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Jar City

I have a bit of an addiction to Nordic thriller tv shows on Netflix. Their police procedurals are excellent. Frequently, the women are in charge, the red herrings aren’t too ridiculous, and the storytelling is top-notch. I’ve read a handful of books from the area but have more on my list. Somehow, I stumbled on this one from Iceland, which isn’t an area I’ve ever read about.

From Goodreads: When a lonely old man is found murdered in his Reykjavík flat, the only clues are a cryptic note left by the killer and a photograph of a young girl’s grave. Inspector Erlendur, who heads the investigation team, discovers that many years ago the victim was accused, though not convicted, of an unsolved crime. Did the old man’s past come back to haunt him?

As the team of detectives reopen this very cold case, Inspector Erlendur uncovers secrets that are much larger than the murder of one old man–secrets that have been carefully guarded by many people for many years. As he follows a fascinating trail of unusual forensic evidence, Erlendur also confronts stubborn personal conflicts that reveal his own depth and complexity of character. 

This thriller was great. Although it uses the “grumpy old white guy” detective trope, he had some good reasons to be grumpy, so at least it was legitimate. The murder itself and the discovery of who was behind it was really creative and plausible, so no crazy far-fetched, nonsensical storytelling, thank goodness. This book was just a tightly written, interesting mystery.

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Lock Every Door

I now have read every Riley Sager book. I started with Final Girls, next was The Last Time I Lied, then Home Before Dark and now this one. I was a bit bummed by the first two because I didn’t think they were as good as the hype that surrounded them. However, Home Before Dark was really good, and I appreciated the creative way the story was told, but Lock Every Door is my favorite. It. Was. Bonkers.

From Goodreads:

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story—until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

The big reveal (no spoilers, but this book is a mystery, so you expect there to be a resolution) is crazy, and I didn’t see it coming at all. Jules is a great character, not only trying to solve the mystery, but also having to deal with her past. Sager does a great job putting little hints in the story here and there that give you a little insight into the big twist, but even as I picked up on them, I still didn’t see where it was going. If you’re new to Sager’s books, this is a great one to start with.

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Little Fires Everywhere

I read Everything I Never Told You a couple of years ago and loved it. It’s not my usual type of book, namely about a family and depressing, but Ng’s writing is so beautiful, and I was so captivated by the characters that I couldn’t put it down. It was a heartbreaking book, but one that has stuck with me for a long time.

Again, this book focuses on family, this time three different families whose lives are woven together in unique ways. From Goodreads:

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned–from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren–an enigmatic artist and single mother–who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

Little Fires Everywhere explores the weight of secrets, the nature of art and identity, and the ferocious pull of motherhood–and the danger of believing that following the rules can avert disaster.

Again, the characters and language of this book are Ng’s best work. The plots of her books are definitely interesting, but her character development and writing style are top notch. In my book, she’s two for two, and I look forward to her next one!

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The Trespasser

And here we are. The end. The last. The final Dublin Murder Squad book. Even though this book and the one before it weren’t as good as the first four, I did enjoy the series and still recommend them to anyone. In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, and The Secret Place all lead to this final book. Tana French cleverly weaves the books together by putting one character from the previous book as the main character in the next book, except the last two. They both feature Detective Moran and Detective Conway, but The Secret Place is told from his perspective and this one from hers.

From Goodreads:

Being on the Murder Squad is nothing like Detective Antoinette Conway dreamed it would be. Her partner, Stephen Moran, is the only person who seems glad she’s there. The rest of her working life is a stream of thankless cases, vicious pranks, and harassment. Antoinette is savagely tough, but she’s getting close to the breaking point.

Their new case looks like yet another by-the-numbers lovers’ quarrel gone bad. Aislinn Murray is blond, pretty, groomed-to-a-shine, and dead in her catalog-perfect living room, next to a table set for a romantic dinner. There’s nothing unusual about her—except that Antoinette’s seen her somewhere before.

And that her death won’t stay in its neat by-numbers box. Other detectives are trying to push Antoinette and Steve into arresting Aislinn’s boyfriend, fast. There’s a shadowy figure at the end of Antoinetteʼs road. Aislinnʼs friend is hinting that she knew Aislinn was in danger. And everything they find out about Aislinn takes her further from the glossy, passive doll she seemed to be.

Antoinette knows the harassment has turned her paranoid, but she can’t tell just how far gone she is. Is this case another step in the campaign to force her off the squad, or are there darker currents flowing beneath its polished surface?

Det. Conway is an unreliable narrator to the extreme. As good of a detective she is, she has terrible insight into her own co-workers. She can’t see the forest for the trees. She thinks each and every one of them are out to get her, including her own partner at times. This perspective gets old really quickly, and I was constantly frustrated by inability to look at things objectively. The book takes some good turns that I wasn’t expecting, which is always appreciated, but overall it was just okay.

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In the Dark

I’ve never read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Now I don’t have to because this book entirely spoils the plot. That said, the book is 80 years old, so spoilers for it have long passed. My own fault, not the author’s. I had no idea going into this book that it was a retelling of anything, let alone one of the most famous murder mystery books of all time.

This book was offered as a Kindle first selection at some point, which I didn’t select, but it sounded interesting enough that I add it to my “to read” list and discovered it was available to me via Prime reading, which is a great resource. I’m glad that I found this book because it was excellent.

From Goodreads: The promise of a luxury vacation at a secluded wilderness spa has brought together eight lucky guests. But nothing is what they were led to believe. As a fierce storm barrels down and all contact with the outside is cut off, the guests fear that it’s not a getaway. It’s a trap.

Each one has a secret. Each one has something to hide. And now, as darkness closes in, they all have something to fear—including one another.

