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.

Vessel by Lisa A. Nichols #BookReview

TITLE: Vessel | AUTHOR: Lisa A. Nichols | PUBLISHER: Atria | PUBLISHED ON: May 21, 2019 | PAGES: 304 | RATING: 4 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Netgalley

My Thoughts:

I don’t know that I’ve ever really read a sci-fi thriller before, but this was definitely a solid entry point into the genre. I tore through this book in only a couple of sittings because I absolutely needed to know what would happen next, and that’s always the mark of a good book for me.

The novel follows Catherine Wells, an astronaut presumed dead in space after six years of no contact with Earth. Once safely back on Earth, she must adapt to life where her family (including her now-teenaged daughter) has moved on without her, while also facing questions from NASA about exactly what happened to the rest of her crew.

The ideas here felt fresh and not like a rehashing of the same themes I’ve seen over and over. It definitely gave me some X-Files, government cover-up, type vibes, but in a good way, without feeling like it was pulling too much from outside sources. This novel is very much its own unique story, and while the thriller element is front and centre, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is, ultimately, a sci-fi novel.

I loved the two timelines, having flashbacks to Catherine’s time in space interspersed with the mystery of what REALLY happened to her crew now that she’s back on Earth. It added a lot to the tension of the novel, and kept me reading as I looked for the links between past and present. The characters and plot were, for the most part, both written in a way that was incredibly engaging, so I found myself immersed in the story very quickly and invested in the outcome of Cath and Cal’s search for the truth.

This would have been a 5-star read for me if not for two things: one, it features yet another useless romance subplot that adds absolutely nothing of value to the plot, and two, the ending was way too neat and tidy (and ridiculous) for me to buy it, especially given some of the shady shit that takes place over the course of the novel. But overall, this was a really entertaining read, filled with suspense and unique ideas. Definitely worth picking up even if you aren’t typically a sci-fi fan. There’s more than enough mystery here to grip most readers!

Little Darlings by Melanie Golding #BookReview

TITLE: Little Darlings | AUTHOR: Melanie Golding| PUBLISHER: Harper Avenue | PUBLISHED ON: April 30, 2019 | PAGES: 330| RATING: 5 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by publisher for review consideration. 

This book right here is an excellent example of why I choose to go into most books as close to blind as possible. If I’d gone based solely on the blurb, I probably would have taken a pass on this book as your typical domestic thriller. But this novel is so much more than what it says on the tin, and I’m so glad I gave it a shot! This book grabbed me from the very first page, and didn’t let up until I’d devoured the entire novel.

This novel takes one of my most loathed tropes and completely turns it on its head. I haven’t made any secret of my hatred for this trend of thrillers where no one believes the traumatized female main character, and I cringed a little when I saw that this book was heading in that direction. However, it takes a sharp, completely unpredictable turn early on and keeps you guessing all the way through. Honestly, I spent this entire novel second-guessing myself because the unreliable narrators here are just that good. Every time I thought I had things figured out, the author would pile on a new aspect that would have me back at the drawing board, trying to figure out what was ACTUALLY happening here.

I really loved how vividly the author brings her characters to life. None of them are entirely likeable, but they’re so realistic that I couldn’t help but feel strong emotional ties to all of them (yes, even Patrick…anger is an emotion!). The less-than-rosy portrait of new motherhood that the author paints here was raw, visceral and wholly compelling, in a way that I don’t think I’ve encountered before. My heart broke over and over for Lauren as she tried to protect Morgan and Riley as her world crumbled around her.

The folklore behind the story was a fantastic touch, and added an extra level of doubt to my reading. This book left me with more questions than answers, which would have been frustrating if the writing and detail of the plot weren’t so damn well done. Nothing ties up neatly, there are no right answers here, but it’s so deftly handled that I felt satisfied with just a hint of residual doubt niggling at the back of my mind when I finished reading.

This is a stunning debut, with big ideas and fresh takes on themes that have been saturating the thriller market for years. This novel beautifully showcases that you can absolutely write a new and unique story off the backs of existing tropes. An amazing thriller that I’m sure I’ll be recommending for months to come!

Deeper Into Darkness by Maria Ann Green #BookReview

TITLE: Deeper Into Darkness | AUTHOR: Maria Ann Green| PUBLISHER: Self-Published | PUBLISHED ON: April 12, 2019 | PAGES: 317| RATING: 5 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Copy provided by author for review consideration.
**NOTE: Deeper Into Darkness is the second book in the Darkness series. Click HERE for my review of the first book, Nothing But Darkness.**

My Thoughts:

Well here’s a first. I never thought serial killer romance would be a niche genre I’d be into, but here we are. I enjoyed Aidan’s story in the first Darkness book, even with its extremely violent and sexual undertones which I’d normally shy away from in non-horror books. So I had fairly high hopes for the sequel. Hopes that have been completely blown away, because I completely loved this book!

