Archive for April 2023

With My Little Eye by Joshilyn Jackson


Fame can be a fickle thing. There are pros and cons to anything in life, but celebrities see these different poles at the most extreme. On one side, there is the enormous success that stems from their notoriety. They are able to live a life of luxury, filled with the wealth and status that that lifestyle affords. On the other hand, any true sense of privacy goes away. Everyone knows just about everything about their life. The good, bad, and ugly are all displayed for the world to see. It is this darker side of celebrity that Joshilyn Jackson chooses to focus on in her new thriller With My Little Eye. In the book, she imagines a celebrity who has lost any sense of anonymity. It is as terrifying as it is electrifying. 

Meribel Mills is starting over. At least that's what she keeps telling herself. She jumped at the opportunity to take on a regular role in the latest cop procedural to grace network television. Yes, roles like this are rarer and rarer for an aging actress in an industry that is cutthroat to women. It wasn't just the chance for steady work that appealed to Meribel, however. It was more about the opportunity to relocate from LA to Atlanta. This is a chance to leave behind the stress of Hollywood and bring her adopted daughter a life of routine and stability. Even as the family of two begins to settle into their new luxury apartment, Meribel can't help but fear that none of this will be enough. 

When the first letter arrived, Meribel barely took note of it. Years had passed since her breakout role, but she still received the occasional piece of fan mail. This one was strange, of course, but that's the price you pay for being a celebrity. But the letters didn't stop. With increasing regularity, she would open the mail to see another letter written in bold, fruit-scented marker. The notes became more disturbing with each new appearance, some even containing threatening drawn images depicting Meribel in various violent states. Meribel had crazed fans before, but this Marker Man was different. As paranoia and fear invaded her every thought, she couldn't help but feel as if this man had been in her LA home, her sheets smelling of unfamiliar cologne. Finally, determined to put a stop to this stalking, Meribel moved her entire life to Atlanta, praying that the Marker Man would leave her alone for good.  

As she sits in the cafe in the lobby of her new building in Atlanta, Meribel feels hopeful that this move was the right decision. Surely Marker Man can't find her here. But then she gets that uneasy feeling that has plagued her with each new letter. Someone is watching her. She can feel his eye taking her in, reveling in her every move. As the rain hammers the street outside, Meribel just catches a glimpse of the figure of a man standing beneath an umbrella. She can't make out any of his features, but his gaze is undeniable. The Marker Man is here. Despite her best efforts, Meribel hasn't evaded her worst fears. Her nightmare is just beginning. 

I first became aware of Joshilyn Jackson when I read her book Mother May I a couple of years ago. That thriller wowed me by combining a riveting plot with deeply drawn characters. With My Little Eye brings many of the elements that I enjoyed in that previous book while blazing a terrifying new path for the author. Jackson just knows how to get under your skin, and she's not afraid to fill each page with paranoia and dread. There's a well-rounded cast of characters that make up this story, and Jackson smartly shifts perspective from character to character to give the reader a deep insight into each of their threads. The main plot about a stalker drives much of the action in the book, but I found the protagonist's twelve-year-old autistic daughter to be the most compelling. Jackson writes her through an empathetic lens that I found to be refreshingly impactful. Some of the plot points veer into the implausible, but the characters helped me mostly overlook that. I was blindsided by the revelation of who the stalker was and found the conclusion to be completely satisfying. With My Little Eye is another fantastic thriller from an author who is fast becoming one of my favorites. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2023, 23)

Double or Nothing by Kim Sherwood


When you think of James Bond, you probably think about the movies. How could you not? The James Bond films have been a consistent part of popular culture since Sean Connery first clad the trademark tux in 1962. Did you know, though, that James Bond the character comes from Ian Flemming's books that date back to 1953? The character's staying power, in both film and the written word, stems from the ability of the series to evolve with the changing times. Looking back at the older versions of Bond, there's plenty of fun, but there's just as much to cringe about. Flemming passed away in 1964. Since then numerous authors have given their take on 007, keeping the legendary character alive through many new adventures. Kim Sherwood is the latest author tapped by the Flemming estate to take on the mantle of writing about the famous James Bond. With the first novel, Double or Nothing, in her planned trilogy Sherwood attempts to take the series in a bold new direction. 

In the present day, MI6, a branch of the British Secret Service, looks and functions much differently than it did in the decades past.  Bond's secretary Moneypenny has taken charge of the infamous Double Os, bringing in a new crop of secret agents. Q is no longer simply a person who comes up with ingenious inventions to aid the agents. Instead, Q in this world is a supercomputer, capable of the kind of sentient AI that the world seems closer and closer to bringing to reality. Most notably, James Bond the famous agent 007 is missing. He's either been taken captive or killed, either of which is not ideal. Without the tenured agent to head her mission, Moneypenny turns to a group of new agents. 003, 004, 008, and 009 will each need to team up to head off the latest threat. 

