Category: Mysteries/Thrillers

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker: The Best Psychological Thriller I’ve Read Since Gone Girl

August 10, 2017 Mysteries/Thrillers 20

Emma in the night by Wendy WalkerFiction – Mystery / Thriller
Released August 8, 2017
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press)

Headline

Emma in the Night‘s ending has the rare perfect balance between being surprising, yet still fitting with the story and it’s the first 5 star thriller I’ve read since Gone Girl.

Plot Summary

Three years after teenage sisters Emma and Cass disappeared from their home, Cass returns home without Emma and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters returns to help Cass find Emma.

Why I Read It

This was a lucky read. I’d read Walker’s debut thriller (All is Not Forgotten), but wasn’t a huge fan. St. Martin’s Press sent me an e-galley of Emma in the Night (thank you!) and I almost wasn’t motivated to pick it up. Then, Michelle at That’s What She Read said she read it in a day while floating in a pool…so, I decided to give it a try.

Major Themes

Childhood Trauma, Abuse, Family Secrets, Sisters, Narcissist Personality Disorder

What I Liked

  • I could not put this book down! And, I liked it so much better than All is Not Forgotten! If I had the kind of life where I could devote a whole day to reading, I could’ve read this book in one day. It’s the first 5 star thriller I’ve read since Gone Girl. If you’re looking for an immersive, edge-of-your-seat page turner for your last vacation of the summer, Emma in the Night is your book!
  • It’s a bit of a cross between a psychological thriller and a dysfunctional family novel. Both paths are extremely well-developed.
  • I was fascinated by the focus on Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the psychology of how this affects a family. I love how Walker went deep with the psychology angle throughout the whole book and explored how this disorder can be passed down through generations.
  • This novel is full of ambiguity. I spent most of my time reading wondering who was telling the truth, who was the real manipulator, and how and why everything played out like it did. I literally changed my mind on these questions dozens of times throughout the story.
  • Finally…a thriller with an ending that is surprising, yet absolutely makes sense with the story!! This is the number one characteristic I look for in thrillers and the number one thing that often goes wrong (hence why I’ve been turned off by thrillers lately). Kudos, Wendy Walker, for getting this exactly right!

What I Didn’t Like

Not one thing.

A Defining Quote

And so they were fierce competitors in their secret club, for each other’s love, for the love of everyone around them. And all I could do was watch from a distance, one short enough that I could see the escalation. Two nation-states in a constant battle for power and control. It was unsustainable. And so it continued, this war between my mother and my sister, until the night we were gone.

Good for People Who Like…

Psychological thrillers, dysfunctional family novels, secrets / betrayal, unputdownable books

Other Books You May Like

The only other psychological thriller that left me the highest level of satisfied:
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (my review)

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Behind Her Eyes and THAT Ending: Spoiler Discussion (#WTFthatending)

February 16, 2017 Mysteries/Thrillers 75

This post is full of spoilers, so STOP HERE if you don’t want to know the ending (or other details).

Behind Her Eyes, Sarah PinboroughFiction – Mystery/Thriller
Released January 31, 2016
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it…unless you just want to participate in the discussion.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Flatiron Books)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post contains affiliate links.

I’ve been somewhat burned out of psychological thrillers lately, especially those that are billed as “the next Gone Girl and/or The Girl on the Train.” I generally find that the big twist is either entirely predictable or completely outlandish…and neither one of those situations leaves me feeling satisfied.

My mystery/thriller dream is to find an ending that is surprising, yet with some hindsight, makes sense in the context of the story. Gone Girl did that for me, while I guessed The Girl on the Train‘s ending halfway through the book.

Despite this burnout, I couldn’t resist Flatiron Books’ admittedly brilliant marketing ploy of highlighting Behind Her Eyes‘ crazy ending…even creating a hashtag for it (#WTFthatending). I wondered if maybe this thriller could pull me out of my slump…plus, I wanted to be a part of the discussion about that ending.

Alas…it was not to be.

What did you think of Behind Her Eyes’ ending (aka #WTFthatending)?

In a nutshell: I DESPISED that ending. It absolutely left me saying “WTF,” so I guess it technically lived up to the publisher’s hashtag hype, but it did not work for me. at. all.

Why? Because it fell squarely in the outlandish category I mentioned earlier and it relied entirely on a gimmick (I’ll discuss this a bit more below). When Louise and Adele switched bodies during the fire at the Martin’s house, I rolled my eyes at the fact that the entire ending hinged on two people switching bodies through a door that appears in their “lucid dreams.”

Then, I find out that the entire story from start to finish hinged on Rob inhabiting Adele’s body via the same “lucid dream door” from the get-go?!! I wanted to throw the book across the room.

Did you see the ending coming?

No, I definitely didn’t see it coming. But, I don’t consider that a win for all the reasons I talked about above.

