Category Archives: Rated C

Review: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

Title: Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka
Publisher: Simon & Schuste
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Digital Review Copy Provided by Publisher

Summary:

WHO ARE YOU WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING?

When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both. In crystalline prose, Danya Kukafka offers a brilliant exploration of identity and of the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory.

Compulsively readable and powerfully moving, Girl in Snow offers an unforgettable reading experience and introduces a singular new talent in Danya Kukafka.

Review:

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka is a dark and brooding novel that revolves around the murder of fifteen year old Lucinda Hayes. Although there is an ongoing investigation to catch the killer, this is not a typical whodunit; it instead reads as character study of the story’s three narrators.

Lucinda is a popular student and the news of her murder sends shockwaves through the community.  Fellow classmate Cameron Whitley is rather troubled and his crush on Lucinda has become a full-blown obsession. Cameron has an unsavory habit of peering into other people’s (including Lucinda’s) windows under the cover of darkness. However his behavior in regards to Lucinda crosses the line into stalking and while this is somewhat creepy, does his unhealthy fixation  on her make him a killer?

Classmate Jade Dixon-Burns has an extremely unhappy home life due to an alcoholic mother and checked out father. She loathes Lucinda with every fiber of her being and she has resorted to a voodoo curse to exact her revenge on her nemesis.  Obviously Lucinda’s death is not from voodoo but did Jade’s extreme dislike drive her to murder?

Local police Officer Russ Fletcher did not know the victim but he is connected to the case by two of the suspects. In a strange twist of fate, Fletcher’s first partner was Cameron’s dad who, for unknown reasons has  mysteriously (and perhaps, ominously) vanished from town.  Russ wants to carry out his ex-partner’s request to watch over Cameron, so he is a bit conflicted throughout the investigation.  His tie to another suspect is much closer to his own troubled home which does nothing to alleviate the very real possibility that he will try to deflect attention away from Cameron during the investigation.

Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka focuses more on the novel’s narrators than the actual investigation into Lucinda’s murder. The pacing of the novel is slow since Jade, Cameron and Russ are mostly lost in self-absorbed introspection.  None of the narrators are particularly likable or interesting and although Lucinda’s murder is solved, this feels more like an afterthought to the ongoing drama of the three principal characters.

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Filed under Contemporary, Danya Kukafka, Girl in Snow, Mystery, Rated C, Review

Review: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Title: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 324 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one.

Or did she?

In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most spellbinding murder cases of all time into a sensitive and humane portrait of two sisters caught inside a volatile household—and what it means to be free and truly loved.

On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid Bridget: Someone’s killed father. The discovery of the brutal axe-murders of Andrew and Abby Borden under their own roof in Fall River, Massachusetts paralyzes the small community. No one can understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens. But secret witnesses to the crime have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful step-mother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.

As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? Before or after she last spoke to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Through the overlapping perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, we return to what happened on that fateful day.

Review:

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt is a fictionalized novel about the infamous Lizzie Border and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother.

On August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden made a gruesome discovery when she found her father Andrew’s lifeless body in the parlor.  Not too long after the family doctor and local police arrive at the Borden home, her stepmother Abby’s remains are found in the upstairs guestroom. The only other person in the house at the time of the murders is the Borden maid, Bridget.  Also visiting at time of the deaths is the Borden sisters’ maternal uncle, John Morse, but he is out of the house at the time of deaths.  Lizzie’s older sister Emma also still lives at home but she is currently staying with a friend out of town so she is not considered a suspect.  Although Lizzie is eventually arrested and tried for the double homicide, she is ultimately acquitted and the world has remained fascinated with the Borden family and the deaths ever since.

In  See What I Have Done, the narration rotates between Lizzie, Bridget, Emma and a completely fictional character, Benjamin, a thug hired by Uncle John for a somewhat mysterious purpose. The four voices are distinct and each brings a unique perspective to the Borden household.  Lizzie is portrayed as quite manipulative and she comes across as somewhat childlike despite the fact she 32 years old at the time of the murders. She is definitely the least sympathetic or likable person in the novel and she certainly has the motive, means and opportunity to commit to commit the murders. Bridget is an Irish immigrant who wants nothing more than leave her position with the Bordens and return to Ireland but Abby Borden convinced her to remain with the family. However, Bridget has managed to save enough money to put her plan in motion, but will Abby allow her to leave? John’s relationship with his nieces is portrayed as somewhat troubled with a  kind of an icky factor that comes across as somewhat incestuous (shudder). The inclusion of Benjamin in the novel is rather odd and further muddies an already muddled narrative.  Emma is incredibly loyal to Lizzie and she easily capitulates to her sister’s selfish demands.

