Kate’s Review: “The Silence of Bones”

44280973Book: “The Silence of Bones” by June Hur

Publishing Info: Feiwel & Friends, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: I have a mouth, but I mustn’t speak;
Ears, but I mustn’t hear;
Eyes, but I mustn’t see.

1800, Joseon (Korea). Homesick and orphaned sixteen-year-old Seol is living out the ancient curse: “May you live in interesting times.” Indentured to the police bureau, she’s been tasked with assisting a well-respected young inspector with the investigation into the politically charged murder of a noblewoman.

As they delve deeper into the dead woman’s secrets, Seol forms an unlikely bond of friendship with the inspector. But her loyalty is tested when he becomes the prime suspect, and Seol may be the only one capable of discovering what truly happened on the night of the murder.

But in a land where silence and obedience are valued above all else, curiosity can be deadly.

June Hur’s elegant and haunting debut The Silence of Bones is a bloody tale perfect for fans of Kerri Maniscalco and Renée Ahdieh.

Review: Book buying is my version of retail therapy, so you can imagine that lately I’ve been doing a lot of it. While I mostly decide to get print books I can hold from local booksellers, on occasion I will snag something for my Kindle, to save space on my physical shelf and to get some instant gratification as well. “The Silence of Bones” was that kind of scenario, as I had heard of it on and off various book circles online and was interested to check it out and just have it at the ready. I finally dove in over the weekend as chaos and unrest overtook the Twin Cities, needing moments of escape to a completely different place. 19th Century Korea seemed like the perfect place to visit, so “The Silence of Bones” by June Hur was the right book to pick up.

What struck me most is the time and place of this YA mystery thriller. While you can find oodles of historical mysteries that take place in the U.S., or Europe, or other Western cultures, I’m not as aware of the genre branching out to other parts of the world that often. That very well just may be my own levels of exposure to such things, but because of this “The Silence of Bones” felt incredibly unique to me. I know so little about Korean history that I felt like I was learning a lot as I was following Seol as she tried to solve a series of murders as she works as an indentured servant for the police. The descriptions of the urban settings and rural settings alike were vibrant and detailed, and I felt like I could picture the places in my mind and got a good sense for how the society was structured. June Hur clearly did her research, and it really paid off. I especially liked the way that geopolitics of the time entered into it, with hints and whispers of Western Influences starting to move in no matter how local Governments try to stamp them out, sometimes in extreme and violent ways. The sense of impending threat from Catholicism, and the actions taken towards Catholics and other Western traditions, was a very fascinating angle to throw into this story, as knowing what we know about Imperialism in that part of the world now (and other parts not addressed in this book) there was a lot of nuance to parse through.

I also just really liked Seol as a protagonist and the mystery at hand. Seol definitely felt like a sixteen year old girl, even though she was living in incredibly difficult and different circumstances than one sees for sixteen girls in YA today. Her story addresses indentured servitude, the oppression of lower classes, misogyny, and trauma, and her perseverance (and at times stubbornness) was really satisfying to read. Being taken from her home and losing everything to go serve as an indentured servant is quite the backstory, and I really liked it. She sometimes makes mistakes and jumps to conclusions, which makes her all the more real and complex, but overall you can’t help but really want her to figure out what is going on, especially when she begins to find herself in danger. The mystery of who killed a local noblewoman is very well crafted, and Hur throws in a lot of twists and turns that keep the reader wondering and on their toes. There is also the mystery of what is up with Seol’s boss, Inspector Han, who Seol is drawn to and forms a friendship with before he becomes a suspect in the mystery. Han feels like he is steeped in a lot of greys, and I was genuinely on the edge of my seat wondering if Seol’s faith in him is unfounded. By the time everything comes together, you can trace how it does so and it is done seamlessly.

“The Silence of Bones” is a unique and thrilling mystery, and if you like historical mysteries I cannot recommend it enough!

