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The Paper Wasp

⇒RELEASE DAY REVIEW! “No one wants the truth. We don’t want to live with it… We long for fabrication, hallucination, false catastrophe. We hunger – all of us – for the distorted mirages…” –The Paper Wasp

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Grove Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Lauren Acampora

(3.47 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Contemporary / Thriller

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: June 11, 2019, by Grove Press

Pages: 304 (Kindle version)

#ThePaperWasp #PaperWasp


We were fortunate to dwell in dreams as long as we did. It’s easier to linger with a partner.

There were a lot of HAGS in my high school yearbook. And just recently, I looked in my daughter’s 5th grade yearbook, and there are a lot of HAGS in there too. And, no, I’m not a mean girl because I’m not talking about anyone’s appearance, LOL. HAGS meant Have A Great Summer back in my day, and the kids are apparently still using it today.

I also saw a lot of KITs (Keep In Touch) with phone numbers scribbled in either box-graphic or bubbly numbers in my yearbook. I only thought fleetingly about what would happen if I called any of those numbers today – some umpteen years after graduation. (What? I am NOT old!!!)

Who would be on the other line? When I graduated, there weren’t any cell phones (do not say a word!), so who would pick up? And those bright-eyed, hopeful kids who artfully crafted their phone numbers onto those yearbook pages beside silk-robed pictures – who are they now?

This is the premise behind The Paper Wasp: Reconnecting. You run into an old classmate at the grocery store while visiting your parents back in your hometown. Their face may be the same but they’ve gained 30 pounds and now have 3 kids and an ex-husband. Or you may see your 10th grade crush suited up on the cover of a business magazine – all glossy and handsome – and you think, what if…

Reconnecting is an iffy prospect. You never know what you’re gonna get. It could be the most fun you’ve ever had, or it could be what happens in The Paper Wasp. Here’s the Goodreads summary:

In small-town Michigan, Abby Graven leads a solitary life. Once a bright student on the cusp of a promising art career, she now languishes in her childhood home, trudging to and from her job as a supermarket cashier. Each day she is taunted from the magazine racks by the success of her former best friend Elise, a rising Hollywood starlet whose life in pictures Abby obsessively scrapbooks. At night Abby escapes through the films of her favorite director, Auguste Perren, a cult figure known for his creative institute the Rhizome. Inspired by Perren, Abby draws fantastical storyboards based on her often premonitory dreams, a visionary gift she keeps hidden. When Abby encounters Elise again at their high school reunion, she is surprised and warmed that Elise still considers her not only a friend but a brilliant storyteller and true artist. Elise’s unexpected faith in Abby reignites in her a dormant hunger, and when Elise offhandedly tells Abby to look her up if she’s ever in LA, Abby soon arrives on her doorstep. There, Abby discovers that although Elise is flourishing professionally, behind her glossy magazine veneer she is lonely and disillusioned. Ever the supportive friend, Abby becomes enmeshed in Elise’s world, even as she guards her own dark secret and burning desire for greatness. As she edges closer to Elise, the Rhizome, and her own artistic ambitions, the dynamic shifts between the two friends–until Abby can see only one way to grasp the future that awaits her.


Suddenly, amazingly, I was your closest confidante. I’d slipped back into your life as if I’d never left, as if we’d somehow awoken from a slumber party as grown women.

I went into this book thinking it would only be about an uncomfortable obsession between old friends. And it was that, at first. But then Acampora takes a swift left turn with the plot and we entered the black hole of platonic relationships – everything gets sucked inside.
With an undercurrent of Single White Female vibes, The Paper Wasp creeps slowly, but relentlessly toward a wildly obsessive and threatening middle, denouement, and epilogue.

Written in first person, there is no escaping the immersion into Abby’s steady “enlightened” decline concerning her recovered friendship and all that it means for her imagined future. These are murky waters and fans of good psych thrillers will enjoy treading them.

Who can tell what breath entered into me, after that, and told me what movements to make? I have as much a grasp of it as you do, Elise.

This book is socially awkward and satisfyingly creepy. Plus, it is a logophile’s absolute wet dream. So why only 3.5 stars? Because the story noticeably sags a bit in the middle. We leave sunny California (and most of our characters) for the relative obscurity of small-town Michigan to pick up some necessary plot points and it feels off-kilter, as if specific issues and connections are ultimately left unresolved. This action happens at a pivotal point in the story and it disrupts the forward momentum. Plus, I was looking forward to more of a tie-in with Abby’s prophetic dreams. They are often discussed, but never “explained” or explored deeply. That seems a waste.

