Kate’s Review: “The Hunting Party”

40535684Book: “The Hunting Party” by Lucy Foley

Publishing Info: William Morrow, February 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The publisher sent me an ARC.

Book Description: For fans of Ruth Ware and Tana French, a shivery, atmospheric, page-turning novel of psychological suspense in the tradition of Agatha Christie, in which a group of old college friends are snowed in at a hunting lodge . . . and murder and mayhem ensue.

All of them are friends. One of them is a killer.

During the languid days of the Christmas break, a group of thirtysomething friends from Oxford meet to welcome in the New Year together, a tradition they began as students ten years ago. For this vacation, they’ve chosen an idyllic and isolated estate in the Scottish Highlands—the perfect place to get away and unwind by themselves. They arrive on December 30th, just before a historic blizzard seals the lodge off from the outside world.

Two days later, on New Year’s Day, one of them is dead.

The trip began innocently enough: admiring the stunning if foreboding scenery, champagne in front of a crackling fire, and reminiscences about the past. But after a decade, the weight of secret resentments has grown too heavy for the group’s tenuous nostalgia to bear. Amid the boisterous revelry of New Year’s Eve, the cord holding them together snaps. Now one of them is dead . . . and another of them did it. Keep your friends close, the old adage goes. But just how close is too close?

Review: Thank you to William Morrow for sending me an ARC of this novel!

Though we’re pretty much now fully into summer here in Minnesota, to me one of the best seasons for a tangled mystery to take place is the wintertime. There’s something about the snow and cold that really gets a plot going. So while it took me a little while to get to “The Hunting Party” by Lucy Foley, I felt like I saved it for the exact right time. I don’t like the weather that comes with summer, so a story set during colder months was exactly what I needed.

I think that the comparison to both Ruth Ware and Agatha Christie is spot on. The setting itself, in a remote lodge area in the Scottish Wilderness, is the perfect backdrop for a story like this; it’s isolated, it’s haunting, and the vast wilderness feels like a cage when it comes down to it. Throw in a harsh snowy winter and you get an even harder place to escape should you need to. The characters, too, feel like people out of a Christie or Ware novel, as they are a group of friends who have known each other for years, but conflicts, secrets, and resentments are starting to boil over. We get a few different perspective chapters, some told in the past (the days leading up to the death) and some in the present (the discovery of the body and beyond). In the present we have Heather and Doug. Heather is the manager of the lodge, who has been trying to forget a tragedy from her recent past, and Doug is the gamekeeper, and he seems like he could be mysterious or dangerous. In the past we hear from Miranda, the effervescent queen bee of the group, Katie, her dutiful and passive best friend, and Emma, the woman who joined the group late and is trying to put together the best retreat she can. It becomes clear as time goes on that all of these characters are hiding something, and Foley slowly and effectively teases the answers out of them while also giving the reader satisfying and interesting characterizations. I was especially taken with Miranda’s POV chapters, as while she is definitely a bit spoiled and has a true mean streak, we also get to see into her mind and how her own insecurities and personal tragedies have made her into the person she is now. It would be easy to make her simply a cruel bitch, but more often than not I found myself sympathizing with her. One might think that juggling all of these perspectives would be tricky, but Foley does a great job of it, seamlessly keeping all the balls in the air and revealing what she wanted about them only when she was ready.

The mystery too was well done and kept me going. We know from the get go that one of the guests has been found dead on the property, but we don’t know who it is. By slowly peeling back the story in both present and past orders, it carefully becomes clear who is dead, but the motivation to kill could be coming from any character, and many hints are misdirection. There were a number of times where I was probably falling right into the trap Foley set with my guesses, and while I did ultimately guess the correct answer before it was revealed, it wasn’t too far from the big reveal moment. It was also still fun seeing all the puzzle pieces slowly fit into place, especially since there were a number of other secrets to be revealed along the way. I was also legitimately surprised by a couple of these secrets, which is always fun!

“The Hunting Party” may take place in a cold climate and could be a good fireplace read, but I think that it’s also going to be a great beach read for the summer traveler.

Rating 8: A suspenseful and well plotted mystery with compelling characters and many twists, “The Hunting Party” is a fun thriller just in time for summer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Hunting Party” is included on the Goodreads lists “Books Set in Scotland”, and “Psychological Suspense for 2019 (January-June)”.