Rating 7: A unique and fascinating historical mystery in a not as seen setting, “The Silence of Bones” has a lot to offer to fans of YA mysteries!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Silence of Bones” is included on the Goodreads lists “Historical Fiction: Korea”, and “2020 YA/MG Books with POC Leads”.

Find “The Silence of Bones” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “The Guest List”

51933429Book: “The Guest List” by Lucy Foley

Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me and eARC of this novel!

Last May, I spent a lovely Colorado trip with my husband at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. While it wasn’t exactly ‘isolated’ in the way that we think of isolation, it felt removed enough from the hustle and bustle of a big city that the tranquility of solitude was definitely present. It was here that I read “The Hunting Party”, Lucy Foley’s isolated whodunnit. I was very taken with this book, and when I saw that her newest novel, “The Guest List” was available on NetGalley I immediately opted to read it. It sounded similar to “The Hunting Party” with the isolation and the circle of friends/acquaintances hiding secrets from each other, but it worked well enough last time I was happy to dive into a similar story again. Even if isolation this time feels a little too close to home.

The first thing that really captured my attention in “The Guest List” was the setting. A somewhat spoiled bride and her charismatic and B-List famous fiance have decided to hold their wedding on a remote island off of Ireland, and boy oh boy did Foley really bring this locale to life. I could practically see the waves crashing against the rocks, and smell the salt in the air, and feel the odd foreboding of a rough terrain and perilous landscape for the unfamiliar. It also serves as a perfect spot for a gathering in which a murder is going to take place. Foley sets up the story with multiples narratives, and tells it between present time and flashbacks to give an entire picture as to who the potential victim is, and what exactly they did that ended with their cruel fate. I always like a non linear mystery if it’s done well, and Foley has no problem with keeping multiple balls in the air as the lays out various puzzle pieces as to who the victim is, and why they were killed. I am also happy to report that I was mostly caught off guard by the mystery as a whole, from who the victim was to who committed the crime to the motive. There are plenty of red herrings along with justifiable grudges that, in familiar Agatha Christie style, everyone is a possible suspect. Did it sometimes seem like the ‘everyone has a reason’ angle feel a little unbelievable? Sort of. But did that detract from the mystery or make it any less suspenseful? Not for me! I was able to overlook some of the REALLY coincidental stuff, because overall I thought that the work was put in to really pull off a satisfactory web of motives, secrets, and twists.

In terms of the characters and their perspectives, overall I thought that their characterizations were well rounded and interesting. Even though we are really only getting into who they are and what they are like in regards to their relationship to the bride and or groom, and even though it’s really only a snapshot taken within this one event, we learn a lot about all of them. From Aoife the wedding planner to Johnno the Best Man to Jules the Bride, everyone gets a moment to shine, and to show why they could be either a victim, or a perpetrator. My favorite of the perspectives was Olivia, the younger half sister of the bride, who is struggling with a fragile mental state. While it may have been tempting to fall back on tried and true tropes when it comes to characters who struggle with depression or depressive episodes, I really appreciated the effort and care that Foley put into Olivia, and how we learned where he difficulties stem from, and the difficulties those around her have to contend with when dealing with a mentally unstable loved one.

“The Guest List” was an enjoyable thriller mystery, and Lucy Foley continues to delight and entertain. If you’re looking for a fun mystery this summer, consider picking this one up!

Rating 8: A mystery filled with turns and surprises, “The Guest List” kept me guessing and held me in suspense.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Guest List” isn’t on any super relevant Goodreads lists as of now, but I think that it would fit in on “And Then There Were None: Deadly Parties”.

Find “The Guest List” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Herd”

51015832._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Herd” by Andrea Bartz

Publishing Info: Ballantine Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The name of the elite, women-only coworking space stretches across the wall behind the check-in desk: THE HERD, the H-E-R always in purple. In-the-know New Yorkers crawl over each other to apply for membership to this community that prides itself on mentorship and empowerment. Among the hopefuls is Katie Bradley, who’s just returned from the Midwest after a stint of book research blew up in her face. Luckily, Katie has an in, thanks to her sister Hana, an original Herder and the best friend of Eleanor Walsh, its charismatic founder.

