Review – Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh

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Ghosted
by Rosie Walsh

Genre: Fiction

Length: 337 Pages

Release date: July 24, 2018

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Synopsis: 

Seven perfect days. Then he disappeared. A love story with a secret at its heart.

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

rating

three

I wondered how it was that you could spend weeks, months—years, even—just chugging on, nothing really changing, and then, in the space of a few hours, the script of your life could be completely rewritten.

Ghosted is essentially part mystery, part romance. The story alternates between scenes from the week Sarah and Eddie met and scenes after she has been… well… ghosted. The latter takes up a much smaller portion of the book than the former, so we spend more time wondering why Eddie has dropped off the map than we do figuring out why Sarah cares so much. As I prefer mystery to romance, this shouldn’t have been an issue for me, but the lack of development of the romance makes it difficult to care about the mystery. The reader isn’t really given a compelling reason to root for Eddie and Sarah to be together.

The intense insta-love aspect of this novel felt better suited to a YA novel with a protagonist in high school. When you’re young and inexperienced, that burst of infatuation can feel like the be-all end-all. Sarah is written to be around forty years old, but she doesn’t feel like it. I found her tunnel vision obsession with a man she barely knows to be a bit alienating, personally.

However, despite my issues with Sarah and the under-developed romance, there was something rather compulsively readable about Ghosted. The pace feels lightning fast, and there was more to the mystery than just a spurned lover. At the risk of getting into spoilers, I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that the later revelations make for the best bits of character development in the story. For a good chunk of the early section of the novel, it felt like there wasn’t much more to Sarah than pining after a man; thankfully, later sections rectify that.

Nobody warns you that life continues to be complicated after you’ve Done the Right Thing. That there is no reward, beyond some intangible sense of moral fortitude.

Overall, this was a fun book with a lot of potential, but it definitely felt like it was lacking something. This appears to be Walsh’s debut novel, so I’ll be interested to see how she grows as a writer from here.

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Thanks for reading! How do you feel about romance in fiction? Do you prefer it to be the focus of the story or more like a side plot? Discuss in the comments!

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Review – Force of Nature, by Jane Harper


Force of Nature 
by Jane Harper

Genre: Mystery

Length: 326 Pages

Release date: February 6, 2018

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Synopsis: 

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along a muddy track.
Only four come out on the other side.
The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and encourage teamwork and resilience. At least, that’s what the corporate retreat website advertises.
Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker, Alice Russell. Because Alice knew secrets, about the company she worked for and the people she worked with.
The four returning women tell Falk a tale of fear, violence and fractured trust during their days in the remote Australian bushland. And as Falk delves into the disappearance of Alice, he begins to suspect some dangers ran far deeper than anyone knew.

rating

four

“It’s the panic that gets you. Makes it hard to trust what you’re seeing.” 

Force of Nature is a continuation of The Dry, but don’t worry if you haven’t read it (although I definitely recommend giving it a shot.) Detective Aaron Falk is the central character for both books, and while Force of Nature makes a few passing references to the events of The Dry, Falk is working to solve a new mystery in this second installment, and it could easily be read as a standalone book. (But really, why would you skip The Dry?)

In The Dry, the mystery was incredibly personal for Falk; the man accused of killing his own family was Falk’s closest childhood friend, Luke, and solving the mystery would either clear Luke’s name or reveal how little he ever really knew him. The stakes are slightly less personal in Force of Nature, but still quite high-pressure. The missing woman, Alice, was meant to turn over documents that Falk urgently needs for  an ongoing investigation. The result is a gripping, desperate pursuit that makes for an engaging read.

The novel can basically be divided into two parts, which alternate throughout the story: Aaron Falk’s perspective, starting after Alice has gone missing, and flashback scenes to the retreat where the disappearance took place. The latter varies in perspective, and we get to know each of the women who were lost in the bushland with Alice. The tension is high from start to finish, from Falk’s work pressures to the hysteria-inducing panic of being lost in the Australian wilderness. Both of Harper’s novels have been highly atmospheric; the Australian landscape can begin to feel like a character on its own, raising the stakes and pushing the characters to act.

