Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes

Into the Darkest CornerInto the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
Published by Harper

When Catherine Bailey meets Lee Brightman, the two hit it off instantly and it seems to be a perfect match and the beginning of a great relationship. But soon their relationship turns volatile, with Lee acting jealous, telling Catherine what to do, calling her names, and downright terrifying her. Four years later, Catherine has moved, changed jobs, and is not in contact with Lee any longer. She finally begins opening herself up to the idea of a new relationship with her neighbor, Stuart, who encourages her to face her fears and move past the damage caused by her relationship with Lee. But one day she receives a phone call that threatens the peace she’s so carefully built for herself…

I didn’t read the publisher’s summary before picking up this book – simply chose to read it after hearing good things from other readers and knowing that it was, in general terms, a thriller. I had no idea it was about an abusive relationship – had I known, I may have passed on it because intimate partner violence is a subject that can be really difficult for me to read, having had personal experience with this type of relationship. That being said, this is an extremely well-written, well-plotted novel that I can sincerely recommend for those who can stomach its contents.

My personal experience aside, let’s talk about the book. So the beginning was difficult for me because the format goes back and forth in time between Catherine’s time being with Lee, four years ago, and Cathy in the present tense. At first I thought they were two separate people, but once I got that it was just two different time periods I was fine. Haynes’ decision to tell the story in this way was very smart; it kept me on my toes in both the past and present, and as the story went along and I got more of the Catherine/Lee dynamic, it heightened the tension for her situation in present tense, as it was clear that the abuse was likely to happen again if he were to find her.

The way that Haynes depicted the intimate partner violence that Catherine experienced was scarily true to life and written extremely well. The sense of isolation that Catherine felt, the constant need to explain herself to Lee, the constant name calling and physical abuse, the blaming of Catherine for when things didn’t go Lee’s way, these things were all within these pages and played out exactly how they do in real life abusive relationships. The saddest, most difficult part of the entire book for me was when Catherine did try to get help by reaching out to her friends and being honest with them about the relationship, and no one believed her. Lee was so manipulative that he had already convinced all of Catherine’s friends that any so-called problems in their relationship were her fault, not his. The way that this happened was depicted in such a true to life way that it was just heartbreaking to read as Catherine lost all hope for rescue or escape from the abuse Lee inflicted on her. It was really sad and honestly very scary that this happens to women in real life, all the time.

So would I recommend Into the Darkest Corner? Yes, but with reservations. Keep in mind that this is a book about an extremely abusive relationship, and is written extremely well – those who have experienced this type of situation themselves or have been close with someone who has could be triggered by the contents of the novel. If you are okay with that, however, I absolutely recommend the book – it is a tightly plotted, well-written and well characterized thriller, the perfect edge-of-your-seat novel.

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Fractured by Catherine McKenzie

FracturedFractured by Catherine McKenzie
Published by Lake Union

Julie, her husband, and their twin six-year-olds have recently moved across the country to Cincinnati from the Pacific Northwest to escape a woman who stalked Julie after she wrote a novel that gave her celebrity status. Feeling lonely and trying unsuccessfully to write her second novel, Julie befriends the neighbor across the street, John, who is home all day after recently losing his job. John’s wife, Hanna, is understandably wary of this friendship, as is Julie’s husband Daniel, but the two persist as running buddies anyway. Pretty soon Julie begins to understand that this neighborhood is more clique-y than she could have imagined, as the queen bee of the block, Cynthia, begins actively campaigning to turn the entire neighborhood against Julie and her family. In addition, creepy things start happening that give her reason to believe that her stalker might have tracked her down to Ohio and could be at it again.

Fractured was a fun read that was entertaining and enjoyable, if a little predictable at times. I have never lived in a neighborhood quite like the one Julie and her family moved into, but oh the drama! These people were dramatic to the point of being silly, but I have to admit that it was fun to read about. The way McKenzie described their block parties, the rules posted to their community online message board, and the interactions between those families who couldn’t get along was just hilarious. One thing I didn’t love was that most of the drama was instigated and perpetuated by the women on the block – mostly stay-at-home moms who “didn’t have anything better to do” – which was annoyingly stereotypical and got old after a while. The men on the street had almost zero personalities and their characters were barely discussed, much less fleshed out in any real way. But I get it – suburban drama, focused on the women, okay fine.

The way McKenzie tells the story is nonlinear, mostly telling it as flashbacks and going back and forth between the point of views of Julie and John, with little snapshots of what’s currently happening, slowly bringing the two time periods together until the conclusion, where everything along both timelines makes sense. This set up definitely increased the anxiety factor, as the reader can see that something BAD happened, but is completely in the dark as to what that could be. And is it Julie’s stalker who did the bad thing? Or another character entirely? Is Julie’s stalker even back or is someone else on the street stalking her? Or is she even being stalked at all, could she possibly be making it up? These questions and more swirl around the story, making it impossible to put the book down because you just have to keep reading to find out what’s really going on here.

I enjoyed Fractured for what it was – a fun novel that I would categorize as suburban thriller. Is that a category? That’s the best way to describe the book for sure. I can see myself reading more from this author because while I didn’t love every aspect of the book, she can definitely write a page-turning story that really kept me on the hook.

