Memory Man by David Baldacci

memory-man“Amos Decker’s life changed forever–twice.

The first time was on the gridiron. A big, towering athlete, he was the only person from his hometown of Burlington ever to go pro. But his career ended before it had a chance to begin. On his very first play, a violent helmet-to-helmet collision knocked him off the field for good, and left him with an improbable side effect–he can never forget anything.

The second time was at home nearly two decades later. Now a police detective, Decker returned from a stakeout one evening and entered a nightmare–his wife, young daughter, and brother-in-law had been murdered.

His family destroyed, their killer’s identity as mysterious as the motive behind the crime, and unable to forget a single detail from that horrible night, Decker finds his world collapsing around him. He leaves the police force, loses his home, and winds up on the street, taking piecemeal jobs as a private investigator when he can.

But over a year later, a man turns himself in to the police and confesses to the murders. At the same time a horrific event nearly brings Burlington to its knees, and Decker is called back in to help with this investigation. Decker also seizes his chance to learn what really happened to his family that night. To uncover the stunning truth, he must use his remarkable gifts and confront the burdens that go along with them. He must endure the memories he would much rather forget. And he may have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

Memory Man will stay with you long after the turn of the final page.” – Publisher Summary

I remember when good old James Patterson began letting other people write his books co-writing his books (and y’all, I fully believe this was happening long before he admitted it). Until that point, I’d been somewhat of a (closet) fan; when I sensed the shift in writing style, it just didn’t work for me anymore and I ceased to read his novels. While reading David Baldacci’s most recent novel last week, I had to wonder if he were not taking a cue from Patterson. But more on that later…

Memory Man is touted as a standalone novel, starring one Amos Decker: ex-NFL player, former cop, and owner of a photographic memory unlike that which most of his doctors have ever seen. Currently an down-and-out PI, Decker is brought back to the police force as a consultant when a tragic massacre takes place at his former high school. As he begins to investigate, it becomes more and more clear that the killer (killers?) is personally connected to Decker, and is committing these murders in his honor. Hooking up with his former partner and a newbie journalist, Decker slowly solves the mystery of who the murderer is, and he sets off on his own to settle the score once and for all.

After reading the first few chapters of Memory Man, my first thought was, “There is NO WAY that David Baldacci wrote this book.” Well, actually, my first thought was that this was kind of crappy writing, but since it led to the main point, I left it out. Except I didn’t. Because I just told you about it. So now you know. It’s true, though, y’all – if I had been handed this book without the author’s name, after reading it I would have assumed that the author was new to the scene and still pretty wet behind the ears. I could be wrong. Maybe Baldacci was just drunk while he wrote it. But I suspect not; I suspect the hands of another wrapped up in this little package. I may be calling it completely wrong but time will tell, y’all, time will tell.

Would I recommend Memory Man to a fellow reader? Eh, maybe, depending on who it was. The truth is, this is a nice mystery novel that would be perfect for passing the time if you didn’t have anything else to read. OK, wait – that still wasn’t very complimentary. Let’s try again. Memory Man is a book that would/will be enjoyed by many mystery fans out there who are not as picky as myself. For those who are familiar with Baldacci’s work, maybe not so much. But I would tell you to go ahead and check it out if you have the urge to do so – you’ll never know unless you try!

Memory Man by David Baldacci: Read it today!

2 stars

Source: Grand Central Publishing {via NetGalley}

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon

finding-jake“A heart-wrenching yet ultimately uplifting story of psychological suspense in which a parent is forced to confront what he does—and does not—know about his teenage son, in the vein of Reconstructing Amelia, Defending Jacob, and We Need to Talk about Kevin.

While his successful wife goes off to her law office each day, Simon Connolly takes care of their kids, Jake and Laney. Now that they are in high school, the angst-ridden father should feel more relaxed, but he doesn’t. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines. And now, his darkest fear is coming true. There has been a shooting at school.
Simon races to the rendezvous point, where he’s forced to wait. Do they know who did it? How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are led out of the room to reunite with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone.

As his worst nightmare unfolds, and Jake is the only child missing, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn’t really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought?

