mom. I shouldn’t have talked to that man”? Doesn’t that sound more natural? I get that the author is trying to show that Lucy grew up sheltered and homeschooled and so isn’t a normal teenager, but the awkward dialogue doesn’t help define either Lucy or her mother (or really any of the characters). More quick examples:
“This thing (the rental house) is furnished so completely, it even comes with new linens” (16). Yes, because that sounds like a teenager—blown away by the new “linens.”
“But I also really like reading true books about octopus intelligence and jellyfish and sea things…” (17). If she’s so damn precise she says “linens” instead of “bed sheets,” she’s not going to say “true books.” It’s non-fiction. Non-fiction. Say it with me, class!
“Now I’m the one doing a happy bounce, and Gretchen is back to doing hers. I’ve never done a happy bounce before” (34). If Lucy were being even the slightest bit sarcastic I’d let this pass, but she’s not. She and Gretchen both sound like 5 year olds. Yah! Happy bounce! But contrast her happy bouncing with the long, unnecessarily detailed descriptions of the physical setting. Why the author did not present these passages as exposition is beyond me, but they are written as Lucy’s thoughts:
“Rising up the dirt road, we move past Bottle Brush Forest, and as we do, the trees on my side, the right side, start to thin, but the trees on Mom’s side start to thicken, the limbs of the pines not sheared now” (17). Do we really need to know that the trees on one side of the road are denser than other side? Who fucking cares?
“And yet the thickening forest on Mom’s side casts stagnant, unmovable shadows—not the dappling, lighter mood of light dancing through rippling leaves and mixing with moving shadows; the darkness on her side is a wall of cold dusk” (18). No one thinks like that. An author will describe a forest like that. A teenager who’s trying too hard to be lyrical can write that, but a girl sitting in a car looking at the forest outside her car window isn’t going to yammer on about the quality of the rippling leaves and dappling light.
“Out ahead of us is a patch of cattails and tall, swamplike lime grasses, as if dancing green snakes are climbing rods to eat brown Twinkies speared on the tops” (19). Ha ha ha ha ha. Could that be any more tortured? Cattails are now dancing green snakes eating brown Twinkies. Holy shit that’s awful. What’s even more amusing is the author has her character summarize the scenery: “So to sum up, in front of us, out beyond the cattails and lime snake patch, is an inviting lightness, a dancing light and rippling leaves, the promise of a burdenless summer” (19). Lucy “sums up” another physical description (this time of a room) about ten pages later. Why bother writing such excruciating descriptions merely to have Lucy (the same character describing them) “sum” them up?
And lastly, the weird-as-fuck precisely detailed descriptions of food. Again, I will allow some latitude in the idea that the author (at least with the first selection) is trying to show how much Lucy yearns for a normal life, so much so that her imaginary “dinner at a friend’s house” scenario is weirdly detailed. But this charitable reasoning in no way explains why the author would devote three paragraphs and at least 100 words describing the delicious turkey subs.
Lucy’s imagined idea of what her friend Jenny’s mom would serve them for dinner if Lucy could stay the weekend at her house: “homemade cheesesteak sandwiches out of prime-cut, thin-sliced, perfectly marinated beef, with aged cheddar from Vermont, and on fresh-baked rolls” (7). Wouldn’t Jenny’s mom assume they want pizza and Cokes? Or burgers and fries? Typical teenage fare? Why would she serve this? Did Lucy really want this (not specified in the book)? Or is Jenny’s mom a really great cheesesteak sandwich maker?
The it’s so weird it’s great turkey sub description: “ ‘Turkey’s shaved from Dyson’s downtown. They roast five whole turkeys every single day and then sell the sandwiches and meat the next day. Every day they sell out. People drive here from all over.’ (Jerry the creep says this.)
This is the best turkey club I’ve ever had. The turkey is moist and just-right salty and seems somewhat marinated in a delicious gravy. The bacon is obviously organic [obviously—I mean, she can tell just by tasting it, right?] and smoked, and the cheese, Jerry told us, is aged cheddar from an actual Vermont cheesemaker [wtf with the preoccupation with aged cheddar cheese from Vermont], some guy with a long white beard [because beardless guys make shit aged cheddar cheese, even if it’s from Vermont]. The lettuce is crisp, local butter lettuce, not disgusting field weeds they try to pass off as ‘mixed greens.’ All these great ingredients are available at Dyson’s [is this a real joint? Did they pay the author to publicize their store?]” (51). This is even nuttier the second time reading (and typing it). I just…I mean…WTF.