However, I did spend literally the entire book trying to guess what would happen. For your amusement, here are all my guesses:

7%: David burned down Adele’s parents’ house…with them in it. (Wrong)
10%: David drugs Adele on a daily basis…switching out her medication. (Wrong)
18%: Louise will unknowingly be Adele’s puppet. (Right)
30% Adele bugged Louise’s apartment and David’s office. (Wrong)
42%: Adele is trying to orchestrate it so she can leave David (so she can regain control of her parents’ estate) and he will take the fall because of his cheating and “abuse.” (Wrong)
78% Adele can spy on Louise and David because of the second dream door. (Right)
51%: Adele faked the dream notebook she gave to Louise. (Wrong)
51%: Adele will have Louise kill David. (Wrong)
52%: Adele will trick David or Louise into killing her. She wants to die anyway and she’ll get revenge on either of them by letting them live with the guilt of killing her. (Wrong)
69%: Adele and David killed Rob. (Wrong)
88%: Louise is seriously mentally ill too. (Wrong)
93% Adele frames Louise for killing her, but will actually commit suicide. Louise will watch all this go down through the second dream door. (Kind of right, kind of wrong)

How do you feel about knowing in advance that an ending will be crazy or controversial?

I normally like to go into plot-centric books fairly blind.

I read Gone Girl before all the hype and one of the reasons it was so successful for me was that I didn’t even know there was a massive twist in the book. I was just reading along and BAM…there it was.

That being said, I admit I never would have picked up Behind Her Eyes without all the hype surrounding #WTFthatending. It made me want to be a part of the conversation.

Is lucid dreaming a real thing?

Prior to reading Behind Her Eyes, I’d never heard of lucid dreaming. So, I naturally had to investigate.

World of Lucid Dreaming lends credence to the concept of lucid dreaming existing in real life…down to the dream door. Controlling your dreams through lucid dreaming has been written about in Psychology Today, The Atlantic, and Scientific American. My Google search for “can you inhabit someone else’s body through lucid dreaming” revealed far less scientific results and more discussion threads between people that sounded like quacks.

Being somewhat of a realist, it’s difficult to wrap my head around the entire concept of controlling your dreams. And throw the “inhabiting someone else’s body” on top and it sounds outlandish to me…despite what I found on the Internet. However, knowing at least some level of lucid dreaming could possibly happen in real life makes me give that plot gimmick a tad (but just a tad) more leeway than I did before my research.

Did any other aspects of the book bother you?

Two things stood out to me:

  • I thought it was a total stretch that Louise also happened to suffer from night terrors. It was somewhat believable that Adele and Rob both suffered from them since they met in a treatment facility. But, Louise was a coincidence that felt too random to me…and it’s more unforgivable since the entire story hinges on this coincidence.
  • I questioned Louise’s motivation to take numerous drastic steps to uncover the truth behind the Martins’ marriage (i.e. breaking into her old office), investigate the fire that killed Adele’s parents, and to go after Adele following her “suicide text.” Why would she take these kinds of risks especially given she was putting her young son in danger…and/or risking leaving him motherless if something should happen to her? As a mother, I just didn’t buy it.

Let’s discuss! What did you think of Behind Her Eyes overall and the ending in particular?

Behind Her Eyes was a February 2017 Book of the Month Club selection.
Sign up for a 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, or 12-month Book of the Month membership and get your first month for only $5!
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The Girl on the Train Movie: Will it settle a conspiracy theory? (Spoiler Alert!)

October 6, 2016 Mysteries/Thrillers 10

Back in January of 2015, I posted a SPOILER discussion of The Girl on the Train (see bottom of this post for original discussion), which hadn’t yet become the runaway hit it is now. It’s since become far and away my most viewed post ever and sparked some fascinating discussion in the comments section.

Did Megan ever have an affair with Kamal?

One theory from the comments section in particular caught my attention and I suspect the movie (coming out tomorrow) could put this question to rest. Some commenters believe that Megan never had an affair with Kamal (her therapist), rather that the scenes with Kamal were cleverly written to make the reader think she was having an affair with him, while avoiding actual hard evidence. And, that Megan is actually referring to Tom (who she calls “him”) when she discusses the affair, rather than Kamal. Let’s take a look at part of the comment thread from my original post:

Christy:
I’m hoping to get some answers here! First, were all those scenes between Megan and her lover, set up to make the reader assume it was Kamal, really with Tom? And Kamal only really kissed her once, and that was the kiss Rachel saw?

Karen:
The reason I doubted Megan was having an affair with Kamal is that he would then be a possible father to her baby. Only Scott and Tom were mentioned. I thought it was an oversight by the author until I reread a few Megan sections.

Liz:
I just reread and it’s quite clear on a second read that she was having the affair with Tom, not Kamal. She always says “he” when referring to Tom but refers to Kamal by name. And she tries it on with Kamal, but he firmly says “No, this is just transference, what you’re feeling” indicating that he had put a stop to her actions before they became physical.

Lindsay:
I agree with this, but the only question I still have is who did Rachel see Megan kiss from the train? You’d think that she’d recognize Tom.

Donna:
But she was kissing him, right? And Rachel saw that – unless it was another dark skinned man- and there were hints she was serial in her affairs. I listened also and thought Kamal did have an affair which bothered me. Now I have to find out.