Brilliantly paced, Finding Jake explores these questions in a tense and emotionally wrenching narrative. Harrowing and heartbreaking, surprisingly healing and redemptive, Finding Jake is a story of faith and conviction, strength, courage, and love that will leave readers questioning their own lives, and those they think they know.” – Goodreads

Author Bryan Reardon’s debut novel, Finding Jake, has been compared relentlessly to We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Um… no. Well, I suppose there is a school shooting in both novels. OK, let’s say that Finding Jake is WNTTAK Light. Yes! It’s We Need to Talk About Kevin without the Butter! [If you don’t know what I’m talking about there, you’re on your own. Go read Shriver’s novel.] In all seriousness, I did enjoy Finding Jake much more than I did Shriver’s work. Here’s why.

While it is true that a school shooting does take place, Finding Jake does not necessarily center around it. There are actually three elements to this tale. Obviously, there is the mystery surrounding what exactly occurred at the school; there is the parent/child relationship; and there is the way the world reacts to those who are considered “different.”  Additionally, Reardon spends a healthy amount of time examining traditional sex roles in our society and what it can mean for individuals and families who do not follow the “norm.”

Narrated by Jake’s father, Simon, each chapter in the novel alternates between the present day beginning just after the shooting, and various points throughout Jake’s childhood and adolescence. Readers watch Simon’s journey as a stay-at-home father from the beginning and witness his discomfort among the neighborhood stay-at-home mothers, his doubts about himself as a father, and his longing for his former life outside of the home. Similarly, he examines Jake’s behavior and his differences from other children – his preference to be alone rather than with a group of friends, paying close attention to his friendships with other boys (one in particular of whom he disapproves). After the shooting, we witness the search for Jake and the doubt about his son that blossoms in Simon’s mind – doubts about himself as a father, as well. Reardon doesn’t focus so much on the tragedy at the school as he does the aftermath as it affects Simon and his family, its effects on the community, and actually following the trail of the mystery.

I spent my time reading Finding Jake going back and forth between being slightly bored, and utterly captivated. The vignettes from Jake’s childhood moved slowly and weren’t particularly appealing to me. The present-day vignettes were fast-paced and absolutely shattering. As the tale progressed, both sides moved closer and closer together, holding me rapt until the final, heartbreaking end. Yes, that’s right – this is most definitely not a feel-good book, folks. No warm fuzzies here, so if that’s what you’re looking for, move on. For the rest of you, grab this up at the earliest chance and get your read on, y’all!

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon: Read it today!

4 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

The Stranger by Harlan Coben

the-stranger#1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense Harlan Coben delivers his most shocking thriller yet, proving that a well-placed lie can help build a wonderful life– and a secret has the same explosive power to destroy it.

The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world.

Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life.

Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them.” – Publisher Summary/Amazon

I miss Harlan Coben. Well, let me rephrase that: I miss the Harlan Coben of old. The one who wrote novels like Tell No One, and The Woods. Such heart-racing, captivating thrillers as those that kept me on the edge of my seat and cemented my loyalty forever. He hasn’t been around for a few years now. However, after reading The Stranger, Coben’s newest novel, I think he may be making his way back to us.

Adam Price is at a coach’s meeting for his son’s sports team when he is approached by a man who introduces himself as “the Stranger.” The Stranger then reveals a small but devastating piece of information about Corrine, Adam’s wife – that if true, will rock the very foundations of their marriage and family. When Adam confronts Corrine, she asks for some time before she has to explain things to him, thereby setting off a chain of events involving a web much larger than Adam could ever have imagined – and much more deadly, as well.

There is definitely a strong emotional edge to this tale – after all, imagine being told that the one person you trust implicitly has betrayed you in some way? Imagine looking back on your life with a different set of eyes and seeing something completely different than what you had thought it was. Coben includes characters that are realistically drawn – many of them could be your friends or neighbors – who are suddenly shot out of their comfort zone and into a web of lies, deceit, and danger.

There are many twists and turns to keep readers wondering until the last minute, and Coben does well with keeping the suspense and action realistic yet exciting for us. I found the final twist to be somewhat incongruent with the story – it didn’t seem to fit quite cohesively enough for my taste – however, it was still a satisfying end in general. The Stranger is absolutely on a level above that of Coben’s last two or three novels, and my hope that he will continue to surprise me is definitely going to keep me coming back for more.

The Stranger by Harlan Coben: On sale March 24, 2015

3.5 stars

Source: Penguin Group/Dutton {via NetGalley}

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

if-i-fal-if-i-die“A heartfelt and wondrous debut, by a supremely gifted and exciting new voice in fiction.

