Review: Girls’ Night Out by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

For estranged friends Ashley, Natalie, and Lauren, it’s time to heal the old wounds between them. Where better to repair those severed ties than on a girls’ getaway to the beautiful paradise of Tulum, Mexico? But even after they’re reunited, no one is being completely honest about the past or the secrets they’re hiding. When Ashley disappears on their girls’ night out, Natalie and Lauren have to try to piece together their hazy memories to figure out what could have happened to her, while also reconciling their feelings of guilt over their last moments together.

Was Ashley with the man she’d met only days before? Did she pack up and leave? Was she kidnapped? Or worse—could Natalie or Lauren have snapped under the weight of her own lies?

As the clock ticks, hour by hour, Natalie and Lauren’s search rushes headlong into growing suspicion and dread. Maybe their secrets run deeper and more dangerous than one of them is willing—or too afraid—to admit.

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

Girls’ Night Out will be available July 24, 2018. 

Well, I really did not care for this book. Unlikable characters and an entirely predictable plot made it a struggle to complete and I wish I didn’t waste my time on it.

The synopsis for Girls’ Night Out makes the story seem much more interesting than it actually is. There are no earth shattering secrets revealed and really no suspense. I’ve read some reviews talking about the great twist ending and I am here to tell you that is false. If you are looking for a really character-driven novel about insufferable women not getting along, then this book is for you. If you’re looking for mystery and suspense and some shocking twists, you should probably take a hard pass on this one.

Ashley was a very selfish, very self-indulgent character. While she seemed to have good intentions, her selfishness was still at the root of all her actions. It was very hard to feel bad for the beautiful, charming (aka: manipulative), rich, self-centered “victim”. Natalie was also not a likable character. She let herself be steamrolled by Ashley for pretty much their whole relationship and is only beginning to show her resentment towards it. I couldn’t help but feel like if she was just more honest with Ashley then maybe she could have talked some sense into her before things got so far gone. Lauren was basically a pointless character. I really don’t have any idea why she was even in the story, except to add just a tiny bit more drama and shine a brighter light on Ashley’s inability to maintain positive relationships. Lauren also has a scandalous addiction that is mentioned and then nothing really else happened with it. It didn’t portray how damaging it is or how it really affected her day to day life. It seemed like it was just something thrown in for shock value and felt a little irresponsible to me.

Overall, I just really didn’t like Girls’ Night Out. I feel like basically your guess from the first chapter pretty much ends up being true and it made a lot of the middle just seem pointless. I also am not a fan of the “amnesia/blackout” trope which the story heavily relied on. Maybe if the characters were a little more likable it would make up for the poor plot, but unfortunately they just made it worse. The only reason this is getting more than one star from is because I liked the use of multiple POVs and timelines.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

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Review: A Gathering of Secrets (Kate Burkholder #10) by Linda Castillo

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

A deadly fire exposes the dark side of Amish life in A Gathering of Secrets, a harrowing new thriller in the New York Times bestselling series by Linda Castillo.

When a historic barn burns to the ground in the middle of the night, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called in to investigate. At first, it looks like an accident, but when the body of eighteen-year-old Daniel Gingerich is found inside—burned alive—Kate suspects murder. Who would want a well-liked, hardworking young Amish man dead? Kate delves into the investigation only to find herself stonewalled by the community to which she once belonged. Is their silence a result of the Amish tenet of separation? Or is this peaceful and deeply religious community conspiring to hide a truth no one wants to talk about? Kate doubles down only to discover a plethora of secrets and a chilling series of crimes that shatters everything she thought she knew about her Amish roots—and herself.

As Kate wades through a sea of suspects, she’s confronted by her own violent past and an unthinkable possibility.

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

A Gathering of Secrets will be available July 10, 2018.

Sometimes when a series has been around for awhile, the characters and the stories seem to get a little stale. That is not the case with the Kate Burkholder series. We are ten books in and I still enjoy it just as much as I did the beginning of the series.

