Kate’s Review: “Dear Daughter”

 

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Book: “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little

Publishing Info: Viking, July 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: I own it.

Book Description from Goodreads: As soon as they processed my release Noah and I hit the ground running. A change of clothes. A wig. An inconspicuous sedan. We doubled back once, twice, then drove south when we were really headed east. In San Francisco we had a girl who looked like me board a plane to Hawaii.

Oh, I thought I was so clever.

But you probably already know that I’m not.

LA It Girl Janie Jenkins has it all. The looks, the brains, the connections. The criminal record.

Ten years ago, in a trial that transfixed America, Janie was convicted of murdering her mother. Now she’s been released on a technicality she’s determined to unravel the mystery of her mother’s last words, words that send her to a tiny town in the very back of beyond. But with the whole of America’s media on her tail, convinced she’s literally got away with murder, she has to do everything she can to throw her pursuers off the scent.

She knows she really didn’t like her mother. Could she have killed her?

Review: Two years ago, Serena and I (and a few of our near and dear library friends) took a trip out to the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many happy memories, valuable lessons, and crazy stories to whip out at cocktail parties were cultivated there, but one of the best aspects was having access to many, many books. And a number of these books were ARC copies of upcoming (as of June 2014) publications. In the flurry and excitement, I got a copy of “Dear Daughter” by Elizabeth Little. And then it sat on my bookshelf until, oh, three days ago. It was always there, waiting patiently, and I knew that I was going to get to it eventually. Which I finally did.

Boy oh boy is Janie Jenkins an unlikable person! That’s the first thing I noticed about this book. Janie joins the ranks of anti-heroine protagonists who have started flooding thriller fiction, who have more baggage than a fully booked Boeing. This time we have Janie, who has just been released from prison on a technicality. She was convicted of murdering her mother ten years prior, and even though she’s out no one actually believes that she’s innocent. After all, she spent a lot of her teenage years making headlines for courting controversy while her nouveau riche mother just let it happen (usually with cutting insults and cruelty). She’s earned the chip on her shoulder, but then, it sounds as thought she’s always been this way, even before her stint in the slammer. I suppose that I should be happy that we are getting more realized female protagonists who neither virgins nor whores, but the trope is kind of overstaying it’s welcome. That said, I did like Janie, at least for how entertaining that she was and how delightfully bitchy she was. Sometimes I like watching a crazy train wreck character, usually if he or she makes me laugh.

I was pleasantly surprised that I liked a lot of the side characters almost as much as I liked(?) Janie. I feel like it’s sometimes really easy to just have side characters fulfill minimal plot progressions, or be people that the main character can bounce off of, especially in thrillers like this one. But many of the side characters were enjoyable, and I liked getting information about all of them. It’s true that sometimes they were a little two dimensional, but the small town connections meant that everyone had some association with each other and made way for good interactions. One character I especially liked was Leo, the town cop that is on to Janie as she makes her way through the town history in an effort to figure out who she is. He was certainly abrasive, and probably would be considered problematic in how they interacted with each other, but I liked that he gave Janie a run for her money when it came to her nastiness.

This book also could be classified as partially epistolary, as some of the story is told in texts, news reports, blog posts, and other forms of correspondence, which really worked in this book. The notoriety of Janie Jenkins in this world makes her a prime target for gossip sites and bloodthirsty news organizations, and getting that whole other side of the story as the paparazzi closes in on her was great and effective at building the tension. For me the best mystery was the identity of one of the obsessed and relentless bloggers that was hounding Janie and convinced of her guilt, as the way that he was harassing her and practically stalking her made me very uncomfortable. I like being uncomfortable when I read books like this.

My main critique with this book is some of the dialogue that Little gave to Janie, be it outward or inner monologue. There were a number of times that I actually rolled my eyes because it went from being slick and snide to overdone and overcompensating. I’m sure that it was very over the top to show just how snarky and wicked she is, and that was hard to stomach because of the ham fisted way that it skewed a good amount of the time. I get it. She’s unpleasant and mean but vulnerable too. No need to oversell the point.

“Dear Daughter” was a book that I practically couldn’t put down, and I really wish that I’d thought to pick it up sooner. I hope that Elizabeth Little keeps writing thrillers, because this was a zippy read that I would definitely recommend to those who like books in the genre. Consider me a Janie Jenkies supporter through and through, and I think that I wouldn’t be the only one.

Rating 7: A solid mystery and an interesting protagonist, but sometimes on the nose and unsubtle with its dialogue.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Dear Daughter” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Books for Serial Podcast Lovers” and “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’, You Might Also Like…”

Find “Dear Daughter” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: The Kind Worth Killing

21936809Book: “The Kind Worth Killing” by Peter Swanson

Publishing Info: William Morrow, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: A devious tale of psychological suspense involving sex, deception, and an accidental encounter that leads to murder. This is a modern re-imagining of Patricia Highsmith’s classic Strangers on a Train from the author of the acclaimed The Girl with a Clock for a Heart.

On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

From there, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they plot Miranda’s demise, but soon these co-conspirators are embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse–one they both cannot survive–with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

Review: What I am about to admit is probably considered sacrilege, but I am really not a fan of “Gone Girl”. As a fan of thrillers and someone who would consider herself a feminist, I had been told that I would really like it. Heck the popularity of it made me think that it was going to be up my alley. And then… it wasn’t. So as I’ve wandered through the jungle of thriller fiction, I’ve approached the books I’ve read with “Gone Girl” in my mind, in the sense of ‘is this the kind of book is what I wanted “Gone Girl” to be?’ Whenever I find a book that measures up to my mind’s perception of what “Gone Girl” was, I rejoice. I’m happy to report that “The Kind Worth Killing” is one of those books. I had initially picked it up as a fun vacation read, thinking that it was going to be fairly predictable as well as entertaining. So imagine my surprise when it suddenly took a sharp turn from the narrative I’d assumed, and sucked me in so completely that I finished it in about one day.

