CAVES. A close-knit group of people. A documentary in progress. Supernatural spooks. Lots of humor, laughs, and horror. I loved this so much.
Cave factor: ★★★★★
Overall enjoyment: ★★★★★
Don't let the meh reviews fool you. If you're a fan of caves, you'll love this. If you're a fan of documentary-based horror films, you'll love this. If you're a fan of closed-in groups of people experiencing some tough stuff, yeah you'll love this too.
The Anomaly follows a down-on-their-luck YouTube web series about a middle-aged man named Nolan Moore who explores the conspiracy theories and weird places of the world. For YouTube fans who understand the Buzzfeed Unsolved reference, this part of the story feels a lot like what would happen if that show got weirder, older, and less entertaining. The documentary group is scraping by, waiting for their one big break. And then, they find it.
Hidden within the Grand Canyon lies a cave. An explorer named Kincaid found it during his initial surveys of America's West, and he said amazing archaeological treasures existed inside. But then he never told people where to find it, and the cave disappeared over time.
Nolan is interested in finding the cave, but like all of his other documentaries, he's not really expecting to find it.
The group enters the Grand Canyon and—to everyone's surprise— they find the cave. That's the easy part.
Unbeknownst to them, the cave has some secrets to share. There was a reason Kincaid never wanted people to find this cave. And Nolan's crew is about to find out why.
Ahhhhhhhh. This was so fun to read, folks. First off, I'm highly biased as I love any and all horror stories involving caves. I'm a huge fan of the movie The Descent, featuring caves and spooky things, and one of my favorite reads of last year was The Luminous Dead, again about caves and spooky things. So it's with no surprise that I offer this up to fellow cave fans as another entry into that sub-genre of thriller/horror.
Another selling point for this book was the surprising amount of humor - like actual, laughing out loud in the room humor. Ken, the series' producer, is my favorite character because of that.
Without getting into spoilers, I do agree with some of the reviewers who didn't enjoy the ending. I did enjoy it, but that's because I don't need thrillers to be grounded in reality—especially when they're explicitly clear that they have spooky elements. So I guess, a word of caution to those who do care about that kind of thing. If you're entering this spooky, horror-movie vibe book and expecting a logical boogieman, maybe this one isn't for you.
A dead body in a teagarden. Secrets buried from the distant past. Political intrigue mixed with London's society. Welcome to London, 1814.
Mystery plot: ★★★ 1/2
Enjoyment: all the stars, this was the perfect evening read
Who Speaks for the Damned is the 15th book in the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries, but don't let that stop you from picking it up--I was a new reader to this world and these characters and had a darn good time.
Sebastian St. Cyr is the Viscount Devlin in early 1800s London. He's a nobleman with a past...and a habit for ferreting out crimes that the nobles would rather be left alone.
When a disgraced former member of society winds up dead in a teagarden, Sebastian is on the case. The man is Nicolas Hayes, the third son of the late Earl of Seaforth. Eighteen years ago, Hayes was convicted of attempted assault and murder and banished to a distant prison camp for life. Thought to be dead, Hayes' recently dead body in London comes as a shock to society and unearths secrets better left buried.
Who killed this former murderer, and why?
I really, really enjoyed this one.
Sebastian St Cyr is not your average gentleman, and he doesn't care if you know it or not. Given the time period and the historical setting, I found his character extremely unique and surprising. I loved his way of questioning the ton—with surprising elements of humor—and his core of steel when it came to class injustice.
The author also did a FABULOUS job with the sense of place and historical accuracy. It felt like 1800s London, down to the dialogue, as opposed to a historical novel with just enough details. I loved the total immersion into the time period.
And, last but not least, the mystery! Obviously can't talk about this too much without spoilers, but let's just say that C.S. Harris knows how to spin a good yarn. I was right about a few things, wrong about a few things, and in the end so thoroughly entertained by the entire experience that I just settled in for the ride.
Thank you to Berkley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A sister tries to solve the cold case of her sister's murder while helping her mother struggle through a cancer treatment. This family's got issues, and the worst is yet to come.