Find “The Hunting Party” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Searching for Sylvie Lee”

41716679Book: “Searching for Sylvie Lee” by Jean Kwok

Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an ARC from the publisher.

Book Description: A poignant and suspenseful drama that untangles the complicated ties binding three women—two sisters and their mother—in one Chinese immigrant family and explores what happens when the eldest daughter disappears, and a series of family secrets emerge, from the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Translation

It begins with a mystery. Sylvie, the beautiful, brilliant, successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to the Netherlands for one final visit with her dying grandmother—and then vanishes.

Amy, the sheltered baby of the Lee family, is too young to remember a time when her parents were newly immigrated and too poor to keep Sylvie. Seven years older, Sylvie was raised by a distant relative in a faraway, foreign place, and didn’t rejoin her family in America until age nine. Timid and shy, Amy has always looked up to her sister, the fierce and fearless protector who showered her with unconditional love.

But what happened to Sylvie? Amy and her parents are distraught and desperate for answers. Sylvie has always looked out for them. Now, it’s Amy’s turn to help. Terrified yet determined, Amy retraces her sister’s movements, flying to the last place Sylvie was seen. But instead of simple answers, she discovers something much more valuable: the truth. Sylvie, the golden girl, kept painful secrets . . . secrets that will reveal more about Amy’s complicated family—and herself—than she ever could have imagined.

A deeply moving story of family, secrets, identity, and longing, Searching for Sylvie Lee is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait of an immigrant family. It is a profound exploration of the many ways culture and language can divide us and the impossibility of ever truly knowing someone—especially those we love. 

Review: Thank you to William Morrow for sending me an ARC of this novel!

While I can’t deny that I love me a good sudsy, melodramatic thriller, there is also something to be said for thriller/mysteries that have layers of pathos, introspection, and character exploration. A literary thriller can not only keep me entertained, it can also get me to thinking about deeper issues that I may not otherwise associate with the genre. Because of this, I was pleased to see that William Morrow had sent me an ARC of “Searching for Sylvie Lee” by Jean Kwok.

“Searching for Sylvie Lee” is absolutely a mystery. A Chinese-Dutch/American woman named Sylvie vanishes while visiting her dying grandmother in the Netherlands, and her younger sister Amy takes it upon herself to try and retrace her sister’s steps. She discovers many things about her sister that she never knew, along with things about her family that she never new either. The story is told through three perspectives. The first is Amy, who is searching for her sister. The second is Ma, Amy and Sylvie’s mother who is dealing with fear and grief in regards to her missing daughter. And the third is Sylvie, as we see her journey to The Netherlands and the things that were going on in her life before and during her trip, and up to her disappearance. The three perspectives come together in a way that tells a broader picture, and shows how and why Sylvie would vanish in the way that she did. Kwok did a masterful job of balancing all three perspectives, and made sure that they all added something to the final story in meaningful ways.

I also enjoyed the setting of this book. While there are a number of parts in New York City, it’s the setting of The Netherlands that made this book feel more unique to me. I admittedly have not much cultural knowledge about this country (though I do hope to visit and learn someday), but seeing Amy and Sylvie and their distant relatives living day to day lives and situations was something that was unexpected for me. So too did I enjoy Kwok’s examinations of race within this cultural context, as Sylvie and the Tan family are perhaps not always targeted, per se, but always noticed for their appearances, and not necessarily in positive ways. The little cuts of microaggressions within the narrative were effective and upsetting, and Kwok never felt a need to explain, just to show, which to me was all the more powerful. All three women focused on have their experiences of being Othered, but have experiences beyond that that are also damaging, be it because of their gender, the cultural expectations, or their expectations they have for each other.

