Book Review: Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

 Three years ago, sisters Emma and Cass disappeared. Now Cass has returned, but what happened to Emma? As Cass begins telling her family and the FBI about what happened to her and her sister, it becomes clear that there are many hidden depths to Cass’s story, and that multiple people are playing for their own ends. The more Cass reveals, the more questions arise. And it is impossible to tell who, if anyone, can be trusted to tell the truth about Emma.

God, I have read a lot of psychological thrillers in this vein recently. With the success of titles like The Girl on the Train and In a Dark, Dark Wood, these types of books are definitely in vogue. And I do generally enjoy this genre; but even I’m starting to feel worn down by plot twist after plot twist. I’m going to try very hard not to make Emma in the Night suffer for my over-saturation.

This book is a fine example of the genre. Walker keeps us guessing for most of the book about who can be trusted and who cannot. The character of Cass is definitely front and center, and those surrounding her, especially her mother, sister, and the FBI psychologist interviewing her are left a bit flat by comparison. I did enjoy the slow pulling back the layers of the months and years preceding Cass and Emma’s disappearance. Walker’s portrayal of the facade of a typical upper-middle-class home hiding dark secrets was well done.

So if you (unlike me) are not burned out on a genre turned into the literary equivalent of an IPA, this book has a lot to offer. Fans of Paula Hawkins and Ruth Ware will like this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher via Goodreads Giveaways 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: The Virgin of the Wind Rose by Glen Craney

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The Virgin of the Wind Rose: A Christopher Columbus Mystery-Thriller by Glen Craney

While investigating the death of her fiance in Ethiopia, State Department newbie Jacqueline “Jac” Quartermane stumbles upon a mysterious word puzzle in an underground church in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Determined to solve the puzzle, she finds herself thrown into an ancient Christian mystery. Her investigations spark a wide ranging race to resurrect the Temple of Solomon. Running parallel to this, we travel back to 1452, where a Portuguese secret society seeks to avert the Spanish crown’s designs to bring about judgement day.

If you’re thinking that this sounds very like The Da Vinci Code, you’re not alone. The promise of an interesting mystery tied to a historical thriller sounded like a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the main character, Jacqueline Quartermane, is a literalist, born-again Christian. Her mentor is a megachurch pastor with most of the GOP in his pocket. Forgive me for saying this, but I find the idea of cheering for someone like Jac to be repellent. The historical portions of the plot were interesting, although the time jumps did get confusing at times. It was the modern-day portions, with Jac at the helm, that ultimately turned me off this book. Perhaps I’m letting my personal feelings have too much sway, but especially in this day and age I find I have no patience for the religious set. If this book had been more secular, like The Da Vinci Code, it would have been much more palatable for me.

So, this book was entirely not to my tastes. For those who don’t mind the overly-religious bits, you may still enjoy it. One person’s tastes are not the be-all and end-all (which is the whole point of this blog). But for myself, I had to say no.

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

Book Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

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The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Helena grew up in an isolated cabin deep in the marshes of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that she understood the horrible truth of her unconventional childhood: her father was a kidnapper and rapist, and her mother his victim and prisoner. Now an adult, Helena has two young children of her own, and her father, known as The Marsh King, has been in prison for over a decade. Then one day, state troopers show up at her door; her father has escaped from prison. Helena knows that he will be coming for her, but her father is a consummate woodsman, able to disappear into the wilderness at will. Helena will have to use every bit of information he taught her in order to track him down and keep her family safe.

This nail-biting thriller contains shades of Room by Emma Donoghue and Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller. The story weaves between the present day, where Helena is living a more or less normal life in rural Michigan (though she still struggles with the intricacies of society), and her childhood living on the land in the isolated cabin on the marsh. We can acutely feel the subtle damage done to Helena by her father, yet she was raised to more or less worship him. Her father is a rapist, a kidnapper, and a sadist, but he was also the man who raised her, and what little girl doesn’t want the approval of her father? This dissonance between the facts and the feelings of her childhood present Helena with a horrible and complex dilemma. She knows her father is an evil man, and that he means to hurt her and her family, but how do you truly stop being daddy’s little girl?

