We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart, was published in 2013 by Delacorte.
We Were Liars is a suspense/mystery novel. Cadence Sinclair Eastman has forgotten the majority of her fifteenth summer at her family’s private island and the story is about her struggle to put together the pieces of what happened that caused her amnesia.
Though it’s a suspense novel, it really doesn’t read like one. It’s mostly about teenage life, or what Lockhart assumes is teenage life. There’s familial drama, the close-knit adventures of cousins and friends, the confusion as Cadence struggles to remember and people around her refuse to answer her questions, and some odd fairy tale stories scattered throughout. Odd because they seem out of place, though clearly Lockhart believed they were necessary—I just didn’t get it.
Despite the fact that it doesn’t much read like a suspense novel, the ending is quite shocking. I went into it thinking I knew what was happening, then had to change my mind, then got hit with the plot twist at the end. I literally spoke to the book, that’s how shocked I was. Suddenly I wanted to reread the book, or go back quickly at least, to look and see all the clues and foreshadowing. That’s a good ending of a book, if it makes you want to reread it immediately.
We Were Liars wasn’t the edge-of-my-seat, gripping suspense novel I was hoping, but it still pleasantly surprised me, delivering a seemingly innocent plot with a shocking undercurrent. I thought the fairy stories were weird, and the writing was a little too scattered for me to really like, but overall, I liked my first foray into E. Lockhart’s works.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: Swearing, kissing, death.
Genre: Young Adult, Mystery, Suspense, Realistic
You can buy this book here: https://amzn.to/2E8sbsd
Disclaimer: Maybe It’s You, by Candace Calvert, was provided by Tyndale House. I received a free copy. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
Nurse Sloane Ferrell escaped her risky past—new name, zip code, job, and a fresh start. She’s finally safe, if she avoids a paper trail and doesn’t let people get too close. Like the hospital’s too-smooth marketing man with his relentless campaign to plaster one “lucky” employee’s face on freeway billboards. Micah Prescott’s goal is to improve the Hope hospital image, but his role as a volunteer crisis responder is closer to his heart. The selfless work helps fill a void in his life left by family tragedy. So does a tentative new relationship with the compassionate, beautiful, and elusive Sloane Ferrell. Then a string of brutal crimes makes headlines, summons responders…and exposes disturbing details of Sloane’s past. Can hope spring from crisis?
My rating: 3/5
Apparently there are two books previous to Maybe It’s You, but they’re not necessary to read beforehand—which is good because I didn’t. I’m assuming, based on what I know about the first two books and what was revealed in this one, that Sloane appears as a minor character in them, but I don’t know for sure. And Calvert does enough in terms of character development that any previous development given isn’t necessary to Sloane’s growth and development in this book.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Maybe It’s You—possibly some cheesy book version of a soap opera, or something written specifically for fans of Grey’s Anatomy or something—but the plot pleasantly surprised me. There was intrigue, criminal behavior, and a much more dark and traumatic backstory than I was expecting. It’s also well-written and compelling, which is good because even though the book as a whole is not something I would usually pick up or read, I found it interesting and wanted to finish it.
However, because the book is not the sort of thing I would usually pick up or read, I can’t really gush about it or anything. Like I said, it was mildly intriguing, well-written, and more interesting than I thought it would be. Sloane had good character development and even Micah gets some backstory to make him more interesting than the usual male romantic interest. The message aspect of it was good and there was a good emphasis on things like letting go of the past, moving on from past hurt, and forgiving others.
But Maybe It’s You is pretty forgettable, at least for me. There’s nothing in it to make me want to spread the word about it, although perhaps it might lead me to keep an eye on the author if Calvert ever writes anything except medical dramas. It was good, but not great. It was interesting, but not that sort of mesmerizing interest that makes you put the book down and go “Oh, that was good. I want to think about this a lot.” I suppose the highest praise I have for the book is that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be and it’s better than I gave it credit for.
Warnings: Sexual abuse, prostitution, alcohol abuse, violence, death.
