Book Review: The Witch Elm by Tana French

The Witch Elm by Tana French

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Title: The Witch Elm
Author: Tana French
Publisher: Viking
Publish Date: October 9, 2018

Toby is a happy-go-lucky charmer who’s dodged a scrape at work and is celebrating with friends when the night takes a turn that will change his life – he surprises two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Struggling to recover from his injuries, beginning to understand that he might never be the same man again, he takes refuge at his family’s ancestral home to care for his dying uncle Hugo. Then a skull is found in the trunk of an elm tree in the garden – and as detectives close in, Toby is forced to face the possibility that his past may not be what he has always believed.

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After returning home from a night out, Toby is attacked when he surprises two burglars in his place. He is severely beaten, and has a long road to recovery. During his recovery stage, he moves to his family’s ancestral home where his uncle resides. One day, when the whole family is gathered there for one of their routine family get-togethers, a skull is discovered in the trunk of an elm tree. As detectives investigate, Toby realizes his past may not be quite like he remembers it.

Toby is a happy and pretty lucky guy. Before the attack, things always seemed to work out for the best in Toby’s life. In some ways, that made his friends and family upset with him, because he didn’t necessarily recognize or understand when they had struggles in life. However, things change for Toby after his attack. This book covers a lot of topics – privilege, bullying, sexual harassment, memories, identity, and family loyalty.

The writing, as usual with Tana French’s books, is superb. The story is slow though. It’s mostly a good slow, but there was a portion of the book where nothing really happened. This book relies heavily on the characters. Other than the attack on Toby and a mysterious skull in the yard, very little other action occurs. I was really into the first part of this book, but then things slowed down. Real slow. Then, a skull was found in a tree. Ooh, a mystery. Then slow, again. I kept waiting for something to finally happen. And then it did happen. And it was glorious. Okay, maybe not glorious, but I was happy with how things unraveled.

A slow burning psychological thriller. Detailed, atmospheric, complex, and tragic.

I received a free eARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

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Title: The Last Time I Lied
Author: Riley Sager
Publisher: Dutton
Publish Date: July 3, 2018

from Amazon:
Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. But the games ended the night Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin into the darkness. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. When the paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale, she implores Emma to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor. Seeing an opportunity to find out what really happened to her friends all those years ago, Emma agrees.

Familiar faces, unchanged cabins, and the same dark lake haunt Nightingale, even though the camp is opening its doors for the first time since the disappearances. Emma is even assigned to the same cabin she slept in as a teenager, but soon discovers a security camera – the only one on the property – pointed directly at its door. Then cryptic clues that Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins begin surfacing. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing mysterious threats in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale and what really happened to those girls, the more she realizes that closure could come at a deadly price.

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Fifteen years ago, Emma was a camper at Camp Nightingale. Emma was the youngest in the cabin she shared with three other girls. One night, she awakened to see the other girls sneaking out of the cabin, and they never returned. That night has haunted Emma. When the owner of the camp contacts Emma and invites her to their reopening, she accepts the offer, thinking she might be able to finally discover what happened to her friends. Emma is an artist, and she is hired to be the camp’s painting instructor. She is back at camp, and everything is the same – familiar faces, the same cabins, and the same eerie lake.

Emma is an intriguing character. She carries guilt from that summer when her friends went missing, and she questions everyone and everything at Camp Nightingale when she returns. I was never sure if Emma was a reliable narrator, and that made for an interesting read.

This book is a slow-burning read that has the right amount of twists and turns. A great read for fans of dark psychological thrillers. Creepy, clever, and mysterious.

I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. That means I may receive a very small commission, at no cost to you, if you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase.

Title: All the Beautiful Lies
Author: Peter Swanson
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: April 3, 2018

Harry Ackerson has always considered his step-mother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an “other worldly” way. She has always been kind and attentive, if a little aloof in the last few years.

Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, he returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help one another pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.

Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.

Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth.

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Days before Harry is set to graduate college, his father dies. His father’s death is suspicious, and the authorities aren’t sure if his death was an accident, suicide, or murder. Harry returns to the small town in Maine where his father lived. While in town, Harry spends time with his stepmother Alice, works in his father’s bookstore, meets the new girl in town, Grace, and tries to connect the pieces surrounding his father’s death.

This book is told with multiple points of view and multiple timelines. The “then” timeline is Alice’s story. The “now” timeline is Harry’s story. Alice’s story is disturbing and uncomfortable to read. Harry’s story is more mysterious. Harry is not mysterious, but the circumstances of his father’s death and the people connected to his father are mysterious.

