thriller

DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn

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Publisher: Broadway Books
Pages: 452
Genre: Thriller

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer

 

First Impressions: It’s set in Kansas, my home-state. I can confirm that there are plenty of dark places in Kansas, and I’m not just talking about the Republican Governor’s office.

Review: Irascible Libby Day is the type of person you probably wouldn’t like if she existed in real-life, but on the page she is compelling and complicated. She is the only real survivor (if you don’t count an older brother languishing in prision for the rest of his life) of a brutal massacre of her family when she was only 7 years old. Now in her thirties Libby has rejected every opportunity or attempt to become a contributing member of society. She is crippled by even the simplest tasks, preferring to shut out the world or take handouts over an honest days work. Libby is acerbic and prickly to anyone who shows even the slightest interest in helping her or changing her mind.  Getting Libby to the point where she questions the truth of the statements she made against her brother all those years ago, is like pulling teeth for the reader. But there is a part of her that knows the light was never truly shown on what happened that night. The Kill Crew, a secret organization investigating the truth behind murders, is finally able to tap into that small voice living in her subconscious. A voice that compels Libby to track down all the players of that infamous night. On a mission that takes her from Ben to her father and to minor characters who become major characters, Libby learns that the events of that night may not entirely be finished as long as she is still alive.

The story takes a methodical pace, jumping back and forth between Libby’s present day journey and the day of the murders.  The flashbacks are split between Ben Day (the eldest) and Patty Day (the mother). This helped to deepen the emotion of events leading up to the Satan Sacrifice Kinnakee. Their juxtaposition will figure heavily in the events of that night. Patty is torn apart by the revelation that their town believes Ben may have molested a young girl. Ben is a secretive and morose teenager who thinks only about escaping their small town with his now-pregnant girlfriend. And even though you only meet the mother and Ben on one day, they come off as fully developed characters grappling with a multitude of emotions and uncertainties.

Flynn sets up some great payoffs in certain scenes. The interaction between Krissi, the child supposedly molested by Ben and Libby is intriguing mostly because of the truths they are hiding from the other. The note that Libby leaves for Krissi at the end was the perfect ending to that scene. Another entertaining scene occurs between Libby and her father at the superfund site. The settings are far from glamorous but they contain interesting details that add to the  mood & characterization.

As Libby uncovers who Ben spent that day with, the truth seems to trace back to Ben’s pregnant girlfriend. But Flynn has just a couple more surprises waiting for us just when we think we figured it out. The truth is an elusive concept, and finding a resolution doesn’t exactly settle well with us. The conflicting emotions and uncertainties that remain after the final sentence are what make this novel a success.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Overall: We all know that Flynn’s novels are bleak and gritty. I like getting to the core of characters and their shortcomings. A dark place exists in all of us and it’s the plot development that really puts this novel apart from others. Looking forward to reading Gone Girl now.

About the Author

Gillian Flynn is an American author and television critic for Entertainment Weekly. She has so far written three novels, Sharp Objects, for which she won the 2007 Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the best thriller; Dark Places; and her best-selling third novel Gone Girl.
Flynn, who lives in Chicago, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated at the University of Kansas, and qualified for a Master’s degree from Northwestern University. 

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Cheerleaders get down and dirty in DARE ME by Megan Abbott

Publisher: Back Bay Books
Received From: Purchased
Genre: Thriller, Noir

Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives.

Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself. 

Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain. 

The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as “total authority and an almost desperate intensity,” provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.

Initial Thoughts: I have had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book festival which led me to consider giving her latest release a try.

Review:  I really enjoyed this psychological thriller and you have to get over the fact that these teens are some pretty dark characters. The theme of this novel is manipulation and just who exactly holds the upper hand. Told from Abby Hanlon’s perspective she is second in command to head-hauncho, Beth Cassidy, of the military like structure  within the female ranks of cheerleaders. Beth’s control is threatened by a new cheer coach who seems immune to the manipulative powers of the head cheerleader. Abby is pulled between her loyalty to her best friend and the intriguing life of her new coach. There are some great exchanges in this novel, in their bleakness and the things that are said by the characters. Abbott does a great job of pulling the reader into lives that seem pretty superficial on the outside. Isn’t that was cheerleaders are to most of us? Superficial and symbolic of an unattainable ideal? The language was the highlight of this novel for me. We are completely within Abby’s world and her method of expression is unique and provocative.  As the story develops, their world disintegrates and the characters descend further into darkness, destroying the lives of those around them. Don’t mess with these teenagers, they are power-hungry, privileged and cutthroat.

