Category Archives: Thriller

Review: This Is the Water by Yannick Murphy

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (July 29, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780062294906
  • Source: Publisher

In a small New England town, preparing for the next swim meet is of utmost importance. Young girls struggle to shave seconds off of their race time, squeezing into too-tight swim suits for an extra advantage. Too busy watching their daughters compete, or their minds straying to issues in their personal lives,  no one is aware of the dark-haired man with a severely wrinkled brow in the audience.  It isn’t until a girl from the swim team is brutally murdered at a rest stop that the parents begin to take notice of the world around them.

Annie is the mother of two girls on the swim team. She is married to Thomas, a man who hasn’t shown her affection in years. Added to her emotional turmoil is her brother’s suicide a few years ago.  Her attention is spent worrying about her marriage, obsessing over her brother’s death, and Paul, the father of another girl on the swim team. Despite her own (albeit strained) marriage and the fact that Paul is married to her friend Chris, Annie becomes obsessed with the attention Paul gives her, despite her graying hair and crow’s feet. After a competition, sharing a dinner alone with Paul, he shares with her a secret from his past with chilling similarities to current events.

In an obvious attempt to shift her attention elsewhere, Paul’s wife, Chris, becomes obsessed with uncovering the killer’s identity.  The serial killer’s actions hit close to home for her family, and Chris goes so far as contacting other families of previous victims in an attempt to get more answers.

As shocking secrets unfold, these callous parents are forced to question their allegiances, forced to make irreparable decisions based on gut instinct in order to prevent any further deaths.

Told in a wholly unique second person narrative, Murphy delves into the chaotic and troubled lives of a small community. The parents (and in many cases, the children) of this swim team are brutal and unrelenting. This is not only an intense and uniquely portrayed thriller, it is a exploration of what happens when obsession takes a dangerous turn.

When I finished reading this novel, I was certain that the formatting ruined it. Initially, I had a hard time concentrating on the storyline, instead focusing on the formatting traits that irritated me. Murphy starts many statements with “This is…” a unique style that had me questioning whether or could, in good conscious, recommend this novel.

As I began to write this review, it suddenly became apparent that the formatting actually added to my experience rather than detracting. It forces the reader to be an outsider, never truly getting inside the minds of the characters. I wouldn’t say we were casual observers, for the detail Murphy uses in her prose, including the personification of everyday objects, forces the reader to become immersed in the setting. The writing style, initially of-putting, soon becomes hypnotic, dialing up the intensity to explosive levels.

Adding to my interest in this unique thriller is the fact that only the reader knows the identity of the killer. The intensity and the tension develops as we follow characters as they get closer and closer to the answer, a finish line of sorts.

Bottom line: While the formatting of this novel may sway readers from truly embracing a genuinely unique thriller, I implore you to embrace it give the novel the patience it is due. It won’t take long before you become transfixed by this truly spectacular thriller.  Highly recommended.

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.

Review: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (July 29, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780778316558
  • Source: Publisher

Mia Dennett is the daughter of a prominent Chicago judge.  As the black sheep of the family, she doesn’t necessarily have the strongest of relationships with her parents.

One night, Mia waits at a bar for her boyfriend. When he doesn’t show, she instead opts to go home with a stranger, Colin Thatcher.  That decision puts into motion a series of events that will change her family’s life forever.  Within moments of arriving in Colin’s apartment, he changes from a smooth-moving potential one-night stand to a gun-wielding threat.

It’s Colin’s responsibility to abduct Mia and deliver her to his employer. Yet as they are driving to the rendezvous point, Colin suddenly changes his mind, instead taking Mia to a secluded cabin in Minnesota. Evading the police as well as his employers, Colin soon realizes he can never return to his life. Instead, he and Mia camp out in the cabin, both soon realizing they will never be able to return to the life they once knew.

Meanwhile, Mia’s mother Eve and the detective assigned to the case, Gabe Hoffman, desperately try to find answers to questions about Mia’s disappearance. What they eventually uncover will shatter the Dennett family…forever.

Told from the points of view of each of the key players, the novel alternates between “Before” and “After” Mia’s abduction.  Mia spends their time isolated in the cabin to reflect back on her own life as well and the actions that led to her less than stellar relationship with her parents.  Eve, shattered by her daughter’s disappearance, reflects on her relationship with her daughter, also focusing on the decisions and actions that caused their relationship to shatter. Readers are even given a rare glimpse inside the head of Colin, Mia’s abductor, a rare opportunity to understand his motives and what led him to the position he is currently in. Unlike many other thrillers, readers will have a difficult time not sympathizing with Colin’s situation. Always with the best of intentions, circumstances in his life forced him to take a darker path in life.