I really liked this book. Dionne has taken a theme that occupies both newspaper headlines and our nightmares and made it into a terrifyingly realistic, gripping story. The weaving of past and present events is done well, revealing in increments the full story of Helena’s childhood. If you’ve been looking for a fast-paced, stay-up-until-one-in-the-morning read, this is the perfect book for you.

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

Book Review: Blackout by Marc Elsberg

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Blackout by Marc Elsberg

 

The entire European electric grid has gone dark. From Britain to the Czech Republic, millions are without power. As the blackout continues, international authorities are unable to find the cause of the disaster, or who might be responsible. Chaos and unrest continue to build as people are left without food, heat, water, or medical care. Hacker Piero Manzano believes he may have discovered the cause of the blackout, but he quickly finds himself Europol’s number one suspect. Manzano must continue his investigation on the run, and with the help of an American journalist, he sets out to find those responsible. But time is not on his side, without backup power, nuclear power plants across the continent are beginning to go critical.

This is a scary book. Elsberg has thoroughly researched and crafted this book to hew as closely as possible to reality. His knowledge of electric grids, cyber security, and international policing and politics is comprehensive and used to best effect. In Blackout, we find a very real look at what a major terror attack against our power supply might look like.

My major problem with the book it that it lacks heart. The book reads more like an overview of events rather than a novel with characters we are supposed to care about. However, this may not be Elsberg’s fault. Blackout was originally published in German in 2012, the version I read (to be published in June of 2017) was translated into English. Translation of literature is a complex and fraught artform. Without careful attention to form and intent, the heart and soul of the book (or poem, etc.) in question can be lost. I am wondering if that is what happened here. As I do not speak German, that will have to remain merely a hypothesis until some kindly German-speaking person reads the book in its original form and lets me know if they found the same problem.

Still, this is a vivid and haunting picture of events which I could potentially see in my lifetime. The realism of the book is haunting, and will stick with you even after you’ve finished reading. If you’re looking for a disaster story, this one takes the cake.

 

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

Book Review: Target Omega by Peter Kirsanow

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Target Omega by Peter Kirsanow

Michael Garin is the best of the best, a US special forces soldier so good at his job, and so mom and apple pie, that he would give Captain America an inferiority complex. Garin’s anti-WMD strike force is deployed in a successful mission to prevent a terrorist cell from acquiring a nuclear device. Within 48 hours of their return stateside, all but Garin have been killed by a deadly foreign operative. Finding himself the prime suspect in the deaths of his teammates, Garin goes rogue to uncover the motive behind their deaths and to stop a devastating attack against the United States.

Okay, first off: this book is fun. This is the literary version of The White House has Fallen, Broken Arrow, Rambo, or anything starring John Cena. There are explosions, car chases, shoot ’em ups, and thoroughly implausible hand-to-hand vs. gun fights. The main characters are pretty one-sided and fulfill their genre-defined role, but with this type of story they don’t need to be anything more. This is a popcorn-grade summer action flick bound into paper format, and I enjoyed reading this book.

On the other hand, as is common with this particular genre, there was a lot of ‘Murica flavored chest thumping, and red white and blue dick waving. highly enjoyable action scenes are interspersed with eye-roll worthy proclamations about what it means to be an American (guns, church, and apple pie), and the nature of the true enemy (pansy-ass liberals, duh). As I myself thoroughly own the title of bleeding heart liberal out to destroy all that makes America great, these darling little snippets did take away a bit from my enjoyment of the book (yes, I know, “cry me a river, snowflake”blah blah blah).

So, in sum, I do recommend this book to those who love military-oriented action thrillers, or for anyone wanting an entertaining beach read this summer. It was a genuinely good book, after all. But if you’re the type to take red state MAGA asides with more than just an eye roll (and in the current political climate, I heartily sympathize), this may not be the book for you, at least not right now (maybe 2018? Hopefully?). So read the book, it’s fun, but with just enough family-member-you-avoid-talking-to-at-get-togethers to keep me from being able to whole-heartedly recommend it.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher 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: Lola by Maria Scrivner Love

Lola by Maria Scrivner Love

Lola is adept at pretending to be less than she is. To the world she is the dutiful girlfriend to her gang-leader boyfriend, Garcia. She cooks, she cleans, and she keeps house. What no one outside the Crenshaw Six realizes is that Lola is actually the power behind the throne. In reality she is the sharply intelligent and utterly ruthless leader of their gang. When a representative of the Mexican Cartel makes the small-time gang an offer they can’t refuse, Lola finds herself drawn increasingly deeper into the world of the international drug trade. As the stakes get higher, Lola has to use every tool in her arsenal to ensure that not only does she survive, but that her gang makes it out on top.