Character development: ★★★★★
Surprise factor: ★
Sylvie was a teenager when her older sister, Persephone, was murdered. Out late one night with a secret boyfriend, Persephone was found murdered on the side of the road a few days later. The case was never solved, and Sylvie's life changed for the worse.
Sylvie's mother, Annie, was always mercurial. On the 15th of every month, she had a "Dark Day." After Persephone's death, every day was Annie's "Dark Day" and the spiral of alcohol made everything worse.
Now it's the present day, and Annie is dying from cancer. Jill, Annie's sister, begs Sylvie to come home and help her take care of Annie. Sylvie doesn't want to return to that house, but she does.
To make matters worse, one of the nurses in Annie's cancer ward is Ben, Persephone's secret boyfriend. Sylvie knows Ben's the true killer—she's just got to prove it.
Struggling to repair her relationship with her mother and deal with the feelings lingering as a result of her sister's cold case, Sylvie decides to solve Persephone's case once and for all.
-The character development in this novel is stunning. I loved the relationships, and their faulty steps toward family healing were the saving graces of this novel. Without the human element, The Winter Sister would have really suffered.
-The writing style was compulsively readable. You won't want to put this down!
-I think I've read too many thrillers with this particular twist, because I was (unfortunately) able to guess it within the first few chapters. Now, I kept reading on hoping my guess was a red herring, but...it wasn't. That was it. I don't think it was hidden enough in the plot for those of us who have read this twist before, as the clues were loud and proud.
-The main character, Sylvie, was incredibly naive...almost to an unbelievable extent. She has harsh, unchangeable opinions about things, and ignores hard facts to keep her illusions. But then in other areas where she should be more cautious, she threw it all to the wind and plowed ahead, regardless of the danger involved or the impact. It made Sylvie read really young to me, and made her character inconsistent.
So I was enjoying this—but not loving it—for a good portion. But then they managed to knock me out from the side with something that I wasn’t expecting. Nice.
You Are Not Alone was my first Greer Hendricks/Sarah Pekkanen book, and I can now say that I understand why so many people devour them.
Shay is a lonely woman living in New York City. Her roommate, Shawn, just got a serious girlfriend and that girlfriend is slowly edging Shay out of her own apartment. Her job security isn't great, as Shay has been primarily temping for different data firms. Her social life is empty. Her love life is empty.
Then one day, Shay witnesses a woman leap to her death in front of a subway train.
A life, gone like that. A woman who could have been Shay, gone like that.
Shay finds herself lost in a sea of post-trauma feelings and goes to the dead woman's memorial service, where she meets Cassandra and Jane.
Cassandra and Jane are glamorous, put together, and effortlessly perfect. They're sisters, business partners, and fierce friends. When Shay emerges onto the scene, the sisters go on high alert. Something is afoot.
As Shay and Cassandra and Jane entwine, it's important to realize that you are not alone.
So I don't like domestic thrillers, as they're often about husbands and wives and "other women" and suburban neighborhoods. I'm not this author duo's usual reading audience. BUT, I think this book is meant for those of us who aren't in their normal reading audience, because its themes are meant for a different group of people—and more importantly, a wider one. If you're a woman, I think the odds are good that you would at a minimum relate to this. This is a fierce tale of sisterhood, female friend groups, women vs. other, and self-acceptance.
Now I haven't lost my rocker, I know this is a thriller and it's obviously dark in themes. But I stand by what I just said. I was shocked to find some of the plot points in here and low-key understood some of the motivations. It's clear that this author pair is touching on an aspect of our female culture that was/is a hot button topic. It was really cool to read in a thriller setting.
No spoilers here! Give this a read.
Also, side note, I found the print formatting of the text to be super weird to read (lots of short, spaced out paragraphs). Not sure if this is typical for this author duo or not, but because of that I really enjoyed the audiobook much more than the print copy. The narrators are fantastic.
Thank you to Macmillan and Libro.fm for my copies of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Intensely character driven and held in an arrestingly deadly setting, this is a lingering read.
