Disturbing, heart wrenching, powerful, and shattering. A Muslim lawyer takes on the hardest legal case of her career and finds the lines between professional and personal slipping as she defends a disabled white girl in her accusation of rape against four local Muslim boys. This is not a casual read by any description, but it is an extremely powerful one.
A court case surrounding a "he said, she said" rape trial with the added complexities of disability and racial tensions? Yeah, we went there. And it was as messy as you can imagine it to be.
Jodie is a a 16-year-old white girl with facial deformities and a story to tell. When she walks into the Artemis House, a legal institution that provides council to women, and tells her story... it's shocking. In it, she accuses 4 Muslim boys from her high school of violence and sexual assault.
Zara, a Muslim herself, is Jodie's case worker. She believes Jodie and vows to defend her no matter the cost.
However, Zara herself is dealing with several personal issues during this time as well. Her family life is shattered: when Zara flees her husband's family and a bad arranged marriage, she's branded negatively by the local Muslim community. Her family is upset at her lack of tradition, her lack of subservience, her mental fortitude and independence.
Adding this sexual assault trial against "their" boys does not help matters.
It also doesn't help that Zara's struggling with her emotional state and her dependence on prescription drugs. When life throws you curveballs, why not take a chill pill? When one becomes two becomes more.... Zara's sinking here too.
And then more things come out about the case, and Jodie's story...
Just who, exactly, is telling the truth?
It's a testament to the author's talent that she evokes such strong themes and visceral reactions to her story. For that reason, Kia Abdullah is one my list to watch for future books. While I think I'm done with sexual assault themes in novels for good—NOT the fault of this book, but something I've learned through trial and error this year is not a good topic for me to consume for personal reasons—this was an extremely powerful and well-told story.
One of the strongest elements of this novel is the balancing act between the two storylines and the actual truth. Like most court cases, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I appreciated the author's deft handling of the plot's conclusion... especially as it would have been so easy to misstep and deliver one of the more expected outcomes.
This is the kind of novel that continuously asks you, the reader, to check yourself. Are you experiencing bias by wishing for this outcome or the other? Who are you siding with, and why? How do you respond to Zara's personal quagmires? Just who exactly is "winning" here, or are there no winners?
A complex book. Recommended reading for all readers of the genre and, honestly, other adult fiction readers too. A powerful story that deserves a wide audience.
Thank you to St Martins Press for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
The perfect winter night read with a dash of murder and buried secrets.
Enjoyment: ★★★★ 1/2
Villain(s)/Reveal(s): ★★★★ 1/2
A car is found stranded on the side of a snowed-in road later one dark evening. The door is open. Inside the rapidly freezing car is a small baby boy staring out.
What happened to the mother? Why did she appear to go peacefully, yet leave her child to the freezing elements with the door open?
Vera Stanhope and her squad of British cops are on the case. It's Vera herself who discovers the baby and the car, and when she takes him to the nearest lit house in the dark she's shocked to realize that it's the ancestral manor home of her estranged father. That side of the family is rich and snooty and Vera's not thrilled to be back. But the baby and his mother take priority.
This interesting clashing of the classes occurs in the midst of the missing persons case turned deadly: within a few hours, the mother's body is discovered brutally murdered on the grounds of the estate.
With a closed list of suspects, a small town filled with buried secrets, and the threat of an undiscovered murder, it's time for Vera to connect the dots of the past and see just what happened on the darkest evening.
So this was my first Vera Stanhope and Ann Cleves novel, but it will NOT be my last one. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Vera took some getting used to and her team was odd, but overall a really solid mystery tale with all the hallmarks of the classics. Strong points in this novel were the final reveals, the atmosphere, and the unfolding of secrets.
Thank you to the publisher for my copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.
I don't think I'll be forgetting this book any time soon. "Haunting," is one word for it. "Piercing" is another.
Cultural relevancy: ★★★★★
The Night Swim is a novel that feels sharply of its time—and that's not a good thing for our modern world. In my opinion, this book shouldn't have to exist. But I'm glad that Megan Goldin decided to tell it, because it's poignant, important, and aches with past and present bruises.
Rachel Krall is now a household name. After starting her extremely successful cold-case crime podcast, Rachel has become something of an amateur detective, jury, and public figure all in one. Now in her third season of her podcast, Rachel decides to go into uncharted territory: covering a current, ongoing court case.
A small town is in the midst of a rape trial.
Immediately, your expectations can supply some of the details as—and I hope you can feel the angry in my words through the screen--this is not a unique injustice in our society.
A golden boy, a pillar of the Neapolis community, destined for a shot at the Olympic swim team when he graduates, perfect in every way according to the world and his parents and society--he's been charged with rape and assault. How could such a nice boy have done this? The town cries for this boy who's been "wronged."
