In this review, I discuss Karen Hamilton’s The Perfect Girlfriend, a chilling psychological thriller about obsession taken to the extreme.
In this video, I review the latest psychological thriller by Michelle Adams entitled “Between the Lies.” An excellent read that should be out around March 5, 2019.
The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (also titled The 7 1/2 deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in the US) is Stuart Turton’s debut novel. I’ve heard quite a bit of hype surrounding this unusual story and given that I am partial to time-travel, and reliving-the-day-over-and-over tropes, this sounded like a tale that I’d enjoy.
Set around the late 1920’s I believe, the story starts when our narrator wakes up in the morning out in the woods, with no recollection of who he is or how he got there. He witnesses what he believes is the murder of a young woman whose name he knows to Anna. Nearly immobile and eyes clamped shut with fright, the so-called murderer comes up behind him, slips him a compass and tells him to go east. The narrator soon finds himself at the Blackheath manor and learns he has been invited to a masquerade ball hosted by the Lord and Lady Hardcastle.
He later discovers that his name is Aiden Bishop and he’s trapped inside a stranger’s body. A figure in a Plague Doctor’s mask informs him that in order to escape the manor and return to his normal life (of which he still has no memory), he must unveil the murderer of Evelyn Hardcastle, which will be disguised as to not look like a murder and will occur at 11:00 pm that evening. The kicker is that each time he awakens, the day has been reset from the beginning and he is now in the body of someone else, a different guest in the manor and in the process, he takes on the personality, mannerisms, and inclinations of the current host. There is also a race against the clock in that if he fails to uncover the name of the would-be murderer within eight days or eight hosts, he will return to the first day, memory wiped clean, and start the process all over again as he has apparently already done innumerable times before.
Matters become even more dire when Aiden discovers that he isn’t the only one who’s in the same predicament; there are two other people are also caught inside this time loop. Oh, and there’s also a knife-wielding Footman who is out to kill all three of them.
What I Liked
I loved how inventive and original this story was. It’s a mind-bending, multi-layered, intricately plotted murder mystery with a huge cast of characters and a multitude of interwoven elements as we, along with our narrator, try to figure out what is going on. I’ve always enjoyed the “nothing is as it seems” trope which is definitely in play here. As a reader, we constantly question what we know about the hosts and their secrets and soon discover that almost every character is unreliable; every fact untrustworthy. That being said, every little snippet of conversation is important, every encounter and every detail essential to solving the mystery. We learn that Aiden can change little details to the day which will, in turn, change the outcome, as well as help him to glean more information.
I enjoyed how the tension builds right from the first page winding tighter and tighter as the novel progresses and really, doesn’t let go until the utterly surprising ending, where everything is explained. The surprises come fast and furious, keeping you turning the page all the while with your heart in your throat. And just when you think you may have figured it out, the author drops another twisty bombshell.
I also loved how nearly every person whose body our narrator inhibits is despicable, scheming and untrustworthy and how it was a struggle for Aiden to keep their unsavory personality traits and compulsions at bay. In spite of that, Aiden was able to use the physical and mental talents of each of the hosts to gather more clues and bring him closer to figuring out what is going on.
I also liked the Victorian gothic feel to this story. It was atmospheric with haunting imagery such as the depiction of the masquerade ball, eerie the castle-like manor, the murderous footman, mysterious guests wearing Plague Doctor masks, and of course, murder.
Additionally, I loved the redemption aspect of the story which illustrated how even the darkest of individuals can be pulled back into the light and can overcome their darkness to move toward redeeming themselves. It also showed how those who have been severely wronged could move past a thirst for revenge to forgiveness instead.
What I Didn’t Like
I enjoyed this book for the most part, but it wasn’t a 5-star read for me. I felt there were too many characters to keep track of, some with too similar names like Donald and Daniel and sometimes, I found myself confused at times. It didn’t help that the story was non-linear with a really complex plot.
Reading this story requires a fair bit of work and intense focus on the part of the reader otherwise one risks missing crucial details and clues. So this isn’t the kind of book with which you can kick up your feet and relax at the beach, but instead, it’s a novel that requires your full attention. There’s a lot to keep track of.
