Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Watcher

The Watcher by Caroline Eriksson; Tara F. Chace (Translator)
AmazonCrossing: 9/18/18
eBook review copy; 240 pages
paperback ISBN-13: 9781503905405

The Watcher by Caroline Eriksson is a recommended "Rear Window"-esque Scandinavian thriller translated into English by Tara F. Chace.

Elena has left her husband Peter during a trial separation and has moved into a subleased townhouse. She's obviously distraught, unsettled, and unable to sleep or unpack. Her sister is trying to help her with regular Friday night dinners and checking up on her. Elena, an author, spends sleepless nights rearranging books in the bookcase. She is also watching her neighbors through the kitchen window. She discovers they are the Storm family, husband, wife, and teenage son, Leo. Soon she thinks something nefarious is happening between the Storms, and Leo, who is stopping by her house to talk to her, is increasing her anxiety about them. She is sure she is witnessing a marriage disintegrating and suspects murder may soon happen. Her watching is also spurring on her creativity, though, and she is beginning to write a new novel. Soon her writing is at a frenzied pitch and something must be coming to a deadly conclusion in both her novel and the neighbors marriage.

The plot unfolds mainly through chapters from Elena's point-of-view, but there are also chapters from the Husband's point-of-view and excerpts from the book Elena is writing. At first it is difficult to see what is real and unreal. The connection between the separate narratives is tenuous and the relevance of their inclusion is unclear, but the correlation becomes more coherent as the plot unfolds. The ending brings clarity to all the narrative threads.

It is an interesting novel and a quick read, although the plot is not unique and the outcome is not unexpected. There are a few plot points that were never completely resolved and I wish they were since they were an ongoing part of the narrative. Elena clearly is unstable and is an unreliable narrator, but this isn't handled quite as successfully in this novel as compared to other recent novels that have utilized this technique. If you enjoyed The Women in the Window, you might want to give The Watcher a try.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Amazon Publishing via Netgalley.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Escaping the Rabbit Hole

Escaping the Rabbit Hole by Mick West
Skyhorse Publishing: 9/18/18
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781510735804

Escaping the Rabbit Hole: How to Debunk Conspiracy Theories Using Facts, Logic, and Respect by Mick West is a highly recommended, informative and helpful aid to talking with friends about their beliefs in conspiracy theories.

It may be surprising for many people to realize some of the widely held beliefs in some of the conspiracy theories out there: The Earth is flat, the moon landing was faked, the World Trade Center collapse was a controlled demolition, planes are spraying chemtrails, and actors faked the Sandy Hook massacre. History confirms that some conspiracies can be real, but the ones West is discussing are not. Those who hold these false beliefs may need some assistance and gentle guidance to see their way out from their mistaken beliefs.

West believes in treating those you are talking to as a friend, with respect and patience, always striving to maintain a line of communication, rather than treating them like an enemy you must destroy with your logic and reasoning. It's a good statedgy. In this book he shares his personal experience discussing, investigating, and debunking false theories. He also draws upon the experience of others who have successfully helped friends see the truth. Finally, he looks at the literature in the field of conspiracy theories. Currently West has the debunking website Metabunk.

The book is arranged into three parts. The first takes a look at conspiracy theories, why they exist, why people believe them, and how you can help them. Part two deals with four specific conspiracy theories: Chemtrails; 9/11 Controlled Demolition; Sandy Hook was faked; Flat Earth believers. Part three looks at some of the additional complications you might encounter when talking to your friends about their false beliefs, which include a three step process of maintaining an effective dialogue, supplying your friend useful information, and allow time for the information to sink in and change their views. At the end of the book is a helpful glossary and extensive Endnotes.

I have to admit I was more than a little surprised by some of the conspiracy theories, like flat Earthers and Sandy Hook was done by actors. Some of these I had heard of before. I remember hearing and being surprised by all the talk of chemtrails back in the 1990's. I rather liked this observation by West, which covers a wide ranging number of beliefs: "People who supported the losing side in an election are more likely to believe conspiracy theories that are supposedly orchestrated by the winning side." This is an interesting, practical guide for people who feel compelled to help their friends out of the rabbit hole of belief in conspiracy theories.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing.





The Golden State

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling
Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 9/4/18
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9780374164836

The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling is a recommended debut novel about a young mother on the edge of a breakdown.

Daphne has a 16 month old daughter, Honey, a Turkish husband, Engin, who has been denied reentry to the USA by immigration officials, and a good university job at the Al-Ihsan Foundation for the Study of Islamic Societies and Civilizations in San Francisco when she suddenly decides to pack up a few things for her and Honey, flee San Francisco, and head to the high desert of Altavista, California. She inherited a mobile home there that she rarely visits, but her uncle has kept it in good repair. Stressed out by Engin's absence and haunted by the death of a student who was traveling on Institute funds, she thinks she needs an escape, a break to a quiet, simple life. Daphne is on the edge of a breakdown.

