Kate’s Review: “I Know What You Did Last Summer”

47763Book: “I Know What You Did Last Summer” by Lois Duncan

Publishing Info: Laurel Leaf, April 1999 (first published October 1973 by Little Brown)

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: It was only an accident — but it would change their lives forever. Last summer, four terrified friends made a desperate pact to conceal a shocking secret. But some secrets don’t stay buried, and someone has learned the truth. Someone bent on revenge. This summer, the horror is only beginning….

Review: Last month, the literary world lost a great YA thriller legend. Lois Duncan passed away at age 82, and I felt a deep, serious sadness. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Duncan was considered the queen of YA horror and thriller stories, and won numerous awards for the books that she wrote, including the Margaret A. Edwards Award, which honors an author who has contributed significantly to YA literature. While she has written numerous books, perhaps her most famous is “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. Most people probably think of the movie version that came out in 1997. After the success of “Scream”, Kevin Williamson wrote a new teen slasher flick based on Duncan’s book, which proved to be another hit with audiences. Hey, I will fully admit that the only reason I read this book for the first time in seventh grade was because my parents wouldn’t let me see the movie. But here’s the thing: Duncan hated the movie and what it did with her source material. Fact is, Duncan’s daughter was murdered when she was eighteen, so taking her book about personal responsibility and morality and turning it into a flick where teens are brutally killed by a guy with a hook? Didn’t sit too well. And while the film version is okay (if not a bit disrespectful), it’s a true shame because the book is phenomenal.

For the unfamiliar, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” follows four teens: Julie, Ray, Barry, and Helen. The summer after Barry and Ray’s senior year, the four went on a picnic in the mountains to celebrate the boys graduation. But on the way back, they accidentally hit a young boy on his bike. Barry, the driver, sped away from the scene, and after a vote of 3-1 (Julie being the dissenting vote) they decided not to go back, but to leave an anonymous tip on a pay phone. When they found out that the boy died en route to the hospital, Julie cut herself off from all of them…. Until the next summer, when she gets a strange anonymous note. All it says is ‘I know what you did last summer’. So she seeks out Helen (a local tv celebrity now somehow. It was the 70s.), Barry (a big man on campus and still a douche), and Ray (back from California and pining for her) so they can try and solve who is stalking them. There are no hooks. There are no twists about the man they hit actually surviving and having previously murdered someone. These are four kids who killed a child, and ran from the responsibility of it all.

Pretty heavy stuff for teens to read, and pretty dark for 1973 as well! But that is one of the many reasons that this book is far more compelling then the movie that was made of it. Our four protagonists (with the exception of Barry, I would argue) are all young adults that are, at the heart of them, okay people who made a terrible mistake, and Duncan writes them as such. The book is less focused on them being stalked, and more on the horrible thing that they did. True, there are some pretty creepy things that their stalker is doing in this book, and the big reveal is one of the best twists that I have ever seen in YA literature (and really can only work in book form). But at it’s heart, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” is less about chills and thrills, and more about doing the right thing, no matter how hard and scary that it is. Unlike in the movie, where the characters are arguably pretty much objects that have terrible things happen to them, Duncan has written some very complex characters that you do fear for and care about. I think that Helen is probably the greatest accomplishment in characterization. Even though she is constantly praised for her beauty, and even though she is a local celebrity because of her TV status at the news station, her self esteem is crippled because of her past body issues and being treated like crap by Barry. She starts out as someone who is easily manipulated by him and wounded by his cruelty, but as the book goes on and she finds herself the victim of someone who is potentially worse than he is, she realizes that she deserves better and is a much better person than Barry makes her out to be. I love Helen. I love that Helen figures out that she is strong, strong enough to move on from him, and strong enough to face the consequences of her past actions. Duncan knew how to write well rounded female characters, even in 1973.

The one sad thing about recent editions of this book, and other Duncan books, is that she updated them to be in present day. I don’t know if that was her own decision, or the publishing company’s decision, but it just feeds into that so untrue myth that teens can only empathize and relate to characters who are just like them and the society they live in. It’s really unfortunate, as Duncan’s books, while a tiny bit dated, ultimately stand the test of time without the unnecessary time and technology changes. I just regret that I lost my copy of “I Know What You Did Last Summer” from my middle school years, and now you can only really find the new, updated versions. And this saddens me.