Genre: Realistic, Suspense, Christian
You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2kRVy6z
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Tangled Webs, by Irene Hannon, from the publisher Revell. No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.
After a disastrous Middle East mission ends his six-year Army Ranger career, Finn McGregor needs some downtime. A peaceful month in the woods sounds like the perfect way to decompress. But peace isn’t on the agenda once he crosses paths with publishing executive Dana Lewis, a neighbor who is nursing wounds of her own. Someone seems bent on disrupting her stay in the lakeside cabin she inherited from her grandfather. As Finn and Dana work together to discover who is behind the disquieting pranks, the incidents begin to take on a menacing tone. And when it becomes apparent Dana’s foe may have deadly intent, Finn finds himself back in the thick of the action—ready or not.
My rating: 2/5
Tangled Webs is a decent suspense novel, though the suspense is overshadowed by the mediocre romance. Really, this book would have been fine as a suspense novel without the predictable, boring romance—perhaps even better.
Although, the romance might have been better if Dana and Finn had been more interesting characters. But I was far more interested in the police chief than in them, and sadly, he wasn’t featured as much as those two. I found him to be an interesting character and somewhat sympathetic in that you understand why he’s doing what he’s doing and yet want to slap him over the head and wonder why he’s being so stupid. He’s relatable, which is more than I can say for cardboard Dana and Finn, Stock Characters 1 and 2, cut straight from the magazine.
Pointless romance aside, as I mentioned, the suspense was actually quite good and the whole concept of gold hiding in a lake was pretty interesting. I wish there had been a scene where everyone reads the letter the police chief left behind, but instead it’s just casually thrown out at the end—and there’s also no mention of the chief’s wife, which I found disappointing since that’s how the whole thing got started. So, overall, though the concept was good, the entire thing fell flat for me. And I’d love to read something more original than the romance portrayed in Tangled Webs, and done with more original characters. Maybe try a different magazine, Hannon.
Genre: Realistic, Suspense, Christian
You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2dxRovi
Disclaimer: Murder Comes by Mail, by A. H. Gabhart, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.
Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane doesn’t particularly enjoy being touted as the hero of Hidden Springs after pulling a suicidal man back from the edge of the Eagle River bridge in front of dozens of witnesses—a few of whom caught the breathtaking moments with their cameras. But the media hype doesn’t last long as a new story pushes its way into the public consciousness of Hidden Springs’ concerned citizens. Photos of a dead girl arrive in the mail, and Michael becomes convinced she was murdered by the man he saved. With a killer one step ahead, things in Hidden Springs begin to unravel. Now Michael must protect the people he loves—because the killer could be targeting one of them next.
Murder Comes by Mail is a pretty decent mystery novel, combining small-town life with its predictable quips and quirks with a string of murders that suitably cause the characters to freak out. It’s no Agatha Christie, and it lacks a bit of the oomph and tension that I love in murder mysteries, but it’s good.
My main quibble is that the murderer is way too obvious. I also don’t like the inevitable moustache-twirling conversation the murderer has with Michael when Michael solves the mystery. It is very, very difficult to pull those sorts of things off without sounding ridiculously hammy and cheesy, and while Gabhart did an okay job of it, it still reeked of triteness.
One positive is that, although this is the second book in a series and I did not read the first, I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything. Maybe a little more introduction for Alex would have been nice, but I didn’t feel like anything was missing just because I hadn’t read the first book. That’s hard to do in an interconnected series, even if each book has a different plot, and kudos to Gabhart for never making me feel lost with the characters.
Murder Comes by Mail lacks the sort of in-depth, tense mystery that I love, but what it has is pretty good, if simple. The villain was the black spot, as that over-the-top “I’m crazy” conversation at the end was too much, and the plot as a whole is predictable, but I generally liked the characters, the “small town” feel of it, and the ease with which I slipped into the world without having been introduced to the characters in the first book.
My rating: 3/5
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Realistic, Christian
You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/25oFD3J
Disclaimer: Traces of Guilt, by Dee Henderson, was provided by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.
