Review: The Apartment by K.L. Slater

The Apartment by K.L. Slater

Published: April 28, 2020 by Thomas & Mercer

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Rating:

Synopsis: It’s an opportunity she can’t refuse. The woman before her tried…

Freya Miller needs a miracle. In the fallout of her husband’s betrayal, she’s about to lose her family home, and with it the security she craves for her five-year-old daughter, Skye. Adrift and alone, she’s on the verge of despair until a chance meeting with the charismatic Dr Marsden changes everything. He’s seeking a new tenant for a shockingly affordable flat in a fashionable area of London.

Adder House sounds too good to be true… But Freya really can’t afford to be cynical, and Dr Marsden is adamant she and Skye will be a perfect fit with the other residents.

But Adder House has secrets. Even behind a locked front door, Freya feels as if she’s being watched: objects moving, unfamiliar smells, the blinking light of a concealed camera… and it’s not long before she begins to suspect that her dream home is hiding a nightmarish reality. Was it really chance that led her here—or something unthinkably dark?

As the truth about Adder House starts to unravel, can Freya and Skye get out—or will they be locked in forever?

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer!***

I am horribly behind on my NetGalley and author requests, so I am on a mission to get caught up before the end of summer. So expect to see my disclaimer a lot in the next few months.

But on to The Apartment. This was a pretty average thriller, as they go. I can’t say it was great. Neither can I say it was bad. It kept my attention and it was entertaining. I ended up staying up late into the night again because I wanted to see how it ended. I already had a good idea of how it was going to end, but I was interested enough to want to see it through.

The premise of this book is a good one. The offer that’s “too good to be true” is a common theme in thrillers. Naturally it gives all readers those “don’t go into the basement, you idiot!!” kind of vibes. I am okay with that. I don’t mind feeling like a character is making an obviously stupid decision. It wouldn’t be very thrilling if they didn’t, right?

Freya is one of those characters. From the beginning I was screaming at her not to move into that house. I didn’t need anything suspicious to happen, it’s a thriller so I know it’s going to go badly. I do feel that she didn’t entirely respond the way a normal person would early on. That can be problematic because it pulls me out of the story. For example, when your new landlord takes it upon themselves to enroll your child into school. You don’t just be internally mad for a minute and then go to lunch. That’s the reaction of a not-normal person. Eventually though Freya pulled it together and was rightly angry and suspicious.

I felt like more time needed to be spent on this book. The ending was a really good one. Predictable, but good. And it was executed really well. But it stretched reality a little too much for me. All of this took place in less than a week. In order to accomplish what the villain was supposedly trying to accomplish there needed to be much more time invested. Unless Freya was unstable to begin with. But the author took great pains to tell me that she was a strong, capable woman. She dealt with a lot in her life and bounced back. So this needed more time to make me believe that she would lose it that way.

Overall I enjoyed it and it was a pretty good thriller. I wish it was longer and a bit more developed though.

Review: The Other Mrs by Mary Kubica

The Other Mrs. by Mary Kubica

Published: February 18, 2020 by Park Row

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Rating:

Synopsis: Propulsive and addictive, The Other Mrs. is the twisty new psychological thriller from Mary Kubica, the New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl

She tried to run, but she can’t escape the other Mrs….

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbor Morgan Baines is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie.

But it’s not just Morgan’s death that has Sadie on edge. And as the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of what really happened that dark and deadly night. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs. Baines, the more she begins to realize just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light.

Review: I put down an ultimatum when I started this book. If I didn’t enjoy it, then I am giving up on thrillers for awhile (except ARCs that I have obviously). Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the current world of thrillers but it’s not doing it for me.

This one started off well, despite the fact that I found our main narrator (Sadie) incredibly dull. She was so boring. And despite her insistence on reminding everyone that she is a doctor, we never actually see her performing duties as a doctor. Mostly she just navel gazes and complains. We learn very quickly that she is damaged and so is the rest of her family. They have fled to Maine after her husband’s sister commits suicide and they adopt another damaged person into the family. Sadie is not a nice person. She’s judgmental, arrogant, and a really bad mother. The only interactions we ever see her have with her children are when she’s telling them to leave her alone or suspecting one of them of doing something awful with no real evidence.

