“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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“Closing the door, you leave the world behind.”

you-will-know-me

 

Sometimes a good mystery leaves you guessing until the very end. Sometimes you think you have it all figured out but you find out you didn’t know anything. While reading You Will Know Me by Megan Abbot, I figured out pretty early on where the book was going. The interesting part was watching the protagonist come to that conclusion.

Katie and Eric Knox are the proud, dedicated parents of gymnastic prodigy Devon. She is the star of their local gymnastics gym and is expected to become an elite, Olympic level athlete. Their local gym community has pinned a lot of their hopes and dreams, along with the gym’s future success on Devon. When a member of their team is killed, everything is thrown into disarray. The story is told through Katie, Devon’s mom. As the mysterious death is investigated, many secrets come to light and Katie is forced to rethink everything she knows about the people who are closest to her.

This book is such a compelling fast read and the first one I’ve read by Megan Abbot. After enjoying this one so thoroughly, I’ll be moving her bumping her other books up in my TBR pile.

Butterflies are free…except not so much

the-butterfly-garden

 

I feel like this sort of high concept story would have read better in a fantasy or sci fi setting. The dialogue and character interaction just didn’t work for me in the modern day U.S. It’s also very possible that someone who hasn’t read a metric ton of true crime and gritty realistic crime fiction might find this book more enjoyable. Personally, while the overall story was engaging and kept me interested until the end. The writing style came off almost as if a teen girl who knew nothing about the emotional impact of things like rape and abuse had on a person.

The Butterfly Garden follows the initial investigation after the apprehension of a serial killer known as The Gardener. The Gardener captures girls around the age of 16, re-names them, tattoos them with butterfly wings on their backs and keeps them in a gilded cage until their twenty first birthday. At that point he kills them and preserves them in glass. The story is told through one of his butterflies known as Maya who seems to be a sort of leader among the surviving girls. Maya tells the story of her early life, her capture and her life in The Garden to two FBI agents who may as well just be named “Good Cop” and “Bad Cop.” Maya is clearly hiding something and the agents need to find out what because Maya is their best witness so far.

This book wasn’t a bad one. The story moves along at a good pace and it kept me interested until the end. The writing was often annoying and SPOILER ALERT: The big secret at the end was sort of a let down made the whole cat and mouse game between Maya and her interrogators seem pointless. But it makes for a nice little distraction; especially when you have Kindle on your work desktop and you’re stuck on an eternal hold.

Pretty Fly for an Antiquated Gay Stereotype

the-talented-mr-ripley

 

A couple of points to start off with:

1. I never saw the 1999 film with Matt Damon and Jude Law

2. We’re going to ignore the “homosexual villain” trope used in this book. It was an unfortunate thing in the 1950s and 1960s but Tom Ripley is a fascinating character beyond that.

Tom Ripley is a small time con-artist and forger eking (and gay man, even though it’s not said explicitly) out a living in New York City when the father of Dickie Greenleaf hires him to go to a small town and Italy and convince his ne’er-do-well son Dickie to come home and take over the family business. Though Tom obtains this job based on a lie, he seems to intent on accomplishing this task in the beginning, two things become abundantly clear: 1. Dickie has no intention of coming home and 2. Tom has no intention of going back to his meager existence in the U.S. Naturally things take a dark turn from there. We see things through Tom’s eyes as he kills, impersonates, lies and forges his way across Southern Europe.

I won’t spoil the plot too much but despite clearly being a bad person, it’s hard not to root for Tom. When he was in a tight spot, my stomach was in knots. When he was at peace, enjoying an Italian cafe, I could almost smell the espresso. Clearly the character of Tom Ripley could not exist in modern literature. But he remains one of the great villains of mid-century fiction.

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.