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★ 1/2
Full disclosure: I've been a long-time fan of Nalini Singh. She writes some of the most well-written, beautifully plotted paranormal romances in the game. As in, they're worthy of SFF labels but are tragically only published as mass market paperbacks (I'm a hardcover girl, but I bend my rule for this queen).
So when I heard she was writing a mystery/thriller, I was SHOOK. As in, had to get a copy, was willing to beg, barter, and more to get this gem. And it DID NOT disappoint. In fact, it's elevated my opinion so much that I hope this is just the beginning—there better be more!
A Madness of Sunshine unfolds like a tightly clenched fist in achingly slow fits and starts. A young girl full of vitality, Miriama, goes out for a run one evening along the coast of Golden Cove, New Zealand. She doesn't come back.
Will is a cop hiding from his former life as a hotshot detective in Golden Cove. Not much happens in a small town where everyone knows everyone...but several female hikers have disappeared over the decades, and when Miriama goes missing, the old wounds resurface and the town of "pleasant" neighbors erupts. Can Will solve this current missing persons case amidst the echoes of the past?
Anahera left Golden Cove one year and never looked back. The past only holds pain and secrets, and she's never wanted to relive it—until her London husband dies suddenly and the hidden mistress comes knocking at her door. Shocked at the shattering of her "perfect" life, she returns to Golden Cove with fresh eyes and old wounds.
Will and Anahera come together over the disappearance of Miriama, and it's truly a character study of these two flawed characters finding solace in solving the problems of the past. But, as with other Nalini Singh novels, each and every side character jumps off the page with personality and depth. No one is two dimensional, and no one is overlooked. This felt real.
I'm so happy to see Singh branching out into the mystery/thriller genre. The mystery was tightly plotted, the villain(s) (no spoilers here!) were deeply motivated, and the unfolding of the plot was extremely satisfying. Don't miss this one!
Thank you to the publisher via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
This is one of those twisty, adrenaline-filled thrillers that once you start you literally can't stop. What an impressive debut.
Main character: ★★★★★
If you witnessed a violent moment between a man and woman at the side of the road while in your car, what would you do? Would you get out? Would you call the police?
Cassie Larkin gets out of her car. She's coming home late from her shift at the vet office when she sees a battered woman being chased by a man with a knife on the side of a deserted highway. After a tense confrontation, the attacker tells Cassie something strange.
"Your life is a mess. You just don't know it yet. Let her die, and I'll let you live."
Then he flees the scene in Cassie's van—which contains her wallet, ID, and personal information. Cassie doesn't abandon the victim, and the woman survives. But now the clock is ticking, and Cassie knows that a potential killer knows her address. Knows about her husband. Knows about her kids.
The very next day, her husband is taken.
What follows is one of the most intense, pacing-driven thrillers that I have read in a long time. Cassie's propulsive drive to find her husband and solve the mystery of the killer's interest in her and her family was so entertaining, so nerve-wracking, and filled with all of the hard decisions that make you stop and check yourself: would I do that? would I make that jump? would I make that call? would I trust in the police, or would I do it myself?
Cassie was the main reason that I loved this story. She is a woman full of flaws and filled with a sense of unworthiness when it comes to her husband and her kids. With that cocktail blend of past guilt and fierce maternal love, her focus on the trail of the murderer goes from 0 to 100 real fast. (I was so here for it). In addition to her drive to find the truth, the reveals as to why Cassie, and why her family, become increasingly clear. In case you're wondering whether this falls closer to A-B-C thriller or twisted mystery, I'll say that the reveals and mystery were definitely a main portion of the story, and boy was I shocked by that ending. It's crazy, but it fits the story. Loved it.
Can't wait for Heather Chavez's next thriller.
Thank you so much to William Morrow for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
I was NOT expecting this slim novel to be so awesome, so horror-based, and so suspenseful. Loved it. It would have been an automatic 5 stars, but some things didn't jive.
The Return comes out on March 24, 2020!
Elise is told her best friend, Julie, went missing on a solo hiking trip. Two years go by, and Elise refuses to believe or accept that Julie's dead. She's sure Julie will turn up again, good as new.