Still, Acampora is a gifted writer and The Paper Wasp will keep you on your toes the next time you run into an old friend, classmate, or colleague. No, I’m not a famous actress, but from now on I am going to be very careful while responding to Facebook friend requests!


The Paper Wasp is available today at the following links:


Author Tour Dates

WEDNESDAY06/12New York CityThe Paper Wasp book launch
Lauren Acampora in conversation with Susan Choi
McNally Jackson Books
52 Prince Street
7pm

Lauren Acampora

Lauren graduated from Brown University, earned an MFA at Brooklyn College, and has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Ucross Foundation, Writers OMI International Residency, and the Ragdale Foundation. Raised in Connecticut, she now lives in Westchester County, New York, with her husband, artist Thomas Doyle, and their daughter.


The Silent Patient

⇒”But why does she not speak?” -Euripides, Alcestis


Author: Alex Michaelides

(4.06 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Published February 5, 2019by Celadon Books

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 323 (Hardcover)

#TheSilentPatient #SilentPatient


Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive, and will come forth later, in uglier ways.

-Sigmund Freud

I wanted to read this book from the moment I read the summary online just before it was released. I knew it was going to get great buzz and – if the author did right by it – it would be worth it. I was right on all counts. This is a perfect example of a book that hits all the right subtle notes and then suddenly throws you into a locked room full of crashing cymbals. And you never want to leave.

When you pick up a thriller you want just that – to be thrilled. You want some basic ingredients: Suspense, mystery, and an un-guessable ending. The Silent Patient delivers all that. The scene is set at a mental institution, which only adds to the unstable nature of all the other action. There’s an overlying air of security and structure, with little bursts of chaos here and there that let us know that nothing about this is completely under control.

Here’s the Goodreads summary: Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain. Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word. Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought. And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth?

I’m only going to write positive, happy, normal thoughts. No crazy thoughts allowed.

Alicia Berenson

What, exactly, is that animalistic draw toward stories involving psychosis and mental institutions? Oh, it’s just me? Maybe it’s just our attempt to understand the whys behind acts we can’t ever fathom doing ourselves. We don’t get it, and we just want to figure it all out. Whatever it is, these stories pull me in and this one was no exception.

I read this book in one day. I am not a fast reader, and I usually have multiple things that pull me away from reading at any given time. But on the day that I read this, I was uninterrupted. Maybe the book gods granted me that time because they knew exactly how this book needed to be digested – in one big gulp. It truly is a page-turner with palpable suspense that grows with each new character introduced, each new bit of the mystery revealed, and each new piece of the puzzle revealed.

But that’s what Alicia did for you. Her silence was like a mirror – reflecting yourself back at you. And it was often an ugly sight.

Theo Faber

Tbh, writing this review is difficult for me. There’s so much I want to just blurt out, but spoilers. So I am keeping it very basic by saying that if you like twisty suspense novels, read The Silent Patient. But don’t just read it in anticipation of a great twist. Read it for the masterful story construction, for the depth of deception, and for the silent accusation on the part of more than just the character of Alicia. It’s a thriller to not be missed.


Alex Michaelides

Born in Cyprus in 1977 to a Greek father and English mother, Alex Michaelides studied English literature at Cambridge University and got his MA in screenwriting at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. He wrote the film The Devil You Know (2013) and co-wrote The Brits are Coming (2018), THE SILENT PATIENT is his first novel. (-Macmillan)


Closer Than You Think (Broken Minds Thriller #1)

⇒Can Bryce handle his high-pressure job and his high-pressure life?⇐


Author: Lee Maguire

(3.71 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Published October 21, 2018by TCK Publishing

Format: Paperback

Pages: 314 (Paperback)

#Closerthanyouthink


What happens when a psychologist is stalked? Does he or she react differently than a member of the gen pop would? Bryce Davison shows us that, in fact, they would. Or, at least, he did. Threatening emails, cryptic notes, and obvious home invasions seem to have only a momentary effect on our guy. Then it’s business as usual – conquering the mental challenges of today’s youth. He’s a machine.

