review: Hanover House (Hanover House Chronicles 0.5) by Brenda Novak

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{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Greatly appreciated, as always!

Official Synopsis
Welcome to Hanover House….

Psychiatrist Evelyn Talbot has dedicated her life to solving the mysteries of the psychopathic mind. Why do psychopaths act as they do? How do they come to be? Why don’t they feel any remorse for the suffering they cause? And are there better ways of spotting and stopping them?

After having been kidnapped, tortured and left for dead when she was just a teenager—by her high school boyfriend—she’s determined to understand how someone she trusted so much could turn on her. So she’s established a revolutionary new medical health center in the remote town of Hilltop, Alaska, where she studies the worst of the worst.

But not everyone in Hilltop is excited to have Hanover House and its many serial killers in the area. Alaskan State Trooper, Sergeant Amarok, is one of them. And yet he can’t help feeling bad about what Evelyn has been through. He’s even attracted to her. Which is partly why he worries.

He knows what could happen if only one little thing goes wrong…

Review
So, you’re Evelyn, right?

And when you were a teenager, your lovely boyfriend viciously murdered your friends and then for kicks, kept you in a shack in the woods, tortured and raped you and then sliced open your throat… because he’s just that kind of guy.

You escaped, natch (or there wouldn’t be a book) and you’ve decided the best thing to do with your remaining days is set up camp in the Alaskan wilderness and study serial killers and psychopaths, right.up.close.

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Evelyn…

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Seriously though, this was really entertaining! Especially for a prequel AND a novella, two things I normally don’t enjoy in the slightest.

I understand that a prequel is simply meant to set the stage, rather than delve too deeply, so I won’t dock this one too many points for what I see as missed opportunities – greater depth for Evelyn’s character, more of a sense of ‘place’ (the Alaskan wilderness has to be one of the most scenic and interesting places in terms of ambiance in the United States) and perhaps a touch more development as to the idea of Hanover House and its purpose in the world.

However, I expect to see all those things and more in Whiteout, the first book in the series, which comes out in September of 2016. I can’t waiiiiiit. The premise is just so fascinating.

While I think Evelyn’s plans have a whiff of whackadoodle, I can still understand and sympathize with her. Raped and within a breath of being murdered by the guy you trust the most? That has to mess with a girl’s head. And Evelyn seeks some semblance of control by attempting to talk to, reason with and understand these men who commit these hideous crimes. She wants to find out why she didn’t see Jasper’s madness, why she didn’t even have the faintest hint that he was as black as night inside, as black as the deepest holes in space.

The book largely concentrates on Evelyn’s past, and her uncertain future. Her romance with the dashing Sergeant Amarok is a non-starter, given Evelyn can’t bear to be touched, but she’s still drawn toward the state trooper because let’s face it, he’s a total babe, and she wants him baaaad.

When Evelyn’s past becomes present in one sickening rush, she’s forced to confront her own scars in a way she hasn’t had to for decades. Taut and electrifying (if a tad too quick for my tastes), the end of this novella is a definite page-turner. I’m looking forward to reaping the benefits of Novak’s extensive research into psychopathy. Recommended…. and can’t wait for the series.

review: The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

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{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Grand Central Publishing for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I greatly appreciated the chance to read this book!

Official Synopsis
In a forest in Denmark, a ranger discovers the fresh corpse of an unidentified woman. A large scar on one side of her face should make the identification easy, but nobody has reported her missing. After four days, Louise Rick—the new commander of the Missing Persons Department—is still without answers. But when she releases a photo to the media, an older woman phones to say that she recognizes the woman as Lisemette, a child she once cared for in the state mental institution many years ago.

Lisemette, like the other children in the institution, was abandoned by her family and branded a “forgotten girl.” But Louise soon discovers something more disturbing: Lisemette had a twin, and both girls were issued death certificates over 30 years ago.

As the investigation brings Louise closer to her childhood home, she uncovers more crimes that were committed—and hidden—n the forest, and finds a terrible link to her own past that has been carefully concealed.

Review
From the very first words —

Gone is coming. Gone is coming! The words pounded in her ears as the rocks and branches of the forest floor tore her feet and shins. Her head was whirling and fear made her heart constrict.

I was riveted by this compelling mystery.

The Forgotten Girls is Sara Blaedel’s seventh in her Louise Rick mystery series, translated from her native tongue to English – much to my delight! I haven’t read any of the others (I will be rectifying that quite quickly) but had no issues in picking up the book and diving right in. There are minimal references to other cases / characters, but this novel is the beginning of a new career for Louise, so it’s in some ways a natural starting point.

