Before The Singularity Trap and before the Bobiverse, there was Outland, Dennis E. Taylor’s self-published debut that is now getting a re-issue and making its way to the audio format as an Audible Original. Although the story itself a little rough and unrefined, embedded here are the seeds of the author’s style that would emerge in his later works.
However, unlike Taylor’s spacefaring novels, Outland takes place in the present day or in the near future, and the theme is apocalyptic. Following an experiment gone wrong, a group of students in a university physics lab accidentally stumbles across a new technology allowing them to open portals to other dimensions. As it turns out, one of these dimensions is an alternate Earth very similar to our own, except in this particular timeline, humans never evolved. Students being students though, rather than take their discovery public, the group decides instead to use their newfound portal technology in a get-rich-quick scheme, coming up with a harebrained plan to pan for gold on this pristine and uninhabited Earth. It would be easy money, after all, as there is enough gold in some parts of the Black Hills that would make each and every one of them a millionaire overnight.
But meanwhile, disturbing reports are coming out of Yellowstone National Park about the area’s increased volcanic activity and tectonic actions, and soon it becomes clear that an eruption of its supervolcano is all but inevitable. It has long been hypothesized than an eruption that big would end civilization in the United States as we know it, and indeed, the amount of ash alone would be enough to bury large swaths of the country under three feet of the stuff, not to mention the way it would block out the sun and cause damage to all kinds of infrastructure and equipment. Soon enough, the situation proves even more devastating, and our protagonists are forced to abandon their gold panning ventures in Outland, the name they’ve given to the wild version of Earth they’ve discovered. Refocusing their efforts on saving lives, they only have a small window of time to bring as many survivors as they can through the portal and gather enough supplies to hunker down for the long haul.
Kind of like We Are Legion (We Are Bob), the narrative style of Outland somewhat resembles an extended and episodic world-building exercise where the most interesting things actually happen after a crucial event earlier on in the story. In this case, it’s the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano, making this one both an apocalyptic tale as well as one of survival. From that standpoint, things don’t get any better than this. There are sci-fi elements too, of course, but these are light, serving more as a backdrop for what truly matters, i.e. what the characters actually do to stay alive and speculation as to what would happen to the Earth and human populations around the world if such a major natural disaster did take place. That said, I wouldn’t into his one expecting the thrills of a disaster movie nor too much detail when it comes to the science and technology behind the premise, but at the very least, the story is convincing enough to sustain a high level of tension and an immediate sense of danger.
The humor also makes this one supremely readable. Dennis E. Taylor definitely falls into the category of geek writers which includes authors like Andy Weir or Ernest Cline, as evidenced by the profusion of nerdy jokes and pop-culture references littering the pages of Outland. Despite all the destruction, chaos and mass death, the book still had me chuckling in places, and whether you view it as a weakness or not, what we have here is a light, popcorn-y read. This means yes, the plot can be a little clichéd at times, and the characters a bit cookie-cutter and the dialogue a bit cheesy. Admittedly, there’s nothing too emotionally deep or complicated here, but there’s no denying it’s a lot of fun.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for a good mix of humor and danger in your apocalyptic fiction, consider checking out Outland. While it’s nothing mind-blowing, I did enjoy the colony building aspects and all the “what if” scenarios. I’m glad to hear there will be a follow-up, as I’m curious to keep reading to find out what happens next.
Audiobook Comments: As always, Dennis E. Taylor and Ray Porter make a great team, with the latter’s narration perfectly complementing the former’s writing style. Not only did Porter’s amazing voices and accents bring our characters to life, his performance also transported listeners to a world in which one feels fully immersed. If you’re looking for an addictive and compelling audiobook to listen to, Outland is one I would highly recommend....more
Star Wars audiobooks are always a treat to listen to, but audio dramas are on a whole other level. Performed by a full cast and available only as an audiobook, Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost is an immersive experience that puts your right in the middle of the action and makes you feel like you are in a Star Wars movie, watching all the events and action play out around you.
Since the release of the prequels and the character’s first appearance in Attack of the Clones, the origins of Count Dooku AKA Darth Tyranus has been shrouded in mystery and plagued with questions. We know that he was a former Jedi and a Padawan of Yoda’s before he became the Count of Serenno and the Leader of the Separatists. But what happened in between? What was his childhood like, and how did he fall out with the Jedi leading him down the path to the dark side?
Dooku: Jedi Lost seeks to address all of that, by taking listeners all the way to the beginning when our main character was just a boy at the Jedi Temple, where he is just one of many younglings brought to Coruscant by seekers scouring the galaxy for force-sensitives. He hasn’t even been chosen as an apprentice by Yoda this point, but while on an excursion with his fellow students to the planet of Serenno as part of a cultural exchange presentation, Dooku discovers something about his personal history that will forever change the way he views the Jedi and himself.
I should also mention that all of these past events are told in flashback because Dooku: Jedi Lost is a frame story which places us some time during the Clone Wars when Dathomir Nightsister and dark Jedi Asajj Ventress was still an acolyte to Count Dooku, working as his assassin. Chafing under the Sith lord and tortured with visions and voices in her head, Ventress is given a new assignment to track down a new target—someone close to the Count’s own heart. As she makes her way to Serenno to fulfill her task, Ventress learns more about Dooku and catches glimpses of the most defining moments of his life with the Jedi.
Along with the recently released Star Wars: Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray, new canon offerings like this one are proving to be a blessing for fans who want to know more about prequel era. Clocking in at a mere six hours and twenty-one minutes, this audio drama is nowhere near as long as the series’ typical novels, but it still packs a lot of content. Besides the emotional decisions and the political ramifications that led Dooku to turn his back on the Jedi and take up the mantle of his forebears, this audio drama also delves deeper into his personal relationships including that of his close friendship with Sifo-Dyas as well as his apprenticeship with the famed Yoda. Eventually, of course, Dooku also reaches the rank of Master Jedi and becomes master himself to a hot-headed young Padawan, Qui-Gon Jinn.
Written by Cavan Scott, the story is well-plotted and developed. However, as entertaining was it was, I can’t really see the history of Count Dooku being all that exciting to anyone but the most hardcore of fans. Luckily though, the story isn’t the only reason why people pick up audio dramas. After all, the best and most notable aspects of this format are the audiobook production values and technical qualities, as well as the incredible performances. And I’m pleased to say that in this area, the creators of Dooku: Jedi Lost went all out. Sounds are used to great effect, and musical snippets from John Williams’ brilliant score inject another emotional layer to the experience. Then there’s the incredible talent of all the voice actors and actresses. Compared to regular audiobooks, audio dramas typically demand a lot more acting from their narrators because there is less descriptive text, and so every spoken line has to contain a lot more information in the way it is delivered. For the most part, I feel the cast gave a spectacular performance.
