Book Reviews

Book Review: The Boy in the Photo by Nicole Trope

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: The Boy in the Photo by Nicole TropeThe Boy in the Photo by Nicole Trope
Published on June 28th, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Suspense
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 334
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

Megan waits at the school gates for her six-year-old son, Daniel As children come and go, the playground emptying, panic bubbles inside her. Daniel is nowhere to be found.

According to his teacher, Daniel’s father, Greg, has picked up his son. Except Greg and Megan are no longer together. After years of being controlled by her cruel husband, Megan has finally found the courage to divorce him. Hands trembling, she dials his number, but the line is dead.

Six years later, Megan is feeding baby daughter, Evie, when she gets the call she has dreamt about for years. Daniel has walked into a police station in a remote town just a few miles away. Her son is alive – and he’s coming home.

But their joyful family reunion does not go to plan. His room may have been frozen in time, with his Cookie Monster poster and stack of Lego under the bed, but Daniel is no longer the sweet little boy Megan remembers.

Imagine your child going missing for six years. That is the heart-stopping horror Megan must face when her abusive ex-husband decides to abduct their son, Daniel, from her and take him far, far away.

I’m not a mother, so I can’t say I’m able to 100% understand how Megan felt, but Trope is an astonishing writer. Regardless of whether or not you have children you’ll want to hug someone tight after reading this story. Grab your cat, if you must.

See, after six long years, years in which Megan was torn between wondering if her son was even still alive annd trying desperately to find him either way, Daniel returns home. But their reunion is not the happy ending you might anticipate. Daniel arrives as the product of years of turmoil, bitterness, and lies. Megan realizes that when praying for her son for all that time, she never anticipated what might happen if he came back completely different than the boy he was when he was taken.

In the time it took for Daniel to return, Megan moved on with her life, as best as she could. She remarried and had a second child. Daniel’s sudden reappearance in her life, while a blessing, causes an unprecedented upheaval of the stability she worked so hard to rebuild. Especially when she comes to realize that her son, her baby boy, may be harboring a dark secret that could threaten to destroy everything she’s struggled so hard for in the worst years of her life.

Even though the inevitable twist is somewhat predictable, it doesn’t detract from the moving, yet thrilling, nature of this story.

Should you read The Boy in the Photo?

Yes! Unlike other thrillers, this is a story with a heartfelt emotional core. It’s still a page-turner, but one that will leave you more satisfied and moved than the average one. I haven’t read Nicole Trope’s other books before but I’ll definitely check them out now!

Book Reviews

Book Review: Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Dear Wife by Kimberly BelleDear Wife by Kimberly Belle
Published on June 25, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Thriller
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 336
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

For nearly a year, Beth has been planning for this day. A day some people might call any other Wednesday, but Beth prefers to see it as her new beginning--one with a new look, new name and new city. Beth has given her plan significant thought, because one small slip and her violent husband will find her.

A couple hundred miles away, Jeffrey returns home from a work trip to find his wife, Sabine, is missing. Wherever she is, she's taken almost nothing with her. Her abandoned car is the only evidence the police have, and all signs point to foul play.

As the police search for leads, the case becomes more and more convoluted. Sabine's carefully laid plans for her future indicate trouble at home, and a husband who would be better off with her gone. The detective on the case will stop at nothing to find out what happened and bring this missing woman home. Where is Sabine? And who is Beth? The only thing that's certain is that someone is lying and the truth won't stay buried for long.

When I first started reading Dear Wife I immediately got sucked into it. Kimberly Belle is a great writer and she knows how to weave a taut thriller. I didn’t want to put it down! For a while, at least.

The story centers around the disappearance of a woman named Sabine. Her husband, Jeffrey, is desperate to find her. He and Sabine’s twin sister, Ingrid, do their best to track her down. Eventually a detective named Marcus is assigned to her case.

I don’t want to reveal much else and risk giving away the novel’s twist because it was fairly well done.

