Review: Who Did You Tell?

Who Did You Tell? is a decent read, though it’s not breaking any ground in the already-crowded niche of female-centered psychological thrillers. Like the seaside town in which it is set, Astrid’s story is mild, with a pervasive air of domesticity. While I like the idea of a sleepy town, I’m not sure that it helped the story here because they play off one another, resulting in an overall sense of flatness. When the story finally picks up and tensions grow with the whodunnit (i.e. who is Astrid’s stalker, and what does she want?), it becomes confusing. There are too many characters related to Astrid’s late ex, that make it feel too coincidental– or, plainly, plotted.
I think this book is truly middling. It’s worth the read, if it lands in your lap, but it wouldn’t be something I’d recommend going out of your way to procure.

Review: Little Secrets

Little Secrets: A Novel by [Jennifer Hillier]
Click to buy Little Secrets on Amazon.

Happy publication day to author Jennifer Hillier and Minotaur Books for Little Secrets! In case you don’t read any further (I suggest avoiding as much as you can!), the take-away here is, GO GET THIS BOOK! This is one of those rare books that actually lives up to its Girl on the Train or Gone Girl comparisons that sellers love to tout– though such high praise is usually aspirational, if not entirely inappropriate.

For a book populated with unlikable characters, Little Secrets is surprisingly enjoyable. I read a lot of books in this genre, and am consistently disappointed, but I have to hand it to Jennifer Hillier here, because this is definitely one of the better psychological thrillers to come out over the last year.
I’d recommend going into it blindly, as I did, but if you need to know more, read on:
It’s hard to describe what makes this book stand out from an over-saturated genre, since the kidnapped child scenario is so common, as are the characters (philandering husband, distraught wife, younger, Instagram-addicted mistress). I think, actually, what makes it great is that Hillier doesn’t care about her characters’ likability. The central protagonist, Marin, who is the ‘victim’ in that she has lost her son and now her husband, is not ‘innocent’– she is rash, jealous, and even homicidal. This is one of the rare instances where an author isn’t trying to shove any characters down your throat, or throwing in gratuitous ‘save the cat’ moments (i.e. obviously-plotted scenes which are meant to endear the reader/viewer to a character, even though he/she may be difficult). Hillier operates with a confidence so rarely possessed by authors and a trust so rarely given to readers, knowing that her plot is tight enough to keep us engaged and that we’re smart enough to stick with morally complex and/or despicable characters. I call this the Hannibal Lecter approach. While it’s difficult to achieve as an author, it’s so much more rewarding as a reader when you get to read and cheer for characters you love to hate or hate to love.

Assessment, four stars, like, rated, rating scale, rating stars ...



Review: The Twin

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Revitalizing, or perhaps just revisiting, the evil twin trope, Natasha Preston’s novel The Twin is serving up plenty of drama and tension as ‘good twin’ Ivy has her life torn apart by similarly-flora-named Iris. In the blurb about the book on Goodreads, it seems Ivy may have undergone a name change between the ARC and print, so if that’s confusing, I think her name may actually be Emmy now, which feels less schlocky. As for the cover and why it’s a rose that has been decapitated rather than an Iris, I’m not sure. Although that wouldn’t make sense either, since Ivy/Emmy is the one being attacked. I did read another psychological thriller recently that featured decapitated roses being sent to a protagonist as a gift (Follow Me), but I don’t recall anything having to do with that here.

Okay, okay, let me get down off my high horse, before I get too crazy with this review. This book is meant for a young adult audience, perhaps ideally suited for those teens who will go on to be avid fans of Mary Kubica, Gillian Flynn, etc. It’s not too mature or gruesome, but it is diabolical enough to appeal to that audience, so I think it has actually achieved what it set out to do. It can’t, or shouldn’t, be compared to those great thrillers because it’s in an entirely different sub-genre. This is meant to be compared to One of Us is Lying or We Were Liars, and I think it’s of the same quality in terms of writing. Where it will struggle is that, while it has all of the same, soapy high-school dramz, it doesn’t successfully build compelling relationships that are so necessary for YA. I didn’t feel invested in Ivy’s relationships with her friends, boyfriend, or dad.

The weakest part of this book is its ending. I think it was meant to be a cliffhanger, but it came across as rushed and unfinished, or else confusing and I didn’t ‘get it’. At first, I thought that Ivy being institutionalized was leading us to discover that she had been on her own the entire time and there was no twin. But I don’t think that was actually the case. Instead, I think she’s just locked up, with Iris on the loose, and we’re supposed to want to read the sequel to find out what havoc Iris will wreak and whether Ivy is able to prove her innocence.

If you’ve read this book, would love to know what you thought of the ending in the comments!

Rating: 2.5/5

Buy The Twin on Amazon Here.

Review: Follow Me

Follow Me

As if my anxieties about social media weren’t heightened enough, here comes Kathleen Barber’s Follow Me to tug on my nerves even more! I’ll be Amazon Prime-ing myself a webcam cover now, thank you very much.

