Book Review: In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

I had seen many positive posts on Instagram on Ruth Ware’s novel so when I saw one of her novels on sale at the second hand book store, I decided to pick it up. While reading the acknowledgements at home, I saw that In a Dark, Dark Wood was her debut.

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Suspense

Blurb:

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since Nora walked out of school one day and never went back.

There was a dark, dark house

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen do arrives. Is this a chance for Nora to finally put her past behind her?

And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room

But something goes wrong. Very wrong.

And in the dark, dark room….

Some things can’t stay secret for ever. 

My thoughts:

The novel follows two timelines – the past and the present: while Nora experiences the present, she looks back on the past as it affects her current situation. Following two timelines can be a bit confusing, but Ware successfully intertwined the two that I always knew where I was reading on the timeline .

The novel is slow moving as Ware sets up the scene and shows the reader the dynamic between the different characters in the story. In a Dark, Dark Wood is not action-filled and fast-paced and for some readers could be a bit tedious. As I was interested in the dynamic between the various players in the story, I did not mind the slow pace. The author’s presentation of the characters shows an understanding of human relationships and the power plays that exist between them.

The novel is not too twisty as the reader is able to figure out a lot because of their own knowledge of human relationships. The end, though, did have a bit of the unexpected thrown in. What I enjoyed about the novel was that the story is an exploration of the relationships between friends – and how one person dominates and steers the relationship no matter how many years have passed.

In a Dark, Dark Place is not a fast-paced and extremely twisty novel. Instead it explores the darker side of a friendship that is one-sided. Ware’s debut is one to pick up if you enjoy reading stories on human relationships.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 100th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Neighbors by Hannah Mary McKinnon

I had never read anything written by Hannah Mary McKinnin. The concept for The Neighbors sounded interesting so I decided to pick it up.

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Blurb:

In 1992, a car accident kills a young man and forever changes the lives of three people… Now, twenty years later, they’ll all come to regret the choices they made that day, as the secrets and lies they’ve told to protect each other become the very things that tear their lives apart.

After a night of fun, Abby was responsible for the car crash that killed her beloved brother. It is a sin she can never forgive herself for, so she pushes away the man she loves most, knowing that he would eventually hate her for what she’s done, the same way she hates herself.

Twenty years later, Abby’s husband, Nate, is also living with a deep sense of guilt. He was the driver who first came upon the scene of Abby’s accident, the man who pulled her to safety before the car erupted in flames, the man who could not save her brother in time. It’s this guilt, this regret that binds them together. They understand each other. Or so Nate believes.

In a strange twist of fate, Liam (her old lover—possibly her true soulmate) moves in with his own family next door, releasing a flood of memories that Abby has been trying to keep buried all these years. Abby and Liam, in a complicit agreement, pretend never to have met, yet cannot resist the pull of the past—nor the repercussions of the dark secrets they’ve both been carrying… 

My thoughts:

Goodreads describes the story as a thriller but it is more a human drama with a dash of mystery.

The story deals with two people who have unfinished business and, in part, goes along as one would expect. However as the story unfolds, a few little twists are added to the events that do turn everything upside down. The twists are caused by hidden truths and lies that, if revealed, would cause plenty of hurt and emotional destruction.

Deceit is definitely a thread that runs through McKinnon’s story. Hiding truths is so much a part of people’s lives – but some truths are more harmful than others. In The Neighbors, the truths are revealed slowly. As I realised certain facts, I could not help turning the pages quickly as I did want to know how these deceits would affect the lives of the characters. Having said that, The Neighbors is not an action-packed story that will have you racing to the end. It is, instead, a novel filled with human drama told in a way that keeps the reader interested.

I enjoyed reading McKinnon’s work and I will pick up another title by her. The Neighbors is a story for you if you enjoy reading novels featuring the drama of human relationships.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 99th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Perfect Wife by J.P. Delaney

I won a giveaway hosted by Penguin Random House Canada for an ARC of The Perfect Wife by D. P. Delaney. When I received it, I admired the cover and, when choosing a book to take with me on vacation, I could not help but pick this one up.