I also felt that the story dragged a bit in places, especially around the 75% mark. But things heated up during the last 20% of the story as we skidded into the exciting climax where all is revealed.
I loved this fresh, intricate and innovative story! It was like Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap. The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle was an amazing, compelling, twisty story and I can’t begin to imagine the effort the author put into plotting this novel. The author does an amazing job of not showing his cards until the very end and expertly juggled the many moving parts of the book resulting in a tightly plotted, engaging, complex story as our main character struggles through emotional, physical, and moral challenges. This was a fast-paced plot-driven story marvelously crafted story with rich, detailed characters and beautiful prose. Recommended!
This is a book that I normally wouldn’t pick up as the political thriller isn’t usually a genre that I read. But when I learned that this was to be a collaboration between James Patterson and President Clinton, I figured I’d give it a go, especially since I’ve heard so many great things about it.
First off, I listened to this on Audible, and it was amazing! Dennis Quaid performed the voice of the president, and many other actors joined in to create a truly impressive and immersive collaboration. This was more like a radio play than the reading of a novel. I’m so glad I went with the Audible version.
A threat to the country
So The President is Missing revolves around the President of the United States, James Duncan, who is under attack by the Speaker of the House, Lester Rhodes. Rhodes and the House Committee are pushing for impeachment hearings because it has come to the country’s attention that President Duncan has had contact with a terrorist organization called the Sons of Jihad, and he refuses to divulge the contents of that communication.
As the story unfolds, we learn that it has come to the President’s attention that the Sons of Jihad is planning on releasing a devastating computer virus that will infect every computer, server, network and electronic device in America and in so doing, will ultimately destroy the infrastructure of the United States, most likely resulting in the deaths of a lot of people — possibly millions.
In order to thwart the terrorist organization’s effort, the President must go underground for a brief time during which nobody is aware of his whereabouts. Hence the title, “The President is Missing.”
To add to the intrigue, we follow a professional hired assassin — a woman code-named Bach — who seems to be moving closer to the president through we’re not entirely sure whether he is her target.
But there’s a traitor in the house
To make the president’s task even more difficult, he figures out early on that one of his six closest team members — people in charge of departments that are essential to his investigation — is a traitor. This person learned early on about the deadly virus but opted to tell no one.
So in addition to figuring out how to stop the threat, the President has to go it alone because he doesn’t know which of his trusted advisors is the Benedict Arnold so he can’t trust any of them. In doing so, he cuts himself off from access to vital and indispensable resources that are normally available to him
A race against the clock
What follows is a mad race against the clock to figure out how to stop one of the most terrifying and debilitating cyber attacks the world has ever known, with the fate of the entire country at stake. From the moment the President goes off the grid and missing from the White House, the tension in the story is unrelenting. To add to the stress, the president also suffers from a rare, life-threatening blood disorder requiring medical care which could result in his death at any moment if left untreated.
This was a fast-paced, tense and unsettling political thriller that kept me guessing until the surprising denouement at the end. The intrigue and excitement grow steadily throughout the story along with a perfectly balanced narrative and a complex, compelling plot. Short chapters push the dramatic story along quickly, and by the end, I couldn’t put it down . What made this story especially fun for me was never knowing what was real or who to trust.
Though horrifying at times
Though The President is Missing is exciting and gripping, it is also horrifying. The whole premise of the cyber attack as it was presented in this book struck terror in my heart. The story shows in chilling detail the fallout of such a cyber attack and all I can say is that I hope it never comes to pass. Otherwise, we’re all screwed!
Regardless of your political leanings, I could really see President Clinton’s influence in the story, especially when dealing with the cabinet members, describing the intricate workings of the high level department in the White House, dealing with high ranking officials, the President’s relationship with the secret service agents and those scenes in which President Duncan communicated with other world leaders. These details as presented by someone who actually has served as president added a richness and believability to the story.
All in all, a stunning page-turner of a story involving murder, cyberterrorism, Russia, the Middle East, hackers, traitors, treason, assassins, espionage, the media, and a life-threatening illness. I loved this story and was sad to see it end.
