BOOK REVIEW: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

Title: Suspicious Minds

Author: Gwenda Bond

Book Length: 304 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Read Start Date: December 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 24, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A mysterious lab. A sinister scientist. A secret history. If you think you know the truth behind Eleven’s mother, prepare to have your mind turned Upside Down in this thrilling prequel to the hit show Stranger Things.

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be further from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.

But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, codenamed MKUltra. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tightlipped researchers . . . and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory—and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner—lurks a conspiracy greater than she could have ever imagined. To face it, she’ll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn’t know she exists—a young girl with unexplainable, superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008.

Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war—one where the human mind is the battlefield.

My Review: I have loved the show Stranger Things since it premiered. I am waiting eagerly for the next season to drop, which by all accounts might not be for a while. When I was in Nashville for a girls weekend, I visited a book shop of course, because well, I am addicted to books. As I was perusing the shelves, I saw Suspicious Minds and was instantly intrigued. I hadn’t known there was a book — actually there are several!

Suspicious Minds is a prequel to the events of Stranger Things. Even though this book is set in the world of the Netflix show, there is a whole new cast of characters (99% of whom we have never met before) and so if you have never seen the show (stop reading this blog and go watch it now!), you will still be able to read the book and enjoy it. The three characters from the show are Dr. Martin Brenner, the head of the highly classified “research” Project at the Hawkins laboratory in Indiana, Terry Ives, the mother of Eleven, and Eight (as a child in the book), one of the test subjects who exhibit special powers. In Eight’s case it is the ability to make people see illusions/what she wants them to see.

It’s 1969 (14 years before Season 1 of Stranger Things) and Terry Ives, a college student and waitress, takes her roommate’s place at a government sanctioned (paid) test program. Terry needs the money — and she is more than a little intrigued. Terry is currently involved in a relationship with another college student named Andrew, who is luckily not eligible for the draft as he falls under the college exception. I liked how Gwenda Bond included the history and politics of the era (namely the Vietnam war), so this book not only takes place at the lab, but also out in the larger world, with all the angst, protests and sentiments of that time in US history.

While the show eludes to the testing that Terry Ives had undergone at the hands of sinister Dr. Martin Brenner, the book really goes into the details of what happened to her, and really showed that the indifference to human life that Brenner exhibited in Stranger Things is a character trait he has been exhibiting for some time. We never learn why Brenner is performing these tests or for what purpose though, so this was a little disappointing.

The show also never mentioned that Terry and Kali (Eight, who we meet briefly in Season 2 of Stranger Things) knew each other or had such a prolonged interaction. However, in the book, the relationship between Terry and Kali is very important to the plot. There was also never any mention of the other test subjects in the show and I liked learning about them in the book.

While I definitely liked this book, I came away from it with more questions than answers. Yes, now we know the origin story of Eleven and how she came to be in the clutches of Brenner. We know the backstory of Terry Ives. However, the book ends with the birth of Eleven, but we don’t really meet Eleven in the Netflix show until she is basically a teenager, and in later seasons, they show her as a young child (maybe around 8 years old?). What happened from her birth until then? What happened to the other test subjects?

We learn in the book that Alice (one of the test subjects) when given LSD and electroshock therapy, could see into the Upside Down (and into the future), and that Brenner becomes aware that such a place exists. However, we never learn whether this was the catalyst for what happened with Eleven, or whether it was merely a coincidence. In other words, what did Brenner actively do with this information?

I guess if you read this book without watching the show first, these same questions may not pop up and your experience of the book might be different. It might just add to the mystery of the story, rather than prompting more questions.

I know there are other Stanger Things books out there, but I don’t think they are a sequel to Suspicious Minds. I want to know what happens between 1970 and the start of the show! We need another book! Universe, please work on this!

At the moment, this book has only a 3.61 rating on Goodreads, which I feel is not a true reflection of my experience. I tried to find other reviews on WordPress, but found only one (and great) review from G does Films.

While I think that anyone can read and enjoy this book, I think that it definitely helps if you are already a fan of the show.

BOOK REVIEW: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Title: Carrie Soto is Back

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Audiobook Length: 10 hours and 30 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Contemporary, Sports

Read Start Date: December 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 18, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Carrie Soto is fierce, and her determination to win at any cost has not made her popular. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. And if you ask Carrie, she is entitled to every one. She sacrificed nearly everything to become the best, with her father, Javier, as her coach. A former champion himself, Javier has trained her since the age of two.