Louise is heading up a new agency, searching for missing persons. Her new partner, Eik Nordstrom (who I kept picturing as Eric Northman from True Blood… delicious!) has to be picked up from a bar the first day, and she quickly realizes that her boss wants her to close cases quickly, without doing the necessary and crucial police work that Louise so loves.

When the case of Lisemette crosses her desk, Louise expects that she will be able to solve it before dinnertime. After all, the dead girl has a large and grotesque scar down one side of her face. Surely someone will recognize her and come forward?

But no one does, and Louise begins to learn of the forgotten girls… and all that has befallen them since they were institutionalized many, many years ago. In between searching for Lisemette’s twin sister, Louise and Eik also deal with the very real and very present-day threat of a vicious rapist and murderer, attacking women as they walk through a nearby wood.

Are the cases related? Will Louise be forced to confront the very painful realities of her past?

I could not put this book down, and read it in one evening. Sara Blaedel has the refreshing style of many Scandinavian writers – succinct, raw and often disturbing. What happened to the girls is so revolting as to be almost unfathomable. It presents uncomfortable questions of morality and cruelty – and surely echoes what must have gone on in many of these institutions in the past.

These girls were for all intents and purposes, dead to their families, and suffered because of it and beyond it. Truly forgotten in the darkness, as if they slipped into an oubliette, out of reach, out of sight, but trapped in their own terrorized bodies.

review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

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{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Random House for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I greatly appreciated the chance to read this book!

Official Synopsis
Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

Review
What a delightful read.

Although – hand on heart – I am a feminist through and through, I don’t/didn’t know a lot about Gloria Steinem. I read her interview in Lenny (Lena Dunham’s newsletter) and found her to be intriguing and funny. So I was anxious to get started with this book.

In recounting her “life on the road” as a nomad, Steinem could be staid or depressing – after all, she has seen a lot of history that would be unpleasant to think about, AND had a lot of men figuratively and literally pat her on the head and call her “dear” or “honeybun” (you know it happened).

Thankfully, Steinem is a pleasure to spend time with. What’s more, she comes across as genuine, intelligent, warm and openhearted. This is inspirational to me, as I cannot even imagine the vitriol she’s had directed her way throughout her journey in feminism and fighting for equality.

The most fascinating thing to me about this collection of stories is that none of them are designed to make Steinem seem ‘more’. She does not seek to become ‘more’ important, ‘more’ liked, or ‘more’ in any sense. Instead, she shines the glow on others – her father (who inspired her to travel, learn and grow), taxi drivers, servers, college students, and others she has met while traveling. These chance encounters and brief conversations have all served to inform Steinem’s views on the world and its inhabitants. She comes across as grateful and appreciative of these experiences and encounters, no matter how minor they might seem to an outside perspective.

Highly recommended – this is a lovely read, and offers a new and fresh look at Steinem’s past, as well as the birth and rise of the feminist movement. Further, it’s a deeply moving rumination on the importance of every day encounters and of paying attention – no matter the occasion.

review: Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Tilia Klebenov Jacobs

wrongplace {Source: GoodReads.com}

This book was *not* what I expected.

It was an entertaining read in many ways, but the summary is somewhat misleading.

Tsara Adelman visits her Uncle at his vast estate for the first time in many years to attend a party he’s holding. While there, she’s kidnapped by Mike Westbrook – a local man who believes that Tsara’s uncle is holding his child captive.

Mike intends to trade Tsara for his son, but the two rogue cops Uncle Castle sends after them have other plans. Deep in the wilderness, Tsara and Mike must fight for their lives while negotiating their own complex relationship.

Now, here’s what I thought would happen. Tsara and Mike would fall in love / have sex, there would be drama from that unintended consequence of two attractive people thrown together in heightened emotional circumstances. I also believed that a huge focus of the tension would come from the children hidden in Uncle Castle’s wine cellar, and the repercussions from whatever nefarious things he was up to with them.

Instead, the book went in the opposite direction, and I was baffled by some of the narrative choices.

1) Tsara being happily married, for one. There wasn’t any urgency or complexity there – it just *was*. Realistic, perhaps. Entertaining to read about? Not so much.

2) Mike was another wasted opportunity for me. He could have been so much more. I just didn’t believe in his reasons for doing anything he did. Not to mention, it was obvious from the get go that he wasn’t going to hurt Tsara – so any danger or sexual tension dissipated under the weight of that kind of apathy. I just couldn’t bring myself to care if he got his child back, or what happened to him.

3) The reasons Uncle Castle was keeping the kids captive. NOT exciting.

4) The book was much too long with some needless description and it became to meander toward the end. I think it could be trimmed down with careful editing.

The good?

1) Tsara was a likable character, with spunk and guts. She also had a dry sense of humour and was a stickler for grammar, which I appreciated.