But around the halfway mark, the plot sort of fizzled out. It was around the time a church was introduced that I began to feel my desire to continue reading waning. The story began to drag and there were side characters added I didn’t care about.

Even that, though, is not my biggest issue with Dear Wife. No, my biggest issue with this novel is that it is rife with racist and transphobic descriptions. I mean some of the moments were so bad, so glaring, I can hardly believe a publisher approved it. Mind you, I was sent an ARC so it’s possible that some of these moments could be fixed before the novel is published but it’s worth mentioning.

I haven’t read Belle’s other novels but I understand she is highly praised in the book community. I’m not sure if this is a common trend in her books.

Literally every non-white character in this book is reduced to a racialized stereotype. It’s not subtle either.

Should you read Dear Wife?

In terms of thrillers, it is one of the best I’ve read this year, even if I felt disappointed by the second half of the story, I can still recognize its strengths. I understand why it is so highly praised by the book community. If you’re a big thriller fan, odds are you’ll pick this up. But personally, I’d rather recommend a book without such outdated and callous remarks about minorities.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Thirteen Across by Dan Grant

I received this book for free from Meryl Moss Media in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Thirteen Across by Dan GrantThirteen Across by Dan Grant
Published on May 6, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Fiction
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 411
Format: ARC

Source: Meryl Moss Media

Seven stops. Seven sets of clues. A race against time. Covert medical research. Will FBI Special Agent Kate Morgan survive it? It starts with an unfolding puzzle and Thirteen Across.

Kate Morgan is on an Orange line train when it is bombed. Phillip Barnes has made his attacks on the nation’s capital personal. Thirteen Across is an ominous sign of the events to come. Kate finds herself thrust into the center of a grander conspiracy.

Thirteen Across is a book for fans of Dan Brown and intense action thrillers. Put yourself in the shoes of FBI Special Agent Kate Morgan, a woman trying to puzzle out a crossword on her way to an urgent hearing only to have her day (literally) derailed by a bomb.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Kate Morgan has fallen into the crosshairs of an evil, potentially sociopathic, mastermind named Philip Barnes. He doesn’t just want Kate dead; he wants to play with her first and has a very elaborate plan to do so. Thirteen Across is a thriller unlike any I’ve read in how it introduces clever clues and puzzles right into the fabric of the text. It allows readers to take the journey alongside Kate. You can experience every grisly turn for yourself if you don’t parse out the clues in time.

Barnes is meticulous in his scheming. Each stop to save the seven victims gives way to a new secret.

Should you read Thirteen Across?

Yes, especially if you’re looking for a thriller a little more unique than what you’ve been reading lately. Thirteen Across is a novel that mostly flew under the radar, and it deserves more attention. Grant is an excellent writer and while Kate Morgan makes a compelling heroine, Philip Barnes is a fascinating study into psychopathy.

In some ways, he reminds me a little of Jigsaw except in a spy-thriller sort of way instead of abject horror. The great thing about this book is that it’s a fast read. The chapters are short and to the point. You won’t want to be put it down because the format of the novel lends itself to propulsive reading.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Mother’s Mistake by Ruth Heald

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: The Mother’s Mistake by Ruth HealdThe Mother's Mistake by Ruth Heald
Published on June 11, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Thriller
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 374
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

Claire’s life is picture perfect. A new home in the countryside. A new-born baby. A doting husband by her side. But behind closed doors, her life is falling apart. And when a threatening note is posted through her letterbox, saying she doesn’t deserve her daughter, it’s clear that someone knows about her past…

Someone knows that Claire doesn’t deserve her perfect life. Someone’s going to do everything in their power to destroy it.

Claire is a brand new mother who is struggling to connect to her daughter, Olivia. Recently relocated to a family cabin of her husband’s, Claire feels out of touch and increasingly alienated from the world around her. Olivia is impossible to manage, her husband, Matt, is never home, and her nosy mother-in-law appears to be doing everything she can to put a wedge between their marriage.

