Book Review: Touch

touchJump jump.

Are you losing time? Kepler can transfer consciousness by touch, and the only way you’d know is if you realized a block of time had passed that you had no memory of. Kepler’s not the only one, and not all of them treat their host bodies with respect. When one of Kepler’s favorite hosts is murdered, Kepler jumps into the murderer’s head – and from there, a story unfolds that’s equal parts unique and disturbing.

North’s storytelling is strong, and Kepler in particular wrestles with some heavy questions of morality. I especially loved that Kepler’s gender is never revealed. A ghost takes on the gender of the body they’re inhabiting, suggesting some interesting takes on nature vs. nurture.

The secondary characters are less enigmatic and by extension less compelling. Mustache-twirling evil is only entertaining if it’s done for camp; in a story as morally ambiguous as this one, it seems a bit out of place.

(BTW I’m endlessly amused by the question on Goodreads that asks if this is a “clean” book. I mean, what even is that?)

*I scored this title from Netgalley in return for a review.*

Book Review: You Should Have Known

you should have knownCan you really miss all the signs, even if you’re looking for them?

Therapist Grace Reinhart Sachs makes her living telling people where they’ve gone wrong. She believes that there’s always a moment, usually early in the relationship, when you can see the truth about the other person – a truth you then “forget,” burying it in excuses and desires. In fact, Grace has written a book on the subject, called You Should Have Known.

Her own life seems to hold up under scrutiny: she has a loving marriage, a wonderful son. (She’s also materialistic and judgmental and clearly unaware of just how good she has it, but that’s a whole other thing.)

Then a woman Grace knows only vaguely is murdered, and her perfect husband has disappeared. As her life begins to unravel, Grace keeps asking herself: should she have known?

Unfortunately, it’s not a question the book really answers. (Mild spoilers to follow.)

Continue reading Book Review: You Should Have Known

Book Review: The Last Winter of Dani Lancing

the last winter of dani lancingI love a good ghost story.

On the surface, The Last Winter of Dani Lancing is a murder mystery, and a study of how different people react to grief. Twenty years ago, college student Dani Lancing was brutally murdered. The killer was never found. Her mother becomes consumed with the need for vengeance. Her father has conversations with Dani’s ghost. Her old beau, Tom Bevans, still pines for the girl he lost.

Naturally, they all have secrets, and each of them knows things about Dani that the others don’t. Can they come together somehow and solve a decades-old murder without losing each other in the process? Or is there a reason everyone has something to hide?

The ghost story aspect is fun, and not terribly overdone, though by the end you may find that it has a bit of a saccharine aftertaste. The mystery is a good one, and the ending didn’t feel like a deus ex machina, which can be difficult with a book like this. I’m interested enough to read more from this author.

Book Review: The Bones of Paris

The Bones of ParisLaurie R. King brings it. I forget, when I’m not reading her, how completely immersive and engrossing her stories are. Here is part of the genius of The Bones of Paris: it’s the second book in a series, but I was able to dive right in without having read the first one and make it entirely to the end not only unspoiled but eager to read the book (Touchstone) that came before. Here is more of the genius of The Bones of Paris: it’s a mystery set in 1920s Paris that manages to be both fresh and deeply suspenseful without relying on any of the cliches about 1920s Paris, which – given our collective obsession with flappers and Gatsby – is pretty impressive.

Harris Stuyvesent (…love the name) is the perfect cranky, jaded PI, following a missing persons case that turns into a disturbing look into the violent, depraved underworld of Parisian avant-garde subculture. There are references to actual people like Hemingway and Man Ray that don’t seem forced or false despite the fact that they’re essentially RPF, and when King brings finally brings in Bennett Grey (a major player in Touchstone, as I understand it) I felt like I knew the character despite not having read the first book.

Read it. You won’t be sorry.

Book Review: In The Blood

In The BloodTHIS is how you do a thriller.

Nothing about In The Blood is what it seems. Nobody is who you think they are. You want an unreliable narrator? Main character Lana Granger isn’t even sure she herself is telling the truth. It isn’t until you’re about three-quarters of the way through the book that you realize how cleverly Lisa Unger has obfuscated things with the use of simple pronouns.

Quite simply, this book is genius. Read it. And then read it again, slowly, now that you know the ending. It’s worth it.

Book Review: Coldwater

ColdwaterThe entertainment industry, amirite? Also drugs and alcohol. Because redemption.