But six years after her retirement, Carrie finds herself sitting in the stands of the 1994 US Open, watching her record be taken from her by a brutal, stunning player named Nicki Chan.

At thirty-seven years old, Carrie makes the monumental decision to come out of retirement and be coached by her father for one last year in an attempt to reclaim her record. Even if the sports media says that they never liked “the Battle-Axe” anyway. Even if her body doesn’t move as fast as it did. And even if it means swallowing her pride to train with a man she once almost opened her heart to: Bowe Huntley. Like her, he has something to prove before he gives up the game forever.

In spite of it all, Carrie Soto is back, for one epic final season. In this riveting and unforgettable novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells her most vulnerable, emotional story yet.

My Review: Originally introduced to us in Malibu Rising (see my review of that book here) as the girlfriend of Nina Riva’s husband, Carrie Soto Is Back is the story of Carrie Soto, the best female tennis player in the world. The book spans the period of her life, from childhood to her late thirties. Carrie retired from tennis with the record of winning the most Grand Slam titles…a record that is about to be beat by another tennis player, Nicki Chan. The Goodread synopsis does a good job of summing up the story, so I won’t go too much into plot detail here.

Overall, I liked this book. Currently, it has a 4.26 rating on Goodreads (I am giving it 4 stars), so lots of other people feel the same way about it.

There is a lot of tennis in this book, a sport I don’t know too much about — my lack of knowledge didn’t take away from the story so if you’re like me, then you won’t be lost with all the tennis references. The author does a good job of making the actual tennis playing accessible to people who don’t know the rules of the game.

The Candid Cover states “As a reader, I was pulled right into the matches and the intense drama that unfolds. These aspects are really exciting, and I really loved the commentary on the politics of sport and some of its sexism, making for a thought-provoking read.”

I agree regarding the commentary! When you listen to the audiobook, it adds something special because there is typical “sports commentary” music and there are different narrators for the voices of the pundits.

Through the book we see Carrie “The Battle Axe” grow as a human being. Despite being 37 years old, Carrie still has a lot to learn about love and life. Tennis had been her entire life. She wanted to be the best, and she didn’t care who she hurt along the way — even her father, who she fired as her coach because he couldn’t get her to be where she needed to be professionally. At 37, she is alone, never having a serious boyfriend or love interest.

As she reconnects with her father (who is coaching her once again), and with a tennis player she slept with once years before, Carrie slowly begins to learn there is more to life than tennis.

Mrs. B’s Book Reviews says of the father / daughter relationship: ” The most touching part of Carrie Soto is the unconditional relationship that she holds with her father. Reid does a truly excellent job of portraying a realistic, respectful and loving father /daughter relationship.”

I’m not usually a fan of child / parent relationship stories, because often times they come off really sickly sweet, but I have to agree that Reid did a really good job of keeping it touching / sentimental without getting to barf level sap.

I have read a bunch of books by Taylor Jenkins Reid (click on the author tag at the end of the post to see the other reviews) and I am blown away each time. Reid’s books are always well researched, well written and well developed. She is a fantastic writer and weaver of tales and this book was no exception.

I would definitely recommend this book.

BOOK REVIEW: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Title: The Atlas Six

Author: Olivie Blake

Audiobook Length: 15 hours and 59 minutes

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: November 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 9, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: The Alexandrian Society is a secret society of magical academicians, the best in the world. Their members are caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity. And those who earn a place among their number will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Each decade, the world’s six most uniquely talented magicians are selected for initiation – and here are the chosen few…

– Libby Rhodes and Nicolás Ferrer de Varona: inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds.
– Reina Mori: a naturalist who can speak the language of life itself.
– Parisa Kamali: a mind reader whose powers of seduction are unmatched.
– Tristan Caine: the son of a crime kingpin who can see the secrets of the universe.
– Callum Nova: an insanely rich pretty boy who could bring about the end of the world. He need only ask.

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they must spend one year together to qualify for initiation. During this time, they will be permitted access to the Society’s archives and judged on their contributions to arcane areas of knowledge. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. If they can prove themselves to be the best, they will survive. Most of them.

My Review: The synopsis on Goodreads sounded so good that I thought I’d really like this book, but it just fell flat for me. Basically, there is a secret society of “Medians” (those who can cast magic). The ones chosen for the society are the best of the Medians and have special skill sets. While the society has all this knowledge, the book never goes into that really. WHAT kind of knowledge do they have? Like specifically?

