Review Time: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

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“Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”

We’re introduced to our unnamed narrator with the revelation that she’s thinking of ending her relationship with her boyfriend, Jake. As she describes it, it’s a thought that popped into her head and one she can’t shake. To make matters worse, as these thoughts swirl around in her head, she’s embarking on a road trip with her boyfriend to meet his parents.

Jake is a scientist. He toils away, day after day, in a lab. He’s fond of speaking about the abstract. He used to live out on a farm way out in the middle of nowhere. And he’s excited for his girlfriend to meet his parents.

The girlfriend (it feels so weird calling her that, but she doesn’t have a name) enjoys philosophizing with Jake, discussing the deep and abstract for virtually the entire car ride. She gets very odd and very scary phone calls from her own phone number on a semi-regular basis. She’s a little bit all over the place.

Jake’s house is creepy AF. His parents are super odd. The meal they serve isn’t conducive to the girlfriend’s vegetarian palate. The basement door appears to be covered in what looks like frantic scratch marks. There are super odd paintings down in the dark and damp basement that she decided to explore alone (who does that?!). The farm is just weird and she wants to get out.

A snow storm begins as soon as the couple gets back on the road, but that doesn’t deter Jake from detouring to Dairy Queen for a sweet frozen treat. With treats in hand, they start their trip again, though they make another detour a few minutes later to throw away the cups before they cause a mess in the car. LOL WUT? They end up at a deserted high school in the middle of a snowstorm in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

And that’s when shit gets really weird.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things was creepy from the first page to the very last. The couple’s soliloquies about random things during their car ride served to demonstrate their level of intelligence and compatibility, but good grief were they annoying. So many decisions they made, so many things that happened, just made you want to shake both of them. WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU NIMROD?!? But I suppose, in the end, those decisions made sense. Those decisions led to what will most likely go down as the weirdest and most WTF ending I’ve ever read. Seriously. You’ll see. It’s a total mind-warp and I think I need to read it four more times to really piece it all together. It toys with your emotions and messes with your mind and really just shakes you up. I finished this one a few days ago and I seriously haven’t been able to stop thinking about just how weird it was. But like… in a good way. Good weird? Is that a thing? It is now.

My favorite scene: Throughout the whole book, there are little excerpts of conversations from people talking about some vague crime that happened, something that totally shocked the community. These little snippets, as vague and disconnected as they are, really serve to push the reader forward with the story. What happened? What are they talking about? Who could they be referring to? Is it Jake? The girlfriend? Who?! Those passages, more than anything else in the story, sucked me in and propelled me forward. Ah, the promise of drama.

Grade: ★★★★☆

Review Time: Since We Fell

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“We live in a world of disposable memory, nothing’s built to last, not even shame.”

Rachel Childs was the next big TV news star. Until she wasn’t anymore. And nothing was ever the same.

Meet Rachel. Her mother is an overbearing one, a best-selling author of relationship advice with scant romantic success to her name. Her father is non-existent, a ghost of a man who left while Rachel was still in the womb–a man her mother refused to acknowledge or introduce. Her husband is an emotionally distant man who cares about image over attachment. She is a hard-working reporter and, like most of us, is a little bit damaged, no thanks to the people in her life.

While covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, Rachel finds herself stretched a little too thin, with too many people watching her fall apart. Finally, after a particularly brutal experience that haunts her for the rest of the story, Rachel reaches her breaking point. Unfortunately for her, it happened on live television and went viral within a matter of minutes. She’s forced to return home to Boston, to a marriage that’s unraveling as quickly as her breakdown went viral and to a career that stopped existing as soon as the camera cut off.

There is a silver lining to her trouble: a wonderful man named Brian who always happens to show up when she needs him most. She first met him while she was trying to find out the identity of her father, then again after her breakdown in Haiti. He was the glue she needed to mend her life, until–you guessed it–he wasn’t anymore .

One rainy afternoon, Rachel happens to see a man that looked strikingly similar to Brian enter a hotel in Boston–but it couldn’t have been Brian because he was on a flight to Europe. Wasn’t he? And so starts the mystery. Does Rachel know who Brian really is? Does she trust herself enough to do what it takes to find out?

All in all, I enjoyed Since We Fell. It was a little slow at the beginning and a little choppy at times, but the story kept my attention. I’ll be honest — I found Rachel to be a little annoying. She’s agoraphobic, which took up a lot of real estate in the book, and her internal struggles started to get repetitive after a while. The action at the end of the book was a little WTF and I wanted to punch everyone in the face at one point, but it was a fun read. Even if I wouldn’t want to be friends with any of them.

My favorite scene: After Rachel thinks she sees Brian in Boston, she concocts a scheme to find out what’s really going on with her husband. She rents a car and follows “Brian” across the city, weaving in and out of traffic, imagining all the horrific scenarios that could explain who this man is. Her chase leads to more questions than answers, but it’s a fast-paced, c’mon-just-tell-me-who-this-guy-is sequence that serves as the jumping off point for most of the book’s action.

Grade: ★★★☆☆

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Review Time: The Rules Do Not Apply

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“In the last few months, I have lost my son, my spouse, and my house. Every morning I wake up and for a few seconds I’m disoriented, confused as to why I feel grief seeping into my body, and then I remember what has become of my life.”

Ariel Levy, an accomplished and successful staff writer at the New Yorker, had everything she wanted in her life. Until she didn’t. In startling fashion (as these things tend to happen), Ariel’s whole life unraveled. Her marriage disseminated. Her pregnancy ended. Her hope for the future evaporated. Just like that.

But let’s backtrack a bit. Ariel met the love of her life during a blackout in New York in her 20’s. The only problem? Lucy, the woman Ariel knew she was destined to spend her life with, was already in a long-term relationship with a woman in California. But, as was Ariel’s way, she didn’t let that little hiccup ruin her plans. Fast forward a few years and Ariel and Lucy have established a beautiful home for themselves, full of love. And cats. They were both ambitious in their careers–Ariel’s as a writer and Lucy’s as an entrepreneur–which defined who they were, in a sense. Ariel’s career was wildly successful, Lucy’s not exactly as much. Of course they had problems — who doesn’t? Ariel had an affair with a former lover, Lucy hit the bottle a little too hard and a little too often.

While there was a bit of tension in their home life, Ariel, at the ripe age of 38, decided she wanted a family. She wanted to make a baby. So she found someone to make a baby with, a man who would donate his sperm and his wealth in a decidedly hands-off fashion. And it worked. Ariel was with child at 38. And, being the rule-breaker she fancied herself as, she decided that being with child was not going to stop her from traveling the world to cover stories for the magazine. So, she went to Mongolia. It was there, in a hotel bathroom on the other side of the world, that Ariel Levy lost her baby. And with it, her future and her hope for a family. She came home, without her child, to a wife who was dealing with her alcoholism on her own terms. In the process of getting help for Lucy, Ariel lost her house, as well as her marriage. But she still goes on, day after day, sharing her story with the world. And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?

That’s what makes The Rules Do Not Apply so compelling. It’s all of us, but not really any of us at the same time. No one has experienced the exact sorrow and heartbreak that Ariel did, but we all have experienced both emotions in some way. And she puts a voice to the feelings we’ve all lived with and trudged through at some point. She brings an incredible insight into her life, the decisions she made and the consequences she was faced with. I would be lying if I said I didn’t run through this book in three days flat.  It was just so good, so powerful, so sorrowful, so true. I really, really enjoyed it (as much as you can enjoy a story like this). Two thumbs up to this incredible lady. Two huge thumbs up.

My favorite scene: Is it corny to say the whole thing was my favorite? There are a few interactions with a South African physician that are really poignant, really insightful. There are the scenes where Lucy and Ariel are falling in love and they make you recall the emotions you felt at the start of your own love story. There’s the scene in the Mongolian hotel that absolutely breaks your heart as Ariel loses not only her child but her whole future. I know I already said it, but I remember marveling about how Ariel really picked through her own life, laid the blame for things not where she thinks they should go but where they actually belonged and didn’t hold back in admitting her mistakes in judgement and action. So good. So, so good.

Grade: ★★★★★

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Review Time: The Next Accident

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“We’re all looking for something to believe in, and someone to blame.”

After coming to terms with her demons, Rainie Connor left police life behind in Virginia and made a new home for herself as a Private Investigator in Portland. As she begins the process of figuring out how to actually make a living as a P.I., her old pal Quincy shows up on her doorstep. Quincy’s daughter, Mandy, has been on life support ever since she drunkenly wrapped her SUV around a tree, killing a pedestrian in the process. Quincy, though, doesn’t think Mandy’s accident was, well, an accident. And he’s going to prove that to the world, with Rainie’s help.

Mandy was an alcoholic — there was no denying that. But she was on the wagon, according to all of her friends. So how did she end up beyond drunk at 5AM on a remote road no where near her house? As Quincy and Rainie start to zero in on the answer to that question, Quincy’s life takes a turn for the unexpected. His ex-wife, Bethie, begins seeing a man who can only be described as “perfect” — and who happens to look exactly like Quincy in the moonlight. His remaining daughter Kimberly, still reeling from the death of her sister, is following in her father’s profiler footsteps in New York, though it quickly becomes apparent that she’s not safe there. His dementia-ridden father is checked out of his full-time care facility by a man masquerading as Quincy. Someone is taunting Quincy and they have to figure out who–and why–before they become the next victims.

The Next Accident is the third installment of Lisa Gardner’s “FBI Profiler” series and it is a dark and twisty masterpiece. There are a lot of different angles in this one and a lot of long-held grudges to keep track of, but it’s not an impossible task. Gardner weaves doubt through the whole novel about Quincy’s innocence in the deaths of his family in a way that is both infuriating and intriguing. The book is suspenseful, gory, sad and hopeful–and I loved it, of course. Another winning read from my girl L.G. —  you go, girl!

My favorite scene: Bethie is meeting her handsome stranger for dinner and is giddy about the prospect of dating again. Her giddiness turns into something much more after her stranger showed her his scar, a scar her received as a result of a kidney transplant — Mandy’s kidney. It’s an incredibly emotional scene that showcases just how heartbroken Bethie is over the loss of her daughter and how lonely she is after the loss of her family. Up until now, we’ve only seen Bethie as the over-bearing mother who can’t face reality. Now, though, we get a glimpse of her as a grieving human. If only we had more time with her…

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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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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: ★★☆☆☆