Review: The New Neighbors

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**3.5 Goodreads Stars**

My last read of 2017 is Simon Lelic’s The New Neighbors, which is also marketed under the name The House. I actually think the latter name is more fitting for the book. I read it in one day while being stuck at home from ankle surgery (not fun).

The story is about Syd/Sydney and her partner, Jack. They are Londoners in the market for a new home and are becoming frustrated with the lousy (read expensive) housing market. They end up lucking out and getting a flat for a very cheap price despite the competitive market. A stroke of luck? Or is something more nefarious at work?

We learn that Syd grew up in an abusive household. Her father was a violent megalomaniac who physically and emotionally tortured her, her mother, and her sister, Jessica. Finally, when she couldn’t take it anymore, she ran away from home never to return again. She lived on the streets for years, changed her name and identity, and finally managed to get her life together right before she met Jack. Jack is everything Syd is not; he had an upper-middle class upbringing, he has an established career as someone who helps those in need with housing, and he is generally put together and polished.

When Syd and Jack move into their new house, they are stuck with the former occupant’s belongings. He supposedly up and left to Australia after meeting a woman online, abandoning all of his worldly possessions in the process. The house is a menagerie of oddities: creepy, weird, and perhaps downright worrisome. I’ll spare you the details because I don’t want to spoil the plot.

One day Syd chats up her neighbor’s daughter Elsie, who is a teenager. She exhibits signs of abuse that Syd knows well. Syd grows close to her, and is compelled to do something, anything, to help her the way no one helped Syd as a child. A confrontation with Elsie’s terrifyingly abusive, violent father prevents Syd from communicating with Elsie.

Elsie’s father is then found dead in the alleyway between the two homes, and Jack is accused of killing him. Did Jack do it? Did someone else kill him? Is Sydney somehow involved?

I started this book earlier this month and put it down because another book kept my attention. Once I was about 40% of the way in, I started to really enjoy the plot and characters. The plot is somewhat gnarly and complex, but it makes sense in the end. I did not see the ending coming, but I really like how it concluded. I am kind of surprised I didn’t see it coming, to be honest, but I’ll chalk that up to being on painkillers thanks to the screws and plates holding my ankle together 🙂

I am not sure why 3.5 stars felt right for this book, but it might be due to the slow start. The plot is very clever, but I struggled with scenes of child abuse. I think others might really love this book more than I did. It’s well written, but it’s just not my favorite read of the fall.

Thanks to Edelweiss+, the author, Simon Lelic, and the publisher, Berkley, for a free copy of the book for an honest review.

Review: Such Dark Things

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** 1 Goodreads Star**

Have you ever walked into a bookstore and ended up in the wrong section? Or walked into the wrong bathroom by accident? That’s how I felt reading Courtney Evan Tate’s Such Dark Things. Touted as a mix between Girl on a Train and Fatal Attraction, this book is more like Lolita meets the movie American Beauty. And not in a good way. When I hit about the halfway mark through this book and had read one too many sex scenes, I had to look up the author and description of the book. I am not into adult fiction, nor do I enjoy romance novels. This book was written by someone who is also an adult fiction writer (aka R- to X-rated novels) who is writing this book under a pen name, which I normally wouldn’t care about. However, this book clearly does not fit into the “psychological thriller” genre as its publisher states.

That being said, the book started off really strong. The first part of it is devoted to Corrine, who is a busy physician working in the emergency room. She throws so much heart and energy into her job that not much is left for her partner and husband, Jude. Corrine also throws herself into her job to escape her past, one that is murky even to herself. Her father killed her two people, leaving her behind as a teenager. As a reader, I was drawn into this story, wondering what happened that fateful night.

Once the author started focusing on Corrine’s husband, however, the book took a sharp detour. Jude is having an affair on the side with a very young woman in her early 20s who later admits to having been molested by her foster father. The young woman, Zoe, argues that she came onto him, which Jude simply takes at face value despite his training as a PSYCHOLOGIST. Zoe exhibits many of the common symptoms of someone who has been severely abused as a child, yet Jude is not concerned. All he cares about is his sexual needs. The amount of ridiculous sex scenes involving Jude and Zoe in this book is so copious that it left me wondering what the heck happened to the plot. I skimmed most of these scenes because they seriously took up SO much of the book, and had little to do with the plot. The scenes were overtly graphic, too, which felt inappropriate in this genre.

I had a lot of hope for this book especially given its strong beginning, but the focus on Jude and his wildly inappropriate (bordering on victimization and abuse in my opinion) relationship with a young woman who has been a victim of abuse her entire life overshadowed the entire book. The ending was just as maddening, and frankly I wished I had stopped reading the book as soon as it started to get raunchy and completely unbelievable.

