If You Knew My Sister by Michelle Adams

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really really liked the premise of this novel. It just seemed so twisted that I thought it would be something I would really enjoy. I was really happy to get an ARC for this novel… and now, here is my review:

When she was 3 years old, Irini Harringford was given away to her relatives by her parents. While she has spent her entire life trying to convince herself she is fine with this, deep down Irini desperately wants to understand why she was the one sent away – and why her older sister, Elle, remained at home. So when Elle reaches out to Irini to inform her of their mother’s passing, Irini returns to the family home. But she is ill at ease. Irini and Elle are not close… and for good reason. She knows only too well what Elle is capable of. Drawn to her sister and afraid of her manipulative tendencies, Irini tries to protect herself even as she is sucked back into her family’s toxic secrets. She is soon about to find out that the past she yearns to understand is more complicated than she could ever imagine – and unearthing all the secrets could put her future in jeopardy.

This novel had a lot of potential as it began. I really felt Irini’s emotions and was drawn to her story. As soon as Elle was introduced, she gave me those perfect creepy vibes I was looking for. I loved the way they interacted with each other, and I loved that the story flitted between the past and present. However, I thought that the reason the siblings were split up was really obvious from the get-go; in fact, that was what I thought the twist would be about and I was quite disappointed that it wasn’t. By the halfway point, this novel had lost a lot of its intrigue. Even the characters stopped being interesting. I really only kept reading to see if what I had guessed would come true, and it did. Honestly, I feel like this novel could have been way better if there was more depth to the characters, and a less obvious plot. I also felt like the ending wasn’t fully developed, making it lackluster. For those reasons, I’m giving it a 2/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

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The Shoe on the Roof by Will Ferguson

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Having done a major in psychology, I’m always interested in social psych and child development. The premise of this novel involves both; the main character underwent experimentation as a child and now, as an adult, he plans on conducting a social experiment. This was enough to make me curious and so, I happily accepted this ARC. Here is my review:

When his girlfriend ended their relationship, Thomas Rosanoff’s life went downhill. A gifted med school student, he has spent his entire life trying to escape his father’s legacy. His father, an esteemed psychiatrist used Tommy as a test subject; Thomas lived his entire young life in a box, watched by researchers behind 2-way glass. But now, Thomas is the researcher, and his subjects are 3 homeless men who all claim to be Jesus. But no 3 people can be the messiah. Thomas is determined to “cure” the 3 men of their delusions and thus, save his career – and potentially his love life. But when Thomas’s father steps in, events spin out of control, and Thomas is forced to confront the craziness of his own mind.

I really wanted to like this book, and there were times when I did enjoy the story. But overall, this one just didn’t do it for me. The premise was definitely intriguing and I really liked the way the author introduced Thomas as this cocky, confident, and slightly eccentric student. It was fun to read about his escapades and his conquests. Did I think the plan to get his girlfriend back was crazy? Absolutely! But I was willing to go through with reading about it. I liked the 3 homeless men and the way they made Thomas reevaluate his notions about the world. In fact, they made ME reevaluate my own beliefs. When Thomas’s father stepped into the picture, the story went towards the dark side. I didn’t actually mind this transition as it created this really awesome downward spiral. All of the above aspects I mentioned are positive. However, there were quite a few things I didn’t like. There were quite a few parts in the story that dragged the pace and I found it really hard to push myself past these points; I wanted to get to the good stuff and these parts just seemed like fillers. There was a random murder aspect thrown into the story that really didn’t add anything; instead of heightening my reading experience, it served to dampen it. I also thought that Thomas’s childhood could have had more focus than it did in the novel; I would be really eager for a glimpse into it and then I would only get a tidbit and feel disappointed. While the plot and character development was intriguing, the pacing was slow, there were too many fillers, and some plot aspects really should have been omitted. For those reasons, I’m giving this a 2.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

When I saw this novel on NetGalley, I knew I had to have it as an ARC. The story of Lizzie Borden is such an intriguing mystery, and I’ve always been fascinated by it. I really wanted to know how the author would go about presenting it and so, I was really happy to have received the ARC! Here is my review:

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. No one knows what to make of this: who would ever want to harm the respected Bordens? But there is a much darker story lurking beneath the surface and it becomes increasingly clear that the Bordens were not your typical family. Andrew Borden had an explosive temper, the stepmother was spiteful and moody in nature, and the two spinster sisters were stuck in the middle of it all. As the police continue to investigate, Emma tries to comfort Lizzie, whose memories of that morning are fragmented. Lizzie is an unreliable witness at best, as her story keeps changing every time she tells it. As the perspectives switch from Lizzie, to Emma, to the housemaid Bridget, and to the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are revealed.

