Review: The Winter Sister by Megan Collins

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

In this spellbinding and suspenseful debut, a young woman haunted by the past returns home to care for her ailing mother and begins to dig deeper into her sister’s unsolved murder.

Sixteen years ago, Sylvie’s sister Persephone never came home. Out too late with the boyfriend she was forbidden to see, Persephone was missing for three days before her body was found—and years later, her murder remains unsolved.

In the present day, Sylvie returns home to care for her estranged mother, Annie, as she undergoes treatment for cancer. Prone to unexplained “Dark Days” even before Persephone’s death, Annie’s once-close bond with Sylvie dissolved in the weeks after their loss, making for an uncomfortable reunion all these years later. Worse, Persephone’s former boyfriend, Ben, is now a nurse at the cancer center where Annie is being treated. Sylvie’s always believed Ben was responsible for the murder—but she carries her own guilt about that night, guilt that traps her in the past while the world goes on around her.

As she navigates the complicated relationship with her mother, Sylvie begins to uncover the secrets that fill their house—and what really happened the night Persephone died. As it turns out, the truth really will set you free, once you can bear to look at it.

The Winter Sister is a mesmerizing portrayal of the complex bond between sisters, between mothers and daughters alike, and forces us to ask ourselves—how well do we really know the people we love most?

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Winter Sister will be available February 5, 2019. 

I’m sorry to say that this one did not live up to my expectations. I’ve seen some great reviews for The Winter Sister mentioning the beautiful writing and shocking secrets and both fell a little flat for me.

The story is not really anything new. Nothing at all about the mystery plot line surprised me in any way. However, where the book shined was in the interpersonal relationships. Even though Sylvie and her mother, Annie, drove me crazy, their dysfunctional relationship was kind of fascinating. Annie’s story of toxic love and the emotional and psychological impact of it to not just her, but her children was compelling and frustrating. The only character that I really liked was Ben and I mostly just felt sorry for him, too.

Overall, The Winter Sister was just not for me. I was looking for a mystery and surprising twists, but it ended up being much more domestic drama. The writing wasn’t bad, but it didn’t blow me away, either. I also found the ending a little more open-ended then I prefer. Most people have seemed to enjoy this one much more than I did, though, so it still might be worth your time to check out, especially if you are interested in more domestic driven stories.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

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Review: The Temp by Michelle Frances

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Wanted: Assistant to provide maternity cover for high-powered TV producer. Must be bright, creative, with killer instincts.

Emma would do anything to work for the woman who has the job she wants. Carrie is at the top of her game, with a dream career, a baby on the way, and a handsome screenwriter husband. For Emma, with parents who don’t understand her ambition and a serious misstep behind her, this temp position might be her last chance.

Carrie has given up more than anyone knows to get to the top of a ruthless business. She won’t give up this baby too. But with Emma filling in for her at the office, her perfect life starts to unravel. Her bank account is inexplicably overdrawn, her husband seems strangely distant and colleagues are all too happy to take Emma’s creative direction. Carrie finds herself dying to get back to work . . . until a letter left at her door changes everything.

Trust and fear trade places in a love triangle that defies readers’ expectations at every turn.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review. 

The Temp will be available January 29, 2019.

I have seen several glowing review for The Temp and was excited to give it a try. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it near as much as others have seemed to.

First, I want to say that I think the synopsis is a little misleading. Nothing it says is wrong, exactly, it just makes things sound like they happen much more suspensefully or creepily than they actually do. Anyways, I have recently read several light and fluffy Romances in a row and I was really craving something with a little more substance when I picked this book up. I really wanted the suspense and thrills and The Temp just didn’t give it to me. I didn’t think any of the twists were surprising. There is one that is saved until almost the end of the book that I suspected within the first 20% of the story.

Which leads me to my next point. This book was far longer than it needed to be. I felt like there was a lot of repetition and the pace was pretty slow. The chapters became a little quicker towards the end, but I still felt like things were dragged out for too long. I also thought it was structured kind of oddly. The book is broken into four parts, each under a different character’s name, but the story is told in third person and the POV changes almost every chapter, despite which part it’s in. I didn’t understand the purpose of the different parts named after a character if that section didn’t focus entirely on that character’s POV?

