Book Review: The Shadows by Alex North

The Shadows

The Shadows

Title: The Shadows
Author: Alex North
Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Horror
Date of Publication: July 7, 2020
Publisher: Celadon Books


Synopsis

The haunting new thriller from Alex North, author of the New York Times bestseller The Whisper Man

You knew a teenager like Charlie Crabtree. A dark imagination, a sinister smile–always on the outside of the group. Some part of you suspected he might be capable of doing something awful. Twenty-five years ago, Crabtree did just that, committing a murder so shocking that it’s attracted that strange kind of infamy that only exists on the darkest corners of the internet–and inspired more than one copycat.

Paul Adams remembers the case all too well: Crabtree–and his victim–were Paul’s friends. Paul has slowly put his life back together. But now his mother, old and senile, has taken a turn for the worse. Though every inch of him resists, it is time to come home.

It’s not long before things start to go wrong. Reading the news, Paul learns another copycat has struck. His mother is distressed, insistent that there’s something in the house. And someone is following him. Which reminds him of the most unsettling thing about that awful day twenty-five years ago.

It wasn’t just the murder.

It was the fact that afterward, Charlie Crabtree was never seen again…

Goodreads

Plot

I absolutely adore the plot trope of a person who returns home after being gone for years and solving a decades-old mystery. The Shadows takes this trope and runs with it, giving it a fresh new take.

Like The Whisper Man, this novel is eerie, bordering on horror, and it’s atmospheric while still fast-paced.  As I read the novel, I noticed another similarity to North’s previous work.  It’s very difficult to tell if there are paranormal elements at work, or if everything can be explained away by fact and reason. This questioning of what is real and what isn’t adds to the novel’s mystery, making it one of a kind, and a must read of 2020.

The Shadows has numerous surprising twists. One of them was quite shocking, but also required just a little too much backtracking and explaining to make it plausible. That said, the twists at the very end of the book were perfectly executed.  The resolution was well thought out and I just adore a book that has plainly laid out clues that I should have noticed while reading.

Characters 

I genuinely liked Paul, and I easily slipped into his head during the scenes written in his point of view.  It was refreshing to see a vulnerable, imperfect character who isn’t intentionally written to be “unlikable”, which is so common in thrillers these days. He was far from perfect, but I didn’t feel the urge to reach into the book and slap him in the face, either. An ideal compromise.

Language

Alex North writes with such a powerful prose that I got tingles while reading certain chapters, particularly towards the end as everything tied together perfectly and he revisited imagery that was introduced earlier in the book.  While I’ve found that novels with dual timelines often lag during the flashbacks, North’s style made the past timeline just as compelling as the present day events.

The Shadows

I recommend this book to those looking for a spooky, almost-horror thriller about a decades old mystery that centres around a spooky small-town legend.

*Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the arc to review*

starstarstarstarstar

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Sister Dear

Sister Dear

Title: Sister Dear 
Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: May 26, 2020
Publisher: MIRA


Synopsis

When Eleanor’s father dies, she’s devastated to learn that he wasn’t her biological father. Since she has a terrible relationship with her mother and sister, she decides to track down her birth father.  Eleanor is envious when she learns that she has a half sister, Victoria, who has everything in life: the perfect body, the loving husband, a promising career, and a doting set of parents. Eleanor will do whatever it takes to take what’s rightfully hers…

My Thoughts

Sister Dear is a fast-paced thriller. Told in the first person, we’re privy to Eleanor’s thoughts, and I couldn’t help but relate to her on a deep level.

I think that is part of what made this book so darn distressing to me. I was very invested in what happened to Eleanor, and every time something terrible happened it was like a knife through my heart.  Every time she made a bad decision, I was like “Oh no, honey”. I had to put the book down a few times to pace and let out some pent-up frustration.

As the novel progresses, Eleanor’s mental stability begins to come into question. McKinnon’s writing style demonstrates this descent perfectly—with Eleanor’s intrusive thoughts and her outlook on the world in general.  The way that she interprets people’s reactions to her is heightened by her paranoia, self-loathing, and desperation.

The side characters in this book are also fascinating, though they can’t hold a candle to Eleanor.  Readers grow to love Eleanor’s half-sister almost as quickly as she does.  Lewis is the perfect boy next door, despite owning a gym (You’d think he’d be all muscle talk, but he’s much more than that).  Her mother is the type of monster that readers just love to hate.