Despite Sadie, the story drew me in. We were also narrated by Camille, the woman who Will had an affair with. Camille is fantastic. I loved her narration and wish we had gotten more of it. We also hear from Mouse, a 6 year old little girl who is dealing with an abusive stepmother and a father who travel frequently for business. The way these three narratives were woven together was actually very good. Even though the ending was terrible, I thought the weaving of the narrations was masterful.

Unfortunately, it became abundantly clear to me what the ending was going to be about halfway through. One of the twists I predicted was accurate. It wasn’t great but it made sense to the story. The second twist was so ridiculous that I actually laughed out loud. I wonder if that’s the landscape of thrillers these days, come up with an outlandish twist that no one could possible guess. I am not a fan. Usually this means that it is absolutely out of character for the people in the book and makes literally no sense with the rest of the plot. That was the case here. Having a standard thriller ending that everyone knows is coming is not a bad thing. Deciding to throw in twists just for the sake of shocking your audience is a bad thing, and I wish authors would stop doing it.

Review: The Holdout by Graham Moore

The Holdout by Graham Moore

Published: February 18, 2020 by Random House

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Rating:

Synopsis: In this twisty tale from Moore, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game, young juror Maya Seale is convinced that African American high school teacher Bobby Nock is innocent of killing the wealthy white female student with whom he appears to have been involved and persuades her fellow jurors likewise. Ten years later, a true-crime docuseries reassembles the jurors, and Maya, now a defense attorney, must prove her own innocence when one of them is found dead in Maya’s room.

Review: This book was both very good and also very average. The author is clearly a skilled screenwriter, this comes through in the depth of the dialogue and characterizations throughout the book. I had zero complaints with either of these aspects. The characters were all unique and likeable/unlikeable in entirely different ways. The dialogue between them painted the picture of their relationships in a real and meaningful way.

The plot was well structured and I enjoyed the pacing too. We alternate between the present, where Maya is being accused of the murder of one of her fellow jury members, and flashbacks of the original trial from each of the jury members POV in turn. This gave a really good view on how each of the different people had viewed the case and the individual reasons why they ended up being swayed to vote not guilty. It was also interesting to hear the snippets of testimony from the Bobby Nock trial and I could not help coming to my own conclusions. Obviously the plot touches on racism and classism a bit, but it was well balanced and not heavy handed.

I have two complaints with this book that kept me from rating it higher than three stars. First, I don’t understand why the not guilty vote was so hard to convince everyone of. From what we were presented about the testimony there was multiple reasons for reasonable doubt. All of the jury members were intelligent people, how exactly did only one of them come to the conclusion that the prosecution hadn’t made a compelling case? The defense thought they had made their case so thoroughly they didn’t even call a witness. That was the right call because they shredded the prosecution’s case every time we heard testimony. I found it hard to believe that Maya was the only one with doubts and that she had to convince everyone else.

The other part I was thrown off by was the ending. I knew that there would be a twist from the fact that the author wrote about admiration of Agatha Christie plot twists (so much admiration that he spoiled the twist to three different Christie novels). But this one came out of left field. There wasn’t even a tiny hint that this person could have been the killer of the juror. There were several very good suspects so I am not sure why we went that route except for the “twist”. The resolution to where Bobby Nock was actually guilty was not surprising, I knew it would be something to that effect early on.

Overall this book was very compelling, I found that I couldn’t stop listening to it. I wanted to know what came next and listened to the whole audiobook in about 27 hours. But I wasn’t completely satisfied with the answers I got.

Review: The Warehouse by Rob Hart

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Published: August 20, 2019 by Crown

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Rating:

Synopsis: Cloud isn’t just a place to work. It’s a place to live. And when you’re here, you’ll never want to leave.

Paxton never thought he’d be working for Cloud, the giant tech company that’s eaten much of the American economy. Much less that he’d be moving into one of the company’s sprawling live-work facilities.

But compared to what’s left outside, Cloud’s bland chainstore life of gleaming entertainment halls, open-plan offices, and vast warehouses…well, it doesn’t seem so bad. It’s more than anyone else is offering.

