The Stranger Diaries – Elly Griffiths

The Stranger DiariesThe Stranger Diaries
Author: Elly Griffiths
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre/Themes: Mystery, Horror
Release Date: March 5th, 2019
Format: ARC

 

 

Synopsis

Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. A high school English teacher specializing in the Gothic writer R. M. Holland, she teaches a course on it every year. But when one of Clare’s colleagues and closest friends is found dead, with a line from R. M. Holland’s most famous story, “The Stranger,” left by her body, Clare is horrified to see her life collide with the storylines of her favourite literature.

To make matters worse, the police suspect the killer is someone Clare knows. Unsure whom to trust, she turns to her closest confidant, her diary, the only outlet she has for her darkest suspicions and fears about the case. Then one day she notices something odd. Writing that isn’t hers, left on the page of an old diary: “Hallo, Clare. You don’t know me.”

Clare becomes more certain than ever: “The Stranger” has come to terrifying life. But can the ending be rewritten in time?

Review

This book is probably the best mystery novel I’ve read in a while. I love Gothic novels, because it mixes my two favourite genres, horror and mystery. While this book can’t be classified as scary, it still had elements of the supernatural and the atmosphere was really spooky. I was completely enraptured by this book’s premise and I’m happy to say it completely delivered.

This book alternates between the point of view of three women, Clare, an English teacher, her daughter, Georgia, and the detective investigating the murder cases, Harbinder. All three of these women are very different, and they’e very flawed. I love reading from the point of unreliable narrators and all three of them are unreliable in their own way. The characterization was so well done that I felt I knew all of them. Their reactions to each other were so unrealistic and the way their relationships developed with each other was really refreshing.

The plot was also completely engrossing. It was really complex and interspersed with snippets from Clare’s diary and also the fictional horror story, “The Stranger”. The Stranger was an incredible story and it ratcheted up the tension in the novel without the reader ever being able to pinpoint why. We get to read the full story at the end, which was a really nice addition. If R.M. Holland was an actual writer, I’d be reading all his books and stories.

The only con I had with this book was how quickly the book wrapped up. There wasn’t a lot of wrap-up after the killer was unmasked. I didn’t guess the identity of the killer, but I was just savoring the incredible writing and story, so I didn’t try very hard to figure the book out.

I’m such a huge fan of Elly Griffiths now and I’ll be reading all her novels. She is a rare mystery writer who is able to create engaging plots as well as phenomenal writing. This book was such an unexpected surprise and I’ll be recommending it to everyone!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

 

Last Woman Standing – Amy Gentry

Last Woman StandingLast Woman Standing
Author: Amy Gentry
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre/Themes: Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: January 5th, 2019
Format: ARC

 

Synopsis

Dana Diaz is an aspiring stand‑up comedian—a woman in a man’s world. When she meets a tough computer programmer named Amanda Dorn, the two bond over their struggles in boys’ club professions. Dana confides that she’s recently been harassed and assaulted while in L.A., and Amanda comes up with a plan: they should go after each other’s assailants, Strangers on a Train–style. But Dana finds that revenge, however sweet, draws her into a more complicated series of betrayals. Soon her distrust turns to paranoia, encompassing strangers, friends—and even herself. At what cost will she get her vengeance? Who will end up getting hurt? And when it’s all over, will there be anyone left to trust?

Review

When I read the premise for this novel, I was immediately intrigued. I knew that this book was a modern retelling of Strangers on a Train revolving around the #MeToo movement. Additionally, I thought it was so interesting that Dana Diaz was a comedian, especially since the Louis CK revelations came out. However, the most interesting part was that this was written before the #MeToo movement happened. Amy Gentry had written this novel by talking to women in the entertainment industry and adding her own experiences. She had heard the Louis CK rumors and created this novel, and I really wanted to know how it delivered.

This is a good novel, but there’s nothing too spectacular about it. Yes, it has Strangers on a Train vibes, but it’s a lot darker than that. The anger and vengeance of the characters color the whole novel and make it far darker than I was expecting. Unfortunately, I never connected to any of the characters and I just couldn’t understand why Dana would let Amanda control her as much as she did. I never liked either of the main women.

There were a lot of #MeToo stories brought up in this book and of course, I found that aspect infuriating. I hate hearing about how blatantly terribly women are treated  and this book is full of those stories. I think any woman who has experienced any sort of mistreatment at the hands of men is going to understand why Dana and Amanda were so angry, but it’s harder to get on board with the depths they went in order to exact vengeance.

There’s also a plot point in this novel that I saw coming which really bothered me. I can’t give it away without major spoilers, but I just have to say that Dana was far too trusting around men, which she really shouldn’t have been.