And that is why the true heart of this book is that of the three women themselves. Seeing their different perspectives also added a layer to the narrative that elevated this book from simple mystery to familial tragedy. Ma is an immigrant who has been in a tumultuous marriage, and has watched her two daughters grow up and away from her. She had to make hard decisions to support her family, and those decisions have haunted her as her children have pulled away. Amy has always felt like the disappointment child, as Sylvie has been a vivacious, beautiful, and successful presence in her life, and has self esteem and confidence issues. But in turn Sylvie has had to come to terms with being raised away from her immediate family for so long, only to be ripped from the life she knew and thrown back in with them, and had to contend with the emotional trauma of it. She doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere, as she feels Dutch in America but is seen as the Other in Holland because of her race. It’s Sylvie’s story that packs the most emotional punch, as she appears to be caught between the different expectations of those around her, and the life that she has versus the life that she wants. All of these women have held secrets from each other, and when they come out bit by bit the fallout and damage is almost too much to bear. This is a mystery, but it’s also an examination of identity, be it familial or cultural, and that makes it all the more emotional.

“Searching for Sylvie Lee” is a heart-rendering novel that I really enjoyed. The writing is superb, the themes are intense, and the mystery is well plotted out.

Rating 8: A story about family, secrets, identity, and sisterhood, “Searching for Sylvie Lee” is both a mystery and an examination of the conflicts we face alone, and the things we hide from our families.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Searching for Sylvie Lee” is included on the Goodreads lists “Immigrant Experience Literature”, and “Anticipated Literary Reads For Readers of Color 2019”.

Find “Searching for Sylvie Lee” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Before She Knew Him”

40390756Book: “Before She Knew Him” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow, March 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Catching a killer is dangerous—especially if he lives next door

Hen and her husband Lloyd have settled into a quiet life in a new house outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Hen (short for Henrietta) is an illustrator and works out of a studio nearby, and has found the right meds to control her bipolar disorder. Finally, she’s found some stability and peace.

But when they meet the neighbors next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. The sports trophy looks exactly like one that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen knows because she’s long had a fascination with this unsolved murder—an obsession she doesn’t talk about anymore, but can’t fully shake either.

Could her neighbor, Matthew, be a killer? Or is this the beginning of another psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college, when she became so consumed with proving a fellow student guilty that she ended up hurting a classmate?

The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects he’s planning something truly terrifying. Yet no one will believe her. Then one night, when she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot, she realizes that he knows she’s been watching him, that she’s really on to him. And that this is the beginning of a horrifying nightmare she may not live to escape. . .

Review: GodDAMN do I look forward to any and every Peter Swanson book. Unfortunately, I missed the library hold boat on this one, as by the time I realized it was happening both systems I use had long hold lists on them. So what’s a girl to do but go and buy it. I’m usually loathe to buy books given that I work at a library and use its services exhaustively, but with authors I love I’m willing to make exceptions, and so I went out and purchased “Before She Knew Him”.

Also, this review is going to have some spoilers in it, as I feel like it’s the only way that I can truly discuss what I liked about it. SO, that means

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If you want to read this book completely ignorant, stop here. (source)

Like other good Peter Swanson books, “Before She Knew Him” sucked me in with it’s fascinating characters, and legitimately surprising twists and turns. Our main two perspectives are that of Hen, an artist who has struggled with bipolar disorder in the past, and Matthew, Hen’s neighbor whom she is convinced is a murderer. And guess what: he totally is. This is made quite clear very early on. Hen’s suspicions are right, and therefore we aren’t going to see the tired ‘is she right or is she just having an episode’ trope that feels so common in stories like this. Matthew is indeed a killer, but he is incredibly compelling in his motivations. He targets men that he sees as predatory, his ethos being that if they hurt women, be it through mental abuse, cheating, sexual assault, what have you, they don’t deserve to live. It stems back to childhood trauma, which still haunts him due to his brother Richard, who seems to be escalating in his own violent tendencies, which disturbs Matthew because he doesn’t want to face his brother. In the same vein, Matthew isn’t exactly a Madonna/Whore savior complex killer either. I don’t even really know how to describe him, and his complex nature is one of the things I greatly liked about this book. Swanson doesn’t make him totally evil, but he certainly isn’t totally good either. Swanson also does a great job with Hen and her characterization. I’m always a little afraid of how thriller writers address mental illness, as more of then than I’d like it’s used as a way to make a character seem unreliable or unstable in a stigmatizing kind of way. With Hen I felt like while her struggles with mental illness do play a large role in the story, she never seemed to be stigmatized by them in the reader’s eyes. If anything when people would throw them back at her, particularly her husband Lloyd, you didn’t question her, you sympathized with her. Perhaps this had to do with the fact that we KNEW Matthew was a killer almost from the jump, but even so I thought it was a welcome change from books where she might have been portrayed as ‘crazy’ to keep the ‘is he or isn’t he?’ going. And when these two are on page together, it’s incredibly satisfying, if only because it’s less cat and mouse and more two people on equal footing trying to figure the other one out.

