Posted in Joanne Serling, J.D. Serling

Good Neighbors by Joanne Serling

Synopsis:

In an idyllic suburb, four young families quickly form a neighborhood clique, their friendships based on little more than the ages of their children and a shared sense of camaraderie. When one of the couples, Paige and Gene Edwards, adopt a four-year-old girl from Russia, the group’s loyalty and morality is soon called into question. Are the Edwards unkind to their new daughter? Or is she a difficult child with hidden destructive tendencies?

As the seams of the group friendship slowly unravel, neighbor Nicole Westerhof finds herself drawn further into the life of the adopted girl, forcing Nicole to re-examine the deceptive nature of her own family ties, and her complicity in the events unfolding around her.

Review:

First things first: this is not a thriller. It might be described as one, it might even give you the illusion that it is, at least in the first pages. But slowly, slowly, you will understand that it’s not. By definition, a thriller is suppose to…mm… thrill you? To surprise you? And Good Neighbors has a good start in building that required tension. But somehow, chapter after chapter, the tension just dissipates somewhere in thin air, leaving you with a deflated balloon that hisses embarrassingly instead of popping with the glorious bang that you’d expect.

Buuuut…. There is a big “but”. I did actually enjoy the book. I can’t say I was “thrilled” (pun intended) to go back to it each time I interrupted my reading sessions and it did take me a while to finish it because of this reason. But weirdly, I liked the dark colors the author uses to paint her whole story. The slow action didn’t disturb me, the lack of suspense didn’t feel like a flaw. Don’t get me wrong, there is a certain feeling of apprehension, only that it’s not as concentrated as I was expecting when I read the synopsis.

I also loved how dark, somehow rhythmic and melancholic the protagonist’s voice was, as well as how lyrical Serling’s style is because of the abundance of verbless clauses. Few authors surprised me during the years with a very unique writting style that would be worth reading even if they’d write a grocery list, but I think J.D. Serling might actually be one of them.

And my-oh-my, I couldn’t wait to write this review only to share this one thing with anyone who’s reading it: the deeper the writter digs in the heroine’s mind and soul, the deeper you feel she went into your own. There’s nothing wrong with the protagonist. Realistically speaking, she doesn’t do or act in any wrong ways. But in the same time, there’s something disturbing, there’s something that feels somehow too personal and hidden. Or, perhaps, that’s exactly the issue: that it should be concealed and yet, there it is, out in the open, a truth about each one of us that we never acknowledge even to ourselves. You will find that ugly part of yourself in one of the protagonist’s thoughts. Perhaps when she’s thinking about all the ways she wishes her kid to be different. Or when she’s judging her own husband. Or when she’s not such a good friend as she likes to think. When she is not saddened about somebody else’s unhappiness. When she throws money to cover the guilt of lacking the proper feelings or taking the right actions. When she avoids responsibility just because her comfort zone is warm and nice. We all do things like these. We all have dirty sides that we refuse to look at. We all know they are there, despise them, feel guilty about them and yet, do nothing to correct our ways. Maybe because unconsciously, we feel they are irremediable, maybe they are our souls’ diseases that cannot be cured.

Posted in Cathryn Grant

The Good Mother by Cathryn Grant

Synopsis:

Amy’s life is picture perfect. Mess with that picture – you’re going to pay.

Amy’s life is close to perfect – two lovely daughters, a wonderful husband and she’s queen bee in her circle of soccer moms. She feels content, like she’s finally put some distance between herself and the terrible events of long ago.

The only fly in the ointment is Charlotte, a recent arrival to this affluent suburban community. The shameless way she dresses, the way the men look at her… it’s not right, she’s just not the kind of person they want around here.

Amy spearheads a drive to exclude Charlotte, to make it clear to her that she’s not welcome here. Infuriatingly, Charlotte doesn’t seem to care… And when her daughter joins the soccer team there’s just no getting away from her.

But Amy knows from bitter experience the kind of trouble a woman like Charlotte can bring. And there is no way on earth that her girls are ever going to be exposed to anything like that. The solution is clear – Charlotte has to go. No matter what it takes.

