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Winter Counts

Title: Winter Counts

Author: David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Genre: American indigenous literature, vigilante justice thriller

PopSugar Reading Challenge prompt: book written by an indigenous author

In my effort to dig my way through my giant TBR pile, I’m prioritizing books that fit into the PopSugar challenge and books I’ve gotten from the Book of the Month club. As I was scanning the book jackets of several, I discovered that this one fit a PopSugar prompt. Fantastic! And not only is this book by an indigenous author, it’s also about indigenous people, namely the Lakota. Growing up in Oklahoma, the plight of the indigenous people of this country was part of my education. Of course that was a couple of decades ago, so the white-washing of the situation was a given. With my vow to read more books written by more BIPOC authors, I was glad to see this one as a BOTM option.

From Goodreads: Virgil Wounded Horse is the local enforcer on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  When justice is denied by the American legal system or the tribal council, Virgil is hired to deliver his own punishment, the kind that’s hard to forget. But when heroin makes its way into the reservation and finds Virgil’s nephew, his vigilantism suddenly becomes personal. He enlists the help of his ex-girlfriend and sets out to learn where the drugs are coming from, and how to make them stop.

They follow a lead to Denver and find that drug cartels are rapidly expanding and forming new and terrifying alliances. And back on the reservation, a new tribal council initiative raises uncomfortable questions about money and power. As Virgil starts to link the pieces together, he must face his own demons and reclaim his Native identity. He realizes that being a Native American in the twenty-first century comes at an incredible cost.

Winter Counts is a tour-de-force of crime fiction, a bracingly honest look at a long-ignored part of American life, and a twisting, turning story that’s as deeply rendered as it is thrilling.

This book wasn’t as much of a thriller as I was expecting, but that’s okay. I still really enjoyed it. Virgil is a great character, although not one who participates in Lakota traditions, he’s surrounded by those who do. Taking place in present day, the author does a fantastic job of portraying the difficulties indigenous people still face. The book included some Lakota words, which I loved and had no trouble understanding them within the context. Thanks to BOTM for spotlighting this book. I really enjoyed it.

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The Lucky Ones

Title: The Lucky Ones

Author: Mark Edwards

Genre: thriller, murder mystery, police procedural

I love Kindle First Reads. Because I have a Prime account, I get a free book every month from a not as well-known author. I’ve read some great ones like Beneath a Scarlet Sky, In the Dark, The Collector Trilogy, A River in Darkness, I Choose You, The Winter Over, Find Me, and plenty more that I haven’t gotten around to, yet. And I love the fact that these are authors that I haven’t heard of, but once I am aware of them via this program, I end up reading more of their work. Such is the case here. I have purchased several of Mark Edwards’s books just because this one was so great.

From Goodreads: It was the happiest day of her life. Little did she know it was also the last.

When a woman’s body is found in the grounds of a ruined priory, Detective Imogen Evans realises she is dealing with a serial killer—a killer whose victims appear to die in a state of bliss, eyes open, smiles forever frozen on their faces.

A few miles away, single dad Ben Hofland believes his fortunes are changing at last. Forced to move back to the sleepy village where he grew up following the breakdown of his marriage, Ben finally finds work. What’s more, the bullies who have been terrorizing his son, Ollie, disappear. For the first time in months, Ben feels lucky. But he is unaware that someone is watching him and Ollie. Someone who wants nothing but happiness for Ben. Happiness…and death.

Everything worked for me in this book, which says a lot because I’m so picky. The characters were great. Ben’s a good guy who you want to see happy. Imogen is a no-nonsense detective, but you can see she truly cares about her job and helping people. The plot was tight, and by the time you find out just what’s happening and why, it all makes sense because Edwards created the path right to it, without you really knowing it.

I am constantly frustrated by “famous” authors writing crappy stories and getting away with it, when people like Edwards or Loreth Anne White who wrote In the Dark aren’t as well known. But these two authors wrote two of the best thrillers I read this year…. and I’ve read dozens….it’s my go-to genre. But they both did it spectacularly well, and I can’t wait to read more from them.

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The Other Side of the Door

Thanks Netgalley for this copy!