With respect to the audiobook version, it is not great. Tristan is supposed to be South African, but the guy narrating for him is British. And the woman narrating for Parisa just makes her sound like this breathy seductress…which maybe the character is, but it got annoying really fast. Plus, since each character has their own narrator, each character sounded different when told from the perspective of the other character. So for example, Parisa sounded breathy in her chapters, but didn’t when having a role in another character’s chapter.

It is my understanding that this book used to be a self-published book before it was picked up by a traditional publisher. I would have thought that the various issues with the book would have been corrected by the publisher’s editors, but I guess not.

Knowing how hard it is to write a book, I try never to give bad reviews. But I couldn’t help it in this case. I read this book because it was on the list of “popular” books at the library, so it wasn’t a recommendation or anything like that.

I gave it only two stars because honestly, I grew a little bored. The book is supposedly taking place over a time span of 1 year, but the time passing by is really disjointed. Not all characters were given the same airtime — e.g. the focus was on certain characters of the “Atlas Six”, and others seemed only to be ancillary characters. The book was basically all character backstory with a sprinkling of magic thrown in. I was always looking for action, for spell casting etc., but there was nothing like that really.

As nothing…literally almost nothing…happens in this book, it’s all character driven; however, I wasn’t invested in the characters. I didn’t care which of them was the one to be eliminated in the end and which 5 were to progress to the next step in the secret society.

In reading other reviews, I am not the only one who picked up on these issues. Serendipity’s blog states as follows regarding the plot: “Yes, the book really didn’t have a plot. Barely anything interesting actually happened, it was mainly the characters playing mind games with each other and being full of themselves. For some reason I was holding out for an amazing plot twist that would save the whole book and give everything that happened some meaning. Then the plot twist came and it was far from amazing- it was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read. I don’t want to go into spoilers, but I felt extremely cheated as instead of giving the book meaning, the ending made the book even more meaningless than it already was.”

On the other hand, Past Midnight gave the book 4 stars, so the review (which can be found here) was more positive. Down the Rabbit Hole also gave the book 4 stars (the review is here.) All in all, I think that you either love the book or hate it. I have seen both type of reviews, and the book has only 3.75 rating on Goodreads, so this seems to support a mixed reception.

I will not be reading the second book, but you should make your own decision!

BOOK REVIEW: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Title: Into the Water

Author: Paula Hawkins

Book Length: 386 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: November 14, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 8, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

My Review:

Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.”

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, page 83

I really enjoyed The Girl on the Train by the same author (you can see my review here), so I thought that I’d like this one just as much. I was rather disappointed. While there was certainly mystery and thriller aspects, there was just too many POVs.

In order of first appearance:

Jules: The sister of Nel Abbott, the woman who was killed and found dead of drowning in the river under suspicious circumstances. We also see the storyline of Jules when she is a teenager. Something horrible happens to her for which she blames Nel. At the time of Nel’s death, they haven’t spoken in years.

Josh: The brother of the teenage girl, Katie, who committed suicide, by drowning herself in the river. Josh and Lena share a horrible secret, one which isn’t revealed until later in the book.

Nickie: the town “weirdo” who claims that she can hear the dead speaking to her. Nickie is being told by her dead sister, Jeanie (who used to be a police officer) that something isn’t right with Patrick Townsend.

Lena: The daughter of Nel Abbott. She was best friends with Katie and is completely devastated to have lost both her mother and best friend in short order. Lena is convinced that her mother killed herself, but we don’t find out until later why she is so convinced of this fact. Lena hates Jules because even though Nel called and called over the years, Jules never once returned the call.

Mark: The high school teacher of Lena and Katie. There is a twist to the story involving this character later on in the book.

Louise: The mother of Katie and Josh. Is she a suspect or just a grieving mother?

Erin: a police officer assigned to the case of the death of Nel Abbott.

Patrick: A former police officer and father to Sean. His wife was also found in the river back when his son was a young child. I hated Patrick from the start. He is a real a**hole and that is putting it mildly. I suspected that he killed Nel and his wife from the beginning of the book. Trigger warning here for animal abuse.

Helen: School teacher and wife of Sean. I didn’t really like Helen. There was something weird going on between her and Patrick, almost like a perverted father-daughter relationship. Sean had been unfaithful to Helen and they were having a rough time. They used to live together in the cottage on the main property, but Helen moved into the main house with Patrick when she learned of the infidelity.