And (for anyone who still wants to read this 353-paged pile of dung), I give you these:
Lucy owns a “first-edition of Dolores Claiborne” (43). Ha ha ha ha…you can probably pick up a copy of this book anywhere, so citing that it is a first edition is funny. It’s not a Jane Austen or a folio of one of Shakespeare’s plays.
“…as she grabs my left biceps and squeezes…”(18). Um, you really only have the one left bicep.
There’s a running theme of Lucy’s obsession with finding a “true Jenny” which I take to mean a good friend, like her friend Jenny from the school she recently had to leave. It’s annoying and I hate it, but I hate everything about this novel.
“I love cats!” Gretchen says, her smile even wider now (26). Run, Allen the cat, run!
“Right away we step into a galley kitchen with retro-style but modern turquoise and red appliances: a turquoise refrigerator, a red gas stove, a turquoise toaster, a red dishwasher” (27). Really? How much money do these people have? Maybe you can get a funky colored toaster, but I just had to get a new stove and dishwasher and I’ll tell you, even the fanciest (and most expensive) appliances did NOT come in red and turquoise. That’s a special order from a high-end appliance dealer. But, hell, maybe these people are wealthy creepy serial killers.
“At the end of the hall is a small bathroom. I poke my head in to find the three essentials: sink, toilet, shower stall” (28). Thank you for that elucidation, Lucy. I never knew what essentials a bathroom contained.
“As in every place we’ve rented, we’ve entered into a conspiracy to allow the landlord to hide rental income from the IRS” (34). This irritates me because has the author ever been a renter? Previously there’s a conversation between Jerry and Mom about how she likes to pay the rent in cash because she doesn’t trust the US banking system and Jerry says, “oh yeah, cash is better for us if you know what I mean,” wink, wink. This is so stupid. Paying rent in cash is a legitimate and LEGAL way of paying your rent. Plus, you can get money orders if you don’t trust banks. It’s like the author has no clue that other systems of currency exist outside of checks and credit cards. I’ve paid cash for my rent before—that doesn’t make me a criminal. If the landlord doesn’t report this income to the IRS, it won’t matter how you pay the fucking rent. Cash is easier because there’s no record, but seriously. If he’s that crooked he won’t report any rent payments, no matter how they are made. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
It seems the more I hate a book, the longer my reviews are. I read only 60 pages of this shitfest, yet my review is over 2000 words long. My apologies. It’s just so fucking bad. I don’t recommend this book, unless you want to experience the awfulness for yourself.
What should have been a slow burn gothic thriller turned into a tedious, dragging story with twists that I saw coming a mile away.
Mother daughter duo are on the run - from what exactly we don't know - but they rent a cabin from Gretchen and her father. Gretchen seems to lack any sense of social convention and oversteps boundaries more than frequently. Told in alternating perspectives from mother and daughter (Lucy), we begin to unravel why they are running and what they are running from.
Unfortunately, the reveals were a bit lackluster for me and by the time we got to the meatier part of the story, I was already feeling frustrated by the dragging pace.
Thank you to Thomas & Mercer for an advanced copy. All opinions are my own.
The winter owl banked just in time to pass and save herself from breaking window glass. --Robert Frost
Fellow readers, I honestly don't know how I feel about this book. My gut seems to be leaning more negative than positive. There were just so many competing story lines, at times, it felt...tortured. You know what I mean, right? Like, when you keep curling your hair, but it's not laying the way you desire, so you curl it some more...then some more...and pretty soon, you're rocking a frizzy, overworked mess on your head. That's how Gretchen felt to me...frizzy and tortured.
Told from two points of view, those of Lucy and Mother, we learn about their nomadic lifestyle, living in 11 different states, while running from Lucy's barbaric father. Gretchen, our title character, is the cuckoo crazy daughter of their equally nutty landlord in New Hampshire. And when I say cuckoo, I mean balls-to-the-wall NUTS.