With plenty of red herrings and twists galore, Harper manages to pull off a shocker of a conclusion which will keep the reader guessing until the end.

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Review – The Woman in the Window, by A. J. Finn

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The Woman in the Window
by A. J. Finn

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Length: 429 Pages

Release date: January 2, 2018

Publisher: William Morrow

Synopsis: 

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

rating

four

You can hear someone’s secrets and their fears and their wants, but remember that these exist alongside other people’s secrets and fears, people living in the same room.

This book was so hyped-up; I was seeing it all over the blogosphere for weeks and I was so excited to read it. Perhaps my expectations were too high; I liked this book, but I didn’t love it.

The Woman in the Window deals with some heavy issues: substance abuse, agoraphobia, and depression, to name a few, but the overall vibe is still rather fun. Anna Fox, the agoraphobic protagonist, copes with her isolation in two major ways: spying on the neighbors and indulging in old, black and white movies. The story is filled with references to classic Hitchcock films like Vertigo and Rear Window, both in the form of direct mentions as well as similarities in stories.

The Woman in the Window almost feels like a love letter to classic thrillers. If you’ve seen and loved many of these films, you’ll probably eat these references up. If you haven’t, they can start to feel almost excessive, in a way that’s reminiscent of the copious 80’s pop culture references in Ready Player One. (Although I’m not sure any book has quite as many superfluous references as Ready Player One does; let’s hope not, anyway.)

The climax felt a little bit cheesy, albeit probably intentionally so, as it again felt like an allusion to old horror films. And when I say cheesy, I mean there was a grandiose villain speech wherein they explained how/why they had done what they’d done. It felt a bit silly in a way that broke the tension at a point that could have been a truly spine-tingling scene.

There were a couple of major twists in this book, both of which seemed like they had a proper amount of foreshadowing in retrospect. (I suspected one twist ahead of time, and the other seemed obvious to me once it had been revealed.) The Woman in the Window may not shock you, but I can guarantee you’ll have fun reading along to see if your suspicions will be confirmed. Pop some popcorn for this one; it’s a quick roller coaster of a read!

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Review – The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn

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The Grownup
by Gillian Flynn

Genre: Short Stories, Horror

Length: 64 Pages

Release date: November 3, 2015

Blurb via GoodReads: 

A canny young woman is struggling to survive by perpetrating various levels of mostly harmless fraud. On a rainy April morning, she is reading auras at Spiritual Palms when Susan Burke walks in. A keen observer of human behavior, our unnamed narrator immediately diagnoses beautiful, rich Susan as an unhappy woman eager to give her lovely life a drama injection. However, when the “psychic” visits the eerie Victorian home that has been the source of Susan’s terror and grief, she realizes she may not have to pretend to believe in ghosts anymore. Miles, Susan’s teenage stepson, doesn’t help matters with his disturbing manner and grisly imagination. The three are soon locked in a chilling battle to discover where the evil truly lurks and what, if anything, can be done to escape it.

ratingthree

The Grownup is a short story which features what seems to be the archetypal Gillian Flynn protagonist: a dark, gritty woman with somewhat of a chip on her shoulder and an unapologetic attitude. She is pragmatic and has grown up doing whatever needed to be done for survival; as a child, that meant begging for money with her mother, and now it means giving handjobs to lonely businessmen or telling fortunes to gullible customers. Honesty is for people who can be sure where they’ll be getting their next meal. She doesn’t have the luxury.

The story was fun and creepy. Flynn writes full-length novels so well, and I had wondered how her skills would transfer to a short story, as she seems to be a master at crafting slow-burning stories. The pacing of The Grownup was quick and engaging; I practically got whiplash trying to keep up with the plot twists.