This is a stong debut showing by former CSI: Miami writer Maria Scrivner Love. The character of Lola is well-realized as a strong, intelligent woman who must always play the part of the quiet, subservient girlfriend in order to succeed in the man’s world of the drug trade. Her internal struggle between feeling the need to adhere to social norms and her desire to be recognized for her own accomplishments mirrors the struggle of all ambitious women, no matter the legitimacy of their work.

Also on full display in this book are the racial tensions within the city of Los Angeles. Each group, latino, black, and white, have set aside their own exclusive areas within the city, and stepping outside one’s assigned area invites suspicion at best and violence at worst.

In all, this is an original and intriguing thriller. The action is fast-paced, the characters well realized and multidimensional. Fans of crime fiction will enjoy this book, as will anyone looking for an atypical book featuring a strong female protagonist.

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

Book Review: Say Nothing by Brad Parks

Say Nothing by Brad Parks
This book hits the ground running. Judge Scott Sampson gets a text from his wife’s phone telling him that she is going to be picking up their six-year-old twins from school. It is not until his wife gets home, sans children that he realizes something is very wrong. Within minutes, the phone rings and a voice on the other end tells him to say nothing, that they have his kids, and instructions will follow. Sampson is a federal judge, and the kidnappers seem intent on subverting the court for their own ends. While trying to investigate the kidnapping without alerting the authorities, personal and professional secrets and animosities are dredged to the surface. Slowly, everyone in Sampson’s life begins to look like a suspect.

This is a tidy little thriller. Parks manages to instill a real sense of paranoia throughout the story, and he throws enough plot twists and red herrings into the mix to keep the reader guessing. This is also one of those books where literally nothing seems to go right for our protagonist, and you find yourself wishing that the poor guy would just get one little thing to go his way.

Suspense and thriller lovers will likely enjoy this book. The plot revolving around the manipulation and coercion of a federal judge also resonates in this day and age. The entirety of the plot, once revealed, feels frighteningly plausible.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Say Nothing will be available for purchase on March 7th, 2017.

Book Review: Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

Right Behind You by Lisa Gardner

This is the 7th book featuring Gardner’s profiler pair, Quincy and Rainie. In case it isn’t obvious, there will likely be spoilers ahead if you haven’t read the other books. Additional caveat: I have not read the previous books in the series, but I was not lost, you can definitely read this book as a standalone if you wish.

The book begins from the point of view of a young boy. Telly loves his little sister, Sharlah, and will do anything to protect her from his drug addicted, abusive parents. One night, Telly’s father goes into a drug-fueled rampage, and Telly is forced to kill him to save himself and his sister.

Fast forward eight years and Sharlah is the foster daughter of Quincy and Rainie, ex-profilers and now private sector consultants. She hasn’t seen or had any contact with her brother since the night of their parent’s deaths. Then a simple “shots fired” call turns into a murder spree, and it seems like Sharlah’s older brother may be the gunman. As Quincy and Rainie are called into the case, Sharlah is forced to face the possibility that her brother may have always been a monster.

I enjoyed this dark thriller. Even without having read the previous books, it was easy to slip into the world of the primary characters. The subject matter is dark but well written, and while the plot seems to be straightforward at first, ample twists and turns will keep you interested. What I most liked was the intelligence of the Quincy and Rainie duo. You know all those niggling little details that occur in every mystery? The ones where you stop and go “Wait, that isn’t quite right,” well, those little things occur here as well, but (rather uniquely in my opinion) those little inconsistencies are picked up on by the protagonists. rather than being used as gotcha fuel later on in the book, those random little details are actually used to further the plot. More authors should make that attempt.

Fans of Jeffery Deaver or Lisa Unger will probably like this book, and I would think that if you’ve been following series thus far, this should be a no-brainer.

An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Right Behind You will be available for purchase on January 31st, 2017.