Book Review: Final Girls by Riley Sager

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Final Girls by Riley Sager

Quincy Carpenter is a survivor. Ten years ago, she was the only survivor of a horror movie-style massacre and joined the ranks of the “Final Girls.” A term given to two other women who survived similar massacres. Quincy has determinedly put the past behind her. She can’t remember much of what happened that night, and she has moved on, courtesy of Xanax and an obsession with baking. All she wants is to be “normal,” and not to be identified solely as a victim.

But her carefully constructed house of cards falls down when Lisa, one of the Final Girls, is found dead, her wrists slit. Soon the only other Final Girl, Sam, arrives on her doorstep. Sam’s method of dealing with her past is an exercise in self-destruction, and her presence sends Quincy spiraling down into instability. When the police investigation of Lisa’s death reveals that she was murdered, Quincy finds herself in a position where she can trust no one around her; not even her own memories.

This book surprised me. I went in expecting something leaning more towards the horror genre, and ended up with a tense little psychological thriller. I really enjoyed this book, and read it straight through in one sitting. The novel is told from Quincy’s point of view, and we get a first hand look at the rituals she holds herself to in order to maintain her grasp on normalcy. It is all too easy for the rampaging presence of Sam to knock these habits into disarray, and Quincy’s mental state with them. Interspersed between the chapters dealing with the here-and-now are chapters flashing back to the night of the massacre that Quincy survived as a college freshman. As both stories unfold, we must call into question everything we had learned before.

Sager does a brilliant job keeping the suspense going in this book. Her use of false leads and red herrings is masterfully done. Sager uses twists subtly telegraphed to hide other plot twists you will not see coming. We think we have guessed at a character’s hidden secret, only to have that secret be revealed as surface clutter to a more cunningly hidden depth.

Fans of Lisa Unger, Ruth Ware, or Karin Slaughter will likely enjoy this book. Anyone looking for a unique and riveting take on the horror genre should also pick up this book.

An advanced copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

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Watch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown

It’s been a year since Sybilla “Billie” Flanagan disappeared while on a solo hiking trip. Missing and presumed dead, her grieving husband and teenage daughter have been left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives. Then one day at school, Billie’s daughter has a vision: her mother is alive, somewhere out there, and needs Olive to come find her. Jonathan, Billie’s husband, initially dismisses the idea that Billie is still alive. After all, he has just recently been able to accept the fact of her death. But then a chance encounter with one of Billie’s friends reveals that his wife has been keeping secrets from him for years. The deeper he digs into his wife’s mysterious past, the more uncertain he becomes about the woman he married, and whether she did actually perish a year ago.

This is a tight, subtle thriller. We know Billie, former wild child turned Berkeley super mom by the holes she left in the lives of those around her. While Olive and Jonathan work in their own ways to find out what happened to Billie, we see her surface persona slowly scraped away, and something different and darker start to show through underneath. Every revelation about who Billie was adds more mystery, rather than less, to her ultimate fate. Through the course of the book, you find yourself very smugly sure that so-and-so knows what happened to Billie, only to have that assumption ripped away a few chapters later, and your focus moved on to a new suspect.

Fans of mysteries and thrillers will probably enjoy this book. The story has several elements in common with Gone Girl. If you’ve enjoyed books in that vein, this is a good pick for you.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: I Am No One by Patrick Flannery

I Am No One by Patrick Flannery

Jeremy O’Keefe is your average, everyday NYU history professor. Nothing special or remarkable to make him stick out from a crowd, except perhaps for a decade spent teaching overseas at Oxford University. Then, one day, he goes to a cafe to meet one of his graduate students and is stood up. Returning to his office, he finds he emailed said student earlier that day, asking for a postponement . . . but he has no memory of sending that email. Strange events continue to build: people who seem to be following him, or waiting outside his home and his office–staring in through the windows. The events culminate when he is sent a plain brown box, a box that contains a computer printout of every website he has ever visited in the past decade. The line between paranoia and true persecution continues to blur as Jeremy finds himself at the center of an incredibly large and complex, yet faceless surveillance. What could he possibly have done to make himself such a target?

Flannery has a very flowing, lyrical writing style. The book, written in the first person, flows and skips along in the vein of a free association memoir. Jeremy O’Keefe, who’s focus of study is surveillance within totalitarian states, is a man who seems to harbor more than the usual amount of baseline paranoia. As the events in the book continue to pile up upon his consciousness, that natural high functioning paranoia begins to change into something darker. Self doubt begins with worries of dementia, of fugue states, then transfers to the possibility of serious mental disorder, then finally to certainty, and the corresponding uncertainty of who to trust.

The beginning of the book was incredibly interesting. Flannery does a great job in his creation of Jeremy O’Keefe; the character is complex, multidimensional, and very relatable. The uncertainty whether Jeremy’s paranoia is justified and to what extent, combined with the slow unraveling of the events of his life over the past decade, form an intriguing little mystery as the reliability of our narrator is called into question. Unfortunately, the tension that underscores the first part of the book is not maintained, leaving the ending flat, anticlimactic, and unsatisfying. As the final parts of the book see the puzzle pieces fall into place, the revelation of the truth should be disturbing and electrifying. Unfortunately, the knowledge of the truth pales in comparison to the anxiety of not knowing, and the reader can’t help but feel a bit let down and cheated by how something potentially earth-shattering can feel so banal.

Those who are heavily into psychological thrillers may still want to check out this book for the interesting beginning and the fine characterization of the protagonist. But I feel that most readers will be left frustrated by the lackluster ending.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice and the Assassin by R.J. Koreto

Alice Roosevelt was the daughter of US President Theodore Roosevelt. Born into the heights of New York Society, and thrust further into the spotlight as a member of the first family, Alice was a determined rebel in an age where proper behavior was paramount for well heeled women. Fiercely intelligent and chafing at the limitations placed upon her by society, Alice drank, smoked, and drove in cars with men. She imposed herself on her father’s policy meetings, offering political advice and helping in diplomatic meetings. Theodore Roosevelt once famously said, “I can either run the country or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both.”

R.J. Koreto brings this remarkable woman to life in the historical mystery Alice and the Assassin. Koreto is an old hand at historical mysteries, his Lady Frances Ffolkes series features another strong (and fictional) heroine, and is quite a fun read (you can read my review of Death Among Rubies here).

This book, hopefully the first of several, features seventeen-year-old Alice and her Secret Service bodyguard, Joseph St. Clair. The year is 1902, and Theodore Roosevelt has recently ascended to the presidency after the assassination of William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz. Alice, wishing to satisfy her own curiosity about the incident, decides to seek out famous anarchist, and associate of Czolgosz, Emma Goldman. However, this meeting seems to disturb powerful factions within the local community, and soon Alice and St. Clair find themselves embroiled in a wide-reaching conspiracy which may threaten another president.

I am a fan of Koreto’s previous work and this book did not disappoint. Alice is well realized, both as a vulgarity-slinging iconoclast and a sheltered seventeen year old who wants to protect her family. Historical details are sprinkled throughout with satisfying accuracy, and those aspects which are fictionalized for the plot roll nicely into the feel of the era.

The book begins with some stutters as the author introduces us to the protagonists and the world they inherit, but rapidly finds its footing. The pacing is splendid, with enough narrative false trails and red herrings to make for an enjoyable mystery. The plot, while fictional, is based on real events, and the final solution to the plot feels a bit too possible for comfort.

In all, fans of historical mysteries will enjoy this book. I would recommend Alice and the Assassin to fans of Victoria Thompson’s Gaslight Mystery Series, Deanna Raybourn‘s books,  or the Maisie Dobbs series. Anyone looking for an engaging book featuring a strong female protagonist will also enjoy this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Sisters of Blue Mountain by Karen Katchur

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The Sisters of Blue Mountain by Karen Katchur

One morning in Mountain Springs, Pennsylvania, B&B owner Linnet sees a snow goose fall out of the sky, dead. Soon hundreds of geese are dead, putting Linnet’s B&B, and the tourism-dependent town in jeopardy. When a dead body shows up on the lawn of the B&B soon after, things quickly go from bad to worse. With her estranged sister, Myna, and her ornithologist father falling further into dementia, Linnet will have to face the demons in her past before those of the present consume her and her family.

This was a slow-burning mystery. The characters of Linnet and Myna are well crafted as sisters estranged as a result of a secret pact made when they were teenagers. Linnet and Myna’s relationship with their father, who suffers from dementia and is growing increasingly erratic, feels very real, as does their relationship with their deceased mother. The mystery of the dead man and the geese builds slowly, offering a long look at a family in crisis.

Overall, I enjoyed this book, but I did find that the slow pace of the plot took away from the sense of danger that comes with a really good mystery. A sense of menace is missing from the book. However, the mystery of the sisters’ past unfolding was very well done, and the author’s portrayal of small town life and social isolation is quite vivid. Those who don’t mind slow-burn mysteries will likely enjoy this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher via GoodReads in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Nora Shaw lives an isolated life, and prefers it that way. She keeps to her schedule in her tiny studio in London, and relishes in the safety that her lack of social contact provides. Then one day, an email arrives, inviting her to her school friend Clare’s hen party. Nora hasn’t seen Clare in a decade, not since she walked out of school and never looked back. Reluctantly dragged into the party, Nora finds that not everything is as it seems. Something is deeply wrong at this party, and Nora must figure out what is going on before it costs her her life.

This is Ruth Ware’s debut novel, and it is an edge of the seat mystery/thriller. Ware paints a scary portrait of revenge and obsession, but as a reader, you’re never really sure who is truly obsessed. Nora herself seems to become more and more unreliable as a narrator as the story goes on, bringing everything that came before into question. The twists are numerous and surprising, once you’re sure you know where the book is going, it throws you in a different direction entirely. The false leads and narrative dead ends keep you guessing throughout the book.

Fans of books like The Girl on the Train and I See You, or fans of Tana French or Gillian Flynn will find a lot to like in this book.

Book Review: The Night Bird by Brian Freeman


The Night Bird by Brian Freeman

Sitting in traffic on the San Francisco Bay Bridge, a young woman has a sudden, violent mental breakdown. Tearing the flesh of her arms, torso, and face, she appears to be running from some invisible horror when she throws herself off the bridge.

And she is not the first. Detective Frost Easton is heading the investigation of similar deaths in the city, all with one common thread: Psychiatrist Dr. Francesca Stein. Dr. Stein’s controversial methods of helping highly phobic patients seem to be falling apart, unless someone is out there, targeting her former patients in a twisted attack. When Dr. Stein begins to receive taunting messages signed by “The Night Bird,” the clock is ticking for her and Easton to find the psychopath before more people die . . .

This is an enjoyable and fast-paced mystery. I greatly enjoyed the use the author made of the fragility of memory and the power of suggestion. The beginning (after the fantastic first casualty) was a bit awkward and stilted, but Freeman quickly finds his voice. Some aspects of the plot and the characters are a bit out there, but that may well be attributable to the story being set in proudly weird San Francisco.

In all, I enjoyed this book, some parts were genuinely creepy, and the requisite plot twists included several I didn’t see coming. Fans of darker mysteries will probably enjoy this novel, it’s not quite as violent or as twisted as a Jefferey Deaver book, but feels similar.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Skeleton God by Eliot Pattison

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Skeleton God by Eliot Pattison

This is the ninth book in Eliot Pattison’s Inspector Shan series. Therefore, there will probably be spoilers for the previous books in this review. Caveat: I haven’t read the previous book in the series, but the good news is that this book can be read as a stand-alone, without having read the previous novels.

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We find our hero, Shan Tao Yun, reluctantly acting as the constable of tiny Yangkar village in Tibet. His appointment more a punishment than an honor, Shan does his best to toe the party line while remaining sympathetic to the native Tibetans under his jurisdiction. When a military convoy stops in town with a dozen political prisoners and an investigator from the Public Security Bureau in tow, Shan braces himself for trouble. Unfortunately, he has no idea just how bad things can get. When an elderly nun is assaulted and local herders begin talking of “the dead walking” Shan heads into the mountainous terrain to investigate and finds something that defies explanation: an ancient tomb with not one, but three bodies inside – the mummified body of a Tibetan saint, the fifty-year-old corpse of a Chinese soldier, and the days old body of an American. With the Public Security Bureau and the army both digging into the town’s affairs, the situation becomes extremely complicated. Shan must find a way to solve the crimes without getting thrown back in prison or being executed.