Sean: a police officer assigned to work the Nel Abbott case with Erin. He is the son of Patrick and the husband of Helen. We don’t know until later the identity of the woman he was having an affair with, but it changes everything.

In my opinion, having 10 POVs is way too much! Some of the chapters were written in the third person, some in the first person. It took me a while to get into the story because of it.

In the middle of reading the book, my daughter was sent to the hospital for severe bronchitis and I had to stay overnight with her for more than a week. I tried to read this book while at the hospital, but honestly, I was just in the wrong headspace for something so dense and difficult. I had to put it down and read something lighter.

It’s not that it’s a bad book, but I think that it could have been better. I knew who the killer was from the very beginning, so it wasn’t really a mystery to me–it was more about reading to see how the police figured it out.

As of writing this review, this book has a rating of 3.59 on Goodreads with more than 350,000 ratings. My 3 rating is therefore not far from the average opinion. If you are looking for the next best read to start 2023 off right, I might bump this book a little further down the list.

BOOK REVIEW: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Title: Rosemary’s Baby

Author: Ira Levin

Audiobook Length: 6 hours and 9 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Paranormal

Read Start Date: November 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 28, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Suppose you were an up-to-date young wife who moved into an old and elegant New York apartment house with a rather strange past.

Suppose that only after you became pregnant did you begin to suspect the building harbored a diabolically evil group of devil worshippers who had mastered the arts of black magic and witchcraft.

Suppose that this satanic conspiracy set out to claim not only your husband but your baby.

Well, that’s what happened to Rosemary… Or did it…?

My Review: I read this book 10 years ago and saw it for rent as an audiobook at the library and figured why not. This book is one of those classics that never seems to get old (except that some of the language used in the book, while it may have been normal in the 1960’s when it was written, did not age well.) Mia Farrow is the narrator of the audiobook which is a nice touch (she played Rosemary in the movie in 1968).

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse jump at the opportunity to move into a recently empty apartment at the Branford–an elegant apartment building. The apartment is just fantastic, and a perfect size for the eventual family the couple wants to have. A stay-at-home-wife, Rosemary slowly adjusts to life at the building, befriending a woman of a similar age in the laundry room. Terry, a now sober drug addict pulled off the streets by the Castevets (Rosemary’s neighbors), wears a strange bauble around her neck containing a foul smelling “tannis root”, given to her by the Castevets for “luck”.

When Terry suddenly plummets to her death, things at the Branford start to take a terrifying turn. From odd chanting and flute playing coming from the Castevets apartment, to the horrible dream Rosemary had of being raped by a demon with yellow eyes, things at the Branford aren’t looking rosy as they once had. Except Guy all of a sudden starts getting bigger and better acting roles, and Rosemary finds out she’s pregnant. Was her dream really just a dream?

The book is great if you remember that it is a period piece written and taking place in the 1960’s. There are lots of elements of the story which would not work today in 2022…and it is these elements which add the tension to the story. In 2022, Rosemary would be able to search the internet, she would likely have a job, have more access to friends with whom to speak about her constant abdominal pains while pregnant. Her OBGYN’s instructions “not to read books or talk to friends–because every pregnancy is different” would probably go over as well as a cockroach in a bowl of cherries.

Rosemary seemed very isolated in the story. Her one friend, Hutch, mysteriously fell into a coma after telling Rosemary of the sordid history of the Branford. I don’t think this isolation would have been the same had the story taken place in the present day.

But somehow that is part of the appeal and charm of Rosemary’s Baby, and other books from decades ago. You don’t need the big thrills or “gotcha” moments like today’s horror (okay, maybe this is mostly in movies). The horror in this book is subtle, it creeps up on you like lions hiding in the tall grass. It builds and builds, and finally climaxes in an ending that is expected, yet somehow not at the same time.

I’m glad I read this again and I recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

BOOK REVIEW: American Mother by Gregg Olsen

Title: American Mother: The True Story of a Troubled Family, Motherhood, and the Cyanide Murders that Shook the World

Author: Gregg Olsen

Audiobook Length: 14 hours and 7 minutes. Book length: 496 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Nonfiction, True Crime

Read Start Date: November 10, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 14, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: At 5.02 pm on June 5, 1986, an emergency call came into the local sheriff’s office in the small town of Auburn, Washington State. A distressed housewife, Stella Nickell, said her husband Bruce was having a seizure. Officers rushed to the Nickell’s mobile home, to find Stella standing frozen at the door… Bruce was on the floor fighting for his life.  
 