The plot itself is very engaging.  While there are quite a few twists and turns in the story, the real strength of this novel lies in the shock ending. I won’t say any more, but this book is definitely worth reading if only for the slap-in-the-face of a conclusion.
Sister Dear

I recommend this book to those who’re looking for a gripping, twisted thriller, and to those who won’t mind not being able to look their own sister in the eye ever again.

starstarstarstar

* Thank you to MIRA and the author for the arc to review! *

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: The Dilemma by B. A. Paris

The Dilemma

The Dilemma

Title: The Dilemma
Author: B. A. Paris
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: June 30, 2020
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press


Synopsis

It’s Livia’s fortieth birthday and tonight she’s having a party, a party she’s been planning for a long time. The only person missing will be her daughter, Marnie.

But Livia has a secret, a secret she’s been keeping from Adam, her husband, until the party is over. Because how can she tell him that although she loves Marnie, she’s glad their daughter won’t be there to celebrate with her?

Adam is determined everything will be just right for Livia and the party is going to be perfect… until he learns something that will leave him facing an unbearable decision.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

I want to preface this review by saying that I’m a big fan of B. A. Paris’ previous works.  Behind Closed Doors and Bring Me Back were gripping thrillers from cover to cover (Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to check out The Breakdown yet).  But I think that categorizing this particular book as a “thriller” or “mystery” does it a great disservice. This is not a thriller.  The Dilemma is a suspenseful family drama. If you go into this book expecting twists and turns in the plot as you often see in mysteries, you’re going to be very disappointed.  It is suspenseful, but it is not a thriller.

There are two twists in the novel, and the first is given away by the prologue. I’ve whined in the past about how every author these days seems to think that their novels have to have a prologue. The prologue in The Dilemma gave away the major plot development of the book, and really provided nothing of value to the story itself.

That said, this novel is incredibly suspenseful. It’s clear that Livia’s big birthday bash is not going to be the idyllic event that she’s planned, and the stress that the main characters are enduring seems to ooze off the pages. I was sweating buckets while reading, genuinely worried about how it would all go down.  The Dilemma made me incredibly uncomfortable, yet I could not seem to put it down.

The depth of the characters is definitely the strength of this novel.  They are so detailed, with such rich backgrounds, that it feels like they could leap off the page.  I felt like I understood Livia and her motivations more than I understand my own mother (Sorry, Mom!).

BA Paris has such a phenomenal writing style that she could write about going to the bathroom and I’d hang on to her every word.  I would have liked to have known that this isn’t a true thriller when I started reading, since it would have completely changed my expectations.

dilemma small

I recommend this book to those who enjoy a suspenseful family drama filled with secrets, lies, and uncomfortable birthday parties.

starstarstarstar

* Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the arc to review! *

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel

Darling Rose Gold

Darling Rose Gold

Title: Darling Rose Gold
Author: Stephanie Wrobel
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: March 17, 2020
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada


Synopsis

For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers and offering shoulders to cry on, but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.

Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty gets out with nowhere to go and begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes.

Patty insists all she wants is to reconcile their differences. She says she’s forgiven Rose Gold for turning her in and testifying against her. But Rose Gold knows her mother. Patty Watts always settles a score.

Unfortunately for Patty, Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling…

And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.” – Goodreads

Plot 

For those of you who are true crime fans like myself, you might have felt a niggling bit of familiarity when reading the synopsis. That’s because this book is loosely based on the story of Gypsy Rose, the girl who was poisoned by her mother for her entire childhood. Aside from this basic premise, the book has nothing to do with the true case (I hope–otherwise it’s a little too twisted for my liking!).

We get two points of view and two timelines in this novel. The story opens with Patty being released from prison after having served her five years for child abuse. Patty wants back into her daughter’s life, and Rose Gold welcomes her with open arms. But is it quite that simple? 

The other point of view if that of Rose Gold, beginning from the point where her mother goes to prison. We find out what happened during those five years to bring her to where she is today.  And let me tell you, there’s no way you could predict what happens…

The entire story is gripping and twisted from the very first page to its last.  

Characters 

Patty is your typical narcissist. I absolutely adore the way that she is portrayed. She doesn’t see herself as a villain, even though she knows deep down that poisoning her daughter was wrong.  She explains away everything as things that she has to do. She talks about the respect she deserves.  I get chills just thinking about her. 

Rose Gold is an absolutely fascinating character. She spent her formative years relying on her mother, who made her food (obviously), dressed her, and did everything else for her. When Patty goes to prison, Rose Gold has nobody. She’s alone, self-conscious about her slim figure and rotten teeth, and her chapters were quite hard to read. I genuinely felt for her, and I think that her perspective coupled with her mother’s made this into quite a phenomenal book.