A slow-burning thriller that focuses on the characters. The action takes a backseat to the characters, but there are some interesting things happening. Harry’s father’s death isn’t the only suspicious death in the book. Now, let’s talk about the characters. They are complex and seriously messed up. Pretty much every relationship in the book is May-December, and some are more borderline pedophilia. That makes for tough reading.

Suspenseful, twisted, and tragic.

I borrowed this book from my local library.

Book Review: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

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Title: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Author: Stuart Turton
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: September 18, 2018

The Hardcastle family is hosting a masquerade at their home, and their daughter Evelyn Hardcastle will die. She will die everyday until Aiden Bishop is able identify her killer and break the cycle.

But every time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up each day in a different body as one of the guests.

Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend. But nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

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A repeating day. Aiden wakes up in a different body everyday, but the result is always the same… Evelyn Hardcastle dies. The only way for Aiden to get free of the repeating day is to solve the mystery behind Evelyn’s death.

This novel is a murder mystery, but with a dash of science fiction and a smidgen of historical fiction. The repeating day and body hopping is very sci-fi, the setting and characters read like a period piece, and the atmosphere has a very Gothic feel.

Aiden is in a different body each day, but the story isn’t told in a linear fashion. The body hopping combined with time hopping made for a confusing read. Some of the bodies Aiden inhabits are very similar to one another, and I had trouble keeping up with which guy he was each day. I realize the hopping around adds to the story and makes it more complex. After all, Aiden himself is confused about what is going on. In that respect, it is like you’re in the mind of Aiden and his perplexing situation.

Clever and complex, but confusing. A unique and imaginative debut novel.

I received a free eARC of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Speed of Sound by Eric Bernt

The Speed of Sound by Eric Bernt

The Speed of Sound

by Eric Bernt
Thomas & Mercer – June 1, 2018

Harmony House is more than a “special place for special people.” It’s a think tank where high-functioning autistic savants harness their unique abilities for the benefit of society. Resident Eddie Parks’s contribution is nothing less than extraordinary: an “echo box” that can re-create never-recorded sounds using acoustic archaeology.

All Eddie wants is to hear his late mother’s voice. But what he’s created is inadvertently posing a threat to national security.

To Harmony House’s shadowy government backers and radical extremists, the echo box is the ultimate intelligence asset—an end to the very concept of secrecy. Now for Eddie and the compassionate Dr. Skylar Drummond, the true nature of the institution is becoming chillingly clear.

As ruthless competing enemies close in on Eddie and his miraculous machine, Skylar risks all to take him on the run. Because once that prize is won, Eddie Parks will no longer be considered a “special person” but a dangerous redundancy. An inconvenient echo that must be silenced.

Eddie lives in Harmony House, a think tank residence for people with autism. Eddie’s project is creating an “echo box.” Eddie’s main desire is to hear his late mother sing, and if he can complete the echo box, his dream will come true. Unfortunately, other, less scrupulous people would also like the echo box to work. The newest doctor at Harmony House is Skylar, and she immediately connects with Eddie. As the danger increases, Skylar helps Eddie.

Interesting and likable characters. Eddie has autism, and has a few special abilities that go along with that. He has very delicate hearing and he is a human lie detector. Both of these abilities come into play throughout the story. Skylar is a little more stereotypical character. She is a new doctor at Harmony House, and she also truly cares about the patients. Eddie has a hard time with people, but he quickly learns to trust Skylar.

The story is action-packed. As Eddie gets closer to finishing his project, it seems more people are interested in getting their hands on it. Skylar is important since she wants to keep Eddie safe, but she also wants to see him achieve his dream of hearing his mother sing.

Exciting and fast-paced. This is the first book in a series, and ends on a cliffhanger. Good for fans of techno thrillers.

I received a digital copy of this book via Amazon’s First Reads.

Book Review: Double Blind by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

Double Blind by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

Double Blind
by Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen

Kendra Michaels is not too happy about working with the FBI again, but this case has her name on it. Literally. A woman is killed, and on her body they find an envelope addressed to Kendra. Inside the envelope is a wedding video that no one seems to be able to make heads or tails of. As Kendra gets involved, the body count rises and Kendra herself is in danger.

The 6th book in the Kenra Michaels series by Iris Johansen. I haven’t read all of the previous books, but, from the few I have read, this is a fun and exciting series. I need to go back and read the ones I somehow missed.