The Firm by John Grisham

The FirmThe Firm by John Grisham
Published by Dell

It’s possible that I’m one of the few voracious readers who had never read anything by John Grisham up until this point. I always expected not to like his books as the idea of a legal thriller just doesn’t sound, I guess, thrilling to me in the least. However, when a coworker recommended that I try his books, and further suggested starting with The Firm, I decided to listen. I didn’t hate the book but I didn’t enjoy it too much, either. It was just okay for me. The writing is super detailed and over dramatized to the point where it became annoying after a couple hundred pages. The entire thing is dripping with the grossest sexism and is just not nice in its treatment of women in any way. I get that the sexism is characteristic of the firm itself and it was there for a reason, but I don’t think it had to be SO in your face and, honestly, just obnoxious. While I don’t see myself reading another Grisham novel anytime soon, I would be interested to see if all of his books are written with so little attention paid to how the women are represented in them, or if it is unique to this book because of the premise.

Despite my issues with the book, it wasn’t the worst ever and I did find myself entertained by the story itself. I wouldn’t exactly call it a thriller but the plot moved quickly enough to hold my attention and keep me turning pages. I kind of hated most of the characters, but I think that was what Grisham was going for, and the fact that he got me to care enough to hate them is a good thing. I am glad that, having read the book, I now understand what Grisham is all about and I know I won’t be reading more of his novels in the future.

Mini-Reviews: Last Books Read in 2016 part 2

Behind Closed DoorsBehind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Published by St. Martin’s Press

This book was one HELL of a ride. It’s about this couple, Jack and Grace, who appear absolutely perfect from an outsider’s view: beautiful home in the suburbs, both physically gorgeous and fit, they host the best dinner parties in town, and his affluence and professional success allow her to be a stay-at-home wife and perhaps mother in the near future. But it is obvious from the first few pages that things with the two of them are nowhere near the image they project for their friends and neighbors to see. Once the reader is clued in to what’s really going on here, the novel picks up the pace and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, desperate to find out what would happen with the insanity that I was reading about. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is one of those unputdownable books that everyone raves about for good reason. Read it!

Leave MeLeave Me by Gayle Forman
Published by Algonquin Books

Maribeth is the stereotypical working mother who spends absolutely all of her time on everyone else – between work, her kids and her husband she barely has time to make sure she eats, let alone takes care of her own health needs. So when she goes two days avoiding the pain in her body only to realize she’s been having a heart attack that entire time, after a few weeks of recovery during which she was still responsible for taking care of absolutely everyone except for herself, she does the unthinkable and leaves her family.

Okay, so I really liked this book even though I can say that it definitely had its issues. For me, I enjoyed getting to know Maribeth and I really felt sorry for her. There was very little appreciation shown by anyone in her family for what she sacrificed for them on a daily basis, and while I know that’s the plight of many women, working mothers or otherwise, it was taken to another level here, with her having to take all responsibilities back on herself just five days after having open-heart surgery. There were several things she needed to understand about herself, her past, and what she wanted for her future (and what she was willing to put up with in order to get it), and I enjoyed spending time on this journey with her. The one thing I will say that disappointed me was the ending – it was wrapped up just a bit too neatly for such a difficult situation. There were other things about the book that weren’t perfect, but overall I really enjoyed it.

Cruel Beautiful WorldCruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Published by Algonquin Books

Lucy is sixteen in 1969 when she decides to run away with an older man, one of her teachers, to live in an off-the-grid tiny home in rural Pennsylvania. As Lucy’s older sister, Charlotte, and their guardian, Iris, come to terms with Lucy’s disappearance (although they have no idea where she went or why), the three of them must learn to forge ahead in their new lives independently, while never losing hope that Lucy will reunite with the other two again in the future.

I thought this book was so phenomenal, it truly blew me away. Lucy’s decision to leave her family and home for the “security” of this older man had far-reaching consequences, not just for her own life, but for all the people who knew and loved her as well. The way Leavitt crafted this story, while it’s not intended to be a page-turner by any means, kept me on the edge of my seat, frantically wishing and hoping that things would turn out okay for Lucy, Charlotte, and Iris. Leavitt perfectly captured the unique balance of crushing loneliness and feeling like you’re on top of the world and can do absolutely anything that is so unique to certain teenage girls – Lucy struck this balance in such a way that she was the perfect target for her teacher to take advantage of, and he certainly did. Leavitt gave the reader the opportunity to get to know all of the major players, not just Lucy, giving an even more complete picture of what forces propelled Lucy throughout her life to make this seemingly insane choice. Also the writing – SOOOO good. I loved this book so much.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Review copy provided by SheReads

From the publisher:

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

This is one of those books that absolutely everyone is talking about, and for good reason. The novel starts out with a bang – literally – as there is a plane crash within the first few pages, and it continues to move at an extremely rapid pace as the two survivors fight for their lives, swimming miles and miles to get to shore and finally surviving both the crash and their arduous journey to safety. The rest of the book goes back and forth in time, shedding light for the reader on the lives of everyone before the crash while at the same time, letting the reader see the way the crash affected the two survivors and their relationship with each other. I loved that the story was told that way – it gave me such a complex and complete view of these characters, but slowly, over the course of the book.