I am going to miss Lois Duncan and everything she brought to the YA literature world. If you haven’t read “I Know What You Did Last Summer”, you should definitely do so. While it’s not necessary to find an old copy, I strongly suggest that you do over the new editions. But regardless, just read it.

Rating 10: One of my favorite teen thrillers that many teen thrillers owe a serious debt to.

Reader’s Advisory:

“I Know What You Did Last Summer” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Teen Sceams”, and “Bring On the Creepy!”.

Find “I Know What You Did Last Summer” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Don’t You Cry”

27821486Book: “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica

Publishing Info: MIRA, May 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she’s the person Quinn thought she knew. 

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.  

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under Pearl’s spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end. 

Review: I don’t know about you guys, but I have a guilty pleasure love for the movie “Single White Female”. While it never really scared me so much (the only time I’ve lived with a stranger was in the dorms, and my friend Megan is the bee’s knees), I did enjoy how creepy it was. So when I heard about “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica, and saw it described as “‘Single While Female’ on steroids”, well. I mean, come on. Let’s do this. The fact that it was written by Kubica was just the icing on the cake, as I read her previous novel “Pretty Baby” earlier this year and found it truly addictive. Her first person POVs in that were well done and very unreliable, making it a book filled with unpredictable (but yeah, sometimes predictable) twists and turns. The good news is that “Don’t You Cry” follows a similar structure of expectations, as it was definitely creepy and caught me off guard a number of times. The not as good news is that sometimes in an effort to throw the reader off the scent, it made some characters farfetched and treading into mixed up territory.

There are two different perspectives in this book that alternate between chapters. First there is Quinn, the roommate of the missing Esther, and then there is Alex, a teenager in a small town who leads a lonely life until a mysterious stranger arrives. I’m going to start with Alex, as I found his parts to be the weaker of the two. I understand why he was used, for the most part, and seeing him get close to ‘Pearl’ (as he calls the mysterious stranger) was a unique way to present some of the missing puzzle pieces in the mystery at hand. But at the same time, Alex felt like an odd choice of character to plant in this role. He didn’t really have any connection to the rest of the mystery, he felt more like a hapless bystander who was just there out of convenience for later plot points. While I know I was supposed to feel bad for him, he never really got past a superficial characterization of ‘the loner boy who has no one who loves him and aches for affection’. I like this trope just fine if it is properly explored, but in this case it wasn’t, and he just kind of bored me. His hardships were more just there not because it made his character interesting, but because it made some of the late game choices he made plausible. And that didn’t really fly for me.

But then there is Quinn’s side of the story. This was definitely the stronger of the two perspectives, and the one that I most wanted to be reading. But there is a problem with this side too. I know that the whole point of the thriller genre is to make the reader question what is genuine and who the true threats are. Kubica did a really good job of this in her book “Pretty Baby”, as in that book one of the narrators slowly descended into madness. It was written in such a way that it was like the frog in the slow boil. I’m going to be a little spoilery here, because it doesn’t really take away from the overall mystery, because I need to address this issue. Quinn, to me, seemed a bit unhinged and nuts. There were things that she did that just seemed very off and obsessive, and I was fairly convinced that she was going to be the end game antagonist. But lo and behold, she wasn’t. And I can’t help but feel like she was still just a little too nuts to be someone that we are ultimately supposed to be rooting for. I don’t know if I was just assuming that she was insane and therefore just saw that in everything, or if Kubica did too much in trying to red herring her. I appreciate trying to mislead the reader, but I think that it went a little too far with Quinn.

The mystery itself was pretty well done. I had no idea what was going on and when I thought I’d figured something out, it turned out I hadn’t. I was turning the pages very quickly during the climax, eager to see how it all fell into place, and looking back through the narrative the keys to the mystery were sprinkled throughout expertly.

Rating 7: The mystery was pretty strong and kept me guessing, but the characters were either too flat, or overly suspicious.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Don’t You Cry” is included on these Goodreads lists: “2016 Must Reads”, and “Most Anticipated Mysteries 2016”.