OK, let me pause for a moment and say that whenever I am reviewing a book, I am honest. If I love it, I try to convey that without gushing. If it was just OK, I point out the good and bad. And if it wasn’t good, I point out that it just wasn’t the book for me. This especially goes for books that have been sent to me for review. I’m never going to say that a book is good just because I got it for free. Never, ever, ever. But constructive criticism is… well, constructive.

A simple, one-line message sent a shiver through me: Closer than you think.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb: Meet Bryce Davison, a gifted psychologist who can heal any troubled mind-except his own. You see, Bryce’s life is falling apart. His marriage is crumbling. His insomnia brings only half-sleep and troubled dreams-visions of dark and buried memories he’d rather forget or ignore completely. And the new female patient in his psych ward just might be more trouble than he’s able to cope with… and now he has a stalker. Somebody’s been watching Bryce for a long time. Somebody who knows his life inside and out-his fears, his regrets, his greatest longings and deepest despairs. Somebody with access to his most private places-his workplace, his home, his family…anywhere Bryce might have felt safe. They do their dirty work in the shadows… and they want Bryce Davison dead. So Bryce has got to get his life together. To save his patients. To save his family. To save his marriage…and his life. Because no matter how close Bryce gets to the deadly truth, the enigmatic stalker is always closer than he thinks.


Closer Than You Think was just OK. It took me a LONG time to make it through this book. Not totally the book’s fault; but it’s kind of repetitive, so that makes it easy to set down arbitrarily. The story’s premise was promising: a straight-laced, good guy pestered by a malicious mystery stalker who slowly ramps up the threat level. Captivating, right? Meh. I wanted to be sucked into the action, to feel the escalating drama, to be pushed into a proverbial corner by this secretive stalker. But the highs and lows of this book didn’t allow it. And in the end, it just felt… clinical.

…an olfactory memory stirred deep inside, teasing me. It was a peculiar sensation, like having someone’s name on the tip of your tongue.

It was also difficult to connect Bryce’s underlying backstory to the current action. Is that what makes him a good psychologist? A survivor? A victim? It’s unclear. I just ended up feeling sorry for the guy and thinking a little less of him as a hero, if I’m being honest.

Good points: Even though the antagonist was entirely predictable, there’s a perfect little twist added in that I applaud the author for. A good twist always makes mystery/thrillers rate a little higher! Another plus point is for writing in a pet that is totally believable. Max doesn’t have super powers, isn’t dynamically intelligent, or brutally vicious. She’s just a dog, but her role in the story is just as important as any of the human characters (and at least she has a different voice). Too harsh? Maybe.

To sleep, perchance to dream. Or to slip deeper into the nightmare.

Readers should be aware of some intense triggers including suicide, domestic abuse, rape, assault. The book treats these subjects delicately, but sensitive readers should be aware.

As I always say, writing a book is not an easy task. It’s a very personal process, and anyone who manages to pull it off, kudos to you! Here’s my advice to readers, try the indie authors. Pick up the paperbacks distributed by pub houses you’ve never heard of before. Explore new voices. Give debut authors a chance. You never know when you will find a favorite among them, and then you will be able to lend them support and help them develop their craft. And isn’t that what we, as readers, really want – more books to read?


Lee Maguire has practiced as a psychotherapist, behavioral health consultant, and taught master’s and doctoral level psychology. A focus of his practice was clinical hypnosis. Lee resides in central Pennsylvania with his wife and their basset hound.


The Bone Farm (and some series spotlights)

⇒This week I review Dean Koontz’s The Bone Farm and shine a spotlight on some of the other book series I’m addicted to.⇐


Author: Dean Koontz

(3.76 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Published April 25, 2018by Brilliance Audio

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Elisabeth Rodgers

Pages: 100

#TheBoneFarm #JaneHawk


Let me say first that if you are looking for a series to get invested in, Dean Koontz has some wonderful, easy reads that will keep you on a series train for a nice, pleasant (tense, suspenseful, thrilling, sometimes scary) ride. The Bone Farm is book #0.5 (a case file that precedes the events of the Jane Hawk series), and is every bit as engaging as its older, bigger siblings. But if death-defying females aren’t your thing (hmm, who are you?), then you could try any of Koontz’s other appealing series: Odd Thomas, 9 books that will have you seeing death in a whole new light; Frankenstein, a new look at an old monster in 6 books; or Moonlight Bay, 3 books (2 pub & 1 on the way) that will test if you can survive the darkness of night. I’ve read all of Odd Thomas (love, love, love) and Moonlight Bay (well, not book 3 because it isn’t out yet (and may actually never happen). And I read Prodigal Son of his Frankenstein series last year (sooooo good). Dean Koontz has yet to disappoint me.

