Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose

Say You’re Sorry by Karen Rose

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 29. Over 500 pages long

Bleh. I’m on a string of bad books, I guess. Say You’re Sorry was just a true crime junkie writing a romance with an uncomfortable amount of graphic detail, in both senses of the word.

One night on the way to a diner with a friend, Daisy Dawson is attacked by a random man on the street. After fighting off her attacker, she is left holding a bizarre locket that unearths an FBI investigation into a religious cult, catapulting family friend Gideon Reynolds into Daisy’s life. Together, Gideon and Daisy follow a trail of their personal grief left in the wake of a serial killer, and the hidden group Gideon himself escaped at age thirteen.

Sparks and gunshots fly, etc.

I just really wasn’t digging this novel and the strange directions of it. I love horror, and I like a good thriller, too, but this is downright gruesome. This is the kind of shit we talk about when we talk about the effect of grotesque, women-hating crime novels that do more harm than good. I didn’t think the story, and the backstory, were good enough reason to compromise morals that made this story so disturbing. This is one of those novels that nearly qualifies as a rape fantasy, the complete glorification of violence against women. I don’t think they’re implying that what the serial killer does is okay, but they literally give him a backstory to try to explain away his behaviors. It’s kind of unacceptable, vomit-inducing, and terribly surprising coming from a woman. As my friends stated, as I stumbled looking for the name of the genre: it’s “The White Knight Douche Genre”. Pretty accurate description!

And additionally, I couldn’t stand the “romance” between Daisy and Gideon. For some reason I think this might be part of her genre…mystery with a touch of romance, like she’s trying to corner the market on some stereotypical (and nonexistent) female reader. The sex scenes are graphic and unnecessary, totally disjointed and out of place in this story.

And gosh, I really hated Daisy, too. It could be partly the narrator’s fault; he was male and his “husky female” voice for Daisy was disturbing at best and downright creepy at worst. Not to mention the fact that they kept bringing up her deep, husky radio voice. Very odd. I just found Daisy as a character to be ~not your average girl~ fodder, with no actual charm.

Really, the only good characters were the supporting ones. Daisy’s friends and family were wonderful and warm. They were actual human beings instead of…whatever her and Gideon were.

I did not care for this book; there was a lot of cringing involved, and when I look back and think critically I cringe even more. I do not recommend!

Have a fabulous rest of your week friends, and cross your fingers that my reading choices improve.

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge: 17. A book picked based on its spine

Other Possible Prompts: 1. A second person narrative, 15. A five-syllable title, 22. An unlikely detective, 23. An author with an X, Y, or Z in their name, 25. A wealthy character, 37. Set in a rural area, 41. Involves a second chance

Laughing yet again at the fact that Riley Sager’s books almost all fit the exact same prompts…clearly he doesn’t have a type or anything!

This is the very last Riley Sager novel I hadn’t read! I’ve now officially read everything he’s published, and loved most all of it. This one, surprisingly, lands near the top of my list, second only to Home Before Dark.

Fifteen years ago, Emma watched her three fellow campers – Vivian, Natalie, Allison – walk out of their cabin and into the night, never to return. Haunted by the loss and the lack of closure, she paints them – over and over, into all of her works. So when the chance to return to Camp Nightingale presents itself, even if it’s under strange circumstances, Emma jumps at it.

Now in the present day, Emma is determined to discover what happened to her friends. She hunts the camp for fifteen-year-old clues, and begins to narrow in on something sinister that Vivian seemed to be investigating the summer she disappeared. If one thing is for certain, no one at Camp Nightingale can be trusted.

This book held my attention all the way through, which is unusual for the Sager books I’ve read in the past (other than Home Before Dark). The story and the mystery and the *total lack of discernible answers* kept me so intrigued from the start that I could hardly put it down. I read this one in a day. I can’t believe we don’t really talk about The Last Time I Lied when we talk about Riley Sager!

The twist ending to this one is insane. Literally, the last ten pages will give you whiplash. And I loved it. I just need to know where I can find more writers with the skill in twist endings that he has, with the level of believability that he writes them with. I don’t like when it feels unnatural…but everything about this felt right, even if I wasn’t expecting it until it was unfolding.