Zinnia never thought she’d be infiltrating Cloud. But now she’s undercover, inside the walls, risking it all to ferret out the company’s darkest secrets. And Paxton, with his ordinary little hopes and fears? He just might make the perfect pawn. If she can bear to sacrifice him.

As the truth about Cloud unfolds, Zinnia must gamble everything on a desperate scheme—one that risks both their lives, even as it forces Paxton to question everything about the world he’s so carefully assembled here.

Together, they’ll learn just how far the company will go…to make the world a better place.

Set in the confines of a corporate panopticon that’s at once brilliantly imagined and terrifyingly real, The Warehouse is a near-future thriller about what happens when Big Brother meets Big Business–and who will pay the ultimate price.

Review: This book was a mixed bag. I listened to the audiobook and it was an enjoyable listen, but the ending got a bit too unbelievable for me. The narrators of the audiobook were great, I really liked both of them.

Cloud is obviously based on Amazon. The world has gone to waste with global warming, gun violence and increasing influence in government by corporations. Like any good dystopian fiction it takes real life challenges and extrapolates them into a worst case scenario. Most of the world is unemployed and surviving by the skin of their teeth, but for around 30 million people Cloud is a haven. They work and live on a climate control property. They have their own currency system and police force. All you have to do is show up for your assigned job (chosen for you by some algorithm) and achieve high ratings. If you get rated a one-star employee then you are terminated on cut day and asked to leave. This was an interesting world that is obviously extrapolating the steps that Amazon is taking in our world. Though I did have to wonder, if the entire world is in ruins, who is buying all the stuff that employs 30 million people?

The two main characters were pretty good. I liked Zinnia a lot more than Paxton though. At least Zinnia was very clear in who she is. She is a spy. She is willing to use people to achieve her goal because ultimately that’s the only thing that matters to her. I was never very clear on Paxton’s goals. We are told that he used to be the CEO of a small company that was forced to go out of business by Cloud, forcing him to work for the beast that killed his dream. But then later we find out that he didn’t even have a patent yet for the thing his company made, so it couldn’t have been a very long standing dream. Then he vacillates between hating Cloud, then being pro-Cloud, then hating Cloud again throughout the book. It was kind of confusing because the things that made him switch sides seemed arbitrary.

The plot was interesting and made sure to keep a good flow of things happening, otherwise it would have been too repetitive to be enjoyable. It was fairly predictable but the ending really threw me. It seemed like an attempt to make things so ludicrous that it would convince anyone sitting on the fence about Cloud immediately take the the side of Cloud being evil. It was strange and stretched the limits of my belief.

Overall it was a solid book that I liked reading.

Review: Problem Child by Victoria Helen Stone

46066517._SY475_Problem Child by Victoria Helen Stone

Published: March 24, 2020 by Lake Union Publishing

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Synopsis: She’s cold, calculating, and can deceive with a smile. Jane Doe is back in the Amazon Charts bestselling series – and this time she’s met her match.

After a brutal childhood, Jane Doe has been permanently wired to look after herself and only herself. Now, looking next to normal, Jane has a lover and a job. But she hasn’t lost her edge. It sharpens when she hears from her estranged family.

Jane’s deeply troubled sixteen-year-old niece, Kayla, has vanished, and no one seems to care. Neither does Jane. Until she sees a picture of Kayla and recognizes herself in the young girl’s eyes. It’s the empty stare of a sociopath.

Jane knows what vengeful and desperate things Kayla is capable of. Only Jane can help her – by being drawn into Kayla’s dark world. And no one’s more aware than Jane just how dangerous that can be.

Rating: 3 star

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing!***

I really enjoyed this book and found it an easy read. It’s the second in a series but that didn’t hamper the story at all. I found that it wasn’t really necessary to explain how and why Jane got to this place, she did it for self-serving reasons because she’s a sociopath. She explained some of those reasons along the way and that was good enough for me. Her personality is what carried this book. I loved seeing her savage logic applied to situations that had me cringing as a normal human, but also cheering because it was well deserved even if I would shrink away from doing it.

