Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway

All too often I find an author who writes a few great books and then goes downhill.  I’m not sure if it’s because they’re out of good ideas, bored with the genre, or just assume that their readers will continue to follow them no matter what and simply stop trying.

All that being said, I’m always impressed when an author continues to grow, whether they change genres or combine them, because then I feel like I can continue to read and enjoy – and Ruth Ware is one of these.  In her fourth novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, she continues to stay in the psychological suspense genre, but adds another layer to her writing which makes it all that much better.

After taking over her dead mother’s psychic reading booth and borrowing money from a loan shark, Hal Westaway’s life is anything but stable.  Just as she’s about to give up, she receives a letter regarding an inheritance from a family she never knew existed.  Despite the fact that she believes it to be some sort of mistake, Hal’s desperation gets the better of her and she sets out to collect.   Once in the midst of it, Hal realizes that nothing is what it seems, and this family and inheritance may very well be the death of her.

Filled with her signature twists and turns, you are kept guessing (and changing your opinion!) until the very end.  Fans of Ware’s previous works, The Lying Game, The Woman in Cabin 10, and In a Dark, Dark Woods will NOT want to miss this!

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The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. May 2018 @ Scout Press
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B.A. Paris’ The Breakdown

Trust is one of the most important things in life, without it, your world can be turned upside-down.  But what happens when you don’t know who to trust?  With her sophomore novel (and next one, Bring Me Back out this month!), B.A. Paris joins the ranks of S.J. Watson and A.S.A. Harrison in her story-telling abilities, begging the question: can you even trust yourself?

The Breakdown opens with a torrential storm.  Cass is taking a shortcut home through the woods, the same shortcut that her husband, Matthew, has warned her against taking.  She notices a car pulled over on the side of the road and tries to see if the driver needs help.  She comes close to getting out of her car, but thinks better of it and continues on her way home.  The next morning, Cass wakes to find that the woman in the car was murdered.  She may be the only witness, except no one knows that she was there.

And with that, B.A. Paris’ masterpiece begins.  At first we believe Cass – her recollection of the events that she keeps replaying in her head seems plausible – but soon those thoughts start to take over her life.  She becomes increasingly forgetful and paranoid that you start to question the validity of her story.  Was she even there?  Did she murder the woman?  Is she sane?  Paris weaves the threads so tightly at times that you can’t tell fact from fiction.

What I love most about this story is that moment when the pieces start to fall together – it’s then that you realize just how deep it really goes.  And that sometimes, the truth is not what you think it to be.

 

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The Breakdown, B.A. Paris 2017 St. Martin’s Press.

Wendy Walker’s Emma in the Night

“We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe. Maybe there’s no difference between wanting and needing. I don’t know. What I do know is that the truth can evade us, hiding behind our blind spots, our preconceptions, our hungry hearts that long for quiet. Still, it is always there if we open our eyes and try to see it. If we really try to see.”

A gripping new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten – in the vein of S.J. Watson and Tana French – following a psychologist’s desperate search to find a missing woman three years after her disappearance.

When Emma and Cass Tanner disappeared three years ago, the only clues they left behind were Emma’s car parked in the beach parking lot, and her shoes discarded in the sand. After a thorough investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement, no new information was discovered and the case remained unsolved – until three years later when Cass surfaces at her mother’s door in the early morning hours. Alternately narrated by Cass and Dr. Abby Winter – the FBI forensic psychologist who worked the original case – we are given the details of what happened to the girls on the night of their disappearance, and where they’ve been all this time. But something isn’t right: the facts don’t add up. How much of what Cass is saying is actually true? As Abby sifts through the truths and the lies, she uncovers something far darker than anyone could have imagined…but is she too late to save Emma?

Abby is one of those characters that, when a job hits too close to home, either falls completely apart or stands on the brink of falling apart. It’s why I loved Rob Ryan from In the Woods and Elliot Stabler from Law & Order SVU. She has become an insomniac who never sleeps, and an alcoholic. She doesn’t remember what happened in cases six months ago, but she still remembers every last detail of Emma and Cass’s disappearance. Characters like Abby, characters that become so emotionally invested in a case that they eat, breathe, and sleep the facts, they are the ones that seem the most real.

While Cass can be looked at with a skeptic lens, she is also the victim. She had to grow up way too soon. She had to learn how to lie and manipulate and play games to get things that we take for granted, without anyone to completely confide in. Cass is cold and calculating, but she acts that way because she has lost her ability to trust. At times she’s a bit unlikeable, but that gets overshadowed again and again by your ability to empathize with her.

