Category Archives: Thriller

Review: Everything to Lose by Andrew Gross

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (April 22, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0061656003
  • Source: Publisher

Hilary Blum is a single-monther, struggling to make ends meet after her husband left her and their autistic son.  Losing her job is the last straw and decides to confront her ex-husband. It when she is on her way home from this less-than-productive meeting that she witnesses a horrific accident. Right before her eyes, she watches as an inbound vehicle swerves to miss a deer and goes toppling over the side of the road. Hilary rushes into action and runs to the scene only to find that the man was killed on impact.  Sitting on the seat next to him is a bag stuffed to the rim with money.  The kind of money that would allow Hilary to continue to send her son to the school he needs so desperately.  And so, she makes a decision that will put into motion a series of events that will forever change her life.

With a community still suffering from Hurricane Sandy as a backdrop, Gross has developed a thriller that is intense from the very beginning. Readers won’t help but question what they would do in Hilary’s shoes, in her situation. Three seeming different story lines parallel one another through the novel, coming to a stunning intersection near the end, surprising this reader (who has a talent of tying connections long before a book is over.)

Originally, I thought the backdrop of Hurricane Sandy might be a dud, but was throughly impressed at how well the author blended it all together.  Gross has a talent of creating genuine characters you can’t help but connect and sympathize with, individuals who are so true that you feel as if they are part of your world.  On the completely opposite sides of the spectrum are those characters that are evil to the core. The balancing act Gross plays between the two is wholly captivating.

I’ve been fan of Gross’ from his early thrillers and it excites me that he can continue to churn out thrillers to keep me captivated. I read this one in a matter of hours; I couldn’t bear to tear myself away from it. Perfect for fans of intense thrillers with strong, developed characters. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (April 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • Source: Publisher

Claudia Morgan-Brown finally has the life she’s dreamed of. She’s pregnant with her first child, her incredibly caring and supportive husband, James, by her side.  Unfortunately, James’ career as a naval officer requires him to travel quite a bit, leaving Claudia alone to manage the household and her twin step-sons.  After a long history of miscarriages, Claudia knows it is a miracle that her pregnancy has advanced so far. At eight months, she’s still working full-time as a social worker. In James’ absence, she’s going to need help with the twins and the new baby.

When they interview Zoe, she seems like she’s a perfect match. She bonds quickly with the boys and takes a considerable amount of strain off of Claudia. With Zoe as a live-in nanny, she can dedicate more time to taking care of herself and her unborn baby. Yet something seems off about Zoe and Claudia begins questioning her decision to bring this woman into her home.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher is investigating a horrifying murder: a pregnant woman was attacked, her baby forcibly removed from her body. Unfortunately, neither mother nor child survived the attack. When another woman is victimized becomes obvious that someone is targeting pregnant women. Lorraine must bring the perpetrator to justice before anyone else is hurt.

The reader is granted a fairly open look at each of the three women, each dealing with motherhood (or lack thereof) in a unique manner. The author reveals enough about each of them for the reader to form a conclusion about each of them as characters, yet holding back just enough to leave one questioning what to believe.

That inkling that not is all as it seems pays off, for near the end there is a complete and total “WTAF” moment that will certainly stun and throw readers for a complete loop. Personally, I had to go back and reread this section of the novel several times before I actually believed it happened. I was certain I’d uncovered an error in editing…but I didn’t. I don’t want to reveal too much, but it’s a scene that will definitely leave you questioning everything you read up to that point. And the epilogue!! I stated that I didn’t want to reveal too much, but be forewarned. The epilogue gave me chills that raced to my very core, definitely the strongest case of the heebie-jeebies I’ve experienced in some time (and I read a lot of dark and twisty stuff)!

At it’s core, Until You’re Mine is a twisty, terrifying, and captivating read. I devoured this book in one sitting. Although the subject matter is quite disturbing in some scenes, the author does so to inform the reader of the magnitude of the attacks and the sheer evil behind the attacker, not to shock and awe the readers. The tension she creates is astounding; I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough! If you are looking for a twisty, psychological thriller, this is, without a doubt, the book for you. Highly, highly recommended.

