Review Time: Into the Water

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I, like pretty much everyone else in the world, was STOKED for the release of Paula Hawkins’s newest thriller, Into the Water. Hawkins, of The Girl on the Train fame, doesn’t shy away from twisted stories, so this one was bound to be a page-turner. I was extra excited about this book because it was the first one I got from the popular Book of the Month club. If you haven’t heard of BOTM (unlikely), it’s a subscription service that curates a list of five books per month that you can choose from and it’s AWESOME. (Side note… Why didn’t I think of this!? SUCH a good idea and product.)

Women in the sleepy British town of Beckford have been dying in the Drowning Pool for centuries. Its first victims, way back in 1679, were suspected witches who were drowned to prove that they weren’t witches. Because we were smart back then. As the centuries rolled on, the witch drownings may have ceased, but the curse of the pool remained. Today, the pool is the site of an unsettling number of suicides, the latest being Nel Abbott. After Nel’s death, her estranged sister, Jules, is called back out to the town she  vowed to never return to care for Lena, her now-motherless teenage niece. Once there, Jules learns that Nel was working on a book about the Drowning Pool and its victims, including its most recent–Lena’s best friend Katie. Not everyone was on board with the idea of a book about the Drowning Pool, the loudest critic being Katie’s grieving mother and Nel’s most recent enemy. The evidence begs the question: did Nel kill herself in the storied Drowning Pool or did someone take her life from her?

This book is complicated. The story is told by myriad characters, not precisely in chronological order. There are SO MANY subplots to track, some of which didn’t actually end up leading anywhere and others I had trouble remembering in the moment. There’s a town psychic who I think thinks she’s a witch so she spits a lot? She just confused me. The moral is that it was just tough to keep everything straight with this one. As much as I wanted to love it, I only liked it. I’d recommend this one to anyone who has the time to read it in one or two sittings. Otherwise, you’re going to need a tracking sheet or two.

My favorite quote: “No one liked to think about the fact that the water in that river was infected with the blood and bile of persecuted women, unhappy women; they drank it every day.”

Grade: ★★★☆☆

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To Read: July Edition

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The sun is (finally!) out, the birds are chirping and I’m slathering on the sunscreen. I do love the summer in Chicago… Much, MUCH less hellish than the sauna that is summer in New Orleans. This fabulously tolerable weather has put a bit of a damper in my summer reading game though, because instead of being cooped up inside every weekend because it’s just TOO DANG HOT, we’re actually venturing outdoors. And it’s lovely. But it’s sadly cutting into my reading game. Thank goodness for those twice daily–and often tedious–bus rides to get me through my To Read lists. And with that, let’s dive into July’s.

PS – You’ll be so proud! I’m branching out! Not all of them are murder mysteries! Small victories, man. Small victories.

Mischling: This story set in Nazi Germany during WWII is one that came recommended by the Chicago Public Library’s blog. Identical twins that end up in Auschwitz are selected to be part of Mengele’s Zoo, the “experimental population of twins” that serve as the guinea pigs for the awful Joseph Mengele. I’m a sucker for a heart-wrenching WWII novel (hello, The Nightingale), so I’m excited about this one.

Into the Water: By the author of The Girl on the Train, this story follows the happenings of a small English town after a woman is found dead in the “Drowning Pool,” a body of water made infamous after numerous deaths in its depths over the years. It looks twisty and turn-y and spine-tingly and you know I’m about that life.

The Next Accident: As the third installment of what Lisa Gardner has dubbed the “FBI Profiler Series,” this book follows Quincy and Rainie (from The Third Victim fame) as they try to track down what really happened to Quincy’s daughter Mandy. I love all of LG’s books (we’re on a nickname basis at this point), and I imagine this one will be no different.

The Rules Do Not Apply: I really strayed from my usual with this one, but sometimes you gotta reach out of your comfort zone every once in a while. That’s exactly what Ariel Levy does in this memoir about what happens when your life decides it has its own ideas about the future. It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read a memoir of any sort, and I think this one is going to be the perfect one to jump back in with.

Happy reading, y’all!

Review Time: The Perfect Husband

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“‘Til death do us part’ could be sooner than she thinks.”

Tess met the man of her dreams while she was still in high school — handsome, older and a police officer to boot. But only a few years into their marriage, things started to unravel. As it turns out, this man who saved her from a life of abuse had been savagely killing women for the past decade, ten women in all. Tess helped put him behind bars, but not before he vowed his revenge.

Now, Jim Beckett, prolific serial killer, can add another item to his resume: escaped convict. Jim is coming back for the one thing he knows will break Tess–their daughter, Sam. After taking precautions for Sam’s safety, Tess flees out west, hoping beyond hope to learn to save herself.

