Review: Survive the Night

**3/5 Stars**

What did I just read?! I am normally a fan of Riley Sager’s books, but this was fell really short of my expectations for a good thriller.

I won’t rehash what other bloggers and reviewers have said at length, but I’ll highlight what I personally did and did not like about this book.

What I liked about the book was the format. I like that it took place during a short period of time (this aspect of the book reminded me of Taylor Adams’ No Exit, which I enjoyed) and that the clock was ticking. This made the story more tense and gave it a clear beginning and end. I liked that the main character, Charlie, was a movie fan and referenced movie quotes and scenes throughout the book. I also loved that was it set in the 80s as a child of the 80s. If it had been set in 2021, the story wouldn’t work.

Why? A cell phone and Uber would have prevented most of what happens in this book…but so would common sense, which brings me to what I did not like about the book.

What I didn’t like is essentially what ruined the story for me. Charlie lost her parents to a car crash and her roommate and friend to a serial killer who targets women on college campuses. Charlie is leaving campus for good after the latter tragedy, and decides to take a ride from a seemingly innocent guy named Josh. Josh is a complete stranger she just happened to meet while looking at her college’s job board. You might be wondering why the heck someone whose roommate was killed by a serial killer would take a random stranger’s offer for a ride home. Yeah, me too. This is simply the first choice among many Charlie makes that places her in the hands of danger.

Charlie makes SO MANY bad decisions that you will find yourself yelling at her by the first page or two of the book. Despite surviving the deaths of her friend and her parents, she is passive and helpless. She has so many opportunities to get help, but she doesn’t. The ending of the novel is the absolute worst, because she makes yet another terrible life choice that once again puts her in harm’s way.

I don’t know if Sager intentionally set out to write about a helpless, weak, clueless female character, but he did. I found it insulting because it really did not capture the spirit of the times. Women in the 80s and early 90s were writing and singing about challenging the patriarchy. I can’t imagine a character who is so into movies would not be aware of the music scene that is an equally essential part of a movie (aka the soundtrack). There are SO many fantastic soundtracks from this time period….so yeah, this was a disappointing and maddening read for this feminist who grew up during the time period in which this book was supposed to take place.

I did not receive an ARC for this review. I stopped receiving Sager ARCs once he became big 🙂

Review: The Guilt Trip

**4/5 Stars**

Let me just start by saying that the characters in this novel – nearly ALL of them – have secrets. Not just the “I stole a cookie out of my mom’s cookie jar when I was 5” kind of secrets. Secrets of the really terrible kind, like I cheated with my best friend’s husband and had a love child secret!

If you can suspend reality for a bit and read this (I suppose this is required for most thrillers and mysteries anyhow), then you will enjoy Sandie Jones’ latest thriller The Guilt Trip. This is the perfect title for the book, because everyone on this disaster of a trip is guilty of something: lying, cheating, stealing….you name it, it’s in this book and the characters have indeed done it.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and I have to admit that I nearly stopped listening because the character of Ali is just so gosh darn obnoxious. Kudos to the actor for making the character true to the author’s depiction of it, but oh wow, Ali is extra, and not in a good way.

There were some parts of this book that felt more drama than thriller, which made for a slow read at times. However, Jones writes really interesting, complex characters, so I kept listening. I wanted to know if the different characters’ secrets were going to be revealed at the end of the book, and they are. Jones did a nice job tying all loose ends at the end of the book – there is a scene that serves as sort of the crescendo of the book, and that was a fantastic way to end it.

Thank you to the author, Macmillan Audio, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this book!

Review: The Golden Couple

**4/5 Stars**

I received Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Golden Couple as an advanced reviewer copy. This is the fourth thriller I’ve read from the writing pair, and once again it was a homerun of a read. If I had to pick a favorite book from the coauthors, I’d pick An Anonymous Girl.

This book follows a Avery Chambers, a famed psychologist who has decided to take a non-traditional approach to treating clients. As a result of her unconventional treatments, she has lost her license. She has also lost her husband, and there are some questions regarding the circumstances leading to his death. Needless to say, things aren’t perfect for Avery.

Avery takes on new clients – Marissa and Mathew – who seem perfect in every way. They are beautiful, poised, and seem to have successful careers. Despite outward appearances, there is turmoil in their relationship. Marissa cheated on Mathew, and it is up to Avery to mend things before the couple ends up divorcing.