Evie Blackwell loves her life as an Illinois State Police detective…mostly. She’s very skilled at investigations and has steadily moved up through the ranks. She would like to find Mr. Right, but she has a hard time imagining how marriage could work, considering the demands of her job. Gabriel Thane grew up in Carin County and is now its sheriff, a job he loves. Gabe is committed to upholding the law and cares deeply for the residents he’s sworn to protect. He too would like to find a lifetime companion, a marriage like his parents have….When Evie arrive in Carin, Illinois, it’s to help launch a new task force focused on unsolved crimes across the state. She will work with the sheriff’s department on a couple of its most troubling missing-persons cases. As she studies old evidence to pull out a few tenuous new leads, she unearths surprising connections. One way or another, she knows Gabriel Thane and his family well be key to the answers she seeks.
One major thing stopped Traces of Guilt from being a very good, though surprisingly dark, suspense mystery novel—Henderson’s penchant to tell, not show, characterization through the sermonizing of other characters. This book is long, and about 1/3 of it could have been trimmed down if Ann, one of the characters, had a few less sermons disguised as conversations, and a little more of what she was telling us characters were feeling had been woven into that character’s actions and feelings instead.
Henderson wants us to feel the pain that Grace and Karen feel, but because most of their development is told through the mouth of Ann or another character, they just feel like dead weight in a book that starts to plod 1/3 of the way in. After only the second pages-long “Ann discussion,” I knew that my liking of the book would be in fits and starts, much like the development of the main mystery.
I was pleasantly surprised, though, that while the blurb indicates romance between Evie and Gabriel, there really isn’t any. The book ends with them as friends, and nothing else, though they both consider what it would be like to be together. The content in this book means that even Henderson’s attempts at romance don’t mesh very well—or perhaps it’s just the writing style that makes everything seem stilted.
I’m a bit confused as to why some of the questions raised in the Florist family case never got resolved. Who killed Frank Ash? Was Grace’s uncle’s death really a hunting accident? Maybe Henderson’s point was that some questions are bound to remain unsolved, but in a mystery novel where the characters spend a lot of time thinking about these questions, it feels strange just to leave them unanswered. Or maybe I like a bit more resolution for my questions.
In fits and starts, Traces of Guilt is a good mystery suspense novel, but Ann’s constant “let me tell you about this character and then give you life advice” annoyed me to no end, making a long book seem even longer and detracting attention away from the much better mystery aspect.
My rating: 3/5
Warnings: Murder, sexual abuse.
Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Realistic, Christian
You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1Tp20jY
Disclaimer: Annabel Lee, by Mike Nappa, was provided by Revell in exchange for an honest review.
Fourteen miles east of Peachtree, Alabama, a secret is hidden. The secret’s name is Annabel Lee. She doesn’t know why her enigmatic uncle has stowed her deep underground in a military-style bunker. He’s left her with a few German words, a barely controlled guard dog, and a single command: “Don’t open that door for anybody, you got it? Not even me.” Miles away in Atlanta, private investigator Trudi Coffey is visited by a mysterious older man calling himself Dr. Smith. He’s been trailing a man for a decade—a man she met through her ex-partner Samuel Hill—and the trial has led him to her office. The last thing Trudi wants to do is to contact Samuel. But it will take both of them to unravel this mystery—before it’s too late.
Annabel Lee starts out strong and gripped me from the very first chapter. I’m not overly fond of the military/spy version of suspense novels, but this one was intriguing, occasionally funny, and full of light-hearted moments amidst all the gun fights. At one point I was nervous that the novel would veer off into supernatural/fantasy territory, but Annabel Lee stayed strictly a suspense novel—with maybe a touch of science fiction.
I appreciated Nappa’s ability to make characters likeable, even the ones who have slightly more of a checkered past than the others. Even with all the deaths, Nappa makes Samuel, Trudi, and the Mute’s actions completely justified and brings the reader completely on their side—something hard to do in a book with a lot of shooting, especially considering today’s culture. And the ultimate justified action at the end leaves the reader (all right—at least me) without a single doubt that what happened was the right thing to do.