As Stella became the beneficiary of over $175,000 in a life insurance pay-out, forensics discovered that Bruce had consumed painkillers laced with cyanide.
 
A week later, fifteen-year-old Hayley was getting ready for another school day. Her mom, Sue, called out ‘I love you’ before heading into the bathroom and moments later collapsed on the floor. Sue never regained consciousness, and the autopsy revealed she had been poisoned by cyanide tainted headache pills. Just like Bruce.
 
While a daughter grieved the sudden and devastating loss of her mother, a young woman, Cindy, was thinking about her own mom Stella. She thought about the years of neglect and abuse, the tangled web of secrets Stella had shared with her, and Cindy contemplated turning her mom into the FBI…
 
Gripping and heart-breaking, Gregg Olsen uncovers the shocking true story of a troubled family. He delves into a complex mother-daughter relationship rooted in mistrust and deception, and the journey of the sweet curly-haired little girl from Oregon whose fierce ambition to live the American Dream led her to make the ultimate betrayal.    
 
Originally published as Bitter Almonds. Revised and updated edition.

My Review: I received this book as an audiobook and ebook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. With respect to the different formats:

Audiobook: The audiobook was great. I also really liked the interview with the author that was included in the end.

Ebook: The ebook was also great. It was easy to read and it was organized well.

With respect to the story itself, American Mother is the true crime story of a woman, Stella Nickell, who murdered her husband Bruce by giving him Excedrin capsules filled with cyanide. The medical examiner initially stated that the cause of death was emphysema. Stella was free and clear of the murder — that is — until she became greedy. You see, if the death was accidental, then Stella would get a bigger payout from the life insurance.

Sickly inspired by the “tylenol murders”, which was a series of poisoning deaths resulting from drug tampering in the Chicago metropolitan area in 1982, Stella formulated a plan: she would contaminate Excedrin bottles with cyanide filled capsules and put them on the shelves at drug stores. Then, when someone else took them and died, it would be seen as another “drug tampering” case, and Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident. This plot is sick and twisted, and Stella almost got away with it. Who would think that someone would be so callous as to murder complete strangers to cover up the murder of her husband?

A short while after Stella put the bottles on the shelves, a woman named Sue took those cyanide pills and died. This time the medical examiner found the cyanide in her system. After Sue’s death hit the news, Stella started calling authorities stating her belief that her husband had also taken contaminated pills. It was found to be true.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is that Stella murdered Sue so that Bruce’s death would be ruled an accident and Stella could get more money. What a heartless piece of garbage!

Gregg Olsen tells the story of not only the murder and the victim, Sue, but also the background on the Nickell family. While I’m not a big fan of focusing on the killer (because the focus should be on the victim instead), it was important to see Stella’s family dynamics, as there was some speculation, although never proven, that Stella’s daughter was in on the plot as well.

I really like how Olsen told the story — it wasn’t dry like some true crime books, and it held my interest. There was some repetition of the facts when Olsen wrote about the trial (and honestly this was my least favorite part), but on the other hand it really drove home the point that Stella was a heartless monster who killed 2 people for the money.

If you like true crime, I would definitely recommend this book.

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Wraith by Mark Wheaton

Title: Wraith

Author: Mark Wheaton

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 49 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Thriller, Gothic, Mystery

Read Start Date: October 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 3, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: After witnessing the death of her mother at a young age, Cecily LeClercq grows up hiding herself away in the remote Carolina wetlands. When a stranger arrives from Paris saying a distant, elderly relative is desperate to see her before she dies, Cecily travels to an old chateau deep in the French woods. There she learns of an ancient curse that has consumed generations of her ancestors, personified by a vicious, ghostly wraith who emerges from the forest when the death of a LeClercq is near…

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The book opens with the death of Cecily’s mother under strange circumstances. Although everyone has always tried to tell Cecily that her mother drowned in the severely bad hurricane, Cecily cannot escape the memory of the ghostly figure a.k.a the wraith, whom Cecily believes was responsible.

When we next see Cecily, she is an adult and works as a botanist (?) in Charleston, South Carolina. A man from France (Rene) approaches her and informs her that the great-grandmother Cecily had never known about, wants to see her urgently. By the time they reach France, however, she is already dead, and seemingly she has taken the information she wanted to tell Cecily with her to her grave.