Find “Don’t You Cry” at your library using WorldCat!

Book Club Review: “Tomorrow, When The War Began”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last year and a half. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “Books with Movie Adaptations.” 

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for bookclub. We’ll also post the next book coming up in bookclub. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own bookclub! 

Book: “Tomorrow, When the War Began” by John Marsden

Publishing Info: Pan Macmillian, 1993

Where Did We Get This Book: Both from the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When Ellie and her friends return from a camping trip in the Australian bush, they find things hideously wrong — their families are gone. Gradually they begin to comprehend that their country has been invaded and everyone in their town has been taken prisoner. As the reality of the situation hits them, they must make a decision — run and hide, give themselves up and be with their families, or fight back.

Kate’s Thoughts:

When our dear friend and co-book club member Melissa picked “Tomorrow, When The War Began” for book club, I hadn’t heard of it. In my mind I was picturing something like “A Boy and His Dog”, which is… decidedly not what this book is. I think that I hadn’t heard of it because of a few things, the most obvious being that I was younger than it’s demo when it came out in 1993, and when I did become part of the YA reading age group I had already pretty much graduated to adult novels. So suffice to say, this was a whole new experience for me.

One thing that struck me about this book was that it was pretty grim by today’s standards, so the fact that it was published in 1993 kind of boggles my mind. There are many themes in this book that seemed pretty dark and mature for a book written for teens about twenty years ago. The first thing that is striking and out in the open is the violence. Marsden isn’t gratuitous with the violence that Ellie and her friends encounter, but he isn’t unflinching with it either. It always feels very real, be it Ellie coming home to find her dogs dead or dying, or Ellie blowing up a lawnmower and in turn causing the deaths of some invading soldiers. The reactions to violence from most of the group also feels very true to life, as they don’t automatically turn into commandos right away. Ellie is definitely uncomfortable with hurting people, even if she eases into it out of necessity, and other characters in the group also have to adapt and react in their own ways.

I was also quite impressed with how Marsden so wonderfully captured the voice of a teenage girl. I by no means think that guys can’t write girl voices or vice versa, but I was a little worried that it may come off as a bit stereotypical, even if he hadn’t meant to. So I was very happy when Ellie did seem like a pretty normal, and typical teenage girl. I thought that the way she thought and approached certain situations seemed reasonable and understandable given her character, and while I was a bit irritated that there was a brief possibility of a love triangle between her, nice boy Lee, and her best friend Homer, it was quashed pretty quickly and acknowledged as displaced feelings. After all, Lee is the one that gets her going both intellectually and physically, at the end of the day. I also thought that Marsden’s approach to sex was pretty realistic too, as Ellie definitely has urges and does think about these things. While I know there are some people out there who may think that these kids would have more on their minds than their sex lives, I think that they are humans at the end of the day, and teenagers to boot.

I think that my qualms were definitely more just about the story as a whole. I like end of days dystopia kinds of stories, but this one almost felt a bit too realistic for me to be able to get super into it. A strange criticism, I know. The ending felt abrupt, and while I know and get why he wrote it the way he did, it just seemed like a fast way to wrap things up. Luckily, there are a bunch of other books in the series, so it’s not like it ended completely on a note of ambiguity…. Or maybe it does, I don’t know I haven’t read them. Overall I did enjoy reading “Tomorrow, When the War Began”, but I don’t think I’ll keep going. This was good enough as it was.

Serena’s Thoughts:

I was one of only two book club members who had already read this book. Not only that, but I had read the entire series! So all the gold stars for me! (Is self-congratulatory speech a good look??) I grew up in rural Idaho and for some reason the librarians at the tiny local library were all about Australian, teen guerilla warfare and had bought the complete series. I remember blowing through them as a kid, and have from time to time thought of them as an adult when reminscing about favorites books as a kid. But I hadn’t re-read them, so it was a treat getting to re-visit the series now as an adult.