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And yes, I’m back on my bullshit of shipping couples that probably shouldn’t be shipped. Because man, even though it was (rightfully) never really addressed as a possibility, I SHIP IT. (source)

The plot, too was incredibly satisfying, with other mysteries sprinkled in along the way. These I won’t address, because that would be a true crime to spoil things. All that being said, I kind of guessed one of the reveals a bit early on. But I say kind of because it was a fleeting thought I had that soon flitted away, and by the time that reveal happened I was legitimately caught by surprise, even though I HAD thought of it. Swanson slowly lays out the various clues as to what things are going to happen, but you keep reading not necessarily because you want to know about these things, but because you want to know just what is going to happen to both Hen AND Matthew, especially since Hen knows the truth about him. It was a real journey finding out how things all shook out, and I greatly enjoying accompanying these two on said journey.

“Before She Knew Him” was a fun and satisfying read. If you haven’t gotten on the Peter Swanson train yet, do yourself a favor and check him out. This would be a good place to start.

Rating 8: With intriguing characters and some pretty well laid out surprises, “Before She Knew Him” is another fun and twisty thriller from Peter Swanson.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Before She Knew Him” is included on the Goodreads lists “The Girl Who Didn’t See Her Husband’s Wife When She Disappeared Twice from the Train”, and “Mystery and Thriller 2019”.

Find “Before She Knew Him” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Daughters of the Lake”

38927017Book: “Daughters of the Lake” by Wendy Webb

Publishing Info: Lake Union Publishing, November 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: The ghosts of the past come calling in a spellbinding heart-stopper from the “Queen of the Northern Gothic.”

After the end of her marriage, Kate Granger has retreated to her parents’ home on Lake Superior to pull herself together—only to discover the body of a murdered woman washed into the shallows. Tucked in the folds of the woman’s curiously vintage gown is an infant, as cold and at peace as its mother. No one can identify the woman. Except for Kate. She’s seen her before. In her dreams…

One hundred years ago, a love story ended in tragedy, its mysteries left unsolved. It’s time for the lake to give up its secrets. As each mystery unravels, it pulls Kate deeper into the eddy of a haunting folktale that has been handed down in whispers over generations. Now, it’s Kate’s turn to listen.

As the drowned woman reaches out from the grave, Kate reaches back. They must come together, if only in dreams, to right the sinister wrongs of the past.

Review: As someone who grew up in Minnesota, I have fond childhood memories of spending summer trips by Lake Superior. Even in my adult life I try to get up to Duluth and the north shore at least once a year, as the beauty of the lake shore and the north woods is hard to resist. Because of my affection for this part of the state, I am almost always going to give Wendy Webb a shot when it comes to her books. And given that she’s a local author, the wait list at the library is usually pretty long, so unless you’re on top of the publication dates it may be a wait. When “Daughters of the Lake” came out I wasn’t on top of it, but after a few months wait it came in for me, and I was eager to start it.

Webb’s books have always managed to capture the feel and essence of Lake Superior towns and what it’s like to live there. She describes the lake itself just how it is in real life, with the beauty, power, and danger that comes with it. Her descriptions of the lake shore and the towns on it really transported me to a part of this state that I love, and that alone made it so that I was going to finish this book no matter what. The characters were plenty likable as well. Kate, our main character, is a relatable protagonist, and you believe her pain as a woman whose marriage has fallen apart due to her husband’s infidelity and lies, and her need to have a change of scenery. More interesting, still, was her cousin Simon, a sympathetic and supportive bed and breakfast owner who has turned the family estate into a cozy resort. I liked their relationship, though sometimes Simon treaded little close to the ‘supportive gay bestie’ trope, especially since it seemed his sole purpose was to play as her sidekick. I was definitely invested in both of them, though, and the mystery at hand. I also liked the moments in the past, told both through Kate’s strange psychic visions and also perspective chapters. In those sections the focus on on Addy, a young woman whose birth culminated with her literally floating on the waters of the Lake with no harm done. The supernatural aspect of her story is slowly peeled away, and I enjoyed seeing those layers peeled back.