The truly genuine nature of the characters are one of the many characteristics that make this thriller shine. They aren’t perfect, yet they aren’t particularly horrible either. They are truly well-meaning individuals forced to make unwise decisions due to circumstances in their lives.

From the beginning, readers know the basics of Mia’s abduction.  We know how, and when, but the why is left unanswered until the final mind-blowing pages.  This novel is often compared to Gone Girl, and unfair comparison in my mind. There was nothing desirable or endearing about the characters in Gone Girl, the only similarities are the shocking revelations made throughout the novel. And, unlike Gone Girl, I didn’t want to hurl the book at the wall when these big revelations were made. They made sense to me, not angering me but instead making me appreciate the author’s writing even more.

Bottom line: if you are looking for a twisty, contemplative thriller, The Good Girl is the book for you. Highly, highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier

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

This week’s featured title is The Butcher by Jennifer Hillier:

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (July 15, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781476734217
  • Source: Publisher

The “Beacon Hill Butcher” was a savage serial killer who plagued Seattle in the mid-1980s. Referred to as “The Butcher” because he chopped off the left hand of his victims, he terrorized the women of Seattle until he was killed by the local police chief, Edward Shank.  Now a retired widower, Edward has given his Seattle home to his grandson, Matt, whom he helped raised, and is now living in an assisted living facility.

Matt’s girlfriend, Sam, is eager to move in, but Matt, an up-and-coming restauranteur, cherishes his independence. Matt quickly begins making renovations on the home. When contractors come across a crate buried in the yard, Matt breaks the lock and uncovers something that will haunt him forever. Torn between telling the authorities and confronting his grandfather, knowing that this revelation will forever taint “the Chief’s” image.

Sam is on her own hunt for answers. An author of true-crime novels, she fervently believes that her mother, Sarah, was one of The Butcher’s victims, despite the fact that she was killed two years after the supposed Butcher was killed.  Not realizing how close her life is tied to real Butcher, Sam uses her connections with the local police to uncover the truth…no matter the cost.

It isn’t until murders resembling that of The Butcher make an appearance that local police decide to take notice.  Not thrilled with the idea that the true Butcher has been free for the past 30 years, they consult the Chief on the case to see if he can uncover anything they missed in the investigations decades before. Truly, they have warning of the devastating truth right before them.

I’ve been a fan of Hillier’s work since discovering her two previous thrillers, Creep and Freak. Hillier quickly established herself as a talented thriller writer and she has exceeded my expectations with this one! While the true identity of The Butcher is quickly revealed to the reader, we are granted to hold first row seats to watch the characters discover the truth. This early revelation certainly doesn’t remove the chilling tone from this novel; several times I found myself jumping and squealing out of fear. The revelations at the end of the novel are stunning, taking even this reader by surprise. The twists and turns are terrifying, preventing readers from suspecting the outcome of this brilliantly gruesome thriller.

While there are some pretty gruesome and explicit scenes, they certainly do not fall out of place in this thriller. The Butcher was known for his depravity, terrorizing and torturing his victims before their deaths.  Hillier expertly captures this truly terrifying character, juxtaposing it with the innocent character of Sam, determined to uncover the identity of her mother’s killer.

I continue to rave about this author and how she has managed to quickly make a name for herself as a truly tremendous thriller writer. I will continue to devour everything she has read, and if you haven’t yet, you are in for a treat. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Competition by Marcia Clark

  • Series: A Rachel Knight Novel
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Mulholland Books (July 8, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978031622097
  • Source: Publisher

After a high school is the site of a shooting, LA Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight and her best friend LAPD detective Bailey Keller are assigned to the case.  While the shooters are dead of an apparent mutual shooting, that doesn’t alleviate the pain of the community. Yet as they begin to interview students and other witnesses, the facts don’t add up. Is it possible that the two individuals found in the library, dead, are not the killers but victims as well?  The idea that the shooters are still on the loose is devastating.  Rachel and the police force must find answers before another attack is made on the community. Killers with this type of anger aren’t going to stop on their own, the only way they will be brought down is at the cost of their lives, be it by police or suicide.

And so Rachel embarks upon an investigation that delves deep into the lives and psyche of a killer’s mind. With a number of potential suspects, the investigation isn’t easy.  Just when they think they have the guilty party in their hands, they are blown away to discover the killer has been right in front of them all along. With plans on duplicating and outdoing other mass-killings, everyone in the community is at risk.