There is definitely a thriller aspect to Before the Fall, but I wouldn’t put it firmly in that category. A lot of time is spent getting to know the characters and seeing how the various players were involved with one another and, in some cases, basically strangers. Much can be said of the fact that they were all keeping secrets, all hiding major things which could have possibly contributed to the reason for the crash – that’s the suspenseful part of the book. The suspenseful part is the fact that you KNOW one of these people was somehow, directly or indirectly, responsible for this horrific thing that happened, but it could be so many of them for so many reasons. I guessed a lot of things but didn’t figure it out until the very end – Hawley did a great job leading me astray, that is for sure.

Several people I’ve spoken to about this book didn’t like the ending at all. I’m not sure that I quite fall into that camp but I definitely didn’t love the ending, either. It felt like a cop-out just a bit, although it was definitely plausible. I don’t know. I liked the book so much that I kind of don’t care how I feel about the ending, does that make sense?

Anyway. Before the Fall. I liked it a lot. Definitely recommended!

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

The Kind Worth KillingThe Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
Published by William Morrow

From the publisher:

On a night flight from London to Boston, Ted Severson meets the mysterious Lily Kintner. Sharing one too many martinis, the strangers begin to play a game of truth, revealing intimate details about themselves. Ted talks about his marriage and his wife Miranda, who he’s sure is cheating on him. But their game turns dark when Ted jokes that he could kill Miranda for what she’s done. Lily, without missing a beat, says calmly, “I’d like to help.”

From there, Ted and Lily’s twisted bond grows stronger as they plot Miranda’s demise, but soon these co-conspirators are embroiled in a game of cat-and-mouse–one they both cannot survive–with a shrewd and very determined detective on their tail.

You know how every thriller these days is advertised as the next Gone Girl or Girl on a Train? And how annoying that is? Well – I’m about to annoy you, because The Kind Worth Killing reminded me so much of both of those books, but only in the best possible way. I’m actually surprised it didn’t get more attention, because this book was SO GOOD.

Right from the start of the book, it’s clear that things here are not exactly as they seem. On the surface, sure – guy meets girl, guy wants to kill his wife, girl agrees to help – sounds simple and uncomplicated, right? (ha!!) Wrong. So much is happening in this book, so many twists and turns that I did not see coming. It’s a hell of a ride.

I’ll be honest and say that for a second there, I thought the book was going to go into a direction I was NOT a fan of – but it didn’t! Even crazier shit happened than what I had been anticipating. There are connections between people that I did not see coming, characters going rogue in ways I could not have imagined, just crazy stuff all over the place. Honestly – I just could not put this thing down. It was so incredibly captivating.

If you’re looking for a great thriller, look no further than The Kind Worth Killing. I was so hooked on this thing from page one. Read it!

Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

Don't You CryDon’t You Cry by Mary Kubica
Published by Mira
Review copy provided by NetGalley

From the publisher:

In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she’s the person Quinn thought she knew.

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under Pearl’s spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end.

I hate hate hate to say this, but I did not love this book. I am not sure that my feelings for it even approach like. Here’s the thing: I was hoping for a thriller. An edge-of-your-seat, can’t-put-it-down, heart racing, thriller. That’s not really what this novel is. There is a LOT of build-up. A lot a lot a lot. To the point where it almost felt like nothing was happening until the very end when BOOM everything happens all at once. And perhaps because I was hoping for something else, I was disappointed by that.

There are two stories running throughout the book: Quinn’s and Alex’s. It’s obvious that they are connected in some way, but exactly how they are connected is unclear. I have to admit that while I thought I understood the connection from the start, I was very wrong, and I do have to give it to Kubica for that – she definitely surprised me.

I wasn’t a fan of Quinn. Her roommate was missing and it seemed like she still managed to make the entire situation all about her. How about make the situation about Esther? Instead, she kept looking for and finding clues that Esther either hated her, or was angry with her, or was disappointed with her, or was keeping secrets from her – she had the situation so revolved around herself it was just weird to me. And there was a non-romance situation with a guy who had a girlfriend, which just felt like it didn’t belong in the story in any way.

Alex I liked, but he was much more young and innocent, a “good person” in an obvious way, so it’s no wonder I liked him. I understood why he was intrigued by Pearl and hopeful to get to know her better, but it was obvious from the beginning that the whole situation was bad news and he probably should have just run like hell in the other direction. I also think that his back story could have been explored a bit more in-depth, but I suppose he wasn’t exactly the point of the book.

I’m sad to say I didn’t enjoy Don’t You Cry too much. Obviously I finished it, so there’s something, but truthfully it felt way too slow for almost the entire book, just to hit me over the head with a huge revelation at the end. Not exactly what I was hoping for when I decided to read a thriller. I have enjoyed one of Kubica’s novels in the past, though, so I’m certainly not giving up on her!