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Mystery/Thriller

30971720Title: The Special Ones
Author: Em Bailey
Pages: 304
Year: 2016
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisA mysterious cult leader has complete control over Esther’s life…or does he? Esther is one of the Special Ones: four young spiritual guides who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? They are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are—and all the while, broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside. Esther knows that if she stops being Special, he will “renew” her. That means being replaced with another Esther. Nobody knows what happens to the Special Ones who are taken away from the farm for renewal, but Esther fears the worst. She also knows she’s a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, and is deeply troubled about her life in captivity. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape.

This book is incredibly satisfyingly creepy for the first half. For that reason, I struggled to rate it. In a lot of my reviews, I talk about the first half of the book being okay and the second half really sucking me in, but I had the opposite experience with this book. The beginning had me hooked right away. I was horrified by but so interested in Esther/Tess’s situation. The way she has to pretend and keep Felicity/Zoe in line for their survival is incredible.

And then they get the new Lucille. She freaks out at first, but she quickly becomes a part of their group and seems weirdly interested in the roles they’re meant to act out. And her change in behavior is never really explained. She doesn’t act anything like I imagine I would act if I were kidnapped and brought to the farm, although I guess I can’t really know what I’d do, and everyone is different. I just didn’t think any of her reactions made any sense.

And things don’t get better. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I can’t stand books that change perspectives. I’m tempted to forgive this book for that since there are things we need to learn about the abductor that would be hard to uncover otherwise. And in Criminal Minds they do jump to the killer’s perspective, and I love Criminal Minds. I’m not really sure about how I feel about the fact that there are no indicators on the page that the perspective is switching–you just have to figure it out from the text. But in the perspective of the abductor, we don’t really learn as much as I think we need to. He talks about the “tragedy” a few times, and maybe this is just me, but I still don’t know what that incident is. Clearly it has something to do with his parents, but what it is exactly, I don’t know. And then there’s the photograph. It’s hard for me to fully accept his motivations. He had no emotional ties to that photo. It all came from a drug-induced hallucination that I suppose the author means to say is strong enough at that moment that it makes him obsessed with the photo. I would have liked the photo to have had more significance to his life.

Ultimately, this is a very cool concept, but I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. Still, it was a fun, creepy read. On to the next book!

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29883629Title: The Woman in Cabin 10
Author: Ruth Ware
Pages: 340
Year: 2016
Publisher: Gallery/Scout (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisIn this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

I know I’m a little late on this one, but better late than never, right? Anyway, I finished this today and I’m actually writing a timely review, so that’s something.

I could have lived my life without reading this book. The main criticism I have is that there were SO many characters, and I had no idea who any of them were and what relation they had to Lo. So I didn’t really care to speculate about who may have been the killer because they were nothing more than names to me. But I did like Lo. I liked the open way Ware talked about her anti-depressants and her panic attacks, and it was kind of fun that she was made to seem unreliable, so I was wondering all the while if she really had seen anything at all.

I was pretty shocked at the outcome, and not really in a good way. Since this book is a few years old now I think I can spoil it–I don’t find it plausible that Carrie could have passed as Anne for so long. Additionally, I didn’t really understand the ending. I think the implication was that Carrie shot Richard and escaped, but I don’t see why she would have done that. She could have left him without shooting him. But maybe I’m completely wrong anyway.

Carrie also seemed a little stereotypical and one-dimensional. All the “he loves me” stuff was old before it even started. If she was so in love/obsessed with him that she’d assist him in murdering his wife, she turned on him pretty quickly to let Lo go free. I just don’t really buy any of it. But the book ultimately kept my attention enough, so it wasn’t all bad. Everyone compares it to The Girl on the Train, and I didn’t like that book either. I think this one is a smidge better, but neither of them are really amazing.

18226389Title: Dark Places
Author: Gillian Flynn
Pages: 350
Year: 2009
Publisher: Broadway Books (Crown)
Time taken to read: 1 month, 5 days
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisLibby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice” of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

I’ve been planning to read more of Gillian Flynn’s books, as I absolutely loved Gone Girl. I did enjoy Dark Places, but it doesn’t quite match up to Flynn’s best-known book. It doesn’t really pick up until about halfway through, but I’ve found that problem in a lot of books so I wasn’t too surprised. I loved the way Flynn uses details in her settings and characterization. That Libby is a kleptomaniac is a great example of a small, interesting quirk that really lets us know how she’s been affected by everything in her life. I found myself struggling to connect with Libby, but I almost felt like that was part of her character. She’s distant. She doesn’t let people in. She keeps people at arm’s length, and she did that with us too. Maybe Flynn didn’t do that on purpose, but I found it interesting.