The girl, of course, is living in a different kind of hell and hasn't been looked on as fondly by the town. Her family is hounded by the press, her name becomes synonymous with "asking for it," and her trial has been hijacked in the court of public opinion by her predator.
Rachel Krall is here to find out the truth behind this current rape trial. But what Rachel doesn't expect to find is a series of letters addressed to her, begging her to look into the "accidental" death of a teenage girl 25 years ago in the same small town. The town slut, the town's shining example of a girl gone wrong. That girl's fate was also determined by the court of public opinion, and her death was pushed under the rug.
With pulse-pounding suspense, lingering coastal atmosphere, and a social commentary as sharp as glass, The Night Swim is a great mystery/thriller. I hope its place in the canon does its subject matter justice, and I hope it sparks more conversations. As a woman, it made me rage and ache and want to not have daughters. As a reader, it made me appreciate Goldin's talent for the written word, and her bravery for tackling a topic that, as her own protagonist states, is somehow not a black and white issue.
If we can all agree that murder is wrong, indefinitely, irrefutably—why is rape somehow different? Like Rachel Krall's podcast concludes with, it's time for you, the audience, to decide for yourself who is right, and who is wrong.
Thank you to St Martin's Press via NetGalley for an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
I was bored silly for 75% of this book, but the very very end did surprise me more than I expected it to, so I bumped the rating up a star.
Because my feelings for this one are so meh, this review is going to be short and sweet.
I think that fans of Alice Feeney may enjoy this one, but as this was my first Feeney novel I can't say that for certain. I CAN say that this novel didn't have the same polarizing negative representation that I Know Who You Are seemed to have. (I heard about the ending to that book - yikes.)
This was just... a seriously standard dual POV thriller. There's a dead body, and a male perspective and a female perspective. The man and woman are obviously linked together, and a third, "murderer" POV thrown in that could be anyone. There's enough shocks, red herrings, and twisted secrets for 10 lifetimes.
As you can probably tell from my lackluster phrasing—I'm so sorry to this book, it's not really its fault—I just didn't enjoy reading it. The writing seemed like it kept trying to reel me in, but the endless vague sentences, dual-meaning scenes, and flashbacks conveyed to be as sinister-yet-vague as possible all kept me from feeling like this was a real story with real stakes. It felt very fourth wall, very staged. And, despite its pulse-pounding premise, I was also extremely bored. I could have handled one or two of the above issues and still enjoyed the ride, but all of them? No dice.
Oh well. On to the next!
Thank you to Flatiron via NetGalley for my giveaway ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.
A haunted house, a family with too many secrets, a girl-turned-woman caught in the crossfire. Many years later, it's time for the woman to come home and deal with the remnants of her past.
Final, final ending: ★★★★
This DELIVERED. I was gripped for the entire read. I was surprised at points and not at others. I had a heck of a good time reading it in one sitting. But but but...?
Maggie Holt grew up in the shadow of The Book. The Book: a haunted "nonfiction" account of one family's few weeks of horrors in a haunted Victorian mansion. The Book was written by her journalist father when she was very small, and captured the weeks that their family lived in Baneberry Hall and experienced the most terrifying time of their lives.
Or so the world believes.
Maggie, now a grown woman, believes The Book was a clever piece of fiction that her father wrote for money. The fact that she remembers nothing of her time in Baneberry Hall—good or bad—speaks to that fact. (Well, except for her lingering night terrors, which hang with her to this day...)
So when her father dies and shocks Maggie with the deed to Baneberry Hall, Maggie knows that now, finally, it's her turn. It's her turn to find out the truth about her past and reclaim her childhood in the eyes of the public. And time to lay old ghosts to rest, permanently.
But Baneberry Hall isn't ready to give Maggie up yet, and something is determined to go bump in the night...
What if The Book wasn't a lie after all?
What I loved:
I say this every time I read a Riley Sager book: I loved the writing. There's something to be said for a story that doesn't skimp on facts and yet doesn't overuse its details. This was another Sager novel that I read in one sitting late one stormy night (if you can control your weather, I highly recommend that experience). It's moody, it's dark, it's spooky. It's also a story within a story, with spliced sections of Maggie's POV in the present and spliced chapters of The Book itself recounting the past. I loved that element too—talk about a tried and true method of creating suspense. And also, the elephant in the room, I'm a sucker for haunted houses so I was, at a minimum, going to enjoy this novel for that element alone. Which I did.
What I didn't love:
The only thing I didn't love is a small spoiler from the very end. It wasn't enough to tip me from 5 stars to 4, but it was just enough that I went, aw, really? Really? Because this novel would have been perfection if it had done one more thing. I don't want to include it here because some folks will read it and then the story won't work for them the same way, but for those who have read it I'll send you to my Goodreads review so you can read the spoiler: (view spoiler)
Thank you to the publisher for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
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.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.