Category Archives: Mystery/Suspense

Frightful Friday: Conversion by Katherine Howe

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

This week’s featured title is Conversion by Katerine Howe:

  • Age Range: 12 and up
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile (July 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780399167775
  • Source: Library copy

The seniors at St. Joan’s Academy, a private school in Danvers, Massachusetts, are wrapped up in the stress of their final year of school prior to graduation. The students are expected to take this pressure all in stride. Then one day the school’s most popular girl, Clara Rutherford, breaks out into uncontrollable ticks in the middle of class. Soon, other girls begin exhibiting strange symptoms, including hair loss, seizures, and violent coughing fits. With reason, students, their parents, and faculty are all on edge. What is causing these unusual, abrupt symptoms? Could it be something in the environment at the school poisoning them? Or perhaps, is it somehow tied to the town’s dark history?

Colleen Rowley is one of the students immersed in this chaos. The stress of graduation has overcome her as well. Working on an extra credit assignment on The Crucible, she uncovers what many others have not: Danvers is not the original name of this small Massachusetts town. Originally known as Salem Village, Danvers has a history of unexplained epidemics involving young women. Is it possible this modern epidemic is somehow related to that of the past?

Using parallel narratives, Howe gets inside the minds of two young girls, separated by three centuries of history. Ann Putnam was a young woman fully involved in the Salem witch trials. It was she who accused her neighbors of witchcraft. Today, Colleen Rowley holds powerful information about the town’s past and how it could be related to what is transpiring now.

With a substitute teacher serving as her mentor, Colleen’s research into The Crucible and the dark history of Danvers provides valuable evidence about the power of those in charge:

There are parts of the story that are overlooked . Maybe because they don’t fit with what the people in charge have to say…look beyond the dominate narrative…you can rewrite the narrative if you ask the right questions.

This knowledge forces Colleen to take a different approach to uncovering what is happening to her classmates. As she continues her research, the truth about the past becomes more apparent, simultaneous with revelations as to what is happening in her town today.

Howe forces readers to examine the power of manipulation, how the actions or word of one individual can shape the actions of an entire town. Conversion touches on the pressures society forces upon young girls, both today and centuries in past.  We demand that they not only get good grades and move on to prestigious colleges, but to maintain an appearance of control in the midst of one of the most challenging phases in their lives.  The pressure to be perfect is tremendous and therefore it shouldn’t be out of the realm of belief for consequences and side effects of this stress to be manifested physically.

Conversion has been compared to Megan Abbott’s The Fever. I admit, their similarities put me off at first. I Having read Abbott’s book first, I didn’t think I could continue reading this one.  How is it possible for two books, published just weeks apart, have such a similar storyline?  Simple! Both books are loosely based on true events. In 2012, eighteen girls in Le Roy, NY began exhibiting strange symptoms, including verbal and physical tics.  Ultimately, their symptoms were diagnosed as conversion syndrome, a disorder in which emotional stress is so strong that it begins to manifest into physical symptoms. Both Megan Abbott and Katherine Howe are from New York, so it is guaranteed that both women read about this unusual case. I don’t know about you, but if I was a writer an read about this case, I’d want to write about it two.

All this said, while Abbott and Howe both loosely base their novels on one actual event, there are enough differences to set them apart as unique novels. Each deserve their own attention and praise for they are truly outstanding and unique novels.

Going in, I didn’t realize Conversion was a young adult novel.  Both teens and adults are certain to enjoy this novel, each taking away something wholly different. For teens, it is the acknowledgement that we know they are under a tremendous amount of stress, and the importance of verbalizing their difficulties before they take a physical toll. For adults, it serves as a reminder that we are often responsible for exacerbating an already stressful time in our teens lives, often forgetting our own experiences in lieu of pushing our children to achieve perfection.

Bottom line, Conversion is a novel that I wholly enjoyed. I couldn’t put it down. I don’t know if it was due to the setting, or the fact that my own teen son is starting high school this year. Whatever the reason, I highly, highly recommend this novel.