Cecily stays on in France for a little while longer, learning about the alleged LeClercq curse i.e., that when the wraith comes for you, you have 2 options: kill yourself or the wraith will take the lives of those around you instead. Now that Cecily has seen the wraith, can she unravel the curse before the wraith takes vengeance on Cecily and those she cares about?

While I generally liked the story, I found it to be a little slow going at times, leading to a conclusion that was somewhat unsatisfactory. Even though billed as “horror”, I didn’t find it scary. I didn’t really feel any edge of my seat tension either, to be honest. I thought it was more of a mystery / thriller with a ticking clock (i.e., Cecily only had a certain amount of time to solve the mystery before the wraith got her).

That being said, the story line is interesting and the book was well written. Coming in at a rating of 3.57 on Goodreads at the time of this review seems about right. Some people are more enthusiastic than others and it seems to be split down the middle in terms of those who liked it and those who didn’t.

SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the book we find out that a LeClercq hundreds of years ago was a giant monster who basically stole land and killed a bunch of people. The wraith is the tormented spirit of one of those murdered people. Since the LeClercqs have benefited from this theft and murder, the wraith comes to ruin the lives of the descendants and/or kill them. Cecily ends up solving the mystery and puts everything to rights — but at the end of the book, the wraith is still following her around.

Why was the spirit not satisfied? This was just annoying to say the least. I think that I would have given the book 4 stars had it not been for the ending. Because honestly, if the curse wasn’t lifted by solving the mystery and putting things right — then what was the point of the book?

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Book Length: 316 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: November 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 13, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

My Review: The book tells the story from 3 POVs:

Rachel is having a hard time of it. Spiraling downward, she has lost her husband, her job, and many times her dignity (she often gets blackout drunk and does things she regrets in the morning). Fooling her roommate into believing she still has a job, Rachel takes the train each morning into London, drink in hand. Every morning she passes by the house that used to be hers — the one that her husband now lives in with his new wife and baby girl. A few doors down lives another couple, whom Rachel watches through the train window, creating a perfect life for them in her mind.

One day, this perfect image is shattered when sees the wife cheating on the husband with another man. Shorty thereafter, the wife goes missing and is feared dead. What happened to her? Was it the man Rachel saw her with? Did the husband find out and kill her in a jealous rage? Rachel was there that night–the night that Megan went missing–but she was drunk and doesn’t remember a thing.

Rachel becomes obsessed with trying to solve the mystery, as she is convinced she knows more than she remembers.

Megan: The story of Megan is told in the past and leads up to the circumstances surrounding why she goes missing. Something horrific happens in her past (I won’t spoil it), but it left me bereft for days afterward.

Lastly, the story of Anne, Rachel’s ex’s new wife. Anne views Rachel much like everyone else — a drunk, a nuisance, crazy. Rachel is constantly leaving messages for Tom (the husband) and Anne is becoming fed up. I wasn’t too crazy about Anne’s POV and it didn’t add that much to the story until the ending when it all came together.

Down the Rabbit Hole sums it up best: “The characters in this book were all so frustratingly imperfect. Each time I wish they would make some good decisions, but they wouldn’t. I think all in all that speaks to the author’s prowess at creating these characters that you can’t help but root for, or at least wish the best, and then have that all crumbling down around you all the time. It truly made for a frustrating yet impressive experience of impending dread.”

I love Paula Hawkins’s writing. Both its imagery and the mystery aspect. The ending had a big twist that I did not see coming and it tied the whole story into a neat little bow. Although Rachel’s actions are cringe worthy sometimes, she is a sympathetic character. She has been done wrong — and by the end it is clear why she is (justifiably) a mess.

I would definitely recommend this book.

As a last point, I would like to share a couple of quotes that I took note of:

My heart breaks for Rachel here in this moment.

I liked my job, but I didn’t have a glittering career, and even if I had, let’s be honest: women are still only really valued for two things — their looks and their role as mothers. I’m not beautiful, and I can’t have kids, so what does that make me? Worthless.

The Girl on the Train page 85

The below quote as a really awesome element of foreshadowing in it, that you don’t pick up until much later in the book. It’s just really fantastic, actually, when I think about it.

Blackouts happen, and it isn’t just a matter of being a bit hazy about getting home from the club or forgetting what it was that was so funny when you were chatting in the pub. It’s different. Total black; hours lost, never to be retrieved.

Tom bought me a book about it. Not very romantic, but he was tired of listening to me tell him how sorry I was in the morning when I didn’t even know what I was sorry for. I think he wanted me to see the damage I was doing, the kind of things I might be capable of. It was written by a doctor, but I’ve no idea whether it was accurate: the author claimed that blacking out wasn’t simply a matter of forgetting what had happened, but having no memories to forget in the first place. His theory was that you get into a state where your brain no longer makes short-term memories. And while you’re there, in deepest black, you don’t behave as you usually would, because you’re simply reacting to the very last thing that you think happened, because — since you aren’t making memories — you might not actually know what the last thing that happened really was.”

The Girl on the Train page 74

BOOK REVIEW: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Title: The Woman in the Window

Author: A.J. Finn

Book Length: 427 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Crime

Read Start Date: October 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

My Review: Anna Fox, a child psychologist, is bound to her home after a traumatic event left her with agoraphobia. We don’t find out what this traumatic event is until nearly the end of the book, so I won’t spoil it here. To fill her days, Anna drinks, mixing the alcohol with prescription medication, and watches her neighbors. For the first 115 pages of the book we learn about Anna — her (bad) habits, mostly. How she likes to watch old movies, play on-line chess, and dispense advice to other agoraphobes in an online chatroom. She has a cat, named Punch, and is separated from her husband and daughter. Anna speaks to them on the phone a few times, but hasn’t seen either of them for what seems like a long time.

Although I never felt like this was overkill per se, I feel basically nothing happened in these 115 pages and it probably could have been shortened. We get a lot of conversations between her and the online people, a lot of quotes from her black and white movies. Unnecessary fillers perhaps?

Anyway, at some point the neighbor, Ethan Russel, and then shortly thereafter, Jane Russel (Ethan’s mother), comes over and they have a night of fun. Drinking wine, playing chess, just chatting. Anna is concerned because Alistair Russel can be violent sometimes, and controlling — or so says Jane. Anna has never met him before, so all she has is Jane’s word for it. Other than this unexpected visit, everything seems a bit mundane, I guess maybe that is how it feels for Anna too.

Finally, on page 115, the thrills begin. Anna hears a scream coming from the Russel’s house. Anna immediately calls Ethan, who tearfully tells Anna that “he just lost his temper.” Anna is convinced that Alistair hurt Jane.

The next evening, Anna is drinking and watching TV as usual, when she turns her attention to the Russel house. While Anna is listening to the TV in the background (the quotes from the movie are interspersed with the narrative, which honestly was distracting), Anna sees Jane shouting at someone, and then:

Once more Jane enters the frame–but walking slowly, strangely. Staggering. A dark patch of crimson has stained the top of her blouse; even as I watch, it spreads to her stomach. Her hands scrabble at her chest. Something slender and silver has lodged there, like a hilt.”

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, page 144

Anna phones the police and the gaslighting begins. Anna was so drunk when she made the police call, she was slurring her words. Almost unintelligibly. No one believes that she saw someone get murdered, mainly because the woman she thought was Jane Russell, was in fact, not. She was someone using Jane’s name. Who was this woman? Does she even exist? Or could mixing the pills and alcohol have given her a hallucination?

Overall, I liked the story. I found it intense at times and I did not see the ending coming. I found myself getting annoyed that no one believed Anna — I found her to be a very sympathetic character and though I couldn’t relate to her completely (as I’m not in her circumstances), I could relate to the gaslighting, the not being taken seriously. I think most women can.

It was easy to read and I got through the 400+ pages in about a week (around 50 pages per day). I only gave it four stars, however, because at times it dragged on. I felt there were too many movies quotes, too many days that were the same; there was a lot of repetition. Despite that, if you haven’t read it already (it’s been out since 2018) I would recommend it.

SIDE NOTE: I was wondering why this book wasn’t listed as “women’s fiction”, but then I just read on Goodreads that the author is actually a man! That answers that! I had just assumed that the author was a women. I’m not sure why I thought that honestly…I guess because the main character is a woman? It doesn’t change my opinion of the book at all, I just found it interesting and though I’d share.

BOOK REVIEW: Snow by Ronald Malfi

Title: Snow

Author: Ronald Malfi

Book Length: 311 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Sci-fi, Folklore-Monsters, Paranormal

Read Start Date: October 23, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 29, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Todd Curry wants nothing more than to spend Christmas with his son. But when a brutal snowstorm cancels his flight from Chicago to Des Moines, Todd and a few other stranded passengers decide to rent a Jeep and make the trip on their own.