All I can say is, yes please to more Star Wars audio dramas! I can see so much potential for future tales that will work great for this format. Dooku: Jedi Lost is worth checking out for the exquisite audio experience alone, and fans also get a surprisingly in-depth study into one of more enigmatic characters of the Star Wars universe.
Audiobook Comments: If you’re not familiar with audio dramas, some time may be needed to ease into the format. Narrated by a cast of twelve, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but each voice is distinct enough thanks to the talented readers. Although everyone gave a strong performance, some were better than others. Ironically, Euan Morton’s performance as Dooku was pretty average, though to be fair, he’s portraying a younger version of the character in addition to trying to fill the shoes of some very big names including Christopher Lee and Corey Burton who voiced the character in The Clone Wars and various other Star Wars projects. But standouts in this audio drama include Orlagh Cassidy as Asajj Ventress, Sean Kenin as Sifo-Dyas, Carol Monda as Lene Kostana, Saskia Maarleveld as Jenza, Jonathan Davis as Qui-Gon Jinn, and Marc Thompson as Yoda....more
I’ve really enjoyed Peter Clines’ books in the Threshold series so far (14 and The Fold) which was why I was excited when I found out that he would be releasing a third book as an audio exclusive with Audible. While all these stories appear to take place in the same world, any connections between them are immaterial to their individual plots so each one can be read as a standalone. As such, I wasn’t too surprised to discover that this new book, Dead Moon, would take place in the future on the moon, though I was a little taken aback by the very different tone, style, and overall quality.
That’s not to say Dead Moon was a bad book, but it does feel less well put together compared to Clines’ previous Threshold novels, with a more slapdash plot and characters that aren’t as developed. The premise also comes across as less unique and more commercial, like something I might come across in a B movie on the Syfy channel—as in fun, but superficial. As you can probably figure out from the book’s description, this is a zombie story on the moon. The year is 2243 and overcrowding and environmental degradation on earth has forced humankind to figure out a new way to deal with their dead. The solution? Make the moon a graveyard, where Earth’s wealthiest citizens can launch the remains of their deceased loved ones to rest in peace for eternity looking down on us from the brightest object in the night sky.
But such an enormous undertaking also requires a lot of manpower to maintain. Enter the Caretakers, men who women who live onsite in Luna City, the moon’s largest operations center, where they perform tasks such as grave digging and overseeing the cemeteries. It is lonely and isolated work, but it is also perfect for Cali Washington, who has signed on to become a Caretaker in order to start a new life and escape the troubles from her old one. Not long after she begins her position, however, a mysterious meteor crashes into onto the moon’s surface, affecting the grave sites in a terrifying way. Far away from any help and amidst dangerous dust storm conditions as well as impossible reports about the dead rising, Cali and her fellow Caretakers must band together and try to survive.
Unlike 14 or The Fold, the overall premise of Dead Moon is relatively simple, and the book is what I would call a popcorn read, with a story and characters that present themselves accordingly. There’s also plenty of action, and while these scenes and the dialogue are pretty hammy, there’s no denying the entertainment value. This is a zombie book, after all, and it’s the kind where you know right away what you’re getting into. It will mostly play out the way you expect, though there are also a few twists and surprises thrown in that those who have read the previous Threshold books will probably appreciate more.
In terms of characters, we have a diverse and interesting cast. But as with many of these pulpy space disaster stories, it wouldn’t really be advisable to get attached to any of them, since a bunch of them will not survive. Some were clearly written to be fodder for the zombies, so not surprisingly, character development is on the lighter side. Likewise, the plot has a “throwaway” quality to it, which is pretty typical with these typcs of fluffy reads. I get the feeling that Clines wasn’t overly concerned with any possible plot holes or explanations that don’t sense—like, come on, it’s moon zombies! It’s supposed to be over-the-top and a little silly, so I’ll give it a pass for being so outlandish. Like I said, these aren’t necessarily bad attributes, as long as you come into this with realistic expectations.
In other words, Dead Moon isn’t a deep book by any means, but I had a good time with it, even though I don’t think its quality is in line with the previous Threshold books (especially with The Fold, which I thought was mind-blowingly clever and engaging). For the right person at the right time though, I can see it being very enjoyable. I will give that it is thrilling and great fun—a fantastic audiobook to check out to if you want an easy and fast listen. A solid 3-3.5 stars.
Audiobook Comments: If nothing else, you should be picking up this audiobook for the awesome narration of Ray Porter. I’m a huge fan of his because his performances are always topnotch no matter what kind of material he’s given to work with. The guy brings an electrifying energy to any book because of his great voices and enthusiasm....more
For those of us who can’t get enough of Stranger Things, the good news is that Random House has partnered up with Netflix to publish a number of books based on the hit sci-fi horror web show. Of these, Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond is the prequel novel featuring Eleven’s mother, Terry Ives, who has been a figure shrouded in mystery ever since the series began. If you’ve ever wondered how she became a test subject in the government research program into the supernatural and paranormal, this book will reveal the story and more.
Suspicious Minds opens in the year 1969, and from Woodstock and the moon landing to the Manson murders and war in Vietnam, it was an eventful summer for the youth of America. For a group of college students in the heartland of Indiana, however, life is about to get even more interesting. After learning of the paid volunteer opportunities offered by the psychology department on campus from her roommate, Terry Ives decides to take part in a research experiment in the hopes of earning some extra cash. There, she meets others who have been selected for the program, including Alice, Gloria, and Ken.
But within the research facility known as the Hawkins National Laboratory, Terry soon suspects that not all is as it seems with the experiment or with its director, Dr. Martin Brenner. As she and her fellow test subjects are made to undergo more demanding and unsettling tests, Dr. Brenner also grows more controlling and tight-lipped about the exact nature of his research. Then, there are the children. One day, Terry happens to meet a little girl in another wing of the building, whose files identify her simply as Eight. The presence of other records indicates the possibility of even more kids kept behind the locked secretive doors of the facility, and Terry and her friends are determined to find out why.