Overall, The Temp just wasn’t for me. It had an intriguing premise and the writing wasn’t that bad, it just lacked the suspense and creep factor I was expecting. I wasn’t surprised by any of the twists and I didn’t find the characters very likable or relatable. However, I have seen other people who have really enjoyed this book, so it still might be worth the read.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

 

Review: The Smiling Man (Aidan Waits Thriller #2) by Joseph Knox

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

‘Packing a punch from the very first page. You will love The Smiling Man’ Jane Harper, author of The Dry

From the bestselling author of Sirens, Detective Aidan Waits is on the hunt to find the identity of The Smiling Man.

Disconnected from his history and careless of his future, Detective Aidan Waits has resigned himself to the night shift. An endless cycle of meaningless emergency calls and lonely dead ends. Until he and his partner, Detective Inspector Peter ‘Sutty’ Sutcliffe, are summoned to The Palace, a vast disused hotel in the centre of a restless, simmering city.

There they find the body of a man. He is dead.

And he is smiling.

The tags have been removed from the man’s clothes. His teeth filed down and replaced. Even his fingertips are not his own. Only a patch sewn into the inside of his trousers gives any indication as to who he was, and to the desperate last act of his life…

But even as Waits puts together the pieces of this stranger’s life, someone is sifting through the shards of his own.

When the mysterious fires, anonymous phone calls and outright threats escalate, he realises that a ghost from his own past haunts his every move.

And to discover the smiling man’s identity, he must finally confront his own.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Smiling Man will be available January 15, 2019. 

I have been looking forward to reading The Smiling Man for awhile now and I’m happy to report that I liked it even more than the first book in the series.

Aidan Waits is such an interesting character. I was glad to see he was more sober in this book. His life is still a mess, but I feel he’s at least trying to get things in the right direction. I enjoyed his dysfunctional relationship with his shift partner/superior officer, Sutty. Their banter brought a little bit of levity to the otherwise heavy story, even though it was more of a dark humor. I was into it, though.

I thought the writing in the first book could be a little scattered and hard to follow at times, but I didn’t feel that way about this one. While there are several threads that I didn’t really see the connection in until the end, they all made sense. I really do like Knox’s writing style. It’s pretty addictive and when I gave myself time to sit down and read this book, I never wanted to put it down. I loved how short most of the chapters were, too.

Overall, I enjoyed The Smiling Man. Knox’s writing style is unique and addictive and I am eternally fascinated by Aidan Waits. I thought the mystery was well done, but I could’ve spent a little less time on some of the side mysteries, even though they all play in to the bigger picture. I am definitely looking forward to more in this series.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Watching You by Lisa Jewell

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A copy of this title was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Watching You will be available December 26, 2018. 

Normally with my reviews I share the synopsis of the book, but I’m not going to do that for this one. I do have a warning, though. Apparently the edition I marked as “Want to Read” on Goodreads was the one edition that had a very inaccurate synopsis. It very clearly stated which character is murdered, however that character is not the victim. I was kind of livid about this synopsis and couldn’t understand why no other review I found was complaining about it. And then after checking 3 different book seller sites and the other editions of the book on Goodreads, I realized this was the only place I could find this wrong synopsis. So my warning to you, don’t read the synopsis on Goodreads in case you get the wrong edition (though I’m hoping this will be corrected before the book is published).

Ok, now that my little PSA is done, let’s get on to the book. Watching You follows the intertwined lives of residents in a small English town. Joey is kind of a hot mess who moves in with her brother and sister-in-law when she returns home with a new husband in tow. When she first notices her neighbor, charming and charismatic Tom, she develops an instant crush. Freddie is Tom’s son and he likes to spend his time watching and keeping tabs on the townspeople from his bedroom window. He doesn’t believe his father is the great man everyone in town seems to think he is. Jenna is a student at Tom’s school. Her best friend has a crush on Tom and Jenna finds his interactions with her friend a little inappropriate. Additionally, her mother has paranoid delusions that Tom has initiated gang stalking of her and wants everyone in town to know what a fraud he is.

I’ve read some reviews that said there were way too many people to keep track of in this book, but I have to disagree. I did not have trouble keeping the characters straight at all. Jewell is excellent when it comes to writing character development and that skill is on full display here. However, I do have to say that I did have kind of a hard time connecting to any of the characters. I didn’t feel a real attachment to any of them. I wanted to find out what happened, plot-wise, but didn’t care that much about what kind of fall out the characters faced. There were a couple of side character I did enjoy, though. Joey’s brother, Jack, and her husband, Alfie, were both really sweet. I wouldn’t have minded getting to see more of them.

