Review – Silent All These Years, by T. A. Massa

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Silent All These Years 
by T. A. Massa

Genre: Thriller

Length: 203 Pages

Release date: September 11, 2018

Synopsis: 

A broken daughter’s search for the truth unwinds a spiraling journey of panic, lust, and murder in this manipulative thriller from debut author T. A. Massa.

Melanie Stewart has just been left ten million dollars by a man she never knew. Should she accept the money? What if it means her mother, Marilyn, who died when she was only three years old, was murdered by the man who left it to her?

Melanie is trapped with crippling anxiety after the loss of her mother at a young age and the fatal stabbing of her fiancé on the night of their engagement.

When she discovers she has been written into the will of Roger Andrews, a name linked to the mysterious death of her mother, Melanie must trudge down a path of buried memories, reliving painful heartache, all while attempting to restart her life and trust a new admirer.

Told from the alternating perspectives of Melanie’s investigation and Marilyn’s last weeks leading up to her death, the clues unravel one by one, leaving you guessing until the final climax. Who should Melanie trust? What happened to Marilyn all those years ago?

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twoI received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to T. A. Massa. All opinions are my own and not influenced by the author. 

Silent All These Years has one of my biggest pet peeves for a thriller: the whole plot depends on the protagonist being ridiculously, unbearably gullible. The villain is painfully obvious from the moment they appear in the story, and Melanie ignores red flag after giant, waving red flag as she walks blissfully into danger. When the threat is so obvious (not just from the reader’s perspective, mind you, but when there are countless things that should truly give the protagonist pause) and the protagonist remains so oblivious, it becomes difficult to get invested in the character.

You know that moment in a bad horror movie where the person being chased runs up the stairs instead of out of the house to call for help? That’s what this whole book felt like this for me. What are you doing, Melanie? What is going through your head? Do you want to get murdered, Melanie? Because this is how you get murdered . 

I also had a difficult time empathizing with the trauma that has left Melanie with PTSD, mainly because the deceased fiancé never feels like a fleshed-out character. There are a few sparse flashbacks to when Nathan was alive in Melanie’s chapters, but never enough to give the reader any kind of an idea who he was as a person. Nathan exists in the story solely as a means to explain Melanie’s fragile state. The problem is that without a clear picture of Nathan and his relationship with Melanie, it feels very hollow. The readers are not made to feel Melanie’s pain, we are simply told that she is in pain.

I did enjoy some of the chapters which were written from Melanie’s mother’s perspective, however. Marilyn’s love for her daughter is palpable and tender. Her last days aren’t spent mourning her own impeding death, but the realization that she won’t be there for her young daughter anymore.

The story is fast-paced and does have some unexpected twists in regards to the mystery of the mother’s death. Fans of Riley Sager or Mary Kubika may find this an entertaining read.

You can purchase the Kindle edition of Silent All These Years here. 

Thank you for reading! Have you read Silent All These Years? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
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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.

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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 – 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.

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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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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.

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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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Review – The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

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The Wife Between Us
by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Genre: Mystery / Suspense

Length: 352 Pages

Published: January 9, 2018

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Blurb via GoodReads: 

A novel of suspense that explores the complexities of marriage and the dangerous truths we ignore in the name of love.

When you read this book, you will make many assumptions.
You will assume you are reading about a jealous wife and her obsession with her replacement.
You will assume you are reading about a woman about to enter a new marriage with the man she loves.
You will assume the first wife was a disaster and that the husband was well rid of her.
You will assume you know the motives, the history, the anatomy of the relationships.
Assume nothing.

Discover the next blockbuster novel of suspense, and get ready for the read of your life.flourish

Holy plot twist, Batman. This book was one twist after another, up until the very end, but a lot of the twists felt… underwhelming, particularly the one that comes at the very end. It added another dimension to the story that didn’t really add anything meaningful and tested the limits of my suspension of disbelief. The layers of deception in this book are seemingly endless.

This book is difficult to talk about without giving too much away; a lot depends on the reader going into the story knowing as little as possible and enjoying the plot twists as they unfold. This is one book that absolutely cannot survive spoilers. Suffice it to say that it vacillates between being a fun ride and throwing so many plots twists at the reader that half of them feel superfluous. The authors simply didn’t have sufficient time to develop all of the plot lines they tried to cram into this book. The end result feels a bit messy. Perhaps this is partially a product of two authors attempting to work together for the first time?