My emotions ran the gamut while reading...there were moments when I laughed out loud (Lucy's reaction to her first family dinner at Gretchen's house), moments when I was totally creeped out (that mansion, it's rooms and hallways...those puzzles), and moments when I found myself rolling my eyes (pretty much the entire final 25% of the novel). The chapters dealing with Mother were deeply boring...page after page of internal dialogue and unnecessary text. The conclusion, while neatly wrapped up, still felt quite abrupt.
After finishing, I'm still genuinely not sure how I'd classify this book...I'd say the ending is a thriller, but the first 2/3 felt more like creepy, atmospheric horror. This was an odd one, folks. I foresee there being very little gray here...readers are either going to love Gretchen or hate it. I, unfortunately, fall into the latter category. It took me forever to finish this book...I even missed reviewing prior to the publication deadline...simply because I had no desire to pick it up and read. For a bookworm like me, that's saying something.
I don't want to conclude this review, however, without mentioning the stunning, and appropriate, book cover.
**Despite my lackluster review, I want to thank NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for my advanced copy. All opinions are my own.
Publication date: July 23, 2019 Review published on Goodreads: July 24, 2019
Gretchen... Gretchen...Gretchen *shaking my head*...what have you done?!
There is a SPECIAL kind of CRAZY for people like Gretchen, that’s for sure! I have read a lot of crazy, twisted, far-fetched, rolling my eyes kind of psychological thrillers in my life, but this book is on a quite different level, way over the PSYCHOLOGICAL line.
Ok, so here is the thing: I really thought this was a pretty good read, like 4 stars good (which is very good for a book in this genre, since there is so many of them out there nowadays), up to the last 1/4 of the book, and then it all just went downhill for me. The plot became just so convoluted, implausible, and oh, just so cheesy, that my eyes were rolling and rolling and rolling, and I just wanted to give up. I mean, what happened? It was going so well, and Gretchen was actually a believable character (I mean we all know some crazy and clingy people, right?), and then BAMM...Gretchen became this demented and unlikely caricature, and I just wanted to weep. And because of the last 1/4 of the book, I have to lower my rating from 4 strong starts to just 2 sad stars.
This said I am still looking forward to reading more books by this author. I enjoyed this book up to the last 1/4 and I thought the writing style was really good. Maybe next time the ending will be more plausible and less intricate.
Thank you NetGalley, Thomas & Mercer, and the author, for giving me an opportunity to read an ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
I had no idea what this book was about going in. As I was reading, I kept thinking the story reminded me of a twisted episode of The Twilight Zone. I raced through most of the story but was a bit disappointed in the ending.
Gretchen terrified me, made me laugh, made my jaw hit the floor. How can a book do all three? I’ll tell you how, because it comes from the brain of Shannon Kirk, one of the most gifted, original horror writers working today. This book is a nightmare, a delight, and a mischief-making, nasty-nice fairy tale pixie, all wrapped into one insidious package. As I got lost in the book, like in Gretchen’s puzzle-like hallways of her uber-freaky house, I had to wonder what kind of sorceress Kirk is, to have wormed her way into my brain and then written exactly the kind of story that makes me jump out of my skin and burns its way into my memory. The best kind.
How crazy was this book????? I think I still have vertigo from the nosedive into the insanity of Gretchen’s world and the events that took place in the last 25% of Kirk’s latest creation. After reading IN THE VINES last year, I knew I would be in for a treat, but had little idea of what exactly I was letting myself in for with this one.
I immediately liked Lucy, the 15-year-old MC who is narrating most of the story. Lucy and her mother have been on the run for 13 years, ever since Lucy was two. She believes her mother when she tells her that her evil, powerful father is their enemy and that she must never, ever try to look for him. As if she would even get the chance, because her mother keeps her strictly offline, and every time there is even the slightest danger of someone getting too personal, they do the midnight runner just to end up in another small nondescript town in the middle of nowhere. Now that Lucy is 15, she longs for normality, but most of all she wants a friend. The sort of girl she calls a “Jenny”. Loyal, kind, not asking much in return for a firm quiet friendship.