Maybe this book would work for readers of adult fiction and romance, but this was not for me. Thank you to the publisher, NetGalley, and the author for an advanced reader copy of this book.

Review: Obsession

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**2.5 Goodreads Stars**

I started Amanda Robson’s Obsession back in August of this year (2017), only to put it down because it was moving slowly. I decided to give it another try over the winter holidays, and unfortunately my initial instincts about the book were correct. I made it through the entire book, but it let me down in several key ways.

The book is told through the eyes of four different characters: Craig, Rob, Carly, and Jenni. Jenni is married to Craig, and Rob is married to Carly. The two couples have been friends for a long time, and spend a good deal of time together. They both have children around the same ages, and life, at least from an outsider’s perspective, seems perfect between the two couples. That is, until Carly and Craig cheat on their respective partners.

Carly has a wild streak, and she thrives off of exciting and dangerous situations. Jenni couldn’t be more different from Carly. Jenni is an observant Christian, and tends to be prudish. The two are supposedly “best friends,” but there are cracks and fissures in their relationship that ultimately come to a head when Jenni finds out that Carly has been having an affair with Craig, Jenni’s husband.

From thereon out, both couples’ lives start spiraling out of control. Jenni finds herself contemplating doing things she would have never imagined as a practicing, devout Christian. Carly descends into madness. As a result Rob, Carly’s husband, commits Carly to a mental institution. The two couples end up turning on each other as well as partner against partner. This book is basically like watching a massive train wreck.

What bothered me the most about the characters was that not one of them was redeemable. Yes, every single human being on the planet has flaws, but these people are severely flawed individuals who make horrible decisions every step of the way. Carly is self-absorbed and pretentious, bordering on a narcissistic personality. She is eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but her personality really doesn’t change that much after she gets the care she needs. Jenni throws out all of her values once the going gets tough in her life, which seems odd for someone who was a committed Christian all of her life.

Also, there were way, way, WAY too many plot twists and turns. I was able to follow the book, but I kept wondering why there just so many odd, irrelevant shifts in where the book was going. Jennie’s mother dies. Carly ends up in a mental institution. Somehow Jenni ends up working for Rob’s medical practice alongside Carly. Several characters are poisoned. One of the characters ends up blowing themselves up while lighting a bonfire. Just as I was getting used to a setting in the book, the author would move the setting to another place and/or time.

I really, really wanted to like this book, but there was simply too much going on, the characters were all unlikable, and the book had way too many unbelievable plot scenarios and scenes.

I appreciate the opportunity to review this book thanks to Edelweiss+, the publisher, HarperCollins, and the author, Amanda Robson.

Review: The Other Mother

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**3 Goodreads Stars**

Carol Goodman’s The Other Mother is a psychological thriller that explores the difficulties of two new mothers, Laurel and Daphne, who meet at a mother-baby group.

First off, I appreciate that Goodman warned readers at the beginning of the book that it contains discussions of postpartum depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

Laurel is glamorous, attractive, and seems to have it somewhat altogether after having her baby, Chlöe (with an umlaut over the “o”). Daphne, whose daughter shares Laurel’s daughter’s name sake (sans the umlaut), is, in many ways, the exact opposite. She’s messy, overwhelmed by motherhood, and exhausted from lack of sleep. She has intrusive thoughts that make her imagine harming her baby, which she knows she won’t do, but the feelings terrify and haunt her.

Both women seem to feed off of each other’s fears. Laurel and Daphne have histories of depression and mental illness. They both worry incessantly about the safety and welfare of their newborns, and about their fitness as mothers. Daphne thinks Laurel seems to have it together, or, at least, more so than herself. She changes her appearance to look like Laurel, as well as starts to buy the same types of baby products (such as an expensive baby bag).

Both Laurel and Daphne’s husbands seem unhelpful and unsupportive given Laurel and Daphne’s unstable conditions. Both of them engage in somewhat suspicious behaviors, but it is unclear what their motivations are. Daphne ends up running away from her husband with baby Chloe in tow because she feels threatened by her husband. I can’t say much more without giving away the plot.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book, but the twist of it was disappointing and left me somewhat confused. I finally saw where the twist was taking me, but it seemed so far fetched that I just couldn’t get into it. The book had a lot of promise, but I just couldn’t buy into the ending or the way things tidied up.

Thank you to the author, Carol Goodman, the publisher, HarperCollins, and Edelweiss + for an advanced reader copy of The Other Mother.