The good news is, whether you’re a diehard fan of Stranger Things or someone who has never seen a single episode, pretty much anyone can pick up and enjoy Suspicious Minds. Because it is a prequel that takes place well before the events of the show, no prior knowledge is strictly required, though of course if you are familiar with the series you will get much more out of the references and other little Easter eggs thrown into the narrative. No surprise perhaps, but one of my favorite things about this book was getting the chance to meet Kali as a little girl.
However, make no mistake, Suspicious Minds also offers up a completely brand-new experience. We are thrown into another era, the late 60’s in this instance, where the country is a very different place than the 80’s setting of the show—socially, culturally, economically, and politically. Bond has done her homework, ensuring that her story feels at least historically convincing. Furthermore, instead of focusing on a group of middle school protagonists, this novel follows an older crowd—college-aged, to be exact. This not only puts Terry Ives at the right age when all this went down, it also serves to make this book more appealing to a wider audience, i.e. older viewers of the show who might find a “new adult” book more palatable than a YA label.
That said, I can’t help but wonder if this desire to please everyone may have contributed to the story’s general lack of focus. There are times when our 19-to-20-year-old characters seem to act, think, and speak like preteens, or certain sections of the book that droned on and on about the sentimental dramas of youth without adding anything relevant to the overall plot. I also thought the first half of the novel was also better written and organized than the second half, which felt a little rushed and messy—a pattern you see often with an author who has a pretty solid idea of what the beginning and end of their book should look like, but struggles to connect them with everything that happens in between.
Still, despite its flaws, Suspicious Minds was a fun read that offered me exactly the right kind of enjoyment and escapism. I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely essential for Stranger Things fans in that it won’t reveal any great secrets or hidden plans for the series, but what this novel manages to do is what all tie-ins should—that is, provide more background history into the original’s story and world. If you’re like me and that’s the sort of thing you’re into, I highly recommend giving this novel a go, especially since there’s plenty in it to appreciate if you like the show.
Audiobook Comments: At first, I felt that narrator Kristen Sieh’s voice was a little off (too peppy, too young) for the kind of book I thought this was going to be, but as the story revealed more of its nature and the “new adult” vibes, this discordance became less and less. I ended up being generally pleased with her performance and overall thought this audiobook was a very light and easy listen....more
It’s been a while since I read something like The Devil Aspect, a historical suspense-thriller displaying many characteristics of Gothic horror. In some ways it felt like indulging in a treat that I haven’t had in a long time, because I ate this one right up.
It is 1935, and the story opens with our protagonist Viktor Kosárek arriving at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum in Prague, where he is about to begin his new post as its newest psychiatrist. The secluded facility, converted from a medieval castle on top of a mountain, only houses six inmates, but they are considered some the most dangerous and incurably insane killers the world has ever known. The asylum staff call them The Vegetarian, The Clown, The Woodcutter, The Sciomancer, The Glass Collector and The Demon, but together they are known as the Devil’s Six, named so because of the unthinkably vicious and abominable ways they’ve murdered their victims. Intrigued by this common attribute that the six inmates have, Viktor hopes to experiment with a new technique he has developed which would prove the presence of a “Devil Aspect” in their psyches, a phenomenon which drives people to commit evil.
Meanwhile, the rest of the country is gripped in fear and uncertainty as dark news looms just across the border with the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. Within the capital, the city’s populace has also been rocked by a series of disturbing murders similar to those committed half a century ago in Britain by a serial killer named Jack the Ripper. Now it appears Prague has its own Ripper, whom the police and the papers have dubbed Leather Apron, and lead detective Lukas Smolak has vowed to identify and apprehend him as quickly as possible. Working under such pressures, it would be tempting to build a case around their only suspect, a gypsy they captured at the scene of the last murder, except the raving young man seems terrified, insisting upon his innocence while convinced that the devil will come for him next.
The Devil Aspect was exactly what I wanted—not exactly fast-paced but oh so deliciously atmospheric, as well as creepy and gory but in a subtle way that avoids throwing the horror directly in your face. I loved how the two POVs—Viktor’s and Smolak’s—wove in and out of each other, creating a complex narrative rich with clues, false trails and surprises. And yes, rest assured that readers will get to meet each of the Devil’s Six and discover why they have been locked up in the Hrad Orlu Asylum; I would have been disappointed if the publisher had dangled such an irresistible tidbit in the blurb without following through.
But while the two main characters were a fascinating study, the real winner was the setting, both in the location and the historical period. Horror is perhaps one of the few genres in which I am okay with a little less characterization in favor of more world-building and tone-setting, because so much of my enjoyment rests on the author creating the perfect mood. Craig Russell did an amazing job, for the atmosphere was practically palpable as a pall of gloom hangs over Smolak’s investigation into Leather Apron in Prague, and Viktor is wrapped up in his own darkness atop his isolated mountaintop milieu as he carries out his experiments on the Devil’s Six. This has always been the type of psychological horror I prefer, the creeping dread versus the more unsubtle forms of the genre, e.g. gushing blood and gore with heavy emphasis on graphic and gruesome violence. In this sense, The Devil Aspect was right up my alley. Although the book contains its fair share of grisly scenes and descriptions, I didn’t think any of these were overdone.
In terms of criticisms, I did feel the story had a tendency to stray off-course every now and then, but because we were pursuing so many threads, it was difficult to tell whether some of these instances were attempts at red herrings. It did throw off the pacing some, in that I felt my attention drifting during many of these sections, but thankfully the author was always careful to steer things back on track. I thought the ending was a bit predictable too, but mostly because I always come into these kinds of books expecting a twist, and I happened to peg the outcome accurately. That said, my enjoyment was in no way diminished.
Overall, this novel was a delightful joy to read, which might seem strange to say of a dark and somber tale of psychological horror. But truly, it had everything that I wanted. Ambitious and provocative, The Devil Aspect was impressive in its execution and the way it integrated all its parts. Highly recommended.
Audiobook Comments: Narrator Julian Rhind-Tutt had a great voice for this story, making a good book even better. The only thing I can think of that would have improved the experience was a second narrator to bring more distinction between the two main POVs, but even with a single reader this was an excellent listen....more
I really enjoyed this. Inspired by the culture of ancient India and Hindu mythology, The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala features a cat-and-mouse game of deception and thrills between a rebel assassin and the reluctant young soldier tasked to bring her to justice.