This story is such a well-crafted whodunit, I could hardly keep pace with the number of suspicious characters. I don’t think I guessed the culprit, really, but I did always wonder why we weren’t looking at that particular character with more suspect. And then, of course, the twist. So yeah, this one’s pretty crazy, but it’s crazy all the way through.

I actually really liked Emma, too, for what it’s worth. I think she has some questionable moments, but overall, her drive to discover the truth and her guilt over her wrongs as a thirteen-year-old (of which there are many) are very compelling, and I think she’s caring enough to make you root for her happy ending. I don’t always feel that way about main characters in his books.

Which, also, can we talk about the fact that all of Sager’s leads are women? Every. Single. Book. I don’t understand this. He doesn’t write *bad* female characters, but they lack the depth and complexity a female writer would give them. Though admittedly, in a thriller context, I don’t think they necessarily need depth and complexity – but that’s besides the point. Endlessly intrigued by what the motive/reasoning is behind only writing female leads from a male perspective…and then having them continuously in grave danger. Weird hangup, but okay.

Regardless of our women in peril, I loved this book. Loved it. Now that I’ve read all of Sager’s novels I can see the progression in writing, which is wildly interesting. This, his second novel, lacks his staple paranormal element, but it also picks up way before the halfway mark, unlike his newer works.

Highly recommend. Hope you have a great week!

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 48. Redo one of this year’s prompts but with a different genre (41. Involves a second chance)

Other Possible Prompts: 22. An unlikely detective, 25. A wealthy character, 36. Recommended by a favorite author (Moreno-Garcia), 41. Involves a second chance, 52. Published in 2022

Simone St. James does it again! Silvia Moreno-Garcia hit the nail on the head when she says it “oozes atmosphere”. I was absolutely transported by this multi-timeline novel of murder and buried history.

Haunted by her near-kidnapping at age nine, divorcee Shea Collins lives a sheltered life running her blog, The Book of Cold Cases, that focuses on the theories and evidence behind America’s cold case murders. After a chance encounter at her workplace, Shea gets the opportunity to interview Beth Greer: the elderly woman from her town of Claire Lake acquitted of two grisly murders in the 70s, referred to as The Lady Killer Murders. While many believe Beth is undoubtedly guilty, there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, and now Shea has the chance to ask every burning question to blow the case wide open. Piece by piece, Shea unearths more than anyone ever knew about The Lady Killer Murders, and the alluring Beth Greer that was the evil face of them.

Atmospheric is a darn good word to describe this novel. The setting St. James builds spins worlds around you as you listen. I can see the town, the house, every dimly-lit scene in my head. This was absolutely one of my favorite components of The Broken Girls as well, but in The Book of Cold Cases, St. James ramps up the plot as well. It’s dark and mysterious, and each passing page illuminates just a little bit more of the story we’re unraveling. It’s masterful.

I liked Shea most of the time, but she is a bit flat as a character. She’s kind of like eggs. She is a vehicle for other, better foods, but she by herself isn’t necessarily bad, just bland. I know she had the whole background trauma of being abducted as a child, and that helped her take shape a bit. I feel bad writing about her trauma like it didn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but honestly it kind of didn’t. The abduction of her childhood explained her fascination with cold cases and murder, but it was otherwise a very unimportant component of the story, in my opinion. Shea’s investigation into the Lady Killer murders just breathes life into the other characters, past and present, as we learn the ins and outs of the case. She is a vehicle for telling their story, not so much her own.

Beth Greer, in contrast, shines. I loved her steely confidence through the 70s, her brash and mysterious demeanor of the current day. Her story is wildly interesting and her character brings in a lot of questions of morality to the story. I won’t spoil anything, but the ending is really designed to make you call everyone’s character into question, to decide what’s wrong or right. Personally, I’m team Beth all day long. She gets the ending she deserves, I think.

Also much like The Broken Girls, The Book of Cold Cases has an unexpected paranormal element to it that I just absolutely love. It’s tasteful without being overdone. It draws on the chilling subtlety of a Stephen King haunted house, where you still know the true evil lies in the truth itself. This is an excellent crime novel, thriller, and ghost story wrapped into one.

My biggest complaint here is that there are small inconsistencies in the characters or their motivations that niggled while I read. They clearly weren’t intended to be clues; moreso oversights I believe. Something a good editor could’ve caught and asked why?

I absolutely devoured this book – just two days, and I couldn’t put it down once I started it. I’ve been in a thriller/crime novel mood and this hit the spot, really breaking through all the “meh” books I’ve read lately. This sold me completely on another Simone St. James novel. I’ll need to read The Sun Down Motel now (borrowing from the library as we speak)!

Enjoy the rest of the week, friends!

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager

The House Across the Lake by Riley Sager

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 37. Set in a rural area

Other Possible Prompts: 11. A book with less than 2022 Goodreads ratings (for now), 22. An unlikely detective, 23. An author with an X, Y, or Z in their name, 25. A wealthy character, 41. Involves a second chance, 52. Published in 2022

I’m laughing just a little realizing that both the Sager novels I’ve read this year fit the exact same prompts, for the most part. He definitely has a genre.

Banished to the family lake house in the wake of her husband’s death and her subsequent drinking binge, actress Casey Fletcher is bored (and drunk) out of her mind. After saving her wealthy neighbor Katherine Royce from drowning, she begins to pass the time by watching their glass-walled home across Lake Greene – but she quickly discovers not all is as it seems in the house across the lake. When Katherine inevitably goes missing, Casey quickly believes her husband, Tom, is to blame.

As she works to uncover where Katherine may have gone, or whether she’s alive at all, Casey uncovers a trove of secrets surrounding the banks of Lake Greene. It seems there may be a lot more lies below the surface…and no one can be trusted.

Like I mentioned when I reviewed Lock Every Door, Sager starts slow. I got, like, halfway through this book before things truly started getting wild. Before that, it’s just Casey spying on her neighbors and stumbling around her house, to be honest. But THEN. This book is a deep well of WILD that never seems to end. The slow beginning is what knocked it half a star in my book, because pretty much every other part of this book is incredible and a crazy ride. I thought, initially, that the subject matter didn’t sound like my jam, so if you’re in the same boat, I urge you to give it a try anyways. It was a lot different than I expected from the synopsis and went in a very different direction ultimately.

Lake Greene makes an absolutely stunning summer backdrop for this story. Living in New England myself, it was easy to picture Lake Greene in all its glory, and it gave me the nostalgia feelings of late summer evenings that project a false sense of calm. Much like Lock Every Door, this novel is atmospheric, playing on the setting to add to the creep-factor.

Despite Casey’s self-destructive tendencies, I was attached to her. She makes very poor decisions, but as was confirmed for me by the ending of this book, she has a strong conscience and heart beneath her stony exterior. She’s headstrong with a purpose. She’s loyal. I wanted better for her. Katherine, too, is magnetic. I loved her character, and the push-and-pull drama that falls around her makes her even more alluring. I can picture both of them in my mind, Casey and Katherine, absolute polar opposites, but this novel draws them together through tragedy.

While I was reading this, I just kept hitting walls where I would get really into it, decide I was going to bed at the end of the chapter, and then A HUGE CLIFFHANGER would get dropped on me right on the very last page. There are a lot of cliffhangers, especially in the latter half. It’s a wild ride.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, I was fortunate enough to get an advance readers copy of The House Across the Lake in exchange for my honest review! It released on June 21, 2022 (and here you are, getting your review a month later).

I hope you all have a wonderful week! 🙂

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 25. A wealthy character

Other Possible Prompts: 22. An unlikely detective, 23. An author with an X, Y, or Z in their name

Every time I doubt Riley Sager he manages to pull it out, somewhere around the middle…Lock Every Door was one of his more popular novels, I believe, and I can see why. It has all the great makings of gothic horror but pulls out all the stops in modern twists and turns.

Left jobless, boyfriend-less, and homeless all in one day, Jules can’t believe her luck when she finds a job posting for an apartment sitter. Despite the weird rules provided by the manager, Jules can expect $1,000 at the end of each week she spends on the twelfth floor of the famous and mysterious Bartholomew apartment building – so she eagerly accepts the job.

While the other tenants living at the Bartholomew provide intrigue enough, Jules manages to befriend one of the other apartment sitters, Ingrid. When Ingrid goes missing, however, far more of the “quirks” she enjoyed about the Bartholomew before are cast in a new light. As she struggles to locate her new neighbor, the “haunting” of the apartments comes to a head.

Really, this book is about the ambience. The Bartholomew is a stunning setting for this gothic horror with a modern vibe. The novel is rich in details about the building and I could absolutely see it in my mind as I read. This is definitely something Sager excels at that I don’t see in many of his novels, but wish I did – I’m a sucker for a good setting in a horror novel (The Return, anyone?).

Like many of Sager’s works (which I will get around to later when I review The House Across the Lake) Lock Every Door starts real heckin’ slow. The first half of every Sager is just setting you up to believe that you know exactly where this is going, that we are on a predictable train ride to the full conclusion. But no. No no. The second half will have your head spinning, and the last twenty pages always damn near knocks your head right off your shoulders. Like I frequently say of Tessa Bailey, I was in doubt, but I have learned better: never doubt. Sager impresses me, and I like his writing style that’s easy to fall into and enjoy.

On a similar note, this book is masterfully crafted. Each and every detail, every offhand remark has a point. Do you ever read a book and wonder if it could’ve been written backwards? The mystery is just too perfect, the hints just too well placed. I think that impressive plotting is part of what made this book such an instant hit, and the reason people have been hooked on Sager for years now.

I liked that each and every character was complex and enjoyable. It is truly quite a cast, and it gives me Murder on the Orient Express vibes for sure. Just really unique characters with their own distinct story and ~vibe~. I loved Ingrid, the other apartment sitter, despite not wanting to. Her happy, bubbly personality is not only charming, but necessary to the story, in order to make Jules drawn to her and concerned by her disappearance. I liked Jules, too, but her character veers toward outgoing where I think I would be more reserved in the same situation. She’s not unlikeable, but for me, she wasn’t totally relatable, either.

All in all, I think it’s pretty clear I’m recommending this book! It wasn’t my favorite of his, hence the four stars, and I think that’s partly because the beginning was so dull in my eyes. I was waiting for things to get interesting, and thought it would happen a lot sooner than it did. However, overall, this is a damn solid mystery thriller, and I loved it!

Have a most excellent weekend, peeps!

The Therapist by B.A. Paris

The Therapist by B.A. Paris

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 46. A job title in the title

Other Possible Prompts: 22. An unlikely detective

This one really managed to give me the creeps. Lately I’ve been feeling like I rate books too highly, so I’m denying this one the extra half a star, but I really did enjoy this. It’s creepy and satisfying, and gives you the answers you’ve been longing for by the end.

Alice has just moved in with her long distance boyfriend, Leo, to an exclusive gated neighborhood referred to as “The Circle”. She’s excited to meet her neighbors, and happy with her move to London, until she discovers the real reason they got their home at such a steal: just one year before, it was the site of a brutal murder. A Nina Maxwell was killed presumably by her husband, Oliver, before he took his own life, wracked by guilt.

Driven by a loose connection to the death of her sister, Alice is determined to clear Oliver’s name. She doesn’t believe that the perfect marriage between two kind people could’ve soured so quickly, and so she launches her own investigation, learning from her neighbors while being haunted by the presence in her home.

You don’t really know how “the therapist” ties into this story until the end, really. So many pieces of this puzzle don’t come together until the final pages, and I love that because even when I’m 80% of the way through the book, I have no idea who the culprit is and I trust NO ONE.

My biggest pro-tip is to not finish this book right before entering a vacant home that’s been taken by the elements, where your current job is to open up the attic and crawl space. I’m back, sitting in my car, instead of that creepy ass home (and I pulled down the attic and ran, to be frank). It’s been quite a Wednesday.

I think my biggest complaint with this book is how little I cared for the characters; Alice’s neighbor Eve is really the only one I felt drawn to in any way. Everyone feels pretty disposable from the start, and I don’t feel that the events or revelations of the book make me any more dedicated to the characters, including Alice. I find Alice quite annoying, actually, and chuckled a bit when I saw a review titled “The Therapist: exactly what its main character needs”. By the end, I think they’re hoping you’ll be biting your nails to see how it plays out, but I was more drawn to the story than the characters. We get plunked right into the thick of things from chapter one, but we know very little about the major players until later on. I feel as though this is one of those British literature quirks, because this isn’t the first time I’ve said as much. I think a thriller gains a bit more from making you worry for our main characters’ survival, so that’s not a point in its favor in my opinion.

