BOOK REVIEW | Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø

IMG_5870

4/5 stars

From the publisher:
Olav lives the lonely life of a fixer. When you ‘fix’ people for a living – terminally – it’s hard to get close to anyone. Now he’s finally met the woman of his dreams. But there are two problems. She’s his boss’ wife. And Olav’s just been hired to kill her. From the bestselling author of BAFTA-nominated Headhunters, comes Jo Nesbo’s Blood on Snow: a short, sharp shock of a thriller.

My thoughts:
This was my second Jo Nesbø read, and I am so enamored with his writing. I loved, and raved about, The Son, and Blood on Snow packs a similar emotional punch. Nesbø writes characters you fall in love with, regardless of their criminal acts.

Olav is a “fixer”, or hitman, for a notorious drug distributor. He doesn’t like what he does but circumstances have led him to this path, and he knows he’s good at his job. When a job goes wrong after Olav strays from his directions, he becomes the target and ends up taking his boss’ wife into hiding with him to protect her. Olav reaches out to his boss’ main competitor, “The Fisherman”, for help and they set out to fix him first.

The storyline is compelling and keeps you flipping the pages, but it’s Olav that makes the book so impactful. He’s a reader and a romantic, spending his time thinking about the love story in Les Miserables and relating it to his own life. As we learn about his childhood he becomes more sympathetic, regardless of the brutal crimes he has committed.

This book is violent with some pretty shocking moments, but it’s impressive how much depth Nesbø delivers in this short story. I’ve been itching to start the Harry Hole series for ages, and with the latest installment coming out soon, it may be time. I’ll also be reading the companion to this book, Midnight Sun, when it arrives in the mail. If you’re looking for an unconventional crime read, be sure to pick this up!

BOOK REVIEW | Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

img_5205

3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend, but she also just happens to be married to David. David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife, but then why is David so controlling, and why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong, but Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

My thoughts:
Secrets, secrets, secrets. People are filled to the brim with them if you look closely.

This book is completely nutty…and I loved every second. Let me start this off by saying that I would not categorize this as a psychological thriller, I feel like that is a little misleading. It’s certainly nothing like any psychological thriller I’ve read before. It is, however, extremely compelling and a blast to read.

Louise is struggling though her mundane life. Shes’s recently been divorced, and is a single mom who works as a secretary for a psychologists’ office. On an evening out, she meets a handsome man named David and they click instantly. They have an amazing time and share a kiss – it feels too perfect…and of course, it is. When she heads into work for her next shift, David walks in and she discovers that he is both her new boss and married. To make matters more interesting, Louise bumps into a woman after dropping her son off at school and they get to chatting and go out for coffee. An exciting new friendship begins and the woman, Adele, just happens to be David’s wife. Are you still with me? See what I mean? Nutty. Louise and David continue with their affair while Louise and Adele continue with their friendship, and Louise does her best to make sure these two relationships never collide. Who wants to look like the crazy woman who becomes secret friends with her lover’s wife?

As the friendship between Louise and Adele grows, strange things are revealed. David seems to keep Adele on a tight leash, not allowing her a cell phone or credit card. Adele has no other friends, and Louise begins to wonder if David, who is a bit of a heavy drinker, is possibly controlling or abusing Adele. At the same time, during their affairs, he seems tender and kind, and she has trouble piecing the David she knows together with the David who is married to Adele. This story is narrated from multiple perspectives and timelines, each skillfully adding an element to the plot. The reader quickly realizes that everything is not as it seems, questioning everything while fearing the truth.

Pinborough brings us along for the ride until we reach the infamous #wtfthatending. Now, it  wasn’t quite as outrageous as I expected it to be, but I loved it and and found myself laughing in the best way possible as it unfolded. I was able to guess some of the events that would occur, but Pinborough keeps the twists coming until the very final pages, and the very last one?? I did NOT see that coming! Go into this book and immerse yourself it in – it’s a thrill ride and and will be best enjoyed if you just go with it. Suspend reality and let the crazy in!

BOOK REVIEW | The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry by Jane Harper.JPG

4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

My thoughts:
I finished this book just minutes ago, so I am writing this while my heart is still racing – this is a stunning, fresh debut from Jane Harper.

Kiewarra, a small Australian farming town, is suffering through a  drought that has the residents on edge with tensions running high. When a horrific triple homicide is committed leaving nearly an entire family wiped out, Federal Agent Aaron Falk returns to his hometown to attend the funeral of his old friend and his family. Falk, however, is not welcome back in Kiewarra – wounds have not yet healed from a decades old tragedy and small town life has lead to anger, resentment, and long kept-secrets. Falk’s presence brings up old memories and new questions, and he soon realizes that he can’t leave Kiewarra again until he’s exhausted all efforts to uncover the mystery behind the two crimes.