I had really high hopes for this novel but unfortunately, it didn’t live up to all of my expectations. While I don’t think this was a bad book, it had quite a few flaws that made it an unremarkable read for me. For one thing, I found it very difficult to characterize Lizzie. She is clearly an adult but the way she speaks and acts is very childlike. If the author’s attempt was to make Lizzie creepy, well, it worked. But it also made it very confusing because I just couldn’t understand what went on in her mind. Perhaps the author was hinting that Lizzie might not be a fully-developed adult in terms of her mental acuity, in which case this characterization works. But it just didn’t work for me. Now, the author did a really great job of portraying how different the family dynamics were in the Borden residence compared to most other Victorian families. I mean, the fact that there are 2 spinster daughters was in itself unusual as families back then were very eager to wed eligible daughters. The controlling demeanour of the father and the stepmother’s attitude were also interesting details that the author put into the story. I think my favorite character in the entire story was Bridget – because she was the only sane person! At many points in the story, I found it an uphill battle to continue pushing through. There were certain details that I really found boring or unnecessary and some perspectives just weren’t that interesting to me. However, as the second half of the book progressed, I will admit that the author dialed up the tension and my intrigue came back. I quite liked the way the author ended the story, as it went along with my own thoughts about this case. Overall, this novel was an interesting retelling of the Borden murders but the characters felt off and some parts of the novel dragged on. I would give this a 2.5/5 stars!

Happy reading ~

The Nightwalker by Sebastian Fitzek

It’s purely coincidental that I read this book right after reading The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian. I had had both books on my TBR list for a while and it just so happened that I was able to get my hands on them both at the same time. I’m glad I did because it’s allowed me to see two different approaches to the same concept of sleepwalking.

Leon Nader used to have a problem with sleepwalking so severe that he would even turn to violence. After a great deal of psychiatric treatment for his condition, he was convinced that he was cured. However, one day, years later, Leon’s wife disappears mysteriously. Could it be that his illness is back? In order to find out how he acts in his sleep, Leon puts on a movement activated camera. When he wakes up the next morning and looks at the video, he is shocked by what he sees: his nocturnal self goes through a hidden door and descends into the darkness ….

This novel was definitely more consistent with the idea of a thriller. This whole novel is told from Leon’s perspective and it opens up with him waking up and seeing his wife, Natalie, whimpering and packing her bags. When he wakes up next, she is gone and he is convinced that he has done something to her. Right away, the author caught my attention. This novel can be quite confusing at times because it shifts between different points in time and you get a whole host of information and both the reader and Leon are trying to piece together what is real and what is a dream. This was definitely a very ingenious way of portraying this story; however, it sometimes made the story feel muddled and confusing. I still enjoyed the experience and the mystery behind it all, and the thrill factor was always present! One thing that I really liked that the author did was that he gave an explanation for everything in the end. Without spoiling anything, I will say that the last few chapters before the end explain quite a few misnomers that were present in the story to throw you off. This doesn’t mean that I liked the explanation per se but I appreciated the author’s effort to make the story make sense to the readers. Overall, I found this to be an interesting novel that kept the thrills high and the mystery engaging. I would give this a 3.5/5 stars because while I liked the ambitiousness of this novel, I didn’t really enjoy the conclusion or the confusing aspects as much as I would have liked.

Happy reading ~

Ill Will by Dan Chaon

This novel has been showing up everywhere. I’ve been getting so many recommendations to read it and every time I pass my local bookstore, it’s the first book I see on display. It felt like a sign that I should probably read it. So I did. And here is my review:

Dustin is a psychologist working in Cleveland, drifting through life in his forties, when he hears that his adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. 30 years ago, Rusty was charged with the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. In the midst of the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults, the outlandish accusations of Dustin and his cousin was enough to land Rusty a life sentence. Now, DNA analysis has overturned the conviction… and Dustin is bracing himself for a reckoning.

Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients becomes obsessed over a string of drownings involving drunk college boys. His patient is insistent that these deaths are the work of a serial killer, which Dustin dismisses as paranoid thinking at first. But as he indulges in his patient’s obsession, Dustin gets wrapped up in their amateur investigation and starts to believe in the evidence. Soon, he finds himself pulled into this case, crossing all boundaries … and putting his own family at risk.

I’m trying to think of where I want to start with this novel. My thoughts are all over the place and even hours after reading, I’m still feeling confused about this novel.

This story is broken up into several different time points, and is told from multiple perspectives. While at first I was intrigued and enthusiastic about these separate passages, it started to become weary and dragged down the story. There were chapters that rambled on and that didn’t really add anything to the story, and it made me want to stop reading. I also didn’t like that the author would suddenly decide to change up the writing style. There were pages and chapters that didn’t end with complete sentences, there were chapters that would be in column format, requiring you to flip the page continuously in order to get information that really could have just been written normally. I think what bothered me the most about this book is that the 2 separate storylines were both very interesting, but the author failed to keep me interested in both of them. Maybe it was the jerky transitions, maybe it was because of the overall writing style, maybe it was because I hated almost every character that was introduced. But it took a long time to get to any sort of conclusion of either storyline. The truth about the massacre was a sad one … but it was delivered poorly. Why couldn’t the ending have been drawn out more, why couldn’t it have shown the research and the searching that went into the final discovery of the truth? I wish the author had focused on that more than some of the other aspects of the story. In terms of the other story, the one regarding the drunk college boys, it felt weird. In the beginning, based on the premise, I thought Dustin would develop some kind of obsession about the crimes. Instead, he is just unable to say no to his patient and follows along like a lost puppy. It fit with his character, but it didn’t make for a very compelling read. The ending of that was quite shocking, but it was ambiguous, and I don’t really like to be left with questions when I finish a book.

So after all of that rambling, I’m going to conclude by saying that this novel had a lot of potential what with the combination of 2 intriguing plot lines. However, the execution failed for me and I was unable to love this novel because of the writing style, the jerky transitions between time points and perspectives, the lack of focus on certain areas and  the overdrawn details on other things, and just the characters themselves.

Happy reading ~

Perfect Little World by Kevin Wilson

Having taken various psychology courses in my undergrad, I’ve always been a bit wary of anything that has to do with social experiments. There are so many instances where things can go wrong and it all just seems so risky. I really thought that the social experiment mentioned in this book was an interesting one so that was my biggest motivation to give it a go. I wanted to see if this novel would change my mind in any way.

Isabelle Poole just recently graduated from high school and is pregnant with her art teacher’s baby. Her mother is long dead, her father is a drunk, and her art teacher is in no position to take the role of father. When Isabelle is offered a space in The Infinite Family Project by Dr. Grind, she accepts. Along with 9 other couples, all with children the same age as her own newborn, she will be housed in a spacious compound. Everyone will raise the children collectively, as one extended family, because Grind’s theory is that the more parental love a child gets, the better off they will be. It starts off promising: everyone gets along, and there are plenty of opportunities for each parent to interact with all of the children. But the gentle equilibrium that exists is soon broken and the extended family starts to disintegrate.