Taking on a famed series such as Bond is no small undertaking. Sherwood approaches the task with vigor and a willingness to make the book her own. I've been a fan of Bond films since I was a kid, so I was really excited when William Morrow offered me the opportunity to read the latest Bond novel. Sherwood brings the series into the modern era by correcting a few wrongs from the series's past and by focusing the plot on the timely subject of climate change. It is difficult, though, to call Double or Nothing a James Bond book. The character is missing at the start of the novel and does not make an appearance in the story. Instead, Sherwood focuses on a group of young, diverse agents. While each of these new characters has redeeming qualities, none of them emerged as a central character strong enough to carry a series. After a promising opening, the novel begins to shift perspectives between each agent, causing the pace of the narrative to slow. Just as I thought things were picking up, the perspective would shift and the momentum would die. There's an intriguing thriller buried within this book, but it ultimately can't decide what exactly it wants to be. Is this a James Bond book? A fast-paced thriller? A novel filled with espionage and intrigue? Double or Nothing makes an attempt to be all of these things, but ultimately never lives up to the legacy that it is attempting to continue. 

For more information visit the author's website and Goodreads

(2023, 22)

I Will Find You by Harlan Coben


My mission to read new to me authors continues, this time with the latest book by thriller author Harlan Coben. Coben is another one of those authors I have always heard about but have never read. I first became familiar with his work years ago after picking up a used paperback copy of his book Tell No One. At the time, Ben Affleck was attached as the director of a film adaptation of the title, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to read the book before the movie arrived. Instead, I procrastinated with the book, and the movie version was quietly scrapped. Coben's work continued to sit on my shelf unread until his publisher reached out with the offer to read his latest novel I Will Find You

The loss of a child is unconscionable. For David and Cheryl Burroughs, it is the single event that completely upturned their lives. Their toddler son Matthew was brutally murdered in their home. David was convicted of the crime, and the couple divorced and went their separate ways. Five years later, Cheryl is remarried and expecting a child. Her life, it seems, is beginning to reset. David is in a much different state. He's spent the last five years confined to his prison cell, all the while professing his innocence. For the entirety of his imprisonment, David has refused any visitors. Even his closest family members have stopped trying to see him. It is unusual then that Cheryl's sister Rachel would be at the jail today. Even more unusual, perhaps, is her persistence to visit David. 

David begrudgingly agrees to see Rachel, curious about why after all this time she would want to speak to him. He couldn't be prepared for the bombshell she is about to reveal. Rachel, a recently disgraced journalist, comes to David with a photograph of a child at a theme park. The child appears to be around eight years old, the exact age his deceased son would have been if he had survived. More startling, the boy is the spitting image of Matthew, a perfect match down to every detail, even the birthmark on his face. Could this truly be Matthew? David and Rachel are both convinced. The only question now is what should they do next. 

I Will Find You left me wondering why it took me so look to read anything by Harlan Coben. The story of a father wrongfully convicted of killing his son and being given a second chance at justice hooked my intrigue from the very first chapter. Yes, the believability around the specifics of the plot is pushed far beyond any sense of plausibility, but I didn't care. This is the kind of escapism thriller that I'm able to get lost in and just enjoy the ride. Think of this book as you would a crowd-pleasing summer action movie. You'll root for the main characters, be annoyed by the people against them, and cheer as the inevitable ending eventually arises. There's nothing mind-blowing about it, but you can't deny the entertainment factor. Sometimes, that is the exact kind of read that I need. I thoroughly enjoyed this one from start to finish, and can't wait to dive into more of Harlan Coben's books. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2023, 21)

A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay


This month, I'm on a mission to read books by authors I've always heard about but have never read. So far I've tackled books by Alex Finlay and Sally Hepworth. Next up is A Noise Downstairs by author Linwood Barclay. As a lover of the thriller genre, I've heard of Barclay's writing for years. His penchant for tightly plotted standalone thrillers seemed the perfect match for my tastes. As an extra motivation to read his work, I purchased a copy of A Noise Downstairs a couple years ago. It has waited patiently on my shelf since then, and now I have finally given myself an excuse to read it. 

Paul Davis was living a normal life as a family man and college professor when his life was suddenly turned upside down. He was driving along a deserted road late one night and stumbled upon the car of one of his colleagues. To Paul's surprise, the man was disposing of the bodies of his murder victims. Caught in the act, the co-worker turned his attention to Paul, nearly killing him before being apprehended by the authorities. 

