In Her Shadow by Kristin Miller REVIEW

*Due out April 21st, 2020

Thanks to Ballantine Books for my advanced release copy.

In her Shadow by Kristen Miller pays homage to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier in the form of a murder mystery. Five months pregnant Colleen moves into her boyfriend Michael’s house, an estate called Ravenwood. Colleen can’t help but notice that she is essentially taking the place of Michael’s missing wife, Joanne. There are reminders of her everywhere from her perfume to her robe, and even her favorite meals. There is an entire wing of the house that is off-limits to Colleen. Michael alludes to some deep dark secrets and grows worried that she might find out.

Upon first reading the novel, it seems like Colleen is going to be the main character. That idea quickly vanishes as the narrative switches focus from her life to various characters trying to figure out what happened to Joanne. The narrative is written from several characters’ points of view including the main characters Colleen and Michael. Rachel, Michael’s colleague’s wife and their next door neighbor, and Detective Shaw, a policeman investigating a neighborhood murder, also have their own sections. This really keeps the pace fast and suspenseful.

The sections jump around between time and points of view, which also adds a quickness to the plot. Sometimes, it’s a little too quick and I can’t help but feel that some characters are a bit underdeveloped, especially Michael. Rachel and Travis, the friends, are much more believable as a married couple. I enjoy the banter between them and can sense the unspoken tension in their marriage. It’s a much more realistic relationship than Colleen and Michael, but maybe that’s the point. Michael and Colleen together isn’t supposed to seem natural.

The title of each section takes the suspense up a few notches. Instead of the typical chapter one, two, or three, it’s titled with the event that’s happening or about to happen. It’s a step above foreshadowing because I know what’s going to happen, I just don’t know how or why. There is a method to this that made me smile once I’d finished the book.

I did not see the ending coming! This was definitely a well crafted thriller and some of the things I found unbelievable in the first half all made sense by the end. This is an exciting, suspenseful read that seems well suited for a screen adaptation I’d gladly watch.

 

 

Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald REVIEW

Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald is an exciting thriller about Eva, a young, newly engaged woman. The same night she gets struck by lightning, her mother gets mysteriously murdered. Eva keeps getting flashbacks to the scene of her mother’s death. The question surfaces… Who killed her? With Eva’s memory loss, she becomes the prime suspect in her mother’s murder. But did she really do it? Hints about Eva’s mysteriously dark past made me question her innocence, but her relatable character made me want to root for her at the same time. The story is told in alternating perspectives from present day Eva to Kat, her mother, twenty five years earlier. In reading Kat’s story, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. She didn’t marry Eva’s father, Seb, for love and often endures his brutal abuse. It makes sense why she is so tough in the present day chapters. Both story lines have plenty of mystery and suspense, which makes it a bit infuriating to keep jumping back and forth. I just wanted to know what happens! I found myself reading way more than I intended in one sitting. 😂 The end of the book is well worth the read with shocking twists and turns I didn’t see coming. I highly recommend this one.

 

You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce REVIEW

You Let Me In by Camila Bruce is a thriller from Tor Books in the vein of Shirley Jackson, Carmen Maria Machado, and Tana French. It is due out in April 2020.

The book is written in first-person from the perspective of Cassandra Tipp, who has mysteriously gone missing at 74 years old. Did she die? Did she disappear? No one knows. Cassandra, a best selling novelist, has left a manuscript behind for her niece and nephew in the case of her disappearance with a few stipulations. Only her niece or nephew can claim her estate and they must read her manuscript to find a password to claim it. In her manuscript, she takes the reader through her life story from the time she was a little girl with mind bending twists and turns to figure out how she turned into a suspected murderer.

In her story, Cassandra has an unusual mythical friend named Pepper-Man, who sinks his teeth into her throat at night and influences her to think and do bad things. When Cassandra meets more faeries like Pepper-Man in the woods, her world changes forever. Bruce flips modern fairy tales upside down and creates a creepy, dark story remniscient of the brothers Grimm.

But the reader is soon confronted by the idea of reality creeping in to Cassandra’s world in the form of Dr. Martin. He has written a book of his own about her called “Away with the fairies: A study in trauma induced psychosis.” We are left questioning whether the fairies are real or a sort of coping mechanism Cassandra has cooked up to deal with her dysfunctional family.

After her husband, father, and brother die, things get even more mysterious. Was the faerie world something Cassandra just created to deal with her trauma or is that where she ultimately ended up? To find out, as the back of the book says, you must “read on, if you dare…”

What you will love 😍: The fast pace and fantasy element.

What you will hate 😠: The ambiguity. What did happen to Cassandra!?

What you will appreciate 😌: Camilla Bruce’s strong writing skills and imaginative story. How did she think of these dark and disturbing faerie characters?

 

Follow Me by Kathleen Barber REVIEW

Follow Me is a cautionary tale about the dangers of social media oversharing. The story follows three characters in alternating, first person points of view. First, we have Audrey, a self proclaimed Instagram influencer with a million followers. She’s a seemingly confident red head who leaves New York to take a museum job in Washington DC where she appropriately manages their social media accounts. She reunites with her college friend, Cat, the second POV, a successful lawyer, who is undoubtedly her voice of reason. Then, we have Him, the third POV, a sketchy character who happens to be one of Audrey’s Instagram followers. Something is obviously off about this one.