What I love most about this novel is the same thing that I loved from her previous one: the psychology. Though psychological thrillers have become hugely popular in recent years, few people know how to do it right. A good thriller catches your attention, a great thriller grips you and doesn’t let go, but an exceptional thriller – though rare – forces you to slow down and absorb every last word, taking you to places far greater than you could ever expect. From the very first paragraph I could tell that Emma in the Night was one of those rare exceptionals. Walker’s descriptive prose is carefully crafted, and she keeps her cards close, not showing anything in her hand before you need it to be revealed.

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Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker. St Martin’s Press 2017.

Tana French’s The Trespasser

“That feeling…it lives inside of you somewhere deeper and older and more real than anything else except sex, and when it comes rising it takes your whole body for its own. It’s a smell of blood raging at the back of your nose, it’s your arm muscle throbbing to let go the bowstring, it’s drums speeding in your ears and a victory roar building at the bottom of your gut.”

 

Ever since reading her debut novel In the Woods, Tana French has been a long standing favorite of mind. I have read all of her novels, and for the most part, have loved every single one of them – although, her third novel, Faithful Place is still my number one favorite.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of French’s novels is how she takes a secondary character from the previous one and creates her next story around them. You get to know more about that character, see them in a different light, and your feelings about them change – sometimes.

In The Trespasser, however, she pairs the same two detectives and puts them in the forefront once again. The murder seems to be your basic lovers’ quarrel, but as Moran and Conway get deeper into the case, they soon realize that the evidence and prime suspect doesn’t line up. The victim, the suspect, the murder squad…nothing is as it seems.

As with all of French’s novels, she brings you along for the ride with the detectives as they try to solve their case. The theories that they believe you believe, until a new theory arises, and a new one. French keeps you holding on with her beautiful descriptions until the very end, when you come to realize who it was all along.

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The Trespasser, Tana French.  Viking Books, fall 2016.

Holly Seddon’s Try Not To Breathe

“Some secrets never die. They’re just locked away.”

These days, my reading list has become more diverse as I’m branching out, picking up books that I never thought I would, and loving them. There are a few genres that I keep going back to, ones that time and again prove to me why I love them so much. Nothing beats the feeling that you have when you get caught up in story and its characters and can’t let it go, obsessively drinking in each and every word. These are not always easy to come by, but once found, make me remember why I fell in love with books to begin with.

From the moment I read the description of Holly Seddon’s debut novel, Try Not to Breathe, I knew what kind of novel that it would be to me, that it had the power to stay with me – and I was not wrong. It centers around Alex Dale and Amy Stevenson, two women that have lost everything due to very different circumstances who come together to solve a 15-year old crime.

Alex is an alcoholic who threw away her husband, unborn child, and journalism career because she could not put down the bottle. Her days generally beginning with her waking up in urine-soaked sheets and ending a few hours later when she turns off her phone, unplugs her computer, and starts on her first of many glasses. Every time she starts craving a drink, I wanted to leap into the pages and pour it all down the drain, or at least for someone (anyone?) to realize the shape that she was in and force her to get help. But as much as I want to feel bad for Alex, I have a hard time doing so, because I feel like she doesn’t even try – in the beginning at least – to get past her self-destructive habits.

Amy, on the other hand, has no control over what happens in her life, because she has spent the past fifteen years in the hospital in a vegetative state after a horrific crime left her broken on the grounds of a neighborhood park. Except her mind is still intact, and she is reliving the experience over and over again, wondering if it is real or imaginary. In a way, I found it a bit comforting that, even though Amy’s mind was still working, she was not really aware of the state that she was in. Imagine if she was? How terrifying it would be to not be able to talk or move or communicate your thoughts with anyone. I can’t even begin to understand the agony of it all.

Although it seems to be totally accidental that Alex stumbled upon Amy at the hospital – she had been there doing research on a freelance article she was writing – it turned out to be the best thing for the both of them. By making the decision to write Amy’s story and try to solve the crime, Alex is transported out of her small world and finally has a cause worth living for. Even though Amy doesn’t completely understand what is going on, she does come to rely on Alex’s visits. As Alex gets closer to solving the case, her and Amy form a unique friendship, one that helps both of them to finally move on.

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Try Not To Breath, Holly Seddon.
 Ballantine Books 2016

T.R. Richmond’s What She Left

“Obsession is territory with which I’m well acquainted. Its coarse rub, its barbed spike, its musty spoiled sourness. The line between love and hate is paper-thin, and when you love someone and it turns to hate, there’s an inverse relationship between the two.”

 

Do we ever really know ourselves? Do we ever really know anyone? In the days where we live on social media, we are well aware that everything we put onto the internet is locked there forever. But just how much truth can actually be found? In T.R. Richmond’s debut psychological suspense novel, What She Left, we follow a professor as he tries to piece together the life and mysterious death of one of his former students.