When Lucy first meets Gretchen, the daughter of their latest landlord, she knows that she is no Jenny. In fact, Gretchen is batshit crazy, with her penchant for puzzles and her way of creeping up on people and invading their privacy. But beggars can’t be choosers, and Lucy is sick of being a friendless girl on the run. Only that her rebellion may cost them all dearly ....
As with her previous book, Shannon Kirk immediately swept me up with her writing and carried me along in its storm like a tumbleweed, helpless and hopelessly addicted to the story. I was so invested that the house could have blown down around me and I may not have noticed. Because Gretchen is one crazy gal, and the setting is so spooky that it gave me nightmares. I LOVE this type of book!
Then came the 75% mark, and the story took a very unexpected turn. I admit that my “farfetched plotline” meter was immediately triggered, ringing all alarm bells. It was all so out there! But in the crazy nightmare that had been evoked by Gretchen in her apple print dress, it all still strangely worked. Is it horror? I’m not sure, though some may be freaked out by the final scenes. For me, it felt more like a fever dream, the sort where you know you are hallucinating but unable to clear your head. I wasn’t totally in love with the ending, but it was certainly different! I had to put a lot of kindling to my fledgling embers of the art of suspending disbelief, so if you are similarly afflicted with a total lack of that skill you may want to be forewarned. Once you have read this book, and have recovered your senses (it may take a day or two), make sure to check out the author’s website for her “additional information” link, which added much to the story for me.
All in all, GRETCHEN was one hell of a ride like only Kirk can deliver, with the same type of modern Gothic setting that delighted readers of IN THE VINES. It definitely delved into batshit crazy territory! If you are looking for a thoroughly entertaining book with one of the craziest protagonists and creepiest houses I have come across in a while, and an ending that you will never see coming in a million years, then this is definitely for you!
Thank you to Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.
Gretchen is a gripping thriller that is extremely creepy and disturbing at times. It was so good that I read most of it in one sitting. If you enjoy thrillers, don’t miss out on this one.
Although the book is named Gretchen, the main character is actually Lucy. Or at least, the book is seen and told mostly from her perspective and not Gretchen’s. The other perspective the book is told from is Lucy’s mother – shifting back and forth between the two, but most of the time the story is with Lucy. The story itself is broken up into three Parts. Part I is the longest and is where most of the story and setup occurs. This is where we meet all the characters: Lucy and her mother; Gretchen and her father; and other minor characters along the way. Part II is the shortest and Part III is where the story slightly takes a new direction – in a way – as it reaches its climax.
The main two characters are Lucy and Gretchen. Lucy is just looking for some stability, true friends that she calls “Jenny’s”, and a little more independence from her mother. Gretchen is a social outcast, with a different type of personality, and has very puzzling behavior that makes me cringe because she can be so uncomfortable and unnerving as a character. She is someone that my instincts would naturally tell me to stay away from as much as possible, but due to her situation Lucy is not really able to do that.
The book is extremely engaging and it was such a good read that it became hard to put down. In fact, I read it in two days. Every chapter made me more and more curious about Gretchen’s odd behavior and if there wasn’t that then I was always trying to figure out Lucy’s situation. Why was Lucy always on the run and why did Lucy’s mother act the way she did – overprotective one minute and ignoring Lucy for days on end the next. The writing and way the author put everything together made this thriller fly by with me fully invested through-out the entire story.
This thriller is one I most definitely can recommend. I haven’t read Shannon Kirk before, but now plan to pick up more of her previous books and will always be on the look out for her next one.
Rating: 4.5 stars
Thank you Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer for the advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest opinion.
Well, this was a weird story. I loved Kirk’s “Method 15/33” and I was really looking forward to this book. In “Method 15/33” we met a genius girl who used what she got at hand to free herself from her kidnappers. In “Gretchen” we meet at last 4 females who are capable of extraordinary things.
At first this story seems to be the one of a girl who is always on the run with her mother. She has to keep her head low, has to wear contacts to hide her violet eyes. Her mother fears constantly that someone will recognize her and that would be dangerous. But there is something strange about the whole story. When they run again after Lucy, the girl, made eye contact with someone without wearing her contacts, the story turns into something completely different. Lucy and her mother find a rental in a small town but their landlords turn out to be very very creepy.