Overall, Watching You kept me turning the pages, but the mystery was not as satisfying as I hoped it would be. I did like how the story showed how easily our personal perceptions could be wrong and Jewel’s writing is always enjoyable. I just felt like the conclusion was a little lackluster and the book didn’t have much of the creepy “You’re being watched” vibe that I was expecting. I also think that my overall feelings for the book were negatively impacted by that incorrect synopsis I read. I still recommend this one to Lisa Jewell fans, though, and fans of character-driven mysteries.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

Review: For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt

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Official Synopsis:

On their first date back in law school, Natalie and Will Clarke bonded over drinks, dinner and whether they could get away with murder. Now married, they’ll put the latter to the test when an unchecked danger in their community places their son in jeopardy. Working as a criminal defense attorney, Nat refuses to rely on the broken legal system to keep her family safe. She knows that if you want justice…you have to get it yourself.

Shocked to discover Nat’s taken matters into her own hands, Will has no choice but to dirty his, also. His family is in way too deep to back down now. He’s just not sure he recognizes the woman he married. Nat’s always been fiercely protective, but never this ruthless or calculating. With the police poking holes in their airtight plan, what will be the first to fall apart: their scandalous secret—or their marriage?

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

For Better and Worse will be available December 11, 2018. 

I’m going to preface this review by saying my expectations may have been a little off for this book. I was expecting a fun, twisty story of a husband and wife team doing some very bad things, in the vein of (the far superior) My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing. However, For Better and Worse was neither fun nor twisty. It was a heavy, somber, and agonizingly slow paced tale of two unlikable people trying to get away with something and at the end of the day I really didn’t care if they managed it or not.

The story starts with Natalie and Will in law school on a date where the topic of how to get away with a murder comes up. Flash forward seventeen years and they’re married with a kid. When their son’s principal – and family friend – is put on leave due to accusations of abuse, Natalie decides it may be time to put their idea for the perfect murder into action. Will doesn’t exactly agree, but that’s not going to stop Nat, or keep him from getting involved.

Nat and Will were both really unlikable. Natalie was the too-smart-for-her-own-good control freak and Will was the put upon husband that looks for validation elsewhere. At no point in this whole book did I find myself rooting for either of them. They were bad spouses, parents, and people in general. I also expected a lot more from them in the “perfect murder” department. Natalie acts like she’s so smart and has covered all the angles, but she barely makes any plans and the plans she does make are anything but fool-proof. They honestly deserved to be caught.

The outcome of the investigation is anti-climatic and unbelievable. It kind of irritated me, to be honest. The very ending has something that I guess is supposed to be kind of a twist, but I found it predictable and lackluster.

Overall, I just didn’t care for For Better and Worse. Perhaps if I had different expectations going in I would have felt differently, but I don’t think so. With the slow pace, unlikable characters, and all too convenient ending, I think this book just failed to live up to it’s potential. However, I have read some really great reviews on this one, so it might just be me.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Review: The Hiding Place by C.J. Tudor

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Review from Goodreads:

The thrilling second novel from the author of The Chalk Man, about a teacher with a hidden agenda who returns to settle scores at a school he once attended, only to uncover a darker secret than he could have imagined.

Joe never wanted to come back to Arnhill. After the way things ended with his old gang–the betrayal, the suicide, the murder–and after what happened when his sister went missing, the last thing he wanted to do was return to his hometown. But Joe doesn’t have a choice. Because judging by what was done to that poor Morton kid, what happened all those years ago to Joe’s sister is happening again. And only Joe knows who is really at fault.

Lying his way into a teaching job at his former high school is the easy part. Facing off with former friends who are none too happy to have him back in town–while avoiding the enemies he’s made in the years since–is tougher. But the hardest part of all will be returning to that abandoned mine where it all went wrong and his life changed forever, and finally confronting the shocking, horrifying truth about Arnhill, his sister, and himself. Because for Joe, the worst moment of his life wasn’t the day his sister went missing.

It was the day she came back.

