Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle #BookReview

TITLE: Dear Wife | AUTHOR: Kimberly Belle | PUBLISHER: Park Row| PUBLISHED ON: June 25, 2019 | PAGES: 329| ISBN13: 9780778308591 | RATING: 3.5 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by publisher for review consideration.

My Thoughts:

I don’t normally do half-hook ratings, but this one has left me truly stuck in the middle – 3 stars doesn’t seem to quite give the book the credit it deserves, but I can’t quite justify pushing it to that fourth star either. This novel was most of a really great thriller, but it wasn’t without its shortcomings.

The novel has a pretty straightforward premise: we follow Beth, a woman on the run, Jeffrey, a man searching for his missing wife, and Marcus, the detective assigned to find Jeffrey’s wife. From the very first pages, this book gave me serious Gone Girl vibes. Not to say that the plots were overly similar, but the alternating viewpoints and the overall tension that Belle builds in the opening chapters were definitely reminiscent of Flynn.

This book hooked me fast, and it demanded to be read in large chunks because I couldn’t put it down. The characters were flawed but compelling, and I absolutely needed to know what would happen next! I did find that the tension died off a little in the middle of the novel, particularly in Beth’s sections, but for most of this book, I was totally glued to its pages. A good thriller needs to be thrilling (it’s in the name, after all) and this one definitely delivers on that aspect.

My main issue with the novel is that I found it to be a bit predictable. It definitely took some unexpected turns, particularly near the end, but I had probably the biggest twist of the book figured out within the first couple of chapters, because the alternative seemed just too obvious. I’ll admit I doubted myself a couple of times while reading, so the author did a decent job of trying to throw me off the scent, but I was pretty confident I had it (and I did). The ending was also a little Scooby-Doo for my tastes: lots of exposition of the why and how in the middle of what was otherwise an exciting and action-packed climax.

This was my first time reading Belle’s work, and while it wasn’t perfect, I’m definitely planning to check out her other novels. The writing here is solid and definitely delivered the thrills, even if some aspects of the plot left me craving a bit more suspense.

The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz #BookReview

TITLE: The Dark Game | AUTHOR: Jonathan Janz| PUBLISHER: Flame Tree Press | PUBLISHED ON: April 11, 2019 | PAGES: 304|
RATING: 3 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by publisher for review consideration.

My Thoughts:

I’m still fairly new to the Janz game. I read, and absolutely loved, The Siren and the Spectre last year, and it easily made my top 5 books of 2018. So I had very, very high expectations for my second read of his. Sadly I think these extremely high expectations are part of what led to my disappointment here. While The Dark Game has some great points, I was ultimately left feeling underwhelmed and, at times, pretty annoyed with this novel.

First, the good. I really loved the premise of this novel. Ten authors are invited to a secret writers’ competition hosted by a reclusive but genius author, with promises of fame and fortune for the winning writer. Of course not all is as it seems, and there’s a dark undercurrent to the contest that leaves the authors competing for more than just a cash prize. The setting of this novel is perfect. Who doesn’t love a creepy, crumbling mansion set in a secluded forest? It really set the tone for the story early on, and was probably my favorite part of the book. Without giving too much away, the twists that occur here are also fantastic and well executed. The details unfold slowly enough to build a wonderful suspense, but with punches of action throughout that prevent the reader from figuring out the end game miles ahead of the characters of the novel. I also appreciated the little Easter eggs and nods to Janz’ other novels, those are always a fun little tidbit to come across!

Now for the not so good. I found the characters to be extremely lacking. This was especially disappointing given how strong I felt the characters were in The Siren and the Spectre. Here, most of the characters felt like cardboard cut-outs rather than fleshed out people. I think part of this is just the nature of starting off with such a large cast of characters, but even a little bit more personality would have gone a very long way for each of the characters. As it stands, it really lowered the stakes of the novel for me. I figured out which characters were likely to make it to the end within the first couple of chapters because they were the only ones with any depth, and for the rest, I wasn’t all that invested in their deaths because I didn’t have enough to go on to feel invested in their lives first. There was also a lot of weird sex stuff that’s largely only mentioned in passing, but in a way that made me roll my eyes a little. It was clear that a lot of it was meant to be for shock value, and while certain sections made me uncomfortable, I don’t think it was for the reasons the author intended. I don’t mind sex and sexuality in my books, but it has to be well done. Unfortunately in this case, every instance was unremarkable at best, and completely cringe-inducing at worse. And would it really be a Literary Hooker review if I didn’t complain about a romance being thrown in for good measure? Because I’m gonna: this book didn’t need a romance element. It didn’t add much (except more awkward sex talk) and I kind of hate the idea that male and female characters can only experience deep bonds if those bonds are romantic and/or sexual. Boo.

The second half of the novel really did pick things up for me. Once the cast of characters was narrowed down a bit, it was easier for me to connect with the remaining characters and I really got into the story. The story goes into new and unique places in the last 100 pages or so that I really enjoyed There are tons of excellent twists and reveals in the latter part of the book, which certainly won me back a little bit. But it was too little too late for me to really fall in love with this one. It’s too bad, because there was SO MUCH to like about the second half, but the first half was so flat that I was already one foot out the door, making it that much harder for the book to draw me back in.

