Review: The Marriage Pact

The Marriage Pact
The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you to Michelle Richmond, NetGalley, and the publisher for providing me with an advanced reader copy of The Marriage Pact. Here is my honest and unbiased review.

I started this book because I thought the premise was intriguing: what if married couples were legally bound to a set of rules and guidelines, and, if they failed to meet them, were held accountable by a community of people and court of law committed to overseeing the success of their marriage? Of course that premise probably sounds appealing to young newlyweds who don’t want anything and anyone to come in between their vows and each other. And that is precisely what happens with the two characters in this story, Jerry and Alice.

Jerry is a psychologist and professional counselor, while his wife, Alice, is a well known musician turned work-driven lawyer for a prominent law firm. Jerry is the narrator of the story, which at first honestly felt a bit jarring because I read so many psychological thrillers about women or from the perspective of a woman. There are some really bizarre twists and turns in this plot that will likely keep you reading. It’s like watching a trainwreck unfold right in front of your eyes, or better yet, a UFO landing in your backyard because some of the plot and the characters’ actions make you wonder if you are living in an alternative dimension where the characters’ logic and reason are temporarily suspended.

I gave the book 3.5 stars because the narrator didn’t quite feel like a “real” living and breathing person. I won’t spoil the plot, but I’ll say that if my spouse was threatened with harm I would not sit idly and let it happen out of fear of a “marriage pact.” Jerry finally does step up to the plate when things really get out of hand with the people enforcing the “marriage pact” and all of its ridiculous rules, but it took him too long to do so. Jerry also creaped me out at times; in some parts of the book, it seemed to me that he might be getting a thrill out of the sadomasochistic behavior carried out by members of the marriage pact. Alice also seemed to have a darker side that made me question her motivations for allowing herself to be physically and emotionally humiliated by members of the pact. It really shocked and disappointed me that Alice would tolerate this draconian treatment as someone who was portrayed as a strong, educated woman and talented singer. The only reason given for her submission to these rules was because she was afraid of having a successful marriage as a women who was successful in all other endeavors.

As someone who teaches the social sciences, I was familiar with several of the psychological studies referenced in this book. I appreciated the author’s attempt to bring this literature into the book, and her attempt to try to think about what keeps people endeared to one another. However, the book fell short because the characters seemed so incredibly unpredictable, and not in a good, mysterious way. Their actions did not align with the way in which they were depicted. I did like the plot, scenery, and ideas behind the book, though, and that made up for what lacked in the character development department.

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Review: Dangerous to Know

Dangerous to Know
Dangerous to Know by Anne Buist

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you to Anne Buist, the publisher, and Netgalley for an advanced reader copy of Dangerous to Know. What a thrilling read!

This book is mysterious, dark, and brooding. From page one, the author’s artfully constructed prose, lush settings, and multi-layered characters had me hooked and wanting to know more.

The star of the book is Natalie, a psychiatrist who is not only edgy and complex as people come, but someone who genuinely cares about the people in her life despite her mental issues and personal hang-ups. Natalie flees the city life after a series of traumatic events, and seeks sanctuary in a seaside house on stilts. Natalie starts anew, and begins working for a psychiatrist with a dark past and soon to be even darker present. She finds herself enmeshed in the drama that begins to unravel around her and a mystery that requires Natalia’s adept investigative skills to be solved.

I appreciated the author’s attention to detail, settings, and developing characters. The characters seemed like “real,” if not severely flawed, people. I also really enjoyed the lead character and the author’s depiction of the character’s mental illness. The author did not sensationalize mental illness but rather made it a point to show that someone who has mental illness can use their skills to help solve mysteries and better understand human behavior.

I hope the author writes another book with Natalie as the lead, because this character really kept me intrigued and interested.

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Review: Are You Sleeping

Are You Sleeping
Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you to Kathleen Barber, Simon & Schuster, and Netgalley for an advanced reader copy of Are You Sleeping in exchange for an unbiased review.

I was attracted to this story’s premise because it examines the social ramifications of podcasts like Serial. How does retelling and re-investigating a murder (like the first series of Serial’s podcast) affect the victims involved in the case?

Are You Sleeping has a female narrator, Josie, who has tried hard to flee the life she once had growing up in a small Midwestern town. After backpacking the world in an attempt to find solitude from the trauma of her father’s murder and other family issues, she finds herself in the furthest place from home and her rural upbringing: New York. She has a posh apartment, a sweet and caring boyfriend from New Zealand, and an enjoyable job at a bookstore. Things couldn’t be better for Josie from an outsider’s perspective. That is, until the life she tried to escape comes back to haunt her when a blogger/”reporter” decides to reopen Josie’s father’s murder and make it into what becomes a viral podcast.

Things start to fall to pieces for Josie and her family as their past becomes a “commodity” (to use the author’s words) to sell a podcast. Josie, who changed her name for anonymity purposes after her father’s death, is forced to confront the family she left behind when her estranged mother commits suicide. She is also forced to deal with her twin sister, who has a sordid past that continues to follow Josie. Her family comes together for her mother’s funeral in the town in which Josie was raised, and soon secrets are unraveled that will provide more fodder for the crazed followers of the podcast. Was her father truly murdered by the nextdoor neighbor’s son, or was it someone in the family or community?

The twists and turns in this book make it fun to read, but the best part of it was the character development. Josie’s character felt authentic and real as did the characters surrounding her. A really enjoyable suspense/thriller that will keep you turning the pages!

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Review: The Perfect Stranger

The Perfect Stranger
The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley, Miranda Megan, and Simon & Schuster for an advanced reader copy of The Perfect Stranger.

One of my gripes about the psychological thriller genre is that often the characters are ALL unlikable, making horrible (and often unrealistic) life choices that send the lives of those around them spiraling out of control (yes, Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, I am looking at you). I love books that feature narrators with whom I can relate. If you are looking for a story that contains the latter character, this is the book for you.

Leah, the main character and narrator, finds herself in a precarious situation at work, one that leads to her resignation. Devastated and broke, she conveniently runs into an old friend, Emmy, who offers her a new chance at life and a place to stay. Not thinking twice, she immediately takes her friend up on the offer. Leah starts a new career as a high school teacher, and finds herself comfortably settled in her friend’s rural town. Leah tries her best to put the shame of a failed career behind her, but the past has a way of creeping back into one’s life.

Slowly, the life Leah has fought to rebuild starts to unravel: Emmy goes missing, a man is found dead in Emmy’s car, and a women whom Emmy knew is found nearly dead in a field. Leah begins to question her very existence as police look to her as a suspect and Emmy is nowhere to be found.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book (and Leah’s story) because every twist was unexpected, yet something that could certainly happen in the real world. This book makes you question how much you know about those around you, and their motivations for being with you. It’s well written and the characters are fully developed. I highly recommend it, and just bought Megan Miranda’s All the Missing Girls because I enjoyed her writing so much!

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