Overall, I think this is a solid mystery/thriller. It’s interesting, fast-paced, and it kept my interest until the end. I liked Amy Gentry’s writing style and I will definitely read her future novels.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

Top 5 Best Books of the Year

To round out 2018, here are my Top 5 Best Books of the Year.

1.) Any Man – Amber Tamblyn

Any Man This book is a dark novel. It’s a scathing indictment of rape culture and how sexual violence is treated in today’s society. I was in awe of how amazing this novel was. Read my full review here.

 

 

2 and 3.) The Fourth Monkey/The Fifth to Die – JD Barker

The Fourth Monkey (4MK Thriller, #1) The Fifth to Die (4MK Thriller, #2)The Fourth Monkey is one of the most deliciously dark and twisted novels I’ve ever read. I actually had serial killer dreams while reading it, which never happens to me. Sometimes, I find the antagonists in serial killer novels too much of a caricature, but in this novel, the serial killer is so disturbed and actually really frightening. The Fifth to Die is also such a strong second novel. It never falters in its pace and it’s tightly crafted. Read my full review here.

4.) The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

The Hate U GiveI don’t know why it took me so long to read this book! I was waiting for the hype to die down because I don’t always agree with hyped books, but I had nothing to worry about. This book is incredible. It’s a compelling, heartbreaking, infuriating, and educational novel. I cried multiple times while reading it. I loved all of the characters so much and the relationship between Starr and her family was incredibly written. Though I’ve never lived through the same experience as Starr, her crisis of identity spoke to me so deeply. I think every immigrant kid can understand what it feels like to straddle two worlds. That’s such a small part of this book though.

Yes, this book made me furious, but I think that fury is needed. We all need to see the injustices that happen every day to people of color. This book is a must-read.

5.) Speak: The Graphic Novel – Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll

Speak: The Graphic Novel I first read the novel Speak when I was in high school. It impacted me so deeply even though I had never encountered anything like Melinda did. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years, and I was really interested in how it would be represented as a graphic novel. I cried when I read the novel, and I cried when I read the graphic novel too. This was beautifully illustrated and even though the writing was stripped down, it was full of the same vivid imagery as the novel had.

So highly recommended.

Top 5 Worst Books of The Year

This year, I read 112 books (and I have one in progress), so it’s time to do a wrap up of my best and worst books of the year. First up, the worst! These are in no particular order.

1. Artemis – Andy Weir

Artemis

I AM SO DISAPPOINTED IN THIS BOOK. I devoured The Martian and I was sure that Andy Weir was going to be an auto-buy author for me. Instead, not only am I bored by the plot, I HATE the main character, Jazz. Andy Weir has no clue how to write a woman. Jazz is one of those girls that guys think is a “cool” girl. She’s chill, laid back, just one of the guys. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that girls grow out of that by the time they’re 18. Most of the girls who spend all their time trying to make wise cracks and hang out with the guys, who talk like them and act like them are just playing a part. No grown woman is going to respond to a question asking her “What’s in the box?” with “Porn, starring your mom”. She sounds like what a 16 year old boy is looking for in a woman.

Also, the “heist” is one of the dullest heists I’ve ever read about. I just don’t care about what happens and the random info-dumping is no longer charming in his second book. He should have worked through those issues by now.

Hard pass, Andy Weir.

2. theMystery.doc – Matthew McIntoshtheMystery.doc

This book is awful. Not only are you confused for the majority of the book, the parts where you do understand what is going on are just so uninteresting and pretentious. I’m sick of these male authors in their mid to late twenties trying to write the next great American novel. It’s always just terrible. Overwrought writing and a pointless plot.

This book is 4 and a half pounds and 1600+ pages of nothing. Don’t bother.

3. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

The Wasp Factory

I know that a lot of people love this book and it’s supposed to be a classic with a totally shocking ending. The problem was that I hated the writing style of this book so much that even the shocking ending couldn’t save it. There are also terrible descriptions of animal cruelty that made me feel sick. I despised all of the characters and I just wasn’t into this book.

 

 

4. Hand Me Down – Melanie ThorneHand Me Down

There’s nothing inherently bad about this novel. I just had a really hard time connecting to any of the characters. I didn’t find myself caring about any of them. Almost all of the adults were so despicable, and I just didn’t find myself wanting to know how this book resolved.

 

5. The Divergent Series

Divergent (Divergent, #1)

I think I’m just too old for these books. While I used to like the angsty romance, especially when it was in a young adult dystopia, this one had insanely boring characters and I didn’t need to read about another special snowflake bringing down a society. I understand that it was really popular when they first came out, but by the second book I knew I was out.