But then Hugh comes in on the opposite side:
What? Megan said that she went to Kamal’s flat and it was a mess. He touched her lower back, told her he’d have to refer her to another psychiatrist. She barged into his office and tried to fool around and he responded as if they had previously been intimate. I didn’t find that part up for grabs at all!

And then back to Liz:
I just reread the book again and all the times she is having the affair a name is never mentioned. It’s very cleverly interwoven… the scenes where she calls Kamal by his name but then refers to her mystery man she’s having an affair with only as “him”. When Kamal says he can’t be her therapist anymore it’s directly AFTER she tried it on with him, but he put a stop to it immediately, explaining it as transference. The way that it is written makes it very unclear in a way that manipulates the reader in a very clever way.

The kiss she saw was the one time Kamal kisses her, after she finishes telling him her story about her baby with Tom when she comes to her house. It’s not passionate, but more than a therapist. V clever red herring.

Navid:
Megan did not have an affair with Dr. Kamal. Megan met *him* on page 47 at Swan which Tom reiterates on page 298. This is one of the best twists of the book that changed my whole perspective and people saying the ending was predictable; I am quite certain most people missed this important piece of info that goes on to show Megan was not as flawed as we think her to be. She only had one affair that she felt guilty about and it also makes Dr. Kamal’S claims of not having an affair and subsequent lack of evidence an accurate description from the author. The author is a pure genius in making is believe it was Kamal. Kudos to her.

CS (on the audio version, which may answer the question!): 
I listened to the audiobook version of this, and they gave Kamal an exotic, middle eastern-sounding accent. When she’s talking to the man in the hotel that she’s having an affair with (the one who keeps insisting “we can’t do this again”) he simply has a British accent. Because of that, I knew the man in the hotel wasn’t Kamal, but I didn’t suspect into toward the end it could be Tom. I thought it was the red-haired man!

How will The Girl on the Train movie interpret Megan’s affair?

Which actor (Justin Theroux as Tom or Edgar Ramirez as Kamal) will appear in scenes showing Megan’s affair? Or, will it remain ambiguous? The trailer doesn’t answer many questions. There are two scenes of Megan in close situations with men, neither one of which clearly shows the man’s face:




Scene 1: Megan making out with someone at the 58 second mark. Based on the shorter haircut on the side, my best guess is that it’s Justin Theroux as Tom.
Scene 2: Megan hugging the waist of someone at the 1:28 mark. The longer hair on the top of the man’s head leaves me thinking this is Edgar Ramirez as Kamal, but again I can’t be sure. Plus, this scene is just a hug…nothing truly steamy.

So, after watching the trailer…I wonder if the entire movie will leave the question of Megan’s affair open after all. I guess we’ll all find out tomorrow.

If you’ve seen the movie by the time you’re reading this post…please leave your thoughts in the comments section!

Original Post (1/28/15)

The Girl on the train, paula hawkins

 

If you have not read The Girl on the Train and are planning to (or are planning to see the movie), do not read any further. There are SPOILERS in this post. Check out my spoiler free review instead!

What was your take on Rachel and her many issues?

  • Delving into Rachel’s issues was my favorite part of the book. She is pathetic on the surface, but has more complexity than meets the eye. Sometimes I wanted to shake her and say, “really, you can’t resist G&T’s out of a CAN?!! Pull yourself together!”. Those sound disgusting, incidentally. But, she ends up showing grit, courage, and tenacity (corkscrew to the neck?!)…and the way Hawkins let it play out made the change in her completely believable.
  • I was fascinated with her alcoholic blackouts and the pure trauma they caused in her life. The thing that struck me most about this was how vulnerable the blackouts made her. And, how this vulnerability coupled with her shame about each of these incidents caused her to believe the worst of herself. She was ripe for the pickings, shall we say.
  • I liked how Hawkins explained how she got like this and tied her downward spiral to her infertility struggle, which seemed like a very realistic scenario to me. This also made me sympathize with her more than I would with your average alcoholic.
  • But, Rachel’s issues weren’t just booze related. She seemed be trying to fill the purposelessness of her life, which caused her to go to extreme lengths to matter…to anyone, about anything. Viewed from this angle, she seemed like an obsessive, stalkerish attention-whore.
  • But, you can also look at her behavior as that of an innately sweet girl who possibly did something horrible (or saw something horrible) while blacked out. And the guilt associated with that drove her to extreme lengths to try to make it right.

What exactly is Tom?

  • Something is clearly wrong in his head, but what is it? Is he a sociopath? Does he have anger issues? He’s not just a guy who killed his mistress in a fit of rage over her threats to expose her pregnancy…he was manipulating and abusing Rachel prior to Megan. I kind of want a diagnosis for him!
  • He actually reminded me of a guy a friend of mine dated long ago. Not the murderous inclinations (obviously!), but the ability to convince his girlfriend that she had mental problems and needed to be in therapy when he was the one that was completely screwed up (liar, cheater, etc). Just like Tom turned the tables on Rachel and exacerbated her drunken spiral. 
  • Hawkins gave us next to nothing about Tom. We know he “lied about everything, all the time”. Other than that, we know he wasn’t in the Army like he said and his fallout from his parents played out differently than he said. But, what else do we really know? Not much! Why is he this sociopathic? Why does he lie all the time? What is his background? I want to know more!