The novel follows 10 days in Daphne's life. Parenting alone with a 16 month old, trying to Skype with Engin to maintain their relationship, and filling the time during what feels like endless days, in an environment that is even more isolating for her is a dubious choice that may serve only to increase Daphne's isolation and loneliness. She meets a neighbor, Cindy, who is part of an anti-government, anti-immigration secessionist group, and meets a 92-year-old woman, Alice, who speaks a little Turkish and is visiting Altavista with a plan.

What worked was the raw emotion she captures in Daphne character. You can feel her honesty as she worries about Engin and Honey, and tries to be a good parent. She is struggling to find her way in her isolation. Mothers will recall many of Daphne's struggles with Honey and should be able to relate to the tantrums, the meal choices, nap time woes, and what can feel like endless boring routines involved in caring for a very young child who can't express themselves.

As for the writing - readers will have to be willing to overlook many long, run-on sentences with few commas. Kiesling's writing style may require some readers to pause and reread what they just read due to the aforementioned long run-on sentences. I did so several times, and, honestly, her writing style did begin to grate. The novel also begins to drag a bit as nothing much happens until very late in the narrative. The ending wasn't entirely successful for me.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Lies

Lies by T. M. Logan
St. Martin's Press: 9/11/18
eBook review copy; 432 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250182265

Lies by T. M. Logan is a recommended psychological thriller that features a tangle of lies to uncover.

Joe Lynch and his 4-year-old son, William, are heading home when William sees his mother's car. Joe assumes his wife, Mel, is meeting a client, but impulsively decides to follow her so the two can say hello. When they enter the Premier Inn, instead of a client they see Mel in the hotel bar, arguing with her best friend's husband, Ben Delaney. Joe hustle's William back out to the parking garage where they wait for Mel, but she leaves quickly without seeing them, so Joe confronts Ben, who begins pushing him. Joe pushes back, and Ben falls. Before he can summon help, William has an asthma attack and he decides to get help for his son. When he checks back later, Ben is gone, so Joe is assuming he is fine.

But later when he asks Mel about the meeting, she lies. Later she admits it, but lies again. And then it appears that Ben is now taunting Joe and trying to cause trouble, but Ben has disappeared, leaving his wife behind. From this point on the novel is a tangled web of people continuously lying, and amending their lies to new lies, and then changing those lies. Let's just say everyone is lying all the time, you can't trust anyone, and one of these liars is trying to ruin Joe’s  life.

The narrative in Lies covers an eight day period when Joe's world is turned upside down and he must uncover the truth. It is certainly a twisting tale of deceit and has an addictive start. After that it also becomes a tad bit slow-moving and the lies aren't as shocking as they continue. Once you realize there has been one big lie, and then that morphs in to another big lie and then... Well, most people, even the most trusting of souls, would have an inkling about the lies long before the first one is told.

Joe is an appealing character and you will be rooting for him. He is a good father and devoted spouse. Logan does an excellent job capturing the emotional roller coaster Joe is going through while trying to find the truth. However, I couldn't help but think as the plot unfolded that Joe should have picked up on a few more clues along the way and noticed what was happening so the current situation wouldn't be quite as shocking as it is for him.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of St. Martin's Press via Netgalley.

In Her Bones

In Her Bones by Kate Moretti
Atria Books: 9/4/18
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781501166471

In Her Bones by Kate Moretti is a highly recommended mystery/suspense novel about a woman on the run trying to uncover the truth.

Edie Beckett, 30, is just trying to live her life out of the spotlight. Fifteen years ago, her mother, Lilith Wade, was convicted of murdering six women, and sentenced to death row. The media frenzy continued after the release of the unauthorized biography by an unknown author. Edie is a recovering alcoholic who keeps to herself, has a co-dependent relationship with her brother, and an unhealthy obsession with the surviving family members of Lilith's victims. She keeps notebooks on their personal information, stalks them online (and in person if possible).

Edie's current obsession is Peter Lipsky, whose wife was fatally stabbed by Lilith. She's stalking him online, through a survivor's message board, and collecting information about him and his late wife, Colleen.  Colleen's murder is the one that doesn't fit the profile of Lilith's other victims. When Edie meets Peter during one of her reconnaissance missions, she ends up drinking too much and and goes home with him. She leaves before he wakes up, but is later found murdered that morning. She doesn't remember much of the night and now she is the prime suspect for his murder. Edie goes on the run while trying to uncover what really happened and who killed Peter.