Two years to the day that Julie disappears, she returns. She doesn't remember anything about her time missing, and things are...different. But Elise is ecstatic anyway—Julie came back.
To celebrate Julie's return, Elise and Julie's two other friends organize a girl's weekend at a lodge in the New England woods. The lodge is crazy wacky—think individually-themed rooms, Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton, and The Shining all in one—and the girls are immediately set up for a weird time.
But the lodge isn't the weird part. Julie is.
Something's wrong with Julie, and it might not be what Elise is expecting...
Wow. What a cool, unique, horrific debut. This clocks in at just under 200 pages, and I devoured it in one sitting. The suspense was killer—at any given moment, I was on pins and needles waiting for the next creepy thing, the next reveal. The girls' friendship dynamics were painfully raw, honest, and full of recognizable traits that I identified with from my own friends. The reveal, while easier to guess than others, was still well done and I loved the final climax.
The only thing that kept The Return from being an automatic 5 stars for me was the overall pacing. You can tell that this story had a killer hook and good suspense, but due to the lack of a side-plot or believable red herrings its pacing suffered. Lots of dialogue-based scenes and not enough significant action. However, as the suspense was done SO well, this was relatively easy to ignore. It would have been a much bigger problem if this novel had been longer.
Thank you to Berkley via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A man waits for his girlfriend to pick up his Skype call. Waiting for her on the webcam, he sees something in her apartment that he wasn't expecting to see—her murder.
Concept: ★★★★ 1/2
Watching from the Dark comes out on February 25, 2020.
Watching From the Dark is the second novel in the British detective series centered on DCI Jonah Sheens and his police team, Hanson, Lightman, and O'Malley.
Aidan Poole is waiting for Zoe on Skype one night, and instead of a chat he's greeted with a gruesome murder. Who killed Zoe, and what should he do about it?
Adding fuel to the fire, Aidan doesn't directly go to the police, and his dodgy avoidance of detail raises the suspicions of DCI Sheens.
As the secrets and lies start to bubble to the surface, it appears that Zoe's life as a graduate art student wasn't as simple as it appeared...
So, some background on this series and my views on DCI Sheens. I read and reviewed the first novel, She Lies in Wait, last year and thought it was...fine. I loved the set-up and I liked the twisty turns to the finish line, but I really, really struggled with feeling a connection to DCI Sheens and found the final reveal to be a small letdown.
I had a similar experience with Watching From the Dark. So at this point it's safe to say that this is definitely a "me" problem and not the fault of these books.
The initial set-up, great. The red herrings and false alarms, entertaining. The interpersonal quagmire of the victim, really interesting. But the detective? Nope. I still didn't vibe with DCI Sheens. I found his sections distanced, nonessential to the plot, and his team's belief in his infallibility seemed extremely bizarre and unfounded to me—he's this super great detective, supposedly, but throughout the entire book the only word I could use to describe him is...predictable. Seconded by the word reactionary. If you took out Sheens and replaced him with a pigeon, the plot would still go on...and the murder would still get solved, as it seems to be his other detective, Hanson, that does most of the mental detecting. She's got character, and I've said it before, she'd make a more compelling lead protagonist.
In addition to my continued lack of interest in Sheens, I also found the ending of Watching From the Dark to be an interesting choice considering the different options presented to us throughout the book. Again, given my response to both books in this series, it seems to be a compatibility issue on my part—which is so personally frustrating, as I keep finding myself drawn to these books.
However, to end on a positive note, this novel did one thing right—I was engrossed in the whodunit pacing. I may have tried to skip through Sheens' parts, but in terms of the mystery itself I found it extremely compelling and couldn't wait to find out who did it.
Thank you to Random House for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
Gorgeous writing, extremely suspenseful. The Alaskan wilderness and one woman's drive to find answers gives this narrative its propulsive drive.
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★ 1/2
It's 1941. Elisabeth Pfautz is living at home in Tanacross, a barely-there outpost of rural Alaska with her husband, John, and their young daughter, Margaret. They've been in Alaska for a while now, following John's teaching posts wherever they lead, and Elisabeth is just along for the ride with an unhappy marriage, a gloomy home life, and the ghosts of the unsolved secrets of her past.