With all the stress she’s under, it’s not surprising then that Claire succumbs to post-natal depression and a resurgence to drink after years of being sober. Her life at the cottage becomes increasingly dark as she begins to fear for both her life and that of her child’s. Is someone stalking her? Is she paranoid?

Heald weaves a compelling narrative that makes it difficult to tell who to trust, both for Claire and the reader. As is common with psychological thrillers, Claire is not a reliable narrator. It works well for the plot because a great portion of this story will force the reader to battle with the protagonist. Are we on Claire’s side or not? Do we believe her or do we think she’s losing her grip?

As a thriller, The Mother’s Mistake works well on multiple levels. The tension is palpable. It’s hard to know who to trust. And there are enough chilling moments to keep you glued to the page and eager to know what comes next.

However, there are a few weaknesses that kept me from giving this a full five stars. I think this book was too long. There were some chapters where the pacing began to slow. At times I felt as if I was being dragged around in circles. Claire would often contend with the same battles over and over again to the point it became repetitive. It could have done with another round of pruning to make it sharper and increase the sense of urgency to find out what was going to happen to Claire and Olivia.

I also found the main twist too predictable from an early point in the novel. That said, there was a supplemental twist I hadn’t entirely pieced together that flowed quite nicely. Overall, I was pleased with the outcome because it did feel well-plotted.

Still, there was also a sub-plot involving Matt and his ex that took up a significant portion of the story and ultimately didn’t amount to much. I wish it had tied into the main thread more.

SHOULD YOU READ IT?

Yes. The Mother’s Mistake is a stunning debut into the thriller genre from author Ruth Heald. She knows Claire inside and out, and the story shows it. If you’re someone who reads psychological thrillers on the regular, you won’t be disappointed by this one.

Heald has a knack for building in her atmosphere through slow, creeping reveals. When Claire is frightened, you’ll be frightened. When Claire is on the brink of discovery, you’ll have your fingers trembling over the next page in an eager rush to see what comes next.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Last Thing She Remembers by Jon Stock

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: The Last Thing She Remembers by Jon StockThe Last Thing She Remembers by Jon Stock, J.S. Monroe
Published on May 28, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 384
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

Who can you trust if you don't know who you are?

She arrives at the train station only to realize her bag had been stolen--her passport, credit cards, laptop, house key now all gone. And even more disturbing, when she goes to report the incident, she can't recall her own name. All she has on her is a train ticket home.

Suffering from stress-induced amnesia, the woman without a name is a source of mystery when she appears at the sleepy Wiltshire village where she thought she lived. She quickly becomes a source of conspiracy and fear among the townspeople. Why does one think he recognizes her from years earlier? And why do the local police take such a strong interest in her arrival?

The beginning of this book hooked me, the idea of a woman showing up with no memory, although cliche, was enough to make me want to read more. However, after being absorbed in the first few chapters, the story began to lose its thread for me. I was turned off by the random political agenda and the alternative viewpoints.

Suddenly more and more characters were being introduced along with several convoluted plots. It got to the point where the book stretched its believability wafer thin. When multiple women were supposed to look identical, I couldn’t keep up any longer.

Plus, for a thriller, this was not paced well, and I found myself bored through most of the middle section. An intriguing beginning isn’t followed through with the novel that follows, unfortunately.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Keep This to Yourself by Tom RyanKeep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan
Published on May 21, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, LGBTQ+
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 307
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

It’s been a year since the Catalog Killer terrorized the sleepy seaside town of Camera Cove, killing four people before disappearing without a trace.