Genre: Thriller, Suspense, Mystery

Blurb:

Abbie awakens in a daze with no memory of who she is or how she landed in this unsettling condition. The man by her side claims to be her husband. He’s a titan of the tech world, the founder of one of Silicon Valley’s most innovative start-ups. He tells Abbie that she is a gifted artist, an avid surfer, a loving mother to their young son, and the perfect wife. He says she had a terrible accident five years ago and that, through a huge technological breakthrough, she has been brought back from the abyss.

She is a miracle of science.

But as Abbie pieces together memories of her marriage, she begins questioning her husband’s motives–and his version of events. Can she trust him when he says he wants them to be together forever? And what really happened to Abbie half a decade ago?

My thoughts:

When reading the novel, I realised that there is an interesting aspect in this novel that is not suggested in the blurb making this read even more interesting. I do not want to say too much in case I spoil it for you, but know that it has a futuristic appeal to it that I enjoyed. The viewpoint definitely adds an interesting twist in this psychological thriller – a twist that I have not yet read in this genre.

The Perfect Wife is a fast-paced read that was perfect for a vacation read. I had the time to enjoy the story that Delaney created and I was never bored nor wished for another book sitting on my shelves at home. The writer references the marriage between a man and a woman as well as the power dynamics in their relationship. The woman (who is slowly encouraged to take the part of the submissive) is shown to slowly change her sense of self to fit in with her husband’s belief of what their relationship should be. The little nuggets of Abbie and Tim’s relationship are fed to the reader slowly as you begin to grasp what is actually happening in the story.

During the story we see Abbie growing as a person as her memories of the past filter in. It is interesting to see how she begins to understand her relationship with Tim and with the other people in her life. Abbie is a character that grows during the story. The description of her growth is integrated seamlessly into the story and with such skill that I found I was cheering her on.

As I have said, Delaney’s story is a little different to the usual and has a few unexpected twists thrown in – some of which I was unable to predict. I certainly did not predict the big one at the end of the story! An ending which, by the way, I loved. If you are looking for a psychological thriller that has an unusual bent, then The Perfect Wife is the perfect read for you to pick up.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 97th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: Missing Daughter by Rick Mofina

At the OLA Super Conference earlier on in the year, I had the chance to receive a signed ARC of Rick Mofina’s latest novel Missing Daughter.

Genre: Thriller, Suspense

Blurb:

Life can change in an instant. For Ryan and Karen Lane, it happens on the morning they discover their twelve-year-old daughter’s window open, their beloved Maddie missing from her bed.

Police investigate. Suspicions swirl. A teenage boy admits he was outside her bedroom window the night she disappeared. A halfway house for convicts recently opened in the neighborhood. The Lane family is thrown into turmoil, then detectives turn their sights on them.

No one is ruled out. Not Karen, with her tragic past, who argued with her daughter. Not Ryan, with his violent streak. Not Maddie’s thirteen-year-old brother, Tyler, who heard voices in her room the night she vanished.

Days, weeks, months, then agonizing years go by without answers, the Lanes fearing that Maddie is gone forever…until a stunning twist shocks everyone, plunging the family deeper into a world of buried secrets whose revelations threaten the very foundation of their lives.

My thoughts:

A parent’s’ nightmare is to wake up and find that your young daughter is missing from her bed. This is what happens to Ryan and Karen Lane. They discover that their twelve year old daughter, Maddie, is missing from her bed with the window open. Mofina describes perfectly the anguish and fear of the parents and her brother and, while I was reading about the accusations against them by the police and the media, I could feel their pain.

Missing Daughter is a well written thriller that is evenly paced. There was at no time in the novel that I felt bored but instead my mind kept working as I attempted to solve the mystery of who was involved with Maddie’s disappearance. I worked out a little, but most of the ending I did not foresee.

Mofina’s latest novel is well worth a read and is perfect for fans of thrillers. Not as twisty as a psychological thriller, but full of suspense nonetheless.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 96th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: I’ll Never Tell by Catherine McKenzie

I was happy when I won an Instagram giveaway the ARC of Catherine McKenzie’s latest novel I’ll Never Tell. I enjoyed her previous novel and looked forward to reading this one.