But unfortunately, a promising plot with fairly solid characters gets muddled in the last half of the book. The first issue I had I can’t really go into much detail about, as I don’t want to spoil anything. But some of the supernatural aspects of this book seemed to work without a magical system that was sorely needed to make believable. By the time the book had wrapped up I still wasn’t totally sure that there had been a full explanation of how this twist of fate worked. Secondly, there were small hints of other ghostly elements in this book that implied they were building up to something big, but by the time it was revisited it was rushed and crammed in near the last minute. There were also a number of plot twists that were either a little too obvious, or out of left field without any sort of build up. And one of these twists was the kind that I absolutely cannot abide: the plot twist that happens in the last few pages, which completely changes the outcome of the entire story.

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(source)

I’m occasionally willing to give this kind of thing a pass, mostly if it’s inconsequential in it’s outcome, or if it’s SO well done and so well placed that it takes my breath away. But in this case it just felt like a cheap last moment ‘gotcha’, and I rolled my eyes as it unfolded because it felt totally unnecessary. My fear about this kind of turn of events in thrillers is that authors will start to think that a well plotted story is all about the twists, and will therefore try to add twists for the sake of twists. I don’t recall Webb doing this in her past works (well, not in ALL of them anyway), so I don’t think I need to worry about her future books. But it always makes me wary.

Ultimately, while I liked the setting and the building blocks of the plot and characters to “Daughters of the Lake”, there were a few too many stumbles for me to be able to give it a really high rating. It’s an eerie gothic read to be sure, but I had wanted more from it.

Rating 6: While the plot was fun and the setting kept me interested, “Daughters of the Lake” had a few too many hokey twists and felt disjointed in the story telling.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Daughters of the Lake” isn’t featured on any Goodreads lists, but I think that it would fit in on “Lake Superior Mysteries”.

Find “Daughters of the Lake” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “She Was The Quiet One”

36476218Book: “She Was The Quiet One” by Michele Campbell

Publishing Info: St Martin’s Press, July 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: An eAudiobook from the library!

Book Description: From the author of It’s Always the Husband comes a riveting new suspense audiobook about privilege, power, and what happens when we let ambition take control. 

For Rose Enright, enrolling in a prestigious New England boarding school is the opportunity of a lifetime. But for Rose’s vulnerable twin sister Bel, Odell Academy is a place of temptation and danger. When Bel falls in with a crowd of wild rich kids who pressure her into hazing Rose, the sisters’ relationship is shattered. Rose turns to her dorm mother, Sarah Donovan, for advice. But Bel turns to Sarah’s husband Heath, a charismatic and ambitious teacher. Is Heath trying to help Bel or take advantage of her? In a world of privilege, seduction, and manipulation, only one sister will live to tell the truth.

In an audiobook full of twists, turns, and dark secrets, Michele Campbell once again proves her skill at crafting intricately spun and completely compelling plots.

Review: Michele Campbell was an author who came out of nowhere for me. I saw the book title “It’s Always the Husband” on my twitter feed, and such a bold statement (that, sadly, feels all to true sometimes) as a book title absolutely caught my eye. I requested it on audiobook, and when I was finished with it I was, for the most part, happy with it, and therefore chomping at the bit for whatever story Campbell would come out with next. So when I saw “She Was The Quiet One” pop up on my Goodreads feed, I had to request the audiobook post haste! Not only was it a new book by a promising thriller author, it also took place at a BOARDING SCHOOL! A BOARDING SCHOOL FILLED WITH SCANDAL AND AWFUL PEOPLE!

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Love those rotten rich high school kids! (source)

I had to wait since I opted for an eAudiobook, but when “She Was The Quiet One” finally came in, I started it, expecting to have the same interest as I did to the previous novel. That is, a nice listen while driving from Point A to Point B, or while at the gym. What I didn’t anticipate was not turning my phone off when I was done with those fleeting moments, and continuing to listen while in the walls of my home. That kind of devotion is usually reserved for podcasts, but the likes of “My Favorite Murder” and “Last Podcast on the Left” took backseat to an audiobook. Yes, “She Was The Quiet One” was that addictive.