Have you read both Conversion and The Fever? What did you think?

Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Orbit; First Edition edition (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN: 0316278157
  • Source: Publisher

Melanie is a unique girl. She spends most of her day locked in a cell. When she is moved, she is restrained in a wheelchair, her arms and legs shackled to hinder movement. She looks forward to going to “school” and, in particular, her teacher Miss Justineau. She has hopes for her future and life as an adult; unfortunately Melanie cannot comprehend why that will never happen. Like any child her age, she craves attention and affection, both of which are forbidden.

There are other children similar to Melanie, studied by a doctor at the facility. Some leave and never return.  Melanie seems to be the only one of the children who contemplates this; the others seem oblivious and go on with their routine.  Then…something happens, throwing off this routine and sending Melanie’s world into an uncontrollable spiral of change.

Set in a post-apocalyptic society, The Girl with All the Gifts alludes to something not quite being right in the world. Rather than being unveiled immediately, small tidbits of information are relayed to the reader as the characters themselves experience it.  This review is intentionally vague because the reader must experience the revelations on their own, free of spoilers or hints of what is to come.

Melanie, the main character, is a truly unique young girl. This novel is a coming-of-age of sorts, as Melanie undergoes quite a transformation mentally and emotionally as she learns what makes her different from those around her. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for her as she undergoes these revelations.  It will tear at readers heartstrings, for Carey so eloquently portrays the feelings Melanie is experiencing in her “transformation.”

The secondary characters are highly involved in Melanie’s transformation, from Miss Justineau, her sympathetic and caring teacher to Dr. Caldwell, who sees the children as merely test subjects, and finally the guards around her. As they each experience Melanie outside the confines of the facility, they each form a better understanding of what, and who, she really is.

The world the author builds is dark and chilling, difficult to fathom at times but chillingly realistic at others.  I have no doubt that this novel stands on its own as a truly unique spin on a seemingly common storyline.  The cover makes the tone of the book apparent; there is no avoiding the fact that this is a taut, intense thriller.

The Girl with All the Gifts is a must-read for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction, particularly those novels that force you to contemplate your own situation, or your response to the situation at hand.  While this review is so vague as to what transpires, trust me to know that the anticipation and revelation will make it well worth it in the end. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (July 1, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780316254465
  • Source: Publisher

Hannah’s family has been hiding from a horrific monster that has haunted them for generations. The monster is a shape-shifter, able to take on the appearance of another in a matter of moments. Desperate to seek revenge for an act centuries ago, this monster, referred to as Jakab, haunts the women of Hannah’s family.  The string diaries (journals held together with pieces of string) are passed from one generation to the next, survival guides offering a small beacon of hope in this unending chase.

Beginning in Hungary at the turn of the century and spanning to Oxford of the 1970s and present-day, The String Diaries follows the path of the man who started it all, a wealthy young with the ability to assume the shape and life of anyone around him.  Thwarted in the ways of love, he now tracks down descendants of his first love, forcing her descendants to face his deadly wrath.

Yet when he begins to pursue Hannah and her family, he meets a more challenging match.  After he takes everyone near and dear to Hannah, she refuses to relinquish the last person left in her life: her young daughter, Leah. Hannah and Leah were both raised to be prepared for this inevitable battle.  What makes Hannah different than those before her is her refusal to let this nightmare continue. She will stop at nothing to put an end to this curse, sacrificing everything, including her own life, to guarantee her daughter’s future.

The String Diaries is a truly unique blend of a host of genres, including thriller to horror and the supernatural, all with a taste of historical fiction. I’m a fan of classic horror, and was particularly pleased with the ties to folklore. There’s nothing that frustrates me more than a novel with no backing and was therefore pleased to read of Jakab’s chilling story of origin.