Will has never been to the outside, at least not since he can remember. And he has certainly never gotten to know anyone other than his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who drowns in panic at the thought of opening the front door. Their little world comprises only the rooms in their home, each named for various exotic locales and filled with Will’s art projects.

Soon the confines of his world close in on Will. Despite his mother’s protestations, Will ventures outside clad in a protective helmet and braces himself for danger. He eventually meets and befriends Jonah, a quiet boy who introduces Will to skateboarding. Will welcomes his new world with enthusiasm, his fears fading and his body hardening with each new bump, scrape, and fall. But life quickly gets complicated.

When a local boy goes missing, Will and Jonah want to uncover what happened. They embark on an extraordinary adventure that pulls Will far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood and the dangers that everyday life offers. If I Fall, if I Die is a remarkable debut full of dazzling prose, unforgettable characters, and a poignant and heartfelt depiction of coming of age.” – Goodreads

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie is an exceptional novel.

When I learned this tale included an agoraphobic single mother and her tween son, I instantly felt a spark of connection and made haste to delve into its depths. Narrated alternately from Diane’s (the mother) and Will’s (the son) points of view, readers are given a full view of the family dynamics – or should I say family dysfunction – that take place in the Cardiel home. At times heartbreaking, and often humorous, Christie allows us to follow Will as he journeys from his den of overprotection (Inside) to learn and explore the vast and unknown Outside.

Added to Christie’s tale of mental illness, and a boy’s search for freedom and independence, is a mystery. I’m not sure what the purpose of its inclusion in this novel was; it did not add to the main story in any real way – in fact, in my opinion, it almost took away from it. Oh, it was a nice little mystery, I’ll give you that, but it would have done well in another novel, another day and time. Fortunately, its presence did not detract from the shining gem of Diane and Will’s main storyline.

Christie proved to be both knowledgeable and sympathetic when writing about Diane and her agoraphobia. He allowed us to truly see through Will’s eyes as he ventured into the Outside for the first few times, and he did so brilliantly. If this is the work he presents with a debut novel, then I am definitely anxious to see what Christie will bring us next. Go and get you some, y’all.

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie: Read it today!

4 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

ordinary-grace“From New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger comes a brilliant new novel about a young man, a small town, and murder in the summer of 1961.

New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were at the ready at Halderson’s Drug Store soda counter, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a summer in which death assumed many forms.

When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, which includes his Methodist minister father, his passionate, artistic mother, Juilliard-bound older sister, and wise-beyond-his years kid brother, Frank finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal.

On the surface, Ordinary Grace is the story of the murder of a beautiful young woman, a beloved daughter and sister. At heart, it’s the story of what that tragedy does to a boy, his family, and ultimately the fabric of the small town in which he lives. Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, it is a moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.” – Goodreads

In 1961, Frank Drum was living in a small town in Minnesota with his parents and two siblings. His older sister, Ariel, was a music prodigy who was headed to Julliard at the end of the season; his younger brother, Jake, suffered with a terrible stutter. Frank’s father was a Methodist minister; his mother a homemaker who did not share her husband’s love for the church. During this fateful summer, Frank was thirteen years old and at that age when he was still exploring exactly who he was, and anxious to prove his manhood to others. This tale is narrated by Frank – forty years later – as he looks back upon the summer that changed him irrevocably and, in fact, did cause him to grow up a bit faster than expected. During that summer of 1961, four deaths occurred – one of which shook Frank and his family to the core.

Despite all of the tragedy and the inherent mystery that follows, Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger is assuredly not a murder/crime thriller. This definitely leans more toward the literary fiction side of the scale, for it is about so much more than the tragedies of the novel. It’s about survival and moving on, and doing it with grace and strength. It is about the strength of the family unit in times of crisis. It’s about how those who are considered to be weak are beaten down, yet fight to remain standing. It’s about choosing to face life head-on, or hiding from it behind closed doors.

Krueger’s rich and evocative writing style paints a detailed picture in the reader’s mind. His loving and vivid descriptions of Minnesota bring you right there. He writes a heart and soul into each of his characters that brings them to life in our minds. Ordinary Grace won the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2014 {,as well as the 2014 Dilys Award} and in my opinion it was definitely deserved, for this is a novel that is far from ordinary. Go and get you some, y’all!

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger: Read it today!

4 stars

Source: Free Library of Philadelphia

 

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Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

dreaming-spies“Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, are critically acclaimed and beloved by readers for the author’s adept interplay of history and adventure. Now the intrepid duo is finally trying to take a little time for themselves—only to be swept up in a baffling case that will lead them from the idyllic panoramas of Japan to the depths of Oxford’s most revered institution.

After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan. The cruising steamer Thomas Carlyle is leaving Bombay, bound for Kobe. Though they’re not the vacationing types, Russell is looking forward to a change of focus—not to mention a chance to travel to a location Holmes has not visited before. The idea of the pair being on equal footing is enticing to a woman who often must race to catch up with her older, highly skilled husband.

Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.

Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire.” – Publisher Summary

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are at it again in Dreaming Spies, book #13 in the mystery series by Laurie R. King. The couple’s latest adventure brings to them a visit from an old friend, causing them to revisit an episode in their lives heretofore shrouded in mystery: a three-week visit to Japan in 1924.

The novel begins in March 1925, when Russell and Holmes arrive home in Sussex to find a mysterious carved stone from Japan sitting in their garden. Shortly thereafter, Mary returns to her second home in Oxford, where she finds an old friend, Haruki Sato, waiting for her – with blood streaming down her arm:

“Mary-san. Help me.”

From this point, the story unfolds into a long flashback to 1924 as Mary recalls her experiences on the cruise ship on which she met Haruki and the following period of time that she and Holmes spent in Japan. As always, readers receive somewhat of a crash course in Japanese culture and geography – something we can depend on in these novels and something that brings them alive in our minds. After spending much time focusing on the couple’s time in Japan, the story then jumps back into the present (March 1925) where there is a surprising turn of events in a case thought to have been resolved.

While a series such as this is best enjoyed when read in order, Dreaming Spies does give new readers a brief but thorough introduction to Russell and Holmes. Longtime fans will thrill at the frequent references to cases past, and the footnotes referring to past novels in the series help to map events out for the newbies. The partnership between Russell and Holmes is a delight to observe; particularly during the very few moments when one or the other of this undemonstrative couple wears their heart on their sleeve. King, as always, combines rich historical and cultural detail, life-like characters, and spine-tingling suspense. For old fans or new readers, you cannot go wrong with Dreaming Spies.

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King is available now at a bookseller near you!

4 stars

Source: Random House/Bantam Dell {via NetGalley}

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See How Small by Scott Blackwood

see-how-small“A riveting novel about the aftermath of a brutal murder of three teenage girls, written in incantatory prose “that’s as fine as any being written by an American author today.” (Ben Fountain)

One late autumn evening in a Texas town, two strangers walk into an ice cream shop shortly before closing time. They bind up the three teenage girls who are working the counter, set fire to the shop, and disappear. SEE HOW SMALL tells the stories of the survivors–family, witnesses, and suspects–who must endure in the wake of atrocity. Justice remains elusive in their world, human connection tenuous.

Hovering above the aftermath of their deaths are the three girls. They watch over the town and make occasional visitations, trying to connect with and prod to life those they left behind. “See how small a thing it is that keeps us apart,” they say. A master of compression and lyrical precision, Scott Blackwood has surpassed himself with this haunting, beautiful, and enormously powerful new novel.” – Goodreads

On an autumn evening in Austin, Texas, three teenage girls are finishing up their shift at a local ice cream shop when two men walk in. When the men leave, the shop is on fire – the three girls still inside, murdered, naked, and tied up with their own underwear. While the murders and arson take only moments, the aftermath of the violence has a much farther reach – friends and family of the girls, as well as emergency personnel, spend years attempting to cope with the trauma.

Interestingly enough, the plot of See How Small by Scott Blackwood is a familiar one to residents of central Texas: It was inspired by the unsolved Austin yogurt shop murders from 1991. While four men were arrested in the case, and two were convicted, both guilty verdicts were later overturned and the crime remains unresolved. In the strip mall where the yogurt shop once stood is a small plaque commemorating the victims.

The novel alternates points of view, following those linked to the girls in various ways. There are the girls themselves – Elizabeth, Zadie, and Meredith – who speak from the afterlife as a chorus of one, whispering to those they left behind. Kate, the mother of Elizabeth and Zadie. Jack, the firefighter who first responded to the fire and found the girls’ bodies. Hollis Finger, a homeless disabled veteran who is one of the few witnesses but due to a head injury he received in Iraq, can’t quite put together the words to describe the perpetrator.  Michael, who worked as the killers’ getaway driver, is haunted by memories of his dead brother and of the girls whose murders he helped to cover up.