One Night’s Stay – C.B. Collins

One Night's StayOne Night’s Stay
Author: C.B. Collins
Publisher: C.B.C. Publishing
Genre/Themes: Horror, Paranormal
Release Date: September 9th, 2018
Format: Ebook

Synopsis

Thirteen strangers check into the Sunset Inn hoping to find rest. When one of them is murdered in the middle of the night, the survivors realize they’ve found something else entirely; an ancient evil looking to satisfy an undying hunger. If the guests want to make it through the night, they’ll have to discover the secret behind the motel and the mysterious town it serves. However, in uncovering the truth, they might find that the town’s past is nowhere near as dark as their own.

Review

As soon as I read the premise of this novel, I was hooked. I have a weakness for books and movies that have a group of strangers coming together, especially when they’re in horror settings. This book starts off with all of the characters arriving at the Sunset Inn and for the most part, it was really creepy. The first third of this novel is completely tense and atmospheric and I had no idea what was going to happen.

When the story finally started to come together, it went in a completely different direction than I was expecting. There were so many unexpected twists to this novel and I was pleasantly surprised at how a lot of the storylines were resolved. While I thought the plot was pretty fast-paced, there was a lot of exposition in this novel. The core things the reader needed to know were sometimes info-dumped and a lot of it didn’t make much sense until the very end. I found myself really confused sometimes.

I really liked the characterization, but as the story progressed, sometimes the characterization started to falter. Certain moments (and certain deaths) that should have had more of an impact didn’t always deliver. A lot of the time I felt more of a spectator than someone who was heavily engrossed in the story.

Overall, this is a really tense, atmospheric novel. The story isn’t what you’re expecting and there a lot of surprises throughout the novel. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I recommend it to someone who is looking for a fast-paced horror novel.

I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This has not affected my review in any way.

Leave No Trace – Mindy Mejia

Leave No Trace: A NovelLeave No Trace
Author: Mindy Mejia
Publisher: Emily Bestler Books
Genre/Themes: Mystery/Thriller
Release Date: September 4th, 2018
Format: Ebook

 

Synopsis

There is a place in Minnesota with hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son trekked into this wilderness and never returned.

Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were presumed dead until a decade later…the son appeared. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative and sent to a psychiatric facility. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with their high-profile patient. No matter how she tries, however, he refuses to answer questions about his father or the last ten years of his life.

But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy who is no longer a boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who has disappeared from the known world.

Review

When I read Mindy Mejia’s novel, Everything You Want Me To Be, I was immediately hooked by how well she wrote and how fantastic her characterization was. The premise of this novel grabbed my interest immediately because it was so different than other mystery/thrillers I’d read. While I loved her first novel, I unfortunately didn’t enjoy this one as much.

There are some great things about this novel. Mindy Mejia is extremely gifted at developing characters that feel like real people. I loved the character of Maya because all of her issues felt genuine. They didn’t seem thrown in to make her more interesting. I also loved the way she interacted with her dad. The setting of this novel was also a big part of the story. It was described so vividly that I felt like I lived in Duluth too. However, the problems with this book far outweighed any of the positives.

My biggest problem was Lucas and his relationship with Maya.

***spoilers ahead***

Lucas was extremely violent to a lot of people. He choked Maya, threw someone over a railing, was responsible for someone’s head injury and handcuffs an orderly to a desk in his efforts to escape. Nevertheless, Maya is romantically involved with him and helps him in a way that is morally and ethically wrong. She’s his therapist and completely crosses the boundary of a professional relationship for very selfish reasons. I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of a therapist being in a position of power and starting a romantic relationship with her patient. It’s just so wrong. There were so many lines that were crossed. This book just didn’t need this romantic aspect in it. Also, this book is slow-paced. I went into it expecting a book like Mindy Mejia’s first, but this was even slower. There was a lot of repetition before anything actually happened.

While I thought mental illness was handled gracefully, there just wasn’t enough to redeem this book in my eyes. While I’d still be interested in reading Mindy Mejia’s future novels, I didn’t connect to this one.