I was not as gripped by this book as I hoped I would. I missed the tension and I was very early irritated by the strange behavior of Lucy’s mother. I knew something was not right about her story. But what really makes this book difficult to review are the last 25%. I will not say too much about it. It was weird, creepy and so unrealistic. The whole thing became a little muddled. I am really a bit lost here. I just don’t know what I’ve just read. It was an odd book but I think because of that I will remember it. I would read another book from Kirk because I like unique story ideas and she proofed that she has such ideas. And I am curious with what bizarre idea she will come up next.
I just do NOT even know what happened here?!? I was completely on board this crazy train for about 3/4 of the book, then it went in a direction that I can't even comprehend. I really want to give this a rating of 1 star, but the writing was good, so...
Okay - I’ve had a few days to think this over, and I’m going to go with 4.5 rounded up to 5. I don’t really do that often, but for me this was so close to being perfect that I just couldn’t have it any other way.
I haven’t read Kirk before, a misstep I’m definitely regretting. I already have eyes on her 15/33 novel. GRETCHEN is a very dark suspense/thriller, chock full of female characters I loved, hated, and was terrified of. There are some scenes involving Gretchen that had me cringing HARD and I read A LOT of horror novels.
What you’ll find in this book are two interwoven tales, a mother and daughter on the run, full of secrets, and a father/daughter duo just trying to enjoy their “projects”. I had several WTF moments and while the whole book moves well, the last 1/2 blazes a trail of “on the edge of your seat” writing. Wow.
It might be years before I have another glass of lemonade. Or pick up a jigsaw puzzle. This book is out in July - check it out.
"She feels like a tempting game. Or she and I are a tempting game. Two trains about to collide. A beautiful horror. An irresistible, bad, bad addiction. I can't look away."
Gretchen is kind of a blend of things (or a puzzle, which is a major theme in the book) - it's gothic and psychological horror, and also a suspense novel. I really enjoyed this story, and putting all the pieces together to figure out what was going on. There are several different storylines happening in this book, but everything is woven together well.
The beginning has kind of a slow start, but I was always interested enough to keep going. I wasn't wild about the ending, either, but everything still worked well together. There are so many intriguing characters in this book, and I really enjoyed reading this book. I can't wait to see what Shannon Kirk does next!
Here are some of the poetic notes that I took while reading Gretchen. This is literally copied and pasted from a draft I kept. I've not modified the notes to ensure you get my raw anger and at times nonsensical typing.
75 pages in and not dick has happened. Page 93 and not dick has still happened. I’m honestly super fucking bored with the description of Gretchen and Jerry’s house. This author really drags stuff out. Lucy says “I need your help,” On page 141 and on page 144 she finally says with what. The first time being at Gretchen's that shit dragged on for a couple dozen pages. Like get the fuck on with it Kirk. Page 151 and nothing has happened. WTF This serial killer thing is a slow ass burn. And a boring one at that.
As you can read, I spent most of the book feeling entirely bored and uninterested. I didn't quite expect one of my most anticipated novels to be so terrible that I actually wished Gretchen would end my misery. Like why God? Why?
Not only did I find this story slow and torturous, I found our main narrator, Lucy, to be annoying as fuck. She literally is a poster child for ignorance and asking for it. She is the person in the movie who checks out that noise that is most obviously from a killer. She gets a call from Gretchen and mentions how sinister Gretchen sounded. So what does the dumbass teenager do? Approach Gretchen on her own. Also, after the first visit why the hell did you continue going there. If you get shady feelings, you don't continue to pursue the psychotic daughter of the creepy ass landlord. Its called intuition and Lucy's is fucking broken. Kirk created a character that simply ignored every warning thrown her way. And that type of stupidity isn't entertaining, it is infuriating.
Another thing that did not resonate well with me was the outlandishness of Gretchen and her father. Kirk had a fun idea but she took it to such an unrealistic extreme that it simply was not good anymore. The house and her puzzle obsession are one thing. But Kirk had these elements on crack. Now don't get me wrong, I love weird and fudged up. But I am also a pragmatic loving werido. The whole thing just got out of control. Kirk let this whole Gretchen and the digging thing slip through her fingers to the point where it sucked.