Edie is a sympathetic, fleshed-out character and the main narrator in the book, although there are also excerpts from the biography of Lilith included and a few from Gil Brandt, the detective who caught Lilith, but also helped Edie. As the novel unfolds, Edie reminisces about her troubled childhood with Lilith while dealing with her current situation. Edie is also clearly a damaged character, and much of this began in her childhood with Lilith.

While on the run rather than talking to detectives, she does make some questionable/interesting choices along the way and has a few stumbles. In her own way, she is a resourceful, smart, and street savvy character. She is clever enough to evade being caught while trying to ferret out the truth about Peter's murder, which also requires her to look back at his wife's murder. Was Lilith responsible for it or is there another killer running loose out there and could Edie now be a target?

I found this to be a well-written, compelling mystery (rather than thriller). The pace is even, rather than fast, until the end, but the steps Edie takes and her reasoning is interesting enough to keep your attention. In Her Bones held my attention throughout. Although I had all manner of guesses and suspects, I didn't have a clue about the ending until just before it happened. Nicely played Moretti!

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Atria Books via Netgalley.

Three Little Lies

Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall
Grand Central Publishing: 9/4/18
eBook review copy; 352 pages
ISBN-13: 9781478948568

Three Little Lies by Laura Marshall is a highly recommended mystery told over two time periods.

In 2017 30-year-old journalist Ellen Mackinnon reports to police that her friend and roommate, Sasha North, is missing. Both of the young women had received threatening letters from a man in their past, Daniel Monkton, who was released from prison five years ago. Is he in London? If he is, then both women might have a reason to fear for their safety based on the events that happened twelve years ago on New Year's Eve. Ellen must dig into Sasha's friends and the past to try and uncover what happened to her.

In 2005 the glamorous Monkton's moved into Ellen's neighborhood. Ellen and Karina, her best friend at that time, were both 17 and obsessed with them. The family had two handsome teenage sons, Daniel and Nicholas. The mother, Olivia, was a famous opera singer, while their father, Tony, was a musician, and their goddaughter, Sasha, is a beautiful teen the same age as Ellen and Karina. Ellen and Sasha soon become fast friends, with Karina on the periphery. Ellen loves the family, and especially Olivia who provides her with a life-long love of music. But then the events of New Year's Eve happen when Karina claims Daniel raped her.

The novel opens in July 2007 with Olivia at Daniel's trial for rape, so you know that this is going to transpire. Ellen is the main narrator of the novel, past and present, with additional chapters from the perspective of Olivia and Karina. The story is told through current events and those that started back in 2005. The flashbacks through Ellen's point-of-view help flesh out the characters and make Ellen a sympathetic character. It is a bit difficult to comprehend Ellen's frantic search for Sasha, when it becomes clear that Sasha is not the most reliable character. Ellen is almost too desperate in her search for Sasha. It seems that after years of being her friend she should already have a few clues and more insight into Sasha's personality. You can like a person and still acknowledge that they have flaws and shortcomings.

In the end, Three Little Lies is an immensely readable, well-written novel and you will find yourself desperate to discover what happened years ago and if it has some impact on Sasha's disappearance. Marshall does an excellent job increasing the tension incrementally to keep you on the edge of your seat while reading. Likely you will also be looking for the three lies, although at the final tally, there are more than three.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Grand Central Publishing via Netgalley.



Wednesday, September 5, 2018

When the Lights Go Out

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica
Park Row Books; 9/4/18
eBook review copy; 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780778330783

When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica is a so-so novel of psychological suspense.

Jessie Sloane's mother, Eden, dies from cancer and now she must try to continue on with her life after spending her teen years, since she was 15, caring for her mom. When the college she has applied to informs her that her social security number belongs to a 3-year-old girl who died 17 years ago, she needs to find her social security card, but can't. Jessie can't even find her birth certificate and she doesn't have any other identification, like a driver's license. Eden never told her the name of her father, so Jessie is running out of options. She is also struggling with insomnia, which is causing hallucinations and paranoia.

Between Jessie's narrative are flashbacks from Eden's past, beginning in 1996. Eden and her husband were newlyweds in 1996 and wanted to start a family. Soon her inability to conceive became an obsession for Eden and led to more expensive medical intervention to assist them. Her obsession becomes increasingly unhealthy and threatens her marriage.

The quality of the writing is great, but the actual plot, not so much. I struggled to get through this novel and kept talking back to the plot/action because it didn't make sense. The ending, which was likely supposed to explain all the things I was upset with in the novel only resulted in pure disgust and reduced my rating to 2 stars. (It is 2 stars because Kubica gets 1 for her writing ability. Great writer; bad plot device.) Saying anything about the extremely disappointing "twist" at the end will ruin the novel for others, but I feel like it was a lazy ending. When the ending technique used here has been tried in other circumstances, it is consistently a hit or miss for people. This was a total miss for me.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Park Row Books.