Verity

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Colleen Hoover
Genres: Thriller, Mystery, Romance
Pub. date: Dec. 2018 (read Nov. 2019)

Every year I see the new Colleen Hoover book and say, “nah, I don’t think I’m gonna read her new book this year.” Then every year she gets nominated in the Goodreads Choice Awards and I decide to read it anyways.

I heard all kinds of reviews about how f-ed up this book is, which are all totally true. Verity is filled with plot twists, suspense, and a really creepy atmosphere, but the biggest question the book leaves me with is this: who the hell classed this book as a romance?!!!

Hoover is known for her romances, which to be honest I don’t really love, but in the last few years she’s been branching out from her normal material in favour of some more thought provoking storylines and social commentary. But romance has still always been central to her stories, so I was surprised when I started reading this one and found myself smack dab in the middle of a mystery thriller! I like a good mystery thriller, but I find them a bit repetitive after a while. Not Verity though – it gripped me from the very start and held my attention to the last page. Hoover still weaves some romance into the story (which I wasn’t that big a fan of), but I was able to move past it because the rest of the writing was great!

I’ve said this before, but Hoover is one of the best first chapter writers I’ve ever encountered. Starting a new book often feels like a bit of a chore because it takes a while to sink into the writing and the narrative, but once I made the decision to read Verity, I was really excited because I knew Hoover would deliver on a compelling beginning. But it wasn’t just the first chapter that was gripping. I read the whole thing in less than 24 hours and pretty much never put it down except to go to work. Say what you want about her romances, but Hoover is a compelling writer.

So what is Verity about might you ask? I skipped reading the synopsis on this one and honestly, I’d advise you to do the same. If you want a mind-bendy, slightly disturbing book with a killer twist, read no further and pick it up. If you need a bit more to go on, Verity is about ghost writer Lowen Ashleigh. She’s asked to author the 3 remaining books in an immensely popular thriller series because the original author, Verity Crawford, is no longer able to do so. To search for material on the rest of the series, she visits the author’s house to go through her office and strikes up a friendship with Verity’s husband, Jeremy. While there, she discovers a disturbing manuscript that makes her question everything she’s been told about Verity.

The setting reminded me a little of Ruth Ware’s, The Turn of the Key, while the plot and storytelling reminded me a lot of Alice Feeney’s, Sometimes I Lie. Lowen discovers a number of disturbing revelations about Verity’s past as creepy things start happening in the house that make her question her sanity. There’s a few random plot lines that don’t really seem to go anywhere, but they still add to the overall atmosphere of the book.

I’ve also said before that I’m not a big fan of the men Hoover writes as the love interests. This was the first Hoover book I read that focused less on the romance than the other aspects of the story though, so it was a welcome change. Emily May sums of my feelings about Hoover’s love interests well in her review where she notes, “I think I enjoy Hoover’s fucked-up books so much because I usually find her regular romances kinda fucked up. I like her books so much more when she’s writing about trauma and morally-questionable characters than when she’s trying to sell me a douche as a love interest.” Which brings me back to my original question – who decided to market this book as a romance? Everything about this book is “mystery/thriller” and someone needs to get this out of the romance genre so that more people pick it up.

Anyways, to sum it up, I really enjoyed it. The themes don’t have the same significance as some of her previous work, but it was still really fun to read and gripped me the entire time I was reading it.

The Blackhouse

Rating:⭐⭐.5
Author: Peter May
Genres: Mystery
Pub. date: Feb. 2011 (read Jul. 2019)

DNF @ 67%

I was going to try and stick it out, but I can’t do it. My Dad’s been trying to get me to read this series for ages and finally picked it up as an audiobook, but it’s just not working out for me.

Even though I haven’t finished it, I feel like I have experienced enough of this book to give it a bit of a review. Honestly, I would probably still give this a middle ground 3 stars, but it started dragging on and I just don’t have the motivation to finish it. It’s possible it’s the audiobook and I might have enjoyed it better as a print book.

The premise is interesting enough. It’s a classic police investigation story where the investigator is forced to return to his childhood home and confront the trauma of his past. The setting is in remote Scotland, which I actually really liked, and I did think Finn was a complex and interesting character. But only half of this book held my attention. Interestingly enough, I actually didn’t care at all about the present day mystery. Finn is forced to go back to his childhood home to investigate the grizzly murder of the town bully. At the same time, we get flashbacks to an overall mundane childhood.

But it was his childhood that intrigued me. The story is very much character driven by a number of seriously flawed individuals and I was actually quite interested in the drama and intrigue between Finn and his best friend Arthur and their mutual crush, Marshali (don’t know actual spelling as I read as audiobook). There’s a lot of interesting details about the way of life in this remote Scottish town that I found pretty interesting. So it does beg the question why I’m deciding to DNF.