But let me back up a little and give you the Goodreads blurb on The Bone Farm:

Katherine Haskell, a young college co-ed is on her way back to school, but she never makes it there. Instead, she becomes the latest prey of the rapist and murderer dubbed by the tabloids the “Mother Hater.” He is a twisted soul who kidnaps young girls for pleasure then discards them. Katherine is missing, but she’s not yet dead. FBI agents Jane Hawk and her partner Gary Burkett must descend into the hell of this killer’s mind to solve the case before it is too late. The question is – will they both get out alive?

This novella is presented as a case file which only hypes me up that there will be more of these – oh book gods, please don’t fail us on this one. The bad guy is bat$&!# cuckoo, Jane is smart and ruthless, there’s a controlling mother, and an old creepy farm house – I’m here for ALL of it!!!! I almost wrote a spoiler right there because I got excited, but stopped myself right in time. Y’all lucked out. But just know, it gets twisty and good!

The Bone Farm is part of the Jane Hawk series, which includes 6 other books to date. The series features a strong heroine in an all-out battle against a new world order. The books are suspenseful, thrilling, and addictive. In a word, readthem. (I know, I know. Just do it.)


So since we’re talking about series, I thought I’d spotlight just a few of the other series that I have followed unfailingly over the years. Most of them are in my preferred genre of mystery/thrillers, but there are a few deviants in the bunch. And you might be surprised by what you won’t find on my list: namely, Harry Potter. (No shade! I just haven’t read them!)

Pendergast Series

One of my longest-standing series, I got hooked on Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s series featuring the enigmatic Aloysius X.L. Pendergast from the very first book, Relic (read the book, skip the movie) – even though he was only a supporting character way back then. The authors obviously saw something in him and took off running with his story, and it has been a favorite ever since.


Stephanie Plum Series

Many readers will own up to the fact that they have at least one numbered (or alphabetical) series on their reading list. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is mine. She just released book #25 last year and Twisted Twenty-Six is expected in November 2019. These books are cozy crime fiction with hilarious characters that become as familiar as your own family members. I don’t care if this series goes to 200, I am never not going to read a Stephanie Plum book. And oh, by the way, #teamRanger.


Jack Reacher Series

Please, please, please do me a favor and tell me that you did not watch the movies that were supposed to depict this character. And if you did, just forget all that you saw. This Jack Reacher – The REAL Jack Reacher (yes, he’s real to me) – is bigger than life and yet can disappear at a moment’s notice (just thought about that – Sasquatch tendencies? Hmmm…). He is such a fascinating personality with such an amazing skill set (think Taken, but with a brilliant, powerful, Matrix-like Army drifter). Reacher is BIG and BRAWNY, but he is not beautiful. He’s a brawler that doesn’t want to fight unless he has to. And then he’s deadly.


Crazy Rich Asians is a new series for me. I only started reading it because I saw that the movie was releasing soon and I happened to find the first book on the shelf at my neighborhood Goodwill store (where I buy most of my books). After I read it, I went back and found the other two there as well (I have some very generous, good-taste readers in my area, apparently)! I love the humor of this series, as well as the way they sneak social commentary into the text without being preachy or judgy. (It’s a word!)


OTHER SERIES I LOVE:

4MK Thriller series by J.D. Barker

(The 3rd book may release in 2019 – fingers crossed)

Illuminae Files series by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

(I’ve reviewed all of these and I wish it wasn’t over!)

Archie Seridan & Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain

(A sadistic female serial killer. Nuff said.)

Court series by Sarah J. Maas

(YA romance with faeries. Yep.)

Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

(Seriously, these are as good as – or even better than – the HBO show)

So if you’re a dedicated series reader, stick with it because series = goals! And if you haven’t found a series you love yet, keep looking – there’s a perfect succession of books out there just waiting to be discovered. Happy Reading!


Little Darlings

⇒”Lauren will risk the unthinkable. But if she’s wrong about what she saw… she’ll be making the biggest mistake of her life.”⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Crooked Lane Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Melanie Golding

(4.03 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Expected Publication Date: April 30, 2019, by Crooked Lane Books

Pages: 315 (Kindle version)

#LittleDarlings


She’ll have to put them in the water, if she wants her own babies back … Right under the water. Hold ’em down.