Flynn seems to have a penchant for leaving the reader hanging in a moment of tension. While this worked really well in Gone Girl, it left The Grownup feeling somewhat lacking, perhaps due to the shorter length of the story. (If you’re only going to give me 64 pages to enjoy, at least give me a resolution at the end of them.) The ambiguous ending felt frustrating rather than tantalizing.

I loved the story, but I need some closure here, Gillian Flynn.

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Review – One of Us Is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

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One of Us Is Lying 
by Karen M. McManus

Genre: YA, Mystery

Length: 361 Pages

Release date: May 30, 2017

Blurb via GoodReads: 

The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little LiarsOne of Us Is Lying is the story of what happens when five strangers walk into detention and only four walk out alive. Everyone is a suspect, and everyone has something to hide.

Pay close attention and you might solve this.

On Monday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.
Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.
Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.
Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.
Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.
And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investigators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Monday, he died. But on Tuesday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?
Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

ratingfour

One of Us Is Lying is cheesy, tropey, and immensely fun. The Breakfast Club meets Pretty Little Liars description feels seriously apt, and you’ll want to pop a bowl of popcorn to watch this story unfold.

The heavy use of tropes can be a huge pitfall for a novel, but it’s part of the appeal here. The novel seems self-aware about this and characters stop just short of breaking the fourth wall to poke fun at it, particularly Simon, who refers to himself as the “omniscient narrator.”

“She’s a princess and you’re a jock,” he says. He thrusts his chin toward Bronwyn, then at Nate. “And you’re a brain. And you’re a criminal. You’re all walking teen-movie stereotypes.”

McManus makes some effort to play with these character archetypes in unexpected ways. While none of these developments are terribly shocking as they unfold, there is a certain fun in having your suspicions gradually confirmed, and I won’t spoil them here.

One thing I particularly liked was what McManus did with what could have been a typical disastrous YA romance. Brownyn, the Ivy league-bound good girl, gets paired up with Nate, the criminal. Good girl / bad boy pairings in YA are so often seriously problematic, with an insecure girl mooning over a boy that treats her like garbage and the whole thing being held up as the height of romance. Nate and Brownyn seem to have genuine chemistry and affection, built upon years of growing up together, and while Nate isn’t perfect, his flaws come from an understandable place and are paired with a genuine desire and willingness to improve.

This novel was fast-paced, fun, and weirdly cute for a story that starts out with a mysterious death. One of Us Is Lying is a lighthearted, simple book sure to get you out of a reading slump.

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Review – Good Me, Bad Me, by Ali Land

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Good Me, Bad Me
by Ali Land

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Length: 338 Pages

Release date: January 12, 2017

Blurb via GoodReads: 

Good Me Bad Me is dark, compelling, voice-driven psychological suspense by debut author Ali Land.

How far does the apple really fall from the tree?

Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.

ratingthree

Good Me, Bad Me hinges on Milly’s lingering guilt over her mother’s actions and the nature/nurture question: is Milly, bound to her serial killer mother through genetics and also environment, destined to become just like her? The book opens shortly after Milly has turned her mother into the police. She is living with her foster father / psychologist and preparing for the upcoming trial against her mother.

The brain of a psychopath is different from most, I’ve weighed up my chances. Eighty per cent genetics, twenty per cent environment. Me. One hundred per cent fucked.

I really liked the narration style; the story is told in first person from Milly’s point of view and the sometimes disjointed sentence structure does a good job of relaying her mental state. Every flash of anger or dark thought causes ripples in Milly’s psyche: is this the beginning of becoming like Her?

As the main character, Milly was obviously the most developed, but some of the secondary characters felt lacking and one-dimensional. Her foster father is nurturing, her foster mother is in a constant drugged-up fog, and her foster sister is a bully. Her real mother, whose running commentary is constantly in Milly’s thoughts, takes on the air of a venomous spider looming overhead in a web. Perhaps the one-dimensional portrayal of everyone around her was an intentional writing choice meant to reflect Milly’s self absorption and shallow understanding of other people, but in any case, it felt like the novel suffered for it a bit.

