REVIEW: THE GIRL BEFORE, BY J. P. DELANEY

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Please make a list of every possession you consider essential to your life.

The request seems odd, even intrusive—and for the two women who answer the ad, the consequences are devastating.

Set in London, The Girl Before offers an intriguing look at how one architect sets out to control who lives in an unusual house that he has designed, and what he will do to make sure his vision is realized.

But what kind of vision would require such obsessiveness? Can Emma Matthews, whose tenure at One Folgate Street came first in our story, find what she is looking for? How will living there alter her life, and change her relationship with Simon? What will Simon do after she decides she wants him out of her life?

In the present, Jane Cavendish is luxuriating in the opportunity to start over after the devastating loss of her infant daughter, just days before her birth. She hopes that the simple, minimalist lifestyle in this new residence will heal her wounds.

But as she becomes aware of some disturbing connections between her and the previous tenant, she will have to reexamine what she thought was best for her life.

The tale alternates between the two narrators, and it doesn’t take any time at all to realize that nothing good can come of this new lifestyle. Hovering overhead is a dark sense of foreboding, making it impossible to stop reading. But who was evil, in this tale, and who was simply misunderstood? How would Jane’s decision to find out about the tragedy Emma suffered change her own destiny?

Halfway through the pages, I had moments of confusion, as the stories told alternately by Emma and Jane were so similar that I had to check twice at the chapter headings to know whose voice I was reading. Soon everything seemed to right itself and I was immersed once again.

In the end, I was not completely surprised by the unveiling of the final secrets….but there was still an unexpected denouement. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

***I received my copy of the e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

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REVIEW: FEAR NOTHING, BY LISA GARDNER

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Boston, MA, Present Day: Detective D. D. Warren and associates have discovered a murder victim, a woman named Christine Ryan, and the crime scene is astonishing. Post-mortem, her skin has been shredded from her body, and apparently the killer has taken some for a collection.

Forty years ago, a serial killer named Harry Day utilized a similar signature in his killings. And although he is dead, he has left behind two daughters: Shana Day, who has been in prison for thirty years for killing a boy in the neighborhood; and Adeline Glen, a psychiatrist, who was adopted in childhood by a researcher who was open about her background.

Adeline also has a strange condition: she feels no physical pain. A condition diagnosed after her sister Shana took the scissors to her bare arms in one of their foster homes.

Back to the present, we see D. D. checking out the crime scene afterwards, in the middle of the night. And suddenly, she senses a presence…and then finds herself catapulting backward down the stairs. Her injuries are serious, including a very painful avulsion fracture, and they keep her off active duty, but after going for physical therapy and seeing a therapist for pain management, who happens to be Dr. Adeline Glen, she is eagerly helping to find the killer whom they have dubbed the Rose Killer. He/she uses chloroform to kill them, and then strips the skin. A rose and a bottle of champagne rest on the nightstand nearby.

As the killer adds more victims to his list, the detectives search out every possible suspect, narrowing the quest until it takes them back to what was happening in the neighborhood, thirty years before, trying to determine if the past is informing the present.

Narrated alternately in the third person voice of D.D. and the first person perspective of Adeline Day, we also see occasional snippets from the unknown killer, ratcheting up the suspense as we peek inside the “heads” of them all.

What are the connections between the killings today and those enacted by Harry Day? What, if anything, connects what is happening now with Shana Day’s crime? And who, among many possible suspects is “staging” these scenes, almost as if he has a grand plan of some sort? Why is any of this happening now, and does a website for serial killer memorabilia figure into the chain of events? Finally, will D. D. and her crew find him/her before he settles upon his greatest target yet?

Themes of seriously dysfunctional families, foster care, nature vs. nurture, and the prison system are predominant in Fear Nothing: A Detective D.D. Warren Novel, and remind us of the dark side of life that has only intensified with the passage of time.

I like how the author reels in the reader with the multiple perspectives, and moves the story along by building the suspense and adding new red herrings at every turn. Definitely a read for those who love psychological thrillers and this series. 5 stars.