The structure of this novel is told from a few different perspectives. The first two are of Rose and Bel Enright, the twin sisters whose mother’s death has sent them to live with an estranged grandmother, and then be shipped off to an elite boarding school. These fraternal twins are not only different in appearance, but also personality, as Rose is driven and ambitious and Bel is sullen and rebellious. We know from the jump that one of them is dead, and it’s through their flashbacks that we start to get the story of what happened. The next perspective is that of Sarah, a math teacher at the exclusive boarding school Odell Academy, and the wife of Heath, an English teacher there. They are also the heads of the Moreland dorm, the building where Rose and Bel are housed, and the ‘problem’ dorm because of the most spoiled students living there. The final perspective is that of police interviews in the wake of the death of one of the twins. As these four perspectives come through the pieces of the expansive mystery fall into place at a compelling pace, and they each revealed themselves precisely when needed. More often than not I can see various twists and turns coming from a mile away, but in “She Was The Quiet One” I felt as though I was kept guessing, for the most part. Sure, here or there I was able to guess, but not to the point where I was bored. On the contrary, even if I did guess right I loved the journey of getting to the solution so I didn’t feel short changed.

All of the perspective characters had their distinct voices and personalities, and while none of the perspective characters were ‘likable’ per se, I did find all of them to be realistic, and had empathy for all of them and was invested in their various outcomes. And Campbell did a good job of capturing the various hardships that both Rose and Bel faced, and while they were on completely different ends of the conflict at hand, I understood both of their perspectives and sympathized for both of them. Even when I wanted to shake them. Sarah, too, was a character that I had complete sympathy for, even when she sometimes drove me mad with her decisions and her inability to see stark truths in front of her face. While the twins had a more compelling story, hers was also an important one to the ultimate narrative. The supporting characters felt more two dimensional to me. From the wretched popular girls Bel was hanging out with to the ambiguous (for awhile) Heath, none of them showed much depth beyond the plot points that they needed to fill. What Heath had going for him was that we got to see multiple perceptions of him depending on who the perspective was from, but in the end he has a very specific characterization that falls into familiar tropes of the thriller genre of this ilk.

January LaVoy was the audiobook narrator for “She Was The Quiet One”, and I thought that she did a superb job with the cast of characters and the tone. She had very distinct voices for each person, and her emotions really came through during the highest moments of tension.

And I also need to mention a content warning: there is a scene in this book that depicts a rape. It isn’t very long and it isn’t terribly graphic, but it was uncomfortable and hard to listen to.

“She Was The Quiet One” is another addictive and compelling thriller mystery from an author that thriller fans really ought to be familiar with. If you haven’t picked up Michele Campbell yet, this is the book to read.

Rating 8: An addictive and immersive thriller that hit all of my reading guilty pleasures, “She Was The Quiet One” was a book that I almost couldn’t put down.

Reader’s Advisory:

“She Was The Quiet One” is included on the Goodreads lists “Twin Thrillers”, and “The Best of Prep”.

Find “She Was The Quiet One” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Innocent Wife”

32187685Book: “The Innocent Wife” by Amy Lloyd

Publishing Info: Hanover Square Press, January 2018

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Twenty years ago, Dennis Danson was arrested and imprisoned for the brutal murder of a young girl. Now he’s the subject of a true-crime documentary that’s whipping up a frenzy online to uncover the truth and free a man who has been wrongly convicted.

A thousand miles away in England, Samantha is obsessed with Dennis’s case. She exchanges letters with him, and is quickly won over by his apparent charm and kindness to her. Soon she has left her old life behind to marry him and campaign for his release.

When the campaign is successful and Dennis is freed, however, Sam begins to discover new details that suggest he may not be quite so innocent after all. 

But how do you confront your husband when you don’t want to know the truth?

The winner of the Daily Mail First Novel Competition, Amy Lloyd’s The Innocent Wife is gripping psychological suspense from a brilliant new voice in crime fiction.