I’ve never read anything by Nicci French, who I’ve learned is really a husband and wife writing team. Cool! But something about this book make me request it on Netgalley. I wish I could say it was worth the read, but I was really disappointed.

From Goodreads:

Who is more dangerous? An enemy? A friend? Or a lover?

Bonnie Graham stands in the open door of her friend’s apartment. She is alone, except for the dead body lying in a pool of blood on the floor. What happened? What will Bonnie do now? Whom can she turn to? And what role has she played in the murderous events?

Bonnie is a music teacher who has spent a long, hot summer in London rehearsing with a band to play at a friend’s wedding. It was supposed to be fun, but the band members find the complicated knots of their friendships–some old, some new–unraveling as the days themselves unwind. What was meant to be a summer of happiness, love, and music turns deadly as lovers betray one another, passions turn murderous, and friendship itself becomes a crime. Everyone tells lies. But is anyone prepared to tell the truth to uncover a murderer?

Nicci French, the author of eleven internationally bestselling novels including Killing Me SoftlyCatch Me When I Fall, and Losing You, delivers a sexy, intricate thriller about the temptation of secrets, the weight of lies, and the price of betrayal and suspicion.

The story is told in alternating Before and After chapters, before the murder and after. In the before chapters, you get to know Bonnie, the band she has haphazardly put together, and her friends and relationships. In the After chapters, you learn about the murder, namely who and why, and the aftermath and impact it has on Bonnie.

The characters were obnoxious. Every single one of them was awful, aside from Bonnie’s former student Joakim, who was a bright spot. Every other character lacked any kind of conscience, self-awareness, or moral compass. Because of this, I didn’t care about them. I kept reading to see all the secrets revealed, but the reasoning behind the murder and aftermath was just ridiculous. I was hoping for an interesting thriller, but this one didn’t deliver.

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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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Miracle Creek

I do not want to read a medical thriller. When I saw that prompt on the PopSugar Reading Challenge, I was sunk. I knew I was going to have to fudge this one. I have anxiety and can’t watch medical shows on tv. I have no desire to read anything medical related. A lot of people read The Silent Patient for this prompt, but I read that last year, so I was struggling to find something. Finally, some people in the reading challenge FB group mentioned this one, and I was sold. It’s mostly a legal thriller, light on the thrills, but it involves a medical situation. I had also been hearing what a good book it was, so off to my library I went.

Not only does this book have a legal focus, it also it an own voices book. The family involved is Korean, as the author, so she’s able to provide an authentic story of the family. The story follows the trial of a woman who is accused of murdering her autistic son. She has been trying an experimental treatment for him which puts him in an oxygen chamber twice a day to help his neurological processing. He’s in the chamber with several people who are also undergoing the treatment for various reasons. An explosion occurs, and the woman is accused of setting the fire.

The story unfolds with one secret revealed after another. As the trial progresses and new information is brought to light. you begin to see how twisted together all the participants are. The Korean family who owns the chamber as well as their clients are wrapped together in more ways than you expect. By the end, you really don’t know who set the fire because it could have been anyone, since they all seemed to have some hand in the crime, whether directly or indirectly.

This book was great. It was tightly written, kept me guessing, and was captivating from the first chapter. Whether you enjoy legal stories, own voices books, or a good mystery, this book will be perfect for you.

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The Last Time I Lied

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I decided to give Riley Sager’s books a chance, given all the buzz around them. I started with Final Girls not even realizing it was his first. I didn’t intend to read them in order but ended up doing so. I thought Final Girls was good, but not spectacular, but I  decided to keep going because you just never know. Funny enough, the main character of this book is also a final girl. Different storyline, though.

Emma is at summer camp when she’s 13 and her bunkmates disappear and are never found. Now, present-day Emma is invited back, 15 years later, to be a counselor and get “closure” on the event. She goes, but she is still nervous. She’s been painting her bunkmates in her artwork. They are always in white dresses, but she paints over them with trees and darkness, burying them. Emma vows to find out what happened to them, why they disappeared, who took them (if anyone), and where they are now.

