“You left me alone but you’re still my own.”

pretty girls

 

The key to a good suspense/mystery novel is similar to that of a good horror film. The characters reactions to things have to be realistic and make sense. That doesn’t mean they have to necessarily be smart or follow basic common sense. It means they have to make sense given what we know about the character’s past experiences and personality. That way, when everything goes pear shaped, it feels like these things are being experienced by a real human and not merely a vessel to move the story forward. Pretty Girls hits the nail on the head. I hate to use a cliched term like “non-stop thrill ride,” but reading this book was a lot like riding a roller coaster. I found myself having to take a breather from this book every once in awhile because it got too intense.

Lydia and Claire are two sisters who have not spoken in twenty years. Their relationship slowly deteriorated after their sister Julia disappeared without a trace from her college campus one night. The incident destroyed their once happy family. As the book begins, Claire’s husband is killed in what appears to be a botched mugging. This sets in motion a series of events that throw the two sisters back together as are drawn deeper into the mystery, not only of her husband’s death but of their missing sister.

Aside from being a hell of a good mystery, this book depicts the emotional toll taken on a family when a child goes missing. It packed an emotional wallop throughout. I will give a warning for extremely graphic depictions of murder and rape. It’s rough material but given the themes of the book I don’t think it’s extraneous.

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The WomanGirl on the Cabin 10 Train

the-woman-in-cabin-10

 

I picked up this book on a recommendation from one of the Book Riot podcasts that said it was a great closed door mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie. While it certainly was a closed door mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie, I’d probably only call it fair to good rather than great. The premise is great and there are some moments of real tension and suspense. But I found the execution somewhat lacking and I saw the “twist” coming pretty early on.

The story follows Laura “Lo” Blacklock, a travel reporter who is trying to rebuild her career after a serious bout of clinical depression nearly got her fired. She’s given a chance to report on the maiden voyage of an exclusive high end cruise ship. The first night of the voyage, Lo believes she hears the woman next door in the titular Cabin 10 being murdered and thrown overboard only to discover, when she calls ship security, that no one is staying next door. Like most protagonists in mystery novels, Lo is unable to let go of the problem and continues to search for clues. She is hampered by the fact that she drank to much the night of the alleged murder and by a home invasion that occurred shortly before the voyage started making her an unreliable witness in the eyes of the ship’s security officer.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It was fine. It was a perfectly good mystery story. I really don’t think it deserved the hype it got. Like I said above; it’s good but certainly not great.

Less Scooby Doo, more Shirley Jackson please.

I realize now that I’m pretty difficult to please when it comes to ghost/haunted house stories. This book had all the elements; an old farmhouse, possibly haunted woods and a long dead person’s diary. In the end it just didn’t deliver for me. Possibly, it just wasn’t what I was expecting, or the fact that none of the characters really resonated with me. Overall the book was good, but not great.

The Winter People follows two stories concurrently which occur 100 years apart. In 1908 we follow Sarah Harrison Shea who struggles to accept the death of her daughter Gertie. In the present day, we follow the story of Alice, who lives off the grid in the same house in the present day with her mother Alice and her sister Fawn. Alice goes missing, which propels Ruthie’s story forward. Naturally, the two narratives are connected in ways you may or may not have expected.

I think my issue I had with this book was that I was expecting the creepy atmosphere and building tension of a ghost story, and what I got was essentially a mystery story with supernatural elements. I’ll admit there were a few twists that I did not figure out right away (most notably, the deal with Ruthie’s parents) and the book was interesting enough to keep me reading. It’s a good solid story if you like a supernatural mystery. I think it was just a bit of a letdown after some of the great reads I’ve had this month. the-winter-people

Pants Waits for Next Book in Series

girl-waits-with-gun

 

I’m fairly picky about which mystery series I follow. They are formulaic by design so if there aren’t engaging characters and interesting stories, I tend to lose interest pretty quickly. The story of Constance Kopp and her sisters: Norma and Fleurette caught my interest immediately and is that start of what I hope will be a fun, somewhat historically factual mystery series.

The story takes place in 1914 New Jersey. On a rare outing into town, the somewhat reclusive sisters’ buggy is run down by a reckless silk factory owner in his automobile. Constance attempts to get the man to make restitution and she and her sisters are quickly subject to threats, intimidation and harassment in the form of bullets and bricks aimed at their farm house. Constance, whose height and ambivalence toward romance and domesticity set her apart from the average woman in 1914, takes it upon herself to resolve the situation. There’s tension, family secrets and a picture of domestic life in the early 20th century.

There are a lot of things I appreciated about this book. First of all, Constance and her sisters, the silk factory owner and the dispute over the buggy are all real people and events that happened. Though Ms. Stewart obviously fills in the blanks that the public record leaves. The relationship between the sisters whose personalities are distinct and dynamic. Though Constance herself has no interest in the typical trappings of 1910s domestic life, she in no way scorns it and has a great friendship with her sister-in-law who is practically a model 1914 housewife. Also, the imagery of the three German sisters living a rural life in the early 1900s made me nostalgic for my grandmother, who came from a similar background (though I’m reasonably sure Grandma Schneider never shot a revolver at anyone). The second novel in the series was released today. I’ll refrain from giving the title as at does give a bit of a spoiler about Constance’s fate.

Just gonna stand there and hear me cry, But that’s alright, because I love the way you lie

crooked little lies

If books with an unreliable narrator has taught me anything, it’s that everyone is a dirty, lying secret-keeper and that you can’t trust anyone. It’s a trope that’s been overused thanks to the success of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train (speaking of overused tropes, can we stop having titles with “girl” in them for awhile?) and Crooked Little Lies isn’t a particularly groundbreaking addition to the genre. But the characters are compelling and the action moves quickly (getting a book read in under a week is a rarity for me with my schedule) making it a relatively light read for a book that centers on a missing person.

The story centers around the disappearance of Bo Laughlin, a generally harmless mentally ill man who wanders the small town of Hardy’s Walk. Sissel wisely keeps Bo’s exact psychiatric diagnosis vague. Our protagonists are Annie, Bo’s step sister and Lauren, our unreliable narrator and one of the last people to see Bo before he goes missing. Lauren is a more sympathetic character than our more famous narrators. Unlike Amy Dunne, who is an unrepentant sociopath or Rachel Watson, who is a falling down drunk, Lauren suffered a fall from a bell tower while working for the architectural salvage business she shares with her husband and suffered a traumatic brain injury. She subsequently suffered an addiction to Oxycontin as a result of the pain she suffered from her head injury. Though she is now sober, her memory is unreliable at best. It’s difficult not to sympathize with someone who, despite her best intentions, simply can’t remember things she did despite being awake and sober at the time.

I have to say, I pretty much pegged who the worst of the lying secret keepers was pretty early on. But it still made for an interesting read and a nice break from some of the heavier subjects I’d been delving into recently. If you’ve run out of beach reads for the summer, I’d pick this one up.

A Surprising Adventure

the woman in white

 

 

I added this book to my TBR pile because it was described as an early example of Gothic Horror combined with psychological realism. The description is spot on. I started reading with the expectation of a spooky little Victorian thriller. What I got was over 600 pages of intrigue, madness, and of course, a love story. The Woman in White is a surprising work of fiction that needs to be made into a PBS miniseries, stat.

Though the story is centered around the fortunes (and misfortunes) of Laura Fairlie, she is not a particularly interesting character. Those that surround her and move the action forward, Walter Hartright, Marian Halcombe and even the insidious Count Fosco, are infinitely more interesting. It is them that move the story from London, all across the English countryside and even to the madhouse (the Victorian repository for inconvenient women). Though there are a couple of slow spots, The Woman is White is, overall, a pretty thrilling read that kept me up later than I should have been on more than one work night.

The Girl Needs an AA Meeting

the girl on the train

 

This the third or fourth book that I’ve managed to blaze through in a couple of days. I’m not sure if I’ve just been lucky with my book selection or I’ve got amazing commitment to Sparkle Motion/CBR8.

It’s difficult to read this book and not draw comparisons to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Aside from the similar titles, both feature a story told from the point of view of multiple narrators and at least one narrator is unreliable. In the case of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train, the main narrator is unreliable not because she is a lying sociopath, but because she is an alcoholic prone to blackout spells. It’s on the night of one of these blackouts, that another of the protagonists goes missing.

This book struck an emotional chord with me due to the fact that a good friend of mine recently checked himself into rehab because he was the same sort of alcoholic as Rachel, the main character. It was very frustrating to watch the same bad decisions, the same swearing off of alcohol only to backslide within a day or two and the general sloppiness that went along with it (my friend is 5 months sober and doing great BTW). The mystery that self isn’t particularly hard to figure out, but the story itself isn’t about just the whodunnit. It’s about the relationship between the three protagonists, the men in their lives and the way our perspectives can change and be manipulated.