Review: I listen to a whole lot of podcasts, mostly ones that dabble in true crime, and sometimes through those podcasts I get reading ideas. While usually these idea come in the form of non fiction books (usually thanks to Marcus Parks being a thorough researcher who likes to share his sources), occasionally a fiction title will catch my ear. So when Georgia Hardstark of “My Favorite Murder” mentioned the book “The Innocent Wife” by Amy Lloyd, I immediately threw myself on the request list. Eventually it arrived, and I was eager to open it up and dive on in. Happily, the moment I opened it it pretty much took my full attention until I was finished. Yes, it’s that readable and that addicting. But while it is absolutely readable and addicting, it also left a sour taste in my mouth when all was said and done. And to really explain why, I’m going to have to give you a big ol’ spoiler alert before I really break it down.

But, as always, I will first concentrate on the aspects of this book that I enjoyed. Lloyd has clearly done her research and has no problems showing the dark underbelly of American prison systems and how prisoners exist within them. The central question of this book is whether or not Dennis, a convicted murderer sitting on death row, is actually guilty of the crime he committed. There are similarities between this case and other cases of potentially innocent/clearly innocent people on death row, though I see many parallels to Damian Echols of The West Memphis 3. One consequence of sitting in a small confined cell for so many years is that Dennis’s eyesight has been warped so that he has to wear dark lenses on his eyes at all times. From being in a controlled and isolated environment for so long, Dennis doesn’t know how to function in the outside world, and things that we would take for granted such as newer slang or long passed world events are new and unexplained to him. There is also a focus on incompetence or corruption of law enforcement, and how sometimes law enforcement officials are far more interested in putting a collar on someone, anyone, to close a case, even if that person doesn’t necessarily fit the evidence or the realities of said case. I liked that Lloyd brought up these issues when other authors may not have, just to show that there are consequences to our systems, especially for those who shouldn’t be there in the first place.

But beyond those pertinent issues and themes “The Innocent Wife” was a quick but ultimately frustrating read for me. For one, I had a hard time with the characters. Our main character, Samantha, is completely unlikeable and unrelatable. She makes terrible decision after terrible decision, and is very self involved, getting married to a convicted murder that she barely knows (even if she’s convinced he didn’t kill the girl he supposedly killed) without thinking of potential consequences of said actions. She has temper tantrums of jealousy regarding women who visit Dennis in prison, gets petulant about how the public sees her after he’s been let out of prison, and has moments of feeling ugly because he is having problems with intimacy after he’s been INCARCERATED FOR TWO DECADES. While I don’t doubt that these are certainly realistic and believable traits, I had a really hard time stomaching them. The only character that I really liked in this book was Carrie, the filmmaker of the documentary that focuses on Dennis whose tenacity and will to expose a corrupt system was very enjoyable.

And why didn’t I like Dennis, you may ask? Well let me tell you. And here is your

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(source)

No, Dennis didn’t commit the crime for which he went to prison. But he SURE HELPED MURDER A NUMBER OF OTHER MISSING GIRLS AND WOMEN IN HIS HOMETOWN. Once that was revealed, I was pretty much miffed, and hate read the rest of the book. What frustrates me about this is that I felt like it negated all of the other legitimate injustices and concerns that were brought up within the narrative, as now the reader has his actual guilt which seems to negate the issues that were brought up earlier in the book. I felt like it knocked the legs out from under very reasonable arguments about inhumane treatment and corruption and incompetence, because now the ‘gut feeling’ the police officers had has been legitimized and the corruption of the conviction doesn’t have any weight anymore. I hated that. 

“The Innocent Wife” was a fast read, but an unsatisfying one. I won’t stop taking reading advice from podcasts, but I may be inclined to look into the titles a bit more from now on.

Rating 4: While “The Innocent Wife” did bring up interesting and grave truths about incarceration in this country, the ultimate solution was frustrating and I didn’t care for most of the characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Innocent Wife” is included on the Goodreads lists “Murderino Reading List!”, and “The Girl Who Didn’t See Her Husband’s Wife When She Disappeared Twice From The Train.”

Find “The Innocent Wife” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review: “A Dangerous Collaboration”

30518319Book: “A Dangerous Collaboration” by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Info: Berkley, March 2019

Where Did I Get this Book: a copy from the publisher!