I’d heard a lot of good things about B.A. Paris’ books before, so I was pretty excited for the twists and turns of this one, but The Therapist plays the long game I think. It kept me guessing ’til the very end, but I don’t know as if it’s the twist of a lifetime. I guess it depends on how many mysteries and thrillers you tend to read, and what you sense about this cast of characters from the very beginning.

This is not all to say I didn’t enjoy it. My mouth was formed in a permanent gasp while I read this book – in less than 24 hours during a work week, no less. It was quite the rollercoaster ride. And I can also thoroughly appreciate that everything comes together with a neat little bow at the end.

I definitely recommend The Therapist, and I think I’ll be checking out some of her other books to measure this one against before I recommend this to people who have already enjoyed her work. I don’t think this is one of her more popular novels, so I’m curious what I’ve missed thus far.

You’ll also notice I switched some of my prompts around for this one – I think The Therapist fits number 46 a bit better than Weather Girl, though I have to admit I’m surprised I had more than one book to fill this prompt! I thought that one would be a toughie. I think my switching may start happening more often the farther I get into this challenge – which is why I’m glad I kept good track of all the possible prompts for each book. I like to read whatever, wherever the wind takes me – which has worked so far, but maybe not for much longer this year. 🙂

I hope you all have a lovely week, friends!

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 15. A five-syllable title

Other Possible Prompts: 25. A wealthy character

I’m on a thriller kick lately! I’ve actually been knocking out a lot of my boss’ book recommendations, which included The Couple Next Door. I finally got around to things she told me to read months ago… so without further ado, welcome to your March bonus review. 😉

Anne and Marco Conti make a quick decision one evening to leave their sleeping baby home next door while they attend a neighbors’ dinner party, checking on her routinely until they leave at just after one in the morning. When they return, their six-month-old daughter, Cora, is gone.

The call to the police launches an investigation into her kidnapping that begins to unravel a carefully threaded web of lies, twists, and turns that will keep you guessing until the very, very end.

This is another one of those stories where I’m PETRIFIED that just telling you what the book is about is going to ruin the whole thing. Because it’s like a well of crazy, all the way down.

The perspective of this novel alternates back and forth primarily between Anne, Marcus, and Detective Rasbach, the lead detective on the case – with some other characters interspersed. You’d think, being in the head of just about every character, you may know more about where the story is going…but Lapena keeps it well hidden until she’s ready to reveal each individual detail. Every time something new came to light I gasped a little, thinking that must be where the ~wildness~ ended, and it never was.

One thing that annoyed me from the very beginning about the turn of events is that the detective immediately suspects Anne and Marcus of wrongdoing, and carries out his entire investigation as if they are at fault. He narrates that this is usually the case, that the child is likely already dead, that the parents likely have a hand in it…but it just didn’t sit right with me, even until the very end. It didn’t make me dislike the story, though, and it’s a necessary element of the plot – but it is certainly depressing. It just made me think.

I can’t tell you *which* characters I disliked, because it’ll ruin it for you, but I think the moral judgments of this cast of characters is really intriguing. I think it’s one of the strong points of the novel, similar to Diane Chamberlain’s The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes (keep your eyes peeled for that review at the end of April). Like, some of these characters did some dumb stuff, even borderline horrible stuff, but is it enough to make you hate them? Enough to make you want to see them suffer some consequences? It’s kind of an odd book that might have you changing your mind to the very last page on that front, truthfully.

I’ve decided not to try and fit this one into a prompt for the moment, which is why I only listed possible prompt suggestions. I did finish it in 2022…in fact, I finished it yesterday…but I’ve already filled my two prompt suggestions, so I might only go back and fill it in for 48. Redo one of this year’s prompts but with a different genre if I have to. I’m sticking it on the back burner for now!

I definitely recommend The Couple Next Door, though I apparently don’t have a ton to say about the book! I’m trying to think of some other comments I have, but coming up empty handed. I kind of want to read Not a Happy Family now, and might pick it up at the library next week.

Have an awesome week, peeps!