Hunters in the Dark

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Adrift in Cambodia and eager to side-step a life of quiet desperation as a small-town teacher, 28-year-old Englishman Robert Grieve decides to go missing. As he crosses the border from Thailand, he tests the threshold of a new future.
And on that first night, a small windfall precipitates a chain of events– involving a bag of jinxed money, a suave American, a trunk full of heroin, a hustler taxi driver, and a rich doctor’s daughter– that changes Robert s life forever.
Hunters in the Dark is a sophisticated game of cat and mouse redolent of the nightmares of Patricia Highsmith, where identities are blurred, greed trumps kindness, and karma is ruthless. Filled with Hitchcockian twists and turns, suffused with the steamy heat and pervasive superstition of the Cambodian jungle, and unafraid to confront difficult questions about the machinations of fate, this is a masterful novel that confirms Lawrence Osborne s reputation as one of our finest contemporary writers.

Hunters in the Dark by Lawrence Osborne

Publication Date: October 11, 2016 by Hogarth

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My Thoughts:

He was familiar with death, there was nothing magical or awesome about it. It appeared and it disappeared and in that respect it was very much like life.

I was initially drawn to this book for the comparisons made to Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock. What I love about Highsmith’s novels is that there is always this underlying feeling of tension in what is being left unsaid. The Talented Mr. Ripley comes to mind now that I’ve finished Hunters in the Dark since both deal with characters who make drastic (and often devastating) choices in their pursuit of happiness.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Hunters in the Dark is Osborne’s writing style. There is something almost lyrical in Osborne’s prose that adds to the suspense of the novel. He portrays a Cambodia that is both beautiful and frightening and makes it easy to see how the narrator could become so enthralled with his surroundings, even after having some pretty horrible experiences.

Hunters in the Dark is a great character study and definitely thought-provoking. While it would be easy to write off some of the characters in the novel for their distasteful actions, Osborne presents enough information to make you question your quickness to condemn them. Although the novel’s main focus is on Robert Grieves and the choices he makes to pursue what he thinks will ultimately make him happier, the other people he meets along the way are similarly searching for the same thing. It’s interesting to see how intertwined they all become as the story progresses.

…there is no guilt in the pursuit of happiness, there is just the pursuit. It’s like moving towards the light. One crawls on all fours, if need be.

People who are generally good, caring human beings are willing to do despicable things (including murder) in that pursuit and it is that sense desperation that ultimately makes the book so frightening.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review!

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The Twilight Wife

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From bestselling author A.J. Banner comes a dazzling new novel of psychological suspense in the vein of S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep and Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl that questions just how much we can trust the people around us.

Thirty-four-year-old marine biologist Kyra Winthrop remembers nothing about the diving accident that left her with a complex form of memory loss. With only brief flashes of the last few years of her life, her world has narrowed to a few close friendships on the island where she lives with her devoted husband, Jacob.

But all is not what it seems. Kyra begins to have visions—or are they memories?—of a rocky marriage, broken promises, and cryptic relationships with the island residents, whom she believes to be her friends.

As Kyra races to uncover her past, the truth becomes a terrifying nightmare. A twisty, immersive thriller, The Twilight Wife will keep readers enthralled through the final, shocking twist.

The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner

Publication Date: December 27, 2016 by Touchstone

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Just because someone talks about murder, doesn’t mean they intend to actually kill someone

No, this is not the “next” Gone Girl, nor is the author the “next” Tana French, but despite The Twilight Wife‘s flaws, there is something very enjoyable about this short, fast-paced novel.

This book is easy to finish in one sitting and occasionally, that is exactly the type of psychological thriller that one needs. Although I had my gripes with the plot, I did enjoy the atmospheric qualities in the story: the quaint town, the blustery weather, and all the oceanic elements that connect throughout the storyline. Where it could have felt tedious to others, I enjoyed this descriptive element to the book.

I also was hooked enough into the plot to read through The Twilight Wife within hours of starting it. Banner is talented when it comes to drawing the reader into the uncertainty of the narrator’s sense of reality and who she can really trust – enough so that I didn’t put the book down until I knew how it would all end.

This book was easily on its way to a 4 or 5 star rating until around the last 15-20 pages where it started to plummet a bit. Despite being a quick novel to finish, the story itself was drawn out and left me in a state of perpetual suspense until that last bit where events suddenly speed up to the point where I felt like I had literary whiplash. While frustrating, I find this to be typical of this “type” of psychological thriller so it wouldn’t have been enough to lower my opinions of the book. What I really found disappointing was the ending – I felt like I had stepped out of a thriller and into a cliche Lifetime movie.