End of the Year Wrap-Up

This year has been so incredibly busy in so many wonderful ways. I’ve made several big life changes, including leaving Idaho where I was a professor of 9 years, moving my entire family across the United States for a new job in Michigan, and focusing more on the things I enjoy and love in life. One of the things I really wanted to bring back into my life was reading for fun and pleasure. I read constantly for work, but most of what I read is academic writing. From the time I was a Kindergartner, I’ve been a voracious reader of fiction. I made a commitment to read 55 books this year, and I’m close to meeting that goal.

I am in awe of Goodreads reviewers and book bloggers who are able to read over 100 books a year or more, and I would love to get to that amount in the coming years. Reading is certainly a skill you refine over time, and I have hope I can make time for more books next year.

I’ve made several friends from afar in reading communities at Goodreads. I’ve followed many book review blogs, enjoying how other bloggers responded to the books I’ve also reviewed and read. I participated in November’s National Novel Writing Month, and while I wasn’t able to get to 50,000 words written, I was able to write over 30,000 words of a suspense novel that month! I have no idea if I will pursue publishing it in the coming year (I need some distance from it after writing so much of it!), but it was a fun exercise in using new parts of my brain.

This year has been a great year, and I am thankful for the interactions I’ve had with my fellow writers and reviewers this year!

 

Review: The Secret Mother

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**4 Goodreads Stars**

“In practice, my mind is fragile. Anything out of my carefully constructed routine could tip me over the edge, and I don’t quite trust myself with this kind of change. I don’t know if I ever will.”

The end of the semester is always crazy for professors and students alike, and this semester is no different for me. So when a book keeps me up at night that means I must really, really like it, which was the case for Shalini Boland’s The Secret Mother. I read it in less than 24 hours because I could not put it down! This is one of those books that will have you reading on your lunch break and during any down time you have. You might just have to take a few extra “bathroom” and “coffee” breaks at work because this book is just that good.

The book starts with a bang. Tessa, the lead character, finds a little boy in her flat after coming home from a long day of work. She has no idea who he is, or who brought him to her place. She calls her husband, Scott, from whom she is separated, looking for support and advice. We learn that Tessa has had a tumultuous past, one that involves the loss of not only one child but two. Tessa lost her job and sanity after their passing, and ended up being found at a local park pushing another woman’s infant in a carriage. The boy’s appearance opens up old wounds, bringing all the emotions of the past to the surface once again. Is she losing her mind? Did she kidnap the child to replace the two children she has already lost?

Word gets out to the media about the little boy and Tessa’s past, and almost immediately the media descends on Tessa’s flat, hounding her with camera flashes and questions about the little boy every time she goes outside. The police also suspect Tessa of foul play, making things worse for her. The only thing keeping Tessa from losing her sanity is her boss, Ben, who is handsome, Italian, successful, and single. Ben offers to help Tessa unravel the mystery of who the little boy is, and how he ended up in her house. Tessa reluctantly accepts his offer, hoping that she’ll still have a job after the mystery is solved.

Tessa believes that the little boy’s appearance is somehow related to the two tragedies (I won’t spoil them here) that took her twins’ lives. She begs her soon to be ex-husband Scott to help her figure out what is going on, but he pushes her away, chalking up everything to Tessa’s past mental instability. Could Scott be hiding something? Is his new love interest, a much younger woman named Carly, responsible for the little boy’s kidnapping?

Tessa’s neighbor, who was nosy when Tessa and Scott lived together, also gets involved. She’s a rogue journalist, and wants a good story to sell in order to pay off debt. She offers to help Tessa solve the mystery of the little boy, but is she really being a good friend, or does she have ulterior motives and plans in mind? Did she, for instance, orchestrate the kidnapping to make money off of Tessa’s tragedy?

I don’t do spoilers in my blog, so you’ll have to read to find out what happens to Tessa in The Secret Mother!

Thank you to the author, Shalini Boland, the publisher, Bookouture, and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of The Secret Mother!

Review: Lie With Me

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

Plenty of friendships, I am sure, are based on lies.”

Sabine Durrant’s Lie to Me is a seductive, subversive psychological thriller that simmers with tension and heat. The book is narrated from the perspective of Paul, a writer who has couch surfed his way to oblivion, relying upon the generosity of his wealthier friends for a roof over his head since he graduated from college many, many years ago. His first book was a one hit wonder, leaving him downtrodden and broke. His days are spent drinking and skirt-chasing, putting pen to paper if and when he feels inspired.

Paul feels that is luck is finally turning when he attends a dinner party with old college friends. There he meets the lovely, lithe Alice, who has been widowed and left to raise her teenager children. The dinner party is hosted by Andrew and his wife Tina, who also have children the same age. Alice’s subtle charm and natural beauty intrigues Paul. Paul’s well-practiced charm does not work on Alice, which makes him even more interested in her. Eventually, Paul worms his way into her life, though her wealth and reserved nature makes him wonder if she is really into someone as shifty as himself.