Fairy tales. As children, we love them. They’re the stories of magic and happy endings. Sometimes they can be a little twisted, but we love them for their power to convey simple messages in otherworldly ways. As an adult, I learned that most of the fairy tales I heard as a child were not how they were originally written. They were dark, scary, and didn’t always have a happy ending. And I love them!

Right now my podcast subscriptions are filled with those same types of dark stories. Podcasts like Lore and Tales entertain us with the scary side of folklore; and just like them, Little Darlings will have you guessing about what is real and what is imagined.


Here’s a portion of the book summary…. Everyone says Lauren Tranter is exhausted, that she needs rest. And they’re right; with newborn twins, Morgan and Riley, she’s never been more tired in her life. But she knows what she saw: that night, in her hospital room, a woman tried to take her babies and replace them with her own… creatures. Yet when the police arrived, they saw no one. Everyone, from her doctor to her husband, thinks she’s imagining things.

A month passes. And one bright summer morning, the babies disappear from Lauren’s side in a park. But when they’re found, something is different about them. The infants look like Morgan and Riley- to everyone else. But to Lauren, something is off. As everyone around her celebrates their return, Lauren begins to scream, These are not my babies.

A book of scary stories about twins, for a woman who’s just had twins? How inappropriate can you get?

Let me say that identical twins are creepy enough all on their own. Add in a stinky old river lady, an ancient book of unsettling tales, and a disinterested police force, and you have great ingredients for a harrowing mystery. And in Little Darlings, Golding keeps you guessing from the maternity ward to the psych ward.

The characters are unreliable; yes, nearly all of them. The story development is well-paced – going to from a banal baby birth to a creepy child abduction in short order, building from there all the way up to possible infanticide.

There was a darkness to this, something unknown, the tang of evil.

Soon to be a motion picture, I can guess that the imagery on screen will be as haunting as it is on the page: a traumatized new mom, infant twins that just may be something a little less than human, and more life and death in one town’s rivers than should legally be allowed.

Read his book if you love folklore that crosses the line into creepy. Read it if your favorite Disney characters aren’t the princesses, but the witches. Read it if you get excited just by seeing the word “changelings”. And read it if you want to see what magic one debut novel author can make with one dark little fairy tale.


Melanie Golding

Melanie Golding grew up in a village in Leicestershire. She has been employed in may occupations including farm hand, factory worker, childminder and music teacher. Throughout all this, because and in spite of it, there was always the writing. In recent years she has won and been shortlisted in several local and national short story competitions. In 2016, she graduated from the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, with distinction. Little Darlings is her first novel.


Audible Originals (x3)

⇒I binged a couple – or three – Audible Originals last week. Let’s see how they stacked up to my usual audiobook reads.⇐


Last week was slower than usual at work (thanks spring break), so I popped in my earbuds and binged a few Audible Original audiobooks to see what all the fuss is about.

What fuss? Audible members now have access to at least two free original audiobooks per month. And we get to choose which two from a variety of genres.

These were my picks last week (three because I’m just now getting around to reading them), and a short review of each.

Author: Bryan Burrough

Narrator: Steve White

(3.32 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / True Crime

Published 2019by Audible Originals

Format: Audiobook

Length: 2 hrs 45 mins

#DemonNextDoor


The small town of Temple, Texas, where Bryan Burrough grew up, had harbored a dark secret. One of his high school classmates, Danny Corwin, was a vicious serial killer who had raped and mutilated six women, murdering three of them. Yet the town had denied all early signs of the radical evil that was growing within Corwin. -Adapted from Goodreads

As a true crime junkie, I was immediately drawn to this title. How much better can a crime story get than when it’s being told from someone close to both the victims and the criminal? Although I enjoyed exploring this story about a serial killer I’ve never heard of before, I think the choice of narrator for the audiobook was a curious one. Steve White’s voice, although perfect for book narration, did not convey the serious and grave tones the subject matter deserved. The story is tragic and graphic at many points, but White’s “Mr. Rogers”-style tone forced me to remove a star from my rating.