I have to say, the ending let me down a little. Spoiler ahead: I wanted Ben to be totally innocent. I felt so bad for him. He was sucked up into a world of drugs and rebelliousness, and sure, he had anger, but I believed that he loved his family above everything else. His role in the murders was heartbreaking to me. But I can accept it, I suppose. It makes sense why he then allowed himself to go to jail. It just squeezed my heart when he watched his sister die. Maybe that’s what books like this are supposed to do. Either way, I would have changed things slightly, but I still enjoyed reading it, and I do plan to read Sharp Objects eventually.

Sorry for the delay in reviews, my fellow readers. I finished this book like a month ago and just got around to writing about it. It’s not like I don’t have plenty of free time, because I do, but I’ve been putting it off due to pure laziness, and I still have another review to write, so expect that relatively soon, I hope. Happy reading, friends.

25987144Title: The Last Good Girl
Author: Allison Leotta
Pages: 292
Year: 2016
Publisher: Touchstone (Simon & Schuster)
Time taken to read: 2 weeks
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads synopsisEmily, a freshman at a Michigan university, has gone missing. She was last seen leaving a bar near Sigma Pi, the prestigious and secretive fraternity known on campus as “the rape factory.” The main suspect is Dylan Highsmith, the son of one of the most powerful politicians in the state. But so far the only clues are pieced-together surveillance footage of Emily leaving the bar that night…and Dylan running down the street after her. Anna Curtis is on the case when she discovers the video diary Emily kept over her first few months at college, exposing the history she had with Dylan—and accusing him of rape before she disappeared. Emily’s disappearance gets media attention and support from Title IX activists across the country, but Anna’s investigation hits a wall. Now Anna is looking for something, anything she can use to find Emily alive. But without a body or any physical evidence, she’s under threat from people who tell her to think hard before she ruins the name of an “innocent young man.” Inspired by real-life stories, The Last Good Girl shines a light on campus rape and the powerful emotional dynamics that affect the families of the men and women on both sides.

This is not my typical genre, but I got the book from Writers House when I was working there and I needed something to take to the beach last week so I went for it and I am definitely glad that I did. This book tackles an issue that is really important. Statistics on sexual assault on college campuses–and everywhere else, for that matter–are terrifying, and I’d say most colleges don’t handle it well, as we see in The Last Good Girl when the president of Tower University continuously chooses his school’s reputation and funds over the safety and well-being of his own daughter. His daughter’s rapist comes from a wealthy family that is one of the school’s top donors, and I think that makes for an incredible conflict and a plot that really made my stomach flip. I loved how purely hateable the villains in this book are. Many of Dylan’s scenes were so horrific, and Leotta did a great job painting terrifying and disturbing pictures so vivid that I felt like I was there. Which, I’m glad I wasn’t, but it’s still always satisfying to feel like you’re part of a book. On the other side, I could wholeheartedly root for Anna, her team, and all of Dylan’s victims. I think the way that Leotta showcased all the different ways that girls handle sexual assault is really important. There is no typical way to react to something like that. I know girls who have experienced sexual assault and had it ruin their lives, and I know girls who have shown no signs of PTSD afterwards and have been able to bounce back easily, and it has nothing to do with the severity of the crime. It really depends on the individual. I also really liked the varying styles of the book–we get a typical narrative interlaced with transcripts of video diaries that Emily made and various legal documents and emails pertaining to the case. It was a fun way to follow the story and learn new information.

I want to make sure I give a shoutout to Wyatt, who is one of the best characters in this book and has the most significant character arc. He learns the most throughout the story, and it is my hope that readers who aren’t knowledgable on the subject of sexual assault are able to learn alongside him. It was really uplifting to watch his empathy grow and his values change as he witnesses deeply disturbing crimes. Good job, Wyatt, and thank you for setting a good example for young men.