Genre: Adult Fiction, Thriller, Mystery

Blurb:

What happened to Amanda Holmes?

Twenty years ago, she washed up on shore in a rowboat with a gash to the head after an overnight at Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with a crime.

Now, the MacAllister children are all grown up. After their parents die suddenly, they return to Camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate it’s sitting on. Ryan, the oldest, wants to sell. Margo, the family’s center, hasn’t made up her mind. Mary has her own horse farm to run, and believes in leaving well-enough alone. Kate and Liddie—the twins—have opposing views. And Sean Booth, the family groundskeeper, just hopes he still has a home when all is said and done. 

But then the will is read and they learn that it’s much more complicated than a simple vote. Until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can’t move forward. Any one of them could have done it, and all of them are hiding key pieces of the puzzle. Will they work together to solve the mystery, or will their suspicions and secrets finally tear the family apart?

My thoughts:

McKenzie’s storytelling did not disappoint. I enjoyed this tale as much as I had enjoyed her previous one, and her words kept me reading and invested right until the end.

The story moves between the past and the present as the reader gets to know the different personalities in the story, as well as what happened in the past. The movement between the time frames is done seamlessly and at no time was I confused. McKenzie paced the information perfectly so that I was neither bored nor disconcerted. Each bit of information that she gave, led me towards understanding the sequence of events as well as my understanding of the characters in the story.

As with all mystery stories, I tried to figure out the solution before reaching the final chapter. I’ll Never Tell is not predictable and therefore had a few surprises. These little twists in the story are believable and added to my enjoyment of the tale.

If you enjoy mystery stories, then you will enjoy this Canadian author’s novel. Unlike the modern psychological thriller, I’ll Never Tell is more a mystery story which the reader attempts to solve while reading.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 74th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

I was in the mood for a thriller and picked up the ARC sent to me by Harper Collins Canada of Alafair Burke’s latest novel The Better Sister. I had not yet read anything written by this author and looked forward to the introduction.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller

Blurb:

When a prominent Manhattan lawyer is murdered, two estranged sisters—one the dead man’s widow, the other his ex—must set aside mistrust and old resentments . . . but can they escape their past?

Though Chloe was the younger of the two Taylor sisters, she always seemed to be in charge. She was the honor roll student with big dreams and an even bigger work ethic. Nicky was always restless . . . and more than a little reckless—the opposite of her ambitious little sister. She floated from job to job and man to man, and stayed close to home in Cleveland.

For a while, it seemed like both sisters had found happiness. Chloe earned a scholarship to an Ivy League school and moved to New York City, where she landed a coveted publishing job. Nicky married promising young attorney Adam Macintosh, and gave birth to a baby boy they named Ethan. The Taylor sisters became virtual strangers.

Now, more than fifteen years later, their lives are drastically different—and Chloe is married to Adam. When he’s murdered by an intruder at the couple’s East Hampton beach house, Chloe reluctantly allows her teenaged stepson’s biological mother—her estranged sister, Nicky—back into her life. But when the police begin to treat Ethan as a suspect in his father’s death, the two sisters are forced to unite . . . and to confront the truth behind family secrets they have tried to bury in the past 

My thoughts:

Not everything is as it appears on the surface – and that is what is reinforced in this novel. Bit by bit, the reader learns hidden truths and slowly comes to the realisation of a certain reality. Burke adroitly leads the reader down the path of a mystery with an unexpected ending.

Not only is The Better Sister a thriller, it is a novel that references relationships: the relationship between a husband and wife, and the relationship between two sisters. It is interesting to see how one incident estranges them while another, fifteen years later, brings them close as they unite to save their family.

I enjoyed reading Burke’s writing. It is precise and she kept my attention riveted to the pages. This was a thriller I needed to finish not only because I wanted to know ‘whodunit’, but also as I want to know the outcome of the sibling relationship. The Better Sister is a novel I recommend for those readers who enjoy thrillers that contain more in the story than just a mystery.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 4 stars

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 60th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: One More Lie by Amy Lloyd

I was in the mood for a thriller so I picked up the ARC of One More Lie by Amy Lloyd that my contact at Harper Collins Canada had sent me.