*Spoilers Ahead.* I’d like to explain in more detail why parts of this book fell flat for me; I don’t recommend proceeding unless you have already read the book.

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The reader is meant to think that Vanessa is the ex wife and Nellie is her “replacement.” The first major twist was that Vanessa and Nellie are the same person, just before and after marriage to Richard. Nellie was a nickname Richard had for her. This was the twist that was most effective, in my opinion; I did not see this one coming. It was interesting and it made the reader look back on the passages they’ve already read in a new light. These things make for a good twist. Some reviewers thought the blurb made this twist too obvious; I’m inclined to agree, but I was lucky in that, due to long library hold times, I read the blurb and the book over a month apart, so it wasn’t fresh in my mind at the time.

However, a decent part of the “mystery” of this novel seems to be in unearthing what went wrong in Vanessa’s marriage with Richard. Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of signs of abuse will see the red flags very early on in the book. Richard is fiercely controlling, albeit sometimes in the guise of “taking care” of Vanessa. The most extreme example of this is when he purchases a house shortly before the wedding without ever consulting Vanessa about it. Flowers are nice surprises; houses are not. This was something that obviously should have been a joint decision and it shows Richard’s failure Vanessa as an autonomous person who may want to have some say in where she’ll be living.

Richard’s sister, Maureen, has a weird obsession with him, probably of the incestuous variety. Vanessa doesn’t seem to pick up on this until very late in the story, and I’m not sure why it was included at all.  Maybe it was meant to add to the “creep” factor of the story and help it live up to the “thriller” label, but it was so tangential to everything important to the actual plot that it felt very unnecessary and tacked on. I thought at one point they were trying to hint that Maureen was sabotaging Richard’s relationships out of jealousy, but Richard did a fine job of sabotaging those all on his own.

The final plot twist also felt superfluous to me. The revelation of Emma’s true identity was one twist too many and my suspension of disbelief snapped under the undue tension. The grudge she was holding and the things she was willing to do in order to get back at Vanessa felt completely out of proportion to Vanessa’s perceived “crime.” Sure, maybe Emma was simply meant to be a bit unbalanced, but Vanessa seems to be surrounded by unbalanced people; in the end, it feels like a lazy way of writing in some truly irrational behavior without having to bother to make it make sense.

The reviews on this book seem to be all over the place. Either you’ll love it to pieces or wonder if you’re really reading the same book everyone else seems to be raving about. Unfortunately, this one fell a bit flat for me. The intricate, tangled web the the authors were trying to weave for the reader just looked like… a mess.

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Review – The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

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The Death of Mrs. Westaway
by Ruth Ware

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Length: 368 Pages

Published May 29, 2018

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Blurb via GoodReads:

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the centre of it.

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Oh, I wanted to love this book. And there was plenty to love. The book was atmospheric, transporting you directly inside Mrs. Westaway’s decaying, cavernous mansion.  Hal was a very well-developed protagonist and her complicated relationship with tarot and cold reading made her really interesting to read. Hal is a psychic who doesn’t believe in her own trade; this could easily make her an unsympathetic protagonist and turn off the reader, but life has backed Hal into a corner in a way that makes it hard to blame her. I’ll spare you any details that could be considered spoilers, but suffice it to say that Hal is desperate and doing the only thing she can to stay afloat.

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This was enjoyable to read, but in the end, I felt a bit let down. The conclusion was far too heavily foreshadowed, to the point where I’d hoped the hints being dropped were red herrings, intended to distract. There were some aspects of the story which I was unable to guess, but these felt like minor details; the overall shape of the mystery became obvious before I was two thirds of the way through the book.

For a mystery novel to lack subtlety is such a fatal flaw. Ware’s writing is quite engaging, and I was enthralled to the end, but I spent that time waiting for a shocking revelation that simply never came. I have high hopes for whatever Ruth Ware’s next book turns out to be; I always have fun reading them, but I do hope she manages to surprise me next time.

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