Now there is a scene near the end of the book where President Duncan makes a major speech about the current state of the country and of the world, which felt that it could have come directly from the mouth of President Bill Clinton. Now depending on your politics, you may like or dislike this speech. I personally loved it, and it even sent a tear to my eye. This seemed to be the only real apparent partisan element in the story, however, and speech aside, I feel that this book is mostly non-partisan and is a story for anyone, regardless of political party affiliation — at least IMHO. Recommended!
This novel follows Paul Davis, a college professor who, one evening while driving home and notices a car swerving all over the road. Moreover, he recognizes the car as belonging to a coworker and friend, Kenneth Hoffman. Paul, worried about Kenneth and fearing that he may need help, follows him, hoping that he’ll pull over. So Kenneth finally pulls over in a deserted area, and Paul does likewise.
But as it turns out, Paul is the one who ends up needing help because to Paul’s horror, he quickly learns that the reason Kenneth pulled over was to dispose of the bodies of two young women that were wrapped in plastic in the back of his car. Kenneth apologizes the Paul right before he hits him across the head with a shovel.
So fast forward several months later. As it turned out, a policeman arrived that night just before Kenneth was about to deliver a fatal shovel blow and was arrested for the murder of the women. Thus, Kenneth is in jail, and Paul did survive the head wound–but with some serious consequences: His mind is forgetful and frightening nightmares plague him as he tries to understand how his friend could be capable of such a brutal act.
Apparently suffering from PTSD, he’s currently being treated by a psychologist and together, they’re working on getting Paul’s life back on track so he can move forward. In fact, Paul decides to confront his demons head on, but we can’t help but wonder whether in doing so, he’s making the situation worse. I found it interesting that a good part of the action in the novel alternates between the interconnecting stories of Paul and those of his psychologist which helped coalesce the various plot threads at the end.
However, things turn worse for Paul when his wife Charlotte comes home one day with a vintage typewriter for Paul – so he could record all the traumatic events in a cathartic way, to help heal, an and maybe even turn it into a book. He wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of the typewriter’s keys tapping away, as though someone is typing on it – but when he goes downstairs to investigate, there was no one there. This happens again and again, but Charlotte doesn’t hear a thing. The situation becomes even more dire when the phantom typewriter begins to produce messages reminiscent of those that the murderer forced the two victims to type before killing them.
As the story moves forward, Paul appears to be losing ground, and he hangs on the very edge of his sanity.
So several questions remain: Has someone been breaking into his house at night? Are the typewriter noises a product of Paul’s damaged mind or is there something else going on here? Something perhaps even supernatural?
What I liked
I loved how creepy this story was. For many of us, the strange sounds that we hear once the lights are turned off are a source of consternation. I’ve gotten the willies more than once as I lay in bed after hearing what I’m positive was someone walking through the living room of my supposedly empty house. So Paul’s experience with the mysterious typing really hit a nerve.
That being said, it was such a fun story to read, as we wondered whether Paul was imagining things or whether there actually was an intruder coming in at night to torture Paul. And if so, why?
Towards the middle of the book, I thought I had it figured out and was a tad disappointed by that. But I was wrong in that assumption. The author threw out some clever red herrings and amazing twists and turns that threw me off the scent of what really is going on. When I was sure I knew what was going on, the author plopped down a twist that thrust me in a completely different direction. In fact, this book contains several mysteries which all come together in an explosive and surprising conclusion that had me on the edge of my seat. I especially enjoyed the fact that nothing is as it seems in this story, including the characters.
And I also really loved all the characters — very complicated characters, I might add — whose true motivations don’t become clear until later on in the book. I felt the author did an exquisite job with the characterization in this story and gave us an interconnected cast of believable, multi-layered and complex character characters many of whom were more than a tad dodgy in my opinion, which deepened the mystery even further.
What I didn’t Like
I didn’t have any significant niggles with the story except for perhaps the ending. It was kind of fantastical and maybe just a tad over the top, much like the ending of an Italian opera. After I closed the last page, I said to myself, “huh,” not quite sure how I felt about it. But upon reflection, it was mostly satisfying and masterfully plotted.
A Noise Downstairs is a well-written domestic psychological thriller featuring an enthralling though bizarre plot with riveting characters. From start to finish the story held me in rapt attention until the jaw-dropping conclusion, and I’m so glad I picked up this novel.