While I had little to no connection to the characters from earlier generations, I did quickly bond with Hannah and her young daughter. They lost so much, yet they faced each day with a new determination to overcome this creature that has haunted their family for generations.  The pain they endure is incapacitating, yet they draw on that, along with their love for one another, in order to persevere.

Without giving anything away, the only thing I didn’t enjoy was the ending.  At times it felt far-fetched, others it felt too convenient.  All that said, the pros of this truly outstanding, yet simultaneously chilling, debut novel clearly outweighed the negatives. I can’t wait to hear more from this author; I’m thrilled to see a sequel is already in the works. Highly recommended.

Review: Eyes on You by Kate White

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 24, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780061576638
  • Source: Publisher

It started with a nasty note on the night of her book launch, followed by her author photo sliced from the jacket of her book. Soon, however, the attacks against television host and, now author, Robin Trainer increased quickly with severity.  After losing her on-air job a few years ago and an emotional divorce, Robin’s life is finally on an upward climb. Someone, however, is obviously jealous of Robin’s increase in popularity and is out to stop her, at any cost.

Robin struggles to find the individual responsible for these atrocious acts, unfortunately not soon enough.  The life and career she so carefully and diligently built up begins to collapse around her. Rather than finding evidence to prove someone close to her is responsible for these wrong-doings, everyone begins to suspect Robin herself. Her past and a torrential relationship with her stepmother comes to light, further evidence to indicate Robin is responsible for these incidents as a plea for attention. Robin watches as everything she’s held important is ripped from her, realizing with fear that this individual won’t stop until Robin’s life is taken as well. She begins to work on her own to develop a case to prove that she is under attack by someone, requiring people from her past to come forth and speak in her defense. As she struggles to prove her case, she’s challenged with keeping information about her personal life and the past from the public’s prying eyes.

Eyes on You is a chilling exploration of the cost of fame. Readers follow Robin as she questions everyone around her, no one completely innocent in her eyes. She’s left with very few people she can trust, everyone a potential adversary in this race to prove her innocence and protect her life.  What starts out as a slow progression of attacks quickly builds into a strong and steady vengeful attack toward Robin’s life itself. The attacks against her are terrifying; readers will be at the each of their seats with every turn of the page. A truly addictive and intense read, it will be difficult for readers to not devour this thriller in one sitting. Highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with an opportunity to review this title. Please be sure to check out the other stops in this tour.

Review: All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke

  • Series: Ellie Hatcher
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780062208385
  • Source: Publisher

When therapist Helen Brunswick is found murdered in her Park Slope office, blame immediately falls to her estranged husband.  Then the District Attorney’s office receives an anonymous letter detailing aspects of the crime not made available to the public,  behavior eerily similar to a twenty-year-old case. In that case, Anthony Amaro was convicted of murder and for the past two decades has been serving time for his crime. Now, with this new information available, Amaro is requesting release from prison on the grounds that he was wrongly accused.

NYPD Detectives Ellie Hatcher and JJ Rogan are brought in to reevaluate the the investigation that led to Amaro’s arrest. Ellie’s relationship with the lead prosecutor on the case has her questioning her loyalties. They have few allies in this search; everyone is certain Amaro is the guilty party.  In a surprising move, Carrie Blank, the half-sister of one of Amaro’s victims, joins the legal team led by a head strong celebrity lawyer to defend Amaro. Carrie does so more as a means to get answers to questions surrounding her sister’s death, not necessarily because she believes Amaro is innocent. Yet as each side of the investigation digs through past, all evidence takes them back to Carrie’s hometown.  Someone is trying to prevent the past from being revealed, influential people in high positions of power want these secrets to remain buried, no matter the cost.

This is the fifth book in the Ellie Hatcher series, but the tenth book written by former prosecutor Alafair Burke.  While I have read only a few of the previous books, I didn’t feel as though I was missing out on a great deal of content or back story. Burke excels at creating and developing her characters and it was able to reacquaint myself with the characters with great ease.  Her obvious and apparent knowledge and familiarity with criminal law most certainly shines through. The legal aspects of the novel are accurate, explained in layman’s terms rather than technical legal-ease. The intense pacing of the storyline and the gradual reveal instantly reminded me of why I am such a fan of Burke’s writing.  It captures you from the beginning, patiently builds the storyline and characters, and ends with a stunning yet satisfying conclusion.

