BOOK REVIEW | Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard

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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.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
In the latest masterpiece by Emma Donoghue, bestselling author of Room, an English nurse brought to a small Irish village to observe what appears to be a miracle-a girl said to have survived without food for months-soon finds herself fighting to save the child’s life.

Tourists flock to the cabin of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell, who believes herself to be living off manna from heaven, and a journalist is sent to cover the sensation. Lib Wright, a veteran of Florence Nightingale’s Crimean campaign, is hired to keep watch over the girl.

Written with all the propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller, THE WONDER works beautifully on many levels–a tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a powerful psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.

My thoughts:
How could the child bear not just the hunger, but the boredom? The rest of humankind used meals to divide the day, Lib realized – as reward, as entertainment, the chiming of an inner clock.

This book is fantastic! Admittedly, I went into this with fairly low expectations, but it blew those out of the water. It’s atmospheric and slow burning, mysterious and infuriating.

The year is 1859, shortly after the Crimean war and Lib, an English nurse, is called to Ireland to take watch over a young girl named Anna who claims she no longer needs food to live. In a time of religious fervor, the people of the town believe that Anna is a living wonder, chosen by God. Lib is convinced that Anna is playing an elaborate prank on everyone, sneaking food on the sly, and watches her every move closely in an attempt to figure out how she’s doing it. Anna’s explanation is that for the last four months, she has lived on manna from heaven – this confounds Lib, who is determined to understand what the girl means. No one can sustain themselves for this long without some nourishment, this she knows to be true.

The story unfolds slowly, leading up to startling confessions and disturbing realizations. Lib knows she must take immediate, drastic action to save Anna, who has deteriorated physically.

The Wonder asks the reader to consider questions about religious conviction, loyalty, and parenthood. It will keep you flipping the pages as you race to discover the truth.