2017

What I’ve Read Lately: May/June Update

If you’re emerging from this bountiful summer reading season to land on my blog, hello, thank you and let’s make this quick so we can get back to it. (That stack of TBRs won’t read itself!) Here’s what I’ve been up to:

What I’ve Liked Lately

chevy“Never Let You Go” by Chevy Stevens

I read “Never Let You go” while traveling and in a rather distracted state. Perhaps that’s why I never felt *super super super* invested in it — too much good-looking PNW scenery to focus on while I read. While it’s not my favorite book ever, I did enjoy it and would — in fact, already have — recommend it to others. It’s well-written, I didn’t see the twisty end coming and there’s excellent character development.

This was my first Chevy Stevens novel, but I garner that she has quite a devoted following. I plan to pick up “Still Missing” and whatever she releases next.

“The Mourning Hours” by Paula Treick DeBoard

paulaAbout a year ago, I read Paula’s “The Drowning Girls” and liked it so much that I requested my library buy 2013’s “The Mourning Hours.” They did, but I didn’t get around to reading it until last month, when my library holds ran short and I needed a backlist book I could pick up that day. And gosh, I’m glad I did!

Check out Goodreads for the plot, but know this: Paula Treick DeBoard is a really underrated voice in the thriller space. She belongs at the top of the list among the most favored names — she is that good. “The Mourning Hours” — her debut! — is beautifully written; I lingered over many raw, striking lines and the sense of place she masterfully creates. And good news: She’ll be back in January 2018 with “Here We Lie.” Sounds right up my alley — can’t wait.

What I Haven’t Liked

“It’s Always the Husband” by Michele Campbell. I got to page 115, turned to another book and loved that one so much more that I decided not to return to this one. (There’s only so much reading time, so might as well spend it on what you’re going to enjoy the most.) The writing is mediocre, and while it’s a grabby enough storyline, I wouldn’t recommend it as more than a really fast, pretty meaningless beach read.

What I’m Just Starting

“This is How You Lose Her” by Pulitzer-winning Junot Díaz

“The Weight of Lies” by Emily Carpenter

…and, coming soon: what I’m most excited for in the coming weeks!

Review: “The Perfect Stranger” by Megan Miranda

31443398Title: “The Perfect Stranger”
Author: Megan Miranda
Genre: Psychological thriller
Publication Date: April 11, 2017 (Simon & Schuster)

My Rating: My Rating: ★★★☆☆

Megan Miranda’s “All the Missing Girls” was a 2016 highlight for me — favorite book, bar none. I waited with greedy anticipation for “The Perfect Stranger” for months and dug in the day it was released, expectations higher than one might consider safe. When you go in like that, you’re almost inevitably going to be let down. (Is it fair to expect an author who absolutely knocks it out of the park to do so again in short order? And if I hadn’t devoured and adored “ATMG,” and went into “The Perfect Stranger” more objectively, would I have expected less and in return enjoyed it more? Maybe.)

Brief plot run-down: We meet former journalist Leah Stevens, who got too personally tangled up in a story and was forced out. After a chance encounter with a summer roommate of eight years past, who also happens to be in run mode, the two decide to relocate from Boston to Western Pennsylvania, where Leah gets a teaching job. She’s still trying to acclimate when a woman who looks just like her is attacked and left for dead by the lake. Then her roommate, Emmy, goes missing. When she reports it, of course, things get interesting/complicated because it turns out there’s no record of Emmy ever existing. Cue Leah getting, again, really tangled up in the pursuit of the truth and figuring out who Emmy is/was … and if their encounter was really so chance, then or now.

I didn’t dislike “The Perfect Stranger,” but it doesn’t live up to its predecessor in writing or story quality. It was at times clunky and felt forced and unrealistic — Leah was this distressed and that close to someone she knew for mere months? (Though she’d have a quick response: “I can only explain it this way: that I knew her deeply, if not thoroughly; that a four-month relationship can supersede all the boyfriends, all the friendships, that came after and lasted longer, that our friendship was born from the one time I’d stepped off track, done something unexpected that did not follow the predicted steps of my life. And for that reason, it shone brighter, and so did she.”)

Though I understand building suspense by slowly revealing snippets of Leah’s backstory and what led her to Pennsylvania, I felt confused more than a couple times trying to piece things together. The sub-plots are interesting but lose some of their power as they’re dropped in ever so sporadically and piece-meal. It took me more than 200 pages to actually feel invested in the characters and the outcome of the story (which landed with a bit of a dull thud after such a long buildup.)

Still, it’s entertaining enough, and worth checking out if you enjoy Miranda’s books. I adore her so much that I almost feel guilty stamping less than 5 stars on “The Perfect Stranger.” Megan, you keep your spot on my favorite authors list, and I’ll be right here waiting for the next one!

Review: “Everything You Want Me to Be” by Mindy Mejia

everything-you-want-me-to-be-hr.jpgTitle: “Everything You Want Me to Be”
Author: Mindy Mejia
Genre: Psychological thriller
Publication Date: Jan. 3, 2017 (Atria Books)

My Rating: ★★★★★

Well, I missed the boat on reviewing “Everything You Want Me to Be” — I finished it more than a month ago, and at this point all the terribly deep, intellectual, impressive thoughts I had (so many) have dimmed. But I loved this book so much that I’ll still post a plea to read it. A month later and I continue to think of main character Hattie Hoffman and her story — what could have been — which says an awful lot about how good it was.

Brief synopsis: We start off learning that Hattie  — 18, high school senior, actor — is dead. (No happy ending in this one.) Chapters rotate between three narrators: Hattie (pre-death); her English teacher Peter Lund; and Del, the likeable town sheriff. So, who killed Hattie, and why? We follow along over the course of a year, pulled into a memorizing reconstruction of the journey that led to Hattie’s death.

A few chapters in, and I had already “figured out” who killed her. I was wrong. I bet you will be, too.

This is the first book I read by Mindy Mejia, but I’ll read whatever she does next. And it sounds like a good one. Here’s how she described it in a recent Goodreads Q&A:

“There’s a place in Minnesota along the northern edge of the state, hundreds of miles of glacial lakes and untouched forests called the Boundary Waters. Ten years ago a man and his son voyaged into this wilderness and never returned. Search teams found their campsite ravaged by what looked like a bear. They were placed on the missing persons list and presumed dead until a decade later, when the son emerged. Discovered while ransacking an outfitter store, he was violent and uncommunicative. Authorities brought him to Mayfair Mental Institution in Duluth, Minnesota, a port town on the western edge of Lake Superior. Maya Stark, the assistant language therapist, is charged with making a connection with this boy who came back from the dead, their celebrity patient who tries to escape and refuses to answer any questions about his father or the last ten years of his life. But Maya, who was abandoned by her own mother, has secrets, too. And as she’s drawn closer to this enigmatic boy, she’ll risk everything to reunite him with his father who’s disappeared from the known world.”

Alert: Megan Miranda Book Tour Announcement!

If you loved “All the Missing Girls” as much as I did, you’re probably very impatiently awaiting “The Perfect Stranger” (out April 11 — so soon, but never soon enough). The extra thrilling thing about this thriller release, that I’m really thrilled about, is that Megan is hitting more than a dozen cities as part of her book tour:

megan.jpg

She is not, unfortunately, coming to my land (DC/VA region). If you’re one of the lucky ones who get to see her, enjoy! Meanwhile, I’ll be helming the #BringMeganToDC campaign.

Alert Alert: New Harlan Coben in September!

Whoa whoa whoa. I’m just merrily going about my day and then, WHAM, stop everything, news that Harlan is releasing his next book (a stand-alone thriller) on September 16, 2017.

211 days from now.