My one complaint is that I could have done less with the minute descriptions of cars and guns. I could not care less what exact make, model, and class SUV the villain is driving, nor do I have enough experience about guns to appreciate Trudi’s love for her particular make and model of handgun. But, overemphasis of unimportant (to me) details aside, Annabel Lee was a great read: gripping, exciting, and light and dark in all the right places.
My rating: 4/5
Warnings: Violence, death.
Genre: Realistic, Suspense, Christian
You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/1R78FZv
I’ll be returning to Tuesday and Friday uploads for the next couple of weeks until school starts up again in late January.
The Night She Disappeared is written by April Henry. It was published in 2012 by Henry Holt. Henry’s website can be found here.
Genre: Realistic, Tough Read, Mystery, Suspense Young Adult
“Gabie drives a Mini Cooper. She also delivers pizzas part-time. One night, Kayla, another delivery girl at Pete’s Pizza, goes out with an order and never comes back. To Gabie’s horror, she learns that the man who called in the fake pizza order had asked if the girl in the Mini Cooper was working that night. Was Kayla’s fate really meant for Gabie? Obsessed with finding Kayla, Gabie teams up with Drew, who also works at Pete’s. Together they set out to prove Kayla isn’t dead—and to find her before she is.”
“Excuse me,” Amber says. She only works weekends. “I heard he asked for the girl in the Mini Cooper. Doesn’t that mean he really wanted Gabie?” She looks over her shoulder at Gabie and whispers “Sorry!” as if she has revealed a secret. And it’s clear that for some people in the room, this is the first they are hearing about this.
Gabie freezes. At least the top part of her body does. Even her knees still for a moment.
How long can he keep me here?
Will I ever see the sun again? Will I die here?
Is there going to come a point when I want to die?
Will they find my body, years from now, and wonder who I am? That thought is the worst, that I might become some nameless dead girl, a stranger’s pile of bones. I finger the label on an empty water bottle. I could write on the back, and leave it in my pocket so people will know who I am. Only I don’t have anything to write with.
What does he want from me?
Warnings: Violence, kidnapping, suicide.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
What I Liked:
The plot has a definite thrill aspect to it, and a sense of time ticking down and running out. It’s a decent thriller, although I’ve read better. It’s a page-turner, and that’s a good thing. The alternating viewpoints are done well and serve to heighten the suspense. I liked the way the characters dealt with their fear throughout. The kidnapper was suitably creepy and not pathetic at all. Probably my favorite part was the newspaper articles, paper clippings, and other miscellaneous things that were scattered throughout the book which gave it an air of authenticity.
What I Didn’t Like:
Gabie’s parents are the stereotypical doctors: health-freaks, coldly rational, and machine-like. And the stereotype is so thick I found it humorous. I suppose you’re supposed to feel sorry for Gabie, with such cold, busy doctors for parents, but I just kept snickering at the author’s description of them. Organic skim milk? Yeah, okay. Lay it on some more, why don’t you?
Also present is the stereotypical romance. It was also an unnecessary romance. Sometimes I feel that authors think that they need to put romance in a book to make it appealing, or to make it YA. You actually don’t. Don’t get me wrong, when done right, I like romance. But in times like this, when it’s a romance that’s been done a million times before and does nothing to the plot…I’d prefer that it wasn’t there. It’s just distracting, and it doesn’t lend itself nearly as well to character development as people think.
Nice job having the police officer blackmail teenagers as if it was a regular, normal activity. I find it hard to believe that this is a normal police activity. Maybe it was just that particular officer. One thing I dislike about current literature is that police officers (and law in general) are now viewed in a generally negative light, as opposed to the positive light in older works.
The Night She Disappeared is a decent thriller/suspense/mystery. It’s just burdened down with a lot of stereotypical characters and an unnecessary romance that distracts from the plot. The kidnapper was creepy, though. I wish there had been a bit more revealed about him, but he was a good villain. And Kayla has got a lot of spunk, so kudos to her.