Review:

I don’t think there’s any other topic that I love reading about more than the depths of the human mind and all the ways insanity might manifest itself. Not the very obvious craziness spikes my interest, but the hidden one, the one that lurks for years undetected, showing only small, occasional red flags that the other characters are able to ignore easily. I don’t have words to explain how hooked The Good Mother kept me from the first to the last page because that’s exactly what it delivers: an apparent normal and perfect life that slowly develops into a crescendo of madness.

The storyline is nothing out of the ordinary: the “heaven on earth” suburban community, a circle of perfect mothers, secretly competing with each other for the title of the slimmest and best dressed house wife, for the prettiest pedicure or for the most delicious home baked cookies. Everything is normal, ideal, all rainbows, butterflies and unicorns. But the moment an eccentric mother disturbs the peaceful neighborhood, those perfectly manicured nails turn into ugly claws, ready to rip apart anyone who threatens to destroy their shiny painting.

Although multifaceted, most of the characters are dominated by one particular trait or event that shapes and contours their behavior: deep insecurity, childhood trauma, anxiety, rebellion, placidity, snobbishness, etc. And the author does a wonderful job in portraying her characters based on those features, but without compromising any of their complexity. If, in the beginning, these traits are just finely hinted, they start escalating in the same time with the evolution of the storyline, sometimes reaching a point where they shock you so badly that you have to read a sentence twice in order to comprehend the magnitude of what just happened.

I loved the fact that the author surprises the points of view of both sides so this way, none of the characters gets caught in a hero or villain role. Yes, looking at the situation from an outside perspective, things are pretty clear regarding who’s the good one and the bad one in the story. But entering the minds of multiple characters makes you less tempted to judge too harshly and allows you to analyze how many sides each random, small fact can have.

I read the book with thirst, with voracity. I’m always equally disturbed, intrigued and fascinated by any kind of behavior that I find irrational, lacking basic common sense, understanding or empathy. The Good Mother fed me with exactly this type of demeanor and interactions, keeping the adrenaline level at maximum levels.

Posted in Jess Lourey

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey

Synopsis:

Inspired by a terrifying true story from the author’s hometown, a heart-pounding novel of suspense about a small Minnesota community where nothing is as quiet—or as safe—as it seems.

Cassie McDowell’s life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents’ strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she’s grown accustomed to them.

All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.

One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed—violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who’s responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie’s own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable.

Review:

I oscillated a lot between rating this book with 2 or 3 stars. Eventually, I gave it 3 because I realized that the story is pretty worthy and the problem for me was mostly that it was not exactly my cup of tea.

The storyline was fine, the characters were credible enough, the voice of the child narrator was strong and innocent in the same time, with many moments to remind you of both the naivety and the sharpness of a child’s mind.

There’s something terrible, terrible dark that lurks in the background and starts to poison the atmosphere, something that you can only guess from the shadows initially, but soon after, it starts to intoxicate all the thoughts, actions and the whole existence of the protagonist. And I’m not talking here only about the horrible events that are marking the life of the small town where Cassie lives, but about something way closer, something so wrong and disturbing that it might become difficult to read. There are things that stain lives forever and the author did a great job approaching such a hard topic, with an unbelievable ease, without adopting a dramatic tone or trying to turn into a psychologist. Choosing to tell the story from a 12 years old protagonist definitely helped delivering the facts with bluntness and intensity.

What made me dread reading was not the course of action, not the events happening but rather the rhythm of the story. I do understand that exactly the slow development of the storyline was what made it even more sickening, the mix of the very normal and plain days with the sudden repulsive secrets, but for me personally, this stagnant style does nothing else than decrease my interest and curiosity.

But the fact that Unspeakable Things was not a fast or absolutely captivating read for me doesn’t make me consider it a bad novel. I do appreciate the courage to approach such sensitive topics, I admired the dark atmosphere created and the ways the author draw the whole painting. The speed of the narrative was the only issue I had with the book.

Posted in Chris Bohjalian

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Synopsis:

Cassandra Bowden is no stranger to hungover mornings. She’s a binge drinker, her job with the airline making it easy to find adventure, and the occasional blackouts seem to be inevitable. She lives with them, and the accompanying self-loathing.