I thought A Gathering of Secrets was a very well done procedural. As with most cases, there is a lot more going on than first suspected and the case becomes really personal for Kate, reminding her of things from her past she thought she moved on from. I also thought these elements were pretty timely to what’s going on in the world today. The pace was really steady with new clues revealed in every chapter. There were a few red herrings here and there, but everything about the resolution of the mystery made sense.  I suspected so many characters and it took me about as long as it did Kate to figure things out.

There are a couple of big character developments in this book. One with a beloved side character and one with Kate and Tomasetti. One of the only things I haven’t liked about the last few books in this series is that there isn’t as much Tomasetti as in the beginning. Now that he and Kate are involved, it makes working cases together a little trickier and since the romance is not front and center his role has been reduced. While I do wish we would’ve gotten a little more of him in this installment (I will never stop wanting more Tomasetti), it made me appreciate what we did get even more. He is such a great partner for Kate and I’m looking forward to watching their relationship develop even more in future books.

Overall, I really enjoyed A Gathering of Secrets. I thought the mystery was so well done and I found the book hard to put down. The story takes place in a fictional town in a real county that’s close to where I grew up and it’s always fun to recognize the locations mentioned (this one included the venue I had my junior prom at!). I definitely recommend this series to Mystery fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Sweetness can be deceptive. 

Meet Hanna.

She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.

She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette’s husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.

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

Baby Teeth will be available July 17, 2018.

The hype for Baby Teeth has been building for months. It’s mostly the reason I’ve kept putting off reading this because I was afraid my expectations were too high. And while it didn’t quite live up to the hype, it was still a pretty entertaining read.

It took me a little while to get into the story. The writing style, especially when it came to Hanna’s POV, took some getting used to. But once I really got into the story and could start to appreciate what a little psycho Hanna was I started to enjoy it. I became invested in the characters and really wanted to see how it would all turn out.

While I enjoyed seeing what crazy thing Hanna would do next, I did think it dragged on a little too long. The same type of things just kept happening again and again and there was a lot of needless description. Towards the end of the book the plot really began to advance and the power struggle between mother and daughter was really compelling to me and then it just abruptly ended. The ending felt more like it was leaving things open for a sequel than properly giving any type of closure to a stand-alone story. I found it disappointing that just when I was really getting into it, it was over.

Overall, Baby Teeth was certainly an entertaining read, but fell short of the hype for me. A little steadier pace and a less abrupt ending would have made it a little better, in my opinion. I don’t know if this book would be for everyone, but I think there are a lot of people who would enjoy it. I could definitely see it becoming a fun, creepy movie.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

Review: The Date by Louise Jensen

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Something bad has happened to Alison Taylor.

Her Saturday night started normally. Recently separated from her husband, Ali has been persuaded by her friends to go on a date with a new man. She is ready, she is nervous, she is excited. She is about to take a step into her new future.

By Sunday morning, Ali’s life is unrecognisable. She wakes, and she knows that something is wrong. She is home, she is alone, she is hurt and she has no memory of what happened to her.

Worse still, when she looks in the mirror, Ali doesn’t recognise the face staring back at her. She can’t recognise her friends and family. And she can’t recognise the person who is trying to destroy her…

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

The Date will be available June 21, 2018.

I am so disappointed! I have seen nothing but praise for Louise Jensen books and I was very excited to finally try one. The beautiful cover, intriguing synopsis, and all the glowing reviews had me convinced The Date would be one of my favorite books of the year. Unfortunately, the hype going into this set my expectations way too high.

The whole temporary amnesia angle is never one of my favorite tropes, but I thought the Prosopagnosia (Face Blindness) set this one apart a bit. I have only read one other book that had a character afflicted with this so it still felt fresh. I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with this disability and I felt the book did a pretty good job describing how debilitating it could be, but also how you can learn to live with it.

That is pretty much the end of what I liked about this book, though. I really had to push myself to finish this one. It might just be my current mood, but I just had a hard time getting into this. I found Ali kind of annoying, to be honest. I also never felt like we really got to know any of the other characters very well. Jensen did do a good job of keeping me guessing for awhile, making everyone in Ali’s life a bit suspicious, but as the book went on I started to really narrow down the villain to one character and I ended up being right. There was one red herring that made me right away guess the truth. I’m guessing that when that truth was revealed it was supposed to be the big shocking twist? It felt cliched to me and I can’t believe that many Mystery fans would be surprised by it.