Through letters, emails, blog posts, text messages and news articles, the story of Alice Salmon starts to unfold, a twenty-five year old woman whose career in journalism was starting to buzz, and whose love of university-day partying could not be completely outrun, no matter how hard she tried. Alice was a woman who was still figuring out her life and plan her future. But who was she, and what really happened to her? Anthropology professor Jeremy Cooke attempts to find out by contacting friends and family members, and researching her social-media-persona (aka stalking).

There’s a lot that can be said about this book. Take the character of Alice. Through multiple perspectives (including her own), she comes across as someone who is not in complete control of her actions, jumping to conclusions too quickly, giving into peer pressure, and a little needy. But would she have jumped into the river on a snowy February night and ended her life? With so many different points of view, who, if anyone can be trusted? Everyone is hiding secrets, even Professor Cooke, whose obsessive attachment to Alice and declaration of sticking to the truth tends to waiver at times.

If you are looking for a good thriller with a fresh, modern take, this is your book. It is formatted a bit differently than I was used to, but that actually adds to the tone and story. What She Left will grab your attention right away, leaving you guessing until the very end – and stay with you long after you’ve finished the novel.

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T.R. Richmond’s What She Left. Simon & Schuster January 2016.

K. A. Tucker’s He Will Be My Ruin

What would you do if your best friend died, but the circumstances surrounding her death didn’t add up? Would you accept the outcome of the investigation, or would you take matters into your own hand and follow your gut? In her first stand-alone novel, He Will Be My Ruin, critically acclaimed author, K. A. Tucker takes us on one woman’s desperate journey to find answers and uncover the truth.

For Maggie, who has dedicated her life to helping others, nothing is as hard for her as flying to New York to pack up Celine’s apartment after her friend committed suicide. In that very apartment. Having known each other for practically their whole lives, Maggie thought that she knew everything that there was to know about Celine. But as she starts packing and examining her friend’s belongings, a darker side of Celine emerges, one that makes her question everything and everyone connected to her. And also her death. Could Celine really have killed herself, or was there someone else involved? The evidence points to yes, but Maggie’s gut says otherwise.

Through strategically placed chapters, we get a glimpse of Celine. We get to see her frustrations and fears play out first hand. We also see into her other life, the one that she tried to keep hidden from everyone that she cared about, but that was starting to unravel around her and threaten everything that she had worked for. People were starting to find out what Celine had been up to.

When the novel opens, we are already told that Maggie is with Celine’s killer, and that Celine’s killer is a man. We are also led to believe that Maggie will be his next victim, that she let him into her life and trusted him just as Celine had. The date is December 22nd, nearly a month after Maggie’s NYC arrival. But who can be trusted and who shouldn’t be? The answer is not always as clear as you would think. As Maggie juggles with different theories and ideas, I found myself doing the same, sometimes blindly following Maggie’s theories, while other times my mind would go off on its own tangent . I simply could not put the book down. Or stop thinking about who the killer was. Tucker takes us on a scary roller-coaster ride where there are no guarantees that the main character will come out alive that left me wanting more after I’d turned the final page.

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K. A. Tucker’s He Will Be My Ruin. February 2, 2016. Atria Books

Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood

To me, there is nothing creepier than being alone in a wooded area in the twilight. I remember coming home from class at night and having to take two buses. The second bus stop was in front of a park and I would always end up waiting and waiting for it…constantly looking over my shoulder and scaring myself with every movement of the trees. In the back of my mind, I always was prepared for someone to leap out and attack me. Thankfully, no such event ever transpired.

Darkness is always something that has scared me. Particularly when it is time to go to bed. As a child, I was often terrified to go to sleep, unsure of what the night would bring. This only occasionally happens to me as an adult, and it mostly occurs when I am in the middle of a book that has such a hold on me that I just can’t put it down.

In a Dark, Dark Wood, a debut novel by UK author Ruth Ware, and also the debut book of Simon & Schuster’s new imprint, Scout Press, is one of those such books. From the first page, it had me. Nora (aka Lee, or Leonora) is running through the woods getting attacked by branches, slipping in the snow, all the while hoping that she is not too late to stop a car. But who is in that car and why is she trying to stop it? Just the thought of running through the woods at night is unnerving to me…like a person’s worst nightmare coming true.

Next we see Nora in a hospital, badly injured, amnesiatic, and the story unfold from there. Having been invited to a bachelorette weekend for an old school friend that she hadn’t spoken to in over ten years, Nora reluctantly goes, but the weekend seems doomed from the beginning. The bash is being held at a glass house in the middle of the woods, where it feels like anyone can watch your every move. An eerie thought to say the least. But what happened to Nora in those woods? How did she end up in the hospital? And, perhaps most importantly, can she trust herself let alone anyone else?

Alternating between the events of the weekend and Nora’s stay at the hospital, In a Dark, Dark Wood is a dark, twisted psychological thriller that will leave you haunted.

Coming August 25th

in a dark dark wood