Author: John Woolf, Nick Baker

Narrator: Stephen Fry

(3.75 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / History

Published: First published October 20, 2018

Format: Audiobook

Length: 7 hrs 33 mins

#VictorianSecrets

Step right up, step right up and don’t be shy—welcome to Victorian Secrets. Over 12 fascinating episodes, Stephen Fry explores the weird and worrying ways of Victorian Britain through true accounts delving deep into a period of time we think we know, to discover an altogether darker reality. –Goodreads description

This book is only available as an audiobook and once you hear it, you’ll understand why. Stellar audio production combined with superbly perfect narration by Stephen Fry make this a book standout effort. And if you’re into spicy British secrets, then this is definitely the book for you! While I found the beginning of the book very intriguing, as it progressed, my interest steadily waned all the way down to the somewhat “unfinished ” ending.


Author: John Scalzi

Narrator: Zachary Quinto

(4.02 stars – Goodreads rating)


Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction

Published: 2019 by Audible Originals (First published October 4, 2016)

Format: Audiobook

Length: 2 hrs 18 mins

#TheDispatcher

Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher – a licensed, bonded professional whose job is to humanely dispatch those whose circumstances put them in death’s crosshairs, so they can have a second chance to avoid the reaper. But when a fellow Dispatcher and former friend is apparently kidnapped, Tony learns that there are some things that are worse than death and that some people are ready to do almost anything to avenge a supposed wrong.
It’s a race against time for Valdez to find his friend before it’s too late…before not even a Dispatcher can save him. -Goodreads description

Easily my favorite of the three audiobooks, The Dispatcher is sufficiently sci-fi enough and thrilling enough to satisfy my reading needs on both fronts. I could easily see the action playing out in my head, and I’d pay for a full-price ticket to see it on the big screen. Plus, let me ask in super-kudos for Quinto’s narration on this one – I’d listen to anything he reads!


Verdict? If you’re an Audible member, give the Originals a try – after all, with everyone else creating original content, why shouldn’t Audible as well? Happy Reading!


Sharp Objects

⇒When you shake the family tree and more than a few rotten apples fall out.⇐


Author: Gillian Flynn

(3.95 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Psychological Thriller

Published 2006by Broadway Paperbacks

Format: Paperback

Pages: 254 (Paperback)

#SharpObjects


I like checking days off a calendar — 151 days crossed and nothing truly horrible has happened. 152 and the world isn’t ruined. 153 and I haven’t destroyed anyone.


About one fourth of the way into this book, I had parts of my review already written. In my head, it was complimentary and mostly lighthearted. Then I kept reading.

While I knew Sharp Objects would be telling a dark story (hellooo, murder), I wasn’t prepared for this next-to-hell level of depravity. Ummm, Gillian, Gone Girl, Dark Places, Sharp Objects? Your therapist is working overtime, sweetie. But I’m glad for it because this book was terribly fantastic.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb: Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.


I’m almost afraid to write this review because I don’t want to give anything away. This is when I could use a little of Flynn’s skill because she gives NOTHING away. Reading Sharp Objects is like lifting off the top of the first Matryoshka doll and finding a rotten egg in there instead of another doll. And then a cockroach inside the egg. And then Ebola inside of the cockroach. Not exaggerating. This story is all kinds of messed up.

They always call depression the blues… Depression to me is urine yellow. Washed out, exhausted miles of weak piss.

Our first-person perspective comes from Camille Preaker, who pretty much proves she’s unreliable and dangerously flawed before we’ve even made it out of the first chapter. But this is the ticket we paid for, so buckle up ’cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. As the layers of Camille’s past are peeled away during her visit home to Wind Gap, Missouri, the murders of two young girls almost take a back seat to Camille’s personal family drama. Who are these weirdly damaged people?! Once you meet her mom, stepdad, and half-sister, you start to understand why Camille did a stint in the psych ward; you really can’t blame her. After reading this book, I’m thinking that checking out the Talkspace app may not be such a bad idea.

How do you keep safe when your whole day is as wide and empty as the sky? Anything could happen.

So the book’s subject and events are dark, but I didn’t find it gloomy or depressing. Flynn wraps up all the impending danger and distress like a little present and then stands back like a sinister villain to watch us unwrap it. It’s like watching Black Mirror on Netflix when you think you know what’s going on, but then all of a sudden you’re like, “Wait, what the heck happened just now?!” Same feeling.

Readers of Gone Girl will love Sharp Objects – if they haven’t already read it (I know I’m behind the crowd on this one). It’s suspenseful, gritty, mysterious, and strange. There are almost too many triggers to list for sensitive readers, and if I did try to list them, some might spoil the cleverly crafted plot development.