Overall, The Date was disappointing to me. Maybe if my expectations weren’t quite so high I would have enjoyed it a bit more. But other than the Face Blindness plotline, the story was kind of cliched and I was completely underwhelmed by what was supposed to be the big twist. However, I seem to really be in the minority with this opinion, so it still may be worth trying.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2 Stars

Review: Find You in the Dark by Nathan Ripley

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

In this chilling and disquieting debut thriller perfect for fans of Caroline Kepnes’s Hidden Bodies and Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter series, a family man with a habit of digging up the past catches the attention of a serial killer who wants anything but his secrets uncovered.

For years, unbeknownst to his wife and teenage daughter, Martin Reese has been illegally buying police files on serial killers and obsessively studying them, using them as guides to find the missing bodies of victims. He doesn’t take any souvenirs, just photos that he stores in an old laptop, and then he turns in the results anonymously. Martin sees his work as a public service, a righting of wrongs.

Detective Sandra Whittal sees the situation differently. On a meteoric rise in police ranks due to her case‑closing efficiency, Whittal is suspicious of the mysterious source she calls the Finder, especially since he keeps leading the police right to the bodies. Even if he isn’t the one leaving bodies behind, how can she be sure he won’t start soon?

On his latest dig, Martin searches for the first kill of Jason Shurn, the early 1990s murderer who may have been responsible for the disappearance of his wife’s sister. But when he arrives at the site, he finds more than just bones. There’s a freshly killed body—a young and missing Seattle woman—lying among remains that were left there decades ago. Someone else knew where Jason Shurn left the corpses of his victims…and that someone isn’t happy that Martin has been going around digging up his work. And when a crooked cop with a tenuous tie to Martin vanishes, Whittal begins to zero in on the Finder.

Hunted by a real killer and by Whittal, Martin realizes that in order to escape, he may have to go deeper into the killer’s dark world than he ever thought…

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

Find You in the Dark will be available June 19, 2018.

Comparisons to Dexter and to Joe made me pretty excited to read Find You in the Dark, but as with such other comparisons, I was left a little disappointed.

I had a really hard time getting into this book. While I did find Martin to be an interesting character, every time the POV shifted away from him I was kind of bored. I thought the pacing was really slow. I was expecting a good twist or two, but didn’t really find anything surprising. I didn’t find it suspenseful until the final chapters and by then it was kind of too little, too late.

As I mentioned above, I found Martin to be an interesting character (though not as compelling as the characters alluded to in the synopsis). I also liked one of the cops, Chris. I kind of hated all the other characters, though. Martin’s wife was super unlikable and I completely detested Sandra, the detective. She was abrasive and treated everyone around her horribly and I just cringed every time we got her POV.

Overall, I found Find You in the Dark underwhelming. I’m adding a half star to my original rating because I did enjoy the main character and the ending of the book picked up a lot. But, for the most part, I found the supporting characters very unlikable and the story itself was just kind of dull to me.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: Providence by Caroline Kepnes

Synopsis from Good Reads:

A propulsive new thriller about the obsessive nature of love when an intensifying relationship between best friends is disrupted by a kidnapping.

Growing up as best friends in small-town New Hampshire, Jon and Chloe are the only ones who truly understand each other, though they can never find the words to tell one another the depth of their feelings. When Jon is finally ready to confess his feelings, he’s suddenly kidnapped by his substitute teacher who is obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft and has a plot to save humanity.

Mourning the disappearance of Jon and facing the reality he may never return, Chloe tries to navigate the rites of entering young adulthood and “fit in” with the popular crowd, but thoughts of Jon are never far away.

When Jon finally escapes, he discovers he now has an uncontrollable power that endangers anyone he has intense feelings for. He runs away to protect Chloe and find the answers to his new identity–but he’s soon being tracked by a detective who is fascinated by a series of vigilante killings that appear connected.