Bottom line: All Day and a Night is just another piece of evidence to prove the talent of the great Alafair Burke.  A classic detective series at it’s finest, I look forward to going back and reading more of the books in this series. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Never Look Back by Clare Donoghue

  • Series: Mike Lockyer Novels (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 9781250046079
  • Source: Publisher

Three young women are murdered in south London, the killer becoming increasingly brazen with victim. Detective Inspector Mike Lockyer, the head of homicide, and Detective Sergeant Jane Bennett are struggling to find a connection between the victims. When the most recent victim resembles Lockyer’s own daughter, his determination to bring the killer to justice becomes stronger. Eventually, a connection is found, but not before more innocent women are killed.

Sarah Grainger was once an outgoing and social London photographer. For the past several months, however, she’s secluded herself in her apartment, attempting to allude a stalker that follows her every move. When the stalker’s actions begin to intensify, she files a complaint with the police. Recent attempts to do the same have been met with less than desirable outcomes. To Sarah’s luck, however, she’s introduced to Lockyer after the police realize her stalker’s behavior parallels that of the killer. The stalker has information he is desperate to share with Sarah, information vital to Lockyer’s homicide investigation.

Never Look Back is a cleverly written debut, the first in a series featuring DI Mike Lockyer. The character Donoghue creates in Lockyer is a crafted and dynamic one.  She reveals shades of his character slowly through his police work and his relationships with his daughter.  In this first book alone, Donoghue has wielded a character both strong and sympathetic, a characteristic demanded for a successful new series.

Additionally, Donoghue expertly captures the terror experienced by Grainger, her character brimming with fear as she faces the endless phone calls and messages left by her stalker. Readers will find themselves aware of their surroundings, looking for a person that stands out in the crowd, wary of every move they make.

The atmosphere generated is wholly chilling, the reader granted access into the consciousness of not only Lockyer and Grainger but of the stalker as well.  It will be impossible for even the most seasoned thriller reader to not get chills while reading this novel, the hairs on the back of your neck raising with each terrifying scene.  This is just the first in a new procedural series, I wait impatiently for more from Donoghue. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (June 17, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780316231053
  • Source: Publisher

Deenie Nash comes from a closely-knit family; her father Thomas is a popular teacher at the school and her brother, Eli, is a hockey star and the object of affection for many girls. Like many teenage girls, Deenie and her friends Lise Daniels and Gabby Bishop are inseparable.  Until Lise suffers an unexplained seizure in class.  Rushed to the hospital, doctors are unable to determine the cause despite a battery of tests. Then another girl falls victim, and another.

With no answers as to the cause, everyone in a panic. Desperate for answers, they start blaming everything the can think of: contaminants at the school, the forbidden lake. Finally the easiest and most logical source to blame is the HPV vaccine the girls were forced to receive.  All the unknowns force the town into hysteria that eerily parallels that of the infamous Boston witch trials. Struggling for an answer, terrified citizens are prepared to put the blame on anyone they can. When the cause of the ailment is revealed, the town is forced to come to term with secrets so haunting and devastating that it shattered the sense of security they felt about the town around them.

Abbot is an expert at tuning into the inner working of teen girls, bringing to focus issues that, while terrifying, are legitimate and plausible.  The suspense she build as she slowly reveals elements of the story is tremendous, leaving readers gasping aloud out of surprise at the chilling conclusion.  While the cause of the unexplained illness is far from supernatural, it only partially explains what happened to the handful of victims.  It isn’t difficult to speculate that something not of this world had something to do with the devastation that hit this small town.