Every single character in this book seems to be quite deplorable, which made for an engaging story, but really made me feel depressed after reading it.  At the risk of spoilers, I’ll leave it there, but I do want to say that I hope that people would be more forgiving of Rose Gold in the real world. I mean, she shouldn’t be mocked for having rotten teeth when she’s spent her entire life throwing up (stomach acid will do that).  

Darling Rose Gold

Ultimately, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a gripping psychological thriller that really delves into the minds of the damaged and broken. Bear in mind that it’s a very dark and twisted tale, so it’s not for the faint of heart.  

starstarstarstarstar

* Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada and the author for the arc to review! *

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica

The Other Mrs

The Other Mrs Book Cover

Title: The Other Mrs.
Author: Mary Kubica
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: February 18, 2020
Publisher: Park Row


Synopsis

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbor Morgan Baines is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie.

But it’s not just Morgan’s death that has Sadie on edge. And as the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of what really happened that dark and deadly night. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs. Baines, the more she begins to realize just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light. – Goodreads

My Thoughts

This novel has been picked up to be a Netflix movie, and I could not be happier.  I’m also not surprised. The Other Mrs. is a compelling, character-driven thriller that I gobbled up in just one sitting.  Whenever I read a book to review, I always keep a notebook at my side to jot ideas down as they come to me.  I literally wrote five separate times that I couldn’t put the book down.  I remember jotting down those notes while holding the book in my other hand because I wasn’t ready or able to stop.

The Other Mrs. is primarily told through two points of view, that of Sadie and her husband’s mistress. The chapters flow quite nicely from one perspective to the other, and there aren’t any lags in the plot that gave me an obvious chance for a bathroom break.

Despite the character-driven approach to this book, it’s quite fast paced and has a lot of great twists throughout.  While I did predict the major twist, the story was so damn engaging that I didn’t mind at all, and in fact I was eager to see exactly how it would play out.

Sadie is an interesting main character, one who’s relatable, and doesn’t lean towards that “unlikeable” trend that’s oh too common in psychological thrillers these days. That’s not to say that she’s unnecessarily likable.  She has her flaws and makes some questionable decisions, but the author didn’t go out of her way to transform her into a deplorable human being.

The other characters are quite interesting and engaging, and I don’t want to go into depth at the risk of giving spoilers.

The Other Mrs

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, thrilling read, something that they can’t put down. I don’t recommend you read this if you don’t have an entire evening to devote to The Other Mrs.

starstarstarstarstar

* Thank you to Park Row and the author for the arc to review! *

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis

Be Not Far From Me

Title: Be Not Far From Me
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Genre: Young Adult, Thriller
Date of Publication: March 3, 2020
Publisher: HarperCollins


Synopsis

When Ashley and her friends decide to spend the night camping in the vast wilderness outside their small town, she has no idea what’s in store for her. After a horrible fight with her boyfriend, she runs away from the group, falling and seriously injuring her foot. She soon realizes that her friends thought she went home. They won’t be looking for her. Ordinarily, she’d be fine—she’s a survivor. But she’s far from the path markings and her foot is getting worse and worse by the hour. Does Ashley have what it takes to survive, or will she end up “missing” in the woods like so many others before her?

Plot

I really wanted to love this book. The premise is fantastic, and there are a couple of twists and turns along the way.  However, the pacing is not phenomenal. The book starts with a bang, but there are a few too many flashbacks that weigh down the action in the middle of the book, and I often found myself skimming because I wanted to find out what would happen in present day.  While these flashbacks serve to flesh out the main character and her relationships and motivations, they didn’t seem particularly cohesive. It’s rare that I say this, but I think the book might have benefited from a dual timeline. Perhaps the novel could have began with her lost in the woods, injured, with another timeline/flashbacks revealing what happened to get her there. However, the rationale for her being in the woods in the first place is quite shallow, so maybe the author would have had to have spent more time focusing on this in order to make a dual timeline work.  The lack of focus of the flashbacks made them feel unnecessary, when in fact, they do provide some insight into Ashley’s backstory, making the novel read a little more literary than thriller.

That said, the best parts of the novel are the thrilling bits. We get a few intense sequences while she’s lost in the woods, but not quite as many as I’d hoped. The book gets more graphic than I’d expected, which was a pleasant surprise. The novel itself is a very quick read, so the issues with pacing shouldn’t deter you from this fun night of reading!