Blackwood’s writing is lyrical and evocative, wrapping around the reader’s heart and squeezing, squeezing, until your breath is taken away. At no point does he become too wordy or dramatic; his brutal emotional honesty hits hard and leaves one reeling. There are no graphic descriptions of the violence perpetrated here, and readers are left to imagine the fates of the three girls – which is almost worse, in a way. His depictions of the emotional torture that those left behind after the murders go through are tragic – heartbreaking, even.

Let me be clear: this is not a crime novel, or a thriller, as some seem to have expected. This is pure literary fiction in fine form, with a just a hint of mystery thrown in. This novel is as gorgeous as it is disturbing and will pull you in from its first words until tossing you away, wasted, with the last. I was truly, truly impressed with the pure beauty of Blackwood’s writing – I haven’t encountered such that I found as lovely in quite some time. See How Small is a intricately woven, emotional, and brutal novel. Highly, highly recommended.

See How Small by Scott Blackwood: Read it today!

5 stars

Source: Lincoln City Libraries

 

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Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner

crash-and-burn“The #1 New York Times bestselling author’s latest stand-alone thriller, with a cameo by her fan-favorite character, Boston Detective D.D. Warren.

My name is Nicky Frank. Except, most likely, it isn’t.

Nicole Frank shouldn’t have been able to survive the car accident, much less crawl up the steep ravine. Not in the dark, not in the rain, not with her injuries. But one thought allows her to defy the odds and flag down help: Vero.

I’m looking for a little girl. I have to save her. Except, most likely, she doesn’t exist.

Sergeant Wyatt Foster is frustrated when even the search dogs can’t find any trace of the mysterious missing child. Until Nicky’s husband, Thomas, arrives with a host of shattering revelations: Nicole Frank suffers from a rare brain injury and the police shouldn’t trust anything she says.

My husband claims he’ll do anything to save me. Except, most likely, he can’t.

Who is Nicky Frank, and what happened the night her car sailed off the road? Was it a random accident or something more sinister given the woman’s lack of family and no close friends? The deeper Wyatt digs, the more concerned he becomes. Because it turns out, in the past few months, Nicky has suffered from more than one close accident. . . . In fact, it would appear someone very much wants her dead.

This is my life. Except, most likely, it’s not. Now watch me crash and burn.” – Publisher Summary

When Nicky Frank crashes her Audi crossover into a deep ravine on a dark, rainy night, she begs the responding emergency personnel to find six-year-old Vero, who has disappeared. After searching all night, the police discover that Vero exists solely in the mind of Nicky – who happens to have experienced three concussions in the span of the last six months. Sergeant Wyatt Foster and his girlfriend, private investigator Tessa Leoni are convinced there’s more to the story, and that Nicky may be in danger – possibly from her own husband. As buried memories from Nicky’s past begin to rise to her consciousness, Tessa and Wyatt rush to find the answers to their questions before danger envelops Nicky forever.

Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner is the third book in her Tessa Leoni series and the twentieth novel written under her own name {she also writes under the pseudonym Alicia Scott}. Interestingly, Leoni is not featured prominently in this novel; Nicky Frank is truly the star here, and her dilemma is quite the mind-scrambler. Readers are thrown into the action from the very beginning as we observe Nicky’s near-fatal car accident. The question of Vero and just who she may be is brought to our attention nearly immediately, and continues to tease at our minds throughout the novel. Nicky’s husband, Thomas, is obviously hiding something – it slowly becomes somewhat clear what that is, but the extent of it isn’t revealed until nearly the end, when most readers will be shocked by what they learn. Shocked, in fact, by much of Nicky’s back story as well.

Gardner seems to just throw random clues, characters, and incidents into the fray in a helter-skelter manner, however, she makes it work for she follows up every trail in the end – no loose ends for this woman! As always, I read through this Gardner novel in just a few hours; her compulsively readable whodunnits are perfect for me when my brain has been taxed a bit too far by more “serious” literature. That, my friends, is the ultimate win for me – once a Gardner fan, always a Gardner fan. Go and get you some!

Crash & Burn by Lisa Gardner: Available for purchase on February 3, 2015.