Book Description: Victorian adventuress Veronica Speedwell is whisked off to a remote island off the tip of Cornwall when her natural historian colleague Stoker’s brother calls in a favor. On the pretext of wanting a companion to accompany him to Lord Malcolm Romilly’s house party, Tiberius persuades Veronica to pose as his fiancée–much to Stoker’s chagrin. But upon arriving, it becomes clear that the party is not as innocent as it had seemed. Every invited guest has a connection to Romilly’s wife, Rosamund, who disappeared on her wedding day three years ago, and a dramatic dinner proves she is very much on her husband’s mind.

As spectral figures, ghostly music, and mysterious threats begin to plague the partygoers, Veronica enlists Stoker’s help to discover the host’s true motivations. And as they investigate, it becomes clear that there are numerous mysteries surrounding the Romilly estate, and every person present has a motive to kill Rosamund…

Previously reviewed: “A Curious Beginning,” “A Perilous Undertaking,” and “A Treacherous Curse”

Review: It was a long wait for this book. This is always the challenge when I find a new series to love! On one hand, yay, a reliable series that I can depend on to deliver both excellent characters and a fun story. But on the other hand, the dreadful count-down of days and months until the next one in the series finally arrives. But this count-down was blessedly cut a bit shorter than I had expected when I received a review copy from the publisher, and I was able to begin reveling in it a few weeks early!

Veronica is unsure, for the first time in her life. At the end of the last book, she and Stoker were on the brink of…something. And that “something” is more terrifying to her than any of the murderers and mysteries she’s come across over the last few years. Throwing herself into her work, she begins a campaign of denial and avoidance, before, upon finally returning to London, she ultimately finds herself caught up in yet another mystery. This one taking place on a remote island inhabited by a small village and its possibly haunted castle. Now, in the midst of this emotional turmoil, Veronica and Stoker are once again on the case to unravel the disappearance of a bride on her wedding day several years ago. Where did she go and why? And did she even make it off the island alive?

I really loved this book. It’s not a surprise given my feelings over the first three, but by the end of the last book, I was starting to have a few questions about where the series was ultimately headed. This book not only answered those concerns, but also flipped the scrip on a few aspects of the characters that was surprisingly refreshing. Yes, the basic equation at the heart of these stories has always been strong, but it was such a thrill to find in this book that the story could push past that and offer up even more.

For one, we see a new side of Veronica herself. She’s still her usual supremely self-assured and confident self, willing to take her own life in her hands, make decisions and follow through on them, regardless of the opinion of others. But we also get to see how these same traits can be failings. Her own self-assuredness works against her here, and she’s forced to confront some harsh realities about the very real fears that still exist within her. Her justifications and modes of operation suddenly take on a new light under these reflections and we see her have to confront and grow through some of these before-unknown personal hindrances.

In this same area, we see Stoker come more into his own, becoming more self-assured about what he wants and how to best interact with those around him. Up to this point, Veronica has been the more self-aware character, so it was refreshing to see that turned on its head here, where of the two, Stoker is the one with a firmer grasp on himself and the choices before him.

I also greatly enjoyed the mystery at the heart of this story. There’s a very “Jane Eyre-esque” feel to the whole thing, with a healthy dose of the Victorian obsession with the supernatural and gothic noir. The setting of the story could, at times, be legitimately creepy, something that also felt new to the series. Up to this point, the books have been fun, but comfortably so. This book was also a blast, but there were definitely a few spooks around corners, here. And not all of the secrets and potentially supernatural events are fully resolved at the end, leaving a nice hint of mysticism and mystery left behind, shrouded on the desolate island.

I was so satisfied with this book. It perfectly hit upon any of the possible burgeoning concerns I had been developing after the last book, and upped its game as far as the mystery went, leaving me with some legitimate chills at times. In some ways, it feels like the series could have been wrapped up entirely with this one, but I see that another one is slated for publication in the next year or so. So, alas, I return to my torment of a wait.

Rating 9: Even better than the last one!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Dangerous Collaboration” is a newer title, so it isn’t on many relevant Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Best Victorian Historical Fiction Set In Britain.”

Find “A Dangerous Collaboration” at your library using WorldCat.