During the drive, they pick up a man wandering through the snow, who claims to be searching for his lost daughter. He is disoriented and his story seems peculiar. Strangest of all are the mysterious slashes cut into the back of the man’s coat, straight down to the flesh…

When they arrive at the nearest town, it appears deserted. Windows dark, car abandoned, fired burning unattended. But Todd and the rest of the travelers soon learn the town is far from deserted, and that they are being watched…

My Review: I LOVED THIS BOOK. I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed so that I could read it again, and that rarely happens.

Todd Curry is traveling to Des Moines to see his young son. HIs connecting flight in Chicago is cancelled due to a bad snow storm, but he is anxious to get home. He promised his son that he’d be there by morning. Todd and his son’s mother are separated, and he rarely sees the boy, so it’s important to keep his promise. Todd has the idea to rent a car and drive to Des Moines. Storm be damned.

The woman in front of him at the rental car counter gets the last SUV. Kate Jansen, a woman Todd had met at the airport bar while waiting to hear the fate of his flight, offers to give Todd a lift. He accepts gladly. Fred and Nan Wilkinson, a “silver-haired couple in their late sixties”, are also stranded at the airport. They decide to join Todd and Kate and together all 4 set off to Des Moines, with Todd at the wheel.

They have barely left the city, when they encounter a strange man in the middle of the highway, alone in the snow storm. “Suddenly, the figure was in the middle of the road, only a few yards in front of them as if he had materialized out of thin air.” Todd crashes into a snow bank and wrecks the SUV. They climb out of the car, to find a lone man standing in the road. The man’s name is Eddie Clement and his daughter, aged eight, is lost somewhere in the storm.

Something isn’t right about Eddie, or his story. “Kate put a hand on Eddie’s broad flannel back and led him to the Cherokee. Todd noticed two rips in the fabric of Eddie Clement’s flannel coat, one at each shoulder blade, each one perhaps five inches long. The fabric around each slit looked frayed.”

They four-some in the vehicle are skeptical. A man out in the bitter cold, alone, looking for his daughter for who knows how long…how isn’t he a popsicle? Why would his daughter run off in this weather? Nothing seems to make sense. As a reader, you get the feeling that something is terribly off with Eddie and it adds a layer of tension to the story. At this point, we are only 39 pages in, and the tension only increases with each page.

Seeking shelter, they walk to the nearest town. What they find there would change their lives forever, if they manage to survive that is.

By page 69, we learn that the town is virtually deserted. Where did everyone go? And then they encounter someone:

“A man was standing directly behind Nan, no more than five feet away. His clothes hung off him in tattered ribbons and were splattered with blood. The man’s eyes were dead in their sockets, his face as expressionless as an Egyptian mummy.” …

“The sound of the rifle fire was almost deafening.

In the street, the man’s head evaporated into a red mist. The body sagged forward, then dropped straight to the ground, its legs folded neatly beneath it.

Nan screamed and Fred cursed. Kate clawed at the back of Todd’s neck, gripping a fistful of hair.

Then something else happened. The headless body in the street bucked once, twice, three times. Hot blood spurted from the abbreviated neck and coursed like an oil slick across the ice. There was the impression of levitation, although the dead man never actually left the ground; rather, something from within the man’s body was rising up, up. For one insane moment, Todd actually believed he was witnessing the dead man’s soul vacating the body.

But this was no one’s soul. What rose up was a hurricane swirl of snow, funneled and compacted so that it was nearly tangible. It held the vague form of a human being, though as it continued to withdraw itself from the man’s body, Todd could see its arms–or whatever served as arms–were nearly twice the length of a normal person’s. It had no definable characteristics beyond the vague suggestion of humanity. And as it peeled away from the corpse–from out of the corpse–it hovered briefly above the body, nearly solid and comprehensible, before it dispersed into a scattering of snowflakes and was gone.

The silence that followed was thundering.”

Snow by Ronald Malfi, pages 68-69

I got chills reading that again — soooo good! At this point in the story, I was already hooked, but this entrenched me in the story further.

This book is probably one of the best horror stories I’ve read this year. I would give it 10 out of 5 stars (if that were possible). The writing is fantastic. I love the way Malfi paints the picture. The monsters were super cool, the storyline creepy as hell. I had a hard time putting this book down. A must read.