Quote: “She was the one who showed me all the dark wonders of life, the real life, the life I’d only seen flickering from the corner of my eye. Did I ever feel anything at all until she showed me what feeling meant? Pushing at the corners of her cramped world with curled fists, she showed me what it meant to live.”

Overall: Dark, edgy, and emotionally tense throughout turn this all-American setting  into a scintillating and murderous world.

Rating: 4 stars

About the Author

Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels. She received her Ph.D. in literature from New York University and has taught literature, writing, and film at NYU, the New School, and SUNY-Oswego. She lives in New York City.

http://www.meganabbott.com
@meganeabbott

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More Vampires?! Order of the Sanguines: INNOCENT BLOOD

Author: James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 448
Release Date: December 10th
Genre: Gothic, Thriller, Paranormal

A vicious attack at a ranch in California thrusts archaeologist Erin Granger back into the folds of the Sanguines, an immortal order founded on the blood of Christ and tasked with protecting the world from the beasts haunting its shadows and waiting to break free into the sunlight.  Following the prophetic words found in the Blood Gospel–a tome written by Christ and lost for centuries–Erin must join forces with Army Sergeant Jordan Stone and the dark mystery that is Father Rhun Korza to discover and protect a boy believed to be an angel given flesh.

But an enigmatic enemy of immense power and terrifying ambition seeks the same child–not to save the world, but to hasten its destruction.  For any hope of victory, Erin must discover the truth behind Christ’s early years and understand His first true miracle, an event wrapped in sin and destruction, an act that yet remains unfulfilled and holds the only hope for the world. 

The search for the truth will take Erin and the others across centuries and around the world, from the dusty plains of the Holy Land to the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, from the catacombs of Rome to an iron fortress in the Mediterranean Sea, and at last to the very gates of Hell itself, where their destiny–and the fate of mankind–awaits.

With The Blood Gospel, the first novel in the Order of the Sanguines series, James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell breathtakingly combined science, myth, and religion and introduced a world where miracles hold new meaning and the fight for good over evil is far more complicated than we ever dreamed. In Innocent Blood they again take us to the edge of destruction . . . and into the deepest reaches of imagination.

Initial Thoughts: I’m familiar with James Rollins but not Rebecca Cantrell (isn’t this how co-writing usually goes?)

I continue my track record of reading the second installment in a series without having read the first. What can I say? I like to jump into the thick of things and I suppose if the second book doesn’t hold up that says a lot about the first one. By the end of this review you should have a solid idea of whether to start at the beginning or pass it by.

What I liked:

The prologue It opens during the crusades and we learn that the sanguinists (vampires that take a holy vow to serve the church) are helping obliterate the muslims. I love these sorts of scenes, it whets my appetite for an explanation for the arc of impact that these moments have on the future.

Historical Fact/Fiction: James Rollins is a master at seamlessly weaving historical fact and possibility into a fictional tale. This book doesn’t hold back, with fallen angels, uncovering the first miracle of Jesus Christ and  the unleashing of Satan, the plot is a rich tableau that should spark a curiosity about these historical events.

Sanguinists/Strigoi: The creation of the Sanguinists, a holy order of vampires, was intriguing and well done. The strigoi are vampires as popular culture tends to portray them – bloodthirsty and revelers of the nighttime. Sanguinists subsist on the blood of Christ and because of this they are able to tolerate the sun. the conflict between these two sects of vampires actually helps to humanize the creatures and delve into why some vampires chose to become sanguinists and others remain strigoi.

Locations: From California to Rome, Turkey (and everywhere in between) the authors have done a spectacular job of transporting the reader and making the past and present come to life on the page.

