After two successful seasons of a true-crime podcast, Rachel Krall has found the third season for her show – the small-town trail of a young man accused of rape and its impact on him, the alleged victim, and their community.
Reading Megan Goldin’s The Night Swim, I couldn’t help but wish I’d decided to listen to the audio version of this story. Well, at least that was the case in the chapters when Megan is narrating her podcast. I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something by not listening to Rachel narrate the story as it unfolds.
Rachel’s investigation into the current rape charge brings up some old undercurrents and possibly cover-ups in the small town. The Night Swim doesn’t pull any punches or shy away from examining the implications of the rape on all those associated with it. It’s a hard, eye-opening look and yet, somehow, the novel walks a fine line. The mystery of what happened the nights in question drives the narrative and while I wouldn’t call this a suspense thriller, I will say that I was curious to see where the actual truth would lie in the final pages.
As with many great crime novelists working today, Goldin’s interest isn’t just in solving the central mystery but looking at the impact that mystery has on its characters and society as a whole. Coming away fromThe Night Swim, I found myself thinking about it and pondering those implications long after the final page was turned.
I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Driven to raise her math grade from a B+ to an A, Ellie begs her mother, Laurel, to hire a tutor for her. The tutor does her job, but Ellie begins to get an odd vibe off her and decides to end the lessons. A few weeks before her exams, Ellie mysteriously vanishes.
A decade later, Laurel is beginning to piece her life back together. Divorced, she’s met a new suitor who seems like the perfect guy. He has two daughters and one of them, Poppy, is the spitting image of Ellie. Is Laurel seeing a ghost or is there something more sinister going on here?
All of that sounds pretty exciting, right?
This is why I’m a bit sad to report that Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone isn’t nearly as exciting or thrilling as a whole as the individual components make it sound like it should or could be. Part of the issue is that once Jewell puts all the pieces into play, there aren’t any huge shocks or revelations to come. I’d figured out a large part of what was going on long before the book begins to pull back the curtain on where Ellie went, who Poppy really is, and just how the math tutor ties into all of it. I kept waiting for something darker or more sinister to come of the story and nothing really did. Maybe I’m too conditioned by other suspense thrillers with a dark streak to really fully enjoy this one. But I did find myself reading more to see if my suspicions were correct than because I was fully invested in the story unfolding.
That’s not to say this is necessarily a bad book. It’s just one that disappointed me a great deal, especially after hearing positive reviews from other readers who share my tastes.
Connor Ford is the one itch that Tabitha Girard has never been able to resist scratching. It begins during their teenage years when Connor and Tabitha have a summer romance while she works as his grandmother’s country club. Connor’s grandmother doesn’t approve of the pairing and soon finds a way to break the two up.
Years later, Connor wanders into the restaurant/bar where Tabitha is waitressing, and the two attempt to pick up where they left off. The only things standing in their way are Tabitha’s recently released from jail ex-husband and Connor’s wealthy wife, who are suspects that Connor is stepping out on her. Thanks to an iron-clad prenup, if Connor leaves his wife, he loses everything.
So, when Connor’s wife turns up drowned in her swimming pool after a summer party and Tabitha reveals she’s expecting Connor’s child, suspicions begin to mount. After quickly and quietly marrying Connor, Tabitha begins to suspect that her new husband may be keeping secrets from her — deadly secrets. Continue reading
While finishing up her Christmas shopping in a crowded Seattle market, Marin Machado lets go of her four-year-old Sebastian’s hand for just a moment to text back to her husband. But in those moments, Marin’s world is shattered when Bash disappears and can’t be found.
Fifteen months later, Marin still hasn’t recovered from the shock and her marriage to Derek is on rocky ground. Haunted by “what ifs” with Bash, Marin wasn’t expecting the private eye she’s hired to discover another secret — Derek is having an affair with a younger woman named MacKenzie Li.