As head of PR, Hana is working around the clock in preparation for a huge announcement from Eleanor—one that would change the trajectory of The Herd forever.

Then, on the night of the glitzy Herd news conference, Eleanor vanishes without a trace. Everybody has a theory about what made Eleanor run, but when the police suggest foul play, everyone is a suspect.

Review: I really do like the idea of intersectional feminist spaces in which any person identifying as female can be a part of it, and therein have a support system at work that may feel less intimidating. But at the same time, that concept is rich for conflict, at least in the mind of someone who likes to read soapy thrillers. So it’s a logical conclusion that I would be drawn to “The Herd” by Andrea Bartz, a book about a pro-feminist work space whose founder goes missing right before a huge publicity move, and the women around her who may have secrets. I went in hoping for a fun and easy read, and I am pleased to announce that “The Herd” delivers.

This book is told through two perspectives. The first is of Katie, a journalist and burgeoning author who has just returned from an exhausting and disastrous assignment in her home state of Michigan. She connects with her sister Hana, who is the publicist for Eleanor Walsh the founder of a pro-feminist and woman identified only work space called The Herd. The other perspective is Hana’s, who has worked hard to get where she is and wants The Herd to succeed for her own benefit as well as Eleanor’s. Both women have their own secrets and baggage that are weighing them down, secrets that they are keeping from each other. Katie wants to join The Herd, but has ulterior motives in doing so. Hana is trying to keep the big reveal of the big publicity reveal together. Meanwhile, someone has been vandalizing the inside of the offices with misogynistic language, and then when Eleanor disappears things just get murkier. Katie and Hana, along with other founder Mikki, come together to try to find their fearless leader, but it turns out that Eleanor has secrets of her own. The mystery of what happened to Eleanor slowly unfolds through Katie and Hana’s eyes, and overall I thought that it was a well plotted out puzzle. I was taken along by the twists and turns, and as the list of potential outcomes and potential suspects grew the more muddled, in a good way, it became. And by the time we were getting to the climax, I had a hard time putting it down, staying up far too late to finish it.

But it was the relationship between Katie and Hana that made this story stand out from other thriller mysteries that have similar themes. You slowly learn that their sisterly relationship is filled with tension and angst, as Katie was a biological miracle child and Hana was the adopted, and then neglected, one. Hana resents that Katie has an effortless and non-dramatic relationship with their mother, who is dying of cancer, while Katie resents that Hana has well connected and close friends like Eleanor and Mikki. Their resentments felt real and relatable, and Bartz brings in the complications that trans-racial adoptees can sometimes feel towards their adopted families. Bartz probably didn’t examine this as deeply as she could have, but there were other mentions of how Hana always felt like an outsider or an Other, not only at home but even in her tight knit group of friends while at Harvard and while they were in charge of an intersectional and feminist company. There are also closer looks taken at whether or not capitalistic interests and actual social justice, be it through gendered or racial lenses, can actually coexist in a company like The Herd. After all, Eleanor might have taken some steps to get to the position of a feminist leader that would go against various things that she supposedly stood for, all in pursuit of a corporate dream. And while it’s pointed out that women may be more scrutinized than men for such things, ultimately the question of whether that justifies anything is raised.

“The Herd” is a fun thriller that will be a great way to pass the time this summer. It has a little bit more bite than I was expecting, and it should be on the lists of fans of women-centric thrillers.

Rating 8: An addictive and soapy thriller mystery, “The Herd” has claws and they hooked right into me.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Herd” is included on the Goodreads list “Mystery & Thriller 2020”.

Find “The Herd” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “This Is How I Lied”

52000813Book: “This Is How I Lied” by Heather Gudenkauf

Publishing Info: Park Row, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Everyone has a secret they’ll do anything to hide…

Twenty-five years ago, the body of sixteen-year-old Eve Knox was found in the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa—discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola. There were a handful of suspects, including her boyfriend, Nick, but without sufficient evidence the case ultimately went cold.