For the most part, the storyline focuses mainly on the  day before and the day of the murders with a few other dates thrown in near the end of the novel.  The chapters from Lizzie’s perspective support the widely held theory she is a murderess and that she made more than one attempt to commit murder before finally succeeding.  The writing style for Lizzie’s chapters is off-putting which makes it difficult to maintain readers’ attention. There is also a great deal of repetition that contributes to the slow pacing of the story.

If you are new to Lizzie Borden and the still unsolved murders of her father and stepmother, then See What I Have Done is the book for you. However, if you are looking for new information about the case, you might not enjoy the novel because, outside of the addition of the fictional character Benjamin, Sarah Schmidt remains true to the known facts of the case and offers very little new insight into the murders.

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Filed under Atlantic Monthly Press, Fiction, Historical, Rated C, Review, Sarah Schmidt, See What I Have Done

Title: When I Am Through with You by Stephanie Kuehn
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Suspense
Length: 303 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

A gripping story of survival and the razor’s-edge difference between perfect cruelty and perfect love. 

“This isn’t meant to be a confession. Not in any spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m in jail at the moment. I imagine I’ll be here for a long time, considering. But I’m not writing this down for absolution and I’m not seeking forgiveness, not even from myself. Because I’m not sorry for what I did to Rose. I’m just not. Not for any of it.”

Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly about what happened on what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.

Smart, dark, and twisty, When I Am Through With You will leave readers wondering what it really means to do the right thing.

Review:

In Stephanie Kuehn’s young adult novel, When I Am Through with You, a hiking trip with seven teens and a high school teacher takes an unexpectedly dark and tragic turn.

Narrator Ben Gibson has a dark family history which is not fully revealed until late in the novel. His two year relationship with girlfriend Rose Augustine is beginning to feel the strain of his debilitating migraines, his dysfunctional relationship with his mother and his tendency to avoid making decisions. After spending part of the summer apart, Ben is not as excited about their reunion as he feels he should be, but his inertia and desire to avoid conflict keeps them together. Rose is very surprised by Ben’s announcement that he is in charge of the school’s orienteering group and that he, along with teacher Mr. Howe, will be leading the members on an expedition.  The members turn out to a rather diverse yet somewhat troubled mix of young men and women and Ben quickly loses control when Mr. Howe takes a shockingly hands off approach once they embark on their journey.

It is not very surprising when Ben quickly loses control of the students on the expedition since he easily gives in during confrontations.  Although Ben is well aware there could be dangerous repercussions from his classmates poor decisions, he does not make any effort to let Mr. Howe know there is trouble brewing. Mr. Howe is also a large part of the problem since he abdicates a lot of his responsibility to Ben even though he is fully aware of Ben’s shortcomings. Circumstances are ripe for disaster in the face of an unforeseen encounter with a sketchy group of campers, unanticipated bad weather and exceedingly bad decisions by everyone in the group.

When I Am Through with You is well-written but the pacing is excruciatingly  slow.  Ben holds his secrets close and he is not exactly perceptive when it comes reading people.  Outside of his relationship with Rose, he is essentially a loner who is rather clueless about what is going on in his classmates’ lives. With so many unknown variables, Ben is literally and figuratively stumbling around in the dark for much of the expedition. The storyline is rather convoluted and predictable, everyone exhibits poor judgment and Stephanie Kuehn brings the novel to a somewhat unsatisfying and ambiguous conclusion.

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Filed under Contemporary, Dutton Books for Young Readers, Rated C, Review, Stephanie Kuehn, Suspense, When I Am Through with You, Young Adult

Review: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

Title: The Breakdown by B.A. Paris
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Named One of the Most Anticipated Thriller Novels Of 2017 by Bustle!

THE NEW CHILLING, PROPULSIVE AUDIOBOOK FROM THE AUTHOR OF THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES AND USA TODAY BESTSELLING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS.