Is Scott the only sane person in this whole mess?

  • Though he was innocent in all this and was understandably not his normal self given he had just lost his wife, learned he was essentially married to a stranger, and was a murder suspect, I thought he had some issues of his own.
  • He showed violent tendencies toward Rachel and Megan when he was angry. Why? I needed some sort of explanation for this behavior once it was confirmed that he wasn’t the killer.

Did anyone see the end coming?

  • I was fairly certain Scott hadn’t killed Megan, as that would have been way too obvious.
  • For a very brief time, I thought maybe Anna was the killer (because of Rachel’s feelings of fear around her). A female killer would have been different and kind of interesting!
  • But, when Anna said, “He’s a really good liar”, I was pretty sure it was Tom. And, once Scott learned that Megan’s baby wasn’t his, I knew for sure. I understand Hawkins had to lay a little groundwork so the ending didn’t seem too random, but did she give away too much, too early? She sure didn’t surprise me…and I’m usually not that great at guessing endings.

Let’s talk! What did you think about all the sordid details?!

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Spoiler Discussion: All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker

July 21, 2016 Mysteries/Thrillers 17

All Is Not Forgotten is a book I really don’t have that much to say about without discussing spoilers. So, I’m going to talk about all the nitty gritty details! Stop reading here if you don’t want to know…

All is Not Forgotten, Wendy WalkerFiction – Mystery/Thriller
Released July 12, 2016
320 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (St. Martin’s Press) via NetGalley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before I get into all the spoiler-y details, I should say that I could not put this book down. I wasn’t sure I actually liked it…and am still not sure to some extent, but I could. not. stop. reading. It’s incredibly twisty, dark, and deeply unsettling. And, I was fascinated by all the psychology/science about how the brain processes memory and trauma, especially given this Author’s Note:

[…] the altering of both factual and emotional memories of trauma is at the forefront of emerging research and technology in memory science. Scientists have successfully altered factual memories and mitigated the emotional impact of memories with the drugs and therapies described in this book, and they continue to search for a drug to target and erase those memories completely.

What is All Is Not Forgotten actually about?

The publisher’s blurb would have you believe it’s about Jenny, her rape, the controversial treatment she receives and the effects on her family and community:

Now, after reading it, I think Dr. Alan Forrester (the narrator and Jenny’s psychiatrist) is the center of the story. Jenny and her family end up as merely cogs in his wheel of deception and personal issues. So much so that a more apt title for the book could have been The Puppeteer…if it wasn’t somewhat of a spoiler.

What did you think of the narrator/psychiatrist (Dr. Alan Forrester)?

  • At first, I thought the narrator was just a random father of one of the other kids in town. This gave the book a creepy feeling and I couldn’t figure out why a random father would be narrating this story. It actually made me dislike the book at first. Thankfully, someone told me the narrator was Jenny’s psychiatrist well before it was revealed in the book and knowing that immediately improved my reading experience. That being said, the book itself didn’t reveal the narrator’s full identity until Chapter 7 (the 19% mark). I don’t understand what waiting that late added to the story.
  • Dr. Forrester comes off as creepy, arrogant, and manipulative…even before the extent of his machinations are fully revealed. He goes on long tangents about his views on life, his patients, and his own family and is willing to say things most regular people probably wouldn’t…which reminded me a bit of Dr. Marc Schlosser in Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool (review). I was never a fan of Dr. Forrester, but I truly hated him by the end (which I suppose was the author’s intent).
  • I also didn’t buy his final justification for his actions:

    I am guilty. Hate me if you must. I have tried to show you the mitigating facts. Charlotte, Tom, Sean. I gave them back their lives, and none of that would have been possible if we had not had the collision. If I had not told my story to an unstable patient. If Jenny had not been in those woods with him. If I had confessed the moment I learned the truth. Hate me. Despise me. But know that I have weighed everything on the scales. And know that every night I fall asleep. And every morning I wake up and look in the mirror without any problem whatsoever.

  • The only person who truly benefited (without incredible cost) from all this was Sean because he was the ONLY person whose trauma was not set in motion by something Dr. Forrester did. Tom and Charlotte may have gotten their marriage back on track (and Charlotte was able to reconcile her two internal identities), but at the cost of their daughter’s rape and attempted suicide. 
  • Finally, the entire fact that the Kramers chose Dr. Forrester as Jenny’s psychiatrist is unrealistic. I think it’s highly unlikely that a teenage rape victim would feel comfortable seeking treatment from the FATHER OF A CLASSMATE for such a personal trauma, regardless of the doctor’s particular expertise.

How far should parents go to protect their children?