Perhaps I might return to it, but I found the murder investigation pretty boring. I’d tune out for long periods of time, such that I was listening to this while running one day and suddenly realized I had no idea what had happened and had to go back more than 20 MINUTES to get to a place I recognized because I tuned out for so long. I’ve been trying to DNF books a little more when I’m not enjoying them, so even though I think I could push through this one, I think I’ll find something else more engaging.

Sorry Dad, don’t think Peter May is for me.

No Exit

Rating: ⭐⭐
Author: Taylor Adams
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub. date: Jun. 2017 (read in Jul. 2019)

Oh boy… I don’t know how to rate this. It’s a fast-paced, dark psychological thriller. It definitely kept me on the edge of my seat, but it was so exhausting to read. The premise was interesting, as the name suggests, this is a closed room mystery thriller where are protagonist is trapped in a snowstorm nightmare with no way out.

Darby Thorne is on her way across the Rockies to visit her dying mother for Christmas when the snow forces her to stop at a rest stop to wait out the weather. There’s 4 other people at the rest stop and no cell service. While there, she discovers one of the others is concealing a massive crime and her attempt to right the wrong ends in a nightmare of epic proportions.

So I wasn’t sure how much of the plot to reveal in my review, but apparently I never read the synopsis before reading this book because Darby discovering a child trapped in a dog cage in the back of one of the vehicles at the rest stop was a total shocker to me, but is actually revealed right in the book synopsis. I wish I’d known this going in because it might have greatly influenced my decision to read this book. I hate stories that mess around with children and find them difficult to read, so had I realized that earlier, I might have opted out of this one. But my book club picked this as our July read, so I stuck it out.

Overall, I do think this was quite a good book and I can see why people might like it. It’s super fast-paced, the stakes are high, the setting is claustrophobic, and our protagonist is relatable. But I personally struggled with it because it includes child violence and graphic depictions of torture and other violence. I find all these things extremely disturbing and hate reading anything with torture in it, particularly if child violence is involved. I had to give up Game of Thrones after season 3 because I couldn’t deal with the torture.

Which is why I’m unsure how to rate this. I don’t think anyone is going to argue that this is outstanding literature. It’s a mindless thriller book that I think pretty much accomplishes what it sets out to. There’s very little character development and it didn’t make me think that much; there are no hidden meanings or deep themes weaved into the story. Mostly it just made me anxious for the entire week that I was reading it. I propelled through it, but mostly just because I wanted it to be over.

I do think the book was dragged down a little bit by the setting and timeline. Any book that takes place in a span of 8 hours with a setting this small will face a challenge in keeping the reader engaged and I don’t think Adams really overcame that. The story started to feel repetitive and towards the end it was really dragged out. There are several false endings and I feel like the author kept dragging it out to make a large enough page count to call this a proper book. Despite the tense nature of the story, I started to get bored towards the end as the same trauma kept repeating itself. Plus, a lot of the drama was unbelievable and I think the author relied on a lot of what I would consider lazy plot devices to carry the story (i.e., the never-ending cell battery and repeatedly using the same escape route).

Beyond that I don’t really have a whole to say about this one. The idea held a lot of promise, but I don’t think the author quite delivered. As a mystery/thriller, I’d give it 3 stars, but I’m going to give it 2 stars overall because it just wasn’t for me. It’s not a reflection on the book or the writing, just that it wasn’t to my tastes.

Miracle Creek

Rating: ⭐
Author: Angie Kim
Genres: Mystery, Fiction
Pub. date: Apr. 2019 (read May 2019 on Audible)

I heard really good things about Miracle Creek, which is what inspired me to pick it up, but I was still totally blown away by this book! I like mystery/thrillers,but they don’t normally stand out in the way a good literary fiction or historical fiction book does. Miracle Creek was everything I didn’t know I was looking for in a mystery novel.

What makes this such a great read is that the author weaves so much nuance into the rest of her story. It’s primarily about solving a crime, but there’s so much else going on and the characters are incredibly well developed and have a huge amount of depth. Kim tackles everything from alternative medicine, to parenting less-abled children, to cultural diaspora, to the challenges of simply growing up.

Miracle Creek is primarily about the Yoo family. Pak, Young, and their daughter Mary, moved to the United States from Seoul, Korea. Each character faces their own challenges in moving to America and their new routines start to create a distance between each of the family members. Pak decides to start up a new business called Miracle Submarine, which is all about the healing powers of hyperbaric pressure chambers, or HBOT. HBOT is a pressurized chamber that allows the patients to breathe in pure oxygen, which is touted as having all kind of medical benefits. However, the benefits are not totally proven and it is a controversial practice.

Pak, Young, and Mary’s lives, as well as the lives of their friends, are totally torn apart when one evening, someone lights a cigarette outside the chamber and blows it up, killing two of the patients inside. The rest of the book is a courtroom drama, investigating who was responsible for the explosion and what exactly happened to lead up to that moment.