Both Avery and Marissa begin to experience concerning incidents that lead them to believe they are being stalked or followed. Avery’s former client, who revealed ethical concerns regarding a pharmaceutical company that Avery then reported to the FDA, is angry at her, and the pharmaceutical company is on Avery’s tail.

This was a super quick, thrilling read for me. I found the characters to be engaging with interesting backstories. I did figure out what was going on fairly quickly, but I read a lot of thrillers.

Thank you to the authors, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this book!

Review: Reckless Girls

**4/5 Stars**

I was really excited to get an advanced reader copy of Rachel Hawkins’ Reckless Girls after thoroughly enjoying her last book, The Wife Upstairs. I listened to the latter book as an audiobook, and the narrators of that book really, really sold the story for me. This time around I read Hawkins’ Reckless Girls, which left me wondering if I would have enjoyed it a bit better if I had listened to it as an audiobook. I used to have a lot of difficulty listening to audiobooks and paying attention to them, but after realizing I could listen to them while doing long drives and long walks, I decided to give them another try.

I had high hopes for this book, especially after reading the first 20-30 pages. The lead character, Lux, hasn’t had an easy life. Lux dropped out of college to care for her mother who is dying of cancer. Lux’s father is completely out of the picture, as he left Lux and her mother to start an entirely new family. When her mother passes, Lux, left with a pile of medical bills, is broke and heartbroken.

Lux finds work as a waitress at a diner in Southern California where she happens to meet a handsome, trust-fund man who goes by the name of Nico. Nico has had some sort of falling out with his rich family and has decided to renovate a sailboat to sail across the Pacific Ocean on his own to Hawaii. He is basically “slumming it” for fun in contrast to Lux who is literally living a life of poverty. Lux falls in love with him, and agrees to help him with his sailing trip and sailboat project.

Nico and Lux make it to Hawaii, and Lux is working another low-wage job as a resort housekeeper. Nico is still repairing the boat. Lux and Nico are living with another couple to make ends meet. An opportunity to sail a pair of wealthy young women to a smaller nearby island for a good amount of money arises, and Nico takes it. Little do either of them know they are in grave danger.

What I liked about this mystery is the setting. The tropical island with a mysterious history is a good backdrop for the story. I also liked the character development of Lux. However, I did struggle to keep track of what was happening with the two women’s backstories at times. There are a number of other characters who also come into the picture on the island, which somewhat detracts from Lux. Hawkins spent a lot of time upfront writing about Lux, so when the narrative shifted to the women on Nico’s ship and people who are on the island, I was like wait, let me hear more about Lux!

I will save the twist for readers, but needless to say the trip does not end well. I found the ending really satisfying, but it definitely left me wondering if there is a sequel in the works!

Thanks to Rachel Hawkins, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for an advanced reviewer copy of the book!

Review: The Perfect Family

**5/5 Stars**

Let me start off by saying I am a BIG fan of Robyn Harding’s books. I’ve read them all, and it’s impossible for me not to be hooked by the end of page 1. Her books also make me never want to have teenagers EVER in my house, and make me want to ship my pre-teen children off to my parents once they turn 13. Harding’s stories involving teenagers and the many ways they can get their entire family in trouble are **that** terrifying.

Harding’s latest book, The Perfect Family, is another book that involves teenagers and parents making terrible decisions that put their entire family at risk. The entire family looks perfect from the outside save for their teenage daughter, who has trouble fitting in at high school. But then strange, disturbing incidents start happening at their house.

At first, these incidents seem like stupid teenage pranks. But then they escalate to the point everyone in the house fears for their lives. And everyone in the house has a reason to be concerned, because they are all leading secret lives.

There’s the teenage daughter who has an alter ego and X-rated side business once her parents are asleep. There’s the college drop-out son, who was once a star athlete enjoying a scholarship at a prestigious university. There’s the neurotic mother and wife who is an amateur pickpocket. And there’s the successful realtor and father and husband, who went on a bachelor party trip that went awry and is now haunting him.

Thanks to Harding, I will never look at a doorknob the same. I’ll leave the surprise for readers to discover because you need to read this book!

Thank you to Robyn Harding, Gallery Books, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Perfect Family!