As much as I ultimately loved the premise and thought the characters were very well executed, I did have a few problems with the book. It took me a while to read because it didn’t really start to pick up until a little bit past the middle. I often find myself struggling to get through the first half of a book and racing through the second, so Leotta is not alone in this particular fault. However, I wouldn’t knock off a star just for that. I also felt that the dialogue in the book is rather stiff. Most of the regular dialogue is actually fine, but the language in Emily’s video diaries sounds nothing like real speech–especially speech that a teenage girl would say out loud to herself on camera. In one of the early videos, she describes her therapist as a “pretty psychologist with brown hair and a warm smile.” That would be a nice description, but who would ever say that out loud? It certainly didn’t feel right to me. That’s really what made me drop this book to four stars. Additionally, I feel a little iffy on the subplots with Anna’s various relationships. I definitely wanted to see more between her and her sister Jody. We get little hints that Jody was once arrested, but what exactly happened there was never revealed, which was a bit disappointing.

I was very nervous that the ending was going to let me down, but I felt very satisfied with the big reveal and how the whole case played out. I hadn’t realized this until I looked up the book on Goodreads today, but The Last Good Girl is actually number five in Leotta’s Anna Curtis series. This book can definitely be read as a stand alone novel, but I will be going to the library to look for more Anna Curtis adventures. Anna is a great feminist character, and I’m excited to see her serve some more justice to the world. I really recommend this book to anyone, because I guarantee you know someone who has experienced sexual assault, if you haven’t experienced it yourself, and it’s really important that we as a society learn about it and understand how and why it happens, how to prevent it (e.g., teaching boys to respect women), and how to heal from it and help others heal as well.

26244587Title: Dear Amy
Author: Helen Callaghan
Pages: 343
Year: 2016
Publisher: Harper (HarperCollins)
Time taken to read: 7 weeks
Rating: 3/5

Goodreads synopsisMargot Lewis is the agony aunt for The Cambridge Examiner. Her advice column, Dear Amy, gets all kinds of letters – but none like the one she’s just received: ‘Dear Amy, I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me. Please help me soon, Bethan Avery.’ Bethan Avery has been missing for nearly two decades. This is surely some cruel hoax. But as more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public. How is this happening? Answering this question will cost Margot everything….

Firstly, Helen Callaghan’s language is absolutely exceptional. She used lovely metaphors, and her word choice is amazing in so many instances, and for that reason alone, I would read anything else she may write in the future (assuming the premise doesn’t sound awful). However, I cannot rate this very highly, and I cannot tell you why without spoiling the ending, so please just move on from this review if you haven’t read this book yet and you still want to.

Now, onto the spoilers.

I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist. I took psych 101 and my mom has a psych degree. That’s as far as my official knowledge goes. However, I am, like 99.999% sure you CANNOT push memories down so deep that when you hear your own name and go back to your childhood home and see your grandmother and all of these things that you lived with for sixteen or so years, you literally cannot recall any of it. Like, okay, I was glad that the ending wasn’t predictable, at least for me. And if you ignore the fact that this is impossible, it is a very cool twist. But I cannot ignore that fact. After I finished this book and discussed with my boyfriend (who is knowledgable about many topics and agreed with me that this is impossible), I started to think maybe that was the point, and Margot is an unreliable narrator who is still trying so hard to pretend that she’s not Bethan that she’s lying to us too. That I would have been okay with if it had been very clear. If that had been done well, I could see myself giving this a much higher rating. But also, side note, I cannot believe all the people on Goodreads saying the twist was so predictable. I don’t predict impossible things in realistic fiction. But again, if it had been clear from the beginning that Margot was hiding something from us (without making it obvious what it was), it might have been better. Some kind of red herring would have to be involved. Ooh, or maybe Bethan could have sustained intense brain damage from Chris’s violence and that (partially combined with psychological trauma, perhaps) made her forget her life. I’ve changed my mind, that would have been way better than Margot lying to us. And it would have been actually possible (I think, as I’m not a medical doctor either).

The book was also a little slow-going in the beginning, as you can see from the fact that this took me over a month to read. Then again, it’s not my typical genre, so that might be why that happened. Who knows.