Like everyone else in town, eighteen-year-old Mac Bell is trying to put that horrible summer behind him—easier said than done since Mac’s best friend Connor was the murderer’s final victim. But when he finds a cryptic message from Connor, he’s drawn back into the search for the killer—who might not have been a random drifter after all. Now nobody—friends, neighbors, or even the sexy stranger with his own connection to the case—is beyond suspicion. Sensing that someone is following his every move, Mac struggles to come to terms with his true feelings towards Connor while scrambling to uncover the truth.

So this book hooked me immediately given its premise is about a serial killer terrorizing a small town known as Candle Cove. I’m always a sucker for a good serial killer story. I also love the fact the main character is gay.

However, my main issue with Keep This to Yourself was in the characterization. I found myself struggling to connect with any of the characters because none of them felt very three-dimensional. For the most part they were written in a shallow way (and that’s not to say the book is shallow only that these characters didn’t have as much depth as I would have liked).

But I did still enjoy this book overall. I liked following Mac’s journey to finding out the truth about what happened to his best friend, Connor, who he may or may not have been secretly in love with. I liked seeing him to get find a new relationship with someone who had also lost someone to the “Catalog Killer”.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an absorbing, quick read, but it wasn’t one of my favorites. As far as Young Adult fiction goes though, this is one of the better ones I’ve read in a while so if that’s your thing then I say you should give it a shot.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson

Book Review: Before She Knew Him by Peter SwansonBefore She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Published on March 5, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Fiction, Thriller
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 309
Format: Hardcover

Source: Book of the Month

Catching a killer is dangerous—especially if he lives next door

Hen and her husband Lloyd have settled into a quiet life in a new house outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Hen (short for Henrietta) is an illustrator and works out of a studio nearby, and has found the right meds to control her bipolar disorder. Finally, she’s found some stability and peace.

But when they meet the neighbors next door, that calm begins to erode as she spots a familiar object displayed on the husband’s office shelf. The sports trophy looks exactly like one that went missing from the home of a young man who was killed two years ago. Hen knows because she’s long had a fascination with this unsolved murder—an obsession she doesn’t talk about anymore, but can’t fully shake either.

Could her neighbor, Matthew, be a killer? Or is this the beginning of another psychotic episode like the one she suffered back in college, when she became so consumed with proving a fellow student guilty that she ended up hurting a classmate?

The more Hen observes Matthew, the more she suspects he’s planning something truly terrifying. Yet no one will believe her. Then one night, when she comes face to face with Matthew in a dark parking lot, she realizes that he knows she’s been watching him, that she’s really on to him. And that this is the beginning of a horrifying nightmare she may not live to escape.

Henrietta Mazur is an artist most commonly known for drawing disturbing paintings and etchings. She now works as a successful children’s book illustrator. Recently, she and her husband, Lloyd, relocated to a new neighborhood for a fresh start. Who knew that Hen’s dark tendencies would lead her straight into the mouth of a serial killer?

Do you know that saying about “never really knowing your neighbors”? It doesn’t quite apply here in Swanson’s methodical novel Before She Knew Him. The thing is, Hen’s entire problem is that she does know her neighbor is. She figures it out before anyone else can.

What do you do when you learn the man living no more than yards away from you is a murderer? That is the basis of this novel, and boy did I enjoy going on the journey for the answer to that question.

I have never read Swanson’s work before, but he has a new fan in me now. I sometimes shy away from reading novels written by men in this genre, particularly when they have female protagonists, but I was pleasantly surprised by Hen’s character. She doesn’t fit into the typical hard-drinking, edgy, women we’ve come to expect from psychological thrillers. She felt fully-realized and developed, as did all the other characters.

Yes, I did figure out the direction this book was going pretty early on, but I attribute that as a credit to the author. I will always choose to unfold a story where the twists and turns genuinely make sense over one where the sole purpose is to shock me. I don’t mind when I figure it out before the end if it is well-executed and this story is.

Authors who are adept at foreshadowing know how to render a palpable twist that will still engage you even if you do manage to solve it ahead of time.