Overall, my hopes were crushed like a skull. I am once again mourning what could have been with this novel. And really fucking pissed about what I got.
Thank you NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for the advance read.
WTF did I just read? Idk but I liked it... This is most definitely going to be hit or miss for most people I think. It’s a hard book to review because it IS so different. I can say it’s a thriller, it has a couple really good twists, and I snickered a lot. I love Lucy and I wanna be like her when I grow up. Gretchen on the other hand....she’s such a wack-a-doodle 😱 I seriously questioned what drugs Kirk could’ve taken to come up this stuff. It’s that bizarre at times but I couldn’t put this down and had to know how it was going to play out. The ending was a bit weak but not bad by any means. If you read a lot of thrillers and you’re bored, check this book out. It’s available on Kindle Unlimited 📚& 🎧.
How on earth this book received good reviews is beyond my comprehension. Legitimately was over it after a few chapters but the curiousity in me allowed me to continue on. Such a waste of time! The book had an overall pathetic plot. I found myself confused during some chapters. There was no consistency and felt transitions between time did not mesh cohesively. Much of what transitioned near the wnd felt hurried and thrown together. The ending was laughable.
Gretchen may be a little strange, but she's harmless -- right?
If you haven't yet seen buzz about this book, believe me, you will. It's one of those that you go into without any preparation or expectation so that you can be properly blown away by it. It's not often that a book surprises me, but this was masterful writing and incredibly entertaining. I was hooked immediately and couldn't put it down until I had finished. Let my breath go. And read the supplemental material that is best saved for last. Go on, get it now!
What it's about: Lucy is "fifteen, living in (our) tenth state, in (my) third high school already." She and her mom have been moving from place to place for the past thirteen years. There's always a trigger that makes them run -- someone gets too close or asks too many questions. Mom has told Lucy why -- Lucy's dad tried to steal her when she was 2 and mom got her back. Now they have to stay hidden from him. Lucy has no other information about her powerful, connected father, nor does she know her real name as they use fake IDs. They are very careful, but when someone slips up, they have to leave in the dead of night. Lucy is devatated to leave her latest home and her new best friend, Jenny, but Lucy makes a mistake and off they go again. The mother and daughter arrive in Milberg, New Hampshire, and fall in love with their rented one-story ranch house that's situated on a huge property with the owners living just up the hill in a colossal brick mansion. The father and daughter who own the place are a bit strange, but the girl is Lucy's age and wants to be immediate friends. Her name is Gretchen. Lucy is determined to stay and will do whatever it takes. She, however, did not plan for Gretchen. NO SPOILERS.
Why you should read this: First of all, the writing is simply masterful. The setting is well-described and the sense of menace and a creepy vibe is lurking in the background. Great material for quoting, but I couldn't highlight every sentence! I could picture it all so vividly. The depth of the characterization was amazing as I fell in love with Lucy immediately. She had so much personality and was totally believable. The narrative shifts a bit between characters allowing glimpses into their perspectives and thoughts which adds to the overall tone and forward movement of the story. The plot, well, it is quite complex and I didn't see a thing coming -- a refreshing surprise. I could say a lot more, but won't because I don't want to give any hints. Believe me, you'd never expect this engrossing tale from the synopsis. Plus, you want to read this so you'll be able to talk about it with other folks who've read it and cackle gleefully cause you know all the answers! Who wants to be first to buy a ticket for the big screen version?
Thank you to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for the e-book ARC to read and review. I'm definitely going to be following this author!
I have mixed feelings about this one, which I requested having seen some intriguing and quite polarised reviews. I’m not sure that I can say I enjoyed it, but I was certainly glued to my kindle to find out what the hell was going on, and then how it would all turn out. I’d bought and enjoyed Method 15/33 by this author a few years ago, but this one ramps up the WTFery with a blend of psychological suspense, horror and action that only half works.
Fifteen year old Lucy has spent her life on the run from a threat that her mother refuses to define, knowing only that her father will try to kidnap her if they ever let down their guard. This has led to a lonely childhood of frequent moves, triggered every time they think they’ve been recognised, no lasting friendships and only the company of her prickly mother. When the latest new home turns out to be a colourfully decorated ranch in a fairytale forest, Lucy is determined to stay put this time, even if the landlord’s daughter, puzzle-obsessed Gretchen, seems a bit... intense.