Falk is our sole narrator, and I enjoyed traversing this mystery through his eyes. Most of the thrillers I have been reading these days are narrated from multiple perspectives, and I appreciated Harper’s clean approach. We learn about the other players through short flashbacks, which are just enough to mix up the story-line and quietly reveal significant details along the way. I loved that there were no major red herrings in this book – I felt deeply invested in uncovering the truth, and never felt misled after the big reveal. The conclusion is shocking and sad – you may guess who committed the crimes, but I can guarantee you will not guess the reasons why.

This gets a high rating from me for being an absorbing and fresh approach to the thriller genre. I am so excited to see that GoodReads is listing this book as “Aaron Falk #1” – I would love to read this character again!

BOOK REVIEW | Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

distress-signals-by-catherine-ryan-howard

4/5 stars

Release Date: February 2, 2017

*I received a digital advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

From the publisher:
A debut thriller that channels Gone Girl, from the newest writer to watch, Catherine Ryan Howard

The day Adam Dunne’s girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from a Barcelona business trip, his perfect life begins to fall apart. Days later, the arrival of her passport and a note that reads “I’m sorry–S” sets off real alarm bells. He vows to do whatever it takes to find her.

Adam is puzzled when he connects Sarah to a cruise ship called the Celebrate–and to a woman, Estelle, who disappeared from the same ship in eerily similar circumstances almost exactly a year before.

To get answers, Adam must confront some difficult truths about his relationship with Sarah. He must do things of which he never thought himself capable. And he must try to outwit a predator who seems to have found the perfect hunting ground …

My thoughts:
I have been reading a lot of quiet, psychological thrillers lately, and I must say that this is quite the opposite – it’s fast-paced and action packed, with plenty of characters and story lines to keep the reader guessing.

It all starts when Adam’s long time girlfriend, Sarah, fails to return from her business trip to Barcelona. Unable to connect with her by phone or email, Adam and Sarah’s parents start to panic. They report her missing to the Gardi (Irish police), and struggle to get help from them. Sarah is, after all, a grown woman who likely decided she needed some space – this is not a crime. When Adam receives an anonymous package containing Sarah’s passport and a note simply stating “I’m Sorry – S”, he knows he needs to take matters into his own hands. After a bit of digging he discovers that Sarah’s story wasn’t all she made it out to be; she was last seen on a cruise ship called “Celebrate” and this is where he heads next.

In alternate story lines, we learn about Romain, a troubled French boy, and Corrine, an older woman who is working on a cruise ship for an unknown and mysterious reason. I really enjoyed these stories and how they eventually twisted together. My only complaint is that I sort of wish Howard saved these stories for another book! With a bit of fleshing out, this alone could have made an amazing second novel. It all works well in this book, but I really wanted to learn more about Romain and his family, his story really got under my skin!

For the first part of this book, I thought this was going to be “Gone Girl on a boat”, as many elements are similar. A woman goes missing, and her partner and parents must work together to piece it all together. The men in these books even share the same last name, Dunne! Howard, however, takes the story in an unexpected direction, and we end up in a place we never saw coming. Calling this another Gone Girl is inaccurate, as Distress Signals deserves to stand on it’s own. It’s intricately plotted and was a blast to read, and I look forward to more from Catherine Ryan Howard.

BOOK REVIEW | The Girl Before by JP Delaney

IMG_4918.JPG

3/5 stars

From the publisher: 
Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive–and for the two women who answer, the consequences are devastating.

EMMA
Reeling from a traumatic break-in, Emma wants a new place to live. But none of the apartments she sees are affordable or feel safe. Until One Folgate Street. The house is an architectural masterpiece: a minimalist design of pale stone, plate glass and soaring ceilings. But there are rules. The enigmatic architect who designed the house retains full control: no books, no throw pillows, no photos or clutter or personal effects of any kind. The space is intended to transform its occupant–and it does.

JANE
After a personal tragedy, Jane needs a fresh start. When she finds One Folgate Street she is instantly drawn to the space–and to its aloof but seductive creator. Moving in, Jane soon learns about the untimely death of the home’s previous tenant, a woman similar to Jane in age and appearance. As Jane tries to untangle truth from lies, she unwittingly follows the same patterns, makes the same choices, crosses paths with the same people and experiences the same terror, as the girl before.

My thoughts:
I’m in the minority here, but I didn’t love this book. It is very fast paced and kept me flipping the pages, but there was too much crazy for this to work for me.

Jane, mourning the stillbirth of her daughter, is looking for a fresh start and a new place to live. She steps into the house at One Folgate Street and is immediately taken back by its minimalist beauty. This house is truly special, and the rent fits her tight budget. The house, however, comes with stipulations. The architect, Edward, has compiled a lengthy list of rules you must comply with to live there – everything from no flat pack furniture to no books (?!?!). After the interview process, Jane learns that her application has been accepted and she can move into the house immediately. Before long, Jane starts to have questions about Emma and Simon, the previous tenants.

It’s no surprise that both Jane and Emma have relationships with Edward, and this is where my struggle begins – the women behave recklessly and allow themselves to be vulnerable, all the while ignoring blazing red flags. Additionally, the big twist wasn’t really a big twist at all. Multiple reviewers have described this book as 50 Shades of Grey mixed with Gone Girl, and I have to agree – there’s plenty of sexual domination and mind games in this one.