I snagged this book a couple of months back when it became available from BoTM, and I’m delighted I did. I only regret taking so long to read it!

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Night Before by Wendy Walker

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: The Night Before by Wendy WalkerThe Night Before by Wendy Walker
Published on May 14, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 338
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.

Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date.

When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him

I was thoroughly captivated by The Night Before. It is the first thriller I’ve read in a while where I wasn’t able to predict where the story was going. I had several predictions in my head of where the story would go, but the ending surprised me. Walker is adept at building tension and suspense into her storytelling. You can tell she is a natural at it. I haven’t read her other novels before this one but I definitely will now! I appreciated the varying point-of-views in this book.

Alternating between Laura’s perspective and Rosie’s perspective allowed for the tension to build and build until the explosive ending although I did find the climax got a bit confusing with the constant back-and-forth. Streamlining the action into a single perspective would have made it more powerful.

Overall, The Night Before is a psychological thriller at its very best. There are so many clues and red herrings, not to mention an extremely complicated, layered and nuanced female protagonist. Laura is a meaty character; one of those you want to dig into and figure out how her mind works. The prose surrounding her inner monologues were pure poetry.

I felt like this was an easy read, but not oversimplified. It was an easy read because it was so captivating and I devoured the entire thing in one sitting. Each chapter ending forces you to turn the next page to keep the momentum moving forward.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Beautiful Bad by Annie WardBeautiful Bad by Annie Ward
Published on March 19, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 384
Format: ARC

Source: NetGalley

Maddie and Ian's romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian's PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie; and the couple's tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.

From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.

Beautiful Bad had all the makings of the tense domestic thrillers I typically love. I’m fond of the alternating timelines and Annie Ward is a beautiful writer.

I was captivated from the early pages but then the novel and the plot lost me as it descended into a war-torn story spanning across a decade between a pairing that never had any good reason to be so in love with one another. I mean why was Ian so infatuated by Maddie?

I understand the idea of “love at first sight” but we were given so little to go off of. I was so confused by several parts of the novel that depended me to believe on the emotional connection between the two because their relationship always seemed shallow at best.

Then the story simply dragged on for hundreds of pages without adding to the actual mystery. Large swathes of the writing and scenes could have been trimmed down or cut out altogether in favor of scenes that would have built on the relationship in a more realistic way.

Needless to say, I got bored and Beautiful Bad ultimately failed to leave an impression.

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

I received this book for free from Harper Voyager in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: The Luminous Dead by Caitlin StarlingThe Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
Published on April 2, 2019
Genres: Horror, Science Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
Links: Buy on Amazon | Goodreads
Pages: 411
Format: ARC

Source: Harper Voyager

A thrilling, atmospheric debut with the intensive drive of The Martian and Gravity and the creeping dread of Annihilation, in which a caver on a foreign planet finds herself on a terrifying psychological and emotional journey for survival.

Instead, she got Em. Em sees nothing wrong with controlling Gyre’s body with drugs or withholding critical information to “ensure the smooth operation” of her expedition. Em knows all about Gyre’s falsified credentials, and has no qualms using them as a leash—and a lash. And Em has secrets, too . . .

Here are 3 reasons why you need to read, The Luminous Dead, an intense psychological sci-fi thriller about a harrowing caving expedition.

The PR team at Harper Voyager were kind enough to provide me with a copy of The Luminous Dead, the debut novel from author Caitlin Starling, in exchange for an honest review.

I was drawn to The Luminous Dead due to comparisons to Jeff VanderMeer’s horrifying sci-fi novel (and film) Annihilation, which blew me away last year. I’m happy to say The Luminous Dead is a worthy comparison and is one of the most tense, atmospheric, and claustrophobic novels I’ve read in a long time. It’s a marvel Starling was able to create such an intense read when the story only contains two characters, and yet it’s never dull.

If you need more incentive to check out the book, I’ve got three reasons for you.

Read my full review at 1428 Elm.