No details on plot, but it’s called “Don’t Let Go,” and you can help him choose the cover by voting on his Facebook page.

covers

Pre-order here. The man is a machine. All hail Harlan!

Review: “The Twilight Wife” by A. J. Banner

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Title: “The Twilight Wife”
Author: A.J. Banner
Genre: Psychological thriller, domestic suspense
Publication Date: Dec. 27, 2016 (Touchstone)

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

I waver between 2 and 3 stars for this one. “The Twilight Wife” has an interesting, relatively unique premise, which is commendable in this thriller heydey, when the same themes tend to be repeated ad nauseam.

In a nutshell: Kyra, a marine biologist, was in a diving accident that virtually destroyed her memory of the past four years. She’s got a charming husband, Jacob, who dotes on her and seems to be the perfect man. Since things are never as they seem, it should come as no surprise that Kyra starts having visions of another man — one she was obviously involved with — and arguments, broken promises, a struggling marriage. Was she cheating on Jacob, she wonders? Was she about to leave him?

Kyra does her best to unravel the past and figure out her relationship and what happened during those lost four years. It’s twisty, relatively enjoyable and fast-paced — you could easily do it in a day if you have some free time. But I never had that clicking moment when I felt truly invested in the characters or their outcome. I didn’t super care about Kyra or Jacob, and when I finished the book, I didn’t spend days thinking back on it and analyzing the conclusion. (And there are books I read months ago that I’m *still* dissecting.) It’s a forgettable read that I recommend only if you’re looking for something quick, easy and not overly meaningful.

However: This book introduced me to the beautiful San Juan Islands in Washington, where Kyra and Jacob live. Check ’em out! Want to get there, with a stack of books. Then I’ll look back with a new sense of fondness on this one.

Review: “The Marriage Lie” by Kimberly Belle

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Title: “The Marriage Lie”
Author: Kimberly Belle
Genre: Psychological thriller, domestic suspense
Publication Date: Dec. 27, 2016 (Mira)

My Rating: ★★★★☆

I was counting down the days until I could get my hands on this one — it’s everything I want in a plot. We meet Iris, a 30-something in Atlanta, and her devoted husband Will the morning after their seventh wedding anniversary, as he gives her a too-expensive-for-them Cartier infinity ring — three colors, for her, him and the baby they just started working on creating. (“Give me a little girl who looks just like you.”)

One last romp and Will is off to the airport to catch a flight to too-hot Orlando, where he’s the keynote speaker at a tech conference. (This guy’s good. He thumbs through the Weather app on his phone and whines about the Florida temperatures before heading out.) A few hours later, a plane crashes en route to Seattle from Atlanta. Have you guessed where this is going? Correct: Iris gets the call that Will was aboard the plane to Seattle and is among the crash’s victims.

The new widow’s grief, of course, is compounded by the fact that Will wasn’t going where he said he was going. Some quick digging and she learns that the conference, for which he produced a convincing flyer, never existed, and he told his office the two were off to a Mexican vacation. As Iris slides into deep investigating-while-mourning mode, the lies are revealed fast, knocking her over again and again as she realizes her husband was virtually a stranger.

Iris’ twin brother, Dave, a sassy gay man, lights up the scenes as the two travel to Seattle to find Will’s “something else.” The two have a great dynamic and realistic banter. (He goes home and isn’t a big part of the final section of the book, and I missed him.) Another character highlight: Evan, a well-known defense attorney who lost his wife and baby daughter in the plane crash. Iris turns to Evan for help, and you find yourself rooting for the two to turn into much more than a legal/friend-to-friend connection. (I reached Down With Will-ville much earlier than Iris.)

It’s a compelling, twisty ride, and you won’t want to put it down as Iris uncovers Will’s layers of deception. The ending is satisfying, too; all storylines wrap up nicely. It’s not a book you read for the writing (it’s just fine, but not anything special) — it’s a book you read entirely for the plot. And sometimes, there’s no need for more. Enjoy!