Years ago, when Esha was a child, she and her family lived a happy existence at the palace where they were close companions to the royal family. But that was until a bloody coup took everything she has ever loved away from her. Now a fighter for exiled prince’s resistance, she has dedicated her life to avenging her murdered parents and to taking down the current regime. By day, she plays the role of the innocent merchant’s daughter, just a pretty girl selling poppy seeds at the market. But by night, Esha assumes the mantle of the Viper, a mysterious assassin who takes down important enemies for the rebels, striking quickly and mercilessly at her targets. And tonight, her mark is the ruthless General Hotha, a man who has the blood of innocents on his hands.
Meanwhile, unaware that his life is about to be changed forever, a fort soldier named Kunal extends a helping hand to a doe-eyed young woman, unwittingly bringing the Viper one step closer to completing the task of assassinating his uncle, the general. But when Esha reaches Hotha’s chambers, she realizes with a shock that someone had already beaten her to her mark. Finding herself the victim of a setup, Esha escapes the fort, determined to find out who is trying to frame her and why. But that’s just the least of her problems. With their esteemed general dead, the enemy now needs a new commander. Together with a few of his peers, Kunal is offered an opportunity to succeed his uncle—but only if he can catch the Viper before any of the others. Of course, there are clear challenges to this. Assuming the Viper is not just a myth, no one knows who he or she is, though most assume the assassin is a man, while others believe the name is an identity used by several people. With his clever mind and sharp instincts though, Kunal has the advantage. As he pursues the Viper across the land, he also begins to question his loyalties and wonder at the feelings Esha and the rebels are awakening within him.
The Tiger at Midnight was a novel that drew me in effortlessly with its vivid prose, robust world-building, and compelling story. And oh, the characters, how I loved the characters. Right away, we are introduced to Esha and Kumal in a sweet boy-meets-girl scenario of light flirtation and a bit of fun innuendo—except, of course, we soon find out there is a lot more to the situation. And yet, the two of them are just so likeable, you can’t help but want to see them wind up together. Even with the obvious direction of the story and the inevitability of a romance in the cards, there was still plenty of tension in the air knowing that both these characters have a lot of obstacles to overcome in order to find their happiness.
This tension is what resulted in much of the interest that kept me reading, and I thought author Swati Teerdhala handled it so well. It also prevented the repeated encounters between Esha and Kumal from becoming too tedious and predictable, as each of their interactions introduced something new to the relationship. I loved watching the characters grow before my eyes, maturing in their thinking and personalities, as well as the epic game of the tug o’ war regarding their emotions for each other. The romance itself was gradual and realistic, putting it a cut above the insta-love you see in too many YA books these days. In addition, it gave some of the later revelations in the plot more weight.
Speaking of which, the story contained enough familiar themes to make it easy to follow but also a fair bit of political intrigue and complexity to keep things engaging. As well, there’s an element of mystery in the plot where Esha has to figure out who is trying to frame her, and the added (if somewhat manufactured) conflict of Kumal believing she is the one behind his uncle’s murder. But overall, the chase was fun and exciting, and we were treated to rich descriptions of the Indian-inspired setting whenever there were calmer moments in the story. The world felt lush and fully-realized, and I enjoyed the magic which began as a light touch in the early sections of the book only to play a major role later on.
Overall, I don’t have many complaints, despite The Tiger at Midnight being a debut. Swati Teerdhala manages to avoid many of the missteps that plague new authors, and in general I found her storytelling and characters to be exceedingly well done. I look forward to the next installment to see what happens next.
Audiobook Comments: Sneha Mathan narrates the audiobook of The Tiger at Midnight, delivering a superb performance. She handled both Esha and Kumal very well, navigating character voices and accents with fantastic flow and ease....more
Hard to believe, but the last book I read by Stephen King was 11/22/63 (which was one of the most amazing pieces of literature I’ve ever read), but it’s true I’m probably not as keen to jump on every new release of his as I used to be. And quite honestly, I haven’t been all that interested in picking any of his recent stuff. But something about The Outsider caught my attention. There was some of that old-school King flavor about it that looked promising.
The book opens by laying out the details of a horrific crime, setting the scene for a detective story. In Flint City, Oklahoma, a little boy named Frank Peterson has been murdered, his violated body found in a town park. Based on the mountain of evidence available, including multiple eyewitness accounts and DNA and fingerprint samples, Detective Ralph Anderson arrests Little League coach Terry Maitland at a baseball game in front of the whole town. Everyone is shocked that the well-respected husband and father of two could be capable of such an unspeakable act, but it just goes to show, you can never know what’s going on in someone’s heart or mind, no matter how normal they seem.
The problem though, is that Terry Maitland insists on his innocence. And despite everything the police have on him, he also has an airtight alibi. It seems that at the time of the murder, Terry was out of town attending a conference with his fellow teachers, who all confirm he was with them the entire time. There’s even security and TV footage to back up his story. So what gives? How is it possible that a man can be in two places at the same time? Detective Anderson sure isn’t buying it, and is convinced that Terry killed the Peterson boy, but he just doesn’t know the why and the how. But before he can dig any further, disaster strikes, altering the course of his investigation as well as the fates of everyone involved.
The Outsider is one of those books only Stephen King can write. No one else can tease the reader for a third of the book, without providing any real answers or progress, and still have you eating out of his hands, begging for more. The first two hundred pages or so are filled with an outrageous amount of background information, a lot of back and forth conversations and going over what we already know again and again. Any other author would have me cursing their name, but King somehow manages to make it work. After all, long introductions are kind of his thing, and I put up with them for the most part because I trust he’s building up to something big, and besides, no one can create such an intense atmosphere of anticipation quite the way he does.
In truth, we don’t get to the meat of the story until the second part. Enter Holly Gibney of the Bill Hodges trilogy fame, a series a confess I never really got into, but she was fantastic in this book, despite being a supporting character. She gets involved when Flint City gets in touch with her to see if she can follow up on a few leads in Dayton, Ohio, and thanks to her tenacity and smarts, the team gets a huge break in their investigation. From there onwards, it’s a thrilling and unputdownable hunt for a supernatural predator who feeds on violence, pain and misery. Like many of King’s novels, the story seeks to explore the idea of evil in the world that goes far beyond the understanding of mere mortals. It is here that we begin our transition from murder mystery into pure horror territory.
Of course, it’s not all smooth sailing. The plot meanders and languishes close to the end of the second act as we ramp up towards the finale, and the ending felt like it came on and was over and done with way too soon. I also liked the supernatural element, but it seemed to try too hard to be convincing and cover all its bases, when a little ambiguity might have served it better. Trying to over-explain the situation and in general making things more complicated than necessary was why I felt the pacing lagged a bit in the second half, but happily, the conclusion made up for it. While it may have been a little rushed, the scene of the final showdown was dramatic, suspenseful and most importantly satisfying when it was all over.