Continue reading “Book Review: Be Not Far From Me by Mindy McGinnis”

Book Review: Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Fierce Kingdom cover

Title: Fierce Kingdom
Author: Gin Phillips
Genre: Thriller
Date of Publication: July 25, 2017
Publisher: Viking


Synopsis

When Joan takes her four-year-old son to the zoo for a day of frolicking with the wildlife, of course she doesn’t expect to be staying at the zoo later into the night, fearing for her life while a killer hunts her down. Joan must keep her son out of the clutches of this psychopath–no matter the cost. 

Plot 

This novel is what the publishing business calls “high concept”. The idea behind the story is really quite simple: Joan is trapped in the zoo with her son and there’s a shooter on the loose. While it’s a very intriguing concept, it quickly becomes clear that the author didn’t have any other ideas when she wrote up this story. The plot is quite formulaic, without any real twists in the story. The decisions that Joan makes are at times understandable, but often they’re quite infuriating. Sure, your cell phone glows when you receive a text message, but getting rid of it is not a good idea, Joan. You will need it later. There were some plotholes like this – if you’re carrying a bag around with you, just put the phone in your bag! Put it on airplane mode. Check out the settings and turn off notifications! There were so many better ways that she could have handled that.

Anyway, I’m nitpicking on one plot issue, but honestly, the entire novel was full of these. 

While the book is primarily told from Joan’s perspective, we do get brief scenes from the points of view of some of the other survivors, but that wasn’t consistent. We were, however, consistently provided POV scenes from the shooters. 

The story really lags in the middle, but it picks up again towards the end. There wasn’t much going on in terms of twists and turns in the plot. Everything carries out the way you would expect, although, I would have expected the police to show up a lot earlier. Turns out the explanation for them not showing up is somewhat satisfactory. Somewhat.

Characters

Joan is the typical overprotective mother. One thing that I did enjoy about the story was how insensitive she was to the needs of the other survivors. She finds the talkative girl annoying – and even though it’s clear to the reader that the girl is jabbering on because she’s nervous and it’s her coping mechanism–Joan doesn’t realize this until later, because she’s so wrapped up in her own coping mechanisms.

Joan’s son is really quite adorable at first, but it starts to get laid on too thick when Phillips hounds the reader with one cute anecdote after another. Every parent thinks that their child is a special snowflake, but as a non-parent, I started to find this grated on my nerves. I understand that Phillips was doing this to make the reader invested in the outcome of the story, and that the true story is about how much this woman loves her child, but it definitely wore on me after a while. 

I also really really hate when authors use mental disability or mental illness to make a villain seem scarier. No. Just don’t. 

Language

This novel is very a very easy read, which makes me think of the Mark Twain line, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” It’s a favourite line for me, as a writer, and I do think this applies here. I can critique the story and the characters until the cows come home, but it’s clear to me that Phillips has a talent for getting the words on the page to depict exactly what she means. Her writing style bumped my rating up from two stars to three. The novel is also quite short, and so while some parts drag (as mentioned in the Plot section), these parts are over rather quickly and then it’s on to the next plot point.  

Fierce Kingdom

I recommend this book to those looking for a quick yet linear thriller that focuses on the relationship between a mother and her infant son. 

starstarstar

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Lock Every Door

Lock Every Door Cover

Title: Lock Every Door
Author: Riley Sager
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: July 2, 2019
Publisher: Dutton


Synopsis

Jules Larson is broke. She found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her the same day she lost her job, and now she is also homeless. So, she seeks out a new job as an apartment sitter so she’ll have a place to live while she job hunts. Little does she know that the apartment is in the Bartholomew, one of New York City’s oldest and most historical buildings, and the setting of her favourite novel. When she accepts the job, the rules she is required to follow seem a little strange, but they’re paying her so much money that she doesn’t ask any questions. That is, until she starts to wonder what has happened to the other apartment sitters…

Plot 

This novel has an intriguing premise. The plot is steady throughout, and as is very common in psychological thrillers these days, we’re introduced to two timelines. The present day, where Jules has awoken after a car accident in which she got into after “escaping” the Bartholomew. And one to a week or two earlier, when she first accepts the job as an apartment sitter, all bright eyed and filled with hope. While I understand that this type of storytelling is necessary for the lazy reader these days–I guess we don’t like reading something unless there’s action right away–I rarely enjoy this in novels. For Lock Every Door, most of the story is written about the events leading up to whatever frightened her so much that she didn’t obey the cardinal rule of looking both ways before crossing the street. While Sager may have been forced into this dual narrative, he does a fabulous job of not revealing too much in the present day timeline. He does this by keeping these chapters short and punchy, and they actually left me wanting more. 