REVIEW: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, BY PAULA HAWKINS

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Riding the train morning and evening, Rachel imagines the lives of those she sees through the windows. Those living in the houses facing the tracks. She has a special attachment to one young couple she calls Jason and Jess…and imagines the perfect life they share. And down the street from their home is where Tom and Rachel once lived, and where he now lives with his new wife Anna and their baby. Can anything feel more painful?

Rachel’s life is a disaster area…a broken marriage, and a husband who cheated on her. She is an alcoholic and her husband reminded her often enough that she was to blame for everything. Her blackouts make it hard for her to counter his view of their life together.

Narrated by Rachel, Megan (Jess), and Anna, we begin to see that nothing is as it seems. The timeline for the stories takes us back and forth, from Rachel in the present to Megan in the past, with the story slowly moving forward to a significant date: the day Megan went missing.

This is the part where I must leave off describing the events, as those who read it must discover the truths on their own, just as I did. Some might say that all of our narrators were “unreliable,” but some partial truths were hidden beneath all the stories, and it was impossible for me not to have a favorite narrator. One I believed more than the others.

The Girl on the Train: A Novel was a riveting thriller that kept me glued to the pages until the very end, reminding me once again that life (and fiction) can throw many curves. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: ONE STEP TOO FAR, BY TINA SESKIS

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When Emily Coleman disappears from her life, leaving behind her husband Ben, she literally morphs into someone else.

In her new persona as Cat Brown (her legal birth name was Catherine Emily Brown), she knows that she can still use her passport, but that nobody in her old life will realize her new identity. And she can forget the terrible events of May 6, and her horrible twin Caroline.

But what happened to Emily in her old life?

As we see the transformation of Emily to Cat, in “Cat’s” first person narrative, there is an alternate third person narrative voiced by Ben and Emily before the events that changed everything.

What is most surreal about Emily’s new persona is how much more closely she begins to resemble Caroline, the horrible, annoying twin who has done so many things to help destroy Emily.

Is Emily’s narrative one we can believe? Is anything in her life, old and new, real? And whose version of events is most reliable?

When something tragic happens in her new life, everything begins to crash around her, and we see the lives begin to merge. What is the truth? And who, if anyone, is the victim in this story?

The twists and turns seemed to come at me from all sides, confusing and mind-boggling, and just when, in the final pages, everything began to fall into place, we are stunned by still another unexpected reveal.

I enjoyed One Step Too Far: A Novel, up until the end, when it seemed as if the author was purposely being vague in order to keep us guessing. And that worked up to a point…but then it began to feel as though she was playing with the reader. 4.0 stars.

CURL UP WITH INTROS/TEASERS: “APPLE TREE YARD”

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Today’s featured book is an ARC from Amazon Vine, entitled Apple Tree Yard, by Louise Doughty.

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Intro:  (Prologue)

The moment builds; it swells and builds—the moment when I realize we have lost.  The young barrister, Ms. Bonnard, is on her feet in front of me:  a small woman, as you probably remember, auburn hair beneath the judicial wig.  Her gaze is cool, her voice light.  Her black robes look chic rather than sinister.  She radiates calm, believability.  I have been in the witness box two days now and I am tired, really tired.  Later, I will understand that Ms. Bonnard chose this time of day deliberately.  She wasted quite a lot of time earlier in the afternoon, asking about my education, my marriage, my hobbies.  She has been down so many different avenues that at first I am not alert to the fact that this new line of questioning has significance.  The moment builds slowly; it swells to its climax,

***

Teaser:  Be careful what you wish for, my aunt used to say, darkly.  Aunt Gerry had a pessimistic view of life, but then she had ended up raising me and my brother when she hadn’t expected to, so maybe she felt entitled.  (p. 134).