She employs the services of the military man-turned-mercenary, J.T., to teach her to defend herself and her daughter. J.T. is a troubled–and sometimes brutal–man himself, but eventually he softens to Tess’s pleas, coaching her in self-defense and strategy. But Jim is always hunting. And he won’t stop until he gets what he wants.

As you know, I love all of Lisa Gardner’s thrillers. This one is the first in a series featuring FBI profiler Pierce Quincy, though his role is minor in this first installment. This book is bloody and gory and, at times, pretty freaking sad. But I think its best descriptor is an uncomfortable glance into what real life sometimes is–nitty, gritty and a little unpolished. What I didn’t love, however, was the underlying “love story” between J.T. and Tess. It felt a little forced sometimes and incredibly unbelievable at others. But I did like J.T., bad moods and all. All in all, I’d give this book a double-thumbs up and encourage anyone and everyone to pick it up (and keep going).

My favorite scene: When we first meet J.T., he’s going on a five-day alcoholic bender on the anniversary of his wife and child’s untimely death. You immediately sympathize with him until he has his on-call prostitute come over and then your sympathy sort of fades away. Later in the story, though, J.T. goes a little further in depth about his wife, Rachel, and their son. And all of your sympathy plus some comes crashing back in. I won’t go into the actual scene because #spoiler, but it changed an entire character for me in a way that has stuck with me. It demonstrates that you never really know what goes on behind closed doors, but almost in the exact opposite way of Jim Beckett.

Grade: ★★★★☆

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Review Time: All the Missing Girls

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All the Missing Girls was a book I was super excited about reading. I mean… What mystery lover isn’t going to be stoked to dive into a book touted as the next Girl on the Train?! Count me in.

The premise of the book was intriguing on it’s own — a small-town is reeling after the disappearance of a second young woman in the span of 10 years. Nicolette Farrell’s best friend Corinne went missing after a day out at the local fair and Nic left a devastated town behind in an attempt to move on from that tragic day. Ten years later, Nic is forced to return to her hometown to deal with with her ailing father and the past is drudged up when another young woman, Nic’s neighbor Annaleise, goes missing. The kicker of the story though? It’s told in reverse. From Day 15 to Day 1. Which took my excitement about it from a regular 7 to an overwhelming 12.

Telling the story backwards, though, turned out to be the reason I didn’t much care for the book as a whole. The story was interesting — family drama, shady characters, lies, deceit, secrets. But the format of the story made it hard to follow along with the dual mystery of Anneleise’s new disappearance and Corinne’s unsolved one. I didn’t hate it then, though. It took a little bit more back-and-forth than usual to remember where I was and what had just happened, but I was still intrigued. The end though, that Day 1 chapter, was where it lost me. As it turns out, Nicolette had known the answer to the mystery since her first day in town. And once you learn that, you can think back to everything else that happened in Cooley Ridge over the past two weeks and feel duped. Why was she questioning so much when she already knew what happened? What was the point of documenting the following two weeks if the mystery was already solved? What the heck?

I think the book had the potential to be stellar — an intriguing plot with an interesting style twist. But the lackluster plot development and the difficult arrangement just made All the Missing Girls fall a little flat for this mystery lover. Womp womp.

My favorite scene: At one point in the story, Nicolette is recounting her relationship with Corinne and tells the reader a story about something that happened on the last day anyone saw Corinne in Cooley Ridge. Nic and Corinne are on the Ferris wheel at the local fair and Corinne dares Nic to step outside of the cart’s safety harness. And she does. There are a few other factors at play that you understand later in the book, but I think this scene paints a good picture of the girls’ relationship, of who was the leader of the pack and how Corinne’s absence truly affected Nic in the years to come.

Grade: ★★☆☆☆

 

Review Time: Find Her

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It only took me almost a year, but I finally made it. Find Her is the most recent addition to Lisa Gardner’s D.D. Warren series, aka Adult Nancy Drew. The book was actually the reason that I started reading the D.D. Warren series to begin with, so I’m glad I finally got to circle back around to it seven books (and 10 months) later.

Flora Dane, an innocent and naive girl, found herself separated from her friends during Spring Break and nothing was ever the same again. Flora was kidnapped from the sunny Florida beach and held in captivity, inside (and out of) a small wooden box, for 472 days. Miraculously, though, she manages to escape her real life nightmare and tries to return to a normal life.

But Flora can’t really leave her nightmare behind. Since her escape five years ago, she’s worked to make sure that no one else has to go through what she did — though her tactics are a bit guerilla. One night, while working her recon, Flora finds herself bound and gagged in a dank garage, her only company the exceptionally muscular man that put her there. But she’s not a victim any more, she refuses to be, so she does the only thing she knows how to do. She escapes. Again. And she takes the man down in the process. Enter D.D. Warren.