  • First, Dr. Forrester’s dilemma reminded me of the choices the Lohmans faced in Herman Koch’s The Dinner (review). And, it astounds me that I just compared parts of All Is Not Forgotten to not one, but two Herman Koch books! I want to be clear that I’m not saying All Is Not Forgotten is a great choice for fans of Herman Koch…I’m just comparing small pieces of each book here.
  • I understand how the Forresters would want to protect Jason if a truly unfortunate coincidence tied him to a high-profile crime he didn’t commit…and the subsequent media storm and damage to his reputation that could result. Even if he is innocent, his name and reputation could get dragged through the mud (i.e. the Duke lacrosse case). 
  • But, Dr. Forrester went down an incredibly intricate path to protect Jason that harmed Sean and all the Kramers (not to mention Bob Sullivan!) while a part of him believed Jason was guilty. 
  • It’s easy to label Forrester as evil because of all this, but do we truly know how far we would go to protect our own children? I hope I never have to find out.

What did you think of the ending?

  • Were you surprised that Glenn Shelby had raped Jenny? I guessed it when Forrester mentioned that Shelby’s post-prison apartment was in nearby Cranston. What I couldn’t figure out was the how or why.
  • That ending was quite an intricate web! It certainly went far beyond just who raped Jenny and I appreciated the more complicated layers. However, I think some plot points were too farfetched.
  • I didn’t buy the crux of the ending…
    A) that Forrester would tell the personal story of his own rape to a prison inmate who is also a patient. 
    B) that Glenn would then try to recreate Forrester’s experience by raping Forrester’s own son as revenge for “abandoning” him.
    C) that substituting Jenny for Jason at the last minute would fulfill Glenn’s weird fantasy (assuming you bought B). Why not find another opportunity to go after Jason?
    D) that Forrester would’ve kept his own scar and/or experience a secret from “the reader” until the very end given how much he revealed along the way about his own life.
  • And, I HATED the part about the killing of Bob Sullivan. It was way too farfetched that not one, not two, but three men (Sean Logan, Tom Kramer, and Lila’s father) reacted to their individual beefs with him by seriously considering killing him and that two of them took action/attempted action at the same time.

All that being said, are thrillers farfetched by nature?

  • There has to be some level of outlandishness to ensure a thriller’s plot is sufficiently surprising. But, I think there’s a fine line between “delightfully surprising, yet still makes sense” and “so over the top it leaves you rolling your eyes.” 
  • This ending leaned toward “so over the top it leaves you rolling your eyes” for me. There were too many fantastic coincidences and unrealistic elements. 
  • I always maintain that Gone Girl has the perfect ending (totally shocking, but fit all the pieces together perfectly)…and yet it does have elements that are completely unrealistic. So, it’s possible I’m being overly critical of the unrealistic elements in All Is Not Forgotten. Sometimes maybe it’s better to suspend reality for a bit and just enjoy the story!

Let’s talk! What did you think about all this?

If you enjoy these types of spoiler discussions, check similar ones on the following books:

After the Crash by Michel Bussi
Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Where They Found Her
by Kimberly McCreight

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After the Crash Spoiler Discussion: What Makes A Satisfying Ending?

February 2, 2016 Mysteries/Thrillers 10

If you have not read After the Crash and are planning to, do not read any further. There are SPOILERS in this post. Check out my spoiler free review instead!

After the Crash Spoiler Discussion


And, check out my spoiler-free review for my overall thoughts on the book. As I mentioned in that review, I wasn’t thrilled with the ending. I wanted to talk more about that and what makes a satisfying ending in general (for me), but I couldn’t do that in my regular review. So, here we are…

Did anyone see the end coming?

I was just over halfway through the book when I guessed that Lylie was not going to be a Vitral or a de Carville. But, I couldn’t work out how that was going to happen. It was this how that kept me turning the pages until the end.

Now, let’s talk about that how…
  • Melanie Belvoir’s introduction into the story was a big shock for me, but not in a good way. 
  • I didn’t like how Bussi introduced a brand new character (especially the lynchpin to the story) so very late in the book. The fact that a woman (who the reader had not had any chance to care about) abandoning her baby near the crash site was the grand explanation to this whole mystery irritated me. It felt lazy…and I remember thinking “this is it?”
  • I wanted there to be some incredibly complex explanation for how Lylie would test negative for both Vitral and De Carville DNA, yet still be connected to one of those families. I wanted something that I wasn’t nearly smart enough to figure out on my own, but that would make sense in hindsight. Instead, the ending we got was just random…too random.
  • It almost felt like Bussi had gotten this far into the story and couldn’t think of an unique way to make the pieces to the puzzle work, so he threw in an extra piece at the last minute to wrap things up.
What do you think makes a satisfying ending or plot twist?
  • The first time I considered what makes an ending or plot twist stratospherically brilliant was after I read Gone Girl. In my mind, Flynn executed one of the most brilliant plot twists I’d ever read (and this still holds true almost four years later). Its brilliance lay in the fact that I didn’t see it coming (at. all.), but when it did, it made complete sense in hindsight. The facts had been there all along, you just needed to view them through a different lens.
  • Sadly, that wasn’t the case with After the Crash. Melanie Belvoir literally came out of thin air at the very end of the book.
  • I re-read the initial scene (where Grand-Duc first sees the key to the mystery in the December 23, 1980 edition of the Est Republicain) to see if there is a single mention of the Missing Person Notice for Melanie Belvoir and there wasn’t. The only items mentioned as being in the newspaper are the “The Miracle of Mont Terrible” article, the photograph of the plane’s wreckage and its caption, and the photograph of the fireman holding Lylie in front of the Montbeliard hospital.