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods, on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, with the woman sitting inside—the woman who was killed. She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm. Her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home. And she probably would only have been hurt herself if she’d stopped.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing: where she left the car, if she took her pills, the alarm code, why she ordered a pram when she doesn’t have a baby.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

Or the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…

Review:

In B.A. Paris’ latest domestic mystery, The Breakdown, focuses on the effects that a chilling murder on a deserted country road has on the victim’s friend.

During a heavy rainstorm, thirty-four year old schoolteacher Cass Anderson notices a car sitting on a lay by and stops to see if the driver needs assistance. However, when it appears the woman is not in trouble, Cass’s concerns about her own personal safety outweigh her concern for the other driver and she leaves without approaching her. The next day, she is absolutely horrified to learn the woman was brutally murdered and after she discovers the victim is her new friend, Jane Walters, she becomes terrified the killer might know where to find her. Over the next couple of months, Cass is plagued by a series of eerie phone calls, the sense she is being watched and overwhelming guilt she could have prevented Jane’s death.  Growing increasingly concerned for her safety, Cass cannot convince her husband Matthew or her best friend Rachel Baretto to take her seriously due to her failing memory. Is someone watching Cass? Is she suffering from early onset dementia? And most importantly, who killed Jane and why?

Cass is an extremely frustrating and irritating lead character and since the novel is written from her perspective, readers have a front seat to her excessive guilt, fear and paranoia. Almost right from the beginning, she is guilt-ridden and convinced it is her fault Jane is dead. Then her irrational fears begin and the novel becomes incredibly repetitive and mired down by her self-doubts and a melodramatic plot. Savvy readers will clue in fairly early to the truth about what is happening to Cass and it is not too much of a leap to guess who is responsible for them. The why is a little more difficult to figure out and it is difficult to remain invested in learning the truth since much of the storyline becomes a
regurgitation of daily phone calls, Cass’s failing memory and her conviction that it is only a matter of time before she is savagely murdered by Jane’s killer.  This certainty that her life is in danger makes Cass’s decision to take a prescription for “stress” that essentially keeps her knocked out all day and night utterly ridiculous.

The Breakdown is an extremely slow-paced mystery that requires a fairly healthy suspension of disbelief by readers.  The novel is initially quite interesting but very quickly becomes tedious as it fails to make any progress whatsoever until the last fifty or so pages. Cass’s reactions are way over the top and she comes across as very weak and irrational. The title is quite clever as is the novel’s conclusion but overall, this latest release from B.A. Paris fails to live up to the hype.

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Filed under BA Paris, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated C, Review, St Martin's Press, Suspense, The Breakdown

Review: The Revenge by Hannah Jayne

Title: The Revenge by Hannah Jayne
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult, Mystery/Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

From the author of Truly, Madly, DeadlyThe Escape, and Twisted, comes another edge of your seat thriller sure to keep you guessing until the last page.

After a bad breakup, Tony’s ex-girlfriend Hope embarrasses him in front of the whole school and spreads vicious rumors. Tony is devastated and in a moment of revenge, he makes the location on her phone public. But a week later, when Hope calls Tony and begs him to stop the prank, he hears a shriek and a car door slamming. Then the call is dropped.

Too late, Tony realizes that he may have put Hope’s life in danger. Can he trace Hope’s movements and save her before times runs out?

Review:

In The Revenge by Hannah Jayne, an acrimonious break up between two teenagers puts one of the pair in danger after a retribution prank goes wrong.

Not so popular Tony Gardner cared deeply for  his now ex-girlfriend, popular Hope Jensen, but after growing weary of her mean streak, he ended their relationship.  She quickly retaliates despite their seemingly amicable split by embarrassing him in front of their classmates.  In an attempt  to get even with her, Tony signs her up for free samples and on line dating sites.  He also makes an ill-fated decision to include Hope’s address which he quickly regrets after she is abducted. However, Hope is well-known for  her need to one up everyone which makes Tony believe she faked her kidnapping in order to teach him a lesson. The police and the media take Hope’s disappearance very seriously and Tony immediately falls under a cloud of suspicion.

Tony’s decision to put Hope’s personal information on line is just the first of many ill-advised choices he makes.  Despite his conviction that Hope has been kidnapped, a tiny seed of doubt sends him rushing headlong into stupidity where he then makes one mistake after mistake. Tony  thrusts himself in the middle of the investigation even though he is WELL aware of the fact the police suspect he is behind her kidnapping.  His judgment is severely lacking as Tony continues to act impulsively without giving any thought to how his negatively his actions will appear to the police and the media.