The impetus for the book is a little bit thin. Jane’s niece, Kayla, is missing and no one seems to care. Jane doesn’t care either because she’s not capable but she’s interested because she thinks that Kayla might be a sociopath like her. For some reason that she doesn’t bother to explain, she decides to try and find her….she says it was for “fun.” That isn’t a great reason. Whose fun? Jane’s? Kayla’s? How exactly is this “fun?” It would have been more interesting if she wanted someone around who understood her, but she doesn’t even seem to care about that either.

Despite the poor reasoning behind why Jane is look for Kayla it was an interesting ride. I don’t like that this book is being marketed as a thriller because it was anything but thrilling. It was not really even a mystery. It was an interesting character study and a fun journey. Jane was an engaging character and seeing a little mini sociopath that irritated her so much was good too. My only complaint about Jane was that she got a little preachy on the “society lets men exploit women every day, but not me, I’ll exploit them first.” I got the message the first three times we had the speech, I didn’t need it again after that.

This book did make me want to go back and read the first book, which I take as a good sign that I enjoyed it enough to want to see the character again.

Review: The Echo of a Footfall by Patricia Scampion

50247492._SY475_The Echo of a Footfall by Patricia Scampion

Published: December 7, 2019 by Troubador Publishing

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Synopsis: In 1926, having cared for her sick mother on her own for some years, 16 year old Mary gives birth to a baby boy in the Workhouse. Abandoned by her mother, unsupported by the child’s father, and behaving in ways the Workhouse finds difficult to manage, her baby is taken from her and she is sent to the local mental hospital (previously the lunatic asylum). Here, with the help of other inmates, and encouraged by an ambitious young woman seeking her vocation as a nurse, she begins a long process of discovery and development, learning to read and write, and then to cook and cater for the staff and patients in the institution that becomes her home.

Set against a backdrop of changes in attitude to, and treatments for, mental illness, and reflecting developments in post war societal structures, particularly those involving immigration from the Empire, Mary’s story spans over 50 years, as, discharged from the hospital, she continues to strive to find her identity, to understand where she belongs, and ultimately to find her baby. While the influence of the Great War on the lives of those who survived it echoes over the lives of the generations that follow, Mary yearns for a caring and tolerant community to support the family she finally creates for herself.

Rating: 3 star

Review: ***I received a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Troubador!!***

This book took me on quite a ride, some of it good and some of it not so good. The premise is one that I found interesting. At the turn of the 20th century, the world was undergoing a big transformation with regard to mental health. There was still a lot of the old methods of locking people away because they didn’t fit into the societal mold. But the world was also beginning  to wonder if that was the best way to deal with “deviant” people, or perhaps they should focus on the truly mentally ill with more compassion. This is where Mary comes in. She has a baby out of wedlock right in the middle of this period. Her baby is taken and she is sent to the asylum where she spends most of her life. This was the story of Mary finding her own family and creating her own community.

This book was a slow burn. I mean, really slow. Most of this book is just people having conversations. Sometimes that made things a bit boring and I started to skim because nothing was happening. The first part of the book that takes place in the asylum was the most boring. Not only was the majority of the story taking place in conversations but the limited actions outside of those conversations were also extremely repetitive. Wake up, go to breakfast, go to the yard for exercise, go to the day room, go to bed. For about 140 pages. It was dull and I found that I didn’t care much about what happened.

Once Mary is transitioned out of the asylum the story started to take off. Now it was getting interesting. She is a middle aged woman who suddenly has to figure out how to make money, make friends, buy clothes, all the normal adult things that one does. She doesn’t even know how a person is supposed to buy underwear because she’s been in an asylum since she was 16. That transition was hard for her as she both yearned for her freedom and was scared to relinquish the safety and security of asylum life. It was a compelling story and I enjoyed watching her make friends and create a community around her.

My biggest problem with the book was that the author seemed to want to connect everyone to Mary personally. By the end of the book pretty much every single person that Mary was close to had kept some secret from her about how they were related to her former life or her child’s life. And then in the epilogue the author told us who Mary’s child was. I was frustrated because it felt contrived. I already had emotions towards these people and their relationship with Mary, why did we have to have this extra layer that added no substance? The whole point of the book was that even though Mary never found her long lost son she created a family for herself, filled with love and trust. It should have been left there and I should have never known who her son was.