Truth be told (and I never hold back), I wasn’t expecting much of this book when I requested it for review. Social media stars and stalkers, sounds interesting but sort of played out at this point. However, this book is actually well done, with its multiple perspectives keeping you on your toes at all times. Barber is skilled at planting clues that are obvious only in hindsight. Looking back, I’m not sure how I didn’t know who “Him” was, but that’s the draw of this book. While a lot of mystery fiction tries to mislead you by portraying the person who did it as innocent, here the author populates the narrative with several viable suspects, trying to convince you that any one of them is the likely culprit. At each moment, you’re convinced ‘oh, it must be _______’, but that person keeps changing. So, in the end, you’ll likely find you’ve guessed it at some point, but you likely didn’t know for sure until it’s revealed.

The end, for me, was where this book lost me as it really goes over the top. Can I suspend my disbelief over the whole ‘neighbor breaks and enters on the regular, but the protagonist overlooks it’ plot line? That was trying, but I went along with it. But once the ‘Him’ is revealed, there’s another ‘twist’ that jumped the shark. This is all the more frustrating given that it’s unnecessary. The book was strong enough to stand without that last point, but it seems like the writer and editor(s) didn’t quite know when to quit.

Overall, Follow Me is a strong entry in a dense space, with its timely subject matter, effective but not preachy message, and great pacing.

Rating; 4/5 stars

Order Follow Me on Amazon here.

Review: The Other Mrs.

The Other Mrs.

If you’ve read any of my other reviews either here or on Goodreads, you’ve probably noticed a common thread: I can’t help but compare every psychological thriller to Mary Kubica. And almost without fail, I find the book/author I’m holding up for scrutiny to be lacking in comparison. I have a deep love for her complex female characters and intricate plots. The Other Mrs. (Not to be confused with The Other Mrs. Miller, which is another novel in the same genre and of the same quality as this one) is Kubica’s latest effort, and it serves up all of the goodness we’ve come to expect from the author.
Female-centered psychological thriller? Check.
Unreliable narrator(s)? Check.
Twists and turns? Check.
Quick pacing? Check!
Several times, I found myself thinking ‘ugh, this is so predictable, it’s obviously the husband/the creepy son/the troubled teen girl/the jilted ex-wife’, lured into believing at various turns that I had outsmarted the author, but these are almost all red herrings. In the end, Kubica successfully pulls the rug out from under you, which is all the more shocking because she’s never deliberately hiding information as so many more amateur authors do. Instead, she trusts in her reader, knowing we’ll fill in the blanks (incorrectly), thus helping veil the truth.
All of that being said, this isn’t my favorite of her books because of the way all of the truths are veiled. There’s a mental illness plot point here that I found to be a bit of a cop out. Though it is well plotted, it ultimately left me feeling a bit jipped. It’s sort of like the cliche “it was all just a dream” ending, but with more eye rolls, because it has the added element of being a bit far-fetched, too.

In comparing this to her other novels, I’d say it’s firmly in the high-middle– below The Good Girl and Pretty Baby, but above the rest. This feels much more polished and intentional than some of her recent books, which seemed like they had been rushed.

Rating: 3.75/5 stars, rounded up to 4 for Goodreads.

Buy The Other Mrs on Amazon here.

Review: An Anonymous Girl

Image result for an anonymous girl amazon

Let us first acknowledge the elephant in the room: the only thing sillier than the cover art is the title. There. Now those issues are out of the way, we can move on to the book, which is quite a good one. If you’ve been following my reviews on Goodreads, you know I read a lot of female-focused psychological thrillers, so it’s tough to find anything unique, that I haven’t already read ten times before. Even more difficult is finding something that compares to Mary Kubica or Gillian Flynn, who I think are some of the finest authors in the genre— even though I do find quality control issues among their work, too. So often, it feels like psychological thrillers are churned out, without having been edited properly, as if publishers need to feed a voracious audience and are too lazy (or else too swamped) to give any real attention to developing these stories. As a result, much of the fare feels derivative, cliche, melodramatic— even when there’s a good idea at the root, without time and care, that little bulb is not able to blossom into its fullest potential.

Alright, end rant about the genre and focus on the newest effort by Sarah Pekkanan and Greer Hendricks. An Anonymous Girl *cringes at the name* promises exactly the kind of story I enjoy most: full-on psychological thriller, and it mostly delivers. I was immediately hooked, with the introduction of an active protagonist, who is scrappy and a bit morally agnostic. She doesn’t stumble into danger, as is the case in many of these novels; no, she sees an opportunity and takes it, despite the possible dangers, of which she is fully aware. Or, at least, she thinks she’s fully aware, until things begin going off the rails.

 I also loved that from the start, the reader is involved in the experiment and asked to question their own sense of morality. I wish that had been continued a bit more throughout, so that while Jessica is forced to confront her beliefs, her past, and how she should live in the present, so, too are we. 

An Anonymous Girl offers the best sort of cat-and-mouse game, because Jess is not an innocent who gets sucked into a plot. She is smart and savvy and is trying her damndest to out-maneuver her opponent(s), who is/are always just one step ahead. The novel is rife with twists and turns, which last until the very end. Most are successful at building suspense and skirting around expectations, though as it passes the halfway mark, it loses some of its steam. I think that’s the trouble with books that start out so strong: it’s difficult, if not next to impossible, to keep up that level of intrigue. 

Overall, I would definitely recommend checking this one out. I may even check out the authors’ previous bestseller, The Wife Between Us.

 

Rating: 3.75/5 stars (will round up on Goodreads)

Buy An Anonymous Girl on Amazon here.