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Frightful Friday: Runner by Patrick Lee

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 the audiobook production of Runner by Patrick Lee:

  • Listening Length: 8 hours and 39 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook
  • Version: Unabridged
  • Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 18, 2014)
  • Source: Personal copy

Sam Dryden is taking a nightly run when he runs into a young girl. The look of terror on her eyes instantly has his undivided attention. When it becomes obvious that the men chasing after her have deadly intentions, Dryden uses his skills as a retired special forces operative to help her evade capture.  After her attackers flee, Dryden learns that this eleven-year-old girl, Rachel, was held captive in a secret prison. She remembers only the last two months of her life, nothing of her existence outside the prison.

Dryden lost his wife and daughter in an accident five years ago. Seeing the genuine terror and fear in Rachel’s eyes, he vows to help her get answers.  Little does he realize how much his experience in a black-ops will help them in their attempt to elude her captures.

What they learn in the next few days is life altering, for both Dryden and Rachel.  It’s quite possible that the memories Rachel is desperately trying to recover are of a danger so unimaginable that millions of lives are at stake.

I’m intentionally being quite vague in my summary of this title for it is best to be experienced first hand, without any preconceived notions of what may transpire. The best way to put it would be a combination of the thrill of a Jack Reacher novel meeting the science-fiction-esque aspect of a Joe Ledger novel. What results is a novel jam-packed with a unique thrill and intensity.  Each time I paused in my listen of this audiobook, my heart would be pounding.  I made every excuse I could to listen to more, including taking the longer route home or sitting in front of my  house listening to just a few minutes more.

Raul Esparza’s narration of this book just added to the intensity. His tone captured the feel of the moment so expertly, demanding the listener’s undivided attention.

Runner is truly one of the best thrillers I have listened to in some time. I’m new to his work and it is now a personal mission of mine to read it all. I’m ecstatic to see that this is the first in a new series. Dryden’s character is the best of both worlds: a character that is both sensitive and flawed but also intense and unrelenting. I honestly cannot wait for more. Highly, highly recommended!

 

Thank you to Bob at The Guilded Earlobe for the recommendation. Once again, my zombie-loving friend, you are spot on!

Review: Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke

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  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (March 25, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062284398
  • Source: Publisher

Holly Judge awakens on a snowy Christmas morning with remnants of a nightmare racing through her head. Thirteen years ago, she and her husband traveled to Russia to adopt their daughter, Tatiana.  The thought that races through her head – Something followed them from Russia – terrifies her. They were warned to name her something American, to prevent her life in Russia from following her, but they wanted to pay homage to her home country.  Now fifteen, Tatiana is a beautiful, raven-haired young woman.

The craziness of the day prevents Holly from pondering the nightmare any further. Her husband, Eric, has left in a rush to pick up his family from the airport. They are hosting Christmas dinner and the few hours they slept in has Holly rushing frantically to prepare for the day. When the blizzard raging outside prevents their guests from arriving, including her husband and in-laws, Holly and Tatiana are left alone.  As the hours pass, Tatiana’s behavior changes drastically, almost a shell of her original self. It is as if a stranger is in the house with her…

I don’t know about you, but the concept of a raven-haired orphan reminds me of one thing:

 

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I mean, the resemblance to the young girl on the cover of the book is uncanny, right?

Taking a step back, the resemblance in the appearance in the young girls is the only thing these have in common. What Holly learns as the cold, desolate, Christmas morning progresses is far more terrorizing, in my mind.  Holly reflects back on their visits to the orphanage and the experiences they have while visiting the orphanage. The cold starkness of the orphanage is reflected in the blizzard outdoors, now, thirteen years later.

The tension Kasischke is slow but heavy.  The reader knows the reveal will be quick and terrifying. And it was. In just a few pages, everything changes for this mother and child. The emotions readers face while reading this intense thriller will range from joy, to terror, and then sadness. I’m not going to sugar-coat it. The ending hits you like a punch to the gut.

So why read this novel? It’s simultaneously brilliant and terrifying. Like witnessing an accident, you can’t tear your eyes away. You’ll question everything, finding it difficult to separate truth from illusion.  Completely mesmerizing, don’t be shocked if you read this relatively short book in one sitting.

What stands out for me is how Kasischke used Holly’s self-doubt and own mental insecurities to build up and reveal the terror she is about to face. The reader follows as the life she thought was perfect is slowly chipped away and the horrific reality hits her out of nowhere.

While the premise might lead readers to believe this is a horror novel it actually isn’t. Instead, it’s a emotional, gut-wrenching, mind-altering psychological thriller. Kasischke raises the bar high for other novels like this, for it’s going to take a lot to terrify me more than this novel did.  Highly, 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 the tour.

Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (March 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 081299520
  • Source: Publisher

Seventeen year old Lucy Dane lives in the small town of Henbane, deep in the Ozark Mountains.  She knows loss personally and deeply,  for her own mother went missing when Lucy was an infant. Her friend Cheri, a mentally challenged young woman from a broken home, has been missing for a year. Her body was found placed in a tree in full view of the townpeople.

The townspeople of Henbane tend to keep to themselves, burying the past and all its secrets.  They have never truly accepted Lucy as one of their own.  Her mother, an “outsider” was rumored to have been a witch, for how else could she have one over the heart of the young and attractive Carl Bane?  They still see Lucy as a product of her mother.  Despite this, Lucy make sit her mission to see to it that Cheri’s killer is revealed and, in doing so, learns about her mother’s fate as well.  What she uncovers is far more dark and disturbing than she could ever have imagined, forcing her to reevaluate those individuals closest to her, including her own family.

The Weight of Blood is an absolutely captivating thriller that delves deep into the pain surrounding family secrets and the depths we’ll go to protect the ones we love.  I was astounded to learn that this is McHugh’s debut, for the talent she displayed in crafting this novel. The small town setting and the politics of small town life leap from the pages, captivating the reader from the beginning.  Told in alternating points of view and places in time, McHugh reveals just enough with each chapter to entice the reader and compel them to continue.

Lucy is a strong-willed, headstrong young woman. Her obsession with getting to the root of Cheri’s disappearance doesn’t relinquish, even if it means those close to her will implicated and punished.  She struggles to gain independence despite the fact that her father, still recovering her mother’s disappearance, attempts to prevent her from doing so. Her passion and commitment to justice is commendable. This mission takes her on an unexpected journey of discovery, of both the past and her own identity.

The Weight of Blood is certainly not a light read. It explores topics such as human trafficking, abuse against women, and showcases how small-town living inhibits many of the women who live there from seeking a life beyond the mountains.  The author used her own knowledge and familiarity with the Ozarks to build this intense story, using a real murder as the inspiration of this novel.

The Weight of Blood is a tremendous debut novel full of depth and emotion, one that leaves a lasting impression. Highly, highly recommended.

Audiobook Review: While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell

  • Publisher: Tantor Media; Unabridged,MP3 – Unabridged CD edition (February 20, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1452667896
  • Source: Personal copy

When Elise Darliss’ mother falls victim to the pox, Elise flees her home on a farm and seeks employment as a maid at the castle. It doesn’t take long for her to rise up the ranks from chambermaid to a private maid to the queen herself. The castle quickly becomes more of a home than her place of birth ever did, and for good reason. Growing up, she felt her life so separate and far from that of the castle. As she grows older she matures into a fine, respected lady, a far cry from the life she had before. She forms friendships and bonds with individuals in the highest echelons of the royal family, learning that her life in the castle is one that is earned and deserved.

The reader (or listener, in my case) follows Elise through her life in the castle. War, disease, and power struggles fail to hold Elise back when it comes to protecting those that she loves. Rose, the daughter of King Ranolf and Queen Lenore, becomes Elise’s sole passion in life. Her youth, her vitality, and her innocence are the sparks to warm Elise’s heart.  When Rose’s fate is threatened by the King’s evil aunt, Millicent, protecting her life and securing her future becomes Elise’s obsession.

Blackwell’s retelling of Sleeping Beauty adds great depth and intrigue to the story we all grew up hearing.  Gone are the stories of magic and spells, replaced with horrific tales of power hungry individuals willing to do anything to obtain their spot on the throne.  The growing role and importance of women in places of power added a uplifting, modern spin to this age-old tale.

As I’ve stated many a time before, I’m typically not a fan of retellings. With that said, I have made it a mission of mine to step outside my comfort zone and embrace these retellings as they seem to be appearing quite rapidly. Some have been met with success, others with a less than desired outcome. In the case of While Beauty Slept, however, I was thoroughly impressed with the changes Blackwell made to the story. She added a modern, mysterious spin that had my attention from the start.

Adding to this experience was the dynamic narration by Wanda McCaddon. Elise starts out as a young, uncertain chambermaid and evolves into a well-respected lady of the court. This is directly reflected in the tone of McCaddon’s narration, the listener sensing the growing maturity and self-confidence in her voice. Additionally, McCaddon’s narration would change with Elise’s age, reflecting the change that comes to one’s voice with the passing of time and age.