In the end, The Outsider is a Stephen King novel through and through. Even with its warts and all, that’s a good thing. It’s not the best book I’ve read by him, but it’s definitely up there in terms of readability and how much fun I had with it. If you’re a King fan, it’s well worth your time....more
I had high hopes for this first Star Wars new canon novel focusing entirely on Padmé/Queen Amidala, but unfortunately I was left a bit disappointed. On some level though, I think I had anticipated the issues, because from the moment I learned that Queen’s Shadow was to take place in the transitional time between the end of her reign as Naboo’s queen and the start of her career as a senator, I’d wondered whether there would be sufficient material for a well-rounded, interesting story.
The book begins on the cusp of a new election for Naboo’s next queen, and Padmé and her loyal handmaidens are all nervous and excited about what they will do once she steps down as the current ruler. For four years their lives have been tied to the politics of the planet, but soon they will be free to pursue any dream or career they choose. As Padmé watches her handmaidens discuss their future plans, however, she herself is still unsure of what her next move will be. Service to her people is all she’s ever known, and now that her reign is almost over, there is a both a bittersweet sense of accomplishment and loss about a chapter of her life coming to a close.
But with the election of Réillata, the new queen, an unexpected opportunity suddenly falls into Padmé’s lap when her successor asks if she would represent Naboo in the Galactic Senate, replacing another retiring senator. It is an offer Padmé can’t refuse, and though a part of her is sad to be leaving her home planet for the bustling ecumenopolis of Coruscant, another part of her is thrilled to be able to serve Naboo once more, as well as to improve the conditions of the Galactic Republic. For one thing, she would like to put an end to slavery in the Outer Rim. Padmé has never forgotten the boy Anakin Skywalker she met on Tatooine, as well as the fate of his mother Shmi who was left behind on the desert planet.
In the years since that day, Padmé’s youngest handmaiden Sabé, who was also the one most often chosen to be her decoy, has also become one of her closest friends and most trusted confidantes. As Padmé takes her place in the Galactic Senate, it is Sabé that she sends to Tatooine in her stead to search for Shmi and hopefully buy her freedom.
First things first: there’s nothing really wrong with this book—nothing wrong, unless you count the fact that barely anything happens other than a whole bunch of political drama and description into the wardrobe of Naboo royalty. Don’t get me wrong, stories about the politics of the Galactic Republic, and later the Galactic Empire, have always been a prominent part of Star Wars fiction. But to have it as the main focus of a Young Adult book about Queen Amidala? The only result this guarantees is a limited audience, beyond diehard Star Wars fans such as myself. For one thing, this is not exactly the most interesting story you can tell about the character, nor does it have the usual adventure and action of a more typical Star Wars novel, so I doubt it would hook even the mildly interested. Older, hardcore fans of Star Wars will likely also find the conflicts in this story too simplistic and/or juvenile.
That said, the writing’s great. E.K. Johnston also wrote Star Wars: Ahsoka, which I really enjoyed, and she’s brought that same smooth and accessible quality in her prose to Queen’s Shadow. The problem with this book, as I said before, has more to do with the lack of material to work with rather than any weakness in its technical aspects. We’re looking at a very brief and narrow timeframe in Padmé Naberrie’s life, after all, so in a way it’s understandable for some parts of the story to feel slow, drawn out, inflated. To her credit, Johnston did try to work in a separate storyline for Sabé in order to give the plot and setting a little more variety, but as a supporting character, her impact can also only go so far.
Still, some positive things to note include all the wonderful references to other people, places, stories and events in the Star Wars universe, including an appearance by Senator Clovis, who was first introduced in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars television series in one of the few Padmé-centric episodes. I also liked how this book expanded and developed Padmé’s personality, so that we got to know more about her as a person with her own private hopes, fears, dreams and ambitions. So where Queen’s Shadow failed to deliver on good pacing and compelling entertainment, at least it worked extremely well as a character study.
Regrettably, the same could not be said of Sabé, who fulfilled her supporting role duties valiantly but was otherwise wasted in her potential. While her loyalty was admirable, it just sucked that her entire world and life’s purpose—by even her own admission—revolved around Padmé and serving her wishes and desires. If the ending to this book is indeed a setup for a Sabé story, my hope is that she will gain some of her own agency.
In short, Queen’s Shadow is probably a book I can only recommend to readers who really want to know more about Padmé, or if you’re generally into everything about Star Wars. While I count myself among the latter group, even I must confess it is one of the less engaging of the new canon novels I’ve read and not very memorable.
Audiobook Comments: Admittedly, I’m way more used to having January LaVoy read as the female narrator for Star Wars books, but for Queen’s Shadow, how could I say no to Catherine Taber, who also provided the voice for Padmé on The Clone Wars cartoon series? Just like the audiobook of Star Wars: Ahsoka, getting the voice actress for the title character to narrate the book was a stroke of genius and brought an extra layer of immersion to the listening experience....more
I have been most impressed with Claudia Gray’s books in the new Star Wars canon, and I have to say, she has yet to disappoint me. Now she’s at the top of her game once again with Star Wars: Master & Apprentice, a novel set a handful of years before the events of The Phantom Menace which shines the light on 17-year-old padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi and his complicated relationship with his mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn.
When the book begins, the two Jedi have already been working together for several years, though deep down, both suspect that their current arrangement may be soon coming to an end. They are simply too different in their views of the Force, with Qui-Gon with his unconventional thinking and sometimes flagrant disregard for the Jedi Council’s advice while Obi-Wan is more of a stickler for the rules. These differences have created a tension between master and apprentice that both know can’t go on for much longer.
So when Qui-Gon is unexpected offered a seat on the Council to replace a retiring member, a part of him believes that the change may be for the best. No one would expect him to turn down such a prestigious position, and consequently, Obi-Wan can be transferred to a different master out of necessity. But before the older Jedi can make such a momentous decision, he knows he must meditate upon it, and in the meantime, he and his apprentice are dispatched to the planet of Pijal where an old acquaintance of Qui-Gon’s has requested their assistance in defusing a political situation between the royal house and their opposition.