The plot is simple and sinister; a man is approached by a beautiful stranger while waiting for his flight. He is Ted, a computer mogul who saw his wife Miranda sleeping with the contractor of the house he’s building for her. She is Lily, charming and filled with mystery. And when he confides his marital woes, she says that not only should he kill her, but that she will help him get away with it. But any expectations that I went in with were tossed out the damn window as I read this book. Without giving anything away, as you NEED to be surprised by it, I can assure you that this doesn’t go the way that you think it’s supposed to. While Ted is a fairly opaque character in his own right, Lily is the true shining star of this twisted and devious thriller. The chapters alternate perspectives between multiple characters, and I found myself most looking forward to those that were from hers. While Lily has a lot of despicable baggage and qualities, Swanson wrote her in such a way that I not only understood where she was coming from and what motivated her, I found myself rooting for her a lot of the time. As creepy as that probably is. Swanson made her very likable, or at least fascinating, even if you knew that she was a devious and dangerous person underneath everything.

That isn’t to say that this book didn’t have weaknesses as well as strong points. I was dissatisfied with the character of the detective, whose purpose was certainly clear, but at the same time seemed superfluous to the story. His plot points were the weakest and his portrayal was by far the most two dimensional of all of the characters, along with perpetrating some distasteful sexual objectification of Lily (when at that point as far as he knew she had nothing to do with the crime) as if to further turn ‘what’s good vs what’s bad’ on its head. It felt heavy handed to me at best, and lazy writing at worst. That along with some hastily plotted out aspects of the ending made part of this book feel like it fumbled a bit by the conclusion, but since the ride getting there and getting to know Lily was a sinister delight, I am more than willing to give these minor details a pass.

“The Kind Worth Killing” is a thriller that I hope picks up some notice and interest from the thriller loving community. It’s a very fun read that will keep you on the edge of your seat. And also make you root for some shady, shady characters.

Rating 8: A thriller filled with twists, turns, and some very fun, and despicable, characters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Kind Worth Killing” is included in these Goodreads lists: “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense” and “If You Enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ You Might Also Like…”

Find “The Kind Worth Killing” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Swerve”

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Book: “Swerve” by Vicki Pettersson

Publishing Info: Gallery Books, July 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: It’s high summer in the Mojave Desert, and Kristine Rush and her fiancé, Daniel, are en route from Las Vegas to Lake Arrowhead, California, for the July Fourth holiday weekend. But when Daniel is abducted from a desolate rest stop, Kristine is forced to choose: return home unharmed, but never to see her fiancé again, or plunge forward into the searing desert to find him…where a killer lies in wait.

Review: This book sounded really great on paper. I liked the idea of bending the usual gender theme of a damsel in distress on the open highway and the hero who runs in to save her. That isn’t to say I don’t like that genre; from “Duel” to “Breakdown” to even the original “The Hitcher“, a good on-the-road chase story can be incredibly entertaining. When I thought I’d found this kind of thing in book form, I was quite excited. It started out promising, as Kristine, after being attacked in a rest room and finding her husband to be kidnapped, is sent on a hellish scavenger hunt of sorts on a desert highway. The kidnapper contacts her and lets her know that he’s keeping his eye on her, and makes her do a number of cruel and sadistic tasks in hopes of keeping Daniel alive. But then about half way through the book, the tone shifted, and I felt like I had been kind of duped. I won’t spoil it for those still interested in reading it, but it turned into a story that I feel like I’ve read before.

There were also a lot of tropes that I’ve seen in this kind of fiction, especially when it comes to female protagonists, and though I did like Kristine as a main character over all, some of her quirks felt like things we’ve seen before. I sometimes worry that authors have a harder time creating a realistically complex female character in stories like this, as if certain traits (a hard life, certain personality quirks) automatically make her ‘strong’ or ‘badass’. Kristine fell into some of these traps. She had an abusive childhood. She pulled herself up by her bootstraps as a single Mom and made a life for herself in spite of the odds. She ‘doesn’t cry’ (I really hope that this wasn’t implying that strong women don’t cry easily). I think that taken as different parts of different wholes this would have been okay, but in this instance it felt like we were ticking off boxes of how to make Kristine the tough kick butt female that a reader may feel she needs to be to survive this situation. I would have liked more nuance to her character. Enjoyable as she was, she could have been great!

The writing, however, is very suspenseful, and while the book was still in full blown scavenger hunt mode I was very entertained. Pettersson was very good at cranking up the tension bit by bit, and I was all out nervous as I read the first half of the book. I worried for Kristine and Daniel, and the creep factor was very high. There is a scene in a diner that attacked me from two different sides, and I was both horrified but unable to look away from the page. To me, that says volumes about the ability Pettersson has to scare a person. Had the entire book been like that, I would have been one hundred percent sold on this book. As it was, though, she had me for awhile, but once it became clear the book was changing, the tension waned, and I was less enthusiastic. “Swerve” is a fun ride for awhile, but it loses steam.

Rating: 6. A fast paced story, but not what I was looking for in the end.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Swerve” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Beach Reads 2015” and “What Women Born in the 1970s Read in 2015″.

Find “Swerve” at your library using WorldCat!