Alerted to the vanished party of strangers, homicide cop Mason Deniaud and search and rescue expert Callie Sutton must brave the brutal elements of the mountains to find them. But even Mason and Callie have no idea how precious time is. Because the clock is ticking, and one by one, the guests of Forest Shadow Lodge are being hunted. For them, surviving becomes part of a diabolical game.

I loved this book because I truly had no idea what was going to happen. I had no idea what the secrets were, who was behind the entire trap, how this was going to resolve. You know that at least one person survives because you meet her in the first chapter. But who that person is and how she was involved isn’t revealed. The layers of the plot are revealed cleverly and nicely with a big twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. I highly recommend this one!

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Devil’s Knot

My interest in true crime started here. I saw Paradise Lost on HBO and was shook. I don’t remember a lot about the documentary, but I remember being captivated and horrified. I had no idea whether or not the West Memphis 3 did the crime, but I definitely saw issues with the case.

As time has passed, my interest has grown. I’ve listened to podcasts, watched the follow up installments of Paradise Lost and have dug through case evidence. So why not add one more item to my list of references. After reading several Reddit threads, this book seems to be the most well-received by the WM3 community. Although it was published before the WM3 were released, it provides excellent insight into the case.

The book follows the initial investigation of the teens and how they were eventually arrested and convicted. The police were well aware of Damien, and he had been on their radar for quite some time for being “disturbing.” He had been in and out of mental hospitals a few times. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was medicated. Jason Baldwin, however, was a good kid. He was never in trouble, made good grades, and most people liked him. Jessie Misskelley was a high school dropout with an IQ of around 70, making him at about a second-grader’s level of intelligence. He was constantly in trouble, was always fighting, and had a lot of difficulty keeping a job.

Through a series of ridiculous events, the three boys are arrested for the murders. Jessie was goaded into a confession, and even though he got a lot of the details wrong, the police used it as evidence. Basically, the three boys were viewed as Satan worshippers because they wore black, listened to Metallica, and weren’t good Christians like most everyone else. Oh, and Damien read Stephen King. (Where is my eye roll emoji when I need one?)

After the arrests, the book then follows both trials. Jessie’s was first, then Damien and Jason were tried together in the second trial. This book was great. It was well-researched, well-written, and full of detail. It took me a long time to get through because there’s no skimming a book like this. There are also around 400 endnotes that you MUST read to get the whole story. I ended up using two bookmarks- one for where I was in the book, and one for where I was in the endnotes. But I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in true crime or the case itself. It’s an excellent look at the justice system.

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Malorie

Note: this review contains spoilers for Bird Box.

Back when I first read Bird Box, I was blown away. It immediately became one of my top 10 favorites, and I recommend it to everyone. It’s a masterclass in suspense writing. From page one, you’re on the edge of your seat. The attic scene alone is one I will never forget. My kids ask me about the books I read a lot. The scariest I’ve ever read is The Shining followed by Let the Right One In, but Bird Box is the creepiest, most tense book I’ve ever read. They are clambering to read these, but being elementary age, it won’t happen anytime soon.

Malorie picks up a couple years after Bird Box. Malorie and the kids are still living in the school for the blind, but an infiltration from the creatures has forced them to flee. Thankfully, the book then jumps ten years and Malorie and the kids, Tom and Olympia, are living alone in an abandoned summer camp. The kids are now teens and have developed their own personalities. Tom is creative, an inventor, but hates Malorie’s rules and is seeking adventure and answers. Olympia is the peacemaker, thoughtful, and had read the thousand book in the camp. Malorie lives by the fold. She doesn’t trust anyone. Due to what she saw in the school for the blind, she believes the creatures can infect you also by touching you, so she demands that, even in the summer, the kids wear long pants and hoodies to protect as much of their skin as possible.

A man claiming to be with the census delivers papers to their camp. On the list are survivors and their whereabouts. Malorie sees some familiar names on the list which throws her strict life into chaos. The rest of the story unfolds from there.

Avoiding spoilers, many important events from Bird Box are incorporated in this book. If you haven’t read it in awhile, I highly recommend rereading it so you realize the full impact of those events on Malorie’s life today. I never expected this book would be as good as Bird Box, and it’s not, but it is excellent and a must-read. Malerman’s best work is in Malorie’s world. I’ve read all his other stuff Inspection, A House at the Bottom of the Lake, Unbury Carol, and Black Mad Wheel, but Malorie is better than all of them. If he does write a third book in this world, we will all be lucky.

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Home Before Dark

I’m new to Riley Sager. I’ve dug through his work in the past few months. I read Final Girls and The Last Time I Lied first. When I saw Home Before Dark was on the Book of the Month club, I selected it, even though I wasn’t sure I was sold on his books. Both Final Girls and Last Time irritated me for various reasons (click on links to read the reviews), but I went ahead and read this one. Lock Every Door is on my kindle now, and I’ll read it next!

Home Before Dark is a ghost story/haunted house story. This genre isn’t one I seek out, mostly because I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do appreciate a good imagination and creativity. And this book definitely had that. 5-year-old Maggie’s parents bought a house and because of the events that happened while there, fled in terror. Her dad wrote a book about their experiences. The book was best-seller, but Maggie knows the true. The entire book was a lie. The legend haunts her, but she vows to find the truth of what really happened.

She returns to the house in question as an adult and tries to uncover the truth of the events, and whether ghosts are real. The book is cleverly told in alternating perspectives. One chapter is the fictional book her dad wrote and the next chapter is present-day Maggie. The events in her dad’s book parallel Maggie’s current life. This book was my favorite by far. Not only was the story great, but the back-and-forth chapters were really creative. I could take or leave the other Sager books I’ve read, but this one was worth reading