Although  While Beauty Slept is portrayed as a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, I personally viewed it as a wholly unique and original story with bits of homage to the classic fairy tale. Readers apprehensive about reading or listening to a fairy tale need not worry. For me, this novel had more characteristics of a historical fiction/thriller than a fairy tale. While the premise captured my attention from the start, it was the vividly drawn characters and unique storyline that captured my attention. Highly, highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: The Seeker by R. B. Chesterton

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 The Seeker by R. B. Chesterton:

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus (March 6, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1605985007
  • Source: Publisher

Seeking remote solace to work on her dissertation, Aine Cahill travels to Walden Pond, the location of Henry David Thoreau’s own solitary place of retreat. When she uncovers a journal implicating a secret relationship her aunt had with Thoreau during his stay at Walden, Aine knows she has discovered the perfect topic for her dissertation.  Yet as she reads further, she releases something so powerful and dangerous, an evil that has plagued her family for generations.

Something is lurking on the woods of Walden Pond. A figure, clad in red, that darts from tree to tree, making her existence known to Aine. The evil that resides in Walden Pond isn’t new, it has lurked there, silently, for centuries. Terrible tragedy hits the village and Aine struggles to understand how her family’s dark and sordid past is related to what is transpiring at Walden Pond.  Further challenging Aine’s quest is proving her own mental stability. Haunted by a history of mental disease the Cahill family has battled a family curse for years. Now, Aine is its victim, the evil residing in the wood is determined to bring her life to an end, taking her as prisoner, like so many before her.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that The Seeker sent chills down my spine. Be it the cold chilling setting, the evil young “child,” or some combination of the two, I found myself reading this novel only by the light of day.  The author delved in to the world of madness, leaving the reader unsure of who, or what, to believe. Aine’s character, too, questions this as well: Is it madness, or something supernatural that has plagued her family for generations?

Admittedly, there was a lot going on in this novel, from the Cahill Curse to Aine’s aunt’s connection to Thoreau and an ever-pervasive Moby Dick theme (the allusive white whale). That said, I think the author greatly succeeded at pulling it all together. The ending (no spoilers) leads me to think that there will be a sequel…or perhaps this is just wishful thinking. There is no finite conclusion, no neatly-wrapped up storyline, to this dark and terrorizing tale. That may infuriate some, but for me, it simply fuels my desire to read more! I sincerely hope that this is not the last we hear of Aine and the Cahill curse. Highly recommended.

Review: The Accident by Chris Pavone

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Crown (March 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0385348452
  • Source: Publisher

Isabel Reed is a literary agent who still relishes in reading hardcopy manuscripts,   refusing to embrace the digital age. One day, a strange manuscript lands on her desk. The author, anonymous, writes an authorized biography of Chris Wolfe, a media mogul. What is revealed in this manuscript, called The Accident, alludes to a history of lies, deception, and murder.   The contents are so volatile that the manuscripts very existence puts anyone who reads it in harms way.

The Accident takes place in the span of one day. Jumping from character to character, it follows the path of those individuals who have copies of this allusive manuscript.  Once those targeted become aware of the danger that follows them, there is no means of safely or escape, not even from the local authorities.

A truly intense and mesmerizing thriller,  The Accident kept my attention from the start, refusing to relinquish until I turned the last page.  Perhaps because I have some knowledge of the publishing world and can grasp the potential and fate if (and when!?) a manuscript like this crosses the path of an agent’s desk…I found the entire plot to be incredibly terrifying.

The fact that this entire novel, 400 pages, takes place in one day is a truly astounding feat. Lives and pasts cross, fates and lives are destroyed, all in the span of one day.  What seems like so much is tucked neatly, perfectly, in this relatively compact novel.

While there are aspects of the novel that I found implausible, particularly given modern technology, I did appreciate the author’s nod to publishing in the days before email and other means of sharing files (did no one think to scan the manuscript!?).  The ending? Without giving away too much, I found the ending to be absolutely perfect and, in a sense, a bit ironic.

This is the first of Pavone’s novel I have read but, now that I have sampled his brilliance, I plan to continue.  Highly, highly recommended.

Review: Above by Isla Morley

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books (March 4, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1476731527
  • Source: Publisher

At just sixteen years old, Blythe Hallowell is abducted by a survivalist, kept prisoner in an abandoned missile silo. She tries without success to escape, he captor spouting stories about the the end of the world. He believes that the two of them alone are humankind’s salvation, destined to repopulate the world after the apocalypse.  Slowly, reluctantly, Blythe understands there is no hope for her escape and she has a sudden realization about the bleakness of her situation.