I must say, it holds up. If anything, I’m kind of impressed with kid-Serena’s good taste (the self praise has gotten out of control! But seriously, I had many other questionable favorites as a kid, so this was a bit reassuring, really.) As Kate said, I was impressed by many things in this book, especially given when it was written. The author doesn’t shy away from the violence or trauma of the events he lays out. His characters are never given any easy outs and the variety of reactions and coping methods that the different teens fall back on seem all too realistic. Certain characters whom you might not expect to thrive under the stress rise to the occasion, while others struggle more. Moreover, there is never any criticism for these different reactions.

And, also following Kate’s lead, the author’s take on a teenage girl’s inner thought process and voice is spot on. As a kid, I never spent much time thinking about whether an author was a man or a woman (take that publishing companies that think teenagers fret about that stuff!), so when I picked it up as an adult and saw that it was a male author, I was actually a bit surprised. Especially given that the book was written in first person, an easier narrative style for many young readers and often a go-to for these type of books even now, this ability to slip into the skin of his female protagonist was really impressive. As simplistic as first person narration is, I think it can also be more challenging in specific situations like this where the author has to so completely encompass the full perspective of the character.

Specifically, there was a moment in the book where Ellie is having a conversation with one of her male friends and there is an inner line where she recognizes his tactics as typical of a teenage boy, trying to “bully” her into a relationship almost. This is so spot on! Reading it myself, I instantly recognized the type of conversation that was happening, and for an adult man to so fully capture this inner working of teenagedom from a young girl’s perspective is truly impressive.

My one complaint was that the book was a bit long on the descriptions. I don’t remember noticing this as a kid, and it may have simply been a factor of my re-read. I knew where things were going and was maybe in a rush to get there. But while there might have been a lot of text given over to these descriptions of scenes and locales, the writing was on point and really did an excellent job of painting the scene of the Australian wilderness.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed returning to this series. I also heard from a fellow book club member that there is a follow-up series, “The Ellie Chronicles,” that I might need to check out now, too!

Kate’s Rating 7: An impressive narrative and story for what I was expecting! It wasn’t totally my jam, thematics wise, but it was a worthwhile reading experience!

Serena’s Rating 8: I greatly enjoyed returning to this series and am almost even more impressed with it now as an adult than I was the first time around as a teen.

Book Club Notes and Questions:

In due diligence to our book club theme, we watched the 2010 version of “Tomorrow, When the War Began” which is currently available on Netflix. I, for one, really enjoyed this movie. The casting was spot on, specifically the actors they got for Ellie and Homer. While they did have to leave out several parts of the book (sadly a lot of the time they spent in Hell the second go around), most of the decisions made sense and it seemed that the movie could stand alone. The biggest disappointment, probably, was the fact that several of the characters had to be narrowed down to meet the shorter screen time they were allotted, so we didn’t have as fully rounded character arcs for some of them. Again, understandable, if not a bit disappointing. And while the Australian scenery in the film was beautiful, I think Kate (and everyone at book club) will agree that the only Australian scenery that is ever needed is this:

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Hugh Jackman in “Australia”

1. This book was published in 1993, but has a lot of themes that are pretty common in today’s YA literature. Do you think that this book would be as successful if it came out today, and took place in the early 21st century instead of the late 20th?

2. What did you think of the invading army’s ‘identity’ being ambiguous? Do you think that having to know who was invading would have improved the story? Hindered it? Not made any difference?

3. How did you feel about Ellie as a character? Do you think that her voice was authentic and relatable?

4. Who was your favorite character in the book? The movie? If they were different, why?

5.  If you went on a camping trip and came back to find your homeland invaded, what 6 other people would be in your group? Would you turn to guerilla warfare? Hide?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Tomorrow, When the War Began” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Australian Young Adult Books,” and “Books that should get more attention.”

Find “Tomorrow, When the War Began” at your library using Worldcat!

Kate’s Review: “Hidden Bodies”

23492288Book: “Hidden Bodies” by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Atria/ Emily Bestler Books, February 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: Joe Goldberg is no stranger to hiding bodies. In the past ten years, this thirty-something has buried four of them, collateral damage in his quest for love. Now he’s heading west to Los Angeles, the city of second chances, determined to put his past behind him.

