REVIEW: Lying In Wait

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


When I read Liz Nugent’s last novel, Unraveling Oliver, I felt that it was an interesting character study rather than the thriller I was expecting. Much can be said the same for this most recent novel.

The story follows three characters from two families as they come to terms with what has happened to a girl Annie Doyle once she is murdered. Lydia and Laurence are mother and son, and it was Lydia’s husband who murdered the girl. The third character to get POV chapters is Karen, Annie’s sister. Similar to Unraveling Oliver, the narrative is purely character driven and written in a style that reminds me of True Detective (season one, of course).

The way the story moves non-linearly, it reminds me of unreliable witness testimonies that featured into the story telling of True Detective or many true crime documentaries that are on Netflix. It’s a style that greatly appeals to me as it’s an interesting approach to the domestic thriller genre and having all three POVs written in first person also add to the atmosphere of the story. It is very much a psychological story where we really get to know the characters before we see them fall to pieces.

However, as much as I liked how the story was written, it wasn’t my favourite. I had no real sympathy for any of the characters and almost felt that it would have worked better as a novella that ends without resolution rather that a 300-page novel that feels to really drag on in the second act to the point where I almost stopped reading several times. The ending was worth pushing through, but I was disappointed that it felt like work to get there.

While I think her previous novel was more to my liking despite the problematic characters, this is by no means a bad book. If domestic thrillers are your thing, I definitely recommend picking up this book full of bizarre people and their strange lives.

A solid three out of five, in my opinion.

A Gift From Anansi

A few weeks ago I plucked up the courage to reach out to House of Anansi Press about reviewing some of their books and was thrilled to get a response back from them! I’ve always enjoyed the incredible range of books that come from this company and was so excited when I received a package from them only a few days later. In said package were two incredibly different novels from some authors I wasn’t previously familiar with. The first was Clifford by Canadian author, Harold R. Johnson, and the second was the German thriller by Melanie Raabe (translated into English by Imogen Taylor), The Stranger Upstairs.

I very much enjoyed both of these novels and can’t thank Anansi Press enough. And now for the reviews!!


CLIFFORD

Clifford is the fictional biography Harold R. Johnson has written in memory of his deceased brother, Clifford. After the events of his brother’s funeral, Harold returns to his derelict childhood home to spend the night on the land and revisit the memories shared with his family and – more importantly – his brother.

The story is a simple on to follow and is full of not only quirky stories about science and the meaning of reality, but also the hardships of Native children in a time of cultural genocide and Residential Schools, although those aren’t the primary focus of the book. To be honest, it wasn’t the story itself that had me captivated with this book, but it was the way it was told.

The narration that Johnson provides is like having coffee with a dear friend after a tragedy. The dear friend in question being the kind of person who will respond with “I’m not ready to talk about it” or something similar when prompted about the tragedy, but is content to talk about it at their own pace. Having recently lost a family member myself, I found that tone to be very comforting and it was quite honesty a book that just felt safe – for lack of a better word.

I will definitely be keeping my eyes open for more of Johnson’s work, regardless of it being fiction or non-fiction. He has an incredible writing voice and that alone makes this a novel worth checking out.

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Author: Harold R. Johnson
Published: August 28, 2018
Pages: 264
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
ISBN: 9781487004101

Synopsis: When Harold Johnson returns to his childhood home in a northern Saskatchewan Indigenous community for his brother Clifford’s funeral, the first thing his eyes fall on is a chair. It stands on three legs, the fourth broken off and missing. So begins a journey through the past, a retrieval of recollections that have too long sat dormant. Moving from the old family home to the log cabin, the garden, and finally settling deep in the forest surrounding the property, his mind circles back, shifting in time and space, weaving in and out of memories of his silent, powerful Swedish father; his formidable Cree mother, an expert trapper and a source of great strength; and his brother Clifford, a precocious young boy who is drawn to the mysterious workings of the universe.