This was a really interesting and pleasant read. The author created a really unique environment for this story to take place. I liked Izzy’s character and I liked the ways in which the adults were made to interact with each other and with the children. The concept behind this experiment was shown in both positive and negative terms, which is something I’m really glad the author did. Most times, there is a tendency to favor one side but that wasn’t really the case here. However, the overall novel felt a bit lackluster for me. There wasn’t really anything happening. The premise of this novel made it seem as if there was going to be some kind of big conflict and we would witness something intense. But we didn’t. While the author spent the majority of the time focusing on Izzy and how she interacted with those around her, I felt no kinship to her. Or to anyone else. It’s weird because I liked their characters but I didn’t ever feel like I knew them. They were just so flat that it was hard to feel any emotional connection to what they were going through. The ending was a happy-ish one but it just added to this overall blahness. My ultimate thoughts about this novel? An interesting concept and a pleasant read but there is nothing too special or groundbreaking that happens here.

Happy reading ~

A Stranger’s House by Clare Chase

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I love stories with strong female protagonists. Usually, you find strong characters like this in fantasy novels. Often when I read realistic fiction or mystery/thriller, the women that are the main characters don’t come off as strong, but rather as unlucky enough to get mixed up in some crazy plot. They aren’t women who I think can really hold their own; they are just desperate to survive. There are, of course, exceptions to this but generally, this is what I have observed. This novel intrigued me because the premise indicated that the main character here is a strong and independent woman, who can deal with the challenges that she faces.

When Ruby comes home to discover her partner has committed an unforgivable crime, she decides immediately to move out of the house. Fate gives her a helping hand, when she finds a job house-sitting in Cambridge. But what at first appeared to be an easy job soon reveals itself as something sinister. The absent owner has a penchant for hurting everyone around him, and it is Ruby who is faced with the fallout. As violent repercussions begin to reveal themselves, Ruby decides to investigate; she needs to know what she is up against. But Ruby’s new boss, Nate Bastable, has his eye on her and is determined to keep her away from her investigation. Is he simply worried for her safety, or is there something more sinister at play?

This was quite a nice story. The author wrote it compellingly and I enjoyed the overall flow of events. I liked how all of the characters introduced were different, and how they all played a part in the story and weren’t just there for filler. I found Ruby to be both exasperating and strong, and while that may sound like an insult, it really isn’t. Ruby’s curiosity and her meddlesome nature could be annoying at times and her inability to seek help when it was clearly needed was quite frustrating, but I liked that she had intelligence and smarts and wasn’t just waiting for the pieces of the puzzle to conveniently drop in her lap. There were a lot of references to psychology, which I presume is because of Ruby’s career (which I wasn’t too clear on). I don’t really think that this aspect was researched in as much depth as I would have liked, but I can forgive it because the author does acknowledge that Ruby has no real background knowledge in psychology. For once, the story was secondary to the character; I actually didn’t care as much for the story as I did for Ruby and Nate and everyone else. I was drawn to the thought processes and the interactions between the characters, and I felt that the author did a great job creating convincing and compelling personalities with their own histories and identities. The ending was not my favorite but it was clean and tidy, which is always a good thing. In the version that I read, the character perspective shifts in the middle of the chapter, which made it seem a lot more abrupt and I didn’t really like that; I hope that in the published version, there is a clear demarcation of when the perspective is changing so that it doesn’t catch the readers unaware. Overall, an interesting novel with strong characters!

Happy reading~

At Rope’s End by Edward Kay

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Dr. James Verraday is a professor of forensic psychology who specializes in criminal profiling. His passion for social justice has been nurtured by his tension-filled past (and present) with the police. So when Detective Constance Maclean appears in Verraday’s lecture room at the end of his class, he gets ready to put up a fight. He definitely didn’t expect that he would be asked to help find a killer. A young woman’s body was found in a cranberry bog south of Seattle, and from the way she was murdered, it is clear that the perpetrator has done this before. The Seattle police believe that they already have their suspect, but Maclean suspects that the man they have in custody is innocent. Verraday reluctantly agrees to use his skills to help with the investigation. Maclean and Verraday soon form an alliance that ties them up in a deadly game with a serial killer whose intelligence makes him almost untouchable.