For decades Maggie was haunted by Eve’s death and that horrible night. Now a detective in Grotto, and seven months pregnant, she is thrust back into the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces and the case is reopened. As Maggie investigates and reexamines the clues, secrets about what really happened begin to emerge. But someone in town knows more than they’re letting on, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried deep.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Both of my parents grew up in Iowa, so I have many childhood memories of going to various parts of that state and having a lot of fun. Because of this, Iowa has a special place in my heart, even if my parents considered their move to Minnesota something of an escape. So when I saw that Heather Gudenkauf’s new book “This Is How I Lied” took place in a fictional small Iowa town, that was what pulled me in. I was immediately thinking of cornfields, Bozwellz Pub and Eaterie, and Prairie Lights Bookstore, and I will admit that nostalgia is what got me here. And nostalgia was what kept me going, mostly, because unfortunately “This Is How I Lied” didn’t connect with me.

As always, I will start with what I did like. And that can be summed up as such:

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(source)

For the most part, Grotto did feel like an Iowan small town. I liked that there is absolutely a center of commerce and businesses, but it’s just as accessible to farms, ranches, and the rural life of the community. One of our characters who gets perspective chapters is Nola, the potentially psychopathic younger sister of murder victim Eve, who has grown up to become a large animal vet. I liked the moments that we had with her doing her vet work, visiting patients on ranches and farms. I was also tickled by the idea of underground caves in this town, though I didn’t find it too unbelievable, as there are definitely interesting geological formations in this state. Fossil pits, cave systems, cliffs, I’ve been to a few and Gudenkauf really nailed the geology of the state, and how complex it can be. And as I mentioned above, nostalgia played a big factor into my enjoyment of this. I haven’t been to Iowa since my aunt died in Iowa City in 2017, and honestly, I miss it.

But the story itself and the characters within really didn’t connect with me. We had three characters whose perspectives we worked with. The first is Maggie, the pregnant cop who was the best friend of Eve the murder victim back when they were teens. The second is Nola, Eve’s disturbed younger sister who wants revenge. The third is that of Eve herself, and her last days leading up to her murder. None of them really moved past two dimensional tropes. Maggie is the haunted cop with potential secrets, Nola is the violent psychopath, and Eve was the tragic victim who was too good for the world she lived in. The closest we come to interesting is Nola, as seeing psychopathic women characters isn’t nearly as common within the genre as men. But she was too stereotypical psychopathic to make me feel like due diligence was being done to make her interesting. Did she have a dead animal fascination as a kid? Check. Violent tendencies? Check. Menacing presence and sometimes supervillain-like soliloquies? Check and mate. And on top of all that, the mystery itself was never terribly engrossing to me. I had a feeling that I knew who it was early on, and any red herring curveballs thrown to the reader were far too obvious as being red herrings because of how they were placed and where. Once it all shook out to it’s conclusion, due to lack of investment I didn’t really care one way or another. This book doesn’t push any boundaries or reinvent the wheel, and while it’s true that I am perfectly okay with that in a lot of books, that is only if I feel like the journey itself was worthwhile enough to make up for it. In this book, that simply wasn’t the case.

I was disappointed that this book didn’t connect for me. That doesn’t mean it won’t connect for you, though. Remember.

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Give it a go if you are so intrigued. Be like a stubborn Iowan that way. As someone who comes from a long line of them, I can tell you that isn’t a bad thing.

Rating 4: The description held promise but it never really took off. Flat characters, predictable plot points, just all around disappointing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Is How I Lied” is included on the Goodreads list “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications Jan-July 2020)”.

Find “This Is How I Lied” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Catherine House”

51934838Book: “Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas

Publishing Info: Custom House, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: You are in the house and the house is in the woods. You are in the house and the house is in you . . .

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.

For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.

Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

If you are going to market a book as a Gothic novel, I am most likely going to be interested based on that alone. The isolated creepiness of the average Gothic novel gets me amped, and I’m glad that more and more authors, both adult and YA, are paying more attention to this genre. And when you throw in a mysterious boarding school/university setting, that’s practically catnip for me! “Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas, therefore, caught my eye. I downloaded it from NetGalley, eager to dive into a Gothic boarding school thriller with twists, turns, and nefarious misdeeds. Unfortunately, “Catherine House” missed the mark for me, by quite a bit.

Starting with the positive, this book has a LOT of potential. As I said, it both aspires to be a Gothic read set in a mysterious school that serves as alternative to university, and it promises to give its graduates all sorts of power and keys to mysterious opportunities. It can make powerful politicians, business people, power players of all stripes, and all you have to do is master it’s odd and super secretive curriculum and devote your entire life to Catherine House for three years, with no contact to the outside world. Ines, our protagonist, is fleeing a checkered past in hopes of starting on the right foot and with huge advantages to a new life. It’s pretty standard fare for this kind of book, and that’s not to say that that’s a bad thing. I liked seeing the odd quirks to Catherine House, the little shifts from what one might consider a ‘normal’ college experience, from food to decor to class types. There is also the fact that students at Catherine, Ines included, are involved in strange rituals involving something called plasm, and pins that you can insert into your body that can help harness the potential of this so called plasm…..

I mean, I think. Honestly, this wasn’t very clear to me. While it’s very possible I may have missed something, it seemed to me that the sticking point of the mystery of this book was at the plasm storyline and what it does, and why Catherine House wants to mess with it. So the fact that I could have missed the big conflict resolution doesn’t really imply that there was much detail or due diligence paid to said conflict. There is also the plot line where Ines’s roommate Baby has tragedy befall her all in hopes of fitting into the strict and high standard mold that Catherine House has, but I didn’t really get the sense that Ines was terribly concerned with it. Sure, I was TOLD that Ines was concerned, it’s even in the plot description. But there is very little actual time devoted to Ines feeling guilty, or suspicious, or vengeful over Baby’s fate. When that is touted as a main plot point in the description, I expect it to be more at the forefront. It just felt like more time was put into describing the quirks and strangeness of this place than there was devoted to the actual main plot. Because of this, I was mostly confused and uninvested throughout the narrative. Which is a shame, because there were so many good ideas here that had a lot of potential.

Suffice to say, I was quite disappointed with “Catherine House”. Hopefully the next time I find my literary catnip I will have a better experience.

Rating 4: While this book had a lot of promise, ultimately I didn’t feel like it committed to any of the themes it set out to explore.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Catherine House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dark Academia”, and “Black Heroines 2020”.

Find “Catherine House” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “If It Bleeds”

46015758._sy475_Book: “If It Bleeds” by Stephen King

Publishing Info: Scribner, April 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: A collection of four uniquely wonderful long stories, including a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestseller The Outsider.

News people have a saying: ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. And a bomb at Albert Macready Middle School is guaranteed to lead any bulletin.

Holly Gibney of the Finders Keepers detective agency is working on the case of a missing dog – and on her own need to be more assertive – when she sees the footage on TV. But when she tunes in again, to the late-night report, she realizes there is something not quite right about the correspondent who was first on the scene. So begins ‘If It Bleeds’ , a stand-alone sequel to the No. 1 bestselling The Outsider featuring the incomparable Holly on her first solo case – and also the riveting title story in Stephen King’s brilliant new collection.

Dancing alongside are three more wonderful long stories from this ‘formidably versatile author’ (The Sunday Times) – ‘Mr Harrigan’s Phone’, ‘The Life of Chuck’ and ‘Rat’ . All four display the richness of King’s storytelling with grace, humor, horror and breathtaking suspense. A fascinating Author’s Note gives us a wonderful insight into the origin of each story and the writer’s unparalleled imagination.

The novella is a form King has returned to over and over again in the course of his amazing career, and many have been made into iconic films, If It Bleeds is a uniquely satisfying collection of longer short fiction by an incomparably gifted writer.

