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.

Review: Hummingbird Salamander

**4/5 Stars**

Jeff VanderMeer’s Hummingbird Salamander is a dark eco-thriller that leaves you feeling unsettled and angry at the world in which we inhabit.

The book starts off with a bang. The main character, who is known as Jane, follows a trail of breadcrumbs left by a mysterious heiress who goes by the name of Silvana. The trail starts in the form of a taxidermied hummingbird, later to be discovered as extinct due to environmental degradation and climate change. Jane is haunted by Silvana – driven to find out more about her, to understand why she left her fortunes and became a possible bioterrorist. Jane is also running from her past and from her mundane life as a not so happy wife and a mediocre mother.

This is my fourth VanderMeer novel. His books may not tell linear stories, but they do leave you filled with emotion. Sadness. Despair. Regret. Hope. Unease. His Southern Reach trilogy was a life changing set of novels for me, and if you haven’t read them, you should do that right now. This book also reminded me of some of Douglas Coupland and Chuck Palahniuk’s earlier books where people feel out of place in a world that privileges the destruction of people and the environment in favor of rampant consumption.

So where does this novel sit in comparison to the Southern Reach trilogy? I found parts of this book to be slow, but VanderMeer’s talent for writing haunting prose kept me reading. I liked that VanderMeer crafted a character who defied societal stereotypes. Jane is strong, literally, as a female body-builder. She isn’t anchored to her domestic life. She abandons it, with minimal guilt, for a bigger cause: saving the world from possible bioterrorism, or maybe from something else.

If you are looking for a book that will spell everything out for you, this isn’t it. It’s one where you will need to suspend disbelief despite many of the themes – ecological devastation, violence and warfare, capitalism and commodification, a global pandemic – being rooted in the real world. The reader will experience the confusion and terror Jane experiences throughout the novel – she questions who she is, what parts of the world are worth saving, and why Silvana might have chosen her to carry on her legacy. This book is about the human condition in the middle of a chaotic world where people seem to care less and less about each other and the environment.

Thank you to Jeff VanderMeer, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, and NetGalley for the advanced copy of Hummingbird Salamander.

Review: The Wife Upstairs

**4/5 Stars**

I absolutely devoured Rachel Hawkins’ The Wife Upstairs, which the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, graciously let me read via NetGalley. This was my first audiobook ever, and it did not disappoint!

The book revolves around two characters – Jane and Bea – whose lives become intertwined thanks to a shared love interest: Eddie. Bea supposedly passed away in a tragic but highly suspicious boating accident, leaving Eddie a grieving widow. Bea was a successful businesswoman, starting her own line of highly sought-after decorative goods for Southern women.

Jane comes into Eddie’s life after a bit of time has passed since Bea’s death. Jane has lead a down and out life, one that is shrouded in mystery. She has relocated to build a new life, taking on a job as a dog walker in Eddie’s wealthy subdivision.

One day while on the job, Jane gets distracted and lingers in the road while looking longingly at one of the towering mansions. Eddie nearly barrels into her, causing damage to his fancy SUV. Instead of worrying about his car, however, he immediately jumps out of the car and asks if Jane is okay. Jane ends up following Eddie into his house, eventually befriending and working for him.

Jane falls for Eddie overnight, eventually getting engaged to him. She is so consumed with hiding her dark past that she misses red flags about Eddie. But slowly Eddie’s secrets surface, leading Jane to question everything she thought she knew about her fiance.

What I loved about this book was the first person narrators. Both Bea and Jane have strong, well-defined voices in this book. The audiobook was definitely worth listening to, as the actresses did a fantastic job portraying and voicing the characters. Their personalities really came through thanks to the actresses. This book is a well-crafted, character-driven thriller that was hard to put down. Highly recommend!

Thank you to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to listen to an advanced audiobook of The Wife Upstairs.