D.D. is not a fan of vigilante justice, so she has some questions for the girl. But, not long after her run-in with D.D., Flora disappears. Again. And this time, she doesn’t surface in someone’s garage. She doesn’t surface in a seedy motel. She doesn’t surface at all. Suddenly D.D. knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that something is very, very wrong. And it’s her job to make sure Flora the Survivor returns — it’s her job to Find Her. (lol get it? SO corny, I know.)

I love D.D. and I love all of Lisa Gardner’s stories. They keep you guessing, keep you turning the page and keep you up at night because “just one more chapter, Mom!”. The end of this one had a massive twist I didn’t see coming  but that made everything come together magically. So, so good.

My favorite scene: Very early on in the story, Flora is forcefully taken from a bar where she’s doing a little recon work surrounding the disappearance of a young college co-ed. Flora wakes up, bound and naked, in a garage and the race is on to save herself before her captor takes that option away. Flora’s able to find the tools she needs to escape in a bag of rotting garbage in the corner of the garage and she does what she does best — survive. I really liked this scene because it gave you a good sense, right off the bat, of who Flora is and what she’s capable of. You know she’s a fighter, you know she’s resourceful and you know that she’s going to do what it takes. You go, girl.

Grade: ★★★★★

 

Review Time: Daisy in Chains

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I found this book at one of those rare moments in time when I literally had nothing else to read. My local library puts together a “Best of the Month” list every month — which are apparently wildly popular because the vast majority of the books they showcased weren’t available for checkout. Luckily for me, Daisy in Chains — which was of course a murder mystery — was available so I decided to give it a try. Side note: I really do need to branch out.

Anyway. Back to the story. So a devilishly handsome man, who goes by the name Hamish Wolfe, has been tried and convicted of brutally murdering a string of obese women. But, of course, Hamish has always maintained his innocence. Enter Maggie Rose, the scrupulous attorney — and impressive novelist — who has decided that Hamish’s case is interesting enough to warrant a second look. She doesn’t think he’s innocent, mind you, but she’s fascinated nonetheless.

In addition to steadfastly maintaining his innocence, Hamish has a fan group of sorts, led by his mother, that assembles occasionally to discuss the facts of Hamish’s case and conspire to get him out of maximum security prison. These folks are… interesting, to put it lightly.

Maggie meets with Hamish, attends these group discussions and liaises with local law enforcement. And she begins to put together her next novel, based on the murders of the four women and her client’s involvement in the deaths. As she becomes entrenched in the case, things start to spiral out of control, and by the end, you don’t know which way is up. Or which way you want to be up, quite frankly.

This story was gripping and fast-paced and twisty — just how I like my murder mysteries. So the lesson here is: the next time your library is out of the book you intended to read, take a little browse through the stacks. You never know what you might stumble upon.

Grade:★★★★☆

To Read: June Edition

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This month, this first month of “summer,” is really where the temptations and nostalgia lie. The skies are sunny. The wind is brutal. And we’re stuck inside all. day. long. It really is heartbreaking. These are the days when I reminisce about the days of old when I used to drag my blanket and pillow into the backyard, set up my own little reading corner and work on my suntan. But now, no more reading corner and definitely no more suntan. Though I’m not sure there ever was much tanning to begin with… I’m pretty sure I could give Snow White a run for her money these days. Though my hair is less perfectly coifed and wild animals don’t like me that much…

BUT. Back to the important things. Even if there are fewer hours to devote to diving into new reads, that doesn’t mean I won’t try my darnedest. So let’s get reading.

Daisy in Chains: A serial killer. A defense attorney turned writer. A claim of a wrongful conviction. A recipe for a page-turner.

Find Her: This one is yet another installment of the D.D. Warren series, the kick-ass Boston detective who don’t take no shit from nobody. This time, a kidnap victim goes missing again and it’s a race against the clock to find her before her demons do. You can do it, D.D.

All the Missing Girls: A decade after one girl’s heartbreaking disappearance, another has gone missing in a sleepy North Carolina town (can you sense a theme here?). And one person seems to be connected to them both. Dun, dun, dun.

Perfect Husband: Because I can’t get enough, I’m diving into yet another Lisa Gardner detective series. And it looks like it’s going to be awesome. In this first installment, a hardened killer has escaped from prison and is coming after the woman who helped put him there — his wife. And she’s going to be ready for him when he gets there.

Maybe next month I’ll pick something that isn’t a murder mystery. Maybe.