In Hollywood, Joe blends in effortlessly with the other young upstarts. He eats guac, works in a bookstore, and flirts with a journalist neighbor. But while others seem fixated on their own reflections, Joe can’t stop looking over his shoulder. The problem with hidden bodies is that they don’t always stay that way. They re-emerge, like dark thoughts, multiplying and threatening to destroy what Joe wants most: true love. And when he finds it in a darkened room in Soho House, he’s more desperate than ever to keep his secrets buried. He doesn’t want to hurt his new girlfriend—he wants to be with her forever. But if she ever finds out what he’s done, he may not have a choice…

Review: Joe Goldberg has sort of kind of unexpectedly become one of my favorite recent literary narrators. Trust me, I’m shocked too. This is a guy who (oh man will there be spoilers in this review) has killed multiple people, stalked multiple women, and murdered his supposed true love Beck from his first book, “You”. This guy is a predator who targets women all because of his delusions of true love and romance….. And I kind of love him. Which makes me feel yucky.

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(source)

In “Hidden Bodies”, Joe has taken up with Amy, the girl he met in “You” when she tried to commit credit card fraud at his store and he was instantly smitten with her. What the Goodreads description fails to mention is that Joe is going to L.A. because Amy tricks him and rips him off of a whole lot of cash, and he is going not to try and make a fresh start, but for good old fashioned revenge against her. I’m ashamed to say that I was totally on board for Joe tracking her down and making her pay, as what does that say about me?! I think that it says more about Kepnes as a writer, as Joe is a horrible person, but she writes him in a way that is so funny and so entertaining that you just want to see what he does and how he’s going to survive in a city of phony people and platitudes when he thinks so highly of himself. Spoiler alert: the results are both unsettling and incredibly funny.

This book drops the framework of being in the quasi second person, and it’s better for it. Joe is now his own being, and he can do so much more with this range that has opened up for him. This story reminds me quite a bit of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” series, as Ripley, too, was a sociopathic protagonist who you couldn’t help but follow willingly into violence and cruelty. In L.A. Joe shines even more, and Kepnes uses him as a strange Greek Chorus to point out the absurdity of the culture. Joe is a psychopath living in an L.A. that is portrayed as pure sociopathy, and the fact that they do not really mix well until he embraces it is darkly delightful. Joe does embrace it when he meets Love, an heiress to a grocery fortune who is kind, loving, and born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She is different from Beck and Amy in that while those two were trying to make it and rife with insecurity, Love has already made it thanks to her parents’ money and fully secure within herself. She is a striking contrast to her twin brother Forty, who is everything that is wrong with L.A. privilege and excess. Seeing Joe interact with these two people was far more interesting than a repeat of “You”, which I was worried “Hidden Bodies” would be, and it made him more of a “Dexter”-like avenger as he takes out the very worst of what L.A. has to offer. Is this a bit strange rooting for a man who is taking out human trash? Kind of? Does it validate Joe’s stalker actions towards Beck in “You”? I don’t think it does. Joe is still absolutely creepy and repugnant, but why not let a creep take out a few other creeps along the way?

Like with “You” there were a few plot points that felt a bit forced or convenient. There were times that Joe probably should have gotten caught, or at least had some culpability thrown his way, but external circumstances fixed that. I rarely like a deus ex machina solution, and there were moments in this that felt that way. I saw that it was more trying to show that sometimes luck is just on people’s side, like in the movie “Matchpoint” (as Joe loves Woody Allen movies), but it still frustrated me. But one big twist, which I won’t spoil here, was very intriguing, and involved Joe’s girlfriend Love. Love was a unique character in that she always exceeded my expectations. While Beck was pretty two dimensional, at least how Joe saw her, Love is very clearly a complex and hard to read foil for Joe. I am very, very interested in where her character goes, especially with some of the progressions we saw with her.

That is to say, if this series keeps going. It ended on a note that could very easily go either way for Joe. I really do hope that we get to see more of him, and that Kepnes treats us to another book about Joe Goldberg and the terrible, yet enthralling, deeds that he does. “Hidden Bodies” was very fun, and I’m ready for more.