THE STRANGER UPSTAIRS

Melanie Raabe’s latest thriller, The Stranger Upstairs, is a terrifying novel of threats, lies, and uncertainty that had me physically anxious while reading. Sarah Petersen has been a single mother to her 8-year-old son, Leo, since her husband’s disappearance seven years ago. After so long, she is shocked to receive a call informing her that her husband has been found and is on his way back to Hamberg as they speak. Nervous and excited to see Phillip again, Sarah’s world is turned entirely upside-down when it’s a stranger that meets her at the airport rather than her husband.

Imogen Taylor did a wonderful job in translating the novel into English as this is probably the single most stressful novel I’ve ever read in my entire life. The pacing is rather slow – something that usually annoys me in a book like this – but it entirely works with the plot as things unwind and become more and more complicated, building tension even in the quietest of scenes. The twists are wild and unpredictable and having the narrative switch between Sarah and The Stranger adds that extra layer of “What in the hell is going on?!?!” that really sucks you into the story entirely.

The ending wasn’t what I was expecting at all, and even as I write this review I don’t know exactly how I feel about it, but either way this is the strongest thriller I have read in a long time. I would highly recommend reading this if you want a scary – but non-horror – read for the October season.

39094018Author: Melanie Raabe
Published: September 11, 2018
Pages: 360
Publisher: Spiderline (House of Anansi Press)
ISBN: 9781487004224

Synopsis: Several years ago, your husband, and the father of your young son, disappeared. Since then, you’ve dreamt of his return; railed against him for leaving you alone; grieved for your marriage; and, finally, vowed to move on. One morning, the phone rings. When you answer, a voice at the other end tells you your husband’s on a plane bound for home, and that you’ll see him tomorrow. You’ve imagined this reunion countless times. Of course you have. But nothing has prepared you for the reality. For the moment you realize you don’t know this man. Because he isn’t your husband; he’s a complete stranger — and he’s coming home with you. Even worse, he seems to know about something very bad you once did — something no one else could possibly know about . . . Could they?


Thank you again to House of Anansi Press for sending me copies of these books in exchange for my honest reviews.

REVIEW: Foe

Thank you to Iain Reid and Ben McNally Books for providing me with a signed copy as a part of their Book-a-Month service.


Years ago I read I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid and was – for lack of a better term – scared shitless. Reid is a master of atmosphere and I was so excited to get my hands on this new book that I didn’t even know was coming out.

Foe is the story of a quiet couple whose lives get shaken up when a stranger comes to prepare Junior for an intergalactic trip he never signed up for to begin with. Tension builds as Junior’s wife Henrietta becomes more distant and angry without much reason.

It’s hard to go into this one without giving anything way but I’m going to do my best.

loved this book. Think Slaughterhouse 5 meets old school sci-fi movies with chilling atmospheric tension to rival that of Stephen King. I do want to be clear and say that this is not a science fiction novel. It’s a thriller. It’s a character study. It’s brilliant. I honestly can’t think of any other book like this. It’s truly so bizarre it’s brilliant.

Please read this book.


37796953Author: Iain Reid
Published: August 7, 2018
Pages: 261
Publisher: Simon & Shuster
ISBN: 9781501103476

Synopsis: Junior and Hen are a quiet married couple. They live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with surprising news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm…very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Hen won’t have a chance to miss him at all, because she won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Hen will have company. Familiar company.

REVIEW: You Were Never Really Here

Trigger warnings: child abuse, domestic abuse, excessive substance abuse, human trafficking, sexual assault

Normally, trigger warnings go at the end of my reviews, as I usually have enough to say about the story that I can save discuss them directly in a spoilers section. However, the triggers connected to this novella are so ingrained in the story, I felt it necessary to mention them first as the review itself may be upsetting to some.

The story is about ex-Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe and how he has become a hitman of sorts specializing in rescuing kidnapped children. After being hired to rescue a 14-year-old girl from a brothel run by the mob, the job goes sideways and Joe is determined to figure out where things went wrong.

The novella by Johnathan Ames has recently been turned in a film that received several major awards at the Festival du Cannes in 2017. Given the academic praise, I figured I would give the book a try before seeing the movie. Let me tell you one thing, I will not be seeing the movie.

The story moved at a reasonable pace, and I felt like it was action packed and gave enough information to know what kind of man Joe is. However, it was extremely graphic when it came to discussing the trafficking circles Joe used to bust as an FBI agent, and the level of violence against innocent bystanders was a little much at times. But the biggest problem, for me, was the open ending. 112 pages was more than enough for me and I wish that there had been some kind of justice or at the very least a concrete ending to the mayhem.

It was a very cinematic read, and I can see why it did so well at Cannes under the directorial eye of Lynne Ramsay (who also directed the adaptation of the very disturbing book We Need to Talk About Kevin). I can also say that as graphic as it was, it was an engaging read that was honestly reminiscent of dime store crime novels.

A solid 3 out of 5.


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Author: Jonathan Ames
Published: January 6, 2013
Pages: 112
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780525562894

Synopsis: Joe has witnessed things that cannot be erased. A former FBI agent and Marine, his abusive childhood has left him damaged beyond repair. He has completely withdrawn from the world and earns his living rescuing girls who have been kidnapped into the sex trade.

When he’s hired to save the daughter of a corrupt New York senator held captive at a Manhattan brothel, he stumbles into a dangerous web of conspiracy, and he pays the price. As Joe’s small web of associates are picked off one by one, he realizes that he has no choice but to take the fight to the men who want him dead.

REVIEW: The Disappearance of Sloan Sullivan

Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin TEEN for providing me with a free copy of this book.


Today The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan by Gia Cribbs hits the shelves, and today is the day I tell you to get to the nearest bookstore and pick it up.

The story follows Sloane, a girl who has been in witness protection with her handler, Mark, for the last six years. Together that have been 19 different aliases and if this is to be Sloane’s last, she wants to make it count and finally go to college and begin to live her life… But then she sees Jason at school, her best friend from her original life, the plan goes out the window and Sloane scrambles to keep things together.

I loved this book. I was already so excited for it, but I loved it. The tension is amazing the whole way through, the characters are multi-dimensional, and I honestly had no idea where it was going until the reveal was already happening. The best part about Sloane, is that she has been trained in a lot of skills not typical of teenagers, but she also makes mistakes like normal people. She gets caught up in drama she doesn’t mean to get caught up in, she has regular worries about school and boys and friends. It’s very relatable.

The only issue I had was towards the end. The way the action builds with the tension and every reveal tries to one-up the previous one, it kinda feels like the “Mmm what’cha say” video from SNL. Not to mention, every time this comparison popped into my head I couldn’t stop laughing.

Regardless of that, this book is worth reading and I can’t wait to see more from Gia Cribbs.


35750271Author: Gia Cribbs
Published: May 29 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
ISBN: 9781335015372

Synopsis: No one wants me to tell you about the disappearance of Sloane Sullivan.

Not the lawyers or the cops. Not her friends or family. Not even the boy who loved her more than anyone. And most certainly not the United States Marshals Service. You know, the people who run the witness protection program or, as it’s officially called, the Witness Security Program? Yeah, the WITSEC folks definitely don’t want me talking to you.

But I don’t care. I have to tell someone.

If I don’t, you’ll never know how completely wrong things can go. How a single decision can change everything. How, when it really comes down to it, you can’t trust anyone. Not even yourself. You have to understand, so it won’t happen to you next. Because you never know when the person sitting next to you isn’t who they claim to be…and because there are worse things than disappearing.

REVIEW: A Series of Unfortunate Events: PART II

So I know I’m a day late on this but with the Easter Long Weekend upon us, I’m a little behind on a few things (but catching up soon). Yesterday season 2 of A Series of Unfortunate Events was finally released on Netflix! The season covers books 5 through 9 so that’s what we’ll be talking about in Part II of this review!

The Austere Academy

book-cover-unfortunate-events-austere-academyWhen I was a kid The Austere Academy was my favourite of the series. I have always loved anything to do with boarding schools and despite the terrible events of this book, it’s still my favourite.

For once, we actually have three very different bad guys, the principal, Carmelita, and Count Olaf who all torment the Baudelaires in their own cruel ways. From making the siblings live in a tin shack full of fungus and crabs, to constant bullying over their status as orphans, to having them run laps from dusk until dawn. However, the bright side of this one is the introduction of my favourite characters: the Quagmire triplets, Duncan and Isadora!

Not to mention that this is the first book in the series to really kick off the “arc” of the books to come, which is truly starting to figure out just who Olaf is and what is going on with the events surrounding the death of not only the Baudelaire parents, but the Quagmires as well. Even after all this time, I love this book.

The Ersatz Elevator

19792507Here’s where things start to be new to me. Almost 15 years ago, I couldn’t get through this one. I found it incredibly boring compared to the previous books and I just hated to the point where I don’t even think I got passed the second chapter. But this time, I pushed myself through it and spent the majority of the book yelling at it.

Finally we got the twists I was looking for, we got new characters, we got more of the Quagmires, and even hints about what this V.F.D. that is constantly surrounding them could mean. I can’t believe I thought this one was boring when I was a kid.

The Vile Village

150037There was not as much screaming from me in this one, because it started to drive me a little crazy with the incompetence of the adults in this universe. The children are abandoned once again by Mr. Poe to be “raised” by an entire village of people who don’t even seem to know what a child does let alone how to care for one.

However, we finally get to know more about Lemony Snicket, and why he is the one who is so determined to chronicle this sad story. The best part of this book, is that all the little details and little things that don’t quite have any meaning finally have meaning. Not only that, but we know that the Quagmires are going to be okay. Of all the books so far, this is the first one I’m genuinely wondering how they’ll pull it off in the television series on Netflix.

The Hostile Hospital

254596The siblings are free of Mr. Poe, but unfortunately that is not a good thing… On the run from the law due to false accusations that they are murders. Their fleeing leads them to another group called the V.F.D. that takes them to a hospital containing records on just about everything (for some illogical reason), meaning that somewhere is the file for what happened to their family. Of course, their luck is as terrible as one would think and they don’t find the file but stumble onto something far more interesting: The Snicket File.

 

 

The Carnivorous Carnival

324277If I was wondering how in the world they were going to accomplish The Vile Village, I’m very curious to know how they manage to do The Carnivorous Carnival. There was more yelling as I read this one but we officially have hit cliffhanger endings and I for sure won’t be holding off reading the last four books until next year.

First off, this book makes a Dead Ringers reference, and after the previous book taking place in a hospital, it made me laugh so hard I almost dropped my Kobo. Next off, I love that we’re really getting more about V.F.D. and what that will mean for the ending. I know it’s book 9, and with any other series, I’d think it was taking too long, but Snicket is truly a master of pacing with these books and I am thrilled to finally be reading them to the ending.

Conclusion

I know this hasn’t been much of a review as it is a reaction post, but at the end of the day, I am definitely enjoying this middle section of A Series of Unfortunate Events. The actual mystery is really taking hold and it’s so enjoyable even after all these years. I haven’t been able to start watching the new season yet, but I am definitely looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

REVIEW: Unraveling Oliver

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


Unraveling Oliver tells the story of a man disturbed throughout his life by many internal factors that ultimately lead to his destruction as he behavior grows cruel. Trigger warning: This book contains abuse, ableism sexism, homophobia, and racism. All are relevant to the story, but are present none the less.

The Story

The story begins with Oliver mercilessly beating his wife after she finds out the contents of a lock box he keeps hidden away. My initial impression of this book was that it was supposed to be like Gone Girl in Ireland, but what I got was more of a character study of a man with a rather unpleasant childhood that grew into something of an unpleasant young-adulthood and became a mess of a grown up.

Oliver is not a character who warrants much sympathy, if any. However, what is interesting about the way this book is written is the non-linear, testimony-like narrative conducted by several characters who lives crossed paths with Oliver in varying ways. The twisting narrative was complex and revealed a lot about the prejudice of Ireland during the 50’s to the 70’s.

The Characters

As I mentioned, Oliver is an asshole. He had a hard live only made harder in later years, but that does not excuse him at all. He is homophobic, racist, and sexist. Oliver is honestly the kind of skeeze that just takes advantage and uses his past to justify his actions. But the story is less about him as a person and more about finding out why he did what he did.

The other characters in the story – there are several who narrate the relationships with Oliver and his wife, Alice – are not all that great either, but each of them have depth and well thought out motivations and back stories. I found myself more fascinated with them than with Oliver at times.

The Issues [ spoilers ]

I didn’t really have “issues” with this book, but I want to discuss the trigger warnings I mentioned above. This contains major spoilers to the plot of the book.

Let’s start with the sexism. Oliver has no use for women and no care for them outside what they can do for him. Alice was useful to him in their relationship and he was constantly manipulating her – once by even abusing her disabled brother – in order to get what he wanted. Moya was useful to him through their affair. He even admits to having sex with prostitutes on a regular basis and cheating with other women as well to get off how he wanted to. Even when it came to Laura, the one girl he seems to think he actually loved, he brushed her aside when he didn’t need her for comfort or company any more. The same could be said for Oliver’s father, a man who engaged in sexual conduct with a young African girl (who just wanted to go to school by the way) and then didn’t bat an eye when the poor thing fled the village after birthing his son (who was born as white-passing).

This brings us to the racism in the book. There are examples of blatant slave work during the moments set in France where a white man brings South African men with him to do all the work in the vineyard while he keeps all the money and gives them only wine. Not to mention the man also beats them. Then we have white-passing Oliver who is so intolerant that he refuses to believe he is mixed raced until the very end when he discovers his daughter with Laura was born black. He even lies to her, under the guise of protecting her, that he is not her father. I can understand Oliver’s hurt of being lied to, but his abandonment and neglect as a child was clearly motivated by racial intolerance rather than anything else his father could have thought of.

I could honestly go on and on forever about the abuse Oliver was victim to as well as the abuse he inflicted on several people, including Alice’s brother who is mentally disabled. The mistreatment of Eugene made me truly uncomfortable and I honestly almost stopped reading. I only didn’t because I had come to far to keep from wanting to know what Oliver had locked away in that box Alice found.

Conclusion ★★★½

In conclusion it was a brilliant way to tell a purely character driven story and a very interesting character study. The different narrators telling their own stories as well as contributing to Oliver’s was a rather great way of going about this novel. The content, however, was upsetting and bordered on offensive at times (at one point Oliver tells his gay friend that he “finds queers disgusting”) but that only contributed to why Oliver is not a protagonist to root for. It was not at all what I was expecting, and I honestly would not call this a thriller or a mystery but more of a dark contemporary novel with violent tones. I was pleased with how author Liz Nugent was able to tie up every loose end to each of the narrators’ tales and find myself curious about her other work.

Not at all a bad story.


32920306Author: Liz Nugent
Published:  February 6th 2018
Pages:
272
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Canada
ISBN:
9781501191275

Summary: Oliver Ryan, handsome, charismatic, and successful, has long been married to his devoted wife, Alice. Together they write and illustrate award-winning children’s books; their life together one of enviable privilege and ease—until, one evening after a delightful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious, and subsequently beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath of such an unthinkable event, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.