The mother, dubbed the Peter Pan Killer by the media for her fondness of killing little boys, was sufficiently creepy despite being on the sidelines throughout the book. Milly’s memories of her mother’s “life lessons” are more than enough to paint her as a villain. Speaking of the mother, a novel about a serial killer who tortures and kills children could have easily felt overly sordid and tasteless. Land never goes into detail about what was done to each of the children, however, relying instead on implanting the mother’s voice into Milly’s head, encouraging her to manipulate and hurt, to make the reader squirm.

Being inside Milly’s head and watching her struggle to find a moral compass after years of abuse at the hands of a monster and her conflicted feelings about the mother she still loves on some level made for a really engaging read. While I found the narrative somewhat lacking and a little too predictable, Milly herself was intensely interesting.

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What’s your favorite psychological thriller?

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Review – Before I Go to Sleep, by S. J. Watson

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Before I Go to Sleep
by S. J. Watson

Genre: Mystery / Thriller

Length: 359 Pages

Release date: June 14, 2011

Blurb via GoodReads: 

Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamiliar, middle-aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories.

Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more unbelievable it seems.

ratingtwo

Before I Go to Sleep was a book with an interesting premise but a failure in execution. Christine’s nightly memory wipes mean that she starts each day as a blank slate (at least in terms of the last twenty or so years of her life) and spends all of her time trying to fill in the blanks of those lost years. The problem? This becomes repetitive and dull quite fast, and the reader sees plot twists coming ages before the protagonist does.

It becomes clear very early on in the story that something is very wrong. Christine finds a note which she’s left for herself, warning her not to trust her husband, Ben. Despite this, as she keeps track of everything she learns in her journal and catches him in lie after lie, Christine makes seemingly endless excuses for Ben. He must be lying to her to protect her. He must have a good reason for not wanting her to get medical treatment to help with her memory. He must love her. Christine, we need to talk. I know you’re going through a lot of trauma, but come on. If something feels ominous as hell, listen to your gut. Or if you can’t listen to your gut, maybe listen to very clearly worded messages from yourself. 

The pacing in this also just felt very off. I think the story the author wanted to tell here could have been adequately told in a novella. The slow, creeping pace was, I think, meant to slowly build a sense of dread before the climax at the end, but it was really just boring because the resolution became obvious too early. You’ll spend half the book waiting for events you’ve already guessed to finally play out on the page.

Major spoilers for the section ahead! 

The entire plot hinges on one key fact: the man Christine believes to be her husband, Ben… (gasp!) isn’t Ben! He’s actually a man with whom she’d briefly had an affair, and he became overly attached in the violent, stalker ex-boyfriend sense. He is the reason for the injuries which led to her memory loss. After she spent years in several different hospitals and her husband left her, Not Ben took it upon himself to pose as Ben and check her out of the inpatient facility.

Despite the fact that this is an amnesiac patient who can’t identify her own husband, apparently no one in this healthcare facility felt the need to check any form of identification on the man who decided to take her home. I don’t work in healthcare, but that sounds like… not how that would work. Can I get a sequel with the lawsuit where Christine makes millions of the hospital that sent her home with her stalker, no questions asked? Because I need that sequel. Christine deserves it.

One last issue, and it’s a biggie: Christine’s memory issues are basically magically cured when she recovers the memory of the attack which caused the problem. (Her doctor makes a comment about how she may not actually be cured, but the overall vibe is very much that everything is going to be Just Fine now!) There’s a kind of throwaway line about how, since an initial trauma caused her problems, it’s certainly plausible that another trauma could have cured them. I… have no words for that, honestly.

Again, I really loved the premise for this book, which sadly made the shoddy execution all the more disappointing. This book needed half the length and maybe a third of the foreshadowing that it had to make it a truly good read.

Thank you for reading! What’s a book you’ve read lately that had a painfully obvious plot twist? Were you still able to enjoy the book? Discuss in the comments!

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