Overall, a compelling story about a tragic young woman who transform into a formidable grown woman. A story about a woman creating her own way, even when the world didn’t think she could. And that was a great book.

Review: Has China Won? by Kishore Mahbubani

51720954._SX318_SY475_Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy by Kishore Mahbubani

Published: March 31, 2020 by Public Affairs

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Synopsis: The defining geopolitical contest of the twenty-first century is between China and the US. But is it avoidable? And if it happens, is the outcome already inevitable?
China and America are world powers without serious rivals. They eye each other warily across the Pacific; they communicate poorly; there seems little natural empathy. A massive geopolitical contest has begun.
America prizes freedom; China values freedom from chaos. America values strategic decisiveness; China values patience. America is becoming society of lasting inequality; China a meritocracy. America has abandoned multi-lateralism; China welcomes it.
Kishore Mahbubani, a diplomat and scholar with unrivaled access to policymakers in Beijing and Washington, has written the definitive guide to the deep fault lines in the relationship, a clear-eyed assessment of the risk of any confrontation, and a bracingly honest appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses, and superpower eccentricities, of the US and China.

Rating: 3 star

Review: ***Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley and Public Affairs!***

I stopped reading this book about 150 pages in, roughly halfway. I make an effort to not put down a book less than halfway through in order to be fair. Sometimes things start to look up after a rocky beginning. To be clear, I did not put this book away because it was poorly written. Indeed, it was excellently written. But I felt like the author has gotten it wrong when it came to his starting thesis. And unfortunately, if your starting thesis is incorrect, then some or all of your conclusions probably will be too.

The author has a very big bias in favor of China. This was evident throughout the Introduction when he basically said that China is the victim of cultural misunderstanding and that America was mostly afraid of powerful “yellow” people (his words, not mine) and mistakenly thinks that all Communism is the same as the Soviet Union was. But I carried on in spite of this obvious bias because the next two chapters were about the biggest mistakes so far that each of the world superpowers has made. I thought, maybe here is where we get a more evenhanded approach.

Unfortunately we did not. According to the author, China’s biggest mistake is that it gives too much power to local governments and Beijing is largely powerless to control them. For example, the author mentions that businesses are very wary of working in China because they feel that China takes advantage of them and threatens them with access to the Chinese market if they don’t comply to outrageous. His example is a business that states they had a contract with a Chinese company that they would utilize their services for a set number of years and then buy the company outright for X price at the end of that period. When that date came the company refused to sell. The business petitioned to the courts in Beijing and were told “well pay them more money then and buy the business”. The author attributes this to a lack of centralized leadership. That is blatantly false and biased. That is called extortion. If the courts had said “Sorry, this is an issue with the local jurisdiction” that would prove the author’s point. But they acted like a mob enforcer “Pay more money, then they’ll sell.” The author gives this kind of leniency to the Chinese government over and over again.

And still, I continued. I thought that perhaps when the author was describing the largest mistake by America that we would see the same leniency. We did not. The author spends the entire chapter demonizing President Trump and demonizing businesses for blaming it on American war culture. And then throwing in some demonization of America’s lack of social justice for good measure. Americans just want to believe that all Communism is bad, so that’s why we demonize China. Again, this is a flawed premise. The Chinese Communist Party is bad. They have upwards of 1.5 million people imprisoned in labor camps, another half million in re-education centers. Stories abound from survivors of these camps of the rampant abuse and rape that goes on. Defectors from the CCP are executed silently and immediately, potentially thousands of people per year. The CCP has  launched genocidal massacres on Tibetans, Buddhists, Christians and Muslims within the past decade. Don’t try and blow that particular sunshine about good Communism up my behind, thanks all the same!

In the end, this author thinks China is a great place and America is inherently racist with a psycho for a President. To me, that indicates that all conclusions that he draws will be flawed. So while the author asks a lot of interesting questions, the answers will likely be unsatisfying.

Review: The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

51024058The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Published: April 7, 2020 by Orbit Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Harriet Bishop, descended from a long line of witches, uses magic to help women in need — not only ordinary women, but also those with powers of their own. She must intervene when a distant cousin wields dangerous magic to change the lives of two unsuspecting young people… one of whom might just be a witch herself.