You can buy this book here: The Night She Disappeared
Coming Up Next: The Revenant by Sonia Gensler
Note: This won’t be a regular occurrence. I’ve just had this review done for a while and I wanted to post it.
Crime and Punishment is one of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s best-known works. It was published in 1866. He and Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace, Anna Karenina) are considered among the greatest Russian writers.
Genre: Classic, Realistic, Suspense
Crime and Punishment focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill an unscrupulous pawnbroker for her cash. Raskolnikov argues that with the pawnbroker’s money he can perform good deeds to counterbalance the crime, while ridding the world of a worthless vermin. He also commits this murder to test his own hypothesis that some people are naturally capable of such things, and even have the right to do them. The anguish he suffers arouses the curiosity and suspicion of the people around him as he deals with his sister’s impending marriage, his relationship with a young prostitute, and the police’s investigations.
“I knew it,” he muttered in confusion, “I thought so! That’s the worst of all! Why, a stupid thing like this, the most trivial detail might spoil the whole plan. Yes, my hat is too noticeable…It looks absurd and that makes it noticeable…With my rags I ought to wear a cap, any sort of old pancake, but not this grotesque thing. Nobody wears such a hat, it would be noticed a mile off, it would be remembered…What matters is that people would remember it, and that would give them a clue. For this business one should be as little conspicuous as possible…Trifles, trifles are what matter! Why, it’s just such trifles that always ruin everything….”
“Bah, Zametov! The police office! And why am I sent for to the police office? Where’s the notice? Bah! I am mixing it up; that was then. I looked at my sock then, too, but now…now I have been ill…But what did Zametov come for? Why did Razumihin bring him?” he muttered, helplessly sitting on the sofa again. “What does it mean? Am I still in delirium, or is it real? I believe it is real…Ah, I remember, I must escape! Make haste to escape. Yes, I must, I must escape! Yes…but where? And where are my clothes? I’ve no boots. They’ve taken them away! They’ve hidden them! I understand! Ah, here is my coat—they passed that over! And here is money on the table, thank God! And here’s the I.O.U…I’ll take the money and go and take another lodging. They won’t find me!…Yes, but the address bureau? They’ll find me, Razumihin will find me. Better escape altogether…far away…to America, and let them do their worst! And take the I.O.U…it would be of use there…What else shall I take? They think I am ill! They don’t know that I can walk, ha-ha-ha! I could see by their eyes that they know all about it! If only I could get downstairs! And what if they have set a watch there—policemen! What’s this tea? Ah, and here is beer left, half a bottle, cold!”
“You mean Siberia, Sonia? I must give myself up?” he asked gloomily.
“Suffer and expiate your sin by it, that’s what you must do.”
“No! I am not going to them, Sonia!”
“Nothing in the world is harder than speaking the truth and nothing easier than flattery.”
Recommended Age Range: 14+
What I Liked:
I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book for the first couple of chapters. Then Raskolnikov (hereafter known as Ras) killed the two women, and I started liking it (what does that say about me…?). It was intense, it was humorous at points, it was heart-clenching. The mental trauma that Ras goes through is really brought out through the text. A lot of Ras’s ideas were very similar to those in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, which I watched over the summer (of 2012), so there was a good degree of familiarity and recognition on my part as to Ras’s philosophy.
Also, forget about Ras and his problems. By far the most chilling part of the whole book, in my opinion, is contained in this sentence: “Svidrigaïlov pulled the trigger.” Seriously, I read that over about five times; despite how macabre it is, it is probably my favorite line in the whole book (besides Sviddy’s line about flattery and truth that I put in the Quotes above).
Also, happy ending for the win! Whoo!
Random note: I had a pair of goldfish that I named Sonia and Raz. This was before I read this book, but my roommates had (hence, why I eventually read it).
What I Didn’t Like:
This is a book that was written in the nineteenth century, so of course it’s very long and flowery and says in five sentences what could have been said in one. I thought that a lot could have been cut out that would have taken nothing away and would have improved the book as a whole. It was very dry and tedious in some parts, especially the very beginning and the middle.