Review: Quarantine has been hard, but books have been helping me get through. And I’m very thankful that Stephen King happened to have his new book “If It Bleeds” arrive right when I was most needing a helping of my favorite author. True, short stories collections are things that I tend to be wary of, but King hasn’t failed me yet, so I jumped into this collection of four novellas without much trepidation. For me, King’s works and adaptations are like pancakes. Even when they aren’t as good, they’re still pretty enjoyable.

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Me during this Stephen King New Golden Age of Content. (source)

“If It Bleeds” is a collection of thriller and horror tales, the tried and true genres that King does best. I’m going to talk about all four, and then try to pull it all back together at the end. Bear with me, as this may get long.

“Mr. Harrigan’s Phone”: We start off with an age old story about being careful what you wish for, as well as the wholesome bond between a young man and an elder in the community. Mr. Harrigan is an isolated rich man living in a small town, and he asks a boy named Craig to come read to him every week. Their friendship builds, and eventually Craig gets Mr. Harrigan connected to the Internet world with an iPhone. After Mr. Harrigan dies, Craig will call his phone to hear his voice again, and leave a message when he’s feeling down. But then Craig starts to wonder if he’s getting through to Mr. Harrigan beyond the grave… and what the consequences of that may be. This felt the most like an old school and straight forward Stephen King tale, with ambiguity, a bit of humor, and a coming of age tale laced with a bit of malice. It wasn’t really reinventing the wheel, and it also felt a lot like King’s story “Obits”, but it was a fun enough read.

“The Life of Chuck”: I had to go back and reread this one, as it’s definitely the most experimental of the stories within this collection. It’s not horror, and it’s not thriller. It’s more of a meditation on life, death, and the unknown impacts that our lives, and deaths, have. It was also a difficult one to read during the COVID-19 pandemic, as one of the big themes was about the end of the world. People are dealing with the end of the world, as a man named Chuck is dying in a hospital. We see Chuck’s life in reverse, starting with his death, and ending near the beginning. After reading it a second time I fully grasped what King was doing, and this story was neither scary, nor was it a thriller. It was a very quiet, meditative tale, one that added a more tender edge to this collection.

“If It Bleeds”: This was the story I was most looking forward to, as it brings us back to Holly Gibney, Jerome Robinson, and the world of the “Mr. Mercedes” Trilogy and “The Outsider”. Holly has been a top tier King character of mine ever since her debut in “Mr. Mercedes”, and seeing how she has grown and flourished through other tales has really been rewarding. So it’s probably no surprise that I greatly enjoyed “If It Bleeds”. After a middle school is bombed in a supposed terrorist attack, Holly starts to fixate on a good samaritan on the scene. This leans more towards “The Outsider” than the Bill Hodges Trilogy in terms of genre, but it still reads like a thriller at the heart of it, even Holly is once again after something supernatural. I was admittedly a little nervous that Holly may have a harder time carrying a story on her shoulders, since she does sometimes edge a bit towards King’s idea of a quirky savant. But Holly really has grown and edged out since her first adventure, and seeing her on her own tracking down something malevolent was suspenseful, poignant, and fun. And along with that, both Jerome and Barbara Robinson are back and are given some good things to do. King could keep coming back to all of these characters and I don’t think I’d ever get tired of them.

“Rat”: This felt the most like an old school Stephen King short story, as it has everything I’ve come to expect of that. A troubled writer, a secluded cabin, danger, and a potentially talking rat that can grant a wish at a great cost. Drew is an author who think that he is on the brink of another great novel, and since it’s been awhile since his last hit, he’s desperate to make something of it. He isolates himself in a remote cabin, and begins his work. But when a storm comes through and Drew is felled by illness and isolation, he turns to a talking rat who says that it can guarantee his book will be a hit… if he makes a sacrifice. It’s your usual Faustian deal, but it’s what led up to it that was the most interesting. As a storm rages and illness messes with Drew’s perceptions of reality, you get the suspense and questions as to how sound his mind is in that moment, and if he’s going to ultimately sacrifice everything for his craft. I also liked how King brought in how a marriage can suffer when one person is more dedicated to their own dream and ego than they are to those that care about them.