First off, I absolutely loved, LOVED that the story is from Bee’s perspective. There aren’t nearly enough female serial killer stories out there, and that alone sold me from the beginning. As a character, you can’t help but love Bee (even though you really probably shouldn’t, what with the whole murderer thing). She’s fierce and violent and immoral, but also deeply human and sympathetic. I loved the depth to her character, and the complex, conflicted feelings I had about her.

The tone of this book is completely different from book one in the series, but it never felt forced or disconnected because of the fact that we’ve got a brand new narrator and therefore a completely new and unique voice. The tone here was also much more my speed than Aidan’s story. There’s still plenty of killing and sex, but it’s far less violent and explicit while still maintaining the sort of sexy shock factor that the author does so well in the first book. The cat and mouse game between Bee and her victims is completely chilling, and I loved every page. It also felt like the stakes were much higher in this book, and I found myself extremely deeply invested in the plot, dying to find out what would happen next!

I really enjoyed seeing Aidan and Bee’s courtship in the first book, so it was fantastic to get a deeper look into their engagement from Bee’s point of view. I know I complain a lot about romance in non-romance books, but it’s so well done here and so central to the plot that instead of bothering me, it completely absorbed me. Their emotions are so raw and real and intense. They really jump off the page and again serve to make it nearly impossible not to sympathize with Bee as she and Aidan face the ups and downs of their relationship. Plus, what’s not to love about a serial killer power couple?

I seriously devoured this book, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next through the plot’s twists and turns. I found myself just a little bit in love with Bee, and, charismatic as Aidan was in the first book, I felt that Bee’s perspective lent itself better to providing more depth to the story. And, obviously no spoilers but UGH, that ending! THAT ENDING. A fantastic page-turner of a thriller, trust me when I say that you’re going to want to get into this series before the next book comes out.

Nothing But Darkness by Maria Ann Green #BookReview

TITLE: Nothing But Darkness | AUTHOR: Maria Ann Green| PUBLISHER: Self-Published | PUBLISHED ON: July 27, 2018 | PAGES: 305|
RATING: 4 hooks out of 5 | SOURCE: Author provided copy |
TRIGGER WARNING: Extreme violence against women

I fully admit, I was apprehensive about starting this book. The more I learned about it, the less it sounded like something that would be up my alley: I’m not a huge fan of serial killers, or gore, or romance. Not to mention those don’t really sound like things that would mix particularly well. But somehow, the author manages to take these very, VERY different elements and combine them into a thoroughly engrossing, supremely disturbing thriller.

Our main character is Aidan, a handsome, charismatic and reasonably successful man. He’s got a decent job, a caring best friend, and no shortage of luck with his sexual conquests. But Aidan is also discovering that he has a newfound penchant for death, and the more violent, the better. Even before you add in the whole serial killer element, Aidan is a grade-A asshole; he’s a liar and a womanizer, and the thoughts in his head are pretty damn disgusting. And yet, I couldn’t help rooting for him. I think it says a lot about the quality of writing when an author can make a reader simultaneously utterly disgusted by yet weirdly supportive of such a despicable character. I hated Aidan completely, but I also couldn’t help hoping that he’d succeed in his non-murderous endeavors. I had a lot of very uncomfortable, very conflicted feelings towards Aidan, and I have to applaud the author for making me feel that way about a character I should have out and out loathed.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of having romance thrown into a non-romance book. I feel like most of the time, it’s unnecessary and adds nothing to the story. I should have felt that way about our charming serial killer’s love life, and yet somehow I kind of loved the romance element here between Aidan and Bee. It just fit into the story perfectly despite being such a completely different vibe from the rest of the plot. It also made Aidan feel like an actual human being, which I think added a lot to the conflicted feelings I had about him. There was a cheating spouse element to the story that I didn’t care for at all, but that has more to do with my personal tastes than how it was actually integrated into the plot; I just don’t enjoy reading about infidelity. But overall the romance element was well done and I loved how it added a totally different and softer element to the still completely fucked up plot.

I really didn’t have many issues with this novel. Sure, Aidan’s thoughts on women are pretty horrifying, but it fits with his character. It definitely made me make my “ick” face more than once, but it was overall well done. The writing is great, with good pacing and complex characters. I did find the ending to be a little bit abrupt, but knowing there’s a sequel coming, it didn’t bother me much. This was a really solid thriller, and a great take on showing things from the killer’s perspective. I’m very much looking forward to seeing where Aidan and Bee will end up in the next book!

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.