First off, minor spoiler, I have to report that no animals were harmed in the telling of this story, although they are threatened horribly. I probably would’ve found this a less stressful read had I known this from the start. You’re welcome. I can’t say the same about humans, mind.
This is told in a mixture of Lucy’s first person present and her mother’s third person past and present, and it takes a while for the reasons for this to become clear, and I’ll admit the central twist got me good. Several reviews mention the way the style of the book changes abruptly three quarters of the way in - this was actually a positive for me as I’m not much of a horror fan and was dreading the direction I thought it was heading in - so I actually liked the way Lucy’s mother takes charge (but then Sarah Connor is one of my all time favourite heroines, and I was thinking of her even before she is mentioned.)
Gretchen’s all-out craziness did make for compelling reading, although I would’ve liked a bit more rationale for it. I loved Lucy’s character and the way she solved various problems. The plot relied a bit too heavily on coincidences which were not actually necessary, and the ending felt incomplete, although I liked the extra snippets of information on the author’s website that fill in a couple of gaps. Perhaps one more would be good, a legal report about the fate of one or two key characters (trying to avoid spoilers here.)
My thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Mercer for the ARC in exchange for an honest review, and apologies for it being late (I only received it on publication day.)
now this, is what i call a good thriller. mind twisting, creepy, unpredictable and even cute if talking about Gretchen Bianchi and Nathan Vinet's relationship. i absolutely adored Lucy as a character for being so brave, bright-smart and sarcastic. i can't see myself being in her shoes if it was happening in real life, i think i'd be devastated, but Lucy, on the other hand, handles all this situation so well. i couldn't enjoy this story more, this is just... ugh, perfect! and Gretchen though, she's so creepy for liking spooky puzzles, real human bones, and she's definitely psychotic. i can't imagine ever becoming acquaintances with a girl THAT obsessed with you in real life. 😂 new favorite book of this year!
A reviewer predicted: You’ll either love this book or hate it. You’ve been warned.
I really got into the first 25% of this book, so I avidly followed Lucy and her mum who are running from Lucy’s evil birth-father, who kidnapped her once and is still after her. They’ve lived in town after town, in eleven different states, never staying long. Lucy—who’s a teen of fifteen—demands to stay at a charming rental house in a small New Hampshire town. Mum Susan has a bad feeling . . .
20% into the book, landlord Jerry Sabin and Gretchen, his oddball daughter, are showing Lucy and Susan around the outside the huge Sabin house. Uh, wait. Arrow-slit windows? A bricked up back door? A CAT excavator? I mind-scream at Lucy and Mum to leave. Mum gets it, but not Lucy, who’s like: “Nope. I deserve a normal life. And a friend. I’m not leaving.” Things get dicier, but Susan can’t convince Lucy to leave.
Then Shazam! Lucy goes to dinner at in-your-face-deranged Gretchen’s house, and it’s now a totally different book—with a darker atmosphere, sense of unease, claustrophobic hallways, walls of macabre bone puzzles, layers of Hell from “Dante’s Inferno,” skeletons, scroll saws, and lights like Ahsoka Tano’s lightsaber. This creepily bizarre “book” becomes even more bizarre. It also sucks, so I begin skimming.
Then Shazam! We’re back to book one again, this time with hearts and flowers and nice things happening for Lucy. For Susan, not so much.
SHAZAM! There is a “third book” to be had in “Gretchen” because the author couldn’t seem to make up her mind about genre. She gives us a fast-paced, fantastical, action-thriller with horror elements and overall OTT insanity, inanity and impossibilities. Whilst reading, I indulged in a lot of eye-rolling. Plus, I’m not fond of lengthy, angst-filled internal monologues, so to avoid the pain, I riffled through the book to the cloyingly saccharine end.
“Life is good. And they will live happily ever after in a tropical location part of the year and in Italy for another part of the year and traveling around wherever they want, whenever they want.”
5 eye-rolling emojis 2 stars because I actually finished it.