All in all, the story was brilliantly paced, well-constructed, and cleverly executed, and I ended up loving it – although now I have to sleep with the light on. Recommended! ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I love me a book about bookstores and other bookish things, so I was happy when this little gem crossed my path. Judging by the bright, happy-looking cover, I guessed that this might be a cozy mystery with lovable characters and a gentle plot line. Well, there was nothing cozy about this book. It just goes to show you one indeed cannot judge a book by its cover.
DEATH AT THE BOOKSTORE
So this follows Lydia Smith who lives a quiet life with her handsome boyfriend with whom she’s been living for the past five years and is an employee at — you guessed it — The Bright Ideas Bookstore. There’s a group of eccentric, unemployed and lonely regulars who frequent the bookstore to read, nap, play chess and lose themselves amongst the shelves and whom the bookstore’s employees lovingly refer to as The BookFrogs. A couple of these Bookfrogs play a pivotal part in this story.
One night while Lydia is working her shift, Joey Molina, the youngest and more sensitive of the BookFrogs, hangs himself in the bookstore’s upper room. Lydia is the one who finds him and is devastated by Joey’s death, as Joey was one of Lydia’s favorite of the Bookfrogs.
THE END OF CALM
But Lydia’s quiet life becomes unglued when she discovers a picture in Joey’s pocket — a picture of her and her best friend Raj at her 10th birthday party — a picture nobody should have or even know about. Because you see, Lydia is on the run and has been ever since she was a child, now living her life using a fake name after having severed all her past connections. Throughout the majority of her childhood, she lived in isolation in the mountains with her father after a horrible event drove them to leave town. Now twenty years later, she has started a new life with a clean slate and has done her best to forget about the past. But the existence of this picture taunts her and is a harsh reminder that we cannot always escape our past.
Her life unravels even further when a reporter takes her picture at the suicide scene and, to Lydia’s utter horror, it ends up in the newspaper where anyone could see it. Anyone.
As it turns out Lydia was Joey’s favorite bookseller, and as such, he bequeathed his meager worldly possessions to her, mostly books that she herself had sold him.
But Joey had defaced every book in a strange, disconcerting way, cutting words and parts of words out of the page. Lydia eventually discovers that the books which Joey defaced was actually a puzzle and contained hidden coded messages meant especially for Lydia. As Lydia slowly deciphers Joey’s strange messages, the story begins to transform into somewhat of a darker and much more unsettling tale of a heinous unsolved murder as Lydia connects and links the contents of Joeys messages to her own troubled past.
A VIOLENT CHILDHOOD RESURFACES
As Lydia untangles the mystery of the defaced books and of Joey’s suicide, in so doing she unearths long-buried memories from her own violent childhood, namely those of The Hammerman, a murderer who came into Lydia’s life long ago and she now finds herself reliving an experience that still chills her to the bone.
Her nerves are further frayed by several other events: First, there’s the reappearance Raj, her childhood friend who she hasn’t seen in twenty years; then a postcard from the police detective from the unsolved murder case; and finally there are the numerous telephone calls from her estranged father.
Now she can’t help but wonder whether Joey’s cryptic messages might help her to solve a crime that nobody else ever could and she takes it upon herself to find answers to the questions that have haunted her ever since she was little.
I ended up loving this imaginative literary mystery story because what bibliophile doesn’t love a book about books? In fact, most of the characters in the story were readers, so books were mentioned quite often in the story.
But this was actually quite a complex, incredibly well thought out and somewhat disturbing mystery — a tale of murder, suicide and coming to terms with one’s past. I loved how this suspenseful story unraveled ever so slowly, feeding us bits of information only a little at a time which kept me glued to the book as the puzzle pieces slowly came together.
So as such, this clever book had layers upon layers weaving in and out of both past and present events and really, kept guessing and engaged until the very end. And the characters were not only totally human and relatable, but they were quite multi-faceted with distinctive and well fleshed out personalities.
This was one of those novels where various seeming minor events and plot threads are tied back into the main storyline in extremely intriguing ways. And the ending was immensely satisfying.
All in all, I loved this book and gave it 5 stars.