Enraged, Marin turns her pent up and anger and frustration about doing whatever it takes to rid herself of MacKenzie, which includes stalking her at her place of work, researching her on social media, and installing a shadowing app so she can keep track of everything Kenzie and Derek say to each other. Continue reading
Shay Miller’s life isn’t exactly coming up roses at the moment. Laid off from her data analyst role, she’s temping while looking for a new job. Lonely and struggling to find connections, she lives with her best friend Sean, who she secretly harbors a crush on. Sean’s girlfriend Jody isn’t thrilled with the living arrangements and is making noises that it might be time for Shay to find somewhere else to live.
But Shay’s world is upended one morning during her commute when she witnesses Amanda throwing herself in front of a subway train. Reeling from the event, Shay finds herself drawn into figuring out what would lead Amanda to end her life — and that investigation leads her right into the orbit of the Moore sisters, Cassandra and Jane.
Cassandra and Jane are everything Shay wants to be with a close circle of friends, a self-assuredness, and the world seemingly their oyster. But Cassandra and Jane harbor dark secrets and their motives in taking Shay under their wing may not be as altruistic as they appear on the surface.
To say much more would be to give away some of the reveals in Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s latest thriller, You Are Not Alone. Hendricks and Pekkanen keep the plot propelling forward by doling out clues and alternating perspectives between the first-person narration by Shay, third-person check-ins on the Moore sisters and flashbacks to other people who have come into the sisters’ orbits. The story gives you just enough to keep the pages turning, curious to see what will happen next to Shay and what the Moore sisters’ overall end game could be. It certainly kept me guessing at times.
That isn’t to say this is a perfect thriller. It’s a great popcorn novel — and one that doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny, especially as the end game Cassandra and Jane have in mind comes to light. The less you examine the details, the happier you’ll probably be with the story overall.
Watching as Hendricks and Pekkanen ratchet up the suspense, dread, and paranoia over the middle third of the novel is a lot of fun and really kept the pages turning. But it’s one the story reaches the third portion that things begin to slowly unravel.
If you’re looking for something fun to take your mind off things, this one is a great distraction.
Receiving a friend-request from someone you haven’t heard from in a quarter of a century is fairly innocuous. Unless it’s a friend-request from someone who’s been dead for the past twenty-five years.
Louise has been haunted by the role she played in the death of her friend, Maria Weston for twenty-five years, inhibiting her ability to connect with people today for fear they’ll discover who she really is and reject her just as she rejected Maria years before.
Then Louise gets a friend request from Maria. Assuming it’s a prank, Louise accepts and opens up old wounds that threaten to destroy the life she’s built and her sanity.
Laura Marshall’s Friend Request provides a timely warning in the day and age of social media to be careful how much of yourself you put out there. The hook is a solid one and for the first quarter of the novel, watching Louise attempt to figure out just who is behind the warnings and if Maria could, possibly, be alive is intriguing enough. Peppered with flashbacks to the fateful time in high school, Friend Request sets itself up for some interesting revelations and reveals.
Or at least it feels like it should.
The middle half of this novel feels like it’s spinning the wheels a bit as Louise tries to figure out who is torturing her and why. It makes the final denouncement of who is behind the keyboard and several other revelations about what happened to Maria feel a bit anti-climatic once we get there. There are a couple of good twists in the final pages and Marshall sets them up well. But, by the time we got to them, I was so weary of Louise’s self-doubt, guilt, and increasing paranoia that I was more relieved the novel was finally moving forward than I was in finding out who was behind this revenge plot.
No one here is exactly what they appears to be….
That quote from the first season of Babylon Five applies in spades to the trio of protagonists in Michelle Sacks’ debut novel You Were Made for This.
When Sam inherits a house from his Swedish aunt, he and his wife Merry decide it’s the perfect time to move and set-up the perfect home for their newborn son, Conor. As Merry delves into becoming the perfect stay-at-home mother, Sam pursues his passion to become a filmmaker. But lurking below the surface are secrets that each is hiding from the other — whether it’s Sam’s real reason for fleeing his job as a professor or Merry’s true feelings on becoming a mother.
Enter into this scenario a visit from Merry’s oldest friend, Frank. Frank knows Merry better than anyone else and her visit begins to slowly shatter the illusion that Merry and Sam have built up. It also exposes some older, deeper wounds and resentments that Merry and Frank harbor from growing up together. Continue reading
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, fondly remembered television series of the past received made-for-television reunion films. James Boice’s Who Killed the Fonz feels like it could be a long-lost reunion movie for the cast of one of my all-time favorite shows, Happy Days.