Parallel to the main storyline is Deenie’s own journey of self-discovery and understanding, struggling with her feelings after her first sexual experience.  Her experience will force readers to reflect on our teen years, remembering the volatility and unstable nature of our hormone-driven emotions.

I’ve been a fan of Abbot’s for some time now, yet I believe The Fever might very well be my favorite yet. Abbott discusses subject matters that we, as a society, often shy away from. Yet she confronts them and faces them, head on, unwavering in her need and desire to bring them to light.

Abbott does have a history of writing some pretty dark and maniacal characters.  Given the opportunity to as Megan one question, I asked how someone so sweet and charming could write about something so dark and evil. I love her response:

Ha—and thank you! I really like to write about complicated characters facing a crisis and figuring out how to climb their way out. Life can sometimes back us into dark corners, and I’m fascinated by how we get out of those corners, how we survive. That said, maybe I get to be nice in real life because writing permits me to release all my demons! I always loved that Shirley Jackson quote, “So long as you write it away regularly nothing can really hurt you.”


So true, so true!  Bottom line: Megan Abbott’s The Fever is an dark and intense exploration of small towns, teen girls, and devastating secrets. Highly, highly recommended.

Be sure to check out the official The Fever blog tour Tumblr page here!

Review: A Long Time Gone by Karen White

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: NAL Hardcover (June 3, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978-0451240460
  • Source: Publisher

Nine years ago, Vivian Walker left her home in Mississippi, swearing never to return, following the lead of so many Walker women before. When her life takes a turn for the worse and goes spiraling out of control, Vivian finds herself returning to the safety and comfort of her grandmother, Bootsie, admired for her ability to make everything right.  Upon her return, however, she discovered that Bootsie has passed away and her mother has started to fade away, Alzheimer‘s robbing her of her recent memories.

Vivian’s return immediately follows a violent storm that quite literally reveals family secrets buried beneath their home: the remains of a woman, long-dead, are found on the family’s property. It is soon made apparent to Vivian that, in order to rediscover herself and the woman she is meant to be, she must face a past of pain and loss that has devastated her family for generations.

I am a long-time fan of Karen White’s novels, and A Long Time Gone is no exception. Her trademark is to present deeply flawed characters seeking some sort of rediscovery, desperate for atonement and guidance for the battles life has dealt them. Her characters are dynamic and richly drawn, developing gradually and blossoming into completely new and rejuvenated individuals.

A Long Time Gone follows the Walker family, alternating between past and present, to showcase the lives of three generations of women and the battles they are forced to overcome.  Themes of maternal love and family run rich in this novel, surrounded by a setting rich with Southern charm. Additionally, she confronts issues like prohibition and racism in the context of Mississippi’s dark past.

While the page count may seem daunting, any fears of a long and overbearing novel vanish within the first few pages. Readers will be instantly captivated by the beautifully detailed southern setting and a compelling family whose history is rich with mystery and loss.

This is a book meant to be savored on the beach, or curled up in your favorite chair on the patio (as I did). I read it in one sitting, so captivated by the world White created in the Walker family.  This is a novel with characters and a message that are lasting. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Death of Lucy Kyte by Nicola Upson

  • Series: Josephine Tey Mysteries
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bourbon Street Books (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062195456
  • Source: Publisher

Josephine Tey, a well known British mystery author, learns she has inherited a cottage from a godmother she knew very little about. Her godmother, Hester Larkspur, was an actress and good friend to Josephine’s mother. Hester’s message to her goddaughter request that Josephine review her personal papers and decide herself “what stories should be told.”

Josephine’s inheritance doesn’t come without stipulations. First, she must travel to the Suffolk countryside to claim Red Barn Cottage herself. Additionally, another unknown woman, Lucy Kyte, has claim to anything within the cottage she desires. Josephine travels to Suffolk, her mind riddled with endless questions.  Upon her arrival, she learns the cottage has a dark and deadly past.  It was the site of the murder Maria Marten. Her killer was her lover, William Corder.  The murder was so notorious that it was frequently reenacted on the stage, her own godmother in the role of Maria Marten.