The courtroom drama is the focus of the novel, but everything else that happens outside the courtroom is really what makes this read so thrilling. We get to experience the trial from a number of different perspectives. We are never really sure who actually committed the crime, with new evidence continuously keeping you guessing. But the decision to tell this story through multiple perspectives is super effective. Kim humanizes every single one of her characters, making it easy to empathize with them, even when some of their actions shock you.

Outside of the courtroom, she explores so many different conflicts that each character is facing. I loved that I got to explore what it was like for Young living within the confines of a traditional Korean marriage and the impact that moving to America had on her family. I sympathized with Pak being a goose father and the perceived loss of his wisdom when he could no longer communicate himself eloquently. I was captivated by Elizabeth and the other autism moms – the level of responsibility that was thrust upon them and the continued heartbreak every day as they had to watch their children be only a fraction of who they knew they could be. The conflict they felt about HBOT and all the treatments they put their children through and whether it was really worth it and who they were doing it for? I felt bad for Janine as she struggled in her relationship with Matt and the fetishization of Asian women and her indignation that being attracted to Asian women could even be considered a “fetish”, like it was something dirty.

Every single character in this book is so nuanced. I constantly marveled at the author for how she played with so many different social issues and commentaries, all while maintaining an equally thrilling courtroom drama. I loved how she played with regret and “what if’s. How things could have been so dramatically different had one character taken a slightly different action. I wasn’t particularly surprised with the solving of the crime, but I was impressed with how Kim decided to end her novel. In the same way that the story was filled with moments of frustration, bitterness, and anger at the hand that had been dealt to each character, the ending carried on the same theme of cold, hard reality. It reminded me at times of a Greek tragedy in that you saw how easily things could have been different, but the characters, blind to their own shortcomings and missing information, barrel into the unknown, only increasing their mistakes. This book had a lot of irony and that’s what really sticks with you. It get’s under your skin and you get caught up in the what ifs.

I can’t believe this is a debut novel and I can’t wait to see what Angie Kim writes next. Highly recommend this thoughtful and thrilling book!

The Turn of the Key

Rating:
Author: Ruth Ware
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub. date: Sep. 5, 2019 (read May 2019)

Let’s just start by saying: I love Ruth Ware. I’ve read everything she’s written and it’s taken me a while to figure out what it is I like so much about her. None of her books are my favourite, yet I always can’t wait to get my hands on her newest book. It took a while, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I love her books because they are just so damn readable. She has this old school Gothic mystery thing going on and her closed-door crimes are very reminiscent of Agatha Christie.

The Turn of the Key has similar elements to some of her other books, but I actually found it quite different. Ware takes a different approach to this book, telling us upfront what the central crime is, just not who is involved or how it happens. Rowan Caine is our main character and has been working as a nanny for the past few years when she takes a position in a private home in remote Scotland looking after the Elincourt family. Sandra and Bill are both wealthy architects and have converted their home from an old estate into a modern architectural marvel, integrating all kinds of fancy technology into the design to make it a “smart home”.

It’s a lucrative position for Rowan, but when Sandra and Bill take off immediately after arriving, leaving her alone in the huge house with their 4 children, she starts to wonder if there may be more secrets about this post than she was made aware. Previous nannies quit the position because of fears of the house being haunted, of which Rowan is skeptical, but as strange things start happening, she can’t help but wonder if the weird things happening are a result of the faulty smart home technology, or something more sinister.

Ware takes an interesting approach by opening the story with Rowan in prison for the death of one of her charges. We don’t know which child has died, or how, but Rowan maintains that she is innocent and recounts her story in a letter to a lawyer requesting he help her. This book is creepy. I could see how some readers might not like it as much as some of her others because it is more of a slow burn mystery, but I really liked it. Ware spends a lot of time developing the atmosphere of the story and drawing us further and further in to this creepy house in Scotland. It does take a while for the action to get going, but I loved how remote the story was and how it made me question every single interaction for potential answers. I also loved her use of smart home technology in the story. Technology has gotten so creepy and this really drew attention to the ways it has invaded our lives and in some cases made things more complicated.

One of the main complaints I’ve had with Ware’s books in the past is that I think she has really weird pacing. She tends to hit the climax at around 70% in the book, the mystery always continues, but when you hit the high point that early it’s hard to stay engaged for the last 30%. That was not the case with this book. She keeps you on edge, with the creepiness continuing to amp up until the very end.

The only thing I will say is that things finish up so quickly at the end and are so easily explained that it was a bit of a let down. I mostly correctly predicted the ending, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. The atmosphere was what won this book for me and I really liked the creepiness factor. My only complaint now is that I have to wait 4 months for everyone else to read this and another year or more for her next book!

Special thanks to Simon and Schuster and Edelweiss+ for providing me with a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.