This is a fast paced thrilled, and I’ll admit that I couldn’t put it down. If you’re looking for a quick and fun read and can put aside reality to immerse yourself in this world, then go for it! If you prefer a more complex thriller, give this a pass.

BOOK REVIEW | Brother by Ania Ahlborn

img_4746

5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Deep in the heart of Appalachia stands a crooked farmhouse miles from any road. The Morrows keep to themselves, and it’s served them well so far. When girls go missing off the side of the highway, the cops don’t knock on their door. Which is a good thing, seeing as to what’s buried in the Morrows’ backyard.

But nineteen-year-old Michael Morrow isn’t like the rest of his family. He doesn’t take pleasure in the screams that echo through the trees. Michael pines for normalcy, and he’s sure that someday he’ll see the world beyond West Virginia. When he meets Alice, a pretty girl working at a record shop in the small nearby town of Dahlia, he’s immediately smitten. For a moment, he nearly forgets about the monster he’s become. But his brother, Rebel, is all too eager to remind Michael of his place…

My thoughts:
It’s been a while since I read a horror novel that got under my skin, leaving me utterly terrified and disgusted. Enter Ania Ahlborn’s Brother. This is the horrific story of an Appalachian family bound together by a disturbing practice. Readers be warned – this one is twisted, depraved, gory, violent, and so so brutal. I loved it.

Michael has never really fit in with his family. He gets along with his sister, Misty, but couldn’t be more different than his brother, Reb (short for Rebel). The relationship with father seems non-existent and his mother is cold and unloving, but needs Michael around to make good use of his…unique…skill set.  On a trip into town with Reb, Michael meets a girl named Alice who works at the local record shop. Alice dreams of a better life for herself; she is a talented comic artist who fantasizes about getting out of West Vigninia and making something of her work. As their relationship develops, Michael starts to imagine a life with Alice and away from his family.  Tension builds from this point on, as you wonder how Michael would be able to bring someone into the folds of his offbeat family unit. Reb is quick to remind Michael that family is everything. As the story unfolds blood is spilled and horrific secrets are revealed. The final pages left me so upset I was almost in tears.

Here’s something I’ve never said before: this book would make an amazing graphic novel. As soon as we learn that Alice draws comics, I started picturing this book in panels. I’m not a huge graphic novel reader, but I couldn’t shake this the entire time I was reading it. It would be SO GOOD!

Ahlborn is clearly a huge fan of 80’s music and classic horror movies; a woman after my own heart. The music references are a ton of fun (Ania also thanks The Cure in the book’s acknowledgements – one of my favourite bands), and I can’t help but wonder if naming her central character Michael is a subtle nod to one of my all time favourite scary guys, Michael Myers.

If you’re a fan of horror, you must read this book – it gets 5 starts from me for shocking me right to the end.

BOOK REVIEW | The Good House by Tananarive Due

IMG_3554.JPG

5/5 stars

From the publisher:
The home that belonged to Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother is so beloved that townspeople in Sacajawea, Washington, call it the Good House. But that all changes one summer when an unexpected tragedy takes place behind its closed doors…and the Toussaint’s family history — and future — is dramatically transformed.

Angela has not returned to the Good House since her son, Corey, died there two years ago. But now, Angela is finally ready to return to her hometown and go beyond the grave to unearth the truth about Corey’s death. Could it be related to a terrifying entity Angela’s grandmother battled seven decades ago? And what about the other senseless calamities that Sacajawea has seen in recent years? Has Angela’s grandmother, an African American woman reputed to have “powers,” put a curse on the entire community?

My thoughts:
Angela Toussaint’s Fourth of July party began well enough, but no one would remember that because of the way it would end. That’s what everyone would talk about later. The way it ended.

Why isn’t Tananarive Due a superstar in the horror genre?! She should be way more popular than she is – she is a master of her craft. I absolutely loved Due’s My Soul to Keep (book 1 of her African Immortal series), and The Good House is just as amazing. Her stories are sweeping and full of depth, with interesting historical elements. They are dramatic and fantastical, yet somehow so realistic. More than anything, her books are fun to read.

We follow Angela Toussaint as she returns to her hometown 2 years after a personal tragedy. We learn about her past though flashbacks, and begin to put the pieces of the tragedy together along side her. There’s mystery, voodoo, and a ton of tension.

It’s been said before, but fans of Stephen King must read this book. Like King, Due creates vast and complex stories with well rounded characters that you truly care about. Even her supporting characters have enough depth for the reader to get invested in. The Good House reminds me so much of King’s Bag of Bones, though the stories are completely different. There is a mysterious house that the protagonists return to in both, but it’s the eerie atmosphere that felt strikingly familiar. In both stories, of course, terrible things happen.

Next time you’re in the mood for something spooky, pick up one of Due’s books (if you can find one – they aren’t easily accessible in bookstores), and enjoy submerging yourself into her world.