Marie’s Reading: “Someone Like Me” by M.R. Carey

someon like meLiz Kendall has divorced her abusive husband, but that doesn’t stop him from launching one last attack–only this time, Liz fights back and wins.  However, in the moment, she feels as though someone else entered her body and controlled her actions.  She continues to have episodes where it’s almost as if a second consciousness has entered her mind, taking control of her body and driven mostly by rage.  Day by day Liz becomes more and more unsettled by what she thinks is a coping mechanism created by her own brain, but turns out to be a lot more sinister.

At the same time, a young girl named Fran is the survivor of a kidnapping.  It’s ten years after her trauma and she still has vivid hallucinations, including one of a fox companion named Lady Jinx who acts as her dearest friend and protector.  Along with hallucinations, Fran is missing a lot of memories.  Determined to uncover the truth about what happened to her and overcome her trauma, Fran decides to go digging into the story of her kidnapping and the man who did it.

Eventually Fran and Liz’s stories intersect.  Fran and Liz both go to the same psychologist, and then Fran becomes friends with Liz’s son Zac.  Soon enough it is clear that it’s up to Fran to save Liz and her family from the violent interloper who threatens them.

This is a poignant and unsettling book about the nature of self, the aftermath of domestic violence, mental illness, and the possibilities of parallel universes and different realities.  It’s also about love and loyalty and friendship.  Carey’s writing is vivid and compelling, and he’s got a real way with his characters’ voices.  This is a supernatural thriller, but one that’s firmly grounded in a story about family and love.

If you enjoyed Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, you’ll probably like this one, too.  I’d also suggest Jennifer McMahon’s The Night Sisters or All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage.

–Marie

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Marie’s Reading: “Don’t You Cry” by Mary Kubica

don't you cryDon’t You Cry by Mary Kubica is everything I want in a thriller.

I love thrillers.  I love the suspense, the just-this-side-of-credible motivations and reveals, the mystery element, the cliffhangers, the insanity, the secrets.

(Reading over that list just now I realize I’m also describing why I love Gothic fiction, too–just throw in some heavy atmosphere and deep sense of the uncanny to the above, and you’ve got Gothic!)

Anyway, Don’t You Cry is a great choice if you’re a fan of books like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins or Her by Harriet Lane.  It’s got a fast pace, a great puzzle, and a really good reveal at the end.  It’s very cinematic, too–the writing is very scene- and plot-focused, almost like a crime show.  Actually, that describes the overall tone and feel of this novel pretty well: it’s like a TV drama.  There’s a very good dose of Crime Fiction in this particular book.

The story is told in two alternating voices.  There’s Quinn, who awakes one day to find that her reliable, kind roommate Esther has disappeared.  Quinn finds some mysterious letters among Esther’s possessions, and begins to try to unravel why Esther has gone missing.  The other story is told by Alex, a recent high school graduate who feels he’s wasting his young life in his small town taking care of his alcoholic father.  Then all of a sudden a mysterious young woman shows up in town, and Alex is immediately smitten.

For both Quinn and Alex events turn dark and sinister very quickly.  Only at the end do we see the connection between these storylines.  All the way through, though, there are themes that tie everything together beyond just the plot–Kubica puts a lot of emotional focus on the relationships between parents and children, and the theme of abandonment.   There’s a nice emotional buildup right alongside the intensifying plot buildup, which makes the ending more satisfying.

If you’re after a fast, compelling, and twisty thriller, give this one a try.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “Dark Rooms” by Lili Anolik

dark roomsIn Dark Rooms, a young woman named Grace attempts to solve the murder of her younger sister, Nica–even though the police have already declared the case closed.  Grace, who has dropped out of college and survived a bout of drug addiction, grows increasingly obsessed with finding the real killer.  Along the way she uncovers uncomfortable truths about her family, her sister, and her own identity.

Not only is this a nicely constructed, tight thriller with some nice twists, it’s also a dark examination of sisterhood and family.  Anolik does really well with that part of the story, even more so than the mystery.  The relationships, twisted and desperate and narcissistic nearly to a one, are very convincingly drawn and lend a sense of emotional urgency to the plot and its twists and turns.

The setting, a boarding school in Hartford, Connecticut, is detailed and believable in all its claustrophobic glory.  A sense of threat and darkness hangs over this entire book, as well as an eerie unreality–helped along by a first-person narrator who is not entirely stable.

Literary fiction fans might like to try The Secret History by Donna Tartt or Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl.   Both of those novels are about little clubs of students at elite schools trying to solve (or being involved in) a crime.  They employ more literary devices and motifs than Dark Rooms, but could still be great readalikes.  Following down that same line, crime fans might also enjoy Tana French’s The Likeness. Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas offers the same blend of crime and twisted family dynamics in a chilling atmosphere–that’s a great one to try if you enjoyed those aspects of Dark RoomsJoanne Harris’s Gentlemen and Players, an intricately plotted mystery set at an elite (and unraveling) boarding school, might also appeal.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: Everything by Jennifer McMahon

jennifer mcmahonLiterally.  I have done what I set out to do, and have read every book by Jennifer McMahon.