The twist at the end of the novel wasn’t quite as good as I was expecting. There’s a development previous to this twist, introduced as a red herring to distract from the truth, and to be honest, I would have preferred if that were the twist. However, the story is just so darn compelling, and the execution of this twist was quite well done, so I don’t mind that it’s a little far-fetched.

Characters 

While the characters are engaging in this novel, I did find that they were generally quite stereotypical, and we didn’t really get that exciting moment of finding out that there’s more to someone than meets the eye (aside from the twist at the ending – being vague so I won’t spoil it for anyone!). There’s the rich former film star, the handsome, charming doctor, and the manic pixie dreamgirl, who actually gets called such in the novel. However, despite the rather two-dimensional side characters, I found that I genuinely connected with the protagonist.  She was a compelling and relatable person who was just a normal woman trying to get by after losing her job, her boyfriend, and her home.  

Setting 

Like any good thriller set in a location of relevance to the plot, the setting is its own character. The Bartholomew has a sordid history that is gradually revealed.  

Language

The prose in Sager’s writing is often what makes the book such a fantastic read. While the plot in this story wasn’t as unique as The Last Time I Lied, the writing was so beautiful that I didn’t care. I can’t wait for Sager’s next book!

Lock Every Door

 

I recommend this book to anyone wanting to read a psychological thriller with a Gothic feel, a relatable protagonist, and isn’t afraid to suspend their disbelief.

starstarstarstarstar

*Thank you to NetGalley and Dutton for the e-copy for review*

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon

Book Review: A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh

A Madness of Sunshine

A Madness of Sunshine

Title: A Madness of Sunshine
Author: Nalini Singh
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Date of Publication: December 3, 2019
Publisher: Berkley


Synopsis

When Anahera’s husband dies, she decides to return home to Golden Cove, a little town in New Zealand where she grew up. But soon after her arrival, a popular young woman goes missing, and it’s up to Anahera and the town’s sole cop to figure out what happened to her.  Nothing is as it seems, and this little town has more than its fair share of suspects…

Plot

A Madness of Sunshine is an engaging read from its very first line. While engaging, it is a slower read, and Singh puts an emphasis on building the town and its characters prior to introducing the overall mystery.  The plot takes on the characteristics of an Agatha Christie mystery.  Whatever happened to Miriama, it’s clear from the beginning that someone in town knows what happened to her. It becomes evident that we already know the character responsible for her disappearance, and it’s up to Anahera and Tom to find out who.  While reading the book, I wrote the note “these people are all assholes”, and that’s true. There are so many potential murderers/psychopaths, that it seems like anyone could be responsible for Miriama’s disappearance. 

Continue reading “Book Review: A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh”

Book Review: Nobody Move by Philip Elliott

Nobody Move

Nobody Move Book Cover

Title: Nobody Move
Author: Philip Elliott
Series: Angel City # 1

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Date of Publication: September 10, 2019
Publisher: Into the Void


Synopsis

When Eddie Vegas is sent to shake down a man who owes a lot of money to his employer, he makes a fatal error and ends up accidentally killing the guy.  Since Eddie’s boss now holds him personally responsible for repaying the $50,000, he takes off. Now, not only is Eddie on the run from his former boss and partners in crime, but the man he killed had allies that are out for blood. His blood.

My Thoughts

Nobody Move is a rocket-fast paced black-comedy thriller that I finished in just an evening.  It’s one of the books where I kept looking at the clock and saying “All right, I’ll read one more chapter”, and before I knew it, it was past my bedtime and I’d finished the book.

This novel reads like a noir thriller, particularly in the beginning.  Philip Elliott frequently references the movies that clearly inspired his style, like Pulp Fiction and the Godfather.  That said, I did get the feeling he was referencing movies a little too often.  It was humorous, however, that the bad guys were getting ideas for how to handle situations based on the movies they’d seen.  The book itself, including its plot and the way that Eddie keeps making foolish mistakes, reminds me a lot of the movie Fargo.  For example, some of the shadier characters tell little colourful anecdotes throughout the novel.  These little stories often have a hidden (or blatantly obvious) relevance to what’s going on and how the rest of the story will unfold.

Continue reading “Book Review: Nobody Move by Philip Elliott”