What I didn’t like (as much):

Wishy-washy rules for the supernatural: It’s almost too complicated to make sense for some characters and it’s never fully explained. There are many different aspects of the supernatural explored, from angels to immortal characters, and of course the vampires. Jordan is seemingly killed by a bullet, but a few droplets of blood from the First Angel boy revive him. There is an allusion. The conclusion seems to have become, it happens because it is useful for the plot of the story and rules can bend depending on their role.

Love Triangles  Erin and Rhun, a sanguinist have a strange bond- the result of Rhun having revived Erin with his vampire blood in the first book. Rhun is cursed by his love for Elisabeta, who he turned into vampire.  Their bond flutters through the minds of pretty much every character bu it’s never addressed outright and there is no development beyond that. This connection may have a larger influence in the next book.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Overall:  Paranormal meets thriller and the journey of the characters through history and their present trials is a vivid and compelling ride.

About the Authors 

James Rollins is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sigma Force series and other novels. Blending science and history, his action adventure novels have been praised as “enormously engrossing” (NPR) and “smart, entertaining adventure fiction” (New York Journal of Books). Before pursuing a writing career, Jim obtained a degree in veterinary medicine and established a successful veterinary practice in Sacramento, CA. He currently resides in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

http://www.jamesrollins.com
@jamesrollins

New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell’s novels have won the Bruce Alexander and the Macavity awards and been nominated for the Barry, Mary Higgins Clark, APPY, RT Reviewers Choice, and Shriekfest Film Festival awards. She and her husband and son just left Hawaii’s sunny shores for adventures in Hannah Vogel’s hometown–Berlin.

http://www.rebeccacantrell.com
@rebeccacantrell

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Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for an honest review

THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART


Publisher: William Morrow
Pub Date : February 4, 2014
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Pages: 304

On an ordinary Friday evening at his favorite Boston tavern, George Foss’s comfortable, predictable life is shattered when a beautiful woman sits down at the bar, a woman who vanished without a trace twenty years ago.

Liana Dector isn’t just an ex-girlfriend, the first love George couldn’t quite forget. She’s also a dangerous enigma and quite possibly a cold-blooded killer wanted by the police. Suddenly, she’s back—and she needs George’s help. Ruthless men believe she stole some money . . . and they will do whatever it takes to get it back.

George knows Liana is trouble. But he can’t say no—he never could—so he makes a choice that will plunge him into a terrifying whirlpool of lies, secrets, betrayal, and murder from which there is no sure escape.

Initial thoughts: Love the cover and the title!

My Take: George is still haunted by his first love. His  brief but passionate love affair with Liana as a college freshman still lingers. We meet him nearing mid-life as a man unable to sustain a stable relationship with a woman and feeling the failure of his life choices.

Some chapters are told from the perspective of George when he was an impressionable young adult. He knows Liana as someone else entirely until George learns she won’t be returning to college from FL because she died. George takes it upon himself to travel to Florida to meet the family, find closure and mourn. The cathartic journey only serves to open up a bag of worms when he learns that Liana is alive and may have been involved in the death of the girl whose identity she stole. She disappears for good leaving George to sort through the detritus of their love.

Fast forward twenty years, when George spots Liana in a bar. She is still alluring and impenetrable.  George is unable to see that his infatuation makes him the perfect prey for someone like Liana.  He agrees to do a favor for her and quickly is embroiled in a murder which leaves him questioning his decision to fall for her charms.  Is she really caught in a web of crime that she can’t get herself out of or did she use George to pull of the perfect crime?

I was caught up in sorting through the enigma of Liana. George however, seemed very hollow, lacking any substance that would lead me to feel anything deeper about his situation. George was simply the vehicle for Liana and for the author as well.

Overall: Plenty of sexiness and  intrigue work together to create a careful crescendo of tension that will have you gasping for breath at the end. You will be more perplexed by Liana on the last page as George was from the first.

Rating: 4 Stars – A promising debut

About the author:

Peter Swanson’s poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Slant Magazine, Soundings East, Rattapallax, and The Vocabula Review.  He has earned degrees in Creative Writing, Education, and Literature from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College.  He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Author website:  http://www.peter-swanson.com

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*I acquired this advance copy through the publisher. All thoughts are my own.