Coldwater calls itself “femme noir,” which I’m not at all sure about as a genre in general or in reference to Coldwater in particular, but whatever. Our hapless heroine is Brett Tanager, a member of the Hollywood elite until her drug problem renders her unemployable. Rock bottom is hit. Life changes are made. There is a stepdaughter who goes missing and several murders that it seems only Brett can solve. Also AA meetings, and a hit-and-run that eats at Brett’s conscience.

But despite all that, it’s a really fun read. The action is fast-paced, the storyline is engaging, and Gould obviously knows a thing or two about addiction and recovery.

My main complaint has to do with the ending – more specifically, the fact that it didn’t end. There’s a whole chapter tacked on that drags out the feel-good finish and concludes with an almost cutesy “…and that’s the book you’ve just read” (I’m paraphrasing). Coldwater would have been SO much better without the last bit.

Book Review: The Orphan Choir

The Orphan ChoirCreepy psychological thriller FTW.

I love Sophie Hannah, and while I didn’t inhale The Orphan Choir the way I did, say, Little Face, I did stay up half the night reading it. I love, love, love the fact that the protagonist is so unlikable. She’s unlikable in a very real way; several times while I was reading I found myself making faces at the page and thinking how very much I would hate to be married to someone like that. It’s exhausting to be Louise Beeston. She’s paranoid and neurotic and narcissistic to the point that she can’t imagine how everything could not be about her. She keeps herself awake weeping because she’s sure her neighbor is plotting against her.

But here’s the other part: her neuroses stem from the fact that her seven year old son, a singing prodigy, has been accepted to a prestigious boarding school. I’ve got a seven year old son; I cannot imagine only getting to see him at performances and on holidays. So she’s horrible, yes, but I can sympathize with some of it.

The horror element of the story builds slowly; if you’re looking for something that will plunge you into the action, this is not the book for you. But because Louise is so self-involved, the reader actually starts feeling the horror before she does, which is a lot of fun.

The bottom line: this is a great ghost story, and a nice departure from Hannah’s other thrillers (which are fantastic in their own right).

Book Review: Killer Image

Killer Image by Wendy TysonFile under: don’t judge a book by its cover. The copy I read has a stylized fashion-plate drawing on the cover, so I was expecting a fluffy, frivolous “mystery” in which the burning question is less whodunit and more will she get the guy. Instead, KILLER IMAGE is a relatively dark murder mystery, full of plot twists and secrets.

As a main character, Alison Campbell is interestingly flawed. The secondary characters are nicely fleshed out, although they did seem a bit more like caricatures than actual people at times. Take, for example, the paraplegic brother of Alison’s assistant, who – after years of reading and TV but no actual detective training – manages to not only solve the case but is subsequently hired to consult for the police department. Or the ghost of patients past who has haunted Alison throughout the story who turns out to have (confusingly) died in a car crash (rather than in some sort of brothel-related accident, as Alison had always supposed), leaving behind a doppelgänger daughter with Alison’s name. Such details took away from the story rather than enhancing it, because, even though it would be nice to think so, things rarely end wrapped up with a neat little bow. But the main story arc is satisfying and the conclusion took shape in a strong and believable way. I especially loved the bit at the end where Alison’s abandoned clients swooped in and saved the day. (Okay, that part might not have been so believable…but it was fun.)

Book Review: Sideshow of Merit

Sideshow of MeritYou know that thing where an author interrupts the past tense narrative to say something like “little did I know how important that choice was” or something similar? It’s supposed to pique the reader’s interest, to make you want to know why that choice, which maybe otherwise might have just been logged as a thing that happened, was a Thing That Happened. It’s a useful trope.

When used sparingly, that is.

I’m willing to overlook the random formatting problems (I got my copy of Sideshow of Merit from Netgalley, after all, so I’m sure the final release will actually use paragraph breaks) and a certain amount of stylistic inconsistency, but after the tenth time the narrator broke tense I just started to get annoyed. I get it. Things happened. Choices were made. Some of them will impact things about which I have not yet been told. That’s sort of the point of a story.

Don’t get me wrong: the book wasn’t bad. The pacing was okay, and the plot was interesting enough to keep me reading. I didn’t really like the main character, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mostly I just felt like I’d have liked to be more immersed in the story without the omnipresent author pulling me out of it. In a way, I guess, that’s a compliment to the book.