It isn’t until she is expected to raise a child in confinement that she has some sense of hope.  She is determined that he have the life that was stolen from her.  It isn’t until, years later, when Blythe is able to step outside that she realizes the enormity of what has transpired since she was taken, the vast differences in the world she had in the silo, down deep in the earth, and the strange, unknown world above.

So. I am intentionally being very very vague with my synopsis of this novel!  Going in, all the reader needs to know is that this young woman, carefree and young, is abducted by a man who has been obsessed with her for most of her life. Everything that happens after that must be discovered by the reader, and the reader alone.  What happens while Blythe is held captive in that silo is bleak, it is dark, it is depressing.  Your heart will be broken. You will cry. You will yell. You will utter expletives. And then…something happens that totally changes the outlook of this book. And you will shout more expletives, but you will want to hug the author for the sheer brilliance of this novel.  For Above is a novel that I will be shouting about from the rooftops, a novel that is impossible to categorize into just one genre.  It is a novel like none other; I can’t even begin to think of a book to compare it to for it is wholly unique.

Readers of all ages, from young adult to adult will find a connection with Blythe. She starts out as a young, carefree teen and we follow her as the cruelty of being held captive wears away at her soul and willpower. Then we see her, determination regained, when she becomes responsible for another life.  And then, Morely stuns her readers as she reveals that Above is not only a novel about Blythe’s situation, but what has been transpiring in the world above, around her. It’s simply brilliant. I’m getting goosebumps thinking about it again.

I guarantee that this is a novel that people will be talking about. I’m predicting a wide range of opinions and emotions for it is a novel that induces that sort of reaction in its readers.

So…I implore you to give this book a try. When you do, come back and share your thoughts here. I haven’t seen a lot of prepublication buzz on this one and I’m dying to hear other opinions of this dynamic, truly memorable read. Highly, highly recommended.

 

Review: After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow (February 11, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0062083392
  • Source: Publisher

Felix Brewer sustains his family, including wife Bambi and three daughters, via a lucrative, yet not necessarily legal, business. Facing jail time, he disappears without a trace leaving his family and stripper mistress, Julie, in his wake.  Despite his lucrative business, Felix’s family doesn’t have a dime to survive on, Bambi assuming Julie has somehow obtained his fortune. Then, exactly ten years later, Julie disappears and everyone assumes she has left to meet up with Felix. Their assumptions are contradicted when, 26 years after Felix’s disappearance, Julie’s body is found in a wooded area.

Sandy Sanchez, a retired detective, decides to take on the cold case. A widower, Sandy has his own share of ghosts in his past.  He begins to interrogate anyone with any sort of involvement in the case. He soon discovers that Felix’s family members have their own secrets to hide, from both the public and one another. Slowly but surely, he is able to meld their stories together and recreate what happened that fateful day Felix disappeared.

Lippman is skilled at crafting a well-paced thriller, bits and pieces evenly and painstakingly revealed just at the right moment. This slower pacing allows her to develop and introduce a dynamic cast of characters and granting a number of voices the opportunity to tell their story. The storyline alternates between past and present, allowing characters both alive and deceased, to share their point of view without judgement.

The pain that the women in this thriller experience is quite evident and intensely moving and heartbreaking. Felix’s disappearance made a huge and lasting impact on their lives, each of them reflecting on how things could and would have been different had he not disappeared. Readers can’t help but feel for each of them, wanting to comfort them through the pain.

While After I’m Gone is a thriller at the core, it is also an intense character study. Readers learn not only about Felix and his surviving family members, including the five women in his life (wife, three daughters, and mistress) but also of Sandy and his immigration from Cuba. I’m honestly hoping we see more of Sandy’s character!

Fans of Lippman’s writing will be pleased to know that the twists and turns in plot are evident and abundant in this read.  Also apparent are characters from her other series, a real treat for long-time fans. Readers new to Lippman’s work can use this stand-alone as a jumping point into her truly talented writing. Highly recommended!

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

The publisher is hosting a sweepstakes for reviews of AFTER I’M GONE. Any review posted  before March 1st and submitted to TLC Book Tours is eligible for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card! If you have reviewed this title, , please fill out this form to submit your review for the sweepstakes!