22557272Title: The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Pages: 325
Year: 2015
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 8 days
Rating: 2/5

Goodreads synopsis: Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

Fun fact: my dad is old. Actually, he’s not that old. He’s still in his early fifties I believe, but he acts like he’s really old, and not on purpose. For instance, when he reads a book, he likes to ask me if I’ve read it, which I usually haven’t, and then he explains the plot. The next time I see him, he’ll explain the plot of the same book. And the next time, he’ll do it again, and so on and so forth. Normally I just let him go on, rather than interrupting him and reminding him of his oldness. The Girl on the Train is one of those books that he told me about multiple times, so I figured I should read it so that the next time he asks me about it, we can actually discuss it.

I’m getting a little tired of mentioning the fact that I hate when books switch perspectives. It actually wasn’t so bad at the beginning, but once I got to the part where it was going back and forth between Rachel and Anna in a scene where they were talking to each other, I started to get confused and annoyed. The worst thing about the writing, though, was the comma splices. First of all, I hate comma splices. They’re like semicolons but even worse. (I hate semicolons.) Second of all, I can stand comma splices when they sort of make sense, like if you actually wouldn’t pause all that much if you were saying the sentences out loud, but they made no sense here. I don’t have the book on me anymore so I can’t give an example, but the author would use comma splices where I would have come to a full stop in even the most colloquial of contexts, and I don’t understand.

As for the actual story, I just wasn’t terribly impressed. I didn’t like any of the characters much at all. I think I liked Anna the most, and she was a real bitch. Everyone in this book seemed rather pathetic, and some were straight-up evil on top of that. The big reveal of who did it was rather boring, and I find it hard to believe that that person would have sat there and admitted it all in the straightforward, story-telling way that they did. In fact, a lot of the author’s dialogue sounded wrong, like it was too poetic to be said out loud. I kept thinking, no one would ever talk like that. I almost gave it three stars because I thought it was interesting enough in the middle, it just didn’t deliver at the end, but then I started to think about how it wasn’t actually all that interesting. Rachel just said the same sh*t over and over about how she couldn’t remember anything, and she wants a drink but she shouldn’t but she’s going to anyway. And the lack of independent women in the book really pisses me off. Every girl was attached to a guy, and everything about them was based off their relationships with those guys, which is honestly pathetic. Zero feminism points.

A lot of people on Goodreads are saying this book is better than Gone Girl, and I want to physically fight those people because Gone Girl is amazing and The Girl on the Train is mediocre at best.

12837725Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Pages: 419
Year: 2012
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Time taken to read: 4 days
Rating: 5/5

Goodreads synopsisOn a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media–as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents–the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter–but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

I went into Gone Girl knowing absolutely nothing about it other than the fact that it’s about a girl who goes missing and it was recently made into a movie that everyone was raving about. My first impression of this book was less than great because I absolutely hate books that switch perspectives, but once I realized that Amy’s perspective was all diary entries (until later on), it didn’t bother me. Nick and Amy were both kind of annoying in the beginning. I guess I was put off by how much Nick talked about how it’s impossible to really be a writer anymore (which is what I want to do with my life, sad face). And I was annoyed with Amy for saying some pretty anti-feminist things, like how she’s “just being a girl” in a very negative context. (Although, as you will learn, that Amy isn’t really, well, Amy. So I can forgive that.) But by the end of the book, I found myself thinking that Amy might be one of my favorite literary characters ever. I mean, she’s a genius. A mentally ill genius. (I was trying to diagnose her as I read, and I felt like borderline personality disorder (my own disorder) might fit, but that definitely didn’t cover everything. I looked it up after finishing the book and found this interesting article where a psychiatrist suggests BPD and antisocial personality disorder.) I still hated Nick by the end, but I was enjoying hating him, if that makes any sense. One of those love-to-hate characters, I suppose.

For some reason I didn’t expect to like this book, but I found myself staying up late into the night to keep reading. The details really made it so amazing. I was so into the mystery, trying to figure out if Nick was really responsible, trying to guess who else could have done it, playing detective as I went along. This is the type of book that really engages you, so that you feel like you’re a part of the story. And it made me feel so much. I was almost in tears when Amy lost all her money. I was practically sick to my stomach because I was rooting for her so hard. Which surprised me, because I don’t like spoiled rich kids, but I wanted her to be victorious in whatever her goal was. I guess that’s just good writing.

I am definitely going to be seeing this movie and reading the rest of Flynn’s books, since this was so phenomenal.