This is my first taste of Marcia Clark’s Rachel Knight series. I admit, when the first book was released, all the promotion and hubbub about the book actually eliminated all desire to read it. And come on, she’s Marcia Clark. Anyone alive during the Simpson trial recognizes her.  Yet when people in the book world (I’m talking about you, Erin & Jen!) kept singing the series’ praise, I knew I had to cave and experience it for myself. And believe me, I’m so thrilled that I finally did.  Clark has managed to do the unimaginable, to prove to the world that she is much more than the Marcia Clark who served as prosecutor of this world-recognized case.

The setting and storyline Clark creates is chilling. Unfortunately, our country’s children have been victims of multiple mass-shootings without any hope of an end. I’m not going to start preaching here, leaving it at the idea that we all have a deep and emotional reaction when we hear of a school shooting. Clark captures that and delves deep into it, using her own experience as a prosecuting attorney to inform and educate her readers about this large social problem. She doesn’t sugar-coat anything, delving deep into the type of person capable of such a horrific act. That said, she also shows sensitivity to all involved in such an act, from the victims to their parents, and even the parents of the shooters themselves. All are victims of these heinous crimes.  No one is left untouched.

While it is difficult to remember, killers like these are often victims of mental illness, something snapping in their psyche that forces them to believe that an act like this is the only way to be heard or to get attention. Skilled at hiding their motives, those closest to them are often completely unaware of what is happening right in front of them.  As the mother of a teen myself, while I feel I know my son and believe he could never perform an act like this, I can see how easily it would be for behavior to go unnoticed. Killers don’t wear a sign announcing their intents, in many cases they wear a veil of innocence.

Bottom line: Clark has exceeded any and all of the expectations I had about this book, and the series as a whole. You better believe I’m going to go back and read it from the beginning. While there is sufficient back story on all of the characters, I want to know even more about Rachel Knight and the other cast of characters. Highly, highly recommended.

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: 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: 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.

Review: Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Permuted Press/Gallery Books (May 20, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1476739633
Source: Publisher

One day, suddenly, children die. Not just some children, all children, across the globe. The only warning is a headache and comments of strange smells. Then darkness.  Medical authorities name the disease Herod’s Syndrome, named after Herod the Great, the man who ordered the deaths of all boys of the age of two and under in Bethlehem.  Only children who have not yet reached puberty. The town is devastated. So many children die, funeral homes run out of space. Getting a typical burial is a premium,  there just isn’t enough space for them all. Instead, they are all buried in gruesome mass grave sites.

Then a few days later, the unthinkable happens. The children return. They have memories of what has transpired, memories of their passing. Quickly, a mere hour after their return they begin to weaken…and ask for blood. Without blood, they “sleep,” dying once again. A pint of blood keeps them animated for roughly an hour. Parents are desperate, asking friends and love ones for donations. Blood banks are emptied; no one is donating enough blood to sustain them. Each time the children go to sleep, it is as if their body is experiencing a stroke, so each time they awaken, they are less and less the child they used to be. Citizens, parents, are doing whatever it takes to keep their children alive, even if it is just for brief time…no matter the cost.

Ok, ok, I know this sounds gruesome and gaudy. I’m not going to lie, Suffer the Children is a pretty difficult read, whether you have children or not. I can’t imagine losing my children over and over again, the only way to sustain their life is by giving them a part of mine.  All this said, what made this novel, and others like it, truly outstanding was that it is not only a story of an apocalyptic event but also a character study into how we, as a society, react to such a horrific event. Although the act that transpires is devastating, it isn’t the act that brings the horror. It is society, our response to the situation. Slowly, yet steadily, even the strongest individuals transform into monsters.  You won’t find gratuituous violence in this novel; everything is expertly crafted is drawn out in order to demonstrate the effect this devastation has on society.

Additionally, DiLouie doesn’t quickly gloss over what happens, the transformation society takes in response to Herod’s Syndrome. Instead, readers follow a handful of families and their children, we watch how they slowly decline into shell of human beings. This…this is what makes me love and appreciate the horror genre. Well-done horror makes you think, dwell, on a subject. It has a lasting effect, not because it is gruesome and gory, but because of the impact it makes on your soul. When we hear the term vampire, we instantly picture a horrible, blood-sucking monster. What if that monster was a child, your child? Would we have the same desire to destroy them?

I can’t recommend this novel to everyone for obvious reasons, but if you are looking for an intellectual piece of horror fiction, this is the book for you. Highly, highly recommended (with warning)!

Check out this interview with DiLouie with other horror greats about his motives for writing Suffer the Children.