Genre: Psychological Thriller, Suspense, Mystery

Blurb:

Charlotte wants to start fresh. She wants to forget her past, forget prison and, most of all, forget Sean. But old habits die hard. Despite the ankle monitor she must wear as part of her parole agreement and frequent visits to her therapist, she soon finds herself sliding back toward the type of behavior that sent her to prison in the first place. The further down that path she goes, however, the closer she gets to the crime that put her in prison all those years ago. And that’s the one memory she can’t face. Until, one day, Sean tracks her down.

My thoughts:

Do you ever wonder what happens to those children who kill when they themselves are children? This book plays out a possible scenario as the writer takes us on a journey of one such person attempting to function in society.

The best thing about this story is that the reader is not told everything from the start. As I read Charlotte’s experience, I caught glimpses of her past experience and the lead up to the event that sent her to prison. I read, as well, of her relationship with Sean and how it may have affected her decision-making.

By mid-way of the novel, I began to feel empathy for Charlotte – even though I know that she killed a child when she was a child herself. Lloyd succeeds in this because of the information she gives the reader – she almost seems to suggest that it is Charlotte’s childhood experience that led her to take another person’s life. But once Charlotte had my empathy, I learned more about the events that took place and I began to doubt what I had presumed. Even my feelings towards her began to change.

One More Lie is a novel that encourages a reader to make a prediction – and then sneaks in a piece of information that changes that prediction. I enjoyed the subtle twists in the story – and appreciated, especially, the ending (which is totally what I did not expect). I enjoyed this read and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys twisty psychological thrillers.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 45th in my book pledge for 2019)

Book Review: The Favourite Daughter by Kaira Rouda

Harper Collins Canada sent me an ARC copy of The Favourite Daughter by Kaira Rouda to read and review. The bookmail was timely as I was in the mood for a thriller.

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Psychological Thriller

Blurb:

Jane Harris lives in a sparkling home in an oceanfront gated community in Orange County. It’s a place that seems too beautiful to be touched by sadness. But exactly one year ago, Jane’s eldest daughter, Mary, died in a tragic accident, and Jane has been grief-stricken ever since. Lost in a haze of antidepressants, she’s barely even left the house…until now.

As Jane reemerges into the world, it’s clear she’s missed a lot in the last year. Her husband has been working long days – and nights – at the office. Her daughter Betsy seems distant, even secretive. And Jane receives a note warning her that Mary’s death wasn’t an accident. What really happened on the day that Mary died? And who is lying to whom in this family?

The bonds between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives should never be broken. But you never know how far someone will go to keep a family together…

My thoughts:

The story is told from the point of view of Jane Harris, a grieving mother and wife. When I began reading the novel, I definitely felt empathy for her – she had lost a daughter and it was evident that her marriage was failing. The story began like so many contemporary novels and I thought, for a moment, that the book had incorrectly been labelled ‘mystery’.

As I read on, however, I realised that not all was as it seemed. The writer adroitly reveals the true nature of Jane’s personalty as we read her thoughts. It is interesting to feel the turnabout towards a character – the Jane you think you know at the beginning of the novel is not the same woman you get to know while turning the pages.

The chapters begin with the countdown of a timeline which adds to the tension in the book and to the reader’s knowledge that an important day is approaching. I found myself thinking of what may happen on that day – Rouda brought me to a point that predictions were made; a point when I believed I knew how the novel would end. And then the unexpected happened. I loved the twist as it turned around my expectations. And then the novel ended with yet another twist!

The Favourite Daughter was an enjoyable read and is more a psychological thriller than a mere mystery. I enjoyed the twists and the unexpected ending – and seeing into the mind of a woman who feels the need to control her family.

I give this novel ⭐️⭐️⭐️ 3 stars.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 42nd in my book pledge for 2019)

First Line Fridays: Freefall by Jessica Barry

“Breathe. Breathe.

My eyes open. A canopy of trees above. A flock of birds stare down before taking flight.

I survived.

He may have, too.

I have to see. I pick my way through the wreckage on bare feet.”

Freefall by Jessica Barry (2019, Harper Collins Publishers)

The opening lines of this novel left me with so many questions:

  1. Where is she?
  2. Who is after her?
  3. Did he survive?
  4. What happened to cause the accident?

From the first line of this novel, I wanted to read the pages to find out the answer to these questions. ( If you are interested to learn more, you can read my review here.)

I continued reading. Would you?

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This post is linked to It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books and her One Line Friday challenge.)

Book Review: Family Trust by Kathy Wang

I popped into the library and was surprised – and very pleased – when I saw a new release on the shelves that I wanted to read. I had read good things about Family Trust by Kathy Wang and it being compared to Crazy Rich Asians enticed me even more.

Genre: Contemprorary Fiction

Blurb:

Meet Stanley Huang: father, husband, ex-husband, man of unpredictable tastes and temper, aficionado of all-inclusive vacations and bargain luxury goods, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. For years, Stanley has claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. But the time is now coming when the details of his estate will finally be revealed, and Stanley’s family is nervous.

For his son Fred, the inheritance Stanley has long alluded to would soothe the pain caused by years of professional disappointment. By now, the Harvard Business School graduate had expected to be a financial tech god – not a minor investor at a middling corporate firm, where he isn’t even allowed to fly business class.

Stanley’s daughter, Kate, is a middle manager with one of Silicon Valley’s most prestigious tech companies. She manages the capricious demands of her world-famous boss and the needs of her two young children all while supporting her would-be entrepreneur husband (just until his startup gets off the ground, which will surely be soon). But lately, Kate has been sensing something amiss; just because you say you have it all, it doesn’t mean that you actually do. 

Stanley’s second wife, Mary Zhu, twenty-eight years his junior, has devoted herself to making her husband comfortable in every way—rubbing his feet, cooking his favorite dishes, massaging his ego. But lately, her commitment has waned; caring for a dying old man is far more difficult than she expected.

Linda Liang, Stanley’s first wife, knows her ex better than anyone. She worked hard for decades to ensure their financial security, and is determined to see her children get their due. Single for nearly a decade, she might finally be ready for some romantic companionship. But where does a seventy-two year old Chinese woman in California go to find an appropriate boyfriend?

As Stanley’s death approaches, the Huangs are faced with unexpected challenges that upend them and eventually lead them to discover what they most value. A compelling tale of cultural expectations, career ambitions and our relationships with the people who know us best, Family Trust skewers the ambition and desires that drive Silicon Valley and draws a sharply loving portrait of modern American family life. 

My thoughts:

I began Family Trust with high hopes but was quickly bored with it. I found myself skimming the text and rushing over repetitive descriptions of people concerned only with money. The son wants his inheritance, the current wife wants to make sure she receive money on her husband’s death, the ex-wife stirs the pot, and the daughter seems to have no interest – though she is in need of the money. The entire storyline seemed cliché to me and the only reason I continued reading was because I was interested in the daughter’s story and was curious to see whether she would stand up to her husband.

The aspect I enjoyed the least about Wang’s story is the obvious portrait of a Chinese stereotype. I see my children raging against stereotypes in their lives and yet here, in this modern story, the pages are rife with it. Because of the stereotypes, the characters in the story are one dimensional and do not seem to grow in any significant way. In addition, the experiences described of all the characters in the story were, to me, predictable and hackneyed.

Comparing Family Trust to Crazy Rich Asians is deceiving. Whereas Crazy Rich Asians is full of humour and makes fun of the Asian stereotype, Family Trust falls flat and does not live up to expectations. Wang’s story was disappointing – doubly so because she is Asian herself. Her novel may have been written as a satire but I did not sense this while reading it.

I give this novel a disappointed ⭐️ 1 star.

© Colline Kook-Chun, 2019

(This novel was the 40th in my book pledge for 2019)