Overall, “If It Bleeds” was a solid collection from King. None of the stories blew me out of the water, but they all connected with me on one level or another. And right now, I just liked having the familiarity of my favorite author to help me get through.

Rating 8: A well done and comfortable collection of thriller stories, and a new story for a favorite character.

Reader’s Advisory:

“If It Bleeds” is included on the Goodreads list “Crime, Mystery, and Thrillers 2020”, and would fit in on “Great Dark Short Stories”.

Find “If It Bleeds” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Follow Me”

46408162._sy475_Book: “Follow Me” by Kathleen Barber

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, February 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.

Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.

But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.

Kathleen Barber’s electrifying new thriller will have you scrambling to cover your webcam and digital footprints.

Review: As you all know, I love the book “You” and it’s sequel “Hidden Bodies”. One of the creepiest aspects of those books is that we follow the stalker and creepazoid Joe Goldberg and get to root around in his head when he is obsessing over women, and going to violent lengths to get near them. As much as I LOVE those books, part of me has wondered how they would have been different if we’d been able to get a little more in the heads as his victims as much as we did his. So as I was reading “Follow Me” by Kathleen Barber, I was struck by the fact that that was basically what I was getting: insight into the stalking victim’s thought process and motivations.

“Follow Me” is another thriller novel that will make you want to double check your privacy settings on all of your social media, as the slow cat and mouse game of watching a mysterious stalker hone in on social media influencer Audrey is tense and freaky. Barber switches the perspectives between three distinct voices: ‘Him’, the stalker; Audrey, the ambitious and a little self involved social media influencer; and Cat, Audrey’s best friend from college whom she has reconnected with after moving to D.C. We get insights into each of the characters through these narratives, and while they aren’t always the most reliable, they all give key clues to the overarching mysteries at hand. I thought that all of them had distinct voices, and that Barber did a really good job of parsing out the pertinent clues between them. The pacing of their narratives really kept me interested, and the building suspense held a grip that kept me reeled in. Plus, at the beginning Barber has an author’s note that really lays out and explains some of the extra invasive and stalker-y tricks that some of these creeps will pull, like RAT software and spyware. This stuff is what nightmares are made of.

But what I appreciated most about this book was that it really humanized, but didn’t glamorize or infantilize, our stalking victim Audrey. Too often do we find narratives in the thriller genre in which women are either innocent and naive victims, or conniving bitches and/or whores who somehow deserve what is coming to them. Even “You” sometimes treads towards this, though I think that it ultimately doesn’t fall into this because EVERYONE in that book is horrible so it’s an even playing field (plus, what Joe does to Beck is horrifying). But in “Follow Me”, Audrey is given a lot of grace, even if she’s incredibly flawed. I was both hoping that everything would be okay for her, and also wanting to shake her because of her self involvement and mistreatment of those around her. I do wish that the same grace had been granted to Cat, as while we did learn a lot about of things about her past that explained her strange quirks, she felt a bit more two dimensional than I wanted her to be.

I will say that I thought that there were some hasty plot twists thrown in, and that the end fell apart by the time we got there. There were just some things that felt obvious and slapdash, and had the foundation been laid out a bit better it would have paid off more. But the journey getting to the end was so suspenseful and engaging that I didn’t really care about some of the ill conceived twists and turns.

“Follow Me” was a fun and unsettling read. Definitely pick it up if you want a suspenseful book, but also make sure you have something to cover your computer camera with once you are done with it.

Rating 8: A fast paced and suspenseful thriller that was enjoyable. It kind of fell apart at the end, but the time getting there was far too entertaining to discount.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Follow Me” is included on the Goodreads lists “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications Jan-July 2020)”.

Find “Follow Me” at your library using WorldCat!