Frances Allington has used her wiles and witchcraft to claw her way out of poverty and into a spectacular marriage with one of New York’s wealthiest new tycoons. She is determined to secure the Allingtons’ position amongst the city’s elite Four Hundred families by any means necessary — including a scheme to make a glorious aristocratic match for her headstrong and reluctant step-daughter, Annis, using the same strange power with which she ensnared Annis’s father.


To save Annis from this dark magic, Harriet reveals to her Frances’ misuse of their shared birthright and kindles in Annis her own nascent powers. Together, Harriet and Annis must resist her stepmother’s agenda, lest she — and the dashing young lord she suspects she could come to love — lose their freedom, and possibly their lives.

Rating: 3 star

Review: This book started as a 4-star book, then dropped to a 2-star book and finally by the end is an “it was fine” 3-star. The writing of this book was lovely. I found myself entranced by the prose and would look up to find that several hours had passed. Just last night I was so enthralled with the plot and the writing that I stayed awake reading until 2 a.m. It’s not surprising that the book only took me 3 days to finish.

I love books about witches, probably because I am one. I love books that explore the role of witchcraft in history and how women have historically used this knowledge to empower themselves. The characters were rich and I enjoyed them all. The basic premise is that Harriet and Francis are descended from a witch named Bridget Bishop. Bridget was executed in the 1600’s for witchcraft. Harriet’s side of the family tree has adopted the gentler side of the craft, using it mainly for herbalism and assisting locals with their various ailments and ills. Francis’ side of the family tree had adopted the “bad” side of the craft, manipulating and magically forcing others to do their bidding in order to gain power for themselves. Annis is a young girl from the family tree who is just coming into her powers and for whom Francis has nefarious plans. Harriet endeavors to stop this plot and it culminates in a clash between the two witches with Annis as the prize.

This book was a slow burn with not a lot of action to it, and I was fine with that. The information being presented was largely interesting and once we did get the showdown between Harriet and Francis it was really refreshing and exciting. That portion is what kept me up most of the night.

***Spoiler alert:*** From this point on there will be spoilers.

The biggest problems I had with the book are the ending and that this book didn’t know what it wanted to be.

Is it the story of Annis? A girl ahead of her time, bucking the norm, and determined to make her own way with her newfound powers. Is it the story of a 200 year old battle between two sides of a family to ultimately decide if they are bad witches or good witches? Is it a story of the temptations of good and evil and the blurry gray area in between? Unfortunately it could have been all of these things, but ended up being none of them. None of these things are explored in any depth and I was really disappointed by that.

The ending was very plain. James and Annis decide that they didn’t just have feelings for each other because of magic, they actually do love each other and want to get married. How boring. How predictable. And then we are subjected to a very long lecture about how James might seem like a good man, but we should keep his manikin around just in case he decides to start behaving like an ass later. Because he’s a man after all, so you just never know and a woman can’t be too careful. Why can a novel not show us strong women without equaling telling us about how all men are asses? Even ones who aren’t asses but they might decide to be later because….well they’re a man. I am weary of it. It is possible to tell a story about strong, empowered women without demeaning men. I promise it is.

There was also an unintended moral problem in the story. We are told early on that good witches use their powers to help, bad witches use their powers to compel. Bad witches will always succumb to darkness and be lost to a lust for power. But on at least 3 occasions the “good” witches use their magic to persuade people to give them things. A horse, money, and then more money. All for their own benefit. So while those people may not have been harmed, the man was reimbursed for the horse and the money was plentiful and wouldn’t be missed, does that make it okay? What is the difference between magically persuading someone to give you something and just outright forcing them to give you something? Unfortunately, I don’t think the author intended for this issue to be presented and so we never get the answer to that question. In the end, even evil magic can be tucked away in a corner for safekeeping…just in case, and one will still be a good witch.

Review: Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

36388243__SY475_Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

Published on June 5th, 2018 by Ballantine

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: If you could make one simple choice that would change your life forever, would you?

Erin is a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough, Mark a handsome investment banker with big plans. Passionately in love, they embark on a dream honeymoon to the tropical island of Bora Bora, where they enjoy the sun, the sand, and each other. Then, while scuba diving in the crystal blue sea, they find something in the water. . . .

Could the life of your dreams be the stuff of nightmares?

Suddenly the newlyweds must make a dangerous choice: to speak out or to protect their secret. After all, if no one else knows, who would be hurt? Their decision will trigger a devastating chain of events. . . .

Have you ever wondered how long it takes to dig a grave?

Wonder no longer. Catherine Steadman’s enthralling voice shines throughout this spellbinding debut novel. With piercing insight and fascinating twists, Something in the Water challenges the reader to confront the hopes we desperately cling to, the ideals we’re tempted to abandon, and the perfect lies we tell ourselves.

Rating: 3 star

Review: I know I rated this book as a three star, but I am conflicted and feel like it’s more of a 3.5 stars. It certainly isn’t a four star book, but it was a bit better than the “okay” that a three star rating implies.

This book was fun. It was a good ride and an interesting story told by a flawed narrator. I love a good flawed narrator. I struggled a lot with this book for about a hundred pages though. The first chapter was irritating to me. It was told in the 1st person and after the fact. Basically the first chapter was “Here’s how things ended up, now I’ll tell you how I got there.” I don’t like this for several reasons.

First, it tells me at minimum one individual who lives to see the end of the book to a certainty. By using a first person narration then I know the narrator is going to see the end of the book. I really don’t like that. It means that for the remainder of the book I can’t become concerned when that character is in danger. It’ll be fine, they have to narrate the rest of the story. This is supposed to be a thriller book about a couple that ends up in a potentially deadly chain of events, but I know that your narrator will be just fine so it lacks an edge to the story.

Second, if I already know how the story ends then why should I care overly much about the journey? Unless the journey is really something amazing, it doesn’t matter too much right?

So those two factors made it hard to me to get invested in the book early on. I didn’t really care about the characters, because I knew how it ended up. And I didn’t really care about the story because I knew how it ended. But then somewhere about a hundred pages in I found myself swept up in the adventure. The next thing you know I’ve read 140 pages in one sitting. It got really fun. The narrator was much more interesting in the back half and the adventure was great.

There were several layers of story that seemed unconnected in the first half that all wove together in the back half. I didn’t know which part interconnected and which didn’t. Some things I guessed, partly because of the first chapter. Other things I didn’t guess.

Overall, this book was a lot of fun and a great use of my weekend but it had some flaws.

Review: Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

49525302Follow Me by Kathleen Barber

Published on February 25th, 2020 by Gallery Books

Buy this book at: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository

Synopsis: Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.

Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.

But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.

Kathleen Barber’s electrifying new thriller will have you scrambling to cover your webcam and digital footprints.

Rating: 3 star

Review: ***I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Netgalley and Gallery Books!***

Up until the last 30 pages or so, I would have rated this book as a solid four star. I struggled really hard to decide if I could keep it at a four star but I just can’t. That ending was bad. Really bad. The kind of bad that gets worse the longer I think about it. Almost Stephen King, giant spider bad. Okay, I’m being facetious now, it wasn’t giant spider bad.

This was a very compelling book. It starts with an introduction on how the author stumbled onto Reddit threads about installing remote access onto someone’s computer so that you can cyber stalk them without them knowing about it. That’s super creepy. And so this gave the author an idea and away we go. The complexities and problems presented by social media are interesting fodder for the fiction world. It’s unknown enough that you can really delve into the dark part of the human psyche and prey on the terror that lurks there. But it’s commonplace enough that millions of people seem to be okay with sharing every moment of their existence to an online audience that feels like a group of friends, but is in reality a bunch of strangers. It’s an interesting dilemma and this book told it well.

I did not particularly like Audrey, it is my one big complaint apart from the ending. She wasn’t very likeable. She is narcissistic, naive, self absorbed and more than a little bit stupid. The entire book is about her almost never doing her actual job and occasionally posting on Instagram. But most of the time she complains to her friends about her endless list of woes and vehemently denies that she has a stalker problem. She doesn’t come around to the idea that someone is stalking her until she literally catches someone peeping in her window. And even then she dismisses it rather quickly as just a creep, doesn’t bother to call the police, and goes about her day. She was a moron and I hoped (a little bit) that her stalker might end up killing her because she was too stupid to continue living. She proved this to me in the ending, which I will get to in a minute.

The stalker’s narrative is okay. It’s creepy at times but mostly just really pathetic. This guy comes across as so socially awkward that he might vomit on a woman’s shoes if she spoke to him. Once things started ramping up, however, I enjoyed his narrative quite a bit.

Cat, Audrey’s best friend, is quite possibly the most interesting character. She seems like an intelligent woman who doesn’t easily dismiss that Audrey might have a stalker and urges her to protect herself. None of her suggestions are listened to, but she tried. She is horrified when Audrey begins dating a childhood acquaintance of hers, Max, who knows a secret about Cat that she desperately doesn’t want Audrey to know. I got the sense throughout the book that Cat was in love with Audrey. Although that was never confirmed, I still think there’s some validity to the theory. Why else would you put up with someone so woefully stupid and self absorbed? And not just put up with her but idolize her too.

Now we come to the ending. So I am going to make this plain. This is a huge SPOILER. A giant SPOILER. If you do not wish to be SPOILED!!!! then please read no further.

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Seriously, really big SPOILER ahead, last warning to jump ship!

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So, the ending. They teased me a bit with who the stalker was, but I figured that Max HAD to be a red herring. The author was hitting me over the head with him being a suspect way too hard. And it just simply makes no sense. The idea that he ramped up the stalking to scare Audrey into coming to live with him for protection makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is that you then continue to escalate the stalking behavior until she is frightened of you. WTF? You wanted her to be with you, check. You wanted her to live with you, check. You wanted her to be afraid enough to turn to you, check. And then you continue? Why?

Then we have a whole scenario where Audrey gets hurt in a confrontation with Max and Cat comes into the room and believes Audrey is dead. She has a conversation with Max about how he can’t help her and needs to leave, he says that at least he isn’t like Cat. And we get a whole long story about how Cat tried to kill someone at summer camp, and he’ll tell everyone about it if she doesn’t help Audrey. That part wasn’t surprising, the author had been leading us to that for most of the book. But then Cat decides that she needs to kill Max to prevent this. In the process she discovers that Audrey is still alive, and then proceeds to think “Oh no, did she hear us talking about camp? Well, I guess I better kill her.”

Wait, hold on, what? None of this makes sense. All of a sudden two rational people are acting like psychotic killers? Where on earth did any of this come from? And isn’t it a bit too coincidental that the person stalking Audrey for eight years just so happens to know her college best friend, and just so happens to know said best friend’s deep dark secret? Nope. There were so many better options available and this one was terribly executed.

Then we get to my favorite part. Audrey recovers and we flash forward to her moving into a new apartment and having a conversation with the old college boyfriend, Nick. Cat is apparently in prison, rightfully so. Max isn’t in prison, just a restraining order. Despite the fact that he was stalking you for eight years, broke into your friend’s house, got into an angry confrontation with you in which you proceeded to almost die. I don’t know that sounds like an arrest-able offense to me. And here is where Audrey proved to me that she is, in fact, too stupid to live. Behold this exchange with Nick:

“Be fair,” I said softly, “Max isn’t a psychopath. He’s…well, he’s not wired right, that’s for sure, but he’s not a psychopath. It’s not like he was going to hurt me.”

“You don’t know that. Just because he didn’t hurt you doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have.”

“He never would have hurt me.” I said with certainty, “He’s not violent. And he loved me too much.” (Page 284 of the ebook version)

Well, isn’t that just so romantic!! He loves her so much that he almost got you killed. But he’s not violent. Isn’t that so sweet! This is worse than all the romanticizing of domestic violence that was prevalent in Young Adult fiction for a while. He literally stalked you for eight years. He took thousands of pictures of you without your knowledge. He broke into your apartment and watched you sleep (Hey Edward! We see you!). He watched you in your apartment for weeks at a time. He intentionally terrified you so that you would move in with him. He demanded that you continue being with him and terrified you so much that you tried to run out of the house and fell down a flight of stairs. But no, you’re right Audrey, he loves you too much to be violent. She’s one of those people who writes love letters to Charlie Manson because “well he never killed anyone”.

So that’s it. A great book, with so much potential to be amazing and the ending completely ruined it for me.