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: 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: Ill Will by Dan Chaon

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Ill Will by Dan Chaon

Thirty years ago, Dustin’s aunt, uncle, mother, and father were brutally murdered. His testimony helped to put his adopted older brother, Rusty, in prison for the crime. Now, Rusty is being released from prison, his innocence proven by DNA evidence. But if Rusty didn’t commit the murders, then who did?

In the meantime, it appears that a serial killer might be operating in northern Ohio. Dustin, now a psychologist in Cleveland, becomes obsessed with a series of suspicious deaths after one of his patients brings up his own investigation. As Dustin and his family are pulled apart by both the events of thirty years ago and today, the nature of right and wrong, sanity and insanity becomes more and more muddled.

This was a fascinating book, though at times I found it difficult to read. The story, which weaves between past events and the present day, is mainly from the point of view of Dustin himself, and his adult son, Aaron. The story begins with Dustin learning of Rusty’s release from prison. This knowledge, and the anticipation of retribution from his adopted brother, start off a chain of events leading Dustin down a rabbit hole of obsession. Aaron, dealing with drug addiction, is nearly as unreliable a narrator as Dustin.

As the two men move through the story, the narrative literally fragments, some pages having several competing point-of-views for the same people of the same event. Thoughts and sentences are often left unfinished, as minds drift and alternative thoughts impose themselves upon the narrative. Ill Will explores the fragility of self and the unreliability of perception and memory.

I enjoyed this book. It is a uniquely written thriller, and the plot twists and turns and doubles back on itself often enough to confound the reader. In places, the formatting, especially with the competing narratives, can make the book hard to follow. To me, the book is reminiscent of House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, a psychological thriller which also used atypical formatting to advance the plot. And, like House of Leaves, I strongly suspect that this is a book you will either love or hate.

I would recommend this book to someone who likes darker psychological thrillers, but not to anyone who requires concrete endings or neatly tied loose ends. In that regard, Ill Will is a lot like the recently published Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (my review can be read here) in that it is a creepy book which will mess with your head, and the ending will leave you with nearly as many questions as answers. In sum, I enjoyed this book quite a bit, but it is certainly not for everyone. If you enjoyed either of the two books previously mentioned, then I strongly recommend reading Ill Will.

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

Book Review: The Girl from the Sea by Shalini Boland

The Girl from the Sea by Shalini Boland

I picked out this book on a whim and I was not disappointed.

A woman wakes up on the beach, washed in with the tide and half drowned, and she has no idea who she is or what happened to her.

Reunited with her boyfriend as the police search for clues, she is reintroduced to her former life. And at first it seems pretty idyllic. She lives in a beautiful town, in a great apartment, and seems to have it all. But as she starts trying to reclaim a life she cannot remember, it seems that underneath the surface shine dwells so etning rotten. With no memories to rely on, she must question everything about herself and her family and friends. After all, she didn’t end up nearly drowned by accident, did she?

This was a fun, quick read (I finished the book in an afternoon). The whole novel is told from the first person perspective, which can be a risky move for an author. However, in Girl from the Sea, the narration is well done, and our perspective from the woman’s point of view is nothing short of paranoia inducing. As a reader, you begin to question the motives of every character you meet, parsing dialogue for inconsistencies and clues. You, much like the protagonist, have no idea who you can trust, or whose version of events is true. It is very, very hard to put this book down once you start.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of psychological thrillers. If The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl are in your TBR, I would advise adding this book to your list.

A free copy of this book was provided by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The Girl from the Sea is currently available for purchase.