Maybe I’m partially to blame for my own disappointment because I couldn’t stop myself from comparing this novel to The Siren and the Spectre. Maybe if I’d read this one first, I would have enjoyed it more. But it was impossible not to hold this book to the high standards I KNOW Janz is capable of, and sadly it didn’t come anywhere near reaching the bar I’d set for it in my mind. This book had a ton of potential, which made it all the more disappointing when it failed to deliver. I’m glad I chose to finish the novel (I came close to DNFing it a couple of times) as it did redeem itself to an extent in the last half, but honestly I don’t see this one sticking with me for very long.

The Woman in the Dark by Vanessa Savage #BookReview

TITLE: The Woman in the Dark | AUTHOR: Vanessa Savage | PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing | PUBLISHED ON: March 12, 2019 | PAGES: 346| RATING: 3 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Publisher |
TRIGGER WARNING: Domestic Violence, Rape

My Thoughts:

I really, really wanted to love this book. Great cover, good premise, on the surface it sounded right up my alley. Unfortunately it rubbed me the wrong way from the very beginning, and while it did win me back slightly before the end, it never fully climbed back into my good graces.

This has a lot to do with my personal reading tastes. I hate, HATE, the trope of the traumatized and therefore hysterical woman who no one believes due to her trauma. It’s a weirdly popular trope in thrillers (especially thrillers written by women it seems) and clearly other readers are into it since some of the most popular thrillers in recent years have employed it, but I don’t like it. It feels like a cheap way to remove a character’s agency. This book does take it in a different direction than most other books I’ve read, and I can definitely appreciate that, but its use still got my hackles up right from the start.

I also found the characters as a whole to be rather shallow. The reader is offered glimpses into Sarah’s past, but never enough to make her complete breakdown believable for me. Her relationship with Patrick was the same, it felt extremely surface level which made it difficult to fully invest. Mia especially suffered here, she has essentially no personality outside of “angry teenaged daddy’s girl.” What made this all the more frustrating though was the fact that Joe is actually quite well written and fleshed out; he has a past and clear feelings and interests, and I found my heart breaking for him as I read. But this really showcased the shallowness of the other characters in comparison.

There were, however, a few elements of this book that worked very, very well. The sinister nature of the Murder House was a big winner for me. I found myself truly questioning whether there was something supernatural happening here, and I love a book that makes me doubt what’s taking place. The mystery itself, while not perfect and a little predictable towards the end, was also extremely compelling and kept me turning pages. The author did an excellent job of weaving the mystery together with the more domestic thriller elements. The prose itself here is also fantastic, and I loved the imagery the author paints for the reader. That was definitely the strongest point of this novel in my opinion.

Even though I never felt entirely immersed in the story, it did hold my attention and I was eager to see how things would end. For the author’s debut, I think she did a fantastic job of using evocative, attention-grabbing language. With a bit more depth to the characters, this could have been a slam dunk of a novel. As it stands, it was a mostly enjoyable read with a few stumbling blocks, and I would definitely be open to checking out the author’s future works.

Black Water by Whitney Skoreyko #BookReview

TITLE: Black Water | AUTHOR: Whitney Skoreyko | PUBLISHER: Self-published | PUBLISHED ON: September 5, 2018 | PAGES: 205 | RATING: 3 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by author

My Thoughts:

I like going into books more or less blind, knowing as little as possible about them. Usually that works out well, but every so often the mood reader in me gets burned by a book that isn’t what I had it set up in my head as. This book was not exactly what I was expecting. I had it in my head that it was a straight-up thriller, but what I got was more of a romantic suspense. Not a bad thing necessarily, but unexpected.

Okay so, as you’ve probably guessed, this book had a much larger romance element than I was expecting. That was really the biggest pitfall of the book for me, partially because I’m not a huge romance fan, partially because the whole thing felt far too instalove for my tastes. Hannah locks eyes with “the green eyed man” across a room and immediately falls for him despite the fact that he’s throwing up more red flags than a soccer ref. It didn’t feel realistic at all and their whole budding relationship really bugged me.

The actual mystery part of the novel was definitely intriguing though. I finished the book in one sitting because I wanted to know where the mystery was going, and the resolution was extremely unexpected, which I appreciated. I liked seeing everything come together, it was satisfying without being over the top neat and tidy. I also enjoyed the shifting perspective, which, to an extent, helped a little with the red flags I mentioned above, but not entirely. I do think it was an interesting idea though and it worked well in this story.

Now, I have to get something off my chest with this book that really, really bothered me: if you’re going to set your book in a city you aren’t familiar with, you need to do your research! I’m a detail-oriented reader, so when I read something that I know is incorrect, it bugs the everloving shit out of me and will completely take me out of the story. There is no Uber in Victoria, and no one is waiting for days for a plane to Vancouver (or vice versa, from Vancouver back to Victoria): there are nine million flights a day, a ferry, and 2 other cities within a 3 hour drive where you could also catch a flight or ferry. Like I said, I finished this book in one sitting so it didn’t completely ruin it for me, but it really stuck out to me as something that should have been caught since it’s so easy to verify.

As a debut indie book, this book was pretty well put together. It wasn’t flawless, and could have used a bit more fact-checking, but that’s fine and a book doesn’t need to be perfect to be enjoyable. It was a quick read, and while I did have my issues with it, I found it to be an entertaining read. I don’t think I was necessarily the right audience for this book given my general hangups with romance mixed into other genres, but if that your kind of thing, I’d say this book is worth a read.