There isn’t much pretty or clean about it, but it is, in fact, a masterpiece. From the first few paragraphs, I knew Flynn was going to be a force to be reckoned with, and I love her now for that.

To refuse has so many more consequences than submitting.

Camille’s family portrait should be the top-right-corner graphic on the Wikipedia page for “dysfunctional”. (Is dysfunction-in-denial an entry?) As this book ended, I wanted to go hug my family and tell them thank you for always being good to me even if every single one of them is cuckoo-crazy! Oh, and I also kept touching my teeth with my tongue too. Read it, you’ll get it then.


Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.


Beautiful Bad

⇒”… a beautiful marriage turns beautifully bad.”⇐

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Park Row Books, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.


Author: Annie Ward

(3.81 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Suspense / Psych Thriller

Format: Kindle Version

Publish Date: March 5, 2019, by Park Row Books

Pages: 384 (Kindle version)

#BeautifulBad


Are you hiding something? It’s so simple. It’s so direct. It’s almost uncanny. As if someone out there knows I’m not supposed to be thinking the things I’m thinking.


One of the things that can easily ruin a suspenseful book for me is if I can figure out how the book is going to end even before I get too far into it. I’m not omniscient nor do I have any form of ESP, but sometimes plots are so cookie-cutter you can predict the conclusion long before you read the final chapter.

Thankfully, Beautiful Bad was not one of those books. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads…

Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry… That something is really, really wrong with me. Maddie and Ian’s romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie; and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo. From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.

Ian was a damage junkie, and I was out of order in a way that got him off.

This book is ideal for lovers of suspense, drama, and twisted love triangles- it has it all, plus an underlying love story between some seriously damaged people.

It’s hard to talk about this trippy book without giving some meaty tidbits away. I refuse! I want you to have the same experience I had while reading it- picking through the landmines of drama and subterfuge that Beautiful Bad has to offer.

I adored him, as damaged as he was. I found him all the more fascinating for the chunks that had been torn out of him.

Written in a multi-perspective style that counts down to “The Day of the Killing”, readers end up jagging back and forth in time and in and out of locales foreign and domestic, including the Balkans, New York, England, and Kansas. And if the time travel and relocations don’t keep you on your toes, the messy love triangle and intense personal dramas will.

Have I said it yet? This is a good book. Almost none of its main characters are damage-free, so they’re entirely unreliable. There is no one to trust with this story, least of all the ones telling it! However, the story is only made better by all of its uncertainty.

I don’t just say whatever pops into my head. I may be glitchy, but I’m mostly in control.

Beautiful Bad is a gritty thriller that doesn’t appear that way at first. There are a few triggers that sensitive readers should be aware of: PTSD is a big one, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and miscarriage. The violence isn’t gratuitous, but there is some brutality- this ain’t a romance novel, folks.

Annie Ward, thank you for this deliciously suspenseful novel with an unpredictable ending that’s one step beyond twisted; it’s warped!


Annie Ward

During Annie’s five years in the Balkans she received a Fulbright Scholarship, taught at the University of Sofia, and script doctored eight screenplays for Nu-Image, an Israeli/American film company that produced a number of projects in Bulgaria for the SyFy Channel. She was later the recipient of an Escape to Create artist residency. –Bio adapted from Goodreads.


The Forbidden Door (Jane Hawk, #4)

⇒Jane Hawk’s adventures continue in Book 4, The Forbidden Door. When Jane’s son’s safety is threatened, she pulls out all the stops to keep him safe.⇐


Author: Dean Koontz

Narrator: Elisabeth Rodgers

(4.19 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published September 11, 2018by Bantam (Brilliance Audio)

Pages: 480 (Hardcover) ; Audible Audio (14:57)

#TheForbiddenDoor #JaneHawk


This is a world of lies and always has been. We live in a time of even greater deceptions than in centuries past.


You’ve read the books where the hero – and even the bad guy – is highly motivated to do what they do because of their love for their kids. This is that, but on steroids.

This is a gritty story with some really brutal and insane bad guys, some intensely damaged victims, and a “she-ro” who has to be really tired by now.