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

 

 

Any Man – Amber Tamblyn

Any ManAny Man
Author: Amber Tamblyn
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre/Themes: Mystery/Thriller
Release Date: June 26th, 2018
Format:Book

Synopsis

A violent serial rapist is on the loose, who goes by the name Maude. She hunts for men at bars, online, at home— the place doesn’t matter, neither does the man. Her victims then must live the aftermath of their assault in the form of doubt from the police, feelings of shame alienation from their friends and family and the haunting of a horrible woman who becomes the phantom on which society projects its greatest fears, fascinations and even misogyny. All the while the police are without leads and the media hound the victims, publicly dissecting the details of their attack.
What is extraordinary is how as years pass these men learn to heal, by banding together and finding a space to raise their voices. Told in alternating viewpoints signature to each voice and experience of the victim, these pages crackle with emotion, ranging from horror to breathtaking empathy.

As bold as it is timely, Any Man paints a searing portrait of survival and is a tribute to those who have lived through the nightmare of sexual assault.

Review

This book is a dark, scathing, feminist indictment of rape culture and sexual violence against both men and women. First of all, the premise is brilliant. To have a female serial rapist not only shines a spotlight on how more attention sexual violence against men garners in the media, but also how differently male victims of rape are treated. Instead of being disbelieved, they’re ridiculed. Either way, there are no winners and this book is about how society handles sexual assault and its victims. No matter what, the victim will be blamed.

The book is written in a disjointed, fragmented style because that’s what the situation feels like for the characters. Like the assault, the prose is messy and complicated. The book revolves around the aftereffects of what happens to all the men after the rapes. It’s about how they cope and the steps they need to take to survive. It’s raw and sometimes it’s brutal. The writing flips between diary entries, transcripts, and Twitter posts. It distances the reader from the main narrative, but I think that works really well. It forces us to be spectators and consume the story from both the points of view of the victims, but also the general public.

There are just so many important topics discussed in this book. It’s so much more than a thriller about a female rapist. This is a book I didn’t know I needed, but I’m so thankful exists. Any person living in today’s society must read this book. It’s just so important.

 

Foe – Iain Reid

FoeFoe
Author: Iain Reid
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre/Themes: Science Fiction, Horror
Release Date: August 7th, 2018
Format: Digital ARC

Synopsis

Junior and Hen are a quiet married couple. They live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with surprising news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm…very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Hen won’t have a chance to miss him at all, because she won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Hen will have company. Familiar company.

Review

Iain Reid’s first novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Thingswas one of my favourite books of last year. I loved the atmosphere, the sense of unease and confusion, and the completely shocking ending. I was really glad to find out that Foe has all of these elements which creates another really great novel.

First off, I went into this book thinking it was going to be a horror/psychological suspense novel. Instead, this book takes place in the future. The reader has no idea how far in the future the book takes place, but we know that self driving cars are common and there’s a new colony on a planet created by an organization. While I was disappointed this wasn’t a horror novel, there was still this sense of unease and dread that occurred during the book. Iain Reid is extremely talented at creating these atmospheres where the reader knows something is off, but it’s impossible to determine what it is, which causes a lot of anxiety while reading. I found myself questioning everything.

This book is mostly about the complexities of marriage and domestic life when something really big and important is about to happen. It’s a fascinating character study which is marred by the addition of a third mysterious and creepy person. Everyone is such an unreliable character that you don’t really know what the mystery is or where Reid is planning on taking the book. I thought I’d figured out one big twist of the novel, but still ended up being completely shocked by the ending.

Overall, this is another really creepy novel by Iain Reid. It’s claustrophobic, unnerving, captivating and completely twists your mind. The ending is unexpected, but perfect. Everything about this tightly crafted novel was incredible and I highly recommend it.

The Fifth to Die – J.D. Barker

The Fifth to Die (4MK Thriller, #2)The Fifth to Die
Author: J.D. Barker
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre/Themes: Mystery, Thriller
Release Date: July 10th, 2018
Format: ARC

Synopsis

Detective Porter and the team have been pulled from the hunt for the Four Monkey Killer, by the feds. When the body of a young girl is found beneath the frozen waters of Jackson Park Lagoon, she is quickly identified as Ella Reynolds, missing three weeks. But how did she get there? The lagoon froze months earlier. More baffling? She’s found wearing the clothes of another girl, missing less than two days.

While the detectives of Chicago Metro try to make sense of the quickly developing case, Porter secretly continues his pursuit of 4MK, knowing the best way to find Bishop is to track down his mother. When the captain finds out about Porter’s activities, he’s suspended, leaving his partners Clair and Nash to continue the search for the new killer alone.

Obsessed with catching Bishop, Porter follows a single grainy photograph from Chicago to the streets of New Orleans and stumbles into a world darker than he could have possibly imagined, where he quickly realizes that the only place more frightening than the mind of a serial killer is the mind of the mother from which he came.