This contact is Rael Averross, a rogue Jedi who was also a former student of Dooku, like Qui-Gon Jinn. Averross is currently serving as lord regent to Pijal’s princess, her Serene Highness Fanry, who is only fourteen years old and is heir to a throne fraught with a history of political tension. Her planet is now in a position to affect the economic futures of other worlds in the region, and a corporation called Czerka also has stakes in the new hyperspace lane venture that is being discussed. When terrorists threaten to place that all in danger, Averross decides to call upon his old friend Qui-Gon despite the two of them having drifted apart over the years, because he knows Pijal is going to need all the help it can get. The urgency of the situation also leads the Jedi to enlist the aid of a couple of jewel thieves named Rahara, an escaped slave from Czerka, and Pax, a social outcast raised by a crew of protocol droids aboard an abandoned ship. Despite their differences, our motley crew of characters must work together to protect Fanry and safeguard Pijal’s interests. Meanwhile, Qui-Gon also needs to figure out what to do with his apprentice, as well as sort out his doubts with regards to his beliefs in ancient Jedi prophecies.
For a media tie-in novel, Master & Apprentice is surprisingly complex and layered. There’s certainly a lot to unpack here, compared to some of the more recent releases in the Star Wars canon. However, the central theme of the book is undeniably the relationship between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Gray explores this dynamic using a number of ways, including flashing back to Dooku and Qui-Gon’s time as master and apprentice to show how an individual Jedi’s views can be shaped by their style of training and instruction. It is perhaps no coincidence that both of Dooku’s students, Qui-Gon and Rael Averross, have ended up with rebellious natures, given the kind of person their teacher was and the Dark Side path he chose.
But back to the relationships between Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan: in the late 90s, I started reading a series of now-Legends middle grade novels called Jedi Apprentice, the first book of which was called The Rising Force and told the story of how they became master and apprentice. As this series was marketed for children, I didn’t demand too much from it, though I do recall wishing it had been a deeper exploration of the two characters’ personalities and bond as it went along. Twenty years later, it’s like Claudia Gray has finally written the kind of story I wanted. Qui-Gon’s fear of failing his apprentice is written incredibly well, and likewise so is Obi-Wan’s struggle to understand his master and his determination not to disappoint him. It was heartbreaking to read about their anxieties, knowing that deep down, they both loved and respected each other very much.
And of course, another one of the novel’s major topics is prophecy. I mean, considering how the Jedi prophecy of the “Chosen One” was the main impetus behind Anakin Skywalker and the whole Star Wars saga, this is huge—and accordingly, Gray gives this theme the gravitas and weight it deserves. Qui-Gon’s views on prophecies, which also explained his motivations in The Phantom Menace, were addressed here in Master & Apprentice, and also sets up a number of theories for Star Wars fans to chew on with regards to the new movies.
Typical of the author’s Star Wars novels, the characterization was also done extremely well. There’s a clear emphasis on developing relationships, and there are a whole web of them here to consider. The story takes a look at both past and present, examining the relationships of multiple sets of masters and apprentices, as well as the role the Jedi Council has played in those dynamics. In addition, we have the side characters and their relationships to each other and the protagonists. Following in the footsteps of a long line of rogue Jedi in Star Wars fiction, Rael Averross’ infectious personality and emotional openness completely stole the show for me. Rahara and Pax were also a joy to read about, and their personal stories offer some commentary on darker activities that still go on in the Republic, including smuggling and slavery. And then there are the shadowy villains and other dubious organizations like Czerka and or the Opposition on Pijal, though Gray is so subtle and clever with her writing that there will be twists and surprises you won’t see coming.
Needless to say, in my eyes, Master & Apprentice is one of the new canon’s better books. Personally, I also think it’s one of Claudia Gray’s bolder Star Wars novels, where she tackles more mature themes and uses some modern vernacular and risqué language which felt a little out of place at times (keep in mind I’m talking by Star Wars standards here, and I know some people let their younger kids read Star Wars tie-ins, so reader discretion is advised). To sum things up though, I had a great time with this novel, and after reading it, I also think it would be fantastic to see more prequel or pre-prequel era Star Wars books in the future.
Audiobook Comments: I absolutely adored Jonathan Davis’ performance on the Star Wars: Master & Apprentice audiobook. He’s always been known to me as “that Star Wars narrator who can do an amazing Darth Vader voice”, but obviously he’s incredibly talented and can do a lot more than that. Short of getting Liam Neeson himself to read this book, I don’t think you could have gotten a better voice actor for Qui-Gon Jinn. Stellar performance, as always....more
The Au Pair is the kind of book that will make you clutch your head afterward and think, what the hell did I just read? It’s confusing, it’s excessive, and it’s crazy, but to its credit, it’s also entirely well pleased and unashamed of its implausible, absurd premise. Are you okay with that? Because if you are, then this just might be the wildest, most entertaining family suspense drama you’ll read all year.
The story alternates between two viewpoints. The first is Seraphine Mayes, whose father was recently killed in a tragic accident. While sorting out through his belongings at their childhood home of Summerbourne in a quaint little village on the Norfolk coast, our protagonist and her brothers come across an old photograph that raises a lot of questions. For one thing, in the picture is their mother, Ruth, smiling and holding a newborn baby with her husband Dominic and oldest son Edwin, just moments after the family welcomed Seraphine and her twin Danny into the world. It is a happy scene, but the siblings know that within hours after this photo was taken, Ruth would be dead, having hurled herself off the cliffs in an apparent suicide. But if this picture was in fact captured that day, then why was there only one baby? Where was the other twin? Was it Seraphine or Danny that their mother was holding in her arms? And why did this beaming woman, looking so happy with her family, kill herself so soon afterwards?
Concerned that these questions would raise doubts about her parentage and jeopardize her chances of inheriting Summberbourne (Is she even Dominic and Ruth Mayes’ daughter? Is that why she’s always felt like she was on the outside, and why people are always saying she looks nothing like Edwin and Danny?), Seraphine begins a fervent investigation into the secrets of the family’s past. Her older brother, who was only a toddler at the time of their mother’s death, doesn’t remember much, but believes that the photo must have been taken by his au pair who worked at Summerbourne at the time. We get to learn more about this young woman, whose name was Laura, from her POV chapters flashing back to the past. Hired by the Mayeses to take care of Edwin, she was only with the family for a brief time, disappearing from their lives immediately after Ruth’s suicide. Convinced that Laura would know more about the mysterious circumstances surrounding her and her Danny’s birth as well as their mother’s death, Seraphine is determined to track down the former au pair despite pushback from her grandmother, who believes nothing good can come from dredging up the past.