This was certainly an interesting mystery. Pattison, while an American author, is a world traveler, and has infused the book with his love of Tibet and his knowledge of the conquest of that country by the People’s Republic of China. The intricacies (and atrocities) of politics between Tibet and China are on full display and impact most every aspect of the plot. Inspector Shan is a wonderful protagonist, vividly realized as a man trying his best to walk the tightrope between two very different worlds. The paranoia and precariousness of his situation are palpable throughout the book.

As I said before, this book works well as a stand-alone novel, but I would imagine you get a bit more out of it if you’ve read the previous books. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this book. I would also recommend it to mystery lovers and those into international intrigue.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Skeleton God will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.

Book Review: Wages of Sin by Katie Welsh

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The Wages of Sin by Katie Welsh

In 1892, the University of Edinburgh began to admit female medical students. The pushback from both faculty and the male student body was immense. Indeed, society itself looked down on these women as unfeminine and broken. Enter Sarah Gilchrist, banished from London after bringing scandal to her family name. Cut adrift and dependent on the good graces of Scottish relatives, Sarah is determined to make her own way as a female physician. In order to get practical training, Sarah volunteers at a charity infirmary in the slums. The work is hard, and the prejudices of society are increasingly difficult to bear. However, Sarah is doing well with her studies and her work until one day she recognizes the corpse in her anatomy class as her patients at the infirmary. . .

I always like a good historical fiction, and this one did not disappoint. Welsh does a great job of demonstrating the fine line these medical pioneers would have to walk between Victorian propriety and their dreams of higher education. The hypocrisy of their male counterparts is also brilliantly illustrated. Welsh also does well with her main protagonist, Sarah Gilchrist. The lasting physical and mental trauma from her “scandal” feels very real. While you may occasionally want to reach through the page, shake her, and yell “think before you speak,” she is overall a very sympathetic character. The mystery aspect of the book was well paced, with the requisite red herrings and plot twists.

Fans of historical murder mysteries will find a lot to like in this book, which feels like the first of a series. Historical fiction or murder mystery fans in general will likely also enjoy the book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Wages of Sin will be available for purchase on March 14th, 2017.

Book Review: A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

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A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner

There are three narratives in play in this book. The first is Brette Caslake, a woman living in modern-day San Diego. Brette can see and talk with ghosts, though she has been trying to supress this aspect of herself since she was a little girl. The second is Simone Deveraux, a French Resistance fighter. The third is Annaliese Lange,a former ballerina fleeing from her Nazi husband.

Simone and Annaliese are thrown together on the RMS Queen Mary as it steams across the Atlantic in 1946 to reunite European war brides with their American husbands. But the secrets both women must keep simmer under the surface, and only one woman will get off the ship in New York. Meanwhile in the present day, Brette is investigating the Queen Mary as a favor to an old friend. She encounters a spirit on the ship which points her towards the half-century-old mystery . . .

I’m of two minds regarding this book. The stories of Simone and Annaliese are very well done. Each woman is given a unique voice, and their histories are compelling; the mystery surrounding their fatal voyage is engaging. You wind up caring deeply about the fate of both these women.

In contrast, Brette’s modern day storyline feels flat and tacked on. Her story feels like it exists solely as a tool to push the 1940s narrative along, and even then it feels unnecessary; Simone and Annaliese’s story could have been told entirely without the present-day narrative. The idea of a woman who can speak with ghosts is intriguing, but the end result here is unsatisfying. Brette allows herself to be bullied into investigating the haunted ship, all the while dealing with a husband who may or may not think she’s insane, but is trying to push her into having children anyway. Brette’s fears about motherhood, and passing on her unwanted ability onto her children are summarily brushed aside by her husband, and his acceptance (or lack thereof) of her abilities are never really resolved. I found the entire thing to be aggravating, and I found myself flipping past the chapters which featured Brette in favor of finding out what happened to the women in 1946.

In all, this is not a bad book, but I can’t help feel that the modern day narrative detracts from the overall story. Still, the book is worth checking out for Simone and Annaliese’s stories, and other readers may not find Brette’s storyline so off-putting.

An advance ebook was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. A Bridge Across the Ocean will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.