Despite feeling a bit betrayed by the ending, I did enjoy the novel enough as a whole to recommend it to others. I just wish more time had been spent on the ending and in a way that didn’t wrap things up so nice and neat.

Thank you, Netgalley and Touchstone for allowing me the opportunity to read The Twilight Wife in exchange for an honest review!

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

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In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible.

With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Publication Date: January 10, 2017 by Random House

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

She wanted him to feel familiar, she wanted him to be someone she wanted and knew. But he was only someone.

This novel starts off strong – the reader is introduced to a group of middle school students and as is probably common for that age group, there is not much to like about their behavior or actions. These kids come from wealthy (and for some, very absent) families, but with that wealth comes privilege and it’s immediately clear that that sense of entitlement is going to spur on some of the events in the book.

That was how he knew. That nothing could touch him. And if nothing could touch him, then nothing he did mattered.

There is one student who carries an aura of innocence among peers who are already engaging in that awkward transition into high school (girls who dress provocatively, but still spend time eating candy and gossiping in each other’s bedrooms). Tristan is sweet, but awkward and his one fault seems to be his kind and trusting nature. The reader quickly realizes that Tristan will be the focal point in the tragic events that occur in the beginning of the novel, but that doesn’t stop it from causing serious heartbreak in the reader before the storyline quickly shifts into the students’ junior year of high school.

Initially, I felt drawn to Molly (the students’ new English teacher). Johnson does a great job of sharing what it feels like to be a high school teacher and how difficult it can be to engage with so many different personalities in one classroom. I’m probably biased since I used to teach English, but I couldn’t help but applaud Johnson for the way she initially introduces us to Molly’s world.

Then everything quickly shifted and I realized that many of the adults in the novel were just as royally flawed as the students they taught. Although I’m not one to shy away from story lines that include some seriously immoral behavior or relationships (hello, Lolita I’m looking at you), it was Molly’s behavior that left me cringing the most – and I’m well aware that my biases most likely play a part in that.

There’s a lot to be said about how The Most Dangerous Place on Earth addresses the idea of loneliness and the extremes people (both teenagers AND adults) will go to to satisfy that need for a sense of belonging or importance (and how social media plays a part in those connections or lack thereof), but there also came a point in the novel where some of the students started to feel more like caricatures than actual teenagers – the dancer, the hippie, the jock, the bad boy, etc. etc.

Despite my gripes with some of the characterization, I still found myself completely immersed in the story and a novel that deals with people behaving horribly who may or may not change is something I can get on board with. Thank you NetGalley and Random House for allowing me the opportunity to read this book before its publication date! I’m looking forward to seeing what else Lindsey Lee Johnson writes in the future.

Difficult Women

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Award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with An Untamed State and the New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial). Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the elder sister’s marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Publication Date: January 3, 2017 by Grove Press

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

When I was a girl, my father once told me that women weren’t good for much

I have been a fan of Roxane Gay since I first read her novel, An Untamed State. Her writing is sharp and unapologetic. She is able to write about the most dark and uncomfortable topics (physical violence, rape, poverty, etc.) in a way that lets the importance of writing about those issues shine through all the disgust and discomfort that the reader may feel. Gay raises plenty of questions about how men treat women (and also how women treat women as well as themselves!) that her fiction is just as effective as her essays and non-fiction work.

Difficult Women is one of the best collections of short fiction that I have read yet. The women Roxane Gay writes about are real – honest, flawed, unapologetic, at times broken or damaged, but also equally resilient and courageous. She covers a wide range of women and topics, but yet all of her stories seem to slowly intertwine with one another. There are hints of past characters and experiences as the stories progress and although they all stand alone, there is a certain flow to the collection from start to finish.

Some of the stories in Difficult Women are absolutely heartbreaking (“I Will Follow You”, “Break All the Way Down”) while others blur the line of fantasy (“Requiem for a Glass Heart”, “I Am a Knife”, “The Sacrifice of Darkness”). Two particular stories that haunted me, but yet had a glimmer of hope to them were “North Country” and “Strange Gods” – I intend to re-read these in the future.

There’s something to be said for an author whose fiction is just as memorable and thought-provoking as her non-fiction work. Roxane Gay has quickly become one of my favorite authors so thank you Netgalley and Grove Press for giving me this opportunity to read Gay’s newest book before its release date next year!

Blood Wedding

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Sophie is haunted by the things she can’t remember – and visions from the past she will never forget. One morning, she wakes to find that the little boy in her care is dead. She has no memory of what happened. And whatever the truth, her side of the story is no match for the evidence piled against her. Her only hiding place is in a new identity. A new life, with a man she has met online. But Sophie is not the only one keeping secrets …

Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre

Publication Date: July 27, 2016 by MacLehose Press

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

A situation such as this is always a race against time. One person wants to leave, the other person wants her to stay. It is a struggle for dominance that involves all the phases of a small war: attacks, feints, redeployments, intimidation, tactical retreats, changes of strategy…

When October comes around and it finally begins to feel like fall, I start to gravitate towards crime fiction and psychological thrillers even more than usual. So it’s no surprise that after finishing The Couple Next Door, I chose to forego everything else I was reading to pick up Blood Wedding.