Rating 8: A great follow up to “You” and Joe Goldberg remains fiendishly fun. There were some deus ex machina moments, but ultimately I hope that this series continues.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Hidden Bodies” is included on the Goodreads list “Best Dark Humor”, and while it’s not on this list it would feel right at home on “I Like Serial Killers”.

Find “Hidden Bodies” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Kate’s Review: “Daddy Dearest”

28223107Book: “Daddy Dearest” by Paul Southern

Publishing Info: Self Published. Available on Amazon and Smashwords, June 2016.

Where Did I Get This Book: I received a free ARC edition of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Book Description from Goodreads: An estranged father’s weekend with his beloved five-year-old daughter turns into a nightmare when she gets into the lift of a city centre tower block and goes down without him. She vanishes without a trace. It sets off a race against time, and a nationwide manhunt, to find her. As the police investigation closes in, suspicion falls on those closest to her – with devastating consequences. Daddy Dearest is a terrifying story of love, obsession and psychological meltdown.

Review: I thought I had this book all figured out when I read the description. What is it that Han Solo says? “Don’t get cocky”? I got cocky. I never should have assumed that I knew everything going into this book, because it ended up making me feel very sheepish indeed. I went in with preconceived notions, and “Daddy Dearest” proved me wrong. I like being proved wrong, folks, especially if it works out in my favor, ultimately. I think that part of it is that I’ve read so many thrillers as of late that have big crazy outlandish twists, I am always on the lookout for curves and swerves, and while “Daddy Dearest” does have some twists and turns, I didn’t guess any of them. So BRA-VO, Paul Southern.

I feel that while I would like to keep some of the major plot points tucked away, there are themes that I want to address in this review that could be seen as spoiler-y. So fair warning.

At it’s heart, “Daddy Dearest” is a character study of a man who is grappling with a lot of stress and problems in his personal life. Our unnamed narrator and his unnamed daughter have a pretty decent relationship, one that seemed fairly realistic given the circumstances. He’s divorced from her mother, she only seems him every once in awhile, and he is clearly quite terrified of losing her. While this manifests in a fear of her getting caught in an elevator (or lift in the book, as it takes place in the U.K.), the fear is far broader than that. When she disappears behind those doors, it makes all of his fears a reality, as it seems that she has disappeared from his life without any way to get her back. Our Narrator is an interesting conundrum in and of himself, as while he loves his (also unnamed) daughter very much it becomes clear from early on that he does not like, or at least respect, women as a whole. I honestly had a hard time with some of the ways that he would describe women in this book, and how he would interact with them as well. It took some time to peel back the layers of our narrator, and the more we peeled back the more disturbing he became. At first, when I went in thinking that Our Narrator was going to be a heroic type trying to save his daughter from some unknown threat, I thought that the writing was very sexist and was having a hard time with it. As I kept going, however, it slowly became apparent that all was not as it seemed, and I have to say that it was achieved in a clever and satisfying way. I can’t say that I liked Our Narrator, but I was very invested in how things shook out for him and his missing daughter.

Sometimes when I was reading it I would get tripped up over some of the phrasing. While the story itself was pretty well done and kept me interested, there were times that the writing felt a little choppy or awkward. There were a number of times that I would get hung up on a sentence because of the language that was chosen to convey it. It doesn’t break the book, but it did take me out of the story whenever it did happen. I usually saw what their effect was supposed to be, but mostly they just didn’t quite bring me to where they were meant to. There were also a couple of tangential moves in the story that were a little bit confusing for me, and even after trying to go back and discern what had happened, I was still left scratching my head. I also did, ultimately, have a hard time wrapping my head around the women characters in this book. I know that we were seeing them through the eyes of Our Narrator, who has a lot of contempt for women in general, but I had a hard time understanding the motivations of those who were present, at least when it came to having a relationship with him. This was the most apparent with Our Narrator’s ex-wife. Sure, we know that she got out of the marriage, but I never really understood why she got in it in the first place. I should mention that it’s a first person narrator who is unreliable at best, so this could be me nit picking, but I wanted to see some idea as to why she would have had associated with this man, much less had a child with him!

I was pleasantly surprised by “Daddy Dearest”. I think that if you are a fan of thrillers and can overlook some fumbling writing quirks, this may be one to check out. It definitely left me guessing, which is really what one wants in a book like this.

