Posted in Colleen Hoover

Verity by Colleen Hoover

Synopsis:

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

Review:

I remember there was a time when the whole bookish blogosphere was in love with Coleen Hoover and it was impossible not to stumble upon a review of her books whichever book blog you’d read. I must confess I was never tempted to try her novels since this romance, new adult genre was never one of my favorites. But since the publishing of Verity, which promised a completely different direction, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

The book is… good. Like really, really good. It comes with an original premise and the alternation of the heroine’s present with the antagonist’s past keeps you hooked and restless. Surprisingly, not only the villain’s diary inserts are building up the suspense but also the main character’s reactions to it. Lowen’s increasing obsession with the manuscript reaches a level where it’s difficult to know if she’s just imagining things or if she’s in a real danger. I felt like the author tried to give her some “unreliable narrator” traits but fortunately, she’s not diving really deep into that pool.

What I completely hated was the insta-love. I’m so over this trend, I feel like it expired years ago and the writers should stop trying to bring back its glory age. It’s unrealistic, boring and useless and every time Lowen sighs at Jeremy’s “majestic” view I didn’t know how to fast forward those paragraphs.

The same applies with the mediocre, weirdo heroine that writers insist on making so “not special” until the perfect Prince Charming arrives and discovers from the first second what a special snowflake she is and falls in love with her. I think Twilight was the story that elevated this fashion as a must have, but it’s been already 15 years since that series was published. You’d think it should have expired by now, but it seems that writers still cannot come with something better and finally drop this irritating idea.

To be honest, in this case, if there’s one remarkable character that deserves all the praise, that’s definitely Verity and not Lowen. Yes, it’s sweet and nice and bla bla bla that “the good” prevails over “the evil” but considering each character’s portrait and features, even the idea that after Jeremy loved genius Verity, he’d fall in love with dull and colorless Lowen is insulting and annoying. I would understand falling out of love or even hating his wife after the truth is revealed. But no, definitely not falling in love with Lowen. He might as well fall for a rock in his garden, it would have the same entertaining behavior as Lowen.

And speaking of this.. In the end, even without reaching the last twist, you cannot help but wonder if “good” is always good and “evil” is always evil or if they’re not actually pretty similar, only hiding under different justifications.

Despite the annoying aspects that I already mentioned, Verity is a pretty good thriller and the pros are definitely weighing more than the cons.

Posted in Gregg Olsen, Uncategorized

Lying Next To Me by Gregg Olsen

Synopsis:

No matter what you see, no matter what you’ve heard, assume nothing.

Adam and Sophie Warner and their three-year-old daughter are vacationing in Washington State’s Hood Canal for Memorial Day weekend. It’s the perfect getaway to unplug—and to calm an uneasy marriage. But on Adam’s first day out on the water, he sees Sophie abducted by a stranger. A hundred yards from shore, Adam can’t save her. And Sophie disappears.

In a nearby cabin is another couple, Kristen and Connor Moss. Unfortunately, beyond what they’ve heard in the news, they’re in the dark when it comes to Sophie’s disappearance. For Adam, at least there’s comfort in knowing that Mason County detective Lee Husemann is an old friend of his. She’ll do everything she can to help. She must.

But as Adam’s paranoia about his missing wife escalates, Lee puts together the pieces of a puzzle. The lives of the two couples are converging in unpredictable ways, and the picture is unsettling. Lee suspects that not everyone is telling the truth about what they know—or they have yet to reveal all the lies they’ve hidden from the strangers they married.

Review:

I have no idea how many months passed already since I’m in this “psychological/domestic thriller” loop, but for now, the attraction for this genre looks just as strong as when it started and it’s still bringing me joy and excitement. So here we are, with yet another mystery that I finished in just two-three days: Lying Next To Me.

There’s not a single character in this book that doesn’t look deceiving and shady. Even the only one which seems pretty clean in the beginning will make you change your mind later. As for all the rest…no chance they won’t make you squint suspiciously to anything they do, say or even think! This is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects. When it comes to this type of books, usually the authors prefer to mislead you into thinking that their characters are innocent and later to shock you by revealing their true nature. But Gregg Olsen makes everybody look guilty. You doubt everyone, you detect all the lies they’re telling both to themselves and to the others around them and yet, you still cannot put all the puzzle pieces together.

I normally don’t even try to unravel a mystery and just enjoy the ride as it comes, but this time I was convinced that I discovered the murderer way before reaching the final chapters. So I was completely surprised to see that in the end, I was and I wasn’t right in the same time. I did get a part of the puzzle, but only to notice that I missed a whole other bunch of it.

I enjoyed the whole story, the characters’ double faces, the imperfect matches, the apparently untied threads that the author leaves here and there.

What I definitely didn’t like was the rushed ending, the way everything looks fast-forwarded. There’s a constant cadence during the whole book, not to slow, not to fast and in the end, everything escalates in an unnatural way. I guess the author’s intention was to raise the reader’s pulse and the adrenaline levels but it felt unnecessary and unflattering for the whole story. All of a sudden, you’re witnessing this abrupt evolution of some of the characters and therefore, the whole story’s development looks forced and hasty. That’s actually the only reason why I dropped my rating from 5 to 4 stars so besides this annoying aspect, the story was a great and engrossing read.

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.