TOTALLY THE BEST CHOICE OF MY LIFE.

This book is twisted like nothing I’ve ever read. I’m starting to think The Couple Next Door lulled me into a sense of safety prior to beginning Blood Wedding because while I enjoyed both stories, Blood Wedding was like a punch to the gut compared to Lapena’s novel.

Lemaitre’s writing is a slow unfolding of Sophie’s prior life and personal tragedies just before becoming a nanny to a young boy named Leo. It’s easy to say that the reader is left to assume that Sophie really IS crazy since there’s nothing to dissuade one from coming to that conclusion. Events happen FAST and there’s no time for the reader to learn anymore about Sophie other than what she provides through her narration. It is dark, there are gaps of time missing, and the reader is never allowed to relax from the very first page of the novel.

As is expected of a psychological thriller, there are definitely surprises along the way, but unlike some of my past experiences with similarly themed novels, I totally didn’t see the turns coming up (pun not intended! – read the book, you’ll get it) in Blood Wedding. Although this on its own would have made the novel a fantastic read, what turned it up a few notches for me was how gut wrenching it became to watch Sophie’s misery as well as the pain of those around her (Ugh, Vincent!!!). Lemaitre’s writing style allows the reader to become personally invested in the novel’s characters – something that I find often lacking in crime novels. This may be my first Pierre Lemaitre book, but it will definitely not be my last!

The Couple Next Door

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Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.

What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family—a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Publication Date: August 23, 2016 by Pamela Dorman Books

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Despicable characters, unreliable internal dialogues, and a missing baby – what’s not to like?

Although in some ways the plot was a bit predictable (as seems to be the case with this type of standard psychological thriller), I found myself thoroughly enjoying this book. It’s a fast read and Lapena is talented when it comes to the type of slow unravelling that involves quite a few hints along the way for those paying close enough attention.

Despite behaving terribly, my feelings toward Marco and Anne dipped between disgust and sadness throughout the book. Even though they both clearly have issues to work on (and blaming each other is definitely one of those issues), I found there were moments of clarity where the reader is left questioning how someone else would behave in the couple’s shoes – enough to make me think twice about damning their every choice.

There are plenty of twists and turns throughout the book to keep the reader on their toes and doubting their every opinion regarding a character’s guilt, but what I enjoyed the most were the small moments of character development that made me realize there was a lot more to the story than the missing baby Cora.

She has had a lot of practice feeling anger without showing it. She dissembles. Isn’t that what everyone does? Everyone is faking it, all of them pretending to be something they’re not. The whole world is built on lies and deceit.

Each of the characters in this book is hiding something and it’s the heightened anxiety from knowing how much is not being said that makes this such an enjoyable read!

You Will Know Me

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Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate. From a writer with “exceptional gifts for making nerves jangle and skin crawl,” (Janet Maslin) YOU WILL KNOW ME is a breathless rollercoaster of a novel about the desperate limits of desire, jealousy, and ambition.

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

Publication Date: July 26, 2016 by Little, Brown and Company

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

This was actually my first experience with Megan Abbott despite having several of her previous novels on my “TBR” list and it will definitely not be my last. Although the story revolves around a tragic death/potential murder, I quickly realized that Abbott is the master at characterization and while the storyline was intriguing, it was the character development that truly made me unable to put this book down.

I found I was quickly able to recognize the “mystery” surrounding the death in the story, but because of Abbott’s writing style, I could care less that I had probably already “solved” the ending – I wanted to keep reading beyond that part of the plot because I was so engrossed. Abbott truly has a way with words – her sentences are tense and brutal and despite having little to no understanding of much of the book’s content (gymnastics isn’t necessarily a topic I would have been quick to engage with), I finished the book in one or two days.

To finish, I want to share one of my favorite paragraphs from You Will Know Me as I think it’s a great example of Abbott’s razor sharp prose:

It was after ten, and the boosters had arrived. Maybe it was all those arched backs, those manicured nails gripping water bottles, their glossy manes, the high, whinnying sounds they made, their beady eyes. It reminded her of the hyenas in Drew’s favorite animal book. They have excellent nighttime vision and hearing. True. They have powerful jaws and sharp teeth that they use to break open bones so they can feed. Also possibly true.

Thank you Netgalley and Little, Brown & Company for giving me the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review!