Rating 6: Though the writing is a bit clunky at times and some of the characters a little flat, the plot is well paced and did keep me guessing. A solid mystery with some good twists.

Reader’s Advisory:

As of this writing “Daddy Dearest” is not on any lists on Goodreads. However, I think that you will find similar stories on “Popular Unreliable Narrator Books”, and “Popular Missing Persons Books”.

Though “Daddy Dearest” is not available on WorldCat as of this writing, you can find it on Amazon and Smashwords on June 1st.

Kate’s Review: “You” by Caroline Kepnes

20821614Book: “You” by Caroline Kepnes

Publishing Info: Atria/Emily Bestler books, September 2014

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

Review: When I first picked this book up, I had an ‘uh oh’ moment. Having read “Perfect Days” fairly recently, I was worried that “You” was going to be so similar to that one that I wouldn’t be able to give it a fair shake. And on paper, they definitely sound like the same book; it’s from the perspective of an obsessed, sociopathic guy who is stalking an effervescent and flaky artist-type girl. But I am happy to report that the similarities end there, as while “Perfect Days” goes right into the kidnapping and torturing consequence of that, “You” is more about the stalking.

I’m not selling this book to a good chunk of people with my description, and that’s fine, because if you have a problem with reading a book that’s about themes like this, “You” isn’t for you.

One of the most striking things about “You” is that it is told in a strange first and second person perspective. Joe is the narrator, talking about his experience, but it’s as if he’s telling the story to Beck, the object of his obsession, and is addressing the reader as if he or she is Beck. So it’s always “You are”, or “You didn’t”, etcetera etcetera. I was worried that it was going to be awkward at best and unreadable at worst, but it actually worked very, very well.

This is going to sound strange, but I liked reading it from Joe’s perspective, mainly because I liked that we got to see just how disgustingly weird and threatening he is. Kepnes makes it very clear right out of the gate that this guy is a predator, and worse still he’s a predator who doesn’t know that he is one. In his mind he’s just a nice guy who has fallen in love with the perfect woman, and he will stop at nothing to be with her. I also appreciated that while Kepnes was definitely pointing out the mistakes that Beck made (after losing her phone she didn’t deactivate it, she has no security settings on her social media and talks about her life in full, among other things), at no point do you feel like she is being blamed for any of the under the surface victimization that is happening to her. It did, however, make me double check my privacy settings on my accounts and confirm that all of my devices are locked. It was very unnerving to watch how Joe tracked and stalked Beck, all the while inserting himself into her life and romancing her as well. You could see how, without seeing the dark and insidious side to how this relationship began, Beck would find him utterly charming, and also underestimate him. Scary, scary stuff.

While this book was mostly engrossing and totally thrilling, there were a couple of things that did come off as unrealistic, so unrealistic that I had trouble suspending my disbelief. My main beef is that Joe starts to go see Beck’s therapist, Dr. Nicki. Joe gives himself a fake name to do this, and as someone who has been in therapy before, I’m pretty sure that it’s not that easy to do that and get treatment. You’d think there’d be questions about health insurance, checking accounts, or why a person would be paying with flat out cash if the first two issues are to be circumnavigated. None of this, however, is ever addressed, and for whatever reason it just irritated me. Everything else was so meticulous when it came to how Joe achieves what he does, and this seemed more ‘because I said it worked’ than actually feasible. Which was too bad, because until then everything had be saying ‘yes of course this is how it would happen tell me more’.

Nit picking aside, I really enjoyed “You”, and I think that those thriller fans who think they can handle it ought to try it out. It had me in suspense and tied up in knots up until the end. It takes a lot of guts to tell a story from the perspective of a predatory character and make that character easy to read and interesting to read. I can’t say that I ‘liked’ Joe, per se, but I enjoyed experiencing his darkness. Make no mistake, he is pure darkness, but it’s a creepily entertaining darkness.

And, there is a sequel called “Hidden Bodies” that is currently on my nightstand, just waiting for me to start it. I’m not quite ready, but I know that I will be soon. I’m coming back for you, Joe Goldberg, you creepy and awful sonnuvabitch.

