Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from the gothic house in which she and her estranged twin sister El grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. But when El mysteriously disappears, Cat returns to the home - and a past - that is full of ghosts and secrets, including Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns.
I didn’t know what to make of this when I first started reading. It was clear that the writing was very good, but I couldn’t figure out if it involved magical realism or a main character that was almost completely untethered from reality or something else that I wasn’t getting. I even got frustrated, to be honest, trying to figure out what was going on.
Then it all came together. That veil lifted, and I was blown away. The center of this book -- the heart of it -- is pure genius. And I don’t say that lightly.
What might seem blurry, at the start, will come into focus, and it is SO worth it once it does.
This book had me feeling deeply for the main characters, and I found myself going back to reread portions once I’d finished and even studied the dang map of the house at the front of the book.
This is a top read of the year for me. I’ll admit, there were some things I wish were a bit different with it. I would have preferred if the story ended earlier, about 85% of the way through, according to my Kindle. It would have been a bit more believable for me, and much darker, which is the way my taste tends to go. But one’s enjoyment of a novel is entirely subjective, and the twists and turns in the last part of the book will probably make many other thriller fans incredibly happy.
But SO much was done beautifully here. The timing. The pacing. The reveals. The characters. The layers. The DEPTH.
This is a stand out among psychological thrillers in terms of uniqueness and boldness and imaginativeness and creativity, and it will stick with me for a very long time to come.
If you like mysteries and thrillers - and especially psychological thrillers, you MUST read this.
This comes out April 20!
Thank you Scribner for the ARC!
I listened to the audiobook of this one, and I have to say, from the very first word read aloud, I was riveted. I didn’t have to go back once to catch something I missed, which is a rarity. And this book is so bold and memorable that it will stay with me for a long time.
Ivy moves to the U.S. from China at the age of five, and she develops a middle-school crush on Gideon, a young member of the New England gentry who seems to be the very opposite of her own immigrant family. She also comes to know a boy named Roux, who lives next to her in their lower-class neighborhood. Some years later, when Ivy is a young adult, these two boys - now men - will represent a choice about what her future will be.
As a character, Ivy is both infuriating and heartbreaking. I found myself wanting to simultaneously slap her upside the head and root for her. The book seems to be an allegory that explores the push and pull of the immigrant experience: the warring internal impulses to stay true to one’s own culture and ancestry versus the feeling that one must assimilate and disappear into the surrounding culture.
But it also has strong similarities to “The Talented Mr. Ripley” in that Ivy is relentless in her need to social climb to the point of self-destruction. She is desperate to ‘rise above’ her Chinese family and worm her way into the New England blue bloods who, to her, signify success and higher breeding.
This is primarily literary fiction with some elements of a slow-burning thriller. The main character is unreliable and terribly narcissistic, but she’s such an interesting vehicle for an exploration of issues around race and class.
Rose and Fern are twins in their twenties who have a close relationship despite having shared a traumatic childhood. Rose is the responsible one, Fern the quirky one. Fern accidentally did something terrible when they were twelve years old, and Rose helped her cover up the mistake and has kept a careful watch on her ever since. But when Fern decides to help her sister achieve her heart's desire of having a baby, Rose realizes that Fern might make choices that can only have a terrible outcome.
This story alternates between the POV of each of the twins. Through Rose’s journal entries, we experience some of the terrible past events the twins shared during their childhood, which included a mother who was narcissistic and mercurial. Fern’s POV allows us to follow her as she navigates her day-to-day existence working at a library and engaging with others while being on the autism spectrum and managing debilitating sensory-processing issues.
And it is such a treat to follow Fern around! Her unique character - its specificity, the humor within it, the heart underneath it - makes this book for me! Fern is so lovable, despite her flaws, that I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt myself emotionally connecting this strongly with a character. And Fern’s internal thoughts and interactions with other characters had me giggling out loud.
Yes, I fell in love with this character, but everything else about this story is on point! The plotting and pacing is solid, and there are some great twists I didn’t see coming!