The inhabitants of the tighly-knit village offer very little answers, many denying they know anything about the mysterious Lucy Kyte.  It is only by reading Hester’s diary, a fictionalized account of Maria’s life, that Josephine finds out any information about her godmother and her close friend.

As she attempts to restore the cottage to a livable residence for herself and her lover, Josephine can’t help but feel a pervading and dark presence in the home. Instead of discounting it as being haunted as her lover is drawn to do, Josephine instead focuses on finding out answers as to how the living are responsible for the cottage’s dark past.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, The Death of Lucy Kyte is actually the fifth book in a series focusing on Josephine Tey, a true to life mystery writer. As I learned more about Tey herself, I found this novel to be more and more fascinating. I’m one that is drawn to fictionalized retellings of actual events and people, so I was quite intrigued about the character that Upson has created in Josephine.  The author has commented that she grew up in Suffolk, witness to the home that was the scene of this famous murder, her knowledge further adding to the lush and expansive detail that she uses to describe the setting to readers.

This isn’t one of those fast-paced and intense historical mysteries that readers can devour in a matter of hours.  Instead, it is one that is slowly revealed and eloquently detailed. Pages upon pages pass to describe the interior of the cottage, making it possible for the reader to visualize the setting with great detail. The reader’s patience to the slow pacing is wholeheartedly rewarded with a stunning and surprising conclusion.

While I wouldn’t readily recommend this book to someone new to the series (I actually did a tremendous amount of reading and sampling of the prior books in the series), I do believe readers interested in detailed, character driven literary fiction would be greatly rewarded. Recommended…with stipulations.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title.  Be sure to check out the other stops in this tour:

Tuesday, June 10th: 5 Minutes For Books

Friday, June 13th: Mystery Playground

Thursday, June 19th: BoundbyWords

Monday, June 23rd: The Written World

Tuesday, June 24th: Wordsmithonia

Thursday, June 26th: Dwell in Possibility

Monday, June 30th: Excellent Library

Tuesday, July 1st: My Bookshelf

Nicola Upson is the author of five Josephine Tey mysteries, including An Expert in Murder, Angel with Two Faces, Two for Sorrow, Fear in the Sunlight, and The Death of Lucy Kyte, as well as two works of nonfiction. She has worked in theater and as a freelance journalist. A recipient of an Escalator Award from the Arts Council England, she splits her time between Cambridge and Cornwall. Visit Nicola at her website,, and on Facebook.

Review: Suspicion by Joseph Finder

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Dutton Adult; First Edition edition (May 27, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0525954600
  • Source: Publisher

Danny Goodman is a struggling writer and single father, working to raise his daughter alone after his ex-wife dies of cancer. His daughter, Abby, has grown accustomed to attending a private (and expensive) high school and when Danny is once again behind in paying tuition, he gets desperate. So desperate that when Thomas Gavin, the father of Abby’s best friend and one of the wealthiest men in Boston, offers him a loan of $50,000, Danny can’t turn him down.

It isn’t long before Danny regrets his decision. Not long after the money appears in his bank account, the DEA threatens to send him to prison for accepting drug money. His only hope for survival is to cooperate with them by providing enough evidence to arrest Thomas Gavin.  Danny is forced to lie to those most important in his life, soon realizing the severity of his decision.

Suspicion is one of those very rare books that captures your attention from the first few pages, refusing to relent until the very end. Those wary of investing a book of this size need not worry, for the intensity and plight of this poor single father makes you forget the length of the book and the pages will fly by in an instant. Finder so expertly inserts plot twists that will send you reeling, forcing you, like Danny himself, to question who he can trust.

While there are some gruesome murder scenes, I do believe Suspicion is a perfect thriller to curl up with poolside.  Finder holds nothing back and gives nothing away, expertly wrapping everything up into a stunning and completely shocking ending. Highly, highly recommended.