I regret nothing.

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Marie’s Reading: “Until You’re Mine” by Samantha Hayes

until you're mineI received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Random House.

(….is that all i have to say?  i’ve never had an ARC before.  i feel really special but also really nervous.  i think all i have to do is review it, but i’m not positive.  uh…here, i’ll link back to Random House Readers Circle.  is that okay?  also, what do i do with the book now?  am i allowed to put it in the book sale?  it says “not for sale” on it.  does a used book sale count?  or  is it supposed to self-destruct?  will random house stop sending me presents and take away my RH inner circle decoder pin if i do this wrong?)

As far as thrillers go, Until You’re Mine by Samantha Hayes is very well-constructed.  I appreciated how there’s a great blend of suspense, mystery, and even a dash of horror.  The story centers on three characters: Claudia, a pregnant social worker desperate to have a child after many miscarriages; Zoe, her nanny, who may not be what she seems; and Lorraine, a detective investigating the recent murders of pregnant women in the area.  Not only have the women been murdered, but it appears that the killer attempted to take their babies.

To say too much more about the plot would be to give too much away.  Part of the fun of this kind of novel is coming up on the twists and turns yourself, and making of the clues what you will.  But I will say that the multiple storylines are very well-done.  I liked how Zoe and Claudia are both in the first person, but Lorraine is in third.  I felt it was a nice touch that gave a bit of distance with the character that needed it, and then the closeness with the characters that required it.  Plus, the first-person works quite well with characters who might or might not be unhinged.

Hayes really has written a novel that will appeal to fans of several genres.  Mystery fans and police procedural fans will like the fact that, if you pay attention, it’s totally possible to solve this crime with what you’re given right along with the detectives.  Horror fans might enjoy the mounting tension and the murders, as well as the psychological aspect of being closed in and isolated with someone who might want to kill you.  Thriller readers, this one should be right up your alley!  It’s twisty and turny and compelling, with a rather clever reveal at the end.

Gillian Flynn fans, this one is for you.  Right down to the creepy last scene and even creepier last line.  And if you enjoy this book, Hayes intends for it to be the first in a series starring the detectives, Lorraine and her husband.  So stay tuned!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Asylum” by John Harwood

the asylumI cannot give you a better teaser of a summary for The Asylum than the one provided on the dust jacket, so here it is:

Confused and disoriented, Georgina Ferrars awakens in a small room in Tregannon House, a private asylum in a remote corner of England. She has no memory of the past few weeks. The doctor, Maynard Straker, tells her that she admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton the day before, then suffered a seizure. When she insists he has mistaken her for someone else, Dr. Straker sends a telegram to her uncle, who replies that Georgina Ferrars is at home with him in London: “Your patient must be an imposter.”

From there we are with Georgina (or the woman who believes she is Georgina), as she attempts to make sense of her situation.  We share her confusion and fear, as well as the desire to know the truth about her circumstances and identity.   Discovering the truth, we soon come to realize, hinges upon finding a writing box, a series of letters, and a brooch.  I don’t want to give too much away, as uncovering the many intricate plot points are most of the fun of reading this novel.  Suffice it to say that letters are found, secrets are uncovered, and the ending, while not shocking, is certainly a surprise!

If this all sounds like something straight from the pages of a dark, Gothic, melodramatic Victorian thriller, that’s because it is.  More or less.  As I discussed in my gushing review of Harwood’s other novel, The Seance, the mood Harwood creates is perfect.  The sense of time and place is superb, and Harwood really excels at writing in the style of a late Victorian novelist without it coming across as parody or over-the-top.   Not only are you absorbed into the textured world of late 19th century London and the cold, dreary asylum in Cornwall, you also get the sense that you are truly reading a story of the period.

There are striking similarities between Asylum and Sarah Waters’ novels Affinity and Fingersmith.  I’d suggest either of those books if you enjoyed Asylum.  They share the same style, atmosphere, and Gothic tone, as well as strong female protagonists.  In fact, the plot is almost identical to Fingersmith in a few places, though the resolution is quite different.  For a more modern Gothic novel, with the same sense of mystery and secrets, Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale might be a good choice.

If you like twists and turns but aren’t into the Victorian setting and atmosphere, try Gone Girl or Dark Places by Gillian Flynn for modern thrillers that boast great twists, plenty of dark secrets, and loads of suspense.  Her books are darker, more intense, and at times more violent, but still work as read-alikes, I think.

–Marie