Review Time: The Innocent Wife

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“She felt suddenly very alone, as though the person she married had never existed and she had woken up to a life she didn’t recognize, in the middle of a story she didn’t understand.”

Eighteen years after the release of the true-crime documentary about the murder of 18-year-old Holly Michaels, Samantha was introduced to the world and crimes of Dennis Danson. Before she knew it, Sam was obsessed with Framing the Truth: The Murder of Holly Michaels, the documentary made about the case. She knew Dennis didn’t do it. She just knew it. She spent countless hours on message boards dedicated to finding Holly’s real killer, diving deeper and deeper into the world of Dennis Danson. One day, Sam decided to write to Dennis, and to her surprise, a few weeks later she received a response from THE Dennis Danson. And so, as they say, the story began.

Soon after Sam and Dennis started their letter writing campaign, Sam flew to Florida from her home in England to meet him in person. With the help of Carrie, Framing the Truth‘s director who was in the midst of filming a follow-up documentary, Sam began a through-the-plexiglass relationship with the convicted murderer. It was everything she ever wanted and he was the man she was meant to be with. So, when Dennis proposed, Sam accepted without hesitation. They were married in the prison, separated by the ever-present plexiglass, with the new documentary’s crew around as witnesses. As the new documentary, A Boy From Red River, continued to take shape, the crew discovered some previously untested evidence and managed to successfully get Dennis’s conviction overturned, releasing him back into the free world.

Soon after Dennis’s release from prison, Sam started questioning her decision to leave her life behind for this man who, when she was honest with herself, she didn’t really know. After a few months of living the TV-interview high life, Dennis’s father passed away, leaving Dennis and Sam with the responsibility of cleaning out his house in the backwoods of Florida. But as time went on, Sam knew that something was just not right. Could Dennis have hurt that girl? And the others that went missing before Holly died? There’s no way — is there?

The Innocent Wife was a fun read. The story was compelling, especially in today’s world of constant true-crime exposure a la Making a Murderer. It explores the concept of what would happen if the person we championed for almost two decades turned out to not be the man we backed. The end of the story, however, left a little to be desired. There were a bunch of storylines that the author opened the door to, but never ended up going over threshold for. For example, Sam popped Vicodin for a good one-fourth of the book, but in the end it just sort of didn’t matter. Like… way to get my hopes up for some raunchy stuff, lady. There are other, more blatant plot holes, but #spoileralert. Let’s just say, the conclusion was rushed. And a little lackluster, to be honest. But the first 3/4 of the book was two-thumbs way up.

My favorite scene: The afternoon after Dennis got released from prison, the documentary’s crew threw a party for him. As he mingled with and met the people who made his exoneration possible, Sam started to realize that maybe she didn’t know what she was doing and maybe she didn’t make the right decision with her life. It was a turning point for Dennis, obviously, but also a turning point in the life that Sam had pictured with her once-obsession and now-husband. Just maybe not the turning point she had hoped it would be.

Grade: ★★★☆☆

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Review Time: The River at Night

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“There’s nothing wrong with a little fear. Keeps you sharp.”

For years, Wini and three of her best friends have taken a vacation together to escape their grueling, everyday lives. This year, Pia — the group’s unofficial leader — has talked the women into hiking and rafting in Maine’s Allagash Wilderness. After a sufficiently creepy start to their trip involving a deserted road and an uncomfortable bathroom encounter, the women make it to their final destination — a beautiful lodging campus in the middle of the woods, only a short distance from the raging river that they’ll be rafting in the coming days with their college-aged tour guide, Rory.

The rafting portion of the trip get off to a rocky start when Pia decides to spend a special night with Rory, causing a tension between the women that they find hard to overcome. Not long after they launch their raft into the water, the group experiences a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad accident that leaves them stranded and helpless in the wilderness. As they try to navigate their way back to safety, they stumble upon a sign that help could be near. But (as these things tend to go) safety comes at what cost?

I’m going to be honest here… I didn’t love The River at Night. I’ve been trying to put a finger on why and I think it boils down to the characters themselves. I found the female characters — especially the narrator, Wini — to be frustrating. Yeah, okay, so your friend slept with a dude on what was supposed to be a “girl’s weekend.” Get over it, girl. You’re a grown-ass woman. You don’t need to pout about it for days. (I mean, I probably would pout just as long,  but I annoy even myself sometimes.) The other reason I didn’t love this book was due to the Amazon tease that prompted me to read this book in the first place. The tease mentioned the women’s “supposed saviors” and the suspense that surrounds the search to find out their true intentions. Which sounds awesome. The book, though, takes about 100 years to get to that point and, while this is where the majority of the book’s excitement comes from (for me, at least), it’s not nearly as suspenseful and spine-tingly as I thought it was going to be. Which is, admittedly, my own problem, but it just didn’t live up to the hype I had for it. Sorry, Charlie.

My favorite scene: It’s hard to come up with a way to describe my favorite scene without giving away pivotal surprises and plot twists. But my favorite scenes come towards the end of the novel when, (shocker) the women’s potential saviors show up and they are forced to put aside their own preconceived notions and ideas about how and when help will arrive. Because nothing rounds out a suspense novel like a little of the unexpected.

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 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: 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: Pretty Baby

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So here we are again. Another month of radio silence from me. March Madness bled into large-scale work events which bled into wedding season which bled into Opening Day which made for a very hectic few weeks for this girl. So after a brief (albeit necessary) hiatus, we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming. And since we haven’t gone over March’s must reads yet, I figured that would be a good place to jump back into it. So let’s do it. First up: Mary Kubica’s sophomore novel, Pretty Baby.

Heidi Wood is a compassionate and dynamic woman with what can only be described as a massively bleeding heart. She works for a non-profit and spends her days trying to better the world for those she knows and those she doesn’t. Which is why when she spots a dirty and bruised-looking young woman on the “El” platform, she can’t shake her from her mind’s eye. When the young woman’s presence on the platform becomes a pattern, Heidi can no longer pretend she doesn’t want to help. After a few attempts, Heidi is able to convince the young girl to join her for a meal in a nearby diner, essentially changing the course of both of their lives.

Willow Greer is 18, alone and hungry. She has a new baby who she doesn’t know how to care for and she has no one to turn to to answer the questions she so desperately needs answered. When Heidi shows up with her open arms, Willow is cautious but optionless, so she takes Heidi up on her offer for food and shelter. Willow and her baby, Ruby, end up in Heidi’s husband’s office, barricading themselves in every chance they get. The questions start swirling almost immediately — from Chris (Heidi’s husband) asking if they really know the girl whom they’ve let into their lives, from Heidi asking if that really could be blood on Willow’s undershirt and from Willow asking if the help is worth the danger.

Similar to The Good Girl and Don’t You Cry, Kubica uses various voices and a non-linear timeline to tell the interwoven story of Willow and Heidi’s relationship. And it just works. Heidi brings optimism and sunshine (at first), Chris brings caution and questions and Willow brings danger and they all work together to form the basis of a fantastic story that shows that you never really know what’s going on in someone else’s mind. And again, another Kubica ending that I did NOT see coming.

Mary Kubica is three-for-three in my books.

Grade:★★★★☆