Whisking us on a journey through New England and crashing these characters’ lives together in the most unexpected ways, Kepnes explores the complex relationship between love and identity, unrequited passion and obsession, self-preservation and self-destruction, and how the lines are often blurred between the two.

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

Providence will be available June 19, 2018. 

Providence included some of the addictive writing I’ve come to associate with Caroline Kepnes, but it was not enough to make this book really stand out for me.

Unlike Kepnes’ You series, I thought this book was missing that one compelling character that would make up for any issues I had with the plot. Providence is told from three different POVs – Jon, Chloe, and Eggs – and unfortunately I never really connected with any of them. Pretty much every review I’ve read has praised Eggs as the best character, but I just never really cared that much about him. I thought Chloe was incredibly unlikable. I did like and really feel for Jon, but even with all he’s gone through, he still felt like a pretty one-dimensional character.

The theme of the story is supposed to evolve around love and obsession and I just never really bought it. I don’t really think Jon and Chloe loved each other. I think they’re both emotionally stunted from what happened when they were young teenagers and they just never really grew up. They had a crush on each other, which was then intensified by the whole “want what you can’t have” thing. And I hate to keep making comparisons to You, but the obsession angle fell a little short for me, too.

I feel like The Dunwich Horror should have been required reading prior to starting this. It and Lovecraft’s life and other works were referenced often and while there was some explanation, I still feel like I missed something by not being familiar with it. I also did not really feel inspired to go check out his work after reading this. It kind of seemed like there was some lesson or big emotional impact I was supposed to experience by the end of the book, but I never did.

Overall, Providence had some moments of addictive writing, but just wasn’t the book for me. I didn’t really like any of the characters and I thought the story was just kind of depressing. I also thought there were some inconsistencies in how Jon’s power works and I didn’t really appreciate the lack of resolution at the end of the book. Though I did enjoy parts of it, I’m still left wondering what exactly the point of it all was.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

“Jar of Hearts grabs you by the throat! The perfect blend of riveting characters, chilling details, and gasping twists in this standout thriller will keep you frantically reading until the explosive end.” – Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of Right Behind You

This is the story of three best friends: one who was murdered, one who went to prison, and one who’s been searching for the truth all these years . . .

When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong—one of the most popular girls in school—disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.

But fourteen years later, Angela Wong’s remains are discovered in the woods near Geo’s childhood home. And Kaiser—now a detective with Seattle PD—finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.

To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he’s something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo’s first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.

For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela’s death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.

While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.

How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it?

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

Jar of Hearts will be available June 12, 2018. 

Wow. I hardly know where to even begin with this. Jar of Hearts is the kind of book that you’re almost afraid to say you enjoyed because of how dark and twisted it is. But it’s one of the best books I’ve read in awhile.

Jar of Hearts is told in 5 parts, each associated with the 5 stages of grief, and in alternate POVs of Geo and Kaiser. I really enjoyed both perspectives. The story is told both in present and flashback and I loved how things were revealed and how you’re never sure if you’re getting the whole story (spoiler alert: you usually aren’t). The writing was smart and surprising. There weren’t any gasp-worthy twists, but there were plenty of smaller ones that I definitely didn’t see coming. I love when a book can surprise me like this one did.

Despite being deeply flawed characters, I liked both Geo and Kaiser. I liked how their relationship evolved, though I did feel pretty bad for teenage Kaiser. I found Geo pretty compelling. She did whatever she had to do to survive in any situation, even when that meant doing some terrible things. I would definitely consider her an anti-hero.

I really don’t want to say too much about the plot, for fear of giving anything away. I will say that there are several scenes that were pretty uncomfortable to read. If you’re easily triggered, you should probably avoid this one. If you can handle those type of scenes, though, the writing is intense and addictive and it sucked me in right from the beginning.

Overall, I really liked Jar of Hearts. This was my first book by Hillier and while I’m a little disturbed by her, I definitely want to read more from her. The mystery was well-written with many small twists that surprised me and there were some really flawed, but compelling characters. I feel like I’ve read a lot of so-so books lately and this one really grabbed me right from the start and kept my attention the whole time. I definitely recommend it to fans of darker mysteries.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars