book review: Wolfhunter River by Rachel Caine

Source: GoodReads.com

She can’t ignore a cry for help. But in this remote hunting town, it’s open season.

Gwen Proctor escaped her serial-killer husband and saved her family. What she can’t seem to outrun is his notoriety. Or the sick internet vigilantes still seeking to avenge his crimes. For Gwen, hiding isn’t an option. Not when her only mission is to create a normal life for her kids.

But now, a threatened woman has reached out… 

The third in Caine’s immensely readable and thrilling ‘Stillhouse Lake’ series, Wolfhunter River is nonetheless a departure from the norm. The book feels very much like a bridge that had to be crossed before Caine could continue the series the way she wanted. This isn’t a criticism. Actually, I was worried that Caine wouldn’t be able to move Gwen and Sam away from the malevolent spectre that was Melvin Royal, and I’m very pleased to be wrong. I can imagine – given the narrative thread that Rachel Caine introduces toward the end of this book – a very satisfying series coming from this new direction in Gwen’s life.

Part of me just wants Gwen to catch a break. What else can she possibly endure without going crazy? But the other part finds these books way too exciting to let go. In Wolfhunter River, Gwen answers the call of a panicked woman named Marlene Crockett, who is desperate for help to escape a looming threat. She won’t explain what – or who – she’s terrified of, but it’s evident that there’s something rotten in Wolfhunter. After sick Internet vigilantes come after Gwen and her family once again, and she receives another disturbing call – this time from Marlene’s daughter, she heads to Wolfhunter, feeling called to help, any way she can.

The second half of the book is packed with action, but Caine doesn’t sacrifice character and relationship development in the process. Gwen and Sam are struggling both with their romance, and with their pasts. Gwen sees camera eyes in every corner and Melvin in every patch of dark, and Sam is rocked to the core by the re-emergence of Miranda Tidewell in his life – a particularly repellent character that is hellbent on misery and revenge.

There’s also the very real threat from online sources and ghosts from Melvin’s past. He’s made sure that even in death, he’s a part of his family’s life, and like a spider, he keeps tightening the web – until someone is bound to choke. He’s a black stain on their lives, and it only continues to get worse, not better.

By the end, Caine has set up Gwen for a new beginning, but crucially, a beginning that is shaped irrevocably by the blood and horror of her past. I’m very, very happy that we haven’t seen the last of Gwen and her family, and hopefully, we’ll get more glimpses of Melvin (what a name hiding such a monster!)

My favourite part of these books – the beating heart that runs through them like a golden cord of steel – is Gwen’s love for her children, and YES – her love for herSELF. She SURVIVED. *She* did that. And she’s not giving up – not for anyone. It’s such a gorgeous portrayal of what it means to be a survivor, and what it means to be a woman in this world – this world of rape culture and #MeToo and Internet dog-piling and incessant, damaging vitriol. A world where your husband was a serial killer, and somehow it’s your fault for not controlling him, pleasing him, stopping him. It’s still, somehow, all on the woman.

I love Rachel Caine for this honest, unflinching depiction of a woman who has gone through the fire – and come through scarred, but alive, kicking and ready.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate the chance, as always.

Advertisements

book review: Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle

Dear Wife: a novel. By Kimberly Belle.


From the bestselling author of The Marriage Lie and Three Days Missing comes a riveting new novel of suspense about a woman who, in a fight for survival, must decide just how far she’ll go to escape the person she once loved

Beth Murphy is on the run…

Tautly suspenseful and genuinely moving, Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle is exactly the kind of thriller that pushes all the right buttons for me. While it has twists and turns that you won’t see coming, the novel is also a stirring examination of the epidemic of violence against women, in particular – violence perpetrated by their partners.

Told from alternating viewpoints – “Beth” (a woman on the run from her abusive husband), Jeffrey (who comes home to find that his wife Sabine has disappeared) and Marcus (the police officer assigned to Sabine’s case), the novel moves at a rapid-fire pace as Beth continues her desperate journey across the South, and Sabine’s fate grows ever uncertain.

Beth’s tale is the most riveting, and the one I felt most anxious to get back to as the book progressed. Interspersed with horrific, yet subtle details of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, Beth’s story is also one of breathtaking survival and ingenuity. Beth, in the end, is much smarter than anyone may have given her credit for, and (without giving too much away), watching her become the cat instead of the mouse is deeply satisfying in a visceral sense.

With the search for Sabine intensifying, Marcus’ unraveling temper and Jeffrey’s deception, nothing is quite as it seems. After all, who is Beth?

And who is she running from?

While I did guess the twist, I didn’t guess all of it, and Kimberly Belle had me on the edge of my seat, reading straight through the evening to get to the end. This isn’t the kind of thriller that rests solely on the denouement – the journey there is equally as good, and worth the time it takes to get there.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

book review: An Anonymous Girl by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I always appreciate the opportunity!

While I don’t believe that An Anonymous Girl is the “tour de force” that so many are touting it to be, it’s certainly entertaining. While I didn’t find it ‘unputdownable’, I did think the premise was intriguing, and I wanted to know what would happen. 

An Anonymous Girl (written by the writing team of Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks), takes us into two worlds. One: the world of Jessica, a struggling makeup artist in New York City, who works to help support her family and specifically, her sister, who is differently abled and requires additional care. When Jessica inadvertently hears about a psychological study being performed by a renowned New York psychologist, she sneaks her way in, attracted by the money on offer. Labeled as “Subject 52”, Jessica finds herself in a barren room, answering questions on a single laptop. Questions about morality, about judgment, about the tough choices we make, day in and day out.

The second world belongs to Dr. Shields, who is running the study, and who becomes singularly focused on Jessica and invites her for further “examination”. Dr. Shields is ostensibly fascinating, but Pekkanen and Hendricks lay this on way too thick – her “spicy” perfume and the fact that she likes shawls are presented as intricate layers of character development. 

As their two worlds intersect and collide, it becomes clear that the study isn’t quite what it seems, and that Jessica may be in over her head…

Saying any more would spoil the unveilings that occur, and I do think this tale is worth reading till the end. A few personal quibbles – I didn’t find Jessica all that sympathetic, and I thought she was idiotic for trusting such a creepy doctor and such an invasive “study” – every instinct would be telling her to run in the other direction since it was so odd from the get-go. Hendricks and Pekkanen would have been better served to dial down the creep factor until Jessica was already fully embroiled. I also hated how much she ignored her dog (she was NEVER home…), how she treated Noah, and how little she learned by the end. 

BUT it’s not like I have to be best friends with her. I also think the book would have benefited from tighter editing. However, the story itself is certainly engrossing, and I see why it’s popular. 

book review: In the Barren Ground by Loreth Anne White

29243822

Thank you to NetGalley and Montlake Romance for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

I fell in love with Loreth Anne White’s writing when I read A Dark Lure. It was so unbelievably atmospheric and sensual and raw and terrifying. I read it – captivated – wishing only for more.

In the Barren Ground is a bit of a departure, in that it’s mostly mystery and there is barely any romance or sex. It’s as if White is pulling an Iris Johansen, and pulling out of writing romance altogether, to which I say – please don’t. I know that romance gets a bit of a bad rap, but the genre has a TON of loyal and devoted fans. And Loreth, you write fantastic romance. For real. A Dark Lure was very, very powerful and part of that was because of the build up of the romantic relationship between the two leads.

With that said, In the Barren Ground was very, very good. It has all of the taut suspense I’ve come to expect from White, as well as the compelling mystery that I couldn’t untwist for the life of me until the last second. Even then, there were still elements that left me breathless – it was definitely a page-turner.

There are some aspects of the novel that made me cringe. For one thing, the heroine has a hang up about sex, and seems to think she’d be a slutty slut for going to bed with the hero. Far be it for me to object to a woman feeling badly about herself for a natural human need, but come on now. It’s 2016. Can we move on?

Secondly, the hero is a bit problematic. Not saying he’s not appealing in a certain sense, but I didn’t buy his journey so much. I wanted to, no doubt. But his transition from scoundrel to good guy didn’t have a ring of Han Solo about it. It felt like White was directing the action, rather than the characters. Which brings me back to the lack of sex and romance. This novel would have benefited hugely from both.

But back to the good stuff. White’s sense of place is ridiculously good. One of my pet peeves is not feeling I *know* where the characters are. You’ll never have that issue in White’s novels. I was there with Tana and Crash, in the snow, in the neverending cold, in with the howling wind and the barren grounds. There was something almost gothic about the atmosphere – intentionally so – and it was beautiful and breathtaking.

All in all, this was an unputdownable read. My quibbles about romance / sex are personal preferences that of course not everyone will share I just hope that in future, White can marry the two again with her mystery, because THAT is a gorgeous thing to behold.

book review: The First Taste by Jessica Hawkins

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00071]

ARC kindly supplied by the author in exchange for an honest review. 

First of all, can we discuss that cover? Hellloooooo.

Second of all, can we discuss how damn good Jessica Hawkins is? To be fair, I’m already a big fan. The first book I read by her was Slip Of The Tongue (The First Taste is a sequel of sorts) and I went on to read the rest of her work, including one of my favourite series of all time – Cityscape. David and Olivia. Sigh, I can barely type their names without wanting to dissolve into a puddle of feelings.

So I had high expectations for The First Taste. I was trepidatious, considering I’m used to Jessica writing “forbidden” romances, and to be truthful, I prefer those above all others. However, my concerns were unfounded – The First Taste is smart, sexy and unputdownable. Best yet, it features a wholly unique heroine. Amelia isn’t like any ‘romance novel’ heroine I’ve read about before, and I found her to be a breath of fresh air (much like many of Hawkins’ heroines actually, but Amelia was next-level).

The First Taste is about Andrew Beckwith (Sadie’s brother from Slip Of The Tongue), a single parent, entrepreneur and sexy-as-fuck maaaan. (Yes, that needed the extra a’s.) When Sadie’s boss Amelia mistakes Andrew for the plumber coming to fix the office toilet, sparks immediately fly between the two. Both are prickly, intelligent, determinedly unemotional and most importantly – unavailable. So what can one night of sex hurt… right?

Well, wrong, clearly… or we wouldn’t have a book. :p Amelia and Andrew have shattering sex. The kind that destroys your expectations. The kind that ultimately changes your life. Because after that intense, raw, passionate night – Amelia and Andrew find it very difficult to keep to their respective status quos of “no relationships, ever, thanks bye”. Instead, they find themselves wanting to be in each other’s lives and struggling to understand how they can possibly fit together when they’re so very different.

Amelia doesn’t eat carbs. Andrew loves pasta. Amelia is a city girl. Andrew loves the outskirts. Amelia thinks kids are weird. Andrew is a single father to a squishy lovebug of adorableness named Bell. Amelia is badly, badly broken from her past marriage. Andrew is recovering from the abandonment of Bell’s mother and his girlfriend. Both of them have baggage to spare. The trick is whether they can unpack it together and whether or not love – true, abiding, sensual, imperfect – love is worth it.

The journey to them finding out is rife with drama and the kind of sex scenes that will make you want to read this book alone, with a glass (or bottle) of red wine. Seriously, they are toe-curlingly delicious.

All in all, The First Taste was everything I didn’t know I wanted – a soul-affirming tale of two damaged souls finding each other in the quagmire of daily life. A beautifully written ode to second chances. And a very mature, very sexy and very real take on love in your thirties.

book review: Into the Light by Aleatha Romig

27309432

Thank you to Thomas & Mercer and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

Not sure I should thank the publisher for sending me this ARC because now I’m like a beast at the door, slavering for the sequel and willing to cut a b*tch to get my paws on it. This was so damn good. I had zero idea what to expect from the summary, and this floored me with how entertaining, electrifying and many other e-adjectives it was.

Into the Light begins with darkness. Sara Adams wakes up in a hospital bed, blinded, unable to walk, with strange people around her that she does not – and can not – remember. Comforted only by the man who calls himself her husband, Jacob, Sara is introduced to ‘The Light’, a way of life she chose long ago, and evidently decided to escape. Hence, the hospital bed and her devastating injuries.

In ‘The Light’, women are controlled by their husbands. They may not question. They may not ever speak ill of a man. They may not refuse sex. If they do anything out of turn, they are ‘corrected’ by their husband – which generally involves some sort of physical abuse. Sara is bewildered, inquisitive and naturally intelligent. Even as she is seduced into the world by Jacob, she wonders – why did she become part of this community?

And why did she try – and fail – to leave?

On the other side of the United States is Stella Montgomery, an investigator working in Detroit. Stella’s discovered an alarming trend – people are disappearing – or turning up dead, right there in her city, at an astonishing rate. Their only link? They are all women. One of them is her best friend, Mindy. Against the wishes of her boyfriend Dylan, Stella is determined to discover a deeper connection and find Mindy in the process. Unknowingly wandering into the dragon’s lair, Stella gets closer and closer to danger …

Wow. As the story mounts, the tension ratchets up to a fever pitch. The author deserves major kudos for the fact that I only guessed the biggest twist (and there are a few!) right before she revealed it. And I thought I was probably crazy for thinking it too. That’s the mark of a talented and deft writer.

Atmospheric, sexy, mysterious and with a pervading sense of doom, Into the Light is one of the best romantic mysteries I’ve read this year.

Suffice to say, I can.not.wait.for.the.sequel. I am actually dying a bit here. Aleatha, write quickly, my darling! You are a gem.

book review: Still Mine by Amy Stuart

23359117

Thank you to Touchstone and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

From the book’s blurb: The Girl on the Train meets The Silent Wife in this taut psychological thriller. Honestly? No.

But. This is still an atmospheric, subtle and genuinely haunting book. Rather than a thriller, it felt more like a rumination on how our surroundings reflect back into our lives, seeping through the cracks and poisoning our blood, our choices and our dreams.

Clare is on the run. When she arrives in Blackmore, a remote mining town in the mountains, it’s clear she has a mission: to find out more about a missing woman, Shayna Fowles. Before long, Clare is drinking with the locals, living in one of their trailers, and even striking up an uneasy romance with Shayna’s ex-husband (who is suspected of killing her). With me so far?

To be honest, the mystery really didn’t interest me. Thankfully, as the truth behind Shayna’s disappearance is a dud. What did interest me was how the closure of the mine (after a deadly explosion) reverberated through Blackmore, rupturing families and spurring a mass exodus. Blackmore is a town that is slowly dying, much like Clare was slowly dying in her previous life.

But why is Clare searching for Shayna? Who is Malcolm, the man who hired her? Why does Clare have nightmares every night, and go through withdrawal each day?

As Stuart unwraps Clare, she unwraps the way a community can be bloodied and broken by circumstance, and how far we will go to hurt – or save – those we love.

book review: Love to Hate You by Anna Premoli

29499307 (1)

Thank you to Aria Books and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

While I wouldn’t say this was the best romance I’ve read lately, it felt satisfying in a way I can’t quite articulate. Perhaps it’s the age-old tale of the commoner falling in love with the Earl. Perhaps it was the slightly old fashioned writing, or the push and pull of two characters who really, really seem to dislike each other – at first.

Ian, the Earl of Langley, and Jennifer Percy (no title) work together at a law firm that specializes in getting rich people out of paying tax. They also loathe each other. When they’re asked to work together, and paparazzi mistake them for a couple, Ian stumbles upon a fantastic idea: they should pretend to date! That way he can get all of the floozies who flock to him off his back! What could go wrong!

Well, this is a novel, so let’s face it… tons can and will go wrong. Starting with Ian falling in love with Jennifer, natch. Ending with her insufferably granola family and his insufferably snobby family. Also ending with Jennifer’s hideous personality (I say this with affection because I can be a bitch too, but Jennifer is truly, truly a straight-up, stone-cold bitch and she has zero time for Ian for literally 79% of the book, so…).

Despite it all, Ian perseveres (a guy outside of a book would not, ladies. I warn you) and a romance is born. But what about their warring families? Their differences? The class system? Egads!

I’m pretty sure it’s not a spoiler to say all’s well that ends well, even if I think Ian should leave Jennifer and marry me. I would be nice to such a lovesick and gorgeous puppy.

The End.

book review: Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

29430752

Thank you to Atria Books and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

This was a sheer delight. 

At first, I didn’t think so at all… I’ll admit. So I urge anyone reading to give this time. Don’t immediately buy into the Kinsella-adjacent marketing. For one thing, Sophie Kinsella’s books are inherently about ‘wacky’ characters (who often do deeply stupid things for which they rarely take true responsibility), and for the most part – romance. This book is not really wacky, nor is it in any way a romance. It’s about friendships, careers, parents and how rejection stings deeper than the worst wounds can ever sting.

It’s also wonderfully, dryly funny.

Kate, in short, is a mess. Which is fine with her scatterbrained and highly intelligent parents, but not so much with her friends and her wound-tighter-than-a-spring sister, Angela. You see, Kate’s been dumped by her tres-French boyfriend and her career is in tatters. When she finds a job as an Admissions assistant for a rigorously academic school in Manhattan, she decides to take her chances. What’s the worst that could happen after all?

Self-pity isn’t in the agenda for Kate after she begins her new position. In fact, nothing is – other than overzealous parents, ditzy and/or insufferable children, her colleagues Henry and Maureen (Maureen is my new book girlfriend) and “the dark time” of selecting candidates for the new school year.

Watching Kate navigate this new world – and the increasingly hilarious letters from parents and children begging to be let into Hudson’s Day – is, as I said, delightful. As is the lack of emphasis on romance (the downstairs neighbor is a welcome footnote, but just that – a footnote).

It’s refreshing to watch Kate’s growing competency, and glimpse the tertiary characters struggle with – or take joy from – her growing up and away.

book review: Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

28581584

Thank you to Penguin – Random House UK and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it!

It’s a shame that this book has been boxed into the “thriller” category, because it’s really more of a straight up mystery, with a ‘surprise twist’ (re: I guessed it midway through, but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel).

Dear Amy has an interesting premise. Margot Lewis is an agony aunt who begins to receive letters from someone purporting to be Bethan Avery, a young girl who disappeared years before. Interspersed with Margot’s story, we also watch as Katie Browne, a troubled teenager, is held captive in a dark cellar by a sadistic kidnapper. As the plots converge, it becomes clear that Margot’s mysterious letters may hold the key to finding Katie – and maybe, Bethan too.

Like I said, I guessed the twist. It’s also strange to me that I believed Margot to be in her fifties for a good portion of the novel, before I realized she was actually quite a bit younger. However, she’s an enjoyable character in the sense that she’s very human – she generally dislikes most people, reacts believably to her husband’s infidelity and has a sarcastic sense of humour. In short, she’s a bit neurotic and unlikable. (Aren’t most human beings?)

Midway through, the novel begins to spiral into into the realm of the ‘unbelievable’, but it was still an entertaining read. Callaghan has a deft hand with tension at some points (none at all in others… fault of the editing, perhaps?) and her grasp of the unreliable narrator is strong. Treat this as a mystery, and you’ll be satisfied. Just don’t go looking for too many ‘thrills’ – this is mainly a study of the mind.