3 stars

Source: Penguin Group/Dutton {via NetGalley}

 

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the-girl-on-the-train“A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.” – Goodreads

I generally shy away from certain types of books. For example: books that everybody is rushing to read, books with crazy hype, books being compared to other books with crazy hype, etc. So, you ask, why did I read The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins as soon as it was released? Because I’m a sucker, y’all. I fell for the hype, I did – but the thing is, with this novel, you should totally believe the hype! You could even go so far as to safely accept the comparisons to Gone Girl (I know, I know – told you I was a sucker).

The biggest similarity would be that of the unreliable narrator – or in this case, narrators. There are three of them in this novel, along with three kinds of crazy. Rachel is an insecure, obsessive, unemployed, raging alcoholic. Anna is the self-centered, paranoid, anxious new mother who stole Rachel’s husband. Megan is a woman with a shady past, and who has recently gone missing. All three women are their own kind of dysfunctional, and none of them are what they seem.

Another similarity for me was the suspense. Now, I will admit that it took me a minute to get into the novel, but once I did – whew! Once I became entangled in the story’s web, I was hooked and I raced through the chapters to see what was going to happen next. I read most of the novel in one sitting (to the chagrin of The Boy, who had to make his own lunch). There is a certain darkness to this twisted and sinister tale that kept the anxiety level just high enough to hold my attention through to the very end.

Now, unlike Gone Girl, the shocking twist was not all that shocking for me, as I had already fingered the villain long before the storyline revealed all, but this still didn’t take away from the intensity of the tale. As I said earlier, y’all – the hype is real, and if you’re looking for a book to lose yourself in for a bit, this is one you do not want to miss!

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: Read it today!

4.5 stars

Source: Free Library of Philadelphia

 

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Review: Descent by Tim Johnston

descent“The stunning vistas of the Rocky Mountains reveal a dark and deadly side in this brilliantly conceived thriller about family ties and the fight for survival.

Descent, the story of a family undone by the disappearance of a daughter who went out for a morning run and didn’t come back, is stunning in its emotional impact–a compulsively readable page-turner with a strong literary sensibility.

The girl’s vanishing–on a sunny, late-summer vacation morning–all the more devastating for its mystery, is the beginning of the family’s harrowing journey down increasingly divergent and solitary paths, until all that continues to bind them to each other are the questions they can never bring themselves to ask: At what point does a family stop searching? At what point does a girl stop fighting for her life?

Johnston captures every emotion, every terrifying thought, every moment of loneliness, from the perspectives of everyone in the family—as each in his or her own way assumes responsibility for their collective loss. And in the father we see the last flicker of hope as he pursues every angle and refuses to give up in his belief that his daughter is still alive. Ultimately he finds an answer, in a climax that is stunning in both its execution and its resolution.

This combination of a great story and beautiful writing brings to mind the works of Tim Gautreaux, Dennis Lehane, and Russell Banks.” – Publisher Summary

During a family vacation in Colorado, eighteen-year-old Caitlin Courtland and her fifteen-year-old brother, Sean, depart from their family’s motel rooms early one morning and travel up into the nearby mountains – Caitlin, running, and Sean on a bicycle. Later that day, Grant and Angela Courtland receive a call from the local sheriff that Sean is in the hospital after an accident – and that Caitlin is nowhere to be found. What follows is the aftermath of that horrific summer day; how each remaining member of the Courtland family mourns and copes with his or her loss in their own way, not one of them able to heal without the certain knowledge of Caitlin’s fate.

Tim Johnston masterfully weaves his tale, caringly surveying the emotional wreckage of his characters and skillfully crafting the rise and fall of action and suspense. The family bond shared by the Courtlands has been shattered, sending them upon varying paths with reactions both expected and unexpected, and equally heart-wrenching. Grant’s anger and devastation, Angela’s retreat into her own mind, and Sean’s urge to flee hit readers right where it counts. I rejoiced that no loose ends were left to niggle at my mind as I lay in bed after finishing this novel, which one often comes across when literary fiction attempts to cross with a thriller.

Descent by Tim Johnston is a book everyone seems to be talking about these days. It appears to be a “love it or hate it” type of tome – so of course, I fell right in the middle. Trust me to buck the system, right? The truth is, sometimes a book draws you in so thoroughly, that you find yourself immersed wholly in its world. All readers hope for that every time they open the cover of a new one. And while that didn’t happen for me here, it did for many readers of this novel. I urge you to find out where you stand.

Descent by Tim Johnston: Read it today!

3 stars

Source: Algonquin Books {via NetGalley}

 

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