Kendra was blind and had enhanced abilities with her other senses, making her great at the power of deduction. She is no longer blind, but still has an incredible critical thinking abilities. A strong female protagonist who is smart, brave, and honest.

Double Blind is a fast-paced, light, and entertaining read. Plenty of suspense and a little romance. A good read for fans of Iris Johansen.

I received an ARC of this book from St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: The Girl From Blind River by Gale Massey

The Girl from Blind River by Gale Massey

The Girl From Blind River
by Gale Massey

Jamie Elders desperately wants to escape her small town, and her family’s reputation as criminals. Unfortunately, she makes a poor decision, and winds up in debt to her uncle. Since she is now in debt to him, he expects her to follow his demands. One night, those demands include disposing of a dead man. With Jamie’s future on the line, she must decide to be a criminal, or follow the law.

A debut novel by Gale Massey. Well developed characters in an interesting story. Jamie is 19-years-old, and dreams of playing poker professionally. She grew up around card games, and has a knack for it. The story has a lot to do with poker, which I found fun to read.

Jamie makes plenty of bad decisions, as do other characters in this book, but I kept cheering for her. She has a heartbreaking backstory, but stayed smart and strong.

I received an ARC of this book from Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. This book is expected to be published in July 2018.

Book Review: This Is How It Ends by Eva Dolan

This Is How It Ends
by Eva Dolan

Ella and Molly are activists. Ella is young and new to the activist community, whereas Molly is older and has been involved with the activist community for years. They are both living in a building that is evicting the tenants, and most tenants have already left. After a rooftop party, Molly receives a call from Ella to come help her. When Molly arrives, there is a dead man in Ella’s apartment. Due to the women’s backgrounds, they don’t think the police will believe they’re innocent, so they opt to dispose of his body and not report his death. As time progresses, mistrust grows between the two women.

This story is told from two points of view, Ella and Molly. The book starts with the defining event (i.e., the dead guy) between these two women, then Ella’s story moves in reverse chronological order, while Molly’s story moves forward with the present day. The alternating viewpoints were interesting, because this is the type of story where that works, but the time changes (past vs present) were sometimes confusing.

This was a quick read, but I wasn’t really interested in the characters. I was never drawn into the story and fully immersed. The last half of the book was much more intriguing than the first half, and I did enjoy the twist at the end.

I received a copy of this book from Bloomsbury and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road by Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road
by Christopher J. Yates

In 1982, Matthew, Patrick, and Hannah are linked together through a terrible crime. Twenty-six years later, they reconnect.

A dark story told with two timelines, 1982 and 2008. Each chapter was about a main character (Matthew, Patrick, or Hannah), though some were told in first person point of view and others were third person. The back and forth between timelines, characters, and points of view slowed the pace of the story.

The first chapter in the book tells the tragic crime that occurred in their youth, and the following chapters fill in the blanks of what led to that event. There seemed to be a lot of filler in the book, like food blogging, geology, the history of cement, and even explanations of political aspirations of a character’s father. While some of this information may have been interesting, it bogged down the story and didn’t provide much insight into the characters. I never felt connected to anyone in the story, and didn’t much care what happened to any of them. For me, the ending left too many unanswered questions.

I received a copy of this book from Picador and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Killman Creek by Rachel Caine

Killman Creek by Rachel Caine

Killman Creek
by Rachel Caine

This is the second book in Rachel Caine’s Stillhouse Lake series.

Gwen and her kids are in hiding from Gwen’s serial killer ex-husband, Melvin. Melvin has escaped from prison and his family is no longer safe. Gwen takes the offensive and goes after Melvin. Sam, the brother of one of Melvin’s victims, goes with Gwen on her hunt for Melvin. Meanwhile, the kids stay with a friend, who has a well fortified home.

This story was told from multiple points of view. Gwen’s point of view was the primary story, but it was nice to see the kids’ (Lanny and Connor) and Sam’s viewpoints. The trust between family and friends was tested, so multiple viewpoints worked for this story.

Gwen was a strong character. She was tired of living in fear and wanted to protect her family. Unfortunately, she had some people working against her, which complicated matters. The kids each had their own issues, though they were minor to the story.

For me, this book started off slow and I had a hard time getting into it. It does get better, and the ending was full of suspense and excitement.

I have not yet read the first book in this series (Stillhouse Lake). It’s on my Kindle, but I read them out of order. Anyway, I still enjoyed this one without having read the first one.

I received a copy of this book from Thomas & Mercer and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.