Not familiar with this series? Here’s a blurb of this book: She was one of the FBI’s top agents until she became the nation’s most-wanted fugitive. Now Jane Hawk may be all that stands between a free nation and its enslavement by a powerful secret society’s terrifying mind-control technology. She couldn’t save her husband, or the others whose lives have been destroyed, but equipped with superior tactical and survival skills- and the fury born of a broken heart and a hunger for justice- Jane has struck major blows against the insidious cabal. But Jane’s enemies are about to hit back hard. If their best operatives can’t outrun her, they mean to bring her running to them, using her five-year-old son as bait. Jane knows there’s no underestimating their capabilities, but she must battle her way back across the country to the remote shelter where her boy is safely hidden… for now.

We’re rewriting the play, and the play is this country, the world, the future. We break Jane’s heart, we’ll also break her will.

OK, in this one, lots of people are crazy. And I don’t say that word lightly. I mean, certifiable. Book #4 has a lot going on: chases, subterfuge, tech-talk, nano bites, hand-to-hand battles, and… oh yeah, zombies. Yes, you read that correctly. Zombies.

The bad guys are worse and they seem to have even more resources. However, Jane isn’t lacking in that department either, and when the battle comes to a head with Jane’s son in the cross hairs, all her friends and supporters (those who are still alive, that is) come together to help her save yet another day.

Beware actors who can be anyone they wish to be; they are in fact no one at all, cold and empty, though they can be pied pipers to the masses.

This series feels a little different from your standard Dean Koontz fare, even though it is still action-centered, has that other-worldly element, and – oh yes – it has dogs. So if you’re a Koontz purist, this isn’t a departure by any means. And with a more satisfying “ending” than book #3, The Forbidden Door still leaves readers waiting with baited breath for Book #5, The Night Window (releasing May 14, 2019).

Readers should be aware, though, that there is gratuitous violence of several types, discussion of rape, murder, etc. Sensitive readers won’t get a reprieve until the last page. Fair warning.

Other books in the series include The Silent Corner, The Whispering Room, and The Crooked Staircase.

Dean Koontz

Acknowledged as “America’s most popular suspense novelist” (Rolling Stone) and as one of today’s most celebrated and successful writers, Dean Ray Koontz has earned the devotion of millions of readers around the world and the praise of critics everywhere for tales of character, mystery, and adventure that strike to the core of what it means to be human. -Bio from Goodreads


A Spark of Light

⇒A hostage negotiation gets extremely personal when a dad has to save his daughter from a madman bent on revenge.⇐


Author: Jodi Picoult

Narrator: Bahni Turpin

(3.68 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Format: Audiobook (CDs)

Published October 2, 2018by Random House (Random House Audio)

Pages: 384 (Hardcover) ; Audio Discs (14:30)

#ASparkofLight


Laws are black and white. The lives of women are a thousand shades of gray.


I cannot tell a lie. I am attracted by what is bright and shiny and new – especially when it comes to books! Social media and advertising does such a good job of putting new releases and pretty covers in front of us. And they are soooo enticing!

I have told myself countless times to stop being swayed by books that ride happily along on the social media popularity wave, but somehow I keep letting myself get dragged along on the bandwagon of new-release hype. A Spark of Light is one of those books that pulled me in when I should have just let it pass me by.

The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here’s the abbreviated synopsis: The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center – a women’s reproductive health services clinic… Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire…. Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Violence, from one angle, looked like mercy from another.

What pulled me in to this latest Picoult novel? Hostages! A great hostage story is usually a sure bet. Usually. Unfortunately for Spark, the tension that should naturally build and escalate during a hostage situation didn’t get that same opportunity because of the unique narrative setup of this book.

What do I mean by that? Remember Memento – the movie told in reverse? This was Picoult’s version. I say that and then I instantly feel disloyal to Memento because I really like that movie, but this book… not so much.

We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.

Ok, here is my bad-rating disclaimer for this book: Abortion is an important topic. No matter which side of the debate you fall on, you should have the right to your own opinion. My dislike of this book is in no way directly related to my opinions about abortion.

More accurately, I wasn’t happy with the development of the story, it’s lack of true action, and the lackluster ending (beginning?) and epilogue. The feeling was more akin to sitting through a lengthy pro-life vs. pro-choice college debate with some sad backstories mixed in.

Die hard Picoult fans will rate this book highly, talk about how much they love her and all her work, and say how well she represented both sides of the argument. A Spark of Light will fare well despite my poor rating here. However, I will definitely be more wary of bandwagon book picks from now on.


Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is the author of 24 novels. She lives in New Hampshire.