Since that night, Paul has suffered from terrible PTSD. He's been unable to fully return to work, and even therapy isn't helping with his flashbacks. In an attempt to help Paul keep his mind off of the horrific events that he lived through, his wife Charlotte gives him a vintage typewriter. She hopes this will inspire Paul to finally start writing the novel that he's always talked about beginning. She can't predict the darkness this object will bring into their home. 

As the details of the murder that Paul stumbled onto come out, it is revealed that the killer forced his victims to type out apologies to him before he ended their lives. Paul is haunted by this fact, and the addition of a typewriter into his home only intensifies his fears. He knows that it is irrational, so he tries to push those fears from his mind. Then one night, he hears the clicking of the typewriter keys coming from his downstairs office. Of course, Charlotte is unable to hear the sound, and an investigation of the office reveals no foul play. But the clicking continues. Each night the noise swells. Soon Paul even begins to find typed notes when he wakes in the morning. Has some cruel twist of fate brought the very typewriter that the victims used into Pauls's home, or is he slowly losing his grip on reality?

A Noise Downstairs sees Linwood Barclay write a wild thrill ride filled with paranoia and suspense. The premise takes some suspension of disbelief, but trust me when I say that it is worth it. Barclay tells his tale from three main perspectives, the main protagonist Paul, his wife, and his psychiatrist. These three separate threads slowly wind together until the full extent of Barclay's narrative prowess is revealed. I couldn't put this one down, and read it in a few short sittings. Seasoned thriller readers like me may think they have the ending of this one all figured out, but I can assure you that Barclay is always a step ahead of you. He smartly plays into the conventions of the genre to set up the ultimate red herring. Just as I thought I had the ending of this one all figured out, a third-act twist came along and set into motion a stream of twisty reveals that had me fully shaken. If you haven't already, go ahead and add A Noise Downstairs to your summer reading list. You won't be disappointed. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2023, 20)

The Soulmate by Sally Hepworth


April is here, and with the new month comes a string of new releases that I've been eager to read. First up is a new thriller from another new to me author Sally Hepworth. I've made it a goal to read titles from authors who I've heard of but have never read, and Hepworth certainly fits that bill. I've been tangentially aware of her writing for several years. Many of my reading friends have praised her standalone thrillers. When her publisher offered me a copy of her latest book via ebook and audio, I jumped at the chance to read it. The Soulmate proves why so many other readers adore Hepworth's writing and has turned me into a fan of her works too. 

It was their dream home. Gabe and Pippa Gerard had built a beautiful life together, and this was the place they would live out the remainder of their days. The house was large enough to hold their growing family for years. The Melbourne estate sat atop a seaside cliff overlooking the waves crashing against sharp rocks below, the peaceful sound of breaking waves filling the air of the entire property. Yes, this was the perfect place to call home. The cliffs bringing such peace to the Gerard family bring something much darker to others. This dark proclivity would soon begin to unravel their dream. 

Besides being known as their dream home, the cliffs on the edge of their property are also known as "The Drop". This steep bluff overlooking jagged rocks below has become a well-known location for people to commit suicide, a place to quickly end their troubled lives. Since moving in, Pippa and Gabe have encountered seven individuals who are ready to end it all. When the couple notices another woman approaching the edge of the rockface, Pippa is concerned but not worried. Surely Gabe will be able to sort this one out too. She watches from afar as Gabe approaches the woman and begins speaking to her. Pippa looks away for only a moment but is shocked when her gaze returns to the scene. Gabe stands at "The Drop", arms outstretched in front of him, and the woman is nowhere to be seen. Is the woman's fall simply a tragic accident, or is something more nefarious at play?

I was immediately consumed by the premise of Sally Hepworth's The Soulmate. Hepworth employs shifting perspectives including the POV of the deceased woman who is stuck in a kind of purgatory watching the events unfold. This tactic can be hit or miss in thrillers like this one, but I found it to really help add to the suspense and sense of paranoia that fills the novel. Barrie Krienik and Jessica Douglas-Henry give voice to these characters in the audio version of the book, and I found their narration to really ground the story in authenticity, even as certain plot points became a bit far-fetched. The Soulmate is a popcorn thriller at its best. Family secrets, tension, and plenty of twists keep the pages turning and had me thoroughly engrossed in the story. This was my first read by Hepworth, but it certainly won't be my last. 

For more information visit the author's website, Amazon, and Goodreads

(2023, 19)

Powered by Blogger.