Rating 8: Incredibly dark and incredibly screwed up with a very strong voice and a very voyeuristic feel to it. I just wish that a few of the less realistic aspects hadn’t taken me out of the moment.

Reader’s Advisory:

“You” is included on in these Goodreads lists: “Dark and Deep Books”, and “Most Messed Up”.

Find “You” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “In a Dark, Dark Wood”

23783496Book: “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware

Publishing Info: Scout Press, August 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description from Goodreads: What should be a cozy and fun-filled weekend deep in the English countryside takes a sinister turn in Ruth Ware’s suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

In the tradition of Paula Hawkins’s instant New York Times bestseller The Girl On the Train and S. J. Watson’s riveting national sensation Before I Go To Sleep, this gripping literary debut from UK novelist Ruth Ware will leave you on the edge of your seat through the very last page.

Review: I’m sure that a lot of women and girls can relate to the concept of having the friend who overshadowed you when you were together. Though I try to be a more confident and self assured person now, in the past I’ve had a number of friends who always held more of the attention and admiration than I did, which led to a great deal of insecurity. So it should be no surprise that I felt very deeply for our protagonist, Leonora (or Lee, or Nora), in “In a Dark, Dark Wood”. As someone who tried to reinvent herself at least somewhat since those days, there were moments that I just wanted to hold my hand out to Nora and say “Girl, I feel you.” When I picked up “In a Dark, Dark Wood” I thought that I was going to be in for the usual kind of story that many thrillers of this type have been; anti-hero mess of a protagonist, lots of crazy twists and turns, lots of cynicism and not much joy. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that, outside of a few said twists and or turns, this book sloughed off the other trends without a care in the world. Nora is a character who does have some issues, but I found her to be extremely likable and relatable. I wasn’t actively rooting against her, like Amy in “Gone Girl”, nor was I actively cringing for her in awful, self induced terrible situations she was in, like Rachel in “The Girl on the Train”. With Nora, there were moments of ‘you need to get a grip’, but they were done in a way that just made her seem well rounded and multi-faceted as a character.

The plot of “In a Dark, Dark Wood” is fairly standard for this genre: a bunch of acquaintances find themselves in a situation that might have gone better if they actually knew and trusted each other, but as it is there is suspicion and doubt for Nora as she tries to piece together what happened. While the setting of a remote cabin with little to no cell service is kind of old hat, it never felt like it was trying too hard in this story. I will say that this story did have some predictable aspects to it, at least predictable to me. There were a couple of moments where I felt that Ware was hinting a little too hard, and that she was spelling things out so much that I figured out some pretty big twists before they were meant to be found. While it’s true that I didn’t figure everything out, it can be pretty frustrating to know where a story is going by the time you get to the big reveal. But that said, there were a lot of things that did keep me guessing, and even though I discerned a bit before I was probably meant to, it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book. In fact, figuring some things out made it so I was distracted enough to be caught off guard by a few other things. That’s the sign of a good mystery, I think.

I also have to say that I liked the ending. I won’t spoil it here, but there was a certain amount of ambiguity to it, along with a bit of hope that a lot of these books really do lack when all is said and done. I choose to think the best of the possibilities, as while I’m cynical and snarky most of the time, I do like having a bit of hope in my life and in my literature. It was very refreshing to see some hope here, when so many books in this genre these days end with either no hope whatsoever, or with broken people for whom there will never be a total release. This one felt different, somehow, and I really, really liked that.

“In a Dark, Dark Wood” is a book that I cannot recommend enough for fans of thrillers. I think that this one could be and should be the most recent one to take off. Definitely check it out if you’re looking for a quick, twisty thrill ride.

Rating 9: A twisty and turn-y thriller with great moments of suspense and mystery. Had I not called the conclusion about fifty pages before, it would have gotten a 10. But even so, I really liked this.

Reader’s Advisory:

“In a Dark, Dark Wood” is included in these Goodreads Lists: “Psychological Chillers by Women Authors”, and “Psychological Thrillers”.

Find “In a Dark, Dark Wood” at your library using WorldCat!

 

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! 

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