When she awakes in a Dubai hotel room, she tries to piece the previous night back together, already counting the minutes until she has to catch her crew shuttle to the airport. She quietly slides out of bed, careful not to aggravate her already pounding head, and looks at the man she spent the night with. She sees his dark hair. His utter stillness. And blood, a slick, still wet pool on the crisp white sheets. Afraid to call the police—she’s a single woman alone in a hotel room far from home—Cassie begins to lie. She lies as she joins the other flight attendants and pilots in the van. She lies on the way to Paris as she works the first class cabin. She lies to the FBI agents in New York who meet her at the gate. Soon it’s too late to come clean—or face the truth about what really happened back in Dubai. Could she have killed him? If not, who did?

Review:

I stumbled upon an excerpt of this book and after I devoured the few pages, I was desperate to read the whole book. Probably what got me so hooked up was not necessarily the murder mystery itself, but the fact that Cassie, the protagonist, is a flight attendant. Since I’m doing the same job, diving into someone’s life who has so many similarities to mine was fascinating. It’s normal to look for things that make you relate to a book character. But most of the time, you have to imagine that character’s lifestyle, the job he or she does, all the small details that go on throughout a normal day to day life. This time, with Cassie, I didn’t have to… imagine anything. I just knew all those details. All the hotel rooms, all the flights details, the perks of the job, the crazy schedule, the bus trips to and from the airports, the parties, all the types of colleagues and their interactions. This was probably the main reason why, even when I started disliking the protagonist, the book still kept me somewhat intrigued.

The author’s work of documentation regarding airlines’ culture and systems, the aircraft work itself and the lifestyle of the crew is absolutely remarkable. And I’m assuming that his documentation about legal work, the international laws, the collaboration between countries, the FBI and other crime preventing organizations is just as strong as the one regarding the aviation industry. It seemed just as credible, well recorded and described.

My only problem was the heroine’s evolution, the way her personality develops into a more and more disturbed behavior, the way she paves her path with layers of lies, even during all the moments when they are completely unnecessary and the truth would be her best escape.

Somewhere in the middle of the story I started feeling so repelled by Cassie’s conduct that I can’t even see clearly if I slowed down my reading speed because of her or if the action slackened to an annoying pace.

Despite my problem with the heroine, I did love the whole storyline. I really enjoyed the chapters written from the antagonist’s point of view and almost emphasized with her more than I did it with Cassie. Secondary characters also have some surprisingly good stories so overall, The Flight Attendant was a satisfying read, even if my enthusiasm didn’t hold to the same level from the first few chapters.

Posted in A.J. Finn

The Woman In The Window by A.J. Finn

Synopsis:

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times… and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

Review:

Of course I heard about this book when it was published and it started making waves, but the description didn’t really make me put in on my wish list. But then, a few weeks ago, the movie trailer came out. And I don’t think more than 5 seconds passed between watching it and going on Amazon to get the book. All of a sudden, I just HAD to read it!

Now the sad part is that after reading the whole thing, I’m just as unimpressed as I was after reading just the synopsis. The main idea of the storyline is interesting, yes. The writing is fine. And there are even a few cliffhangers from a chapter to another, or at least some suspense is going on here and there. I’m usually a very big fan of observing the daily, mundane habits of the characters, so in the beginning, I actually enjoyed following Anna going round and round in the same small circles, over and over again. But at some point, the chaos of Anna’s mind becomes… plain boring. There’s simply not enough to keep you motivated, not enough to keep you enjoying the experience and so, reading feels more like a task rather than a pleasure. I actually didn’t check how many pages the book has but it certainly felt like way too many!

By the time I finally reached the ending, I was so bored and uninterested that the supposedly shocking discoveries from the last pages didn’t even make me blink. The only feeling I got was being relieved to finish it and move on to something more interesting.

Just to be totally fair, I have to mention one thing: despite not being impressed with the story overall, I did find inside of it one of the most emotional descriptions that I recently encountered in my readings. There are exactly 3 rows in this book that are pure, raw, burning emotion. 3 rows that make swallowing difficult even now, after weeks had passed, that turn eyes hot and that actually make me happy that I did read this novel. I feel like it was worth going through all those pages only for those two sentences.

I know the majority of people’s reviews are not just positive, but overly excited. After all, if the public’s reactions wouldn’t be like this, they wouldn’t have turn it into a movie. So if you’re curious about the novel or if you’re planning to watch the movie, go ahead and get the book. Chances are, you’ll like it more than I did.