Elisabeth's twin sister, Jacqueline, disappeared when she was a child.
I'll be right back, don't worry.
Jacqueline never came back, and after decades of searches in the Pennsylvania town where it happened, the case has gone cold.
In Tanacross, Elisabeth meets a stranger and he needs a place to stay for the night. She offers him their spare room despite her reservations, as her home is the unofficial B&B when Tanacross gets white guests.
The stranger, Alfred, is odd. He's a German during a time when to be German is to be the enemy, and frankly, he's creepy. By the next morning, Alfred's murdered Elisabeth's neighbor in an act of (seemingly) cold blood. He's immediately whisked to Fairbanks and interred in the prison.
But Elisabeth begins to receive letters from the murderer in jail. Alfred claims to know what happened to Jacqueline, and he can prove it. To Elisabeth, this permanent hole in her life sucks her into Alfred's narrative, and Elisabeth finds herself responding to his letters and following his bread crumb trail.
What happened to Jacqueline?
First off, let me say that this is some of the most gorgeous and suspenseful writing that I have read in a literary suspense novel in quite some time. For the writing quality alone, this novel is worth the read. Fleischmann can weave his words together with a flourish.
In fact, at times I forgot that I was reading a mystery/thriller, and completely engrossed myself in the literary suspense. This is less a "whodunit" and more of a character study of Elisabeth and Alfred, complete with beautiful described scenes and flashbacks.
However, I will say that I found the ending to be not quite...what I expected. Considering the near-flawless writing and the fantastic characterization of Elisabeth, I was a bit surprised by the direction taken at the end. Again, the "whodunit" was not the driving force for my reading experience, but I still found the reveal(s) to be a weaker ending. Why did we make that final choice?
Overall—what a read. I hope others enjoy this interesting tale set in one of America's most memorable landscapes, as it is such an impressive debut. I'm incredibly interested to see what Fleischmann writes next.
Thank you to Berkley Publishing Group for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
The perfect cocktail: a spooky, decaying motel in the middle of nowhere. A night shift clerk. Murder. Dual-timelines. Ghosts. Welcome to the Sun Down Motel.
Plot: ★★★★ 1/2
I have been so excited to read this latest Simone St James novel, it's kind of surreal that I've finished it. Haunted hotels are one of my favorite tropes in fiction, so let's put the mild disclaimer here that I was basically guaranteed to—at minimum—enjoy this at the 3 star level for setting alone.
The Sun Down Motel is the kind of place your mother would worry about you frequenting. It's decayed, it's filled with characters of the night, and it's known to be haunted.
It's also the place where Vivian Delaney disappeared in 1982. One night, she vanished—and was presumed killed. It turns out many young women in the town of Fell, New York, met grisly ends during that time.
Is Fell just a dangerous town, or is there something else coming for these girls?
Told in a dual-timeline with Vivian Delaney in 1982 and her niece Carly in 2017, The Sun Down Motel really maintained my attention. I loved the unfolding of the plot via the two POVs, and felt the author really nailed the suspense as information was revealed in a way that provided the reader with more information than the protagonists knew, and vice versa. St. James knows how to keep you invested in the mystery, that's for sure.
If I had to pick a weak spot, I'd say the characters were the least interesting part of the entire thing. I loved the setting (obviously, see above) and I loved the murder mystery itself, but I could honestly take or leave Carly—she could have been anyone. Vivian had more originality, but not much more. The most intriguing characters were one the side—I loved Marnie, the freelance photographer who interacts with Vivian in 1982, and Nick, who interacts with Carly in 2017.
I also wish that there had been more suspense tied to the spooky elements. In other books with ghosts/etc, the atmospheric angle of the haunting is used to aid the suspense, and provides a mystery element in itself—i.e. what is making that noise? who is that? etc. In this, the ghost angle is figured out pretty early on and then just...taken in stride? I wish it had been more mysterious, and a bigger portion of the plot.
Oh, and the murderer(s)? Yes. That was GOOD. I really liked the whodunit reveals, and it definitely lived up to the concept.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.