It can also be pretty confusing telling everyone apart with their multiple Russian names. Sonia is also called Sofia Semyonova, Ras’s sister Dounia is also referred to as Avdotya Romanova, and etc. and etc. I had the hardest time telling Zametov and Zosimov apart because their names were so similar.
Crime and Punishment is on almost every “must-read classic” list and, in my opinion, should be. It is long and tedious in parts, and the characters may take a little time to sort out, but the overall effect of the novel is excellent and the glimpse of the various philosophies and beliefs talked about and described in the book make for a great learning experience and can easily jumpstart any conversation.
Coming Up Next: I have one other classic review which I’ll post eventually. If/when I read other classics, you’ll see them here…eventually. Hate List by Jennifer Brown on Tuesday!
Note: This book is the first instant of the “swearing” warning. I’m not referring to the words you hear in almost every TV show nowadays; I’m referring to the swear words that made The King’s Speech rated R.
Frost is Marianna Baer’s first novel. It was published in 2011 by Balzer + Bray (an imprint of HarperCollins). Baer’s website can be found here. I apologize for not having any quotes from this book; this was one of the first reviews I wrote and I have since returned the book to the library without realizing that I hadn’t fully completed the review.
Genre: Supernatural/Mystery/Tough Read
“Leena Thomas’s senior year at boarding school starts with a cruel shock: Frost House, the cozy Victorian dorm where she and her best friends chose to live, has been assigned an unexpected roommate—confrontational, eccentric Celeste Lazar.
What Celeste lacks in social grace, however, her brother, David, a recent transfer student, makes up for in goods looks and charm. But while he and Leena hit it off immediately, Leena finds herself struggling to balance her growing attraction with her fear of getting hurt.
As classes get under way, strange happenings begin to bedevil Frost House—frames mysteriously falling off walls, doors locking by themselves, furniture toppling over. Celeste blames the housemates, convinced they want to scare her into leaving. And while Leena tries to play peacekeeper between her best friends and new roommate, soon the mysterious happenings in the dorm, an intense triangle between Leena, Celeste, and David, and the reawakening of childhood fears all push Leena to take increasingly desperate measure to feel safe. But does the threat lie with her new roommate, within Leena’s own mind…or in Frost House itself?”
~From the inside flap
Warnings: Swearing, underage drinking, use of fake IDs, mentions of suicide and suicidal thoughts, a few detailed descriptions of kissing/more than kissing, psychological disorders, abuse of medication, and general intense inner thoughts and feelings/angst (this is why I call it a “tough read”).
Recommended Age Range: 16+
What I Liked:
I’m not overly fond of the supernatural genre, but this book did it in the way I like it: the blending of the supernatural and the natural. Slight spoiler: Everything (well, mostly everything) in the book can be explained by physical means, but there is also a supernatural element that heightens the suspense (end spoiler). Leena is a believable, intriguing, sympathetic main character, which needs to happen if it’s first-person (which it is). The mystery and suspense were well drawn out, not too much or too little, but enough to keep the reader guessing as to the cause. There wasn’t much of a twist, but a good plot doesn’t necessarily need a twist or any of the other gimmicks to be a good plot. It was well-written and succeeded in making me want to read more from the author.
What I Didn’t Like:
While well-written, it wasn’t very memorable. Once I finished, I put it down and didn’t think about it again. Leena’s love interest, David, is a bit too perfect for my tastes. Also, the supernatural aspect of the novel I felt needed to be expanded a bit more; it felt a little rushed and simply thrown into the novel. The swearing was also a bit much for my tastes.
The book was solid and intriguing and if you generally like any or all of the genres I placed it under then you will most likely enjoy this book as well. As a debut novel, it’s very good. However, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody under the age of sixteen because of the content.
Coming up Next:
A weekend special! Tune in tomorrow and Sunday for a two-part discussion of Make It Or Break It, a TV show that I love to hate and hate to love, which ended last week. I’ll be discussing what it got wrong(Saturday) and what it did right (Sunday).
Then it’s back to the regular schedule on Tuesday, where I’ll be reviewing Eon by Alison Goodman.