***

Blurb:  An intelligent, erotically charged thriller with deep moral implications

Yvonne Carmichael, a renowned geneticist, public authority, and happily married mother of two, sits in the witness box. The charge is murder. Across the courtroom, not meeting her eye, sits her alleged accomplice. He wears the beautiful pin-striped suit he wore on their first meeting in the Houses of Parliament, when he put his hand on her elbow and guided her to a deserted chapel, where she began to undress. As the barrister’s voice grows low and sinuous, Yvonne realizes she’s lost herself and the life she’d built so carefully to a man who never existed at all.
After their first liaison, Yvonne’s lover tells her very little about himself, but she comes to suspect his secrecy has an explanation connected with the British government. So thrilled and absorbed is she in her newfound sexual power that she fails to notice the real danger about to blindside her from a seemingly innocuous angle. Then, reeling from an act of violence, Yvonne discovers that her desire for justice and revenge has already been compromised. Everything hinges on one night in a dark little alley called Apple Tree Yard.
Suspenseful, erotically charged, and masterfully paced, Louise Doughty’s Apple Tree Yard is an intelligent psychological thriller about desire and its consequences by a writer of phenomenal gifts.

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

REVIEW: THE EDGE OF NORMAL, BY CARLA NORTON

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It has been ten years since Reeve LeClaire was kidnapped and held captive. For the past six years, since her rescue, she has been trying to recover, with the help of her therapist, Dr. Ezra Lerner.

Living in San Francisco, miles away from Seattle where the abduction happened, she is truly starting over. But there are still many issues. Not quite normal, she is still on the edge.

Then a series of abductions in Northern California require the assistance of Dr. Lerner, when one girl is found and brought home. Dr. Lerner asks Reeve to accompany him, to act as a mentor for little Tilly.

They share a bond, these two. But then Tilly reveals a dark secret to Reeve. A secret she is sworn not to tell anyone. Will keeping Tilly’s secret endanger Reeve’s life? And who is the master mind behind the kidnappings? What unique qualities does he possess that enable him to fly beneath the radar and evade suspicion? How is he able to successfully carry out his machinations without anyone noticing?

An intense, page-turning psychological thriller, The Edge of Normal was truly a nail-biting tale, with chapters bringing multiple narrators, including the voice of the master mind. Just when everything seems to be coming together, there are more surprises ahead.

Many of the characters were unlikeable, and while Reeve was definitely someone with whom I could engage, some of her behaviors were foolhardy and risky. Too much so for someone with her history, in my opinion. But I enjoyed the story and could not put it down. 4.5 stars.

A PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER WITH UNIQUE TWISTS — A REVIEW

From the first page, I was drawn into a unique storyline that had me trying to put the pieces together immediately. Rick Rasner is the primary character, whom we meet briefly in hospital–and then seven years later in a reconstructed life as a therapist in the Brookhill Children’s Psychiatric Residence. There he is a meek-mannered man under the tutelage of Dr. Obenchain, who was responsible for his rehabilitation and his placement there.

With no memory of what happened in the bridge explosion that upended his life, or of his life before, Rick struggles to begin anew. In the facility, he is quickly drawn into the traumas of his patients, especially Clara Blue, and seems set from Day One in conflict against the torturous reign of the administrator Katherine Miller.

What I enjoyed most about this thriller, aside from the unanswered questions that only came together near the end, was how I wanted to root for Rick and even Clara Blue, despite the hint that neither of these characters was who they seemed.

Both felt like underdogs, and naturally I wanted them to win out against the horrific Ms. Miller. There is also the matter of the large bump on Rick’s head and the constant headaches and other symptoms that suggest that something is very much awry.

Almost in the background, we also follow the adventures of Jake Scarberry, who is in the Witness Protection Program. His backstory and connections to Rick will come to the fore much later.

What really happened to Rick Rasner? And is Dr. Obenchain a wonderful mentor or some kind of puppeteer? How will the lives of the players mesh, and what will ultimately cause everything to unravel? I could feel my emotions ratcheting up as events moved along, came apart, and then reached a violent and somewhat confusing finale.

The Rasner Effect is the first in a series, and naturally I cannot wait to read the next installment. Five stars.