Things begin like your typical mystery, presenting the details surrounding a puzzling situation, as well as all the characters involved and their relationships to each other (and it’s important to pay attention here, because all these connections are going to come back into play in a big way). The dual timelines, following Seraphine in the present and Laura in the past, are instrumental in providing the full picture, and though this slows down the pacing some, overall Emma Rous manages to keep the atmosphere of tension and suspense at a high level. One immediately gets the sense that Summerbourne is not as idyllic as it appears to be, the setting’s tranquil vibes and picturesque location belying the dark secrets hidden within. In the village, locals whisper of changeling legends and rumors about the Mayes’ curse. From Laura’s point-of-view, we also learn that despite outward appearances to the contrary, Dominic and Ruth had a troubled marriage. Discovering all this in the present, Seraphine becomes more and more obsessed with finding the truth.
However, things kind of take a nosedive in the second half of the novel, as the pieces of the puzzle start coming together. Depending on the type of reader you are, you might in fact take great pleasure in these sections (after all, if you’re a daredevil in a stunt plane, nosedives can indeed be exciting). At this point, the plot flies off the rails, becoming this ridiculously convoluted and tangled mess of family relationships while giving light to several implausible revelations that don’t really make sense, but you sort of have to go along with it anyway in order to find out the ending. To a certain extent, a plot twist only works if the reader has a fair chance to work it out, i.e. the author isn’t just pulling one out of her butt at the most crucial moment, but some of that was what I felt was happening here and it all just became a little too much to take.
Still, whatever else can be said about The Au Pair, it was certainly entertaining, and I can honestly say I did not see that ending coming. Despite my skepticism over everything playing out the way they did, I had a good time overall, and would recommend this book if you don’t mind suspending your disbelief for some overdone twists.
Audiobook Comments: The Au Pair audiobook features two narrators, Elizabeth Sastre and Nicola Barber, because the book features two points-of-view, Seraphine and Laura. I thought the voices of the two women should have been more distinctive, given the huge differences our characters’ personalities. However, other than that I had no complaints. The narrators’ performances were wonderful, and this was overall a good listen....more
Every once in a while I’ll take a break from my sci-fi and fantasy and satisfy my craving for a good thriller, so when I saw The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman and took in its synopsis and cover, I thought it would be perfect. You see, I have something of a weakness for snowbound thrillers. And for a while, things were going great and I thought I’d found another gem on my hands. Regrettably though, that was until the second half, when the story’s carefully constructed premise started falling apart with too many absurd twists and coincidences. There’s also a paranormal aspect, which I’m usually all for, except I didn’t feel it worked quite as well here.
The story opens late at night in a bus station, following Alice as she places a frantic phone call to a social services hotline requesting help to get her away from an abusive relationship. Traveling with her is ten-year-old Oren, whom Alice is desperate to protect. She tells the woman on the other end that she needs to go somewhere no one can find her, and receives instructions to go to Delphi, New York, where Alice is assured someone will be meeting her and her boy.
Enter Mattie, a fifty-something social worker whom the hotline calls to do the late-night pickup. With a winter storm rolling in, however, the original plan to bring Alice and Oren to a local shelter had to be abandoned. Instead, Mattie breaks protocol in favor of safety and brings them to her house in the middle of the woods where she lives alone. It is also the house her parents used to own, before they died along with Mattie’s little brother, who was the same age as Oren at the time, to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Or that’s what Mattie tells people, anyway. The truth is a lot more complicated, but she doesn’t need anyone digging into her past.
As it turns out though, Mattie’s not the only one keeping secrets. Alice herself is hiding a few of her own, and she hasn’t been entirely truthful to the social worker about what she’s running away from. Lately, she’s also been noticing something strange about Oren. Somehow, he seems to sense or know things before they happen, but as much as it scares her, Alice is reluctant to tell anyone for fear they’ll take the boy away from her.
I’ll give The Night Visitors this—I reviewed the audiobook and it was a quick listen; at no time was my listening bogged down by any lulls or boring bits. That said though, part of the problem was the utter craziness that happens in the second half of the novel, when the plot practically implodes on itself and the author completely drops the ball on the ending. The beginning on the other hand was interesting and suspenseful, slowly teasing the mystery as we alternated between Alice and Mattie’s POVs. As the story unfolded, it became clear that not all was at it seemed. In the end, I don’t know what I expected. Perhaps, with all the characters’ lies being so carefully and methodically revealed, I had thought we would get a more complex and satisfying conclusion. Instead, all that build-up led to very little payoff, with an ending that felt brute-forced and trite.
Also, normally I’d say a bit of paranormal activity spices up a good thriller. Not so much in this case. Again, it was an element that felt awkwardly shoehorned in and doesn’t feel organically connected to the rest of the plot. As well, I found it difficult to get feel enthusiastic about the idea because its implementation came across as lazy and didn’t seem all that well developed. Needless to say, if you’re looking for any answers or clarity, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Finally, I had a hard time getting into any of the characters. A part of me understands that these kinds of thrillers and unlikeable characters usually go hand in hand, but at the same time, there’s only so much nastiness, ignorance, smugness, virtue signaling or judgmental self-righteousness I can take. That said though, I can appreciate how every character in this book is a flawed and unique individual. As the novel endeavors to point out, there is good and bad in everyone, and sadly, some people who have been hurt and damaged in the past end up going on to hurt and damage others.
Ultimately, this story is about Alice and Mattie both trying to break this vicious cycle by learning to open their hearts to each other—and in the end, that’s a message I can get behind. And quite honestly, The Night Visitors wasn’t all bad. I loved every moment early on as the story was meticulously laying down its foundations, but simply wished the second half hadn’t spiraled out of control the way it did. It’s passable if all you’re looking for is a standard thriller, but I just expected more from its early potential.
Audiobook Comments: Jane Oppenheimer did a perfectly fine job narrating, but the audiobook could have been improved with a second narrator. Not only would it have been less confusing when the story switched between the POVs, I think a narrator who sounded older would have been better suited to read Mattie’s chapters....more
Lately, I’ve been trying a new routine of following up disappointing reads with a thriller. As a genre, I find that they typically make for good palate cleansers, and as an added bonus they are usually fast-paced and addictive, giving me that much needed boost after a “blah” read to prevent slumps.
Which brings me to My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing, which was exactly what I needed in my life. In fact, it did its job and more. When I first started this audiobook, all I’d hoped for was a standard psychological thriller. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting all that much, maybe something similar to the current crop of novels with a few variations on the same premise repeated over and over. Boy, was I surprised.