2) The writing is solid, with few mistakes – if any – and once I became aware this book wouldn’t quite live up to the summary, I enjoyed the story. Especially the trial. That was an interesting choice. I’m not sure I completely believed any of it, but still, it’s nice to see an author take risks with a tale.

3) Tsara’s decision in the end, which I won’t go into here. It made me respect her as a person all that much more.

Generally speaking, this was a promising debut, however I think it needs a new summary (I thought the book would be a breathless journey through the wilderness – it isn’t) and editing to trim down some of the excess descriptions. I would be interested in reading more from this author. I think she has potential to write good mysteries – but I would recommend – as a reader – that more personal conflict is always juicy, appreciated and ups the ante – especially in a story like this one.

review: In the Waning Light by Loreth Anne White

inthewaninglight {Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley and Montlake Romance for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

I moved this week. The house is a shambles. My husband and I have been turning corners in the kitchen, unaware of where we put the knives, or the ground cinnamon, or the plates.

But still, I read. I had to. Loreth Anne White is quickly becoming one of my favourite mystery authors, and after A Dark Lure, I knew that In the Waning Light was at the top of my must-reads list.

This tale is captivating. It has one of my book kinks – a tragic past following the heroine into the future – immediately I was hooked. This book is unputdownable. It’s the story of Meg Brogan, a true-crimes author who returns to her childhood home to write about her own sister’s brutal murder. As a teen, Sherry Brogan was viciously raped and strangled. On that night, Meg was also hurt and almost died – but her memories have been washed away, like a footprint at high tide.

Upon her return, it becomes evident that the residents of Shelter Bay are unimpressed with Meg digging around in the past. Some violently so. As Meg peels the onion of her sister’s murder, she also finds herself again – in love and life, reconnecting with her first boyfriend, Blake Sutton. Although the romance is lovely AND sexy (a rare thing), it’s her relationship with Blake’s son Noah that I found most touching. This young boy, so desperate for affection and grieving so intensely for his mother – he’s heartrending, and Meg engages with him in such a way that tells the reader she is truly a good person. Brave, strong, compassionate and pretty badass.

I guessed who murdered Sherry mid-way through, but I did NOT guess the reasons behind it, nor the circumstances. It’s a shocker, and it’s brutal and upsetting and horrifying. Loreth Anne White is not afraid to go into the darkness, nor is she afraid to take you there with her. Her sense of place is astounding. It’s one of her biggest talents as an author.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out some repetition in the phrasing and prose. When I was in creative writing class, my teacher told me that although she loved my poetry, she found I had a few favourite words and phrases, and fell back onto them time and time again. White does this often – with things like “bowels”, “black and inky”, “black and oily” and “chinkled”. It’s a little distracting – because the phrases are so raw and distinctive.

Overall, highly recommended. I cannot wait for the next mystery from White. She’s truly talented and creates worlds that you can reach out and touch, taste, feel and experience.

review: Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

playingwithfire{Source: GoodReads.com}

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

4.5 stars

Honestly? You had me at Tess Gerritsen.

I love Gerritsen’s writing. Her talent for crafting strong, relatable, complex female characters is outstanding for the genre, and she writes a lovely, layered mystery too.

Playing with Fire is a departure for Gerritsen, and I could really feel that she took so much pleasure in writing the tale. In the book, we meet Julia Ansdell, a professional violinist, who stumbles upon a dusty piece of music in a lonely shop in Rome. Back home, Ansdell plays the piece – the Incendio waltz, and it is shatteringly beautiful. It also appears to trigger her three-year-old daughter Lily into brutal violence.

Frightened and disassembled by the escalating madness encroaching on her life, Julia travels to Venice, Italy, in an attempt to discover the truth about the waltz and its origins.

The novel flips back and forth between Julia’s story and that of Lorenzo Todesco, a young man growing up in the horrors of the Second World War. At the beginning, I thought these transitions would annoy me, but they were extremely well done, and the differences in tone / perspective / voice were so vivid and well captured. Bravo to Gerritsen for pulling that off so well.

Another note that I feel I should mention is how well Gerritsen portrays Julia. In the beginning, I was annoyed on her behalf. Like, her daughter does these absolutely psychotic things and no one seems to bat an eyelid? But as the novel progressed, I became unraveled, wondering… what was true? Was Julia reliable? Really wonderfully done.

In the crescendo of the novel, all is revealed, and I just couldn’t put it down. It’s at times so sad that it feels heartbreaking, but there is a sweet element of hope that rivers through the piece – and that is heartbreaking too.

Loved it. Would recommend to anyone who loves a good thriller (the bits with Lily and Julia are genuinely horrifying) and anyone who enjoys their mystery with a side of history. You’ll be enthralled.