From the beginning of the book, Barber raises the tension as she places Audrey in some questionable situations that make us fear for her safety. She throws different characters at us to see which one we just may believe is “Him”. There’s skeevy Ryan, Audrey’s landlady’s grandson. Then there’s Connor, Cat’s friend from college and work that we’re kind of questioning, but he could be a stretch. Then there’s the mysterious admirer who randomly shows up at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden where Audrey works. Barber is apt at craftily placing us in Audrey’s tentative and leary shoes. Everyone’s a potential suspect.

The best thing about this book is trying to guess who Audrey’s stalker is. Is it someone she knows? Is it a complete stranger? Is it the person she least suspects or someone she has her eye on? Just when I think I have it all figured out, Barber changes everything up and makes me second-guess my detective work.

This thriller is so well worth the read. It has everything a reader could want from a story and ramps up the suspense towards the end. I literally could not stop reading the last quarter of the book until getting to the satisfying end. This one definitely knocks it out of the park.

 

The Sinner by Petra Hammesfahr REVIEW

The Sinner begins with Cora Bender, a complex character driven to the point of temporary insanity as she deals with her dark past. The narrative alternates between present day and flashbacks in which Cora’s unstable nature is revealed through her unconventional upbringing.

The book was originally released in Germany in 1999, but translated for English speaking audiences around 2007. I am a little late to the game in reading it, but I’m so happy I did.

Hammesfahr weaves a mysterious tale of child abuse and murder that could only be described ironically as sinful. Cora’s mother, a religious fanatic, does not let Cora experience a normal childhood. She blames her for every sinful act and requires her to pray for forgiveness. Cora has a sister, Magdalena, who is born with Leukemia and is not expected to survive. When she does, their mother tells them that the only way she will remain alive is if the family absolves themselves of all sins. Sinful behaviors include eating chocolate and even reading Alice in Wonderland.

Of course, Cora rebels from this stifling and rigid environment. She escapes through marriage and a family of her own, but that’s where the real mystery begins. One day, she just snaps and commits the biggest sin of all: Murder. Readers are left in the dark and spend the majority of the book reading to find out just why Cora Bender did what she did.

The writing is dense, possibly due to the translation, and rich with detail. It wasn’t a fast read for me, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The characters are complex and the mystery kept me reading until the last page. Although it was a denser read, the reward comes at the end where we finally get to discover just what makes Cora Bender do what she does.

 

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware REVIEW

The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware, follows Harriet Westaway, a twenty something young tarot card reader. After her single mother dies tragically, she must fend for herself in the city. She is down on her luck, reading fortunes on the pier in a kiosk, living alone in a small apartment she can barely afford. She’s got loan sharks after her and is barely making ends meet.

One day, she gets a letter from a Mr. Treswick telling her that her grandmother has died and left her a small fortune. The only problem is, she’s convinced he has the wrong girl. She goes to Trepassen House anyway to see if she can pull it off as an imposter, but realizes that the claims may not be as far off base as she once thought.

I’ve only read Ware’s other book In a Dark, Dark Wood, and have to say that I didn’t love it. The Death of Mrs. Westaway started out very slow. In fact, I was wondering if any action at all was going to occur after reading the first one hundred pages. I’m glad that I didn’t give up on the book because Ware threw in a twist right after that that kept me reading and reading. Ware’s no doubt a skillful writer. I appreciate her references to Du Maurier’s Rebecca, with the character Mrs. Danvers. In an essay in the back of the book, she mentions that Agatha Christie and Daphne Du Maurier are her favorite authors who inspire her writing today.

While not a fast paced thriller, it does have a subtlety to it that kept me interested enough in the characters to propel the plot forward. The last part of the book takes the reader on a journey to answer the one question both the main character and the reader alike both have. Who is Hal’s father?

What you will love: The skillful writing. Ruth Ware isn’t popular for nothing!

What you will hate: The pace. At times, I thought the book could be much shorter without all the added descriptive detail.

What you will appreciate: The careful way Ware weaves the plot to keep it interesting. Even though it is on the slow side, you get enough clues and hints to drive you to keep reading until the very end.

 

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn REVIEW

The Woman in the Window by AJ Finn is a noir-esque thriller that centers around Anna Fox, a late thirties agoraphobic alcoholic. She’s recently separated from her husband and daughter. Anna has an attractive, young tenant, David, who pops in and out at will and helps her around the house.

The story is told in a journalistic style with different sections beginning with the date and day of the week. This gives it a very intimate feel, like we are getting a glimpse into Anna’s personal life.

Since she does not leave the house and drinks wine all day, she finds ways to entertain herself. One of these ways is by spying on her neighbors and she becomes especially interested in a particular family, the Russell’s, who live in 207 across the street from her.

The suspense kicks off one morning when she hears a scream from their New York City home. She calls them and their teenage son confirms that there was a scream but assures her that everything is fine. The father however denies that there was a scream and that’s when the real mystery begins.

This is where the story really kicks off and takes the reader on a roller coaster ride at breakneck speed. There are so many twists and turns that just when you think you have the story all figured out, you realize you are dead wrong.

Anna is the sort of unreliable narrator the reader roots for as we navigate through her hazy, cloudy world. Sometimes we think we can trust her and other times we know we can’t. One thing is for sure. Nothing is what it seems in this book and that’s what makes it so suspenseful and exciting.

I loved this one from beginning to end and as soon as it was over, I wished I could read it all over again.