I can’t elaborate too much more, since I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll just say that this is a rare suspense novel that made me giggle while, at moments, warming my heart. I also think that in comparison with Hepworth’s last few books, this one is much closer to a true thriller.
I ABSOLUTELY loved this book and highly recommend it!
This hits the shelves April 13!
Thank you St. Martin’s Press for the ARC!
Bree seems to have a picture-perfect life with a loving husband, two teenage daughters, and a new baby boy. But she suddenly faces every mother’s nightmare when her newborn son is kidnapped by an older woman who makes a demand in exchange for her child’s life.
To get her baby back, Bree must complete one small—but critical—task. It seems harmless enough, but her action comes with a devastating price, making her complicit in a tangled web of tragedy and shocking secrets that could destroy everything she loves.
Overall, this domestic thriller is heavier on the ‘domestic’ and lighter on the ‘thriller’ to me. Unlike Jackson’s last book, Never Have I Ever, which had me on the edge of my seat throughout, this one -- after a strong beginning -- had me sinking into the couch.
The start of the story is gripping, with the suggestion that there is some type of witch haunting our main character (Bree), peering in through the windows of her home, but then the pacing slows. There’s a good deal of time spent in Bree’s head, delivering backstory, so the forward action you typically get in a good thriller becomes weighed down. At some point during all of this, as a reader, I lost my connection with her. And once the action begins moving forward again at a better pace, I wanted Bree to be more proactive. Given the genre and the circumstances, it seems like a couple of other characters step in and take action for her too often.
I will say that the ending is VERY strong and fun. This story starts with a jolt and ends with a BANG!! Jackson seems to be a master at nailing the start and the close of a great thriller, and I give her mad props for successfully acting as the narrator of her own audiobooks, too!!
This could be a good read for big domestic thriller fans who aren’t put off by a slower pace.
This hits the shelves April 6!
Thank you William Morrow for the ARC!
Alice decides to shoot a documentary film about a ghost town that was left abandoned years ago when everyone there mysteriously disappeared, including her own grandmother and family.
She arrives in the abandoned town with the small crew she’s assembled, including Emmy, her old roommate from college, but as soon as they arrive, mysterious things start happening.
This story is told through alternate timelines, switching between the present (Now), in which Alice and her crew scout the deserted area, and the past (Then), in the months leading up to the abandonment of the town. Old letters, sent and received by Alice’s ancestors, also fill in parts of her family history.
In the ‘Then’ timeline, a good deal of the events are foreshadowed early, but this is by design. It allows you, the reader, to figure out what is going to happen before it’s revealed, and it’s incredibly effective in creating a sense of impending doom.
To counterbalance that, the ‘Now’ timeline is edge-of-your-seat shocking and unexpected and full of twists. It’s bold and dramatic and surprising and scary and also, unexpectedly, sad. Alice is a wonderfully flawed main character, and I really appreciate how well-developed the relationship is between her and Emmy.
This story has similarities to the work of filmmaker Ari Aster (Midsommar, Hereditary), which I love!! It’s smart horror that doesn’t just entertain and scare, but provides interesting - and at times uncomfortable - social commentary.
And just like Aster’s movies, this book is NOT for the faint of heart.
I’d say this is perfect for fans of horror, first and foremost, but also those who enjoy psychological thrillers or mysteries.
Thank you St. Martin’s Press for the ARC!
This is the follow-up to “The Sympathizer,” a novel that won the Pulitzer, in which a Communist spy goes undercover after the fall of Saigon, then finds himself in a Communist re-education camp.
In “The Committed,” the spy has escaped and is headed to Paris, where he joins a gang of drug dealers. It’s possible to read this as a stand-alone, as I did, without having read “The Sympathizer.” Although I will definitely be going back to read the first novel now!
I read this slowly, over a period of weeks, because I needed time to digest it. This doesn’t strike me as a book you could, or should, read in one sitting. Nguyen’s writing is truly bold and unique: it includes fascinating flights of thought amidst slick espionage and the humorous and self-deprecating internal musings of the narrator.
Nguyen himself, as a child, escaped Vietnam with his family in 1975. Through his writing, he works through the experiences of refugees, as well as the failings of both capitalism, which works hand in glove with imperialism, and communism.
This novel also includes, I believe, a sentence that is over 600 words long and grittily rapturous, weaving through a violent encounter and escape that turns into a drug-fueled journey, both humorous and sublime, that metaphorically travels from the individual identity, to the collective, to a high-flying recognition of the Buddhist concept that all is one, and back again to the hardened and familiar feeling of isolation.
I can’t do the writing justice with my silly little summary, so please, just read the sentence -- and the novel -- for yourself. But please go in prepared, knowing that although Nguyen is painting with a full pallet that includes humor and heartbreak, action and suspense, this is first and foremost an exploration of philosophical notions around ideology, identity, war, memory and humanity.
Thank you Grove Press for the ARC!
Elon Green is a thorough investigator and fantastic nonfiction writer, and in his first book, he has found a way to hook you in with the hunt for a serial murderer -- who came to be known as “The Last Call Killer” -- while he pulls you through a fascinating exploration of the lives of the killer’s victims and the gay social scene of Manhattan in the late 80s and early 90s.
Green uses the stories and memories of the men and women from that era in the service of giving the reader a deeper understanding of the staggering obstacles gay men faced during that period of time. The AIDs epidemic was out of control and leading to heavy losses, and the stigma of being LGBTQ+ was so strong and potentially life-destroying that many gay men resorted to hiding their true sexuality and visiting gay bars in order to seek sexual companionship -- a tragic combination.
Worse yet, as this novel elucidates, those bars had a history of being infiltrated by good-looking undercover cops prepared to arrest gay men for solicitation. And gay men were being physically attacked on the streets, while the police and the courts turned their backs to the violence.
The unfolding of the evidence, and the chase to find the killer, keeps the tension high, and the lives of the victims are presented in such an interesting way, that it’s easy to fly right through the 230-page book and get upset that you’ve reached the end.
My assumption is that a conscious decision was made to focus only on the victims, rather than the killer, which I fully respect. But I do wonder if more exploration could have been done around the killer’s psychological profile or motivations, given that the individual is a product of both his own sexual inclinations and the zeitgeist of that period of time.
Regardless, this was a fun, interesting and eye-opening read that I highly recommend to anyone interested in LGBTQ+ rights and issues, True Crime or a historical period of time in the U.S. that, sadly, was not that long ago.
I also want to mention that Celadon is fast becoming my favorite publisher. They continue to choose smart books that elevate genres. Thank you, Celadon, for the ARC!
Jacqueline (Jack) is both a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a vicar. When she is asked to take charge of Chapel Croft, she finds herself moving to a remote village and devoting herself to a chapel with a dark history.
Centuries ago, protestant martyrs were burned at the stake there. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared. And a few weeks ago, the vicar of the parish hanged himself.
When Jack’s daughter begins to see specters of girls ablaze, it becomes apparent there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.
CJ Tudor is an auto-buy author for me because her books are fast-paced and full of surprises. She writes horror-tinged psychological suspense that includes a twisty-turny mystery and dabbles in dark supernatural underpinnings. It’s a fun blend that I’ve come to love!
This book seems to layer in a snappy, pop feel, in part because of cheekiness in the dialogue between mother and daughter, in part because of the fair number of 80s and 90s pop culture references, which lends a postmodern flair. This helps to balance out and soften some of the darkness in the story.
The burning of effigies (aka, the burning girls) -- is based upon the actual history of Mary I (Bloody Mary) burning protestants alive at the stake in the 1500’s, which has led to real-life traditions in present-day villages of having monuments and burnings to commemorate those victims.
The relationship between Jack and her feisty daughter feels real, alternately tense and loving, as they struggle to shoe-horn their big-city lives into a remote countryside and deal with some of the strange and possibly dangerous townsfolk. I also appreciated Jack grappling a bit, even as a vicar, with her own faith, as she attempts to bring a more modern outlook as a “wo-man of the cloth.”
The thing that blew me away about this book is that there are a ton of characters and a large number of mysterious subplots, some of them taking place in the present day, some of them stretching back to the past, yet somehow Tudor does a brilliant job helping you -- the reader -- keep it all straight. She is just so adept at sneaking in reminders, dropping down breadcrumbs, crafting twists and doling out reveals.
And everything else is there, too. Strong, bold characters. Great, snappy dialogue. All of the descriptive elements that keep you feeling chills while you read.
As a trigger warning, this does include issues around bullying and child abuse.
Thank you Ballantine Books for the ARC!
Ambrosia (Amb) receives an invite for her ten-year college reunion along with a note that reads, “We need to talk about what we did that night.” She soon finds herself leaving her carefully-constructed present to attend the reunion and revisit a past she’s tried to not only move beyond but shove deep down into the dark places no one will ever see.
Amb’s attempts to navigate the present-day reunion are nearly as harrowing as her attempts to survive freshman year. Back then, her desperate need to be liked drew her in like a dysfunctional tractor beam to the worst influence possible -- a beautiful and wild classmate named Sully.
While Amb explored her dark side with Sully, she did something that had deadly consequences. And it becomes clear - at the reunion - that someone is seeking to out her and seek revenge.
She realizes that the games she played back in college, under Sully’s watchful eye, may soon become matters of life and death.
This book shocked me a lot, shook me a bit and had me thinking about it long after the last page. It’s a psychological thriller with a dash of psychological horror and a pinch of social commentary.
The story is told through the alternating timelines of Amb’s freshman year of college (then) and her current life and attendance at the reunion (now). It’s impossible not to relate, at least to some extent, to the youthful angst, insecurities and difficult social dynamics these female characters endure. The desperation and power jockeying is heightened for dramatic effect in the book, but those exaggerations are grounded in some painful truths.
For a gender that has suffered the pressure of always being polite, sweet and not too ambitious (*eye roll*), sometimes it’s cathartic to experience girls being the very opposite of that. And personally, I love stories that explore the darker side of human nature, so that we can recognize it within ourselves. As Jung wrote, the more you become familiar with your own shadow side, the less you project it onto others. Okay, Jung said it way better than this, but you get the gist.
If you liked Mean Girls or Girl, Interrupted or anything else that is dark and wicked fun, you’ll love this!
If you don’t like any of those titles, then ‘f*** me gently with a chainsaw,’ I give up.
(Bonus points to those who know what bad-girl movie that quote is from!!)
This hits the shelves March 9!
Thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the ARC!
Florence Darrow knows she's destined to be a famous writer, so when she stumbles into a job assisting a brilliant novelist known as Maud Dixon — whose true identity is a secret — it appears the universe is finally providing Florence her chance. But when she wakes up in the hospital after the two of them are in a terrible accident, with no memory of the previous night — and no sign of Maud Dixon — she’s tempted to upgrade into a bestselling life.
THIS is exactly what I want in a psychological thriller. The work of Patricia Highsmith came to mind as I was reading it, because Florence Darrow is the type of dysfunctional and unsettling main character she might create. Specifically, it has some The Talented Mr. Ripley vibes!
Florence is a black hole inside, unsure of who she is, painfully neurotic when it comes to how she is perceived. She becomes obsessed with the identities of others and inserts herself into their lives, adopting their way of thinking and behaving.
She isn’t just unreliable. She is CREEPY.
I was frustrated with her for engaging in self-destructive behavior, yet she was likable enough that I wanted her to make the right choices - or at least the smart choices - and succeed.
The portion set in Morocco allows the country to come alive on the page, which is fun. But most importantly, my thriller-lovers, the twists and turns throughout are many -- each one is unexpected and oh so satisfying. The plotting, pacing and reveals are exceptional and downright Hitchcockian.
And I LOVED the ending.
I couldn’t put this down and basically read it in 24 hrs.
Okay Ms. Alexandra Andrews, I may be envious, but my hat is off. I will read whatever you write, and if this doesn’t become a bestseller, there’s no flippin’ fairness in publishing.
Get this book! Start it on the weekend or a day you have off and need an escape from reality. It’s a fun, fast-paced, tight and twisty roller coaster!
Thank you NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for the ARC!