Hope’s parents host a local television morning show and she is mostly ignored by them until they need her to help boost their ratings. She is quite popular despite being a mean girl who is quick to enact revenge on anyone who dares to cross her. Despite her reputation for vindictive behavior, would Hope really go so far as to fake her own kidnapping to get even with Tony for his latest salvo in the revenge wars?

Despite the unlikable characters and the somewhat over the top escalation of events, The Revenge is initially quite suspenseful.  However, it does not take long for the tension surrounding Hope’s disappearance to dissipate and although Hannah Jayne does throw in a completely unexpected plot twist, an eyebrow raising revelation late in the story is a little too ridiculous to believe.  While all of the loose ends about Hope’s disappearance are completely wrapped up, the novel’s abrupt conclusion is a somewhat unsatisfying.

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Filed under Contemporary, Hannah Jayne, Mystery, Rated C, Review, Sourcebooks Fire, Suspense, The Revenge

Review: No Easy Target by Iris Johansen

Title: No Easy Target by Iris Johansen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Romantic Suspense
Length: 349 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

New York Times bestselling author Iris Johansen returns with another thriller, No Easy Target

Margaret Douglas has worked hard to put her painful past behind her. Raised off the grid in an abusive home, her only escape was the nearby forest where she sought refuge whenever she could. There, in the peaceful woods, she discovered a strange gift: the ability to understand animals and to communicate with them. And so those creatures became her only friends, her only joy during a desolate childhood. Now Margaret wants nothing more than to live a quiet life, close to the animals and under the radar. But her abilities have not gone unnoticed and there are those who would use them for their own purposes. Determined not to be a pawn in anyone’s game, every time someone gets too close, Margaret uproots her life and outruns them.

When John Lassiter breaks into Margaret’s apartment, she vanishes again, but Lassiter has good reason to be persistent. As a CIA operative, he owes his life to his men, one of whom is being held captive by an unrelenting enemy—an enemy who has set his sights on Margaret. Which means that Lassiter must control her to use her as bait.

With danger in hot pursuit, Margaret finds herself matching wits with a man who refuses to stop or be stopped. Turning from the hunted to the hunter, Margaret must use everything she has ever learned to not only survive, but to defeat a great evil. And to prove once and for all that she’s no easy target.

Review:

No Easy Target by Iris Johansen is a suspense-laden mystery  with a romantic element.

Margaret Douglas has left her troubles behind her, but one phone call changes everything for her. Discovering that a total stranger, John Lassister, has pulled out all the stops in order to locate her, she is afraid that Stan Nicos, a notorious, sadistic criminal, has found her. However, John and his friend and associate Neal Cambry are one step ahead of her and before Margaret can go on the run again, he kidnaps her.  Will Margaret convince John to set her free? Or will he follow through with his plan and put in her in extreme danger in the process?

Margaret has a unique ability to communicate with animals which also makes it easy to read strong emotions in humans as well.  Now volunteering at a local zoo, she is content with her life when John finds her.  Margaret wants absolutely nothing to do with John and his plan which will put her smack dab in the Nicos’ crosshairs.  However, in John’s mind, his needs supersede Margaret’s objections and he will go to any lengths to follow through with his plan.

While Margaret is a likable and sympathetic character, the same cannot be said for John. His information about Margaret and her ties to Nicos is superficial and he has a lot of assumptions but very few facts. While he has a good reason for going up against Nicos, his plan to use Margaret to accomplish his goal is unconscionable.

Margaret’s quick about face is unrealistic given her history with Nicos and her subsequent romantic relationship with John falls flat. Despite the suspense element, the novel is extremely slow paced and gets bogged down in endless dialogue.  The conversations and inner thoughts of the characters are initially interesting but they quickly become repetitive.   The overall plot feels just feels tired and overdone.

No Easy Target has an interesting premise and Margaret is a gutsy heroine. Readers will be left wondering whether or not this is the first installment in a new series from Iris Johansen.

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Filed under Contemporary, Iris Johansen, Mystery, No Easy Target, Rated C, Review, Romantic Suspense, St Martin's Press