How do you feel about the ending of After the Crash? Did it make sense and fit with the story for you? What do you think makes a satisfying ending or plot twist in general?




After the Crash by Michel Bussi: A Dang Good Page Turner…Despite the Ending

January 7, 2016 Mysteries/Thrillers 18

Despite the title of this post, I do NOT reveal any spoilers about the ending.

After the Crash, Michel BussiFiction – Mystery / Thriller
Released January 5, 2016
377 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Hachette) via Edelweiss

Headline

After the Crash is a compelling and intricately spun thriller that hooked me from page one…despite the fact that I’m pretty burned out of twisty thrillers. I highly recommend you go in as blind as possible and it’s going on my Page Turners and Books for Guys lists.

Plot Summary

On December 23, 1980, a plane crashed in the French Alps killing all its passengers and crew except a baby girl, whose survival sets off a war between two families, one rich and one poor.

Why I Read It

The Hachette rep sold me on this one at the BEA (Book Expo America) Speed Dating event and the fact that it was already a bestseller in Europe didn’t hurt.

What I Liked

  • This book hooked me immediately. I thought I’d “take a peek” at the beginning before moving on to a shorter book, but I’d sped through 40 pages before I knew it. The plot twists come fast and furious, right from the beginning. So much so that, not too far in, I wondered where the story had left to go.
  • The story is told through “real-time” action eighteen years after the crash interwoven with the journal of a private detective hired to investigate the case. The journal provides the background and lays out the available evidence in meticulous detail, while the “real-time” portions cover the reverberating impact of everything that’s happened over the previous eighteen years.
  • The pacing is perfect and surprisingly avoids a lull in the entire 377 pages. The information is released in exquisitely timed increments and the answer to every question generates multiple new unknowns.
  • On the surface, the overriding mystery seems maddeningly simple. How is it possible that these people can’t answer this question?! But, Bussi meticulously lays out every possible avenue and how each one really doesn’t answer the question…making me believe in something I doubted initially.

What I Didn’t Like

  • I loved this book right up until the end. The ending felt a bit random and overly coincidental. I believe a perfect plot twist should be unexpected, but make complete sense only in hindsight. This ending felt arbitrary, even in hindsight. But, the ending didn’t kill the book for me…I was engrossed virtually the entire way through, which outweighs my tail-end disappointment. I can’t say anymore about the ending here, but I’m planning a spoiler discussion post to talk more about it.
  • The writing isn’t going to win any awards and the dialogue veered into cheesiness at times. But, you read this book for the compelling story…not the glittery writing.
  • And, guess what?! The marketing teams have pitched this book as perfect for lovers of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train (cue image of me bashing my head into a wall). Honestly, I didn’t see either of those comparisons until after I’d finished the book and probably wouldn’t have read it had I known beforehand. After the Crash has its own identity and the comparison to the two “Girl” books should be ignored entirely.

A Defining Quote

It’s actually quite an agreeable feeling, Grand-Duc thought, to sit in judgment on the life and death of another: to protect only in order to condemn, to give hope in order to sacrifice. To play with fate, like a cunning, capricious god.

Good for People Who Like…

Page Turners, wealthy people behaving badly, investigative mysteries

Other Books You May Like

Another twisty page turner:
Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

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Spoiler Free Book Review: Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

April 15, 2015 Mysteries/Thrillers 17

For those of you who have read this book, click here for my Spoiler Discussion. Because, let’s face it, there’s only so much I can say about this one without giving away WAY too much! 

For those who haven’t read this one yet, there are no spoilers in this post.

Fiction – ThrillerWhere They Found Her, Kimberly McCreight
Released April 14, 2015
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: eGalley provided by the publisher via Edelweiss

Plot Summary

When the body of a newborn baby is found on the edge of the prestigious Ridgedale University campus, rookie journalist Molly Sanderson chases the story that will uncover the dark side of life in an upscale New Jersey college town.

My Thoughts

I loved McCreight’s last thriller, Reconstructing Amelia, so I was excited to get my hands on Where They Found Her. Though this one didn’t grab me from the first page, things picked up quickly enough and, by the last quarter, I couldn’t put it down.

I’m going to keep this review light on details, as this is a plot-centric book and I don’t want to spoil things for anyone!

The story opens with the discovery of a baby’s body in a wooded area on the outskirts of prestigious Ridgedale University (I’m such a sucker for books set on college campuses!). Ridgedale is a mostly idyllic, predominantly upscale community centered around the University, so the discovery of any dead body, much less a baby’s, is likely to send the residents into a tailspin. And, much of the action revolves around the long buried secrets of this seemingly idyllic community.

The story is told from multiple perspectives: Molly (the rookie journalist covering the story of the baby), Sandy (one of the few underprivileged teens in Ridgedale), Jenna (Sandy’s completely messed up mother), Barbara (the police chief’s wife and the mother of Molly’s daughter’s classmate), and various journals and transcripts. It’s a lot to keep track of at first, but becomes much easier as the meaning behind the inclusion of each character becomes clearer.

My favorite thing about this book is that I made multiple guesses about the outcome of the story and was wrong about every single one of them, which is exactly what I want out of a good thriller. In my spoiler discussion, I threw all my wrong guesses out there for discussion.

Where They Found Her is an edge of your seat page turner and a great selection for people who like books set on college campuses. It will also go on my 2015 Summer Reading List (click here for last year’s list).

You May Also Like:

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
The Fever by Megan Abbott
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen

CLICK HERE FOR SPOILER DISCUSSION

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight: Spoiler Discussion

April 15, 2015 Mysteries/Thrillers 21

If you have not read Where They Found Her and are planning to, do not read any further. There are SPOILERS in this post. Check out my spoiler free review instead!

Stop Sign


Where They Found Her
 is one of those books that it’s hard to talk about without revealing spoilers. So, for the second time ever, I’ve written a blog post with spoilers (the first was for The Girl on the Train)!

For a general overview of my thoughts about Where They Found Her, please see my spoiler free review.

Where They Found Her, Kimberly McCreight

One of my favorite things about this book was that every guess I had about the outcome was wrong…which is exactly what I’m looking for in a thriller. How disappointing is it to guess the ending (The Girl on the Train, I’m looking at you)?!

My Wrong Guesses
  • About 30% of the way through, I thought Steve was secretly Sandy’s biological father.
  • Speaking of Steve, I thought he was “The Captain” right up until the moment when Molly and Sandy were looking at the old yearbooks and discovered that Steve was actually Tex.
  • About halfway through, I thought Aiden could possibly be the father of Rose’s baby (i.e. the baby found in the woods). This seemed overly obvious at the time, but I thought Stella was somehow responsible for disposing of the baby to help cover for her son.
  • I thought Jenna was going to have a much bigger role in the scandal of the dead baby than she did.
  • At the end, I thought Hannah had been another victim of Thomas Price, the Dean of Students at Ridgedale University. What I 100% did NOT see coming was Justin being the father of Hannah’s baby. Did anyone out there guess this correctly?!

What were your wrong guesses? What plot twists did you get right?

There were a couple questions that I didn’t think were answered, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes endings can be a little too perfectly tied up in a bow.

My Lingering Questions
  • Towards the end of the book, Jenna was in a car accident after a run-in with Barbara. I thought Barbara had run her off the road in an attempt to get rid of her. This was never specifically addressed in the book, but there were certainly hints that Barbara might have been involved in her disappearance. Did Barbara cause Jenna’s car accident?
  • What happens between Steve and Jenna? Do they reconnect in any way? Possibly jailhouse pen pals?
  • What was Steve’s jail sentence? The book says that he confessed to voluntary manslaughter in Simon Barton’s death and that the judge was leaning against pursuing much jail time. I would have liked to know how much he ended up getting.
  • And, who was the father of Rose’s baby? To be honest, this may have been answered in the book, but I can’t remember!

And, finally…

What did you all think of Jenna forcing Sandy to go off on her own following the car accident?

This was the one part of the ending that I really didn’t like. It seems completely unrealistic that a mother would send her teenage daughter out into the world alone…especially after having almost died in a car accident. Isn’t Jenna’s brush with death more likely to give her the wherewithal to clean up her own act for the sake of her daughter than to lead her to send Sandy away because she’s convinced she’ll never right her ship? I couldn’t figure this one out.

What do you all think? Let’s talk…

 

After the Crash by Michel Bussi
All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: Spoiler Discussion

January 28, 2015 Mysteries/Thrillers 254

If you have not read The Girl on the Train and are planning to, do not read any further. There are SPOILERS in this post. Check out my spoiler free review instead!

Stop Sign

The Girl on the Train is one of those books that you just want to talk about…and I mean using details. I really don’t have that much to say about it without spoiling things. So, for the first time ever, I’ve written a blog post with spoilers!

The Girl on the train, paula hawkins


Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon

What was your take on Rachel and her many issues?
  • Delving into Rachel’s issues was my favorite part of the book. She is pathetic on the surface, but has more complexity than meets the eye. Sometimes I wanted to shake her and say, “really, you can’t resist G&T’s out of a CAN?!! Pull yourself together!”. Those sound disgusting, incidentally. But, she ends up showing grit, courage, and tenacity (corkscrew to the neck?!)…and the way Hawkins let it play out made the change in her completely believable.
  • I was fascinated with her alcoholic blackouts and the pure trauma they caused in her life. The thing that struck me most about this was how vulnerable the blackouts made her. And, how this vulnerability coupled with her shame about each of these incidents caused her to believe the worst of herself. She was ripe for the pickings, shall we say.
  • I liked how Hawkins explained how she got like this and tied her downward spiral to her infertility struggle, which seemed like a very realistic scenario to me. This also made me sympathize with her more than I would with your average alcoholic.
  • But, Rachel’s issues weren’t just booze related. She seemed be trying to fill the purposelessness of her life, which caused her to go to extreme lengths to matter…to anyone, about anything. Viewed from this angle, she seemed like an obsessive, stalkerish attention-whore.
  • But, you can also look at her behavior as that of an innately sweet girl who possibly did something horrible (or saw something horrible) while blacked out. And the guilt associated with that drove her to extreme lengths to try to make it right.
What exactly is Tom?
  • Something is clearly wrong in his head, but what is it? Is he a sociopath? Does he have anger issues? He’s not just a guy who killed his mistress in a fit of rage over her threats to expose her pregnancy…he was manipulating and abusing Rachel prior to Megan. I kind of want a diagnosis for him!
  • He actually reminded me of a guy a friend of mine dated long ago. Not the murderous inclinations (obviously!), but the ability to convince his girlfriend that she had mental problems and needed to be in therapy when he was the one that was completely screwed up (liar, cheater, etc). Just like Tom turned the tables on Rachel and exacerbated her drunken spiral. 
  • Hawkins gave us next to nothing about Tom. We know he “lied about everything, all the time”. Other than that, we know he wasn’t in the Army like he said and his fallout from his parents played out differently than he said. But, what else do we really know? Not much! Why is he this sociopathic? Why does he lie all the time? What is his background? I want to know more!
Is Scott the only sane person in this whole mess?
  • Though he was innocent in all this and was understandably not his normal self given he had just lost his wife, learned he was essentially married to a stranger, and was a murder suspect, I thought he had some issues of his own.
  • He showed violent tendencies toward Rachel and Megan when he was angry. Why? I needed some sort of explanation for this behavior once it was confirmed that he wasn’t the killer.
Did anyone see the end coming?
  • I was fairly certain Scott hadn’t killed Megan, as that would have been way too obvious.
  • For a very brief time, I thought maybe Anna was the killer (because of Rachel’s feelings of fear around her). A female killer would have been different and kind of interesting!
  • But, when Anna said, “He’s a really good liar”, I was pretty sure it was Tom. And, once Scott learned that Megan’s baby wasn’t his, I knew for sure. I understand Hawkins had to lay a little groundwork so the ending didn’t seem too random, but did she give away too much, too early? She sure didn’t surprised me…and I’m usually not that great at guessing endings.

Let’s talk! What did you think about all the sordid details?!

If you enjoy these types of spoiler discussions, check similar ones on the following books:

After the Crash by Michel Bussi
All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker
Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
Where They Found Her
by Kimberly McCreight

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: 5 Stars for Psychology, 3 Stars for Thriller

January 28, 2015 Books to Read, Mysteries/Thrillers 9

At the end of this post, I will link to my spoilers discussion for those of you who have read the book. Because, let’s face it, this is one that needs some rehashing! 

For those who haven’t read this one yet, there are no spoilers in this post.

Fiction – Mystery / ThrillerThe Girl on the train, paula hawkins
Released January 13, 2015
336 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Purchased

Plot Summary

When divorced and down on her luck Rachel sees “something shocking” at the house of “Jess and Jason”, the couple she watches out the window of her daily commuter train, she’s drawn into a mess that “changes everything”. (quotes from Goodreads)

My Thoughts

Paula Hawkins’ debut novel has been getting a lot of hype lately…it’s one of those books that I think will be talked about quite a bit both inside and outside of the book world over the coming months. For this reason, I purposely tried to ignore all the chatter and avoid reading reviews until after I’d read the book. I seem to have better luck with these types of books when I go in blind and I’m glad I did in this case. So, this review will be a bit vague to preserve some surprise for those of you who intend to read it!

The Girl on the Train is a psychological thriller that, for me, gets 5 stars for the psychological element and 3 stars for the thriller piece…averaging out to a 4-star “I really liked it” rating (on Goodreads, as I don’t use a 5 star rating system for my blog).

This book started a bit slowly for me. It took me about 20% of the book to really engage in the psychological piece and the thriller aspect picked up steam after that. But once I got through the beginning, this was definitely an “I can’t put it down” type of read.

Rachel takes the exact same commuter train every day, passing the same houses at the same time. Therefore, she sees the inhabitants going about their daily routines. She fixates on one young couple who seem happy together (and whose life she probably aspires to have) and names them “Jess and Jason”. She gives them backgrounds, personalities, and careers (She imagines “Jason” as a medical doctor who travels to Third World countries and “Jess” doing something artsy). So, you know right out of the gates that Rachel has at least one issue (borderline obsession with these people she doesn’t know). But, suffice it to say that there are psychological issues all over the place in this book.

My problem with the thriller aspect (and thus the 3 star rating for that part) is that I guessed the outcome well before Hawkins put it out there. I’ll elaborate more on this in the spoilers discussion, but I’ll say here that I kept hoping my guess would be wrong and she would surprise me. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

The Girl on the Train will no doubt be a popular thriller this year and I’m adding it to my Page Turners and Book Club Recommendations lists. It will also make an appearance on my 2015 Summer Reading List coming in May (click here to see last year’s list).

You May Also Like:

Binds That Tie by Kate Moretti
Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

CLICK HERE FOR SPOILER DISCUSSION