The relationship is tested when Paul invites himself along on Alice, Tina, and Andrew’s annual vacation to Greece. Paul has been invited in the past, though he has been left out for years due to his financial situation. The group has been going to Greece for many years, and, Alice, in particular, has been drawn back to the place after a teenage girl went missing during one of their vacations. Alice has connected with the missing girl’s parents, who they usually see when they are back in Greece. Paul was on the trip when the girl went missing, leaving the reader to wonder if there’s a ulterior reason Paul is allowed to join the group.

The couples share a striking chateau on the beach for a month, where tension builds and relationships are tested. Alice and Andrew seem particularly tight, causing Paul to question everything he knows about his so-called college “friends” and his budding relationship with Alice. Paul is slighted during the entire vacation, made to feel less than the wealthier Alice, Paul, and Tina. He is constantly trying to find a way to prove his worth to the group, which he does through little white lies. He lies about how he arrived in Greece, choosing to take a cheaper flight and a bus service to get to the chateau. He lies about the success of his recently finished manuscript, leading his friends to believe that it has been green-lighted for publication. It seems as though Paul is a compulsive liar, though he does tell mostly small lies to hide his poverty.

Paul’s character is called into question when a woman goes missing once again during their time in Greece. Paul claims he had nothing to do with her disappearance. Was he involved in both crimes, or is he completely innocent?

I absolutely devoured the lush, detailed descriptions of the setting and people in this novel. Durrant is so talented at creating vivid imagery and characters. I read this book in the middle of a snow storm in Michigan, and could almost feel the steaming heat of a Grecian beach in the summertime. That’s how good she is. This was my first time reading a book by her, and I can’t wait to read more from her. Here is a great example of the thick description she provides:

“The house was sun-baked; the walls trembled in the heat. A black swimsuit hung, bat-like, from a limb of the olive tree…”

This was a really fantastic read, and I went through it very quickly during a busy work week. Thank you to the author, Sabine Durrant, the publisher, Mulholland Books UK, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of Lie with Me! The book will be out in January 2018.

Review: The Woman in the Window

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**5++ Goodreads Stars**

“Watching is like nature photography: You don’t interfere with the wildlife.”

“It’s not as though I’ll see his hands rinsed in blood. He won’t knock on my door and confess. But I can watch.”

What if you saw a crime only to be told it didn’t happen? Could you accept others’ renditions of the event? Would you be able to let your memory fade, or would you pursue your version of the truth no matter how dangerous or deadly?

I lucked out with this book BIG time. I read the description of the book, and requested it because it intrigued me. I didn’t know any of the backstory or the hype about the book. If my predictions are correct, A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window is going to be the 2018’s next Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train or Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10, both of which I read and loved (the latter of which I am still smitten with).

I fell in love with Dr. Anna Fox, the female lead in the book, from the first page. Dr. Fox is witty as heck, cunning, and manages to drop all my favorite book and film noir references in smart, subtle ways. Dr. Fox, a former child psychologist, is suffering from agoraphobia. In order to make the days pass by quickly and withstand her debilitating phobia, Dr. Fox downs copious amounts uppers, downers, and alcohol.  She has also developed a habit of spying on her neighbors with a fancy DSLR camera, and enjoys investigating them online.

One night Dr. Fox witnesses something unbelievable through her window. She calls 911, only to find herself locked away in a mental hospital for temporary insanity. She gets out, and is told that what she saw wasn’t real, that it was all in her head. Dr. Fox doesn’t believe the police, her neighbors, or her doctor, and continues to search for the truth…which could lead to her demise if she gets too close to the truth.

Despite the setting being confined to Dr. Fox’s mansion, the prose is dripping with lush details of the four story cornerstone.  Here’s one of the finer descriptions of Dr. Fox’s house:

“The house towers above me, the black mouth of the front door, the front steps like a tongue unspooled; the cornices form even brows above the window.”

The prose is luscious, and the pacing of the book helps build tension and suspense. Yes, this book is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 Rear Window, which should be watched before reading and/or after this book. There are also numerous references to other classic thrillers, which Dr. Fox consumes as part of her daily routine.

When I first read this book back in August (2017), the book had an average of 4.25 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. That’s an incredible rating for a new book, especially from a little-known author. I dug a little deeper on the book, and saw that it is going to be made into a film by Fox. What a fantastic accomplishment for a first time author.

The book will be published on January 2nd, 2018, which is extra special since it is also my birthdate!

Thank you to Edelweiss, A.J. Finn, and HarperCollins for the advanced reader copy of The Woman in the Window, and I hope this book becomes the bestseller it deserves to be!