With the same virtuosic command of character and pacing she displayed in The Chalk Man, CJ Tudor has once again crafted an extraordinary novel that brilliantly blends harrowing psychological suspense, a devilishly puzzling mystery, and enough shocks and thrills to satisfy even the most seasoned reader.

I received a copy of this title via Netgalley. It does not impact my review. 

The Hiding Place will be available February 5, 2019. 

What Worked For Me

-I’m a big fan of Tudor’s writing style. I love the banter, the dark humor, the well-executed multiple timelines. Even though I felt like the pacing was a little too slow for much of the book, I still wanted to keep reading. There’s just something compelling about it.

-Joe. Joe was not exactly a likable character, but I actually liked him a lot. He comes across as an underdog and how can you not root for the underdog? I loved his sense of humor, even it was kind of dark. He’s had a lot of bad things happen in his life and I liked that even though he kept making a lot of bad decisions and was pretty cynical, he still had a sense of hopefulness.

What Didn’t Work For Me

-So, you all know how much I hate it when a surprise supernatural element pops up in a story. I go from reading a believable mystery/thriller to something I can’t take seriously. I honestly think this would work much better marketed as Horror instead of Mystery. I mentally just put it in the Horror category and so it didn’t bother me as much as something like this normally would.

-While there were some surprises at the end of the book, I didn’t really see the point in some of them. It’s hard to explain it without getting spoilery, but I really felt like what happened in Arnhill when Joe was young and why he’s back were the heart of the story, and tacking on an extra reveal at the end that you didn’t even realize you were supposed to be trying to figure out seemed unnecessary.

Overall

Overall, I did enjoy The Hiding Place. I liked the writing and the characters – namely Joe. However, the supernatural angle and the unnecessary final twist did sour me a bit. Still, I think fans of Tudor’s previous work will enjoy this one, as well.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Satire meets slasher in this short, darkly funny hand grenade of a novel about a Nigerian woman whose younger sister has a very inconvenient habit of killing her boyfriends.

“Femi makes three, you know. Three and they label you a serial killer.”

Korede is bitter. How could she not be? Her sister, Ayoola, is many things: the favorite child, the beautiful one, possibly sociopathic. And now Ayoola’s third boyfriend in a row is dead. Korede’s practicality is the sisters’ saving grace. She knows the best solutions for cleaning blood, the trunk of her car is big enough for a body, and she keeps Ayoola from posting pictures of her dinner to Instagram when she should be mourning her “missing” boyfriend. Not that she gets any credit.

A kind, handsome doctor at the hospital where Korede works, is the bright spot in her life. She dreams of the day when he will realize they’re perfect for each other. But one day Ayoola shows up to the hospital uninvited and he takes notice. When he asks Korede for Ayoola’s phone number, she must reckon with what her sister has become and what she will do about it.

Sharp as nails and full of deadpan wit, Oyinkan Braithwaite has written a deliciously deadly debut that’s as fun as it is frightening.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

My Sister, the Serial Killer will be available November 20, 2018. 

I always enjoy a good serial killer thriller. This one was a little different than others I have read before and from what I was expecting, but I enjoyed it just as much.

I absolutely loved Oyinkan Braithwaite’s writing style. I love short chapters and she was able to really use them effectively. I flew right through this book because I was never able to say “just one more chapter” and actually mean it. Even though the plot was never exactly harrowing, there was definitely a tense atmosphere and I had to do know what would happen next. It also managed to not be a really heavy or somber read. It was just really entertaining.

So how is this different than other serial killer stories? It’s told from the point of view of Korede, the sister of the killer, Ayoola. Korede is the older sister who has always taken care of Ayoola, even into adulthood. That includes cleaning up after her murders. Ayoola always claims self defense, but Korede has kind of stopped believing her. While no deep, psychological explanation is given for Ayoola’s behavior, we do explore the sisters’ childhood with their abusive father that we get to draw our own conclusions from. The story is really more about Korede’s relationship with her sister, who she both loves and resents and the choices she must make when the man she has feelings for falls into Ayoola’s web.

Overall, I really enjoyed My Sister, the Serial Killer. I loved the writing, the short chapters, and the interesting characters. I enjoyed reading about a different culture, as well. The only thing I didn’t really like about it is that I felt it left a few more things open-ended than I like. While it wasn’t the kind of story I was expecting it to be, it was really enjoyable and I definitely recommend it. I look forward to reading more from Braithwaite in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars