The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

girlbefore

This review was originally posted September 5, 2017

One Folgate Street is a very unique property. Built to be almost an exploration of the human psyche, to even be considered to rent it one must go through a long series of questions and interviews.

For Jane, this offers the perfect opportunity to start new. Moving in to One Folgate Street means leaving almost all of her old personal effects behind. It means living with a clean slate, both literally and figuratively.

Yet as soon as she has moved in, Jane learns of the apartment’s previous tenant; a young woman named Emma. Emma, who like Jane, was hoping to start anew but was instead met with tragedy.

The Girl Before is yet another of the psychological thrillers featuring women that seems the be popular recently. Playing with the trope of ‘walking in another’s footsteps’, it takes us through the lives of both Emma and Jane; two different women who have come to live at One Folgate Street.

On the surface, both Emma and Jane are alike. Both have had personal tragedies that they are trying to get through and are hoping by moving they have the ability to start over. And while there are several similarities, there are also a number of differences.

At first, I found myself sympathizing with both Emma and Jane. Both women had gone through a very trying event and were trying to return back to what they thought was normal. Yet, as the story went on, I found myself sympathizing less and less with Emma. She was no longer a sympathetic character and while what happened to her was unfortunate, I can’t say it wasn’t exactly unwarranted either.

To go much further would be to give spoilers about what happens and I have tried my best to not give those in my reviews.

With all that said, I found The Girl Before to be enjoyable. There is subject matter that some readers might find triggering, so more sensitive readers might want to skip this one. Otherwise, Delaney has given us a well written thriller. Decent pacing and interesting characters kept me entertained up to the last page. For those who are in to this kind of story, I recommend it.

Provided for Review: Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power

Ever since Margot was born, it’s just been her and her mother. No answers to Margot’s questions about what came before. No history to hold on to. No relative to speak of. Just the two of them, stuck in their run-down apartment, struggling to get along.

But that’s not enough for Margot. She wants family. She wants a past. And she just found the key she needs to get it: a photograph, pointing her to a town called Phalene. Pointing her home. Only, when Margot gets there, it’s not what she bargained for.

Margot’s mother left for a reason. Was it to hide from her past? Or was it to protect Margot from what’s still there?

The only thing Margot knows for sure is there’s poison in their family tree, and their roots are dug so deeply in to Phalene that now that she’s there, she might never escape.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing this book for review.

Trigger warnings: Emotional manipulation, Emotional abuse, Mentions of gaslighting

For as long as Margot can remember, it’s just been her and her mom. The two of them just managing to scrape by. The struggle to make it from one day to the next becomes more and more difficult and at times the line between who is mother and who is daughter is blurred.

Desperate to try and stay in her mother’s good graces, Margot decides to try and buy back some of their things from the local pawn shop. Buried at the bottom of a box, Margot finds an old bible and tucked among the pages is a photograph. On the back is a name and a phone number as well as the name of a town – Phalene.

As pieces begin to come together, Margot believes she’s found what she’s been wanting her whole life. A family. It is only that the longer she spends there, the more she realizes not everything is as it seems. Even perfect families have their secrets.

Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power is one of those books that while the subject matter made it difficult to read at times, neither could I put the book down.

In the first chapter we are introduced to Margot and her mother Jo, and it is here we get our first glimpses of how dysfunctional their relationship is. Their relationship is not a good one, it could easily be described as toxic. A truth that Power does not shy away from and instead lays bare. In showing the dichotomy between Margot and her mother, we see the abuser and the abused. One feeding in to the other in a never ending cycle.

Burn Our Bodies Down is not an easy book to read. While classified as Young Adult, the subject matter might be a little too difficult for some readers. Truthfully, some adult readers might have trouble as well as some scenes could be considered triggering.

This does NOT mean that Burn Our Bodies Down is a bad book – the truth be told, I thought it was a very good book. It is only that a handful of scenes may hit a little too close to home for some readers and would thus take the enjoyment out of an otherwise enjoyable book.

Under most circumstances, I finish my reviews with the answer to the question of whether I would recommend this particular book to my readers or not. With Burn Our Bodies Down, I do recommend it but I also advise my readers to not go in blind.

Provided for Review: Ten Days Gone (A.L. McKittridge #1) by Beverly Long

They know exactly when he’ll strike… They just have to find him first.

In all their years working for the Baywood police department, detectives A.L. McKittridge and Rena Morgan have never seen anything like it. Four women dead in forty days, each killed ten days apart. With nothing connecting the victims and very little evidence, the clock is already counting down to when the next body drops. A.L. and Rena will have to act fast if they’re going to find the killer’s next victim before he does.

But identifying the killer’s next likely target is only half the battle. With pressure pushing in from all sides, a promising breakthrough leads the detectives to Tess Lyons, a woman whose past trauma has left her too damaged to appreciate the danger she’s in. Unwilling to let another woman die, A.L. and Rena will put everything on the line to keep Tess safe and end the killer’s deadly spree once and for all–before time runs out again. 

This book was provided for review by Netgalley. Thank you!

Trigger Warnings – mentions of abuse (physical and sexual), mention of animal death,

While I do enjoy reading the occasional murder mystery, police procedural novels haven’t always been my cup of tea. Some of the ones I’ve read over the years have been rather dry and never seemed to hold my interest. When I saw Ten Days Gone available on Netgalley, I decided to take a chance on it. And I am quite glad I did.

Ten Days Gone follows Detectives McKittridge and Morgan as they race against time to find a serial killer lurking in their mid-sized Wisconsin town. The killer has already taken the lives of four women, each murder spaced exactly ten days apart. With no clear connection between them, the two detectives are in a race against time to try and determine who the next victim will be.

Like many book and television police dramas, Ten Days Gone starts in the middle of the action. The fourth victim has just been found and we the reader join the two detectives as they must try and find what joins this new person to the previous victims. Like many television police dramas there is a good deal of talking, of going over evidence and discovering new clues. This book is very conversation heavy. It relies more on the detectives as well as other characters talking – either on the phone or in person – to convey information. Many writers use a “show, don’t tell” approach where with Ms. Long, the opposite approach is used.

Ten Days Gone is certainly not for every reader. It is a dark book, one that deals with subjects that might not be comfortable for some. Those readers who do enjoy a well paced thriller that will keep you guessing until the end would likely enjoy this book. I personally liked the characters very much and will be keeping an eye out for further books in the series.

Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist

A paparazzi camps out in a tree waiting for the perfect shot and gets more than he bargained for…

After a near death experience a man believes he knows how to cheat Death…

A woman calls a Customer Service phone number and finds herself joining a rather unique group of individuals…

I’m starting off this year by reviewing the collection titled Let the Old Dreams Die by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

LIndqvist has been on the New York Times Bestseller list with his novel Let the Right One In, which was made in to a movie not only in his native Sweden but also here in America. Along with Let the Right One In, he wrote Handling the Undead, Harbor, and Little Star. I’ve had the opportunity to read all of his books thanks to my local library and have greatly enjoyed them all.

It is with good reason that Lindqvist has been compared to greats such as Stephen King or Neil Gaiman. His writing consistently makes us question the world around us. Is what we see what is truly there or is there a second layer hiding beneath the obvious? He takes the mundane, the every day, and gives it a twist.

Like with his longer novels, I found this collection of short stories a true page turner. Twelve stories over just under four hundred pages and I devoured them all within two days. There were times when I had to place my hand over the facing page just so I wouldn’t skip ahead. I just HAD to know what was going to happen next. It is not often that I find myself having to do that with a book. However every time I have read one of Lindqvist’s books, I do just that.

If you are like me, dear Reader, and enjoy a good creepy read, then I cannot recommend the books by John Ajvide Lindqvist enough.

Provided for Review: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Undead Client by M.J. Downing

Sherlock Holmes has only been deceased a month when Dr. John Watson, still grieving, recounts his final case with Holmes.  A terrifying mystery, it sends Watson and Holmes into the dark reaches of London’s back alleys – and the human soul. 

It begins when Anne Prescott, a lovely Scottish nurse, begs Sherlock Holmes and Watson to help her find her fiancé and her sister, who have gone missing in the teeming streets of London. Immediately, Watson feels an attraction to her that shocks him. Newly married to Mary, and deeply in love with her, he struggles to put Anne out of his mind.

As Watson and Holmes dig into the slums and sewers of London looking for Anne’s fiancé and sister, they uncover a deadly web of bloody murders, horrific medical experiments, and even voodoo ritual that threatens not only London, but the entire British empire, and beyond.

Watson must call on his unique combination of expertise in the medical sciences, as well as his military training to stop this killer before London —and Anne — are lost to the killer’s bloody plan.

But time is short and the mystery ever more complex. How can he manage his feelings for Anne? What about his loyalty to Mary? He can’t have both.

This book was provided for review by Netgalley. Thank you!

If it hasn’t occurred to my readers by now, I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes. I have read all of the original Conan Doyle tales countless times and continue to enjoy them. I am also one who is more than happy to read other author’s stories starring my favorite detective. And while yes, I will admit, that it is often hit or miss with the books, I still enjoy it.

Unfortunately my dearest readers, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Undead Client is one of those that is a miss.

A great majority of readers are familiar with fan-fiction, and with that they are generally familiar with the term “Mary-Sue”. The term refers to a female character who is absolutely perfect in every way. She is incredibly smart and exceptionally beautiful, whatever task she attempts to do she is almost immediately proficient. And in almost every case she meets a tragic end.

The character of Anne Prescott is, in my mind, such a character. She comes to Holmes and Watson seeking their help in finding her missing fiance as well as her missing sister. At first, her interactions with Holmes and Watson are fairly standard – she is trying to help them find her loved ones after all. Soon though characterization goes a bit sideways and both Holmes and Watson become almost caricatures.

About halfway through Holmes expresses a wish to be more like Anne Prescott with her strength of character. I thought this was completely out of character for him as he had never wanted to be anyone else but himself. Also, about two-thirds of the way through, Anne seduces Watson and causes him to cheat on Mary. Again, this is quite out of character as in canon Watson professed how much he cared for Mary several times.

Aside from the mis-characterization, the writing itself is often over melodramatic to the point where it almost becomes purple. I understand that Downing was trying to capture the particular writing style of Conan Doyle’s Watson but like most everything else, I found it profoundly lacking.

If this book was about original characters fighting zombies in Victorian England, I would be more inclined to give it a better rating. However, because this is book is centered on the well known characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, I must rate it accordingly and advice my readers to skip it entirely.

Provided for Review: Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis

Welcome to Harrow Lake...
Someone’s expecting you.

Lola Nox is the daughter of a celebrated horror filmmaker – she thinks nothing can scare her.

But when her father is brutally attacked in their New York apartment, she’s swiftly packed off to live with a grandmother she’s never met in Harrow Lake, the eerie town where her father’s most iconic horror movie was shot. The locals are weirdly obsessed with the film that put their town on the map – and then there are strange disappearances, which the police seem determined to explain away.

And there’s someone – or something – stalking her every move.

The more Lola discovers about the town, the more terrifying it becomes. Because Lola’s got secrets of her own. And if she can’t find a way out of Harrow Lake, they might just be the death of her . . .

This book was provided for review by NetGalley and The Write Reads. Thank you!

When The Write Reads approached me on Twitter to join the book tour for Harrow Lake, I immediately accepted. As someone who grew up in the 80’s, horror films are as much a part of my growing up as anything else. And while yes, I did have my share of nightmares from them, I also came to appreciate them as the works of art that some of them are.

Harrow Lake is a story that centers around horror films and the hold they can create. It focuses on Lola Nox, 17 year old daughter of horror film director Nolan Nox. Having grown up around her father’s films, Lola believes that nothing can frighten her. Those beliefs are put to the test when Lola is sent – rather unwillingly – to her maternal grandmother’s home in Harrow Lake.

Harrow Lake reminds me very much of the older tv series The Twilight Zone. Any one who remembers the original show will recall that the stories they told were built on the premise of suspense and barely hinted at ideas. Where the shadows lurking in a dark corner could be a hideous monster or could simply be a pile of clothes. Where not everything is as it seems and looks are definitely deceiving.

Like some horror movies, the action in Harrow Lake is a bit choppy. Scenes jump from one to the next with almost no indication. It can be a little disconcerting at times. Also, the main character of Lola can be irritating. This can be explained by not only her age but also by her unique upbringing. Any one raised immersed in the horror genre from a young age is likely to be more than a bit jaded as well.

This is the first novel by Kat Ellis that I’ve had the opportunity to read and review. I enjoyed her style of storytelling and have already looked in to what others books she has written.

Readers who enjoy a good suspenseful story will likely enjoy Harrow Lake. It is the perfect creepy read for a dark night. I recommend it and hope others enjoy it as I did.

Provided for Review: Thirteen by Steve Cavanaugh

It’s the murder trial of the century. And Joshua Kane has killed to get the best seat in the house – and to be sure the wrong man goes down for the crime. Because this time, the killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the jury.

But there’s someone on his tail. Former-conman-turned-criminal-defense-attorney Eddie Flynn doesn’t believe that his movie-star client killed two people. He suspects that the real killer is closer than they think – but who would guess just how close?

This book was provided for review by NetGalley. Thank you!

Every so often, we as readers come across a book that once we pick it up and begin to read, it is near impossible to put down. It is only with the reminder of Real Life responsibilities – such as school, work, family – that we eventually put the book down and walk away.

Thirteen by Steve Cavanaugh is, in my opinion, such a book. A legal thriller with a case based on real events, once everything got going I found it almost impossible to put down. The first quarter of the book is dedicated to introducing the characters and the case it self, setting them up almost like chess pieces and putting them in place on the board. This part was a bit slow in at times but it was also necessary.

Once the actual trial starts though is when the action really starts to pick up. Between the lawyer, Eddie Flynn, and the actual killer, Joshua Kane, things turn in to a game of cat and mouse; where at times it is hard to decide who is the cat and who is the mouse.

One thing that surprised me was that Thirteen is actually the third book in a series with the lawyer character Eddie Flynn. It certainly did not feel that way reading it, in fact it felt more like the first book in said series. From the way the characters are introduced to the bits of background we are given them, it truly felt that way so one can imagine my surprise when I found this information out.

Is it necessary to read the first two books in the Eddie Flynn series to enjoy the third book? I don’t believe so because I was able to enjoy it with no problems. Like I stated above, I was actually quite surprised. Could reading the first two books add to the backstory of the characters and give more insight to them? Quite likely.

Personally, I really enjoyed reading Thirteen and will hopefully reading more of the series in the future. Because it is a murder mystery as well as legal drama, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and that is okay. Readers who love a good cat and mouse type thriller will do good to pick this one up.

Reboot (Reboot #1) by Amy Tintera

Five years ago, Wren Connolly was shot three times in the chest. After 178 minutes she came back as a Reboot: stronger, faster, able to heal, and less emotional. The longer Reboots are dead, the less human they are when they return. Wren 178 is the deadliest Reboot in the Republic of Texas. Now seventeen years old, she serves as a soldier for HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation).

Wren’s favorite part of the job is training new Reboots, but her latest newbie is the worst she’s ever seen. As a 22, Callum Reyes is practically human. His reflexes are too slow, he’s always asking questions, and his ever-present smile is freaking her out. Yet there’s something about him she can’t ignore. When Callum refuses to follow an order, Wren is given one last chance to get him in line—or she’ll have to eliminate him. Wren has never disobeyed before and knows if she does, she’ll be eliminated, too. But she has also never felt as alive as she does around Callum.

The perfect soldier is done taking orders. 

Reboot by Amy Tintera is a new and unique take on the well known trope of individuals returning from the dead. When a person dies, while there is a chance that they do not come back to life, if they do they are not a mindless zombie. They instead come back as a Reboot – a person just like they were only they are now stronger, faster, and less emotional. The longer a person is dead before they “reboot”, the less emotions they have and the less human they seem.

The problem I had with the book was that while the premise was so interesting, it just did not reach its full potential. What caused the virus that creates Reboots is barely touched on. It’s mentioned in an off handed manner that could be easy to overlook. When the book opens we are given a tantalizing view of the world the book is set in but once the romance aspect begins, the setting is forced to take a back seat.

Aside from the setting, another issue I had was with the main character herself. Wren 178 is heralded as one of the deadliest reboots known. She is cold and emotionless and follows orders without question. So why then does she become a completely different person when she begins to train Callum 22? She begins to disobey orders and at one point completely forgets her training. I would say it’s unrealistic but this is a book about people coming back from the dead.

Sadly, Reboot falls in with numerous other YA novels with a female protagonist. Once she meets that special someone, she becomes a different person, all in the name of love. I cannot count the number of books I have read with a similar premise.

For readers who enjoy books like this – ala The Hunger Games or Divergent – then they very well might enjoy reading Reboot. Personally, I thought it had potential but couldn’t live up to it and will likely not be seeking out the second book in the series.

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

Trigger Warnings: Incest (mentioned, happens before book starts), Animal Death (mentioned), Human Death, Suicide Attempt

The Witch of Willow Hall is one of those novels that is absolutely perfect for curling up with on a cold winter night. Though it is a novel that was written recently, it’s style is very reminiscent of gothic novels that were so popular once upon a time. Dark and moody, the story takes numerous twists and turns from beginning to end.

I did have a few issues while reading The Witch of Willow Hall. One being the scandal that sends Lydia and her family from Boston to New Oldbury. Lydia makes mention of it several times, stating how terrible it is and how it has brought such shame to the family, but it isn’t until a good halfway through the book do we the reader actually learn what the actual scandal is. I personally think making mention of it earlier in the story would have made it more impactful.

Sadly, I found the plot surrounding witches and how they impact the family to be rather lacking. Very little mention is made aside from a handful of ghost sightings for Lydia until almost the end of the book. And even then the great reveal is lackluster. Like with the aforementioned scandal, if they had been given more attention in the actual narrative I think they could have further enhanced the story.

As a fan of gothic novels, I enjoyed The Witch of Willow Hall. It is hard to believe that this is Ms. Fox’s first novel as it was quite well written. Fans of this kind of moody storytelling would likely enjoy it as well and I urge them to try it out.

The Shape of Water by Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus

It is 1962, and Elisa Esposito—mute her whole life, orphaned as a child—is struggling with her humdrum existence as a janitor working the graveyard shift at Baltimore’s Occam Aerospace Research Center. Were it not for Zelda, a protective coworker, and Giles, her loving neighbor, she doesn’t know how she’d make it through the day.

Then, one fateful night, she sees something she was never meant to see, the Center’s most sensitive asset ever: an amphibious man, captured in the Amazon, to be studied for Cold War advancements. The creature is terrifying but also magnificent, capable of language and of understanding emotions…and Elisa can’t keep away. Using sign language, the two learn to communicate. Soon, affection turns into love, and the creature becomes Elisa’s sole reason to live.

But outside forces are pressing in. Richard Strickland, the obsessed soldier who tracked the asset through the Amazon, wants nothing more than to dissect it before the Russians get a chance to steal it. Elisa has no choice but to risk everything to save her beloved. With the help of Zelda and Giles, Elisa hatches a plan to break out the creature. But Strickland is on to them. And the Russians are, indeed, coming

Trigger Warning: Racism, Homophobia, Violence

Also please note, I have NOT seen the movie.

The Shape of Water is undoubtedly a strange book albeit with a well known premise. American government hears rumors of a strange creature in some far off land and sends someone off to capture it. The creature is brought back alive where it is poked and prodded by government scientists. Through a series of events the creature escapes and is often times killed by the time the credits roll.

The majority of this happens in del Toro’s book, but instead of making the creature some kind of monster and making us sympathize with the scientists and soldiers, he flips the script so to speak. Richard Strickland, the soldier who brought back the creature from the Amazon, is a hateful man. It is incredibly likely he has PTSD because as the story progresses he descends further and further in to a delusional madness.

Instead, we sympathize with the creature. Taken from his home and placed in a sterile tank. Kept prisoner and subjected to torture in the name of science. The only kindness he receives is from one of the overnight janitors, Eliza, who eventually risks everything for him.

The first hundred or so pages of The Shape of Water is a bit difficult to get through. The writing is dry and bland and the story doesn’t move very much. It is only once Eliza and the creature meet does the story start to pick up pace. A pace that gains speed culminating in the climax of the last twenty pages of the book.

I am curious more than ever to see the movie now having read the book so I can compare and contrast the two.

Even if you’ve seen the movie, I recommend reading the book. If nothing else, it will give more insight in to the characters and more background on them than can be given in a 2 hour movie.