This was a really nice fast-paced thriller. It was filled with action and there was always something happening in the story. I liked all of the characters, and the author was able to establish good interactions between all of them. Verraday is witty and smart, but far from perfect – which makes him a great protagonist. I wish there had been more to Maclean so that she could be just as strong a character. The duo definitely worked and had good chemistry. The novel explored the world of psychology in great detail, and I was able to reminisce on lessons I had learned in my first year psychology class throughout this novel. All of the explanations worked, and while the story may have been predictable, it was still a good read. My only complaint in terms of plot is that the twist at the end, while also predictable, wasn’t developed as well as the rest of the story, and its explanation, while plausible, was more far-fetched than anything else in the story. Overall, a solid action-packed thriller, and I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series!

Happy reading ~

PsychoAnalysis by V.R. Stone

This novel was given to me as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Any book that talks even vaguely about psychology will peak my interest. This is a fact. I’ve always loved psychology, and I even took it as my major in university, so this should come as no real surprise to anyone. However, that wasn’t the only thing that intrigued me about this novel. I found its premise to be something completely unique – and that’s saying a lot for the thriller genre. Anyways, here is my review:

Sarah Silver is a successful hedge fund manager. She’s good at her job and makes a killing in the markets. She also goes around killing men on the weekends – this time for fun, not for profit.

Martin White used to be a brilliant detective, with a penchant for following his instincts, and ultimately, finding the killer. But now that his family has left him for his lack of self-control in life, Martin doesn’t know if he can trust his killer instinct anymore.

Karl Gross is a psychiatrist, who has sold millions of books on serial killers and sexual deviants, thereby making him a controversial figure in society. Known for his ability to tap into the inner psyche, Karl gets many patients who trust him implicitly. But perhaps they trust too much…

Can Martin keep himself together long enough to catch the perfect killer? Can Karl unravel Sarah’s psyche before she destroys him? And will Sarah let herself be “cured”… or will she disappear when she realizes that the hunter is being hunted?

I found this novel to be gripping and with a completely unique storyline. The idea of having a female serial killer is quite unique; I haven’t come across anything like it before! I really enjoyed the way each character was portrayed, and how there was not a single character you could truly trust; I like flaws in my characters, and boy are some of these ones flawed! I wish that there had been a little bit more to the ending, just to tie up a few loose ends that were left hanging as the story progressed. But overall, this is a great debut novel and I am excited to read more by this author in the future! If you are looking for a new psychological thriller that is unlike the usual books in this genre, then this is the novel to check out!

Happy reading ~

 

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

I love reading mysteries and thrillers that deals with what happens after a traumatic accident. What happens to that person who was rescued or who has gone through some kind of terrible/horrific tragedy? How do they start viewing the world and how does that change things? Maybe it’s the psychology student in me but I’ve always found this area to be fascinating. Throw in some more crazy plot twists, and I get super excited! So before I go on and on and spoil the whole story plot for this novel, here is my review:

16-year old Tessa Cartwright was found buried in a field in Texas, barely alive and surrounded by scattered bones. She has no idea how she got there or who did this to her. Since she is the only survivor, she has become known as the “Black-Eyed Susan”, a nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow wildflowers that covered their grave site. After being hounded by the press for months on end, Tessa is finally trying to move on with her life. She even manages to give a testimony about those tragic hours, a testimony that puts a man on death row. Now, almost two decades later, certain events make Tessa believe that the wrong man is behind bars. It’s up to Tessa to go back into her memories and find out what really happened all of those years ago…. before the real killer comes back for her.

Let me start by saying that the story plot is intriguing and it kept me going throughout the novel. I just had to know who it was and what was happening. I liked that the story switched from one time-point and POV to the other; it made it all the more fascinating. Reading about the trauma and the struggles that Tessa goes through as she tries to be “normal” was also very interesting and felt very realistic, which is something I always like. That being said, there were parts to the ending that definitely fell short for me. Although I would never have been able to guess who the real killer was nor how everything played out, there were a lot of unanswered questions. Also, I didn’t like how the author just dismissed some of the behaviours that Tessa did as mere paranoia on the character’s part; although it works with the story, it would have been better if there had been some significance to it all. It definitely kept me occupied and I was not able to put it down, so that is a good sign! Is it on Gillian Flynn’s level? No. But it was definitely a good read and I would recommend it to anyone who likes light thrillers with a psychological flair.

Happy reading ~