Review: The Lost Village

**3.5/5 Stars**

Oh goodness. I REALLY wanted to like this book. It had such a fascinating premise. A young woman trying to make it in the film industry decides to return to a village in Sweden where the entire community went missing, with the exception of the filmmaker’s grandmother who survived whatever tragedy had befallen everyone else.

Suspense builds slowly in this book, aided by the creepy, chilling ambiance of the scene: an abandoned village. As soon as the crew arrives, it seems as though someone, or something, is in the village, tracking and following the crew’s every move. It doesn’t help that the crew appears to have come to the village completely unprepared for working in a remote place without internet or cell phone service.

As a field researcher who has worked in remote places, I was slowly losing it throughout the book. I kept yelling at the narrator why didn’t you bring this? Don’t cross that old, dilapidated bridge with a van! Don’t go on hikes by yourself! Go HOME!

Ultimately, I think that’s what did this book in for me. The narrator and her crew make so many terrible decisions, which culminates in yet another tragedy. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I also do not enjoy books where mental illness is part of a thriller.

Thank you to Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Camilla Sten for an advanced reader copy of this book.

Review: Project Hail Mary

**3/5 Stars**

3/5 Stars

Let me preface this review by saying I’m not a big fan of Andy Weir’s books. I’m a social scientist who dabbles in the hard sciences, and I run a research lab. So this is where I’m coming from.

I read Artemis when it came out and I was glad that it featured a strong female lead with a diverse background, Butttt…I kept feeling like it was written by a man imagining what it would be like to be a strong female lead with a diverse background. I didn’t hate it – it just felt off to me.

I don’t say this to imply men cannot write great female characters – I just felt like Weir doesn’t get what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. My feelings were confirmed with this book (Project Hail Mary) as well.

If I wasn’t someone who researches for a living, maybe I’d feel differently. It’s sort of like asking me to read a fiction book about archaeology: it is hard not to see faults and problems in a storyline as someone who knows what it is like to work in an academic setting or be on an actual archaeological dig (spoiler alert: it isn’t as nearly dangerous or exciting as Indiana Jones 🙂 ).

My frustrations with Project Hail Mary are pretty much the same as those with The Martian: lone male scientist solves big, potentially world-ending problem on his own without the aid of anyone. In the case of Project Hail Mary, the lone scientist is stranded in space (remind you of The Martian at all??) with an alien creature and has to forge communications with it to save the entire universe.

It is this bootstraps narrative that grinds on me as a researcher and someone who understands how scientific knowledge is generated. Yes, there are lots of brilliant people out there who come up with theories and ideas on their own (here’s looking at you, Einstein), but most work is done collaboratively. Most work that’s replicated and respected is done in a lab with a team of researchers.

Maybe I’d be less annoyed at these narratives he keeps pushing if I knew he wasn’t aware of how higher ed works, but he knows better as someone with a science background and someone who has parents who were scientists. I appreciate the fact he includes lots of details about the science of the shuttle or the mechanics of whatever is happening, but I need a bit more of the human element to really get into the story. I am just not that enamored with men flying in space (e.g. Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk come to mind here!). It is a tired narrative. I know Weir can do better because he isn’t a bad writer.

Thank you to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy!

Review: The Echo Wife

**5/5 Stars**

Sarah Gailey’s The Echo Wife was a surprise of a read. A far-fetched, unusual premise (I’ll get to it in a minute), but yet engaging story about two women who forge a bond amid despair.

Evelyn is a pioneer in the world of biotechnology and genomics. The scientific world has recognized her brilliance with accolades and honors, but the true depth of her intelligence cannot be shared with anyone. It is a dark secret shared between Evelyn, her now ex-husband, Nathan, and her lab assistant.

That dark secret is Evelyn’s discovery that she can replicate and clone people. Evelyn has been conducting research in her lab that violates a number of ethical codes, including creating humans and then disposing of them when they are “defective” in some way, or die in the process of her risky cloning experiments. If the scientific world knew what Evelyn was doing behind closed doors in her lab, she would lose all credibility and likely her career would be in ruins.

One day Evelyn receives a frantic call from a voice that sounds oddly like herself. Her husband has been killed by none other than a clone he made of Evelyn using Evelyn’s data. The clone, named Martine, killed Nathan in defense.

Evelyn, as a scientist, is curious about Evelyn, so she agrees to help her dispose of Nathan’s body. Both women are angry with Nathan for different reasons, but nonetheless decide to clone him to cover up their crime.

What I liked about this book was that it explores the nature vs. nurture debate. Evelyn, who decided against having children to pursue her career, witnesses what it would have been like if she had taken a different route in life through Martine, who is pregnant by Nathan. The women forge an unexpected bond despite obvious tensions underneath the surface of their relationship – namely that Nathan picked Martine so he could “raise” her to be the wife and mother Evelyn was not.

There are a lot of themes in this book that go beyond the sci-fi story of the ethical and moral implications of cloning. The long-term impacts of abuse. The patriarchy and misogyny in the world of academia and science. The loneliness that comes with being a female scientist in a world pitted against you.

Thank you to the author, Sarah Gailey, the publisher, Tor Books, and NetGalley for an advanced review copy of The Echo Wife.

Review: The End of Men

**4.5/5 Stars**

If you are looking for a fast-paced terrifying thriller about a plague, look no further. This is definitely your book!

If you cannot bear the idea of reading about a virus killing over half of the world’s population right now, then this is definitely NOT your book.

I’m someone who has always enjoyed reading about viruses and diseases (in fact, I’m taking microbiology for fun this fall!), and was completely engrossed in books about Ebola in the 1900s.

Despite my interests, some of this book was just a bit too discomforting to read because of its parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic plaguing our world right now. As I read the book, I kept thinking “man, I guess COVID could get worse,” which isn’t something I want to imagine given COVID-19’s already devastating impact.

As for the book and storyline itself, I really enjoyed it. I am sure this will be made into a movie at some point. It reads more like a script or screenplay than a book, which isn’t a bad thing at all. You really don’t want to put it down because of the way it is structured.

The book has numerous female leads sharing what it is like to experience a plague that wipes out men, including infants and children, indiscriminately. As an archaeologist and historian myself, I really liked the perspective of the woman who was a historian documenting what was taking place. There’s another character who is working for the government in intelligence, making decisions about how to protect her country while those in security forces are dropping left and right (because soldiers are predominantly men). And there’s a female scientist working hard to devise a vaccination against the plague before the entire world’s population is unable to replicate itself.

The author did a good job of imagining how a plague that only affects men might change and reconfigure society, as frightening as that may sound. This is one of those books you could easily read in a day because it is so well written and engaging.

Thank you to the author, Christina Sweeney-Baird, NetGalley, and the publisher, Doubleday Canada, for an advanced reader copy of The End of Men.

Review: The Therapist

**3.5/5 Stars**

I enjoy B.A. Paris’ thrillers and mysteries, but this one was just too tedious and obvious for my taste. It is for sure a slow build, but it was the main character that really just did the book in for me. There are always going to be characters I don’t like, and it isn’t the job of the author to write characters who are 100% relatable. However, my frustration was that the narrator was just too darn dense and trusting, which they narrator repeatedly admitted throughout the book.

The story involves a woman who discovers her boyfriend has purchased a home in a trendy neighborhood seemingly out of reach for him financially. She later discovers that her boyfriend has purchased the home in which a murder has occurred, one that seems to have left a number of neighbors wondering what truly happened despite the police assuming it was a murder-suicide.

The woman, first angry at her boyfriend for withholding this information from her about the house, becomes obsessed with the women who was murdered. She begins to have doubts about her boyfriend, wondering if he was somehow connected to the woman and/or her husband who lived in their home.

The main character begins to doubt everyone around her, including her new neighbors. Everyone is a suspect, and the narrator’s job is to suss out who is the real killer among the people she does and does not know. As she digs deeper into the case, she befriends a man who claims to be a private investigator hired by the family of the husband and wife who were killed/committed suicide. There are red flags about him, but she looks away and falls in love with him in the process.

I will definitely still read future Paris books – this one just wasn’t for me.

Thank you to Macmillian Audio, Netgalley, and BA Paris for an advanced audiobook of The Therapist.

Review: All Things Cease to Appear

**5/5 Stars**

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that made me feel so many mixed emotions. By the time I got to the last few pages, I really didn’t want it to end. I wouldn’t have guessed that’s how I would feel at all, even when I hit the 40% mark of Elizabeth Brundage’s All Things Cease to Appear.

What kept me reading? The author is an incredibly gifted writer. She paints such deep, intense, and fascinating characters and scenes that feel almost ethereal. If you like character-driven books, then you may enjoy this, as heavy as it is. 

The plot is meandering, but it grows on you if you are captivated by the characters. The plot is like an onion: lots of layers to peel back. A ghost story. A story of terribly unhappy, violent marriages. And a story of children left behind due to domestic violence. 

Her plot moves slowly, mainly so that the reader can understand how women end up in abusive relationships, how they end up justifying and tolerating violence against themselves and others. It doesn’t happen overnight – it happens incrementally over a long period of time.

By the time women finally realize that they are in a dangerous relationship, they feel trapped, stuck in an eternal cycle of abuse that seems inescapable. I think a really important part of this story is that it isn’t the individual woman who is at fault for the violence inflicted upon them. Rather, it is society, families, friends – everyone who looks away, turns a blind eye, doesn’t ask questions or offer help….or even worse, who encourage women to stay in a relationship because leaving is “just too hard.” Society is at fault for teaching women to doubt their instincts and intellect. The women in this novel have learned to internalize misogyny and violence, to ignore their inner voice that says “this isn’t right” or “I shouldn’t be treated this way” not because they themselves have issues but because society as a whole is patriarchal and violent.

This book reminded me a lot of some of Margaret Atwood’s older books that I read when I was in college. I’ve read most of her catalog, and her earlier books deal with themes of second wave feminism. This book is based in 1978/1979, which is when second wave feminism took root. The main character even begins to read this scholarship, feeling inspired to leave her husband until she is dissuaded by her family from walking away. This has tragic consequences for her and her child.

The everyday violence of unhappy marriages and the dually oppressive and liberating experience of motherhood are juxtaposed with two horrific murders. I think the author is asking readers to consider which is worse: allowing your sense of self worth to be chipped away daily by a condescending, misogynistic, emotionally and physically abusive husband, or losing your life in one fell swoop to a sociopathic partner? Both are obviously terrible fates. I think the author is also trying to suggest that misogyny is a form of sociopathy that we tolerate as a society.

At the beginning of the book, I really wanted to put it down and be done with it. Did I really want to read another story of women being abused and tormented by their husbands?

But the more I read it, the more I realized that it wasn’t just about abuse. It was about the things we allow into our world because society tells us who we should be. It’s about the hopes and longings women have that go unfulfilled because of society and the company we keep (which is a product of society, of course). But the book is also about hope for a better world, and the ability for generational and societal change in the face of immense tragedy. As dark as it is, the book ends on a hopeful note.

If you watched the Netflix version of this book, it’s nothing like it. The movie is terrible and really doesn’t capture the emotions or even overall sentiment of this book. It watered everything down because the movie did not have the time or space to capture all the characters in the novel.

Review: The Survivors

** 4/5 Stars**

This was my first Jane Harper book ever and also the second audiobook I’ve read in my life. I read a lot of thrillers and mysteries, and have been eager to read a Harper book because I’ve heard so many great things about her writing.

I’m going to break this review up into two parts. First, I’ll focus on the audiobook. Second, I’ll focus on the plot and characters.

The audiobook was a very enjoyable listen. The narrator has an engaging and soothing voice. He was able to bring the characters to life in a way I don’t think they would come through on the pages. I really got a sense of the emotions and feelings of the characters thanks to his narration and ability to emote. It was a keen listen and I am glad I chose to “read” this book via audio.

The story and characters were a mixed bag. At times, I had a hard time keeping track of all of the men involved in this story. I was definitely paying attention to the audiobook (I listen on my walks where I have no distractions), so I don’t think that was the issue. The characters’ names seemed similar to me for some reason, and the women in the book, with the exception of Verity, really didn’t seem to stand out from one another. Perhaps it was due to the shifting timeline, as the book concerns two interrelated tragedies involving women/girls.

I think if I had read this as a book, I would have rated it three stars. However, since the narrator was fantastic, I gave it 4. The main reason I would have given this three stars is because the plot didn’t have a lot of twists and turns. For me, this would make for a slow read.

Criticism aside, Harper is an incredible writer. She really has a gift for writing dialogue (not an easy thing to do) and for making the setting feel real. I loved that this book was set in a beach town, which felt very real in my head thanks to Harper’s knack for describing her characters’ environments. Because of this, I will definitely be reading more of Harper’s books.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan (the publisher), Netgalley, and the author (Jane Harper) for an advanced review copy (audiobook) of The Survivors.