What I got instead was a completely brilliant, completely bonkers and clever psy-thriller of domestic suspense unlike any other I’ve read before. The official blurb described this one as “Dexter meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith” and I’ll let you decide how accurate that is. At the center of this story is a married couple, our unnamed protagonist and his wife Millicent, who have been married for fifteen years. Like many couples who have been together this long, they believe they’ve found the key to their marital bliss. But while some folks like to spice things up with surprise gifts or a naughty weekend, this husband-and-wife pair likes to put the spark back into their relationship by committing murder together.
Yep, you heard that right, though with the exception of their homicidal tendencies, our protagonist would have you believe he and Millicent are just like any normal average couple. They live in a great house, with two wonderful kids. He teaches tennis at the posh country club, while she sells real estate in their affluent neighborhood. As with all families, they have their secrets hidden behind closed doors and decisions made in the past that have come back to haunt them, even if theirs are more twisted and depraved than most.
More than this I’m reluctant to reveal, because as the saying goes, the less you know the better, and this absolutely applies to My Lovely Wife. The mindfuck starts right away as the first few chapters will have you second-thinking all your predictions as quickly as you make them. As I soon discovered though, pretty much every time I thought something felt clichéd, it managed to never turn out the way I thought it would.
This story is told from the perspective of Millicent’s husband, who is under no illusions that he’s married to a complete psycho. But the best part about this book is that you can’t take anyone at face value. As deeply as you might sympathize with him or as much as he might endear himself to you, our protagonist is no saint himself, no matter how hard he tries to sell us on his “meek husband” persona. He gets off on the idea of murder just as much as his wife, and worse, he does nothing to rein in her even darker appetites.
But the genius of this novel, and what Samantha Downing does so well, is giving the impression of the sheer normalcy of it all, even when you know in your heart just how messed up everything is. At the heart of this tale is a couple who is completely devoted to their family. On birthdays and anniversaries, they would go that extra mile to make the day special for their loved ones. During hard times, they scrimped and sacrificed to make ends meet. And as the kids grew older, there were the usual doctor’s appointments, soccer games, golf lessons. Millicent insists on only cooking organic. No cellphones or any electronics at the dinner table. The family will sit down to a movie night at least once a week. It’s all so domestic it almost makes you want to puke.
But of course, there’s that whole serial killer couple thing. In large part, this book is driven by the mystery behind the nature of the protagonist and his wife’s relationship. We’re also trying to figure out Millicent, who’s an enigma even to her husband. Like all couples, they have secrets they keep from each other, but even knowing this did not prepare me for all the shocks and thrills thrown at us towards the end of the book. Good luck putting it down at this point. I know I couldn’t.
All in all, My Lovely Wife was a fantastic read. Believe me, if I thought I could get away with praising this amazing debut without giving away too much, I would have written a whole lot more extolling its insanely fun and addictive plot and phenomenally developed characters. So instead, I’ll keep it simple: if you’re looking for a binge-worthy psychological thriller that stands out among the rest, you need this book in your life....more
I’ve been on a thriller kick lately, and maybe that’s why, after reading a lot of the same-old-same-old, I found I Know Who You Are to be entertaining but it did not really wow me. That said, it if you enjoy a good psychological suspense-thriller, it is completely serviceable and shouldn’t disappoint.
Told in alternating chapters, I Know Who You Are is a novel featuring two narrative threads. One is about Aimee Sinclair, an up-and-coming actress who recently landed the leading role in a major film. But her success is precarious; any kind of scandal or negative press would be enough to put an end to her career before it even begins. One day, during a break in filming, Aimee returns home to find her house empty, her husband Ben nowhere to be found even though he should be waiting for her. Most disconcerting of all is that his cellphone and wallet had been left behind, and Aimee knows Ben would never go anywhere without them. Worried, she calls the police, but when they show up, their investigation only leads to even more questions. Worse, Aimee becomes a suspect herself, which would ruin her if the press ever gets wind of her husband’s disappearance.
The other narrative thread takes place in the past, following a little girl who is abducted by a disturbed couple and raised as their own. This is Aimee’s childhood—she was given a new name, a new life, and told to never speak of her time with her real family ever again. Over the next few years, Aimee was subjected to many abuses and traumas that no child should ever have to experience, and yet, she could not help but love her kidnappers, who still took care of her and loved her in their own sick, twisted way.
More than this I will not reveal, given how this genre thrives surprises and the unexpected. Needless to say though, by the end of the book, all the connections will be made, questions will be answered, and what happens will probably shock you. Personally, I thought the ending was completely insane and loved the bombshells dropped on us in the final chapters, despite some of the revelations straining my ability to suspend disbelief. Still, as one can argue this is par for the course when it comes to thrillers, I was more than willing to overlook the more outrageous and absurd plot points in the conclusion. Instead, most of the things I did not like about this novel had more to do with what happened in the lead-up and middle sections.
For one, things felt a little too drawn out. While the two alternating storylines created tension and intrigue, eventually this back-and-forth began to wear on my nerves. Following the life of young Aimee became my favorite part of the book, whereas the present Aimee chapters became somewhat tiresome and repetitive. The author utilized short chapters and switched frequently, probably intending to give both timelines the same amount of attention. Instead, I felt that too much time was spent puttering about the insecurities and uncertainties of older Aimee’s life when all I wanted was for the book to go back to focus on poor little younger Aimee, whose day-to-day existence was both fascinating and horrific to read about.
Which brings me to my second issue with this novel, which is namely its heavy reliance on purposefully shocking the reader, using some methods that are more blatant than others. Again, this is not so unusual for the genre (and normally not something I would even point out as a flaw) except that the shock factor felt so imbalanced. Like I said, the middle parts of the book were just okay in terms of engaging my interest, and it almost felt like the author was trying to overcompensate with the ending, throwing in something so crazy and over-the-top in the hopes of “making up for it.”
Still, I did enjoy this book, even if I didn’t think it was anything too special. If you read a lot of thrillers, some of the plot points may feel familiar (a missing spouse, the unreliable narrator, some ambiguity surrounding memory, etc.) but the ending will likely get a strong reaction, and ultimately it’s why I felt this book was worth my time, despite its flaws. I Know Who You Are might not be the best I’ve read in this genre, but there’s good entertainment value.
Audiobook Comments: I thought narrator Stephanie Racine could have varied her voices a little more, but she was an excellent reader and had a good feel for Aimee, especially in the childhood chapters where getting the character’s emotions across was so important. Overall, I felt she delivered a good performance....more