Review

This is the second book in the 4MK Thriller series, and it’s extremely important that the first book be read before starting this one. The first novel in this series, The Fourth Monkeyis one of the darkest, creepiest, and sharpest serial killer novels I’ve ever read. It gave me nightmares, which rarely ever happens to me. The serial killer was actually scary and all of the police officers were competent and a great match for him. The whole book surpassed my expectations and I knew I’d be reading everything J.D. Barker ever wrote.

I was thrilled to receive the sequel in the mail and I dove into it almost immediately. This book is just as sharply written and exciting as the first one. It’s still really fast-paced and even more complex than The Fourth Monkey. There are far more story lines and they’re all really tightly intertwined. The difference between this book and the first is that while it’s not as disturbing or as twisted as the first, the scope of it is enormous. I’m in awe of the way J.D. Barker is able to create this world and drop all these hints about the greater story. I never guess any of the twists that are coming, but not because they’re implausible but because they’re so unexpected. I’ve been shocked multiple times throughout both books and I think that’s the mark of a fantastic mystery/thriller.

Even though this book has a riveting plot, the characterization doesn’t suffer at all. We find out so much more about all of the characters from the first book, and are introduced to a new investigator who is also smart, talented, and completely competent. There are a lot of questions about the characters, and I’m really intrigued to find out what happens in the final book.

I’m really impressed by the scope of this novel. Even though there were a lot of open threads left at the end of the book and a giant cliffhanger, I’m just in awe of how well this book came together. I can’t wait for the third book to come out.

I received this book is exchange from the publisher for an honest review. This has affected my review in no way.

The City of Lost Fortunes – Bryan Camp

The City of Lost Fortunes (Crescent City #1)The City of Lost Fortunes
Author: Bryan Camp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre/Themes: Urban Fantasy
Release Date: April 17th, 2018
Format: ARC

Synopsis

The post–Katrina New Orleans of The City of Lost Fortunes is a place haunted by its history and by the hurricane’s destruction, a place that is hoping to survive the rebuilding of its present long enough to ensure that it has a future. Street magician Jude Dubuisson is likewise burdened by his past and by the consequences of the storm, because he has a secret: the magical ability to find lost things, a gift passed down to him by the father he has never known—a father who just happens to be more than human.

Jude has been lying low since the storm, which caused so many things to be lost that it played havoc with his magic, and he is hiding from his own power, his divine former employer, and a debt owed to the Fortune god of New Orleans. But his six-year retirement ends abruptly when the Fortune god is murdered and Jude is drawn back into the world he tried so desperately to leave behind. A world full of magic, monsters, and miracles. A world where he must find out who is responsible for the Fortune god’s death, uncover the plot that threatens the city’s soul, and discover what his talent for lost things has always been trying to show him: what it means to be his father’s son.

Review

Urban fantasy has always been one of my favourite genres, but most of the novels I read are centered around women who are witches/vampires/werewolves. That’s why I was really interested to read this book because not only was it centered around a man, but it was brand new mythology. In fact, this was one of the best things about this book. However, I found myself with extremely mixed feelings toward this novel.

This is an extremely creative story. It’s filled with mythology from many different cultures and religions. Since the story takes place in New Orleans, voodoo and loa play a big part, but it borrows from other cultures to create a really inventive novel. It was so far outside what I normally read in urban fantasy and I loved how unique it was. New Orleans plays a big part in this book as well. The whole book is very atmospheric and due to Bryan Camp’s descriptive and vivid writing style, New Orleans felt like its own character.

My reasons for disliking this book are almost indefinable. My biggest issue with this novel was Jude himself. While I liked the fact he was described as biracial and bisexual, there wasn’t much else I liked about him. It always felt like Bryan Camp was trying too hard to describe him as wounded and broken during the first two thirds of this novel. There was a lot of telling instead of showing while describing Jude’s character. That’s why when he finally understands who he is, there was barely any impact for the reader. In the last third, it felt like Bryan Camp was trying too hard to make him suave and charming and he never quite achieved his goal. I never quite connected to any of the characters, but I did like Sal and Regal. I never found myself liking Jude.

The other issue with this book is that the pacing of the novel is off. It’s really hard to grasp the mythology and world-building at the beginning of the book, so I found it hard to fully immerse myself. When I finally started to understand what was going on, the book started to drag in the middle. While the plot of this novel is entertaining and fun, it feels like a debut novel. The story is creative and unique, but it needs a little less telling. While the writing is descriptive and vivid, it can get bogged down with unnecessary facts and tangents.

This was a decent start to the Crescent City series, but I think Bryan Camp will get better with the future books he writes, and I’ll definitely be following his career and reading his future novels.