Beginning in 1984 (the year that Happy Days finally ended its epic run), Who Killed the Fonz finds Richard Cunningham at a crossroads in his Hollywood career. While he’s had success as a writer, including an Oscar nod, he can’t quite get his dream project off the ground. When his agent tells presents him an offer to make write a Star Wars clone, Richard is less thrilled. However, it’s either write the movie he doesn’t want anything to do with or face the end of chasing his dreams in Hollywood.
Then, Richard receives a call from Milwaukee that his old friend, Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli had died in an motorcycle accident. Seems that Fonzie flipped off the front of his bike on a bridge, plunging to his death in the icy waters below. Richard goes back to Milwaukee for the first time in twenty years to bury his old friend and to consider what the next stage in his career will be. (Marion moved out to Hollywood with Richard and Laurie Beth years ago after Howard passed away and they left the famous house to Joanie and Chiachi).
Billed as an 80’s noir thriller, Who Killed the Fonz is a loving homage to the classic series. Boice clearly knows his Happy Days lore, sprinkling in a few nostalgic flashbacks to classic episodes and moments from the series run as Richard comes to terms with the Fonz’s death and that he hasn’t been back to see his old friends in two decades.* He even has Fonzie’s funeral take place at the same funeral home used in the “Fonzie’s Funeral” two-parter late in the run of Richie episodes. Continue reading
With her twentieth installment in the Lynley and Havers series (sorry, I refuse to think of it as anything else), Elizabeth George returns to form with one of the best installments in the series to date.
The last two novels found Barbara Havers getting herself into hot water and on the wrong side of her superiors at New Scotland Yard. As The Punishment She Deserves begins, Havers future at the Met is hanging by a thread and a case in the small town of Ludlow may be just the one that finally snaps it. Assigned to work with DS Ardery and look into the death of a local deacon under mysterious circumstances and damning accusations, Havers finds herself walking a fine line between toeing the straight and narrow and following her instincts that there is more to the case than meets the eyes.
Ardery wants to simply close the book on the case as quickly as possible, for both professional and personal reasons. She’s desperate to get back to London in order to fight her ex-husband’s desire to move her two children to New Zealand and she’s determined to ensure that Havers finished committing professional suicide. The fact that Ardery can’t go long without a drink is slowly beginning to unravel her life on all sides. Ignoring Havers’ pleas that the investigations is overlooking something, the duo returns to London and Ardery orders Havers to leave certain details out of her report. Continue reading
The President Is Missing is the literary equivalent of a blockbuster action film — better when you sit back, turn your brain off, and just go along for the ride.
President Jonathan Duncan faces attacks from all sides. As he faces impending impeachment hearings in Congress, Duncan is made aware of an attack on the United States that will send our nation back to the stone age. Duncan is forced to go rogue to try and take down the threat before it comes to fruition and to ferret out who in his inner circle is leaking vital information to his enemies.
Promising “insider secrets only a president could know,” The President Is Missing is less a political thriller and more a political fantasy. At multiple points, you can’t help but wonder how much Bill Clinton would have given to shake off the threat of impeachment by going John McClain to save our country from an attack and then riding that to astronomical approval rating.
And that may be the biggest thing that holds the novel back from being a “bubble gum for the brain” thriller. I kept looking for clues as to which author wrote which part of the novel.
This novel also reminded me why I’ve stopped reading James Patterson novels. His novels feel a bit formulaic and rushed to press. And that’s how this one ends up feeling as well. Staccato chapters, quick pacing so you don’t have to ponder the implications of things as the develop, and a lack of room for any substantial character development add up to a disappointing novel. The final third of the book piles on absurd twist after absurd twist until I felt like crying, “Enough already.”
The President Is Missing feels like a missed opportunity. With a former president co-authoring and able to offers insights into the office and what might really happen if our president vanished for a significant length of time, the novel instead is told mostly from the first-person perspective of Duncan, thus negating the title early and often. I’m not sure what I expected, but this one didn’t fit the bill.