Even though I gave both books four stars, I did enjoy this one more. It kept me guessing and the main character was nowhere near as annoying as the one in Final Girls. I just didn’t like her or believe her. Emma seems more realistic and the events surrounding the disappearance were more believable, up front. I’m going to give his most recent book a chance when it comes to my library. Maybe third time’s a charm, and this one will be spectacular.

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I Choose You

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Kindle firsts is a pretty great program. I’ve discovered some pretty great books and authors this way. You get one book free, and if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read all the rest the next month. This is one that I didn’t select but made a point to read at some point.

I’m always on a quest for a good thriller, and I wish I could say this was one. It was too…messy? I’m not sure how to explain it. I feel like it tried to do too much. There was a plot about babies possibly switched at birth, a person who dares people to commit suicide, two families who are intertwined in way too many ways, babies given up for adoption, and chapters that switch between then, now, and interstitial first person account from the mind of an alleged killer. It was a bit much to keep it all straight, honestly.

In the “then” chapters, you see Elise and Nathaniel dealing with the murder of their daughter, Ida. But they aren’t sure if she was dared to commit suicide by the mysterious person called the “Suicide Watcher” who they believe forced both their mothers to commit suicide. Elise and Nathaniel met in a group for Suicide Watcher victims. Then there’s Elise’s father, Ray, who is a psychiatrist, but an unusual one. There’s also Sonny, Elise’s long-lost brother who was given away at birth but has found his birth family. This isn’t even beginning to list the characters and plot devices. Like I said, too much.

Maybe this complexity works for some people. I  just felt like nothing was developed or explained all that well. Maybe if the author had picked one plot and stuck with it, I would be more likely to recommend this book. It just was too all over the place for me.

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The Fourth Monkey

At some point, JD Barker followed me on Twitter, and I reciprocated. Through this exchange, I heard him discussing his book. So, I added it to my Amazon list and when the price dropped (sorry, man…I buy A LOT of books and can’t afford full price) I bought it, because why not? It sounded interesting, a police detective tries to solve a serial killer case, which is right up my alley.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, Porter (the cop), Emory (a teenage girl), Clair (only a couple chapters from her…another cop) and a diary. Porter is chasing a serial killer when he finally gets a break. The killer ends up dead, splattered by a bus. Sounds easy, right? The book follows a very twisty path of red herrings, various characters, plenty of bait and switch, and a few plot twists thrown into the mix. Normally, these types of narrative back and forths drive me nuts. And I admit that I knew something was up (it’s pretty easy to assume the mystery isn’t easily solved when you’ve only read 25% of the book), but I enjoyed my ride through the story.

The diary was the, um, best? part. It was a horrifying glimpse into the childhood of a killer, but it was shocking and kept me guessing. It was a bit disturbing at times, but I’ve read much worse. Right now, The Fourth Monkey and its sequel, The Fifth to Die, are $2.99 each on Amazon. I have pretty high expectations when it comes to creativity within a police procedural story, and this one hit the mark. Really enjoyed it.

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An Anonymous Girl

Through the Popsugar book challenge, I’ve discovered it’s really hard to find books that fit into a certain category. Some just are really narrow and not many books fit into the category. Do you know how hard it is to find a book written by two female authors? I have already read the Beautiful Creatures series (very good!) written by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Apparently, there are two women who write under a pseudonym, but I had trouble finding any of their books. While flipping through my People magazine, I noticed a favorable review of An Anonymous Girl written by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. Whew. Problem solved.

The eponymous girl is Jessica, who signs up for a psychological trial to earn a few extra bucks to send home to her parents. She lives in NYC and has a special needs sister, so she tries to send money home when she can. Jess works as a traveling make-up artist, doing the make-up for socialites headed for parties, so she has a hard time turning down the extra money. When Dr. Shields selects Jess for further trials, Jess realizes she is into something deeper than a simple study. Twists and turns abound, but this book never hooked me.

I liked Jess well enough and the writing style was interested with some chapters told in the second person from Dr. Shields to Jessica, but the story just never captured me and kept me engaged. I didn’t care how mean Dr. Shields was, and I didn’t care about all the plot twists that I saw coming a mile away. Nothing shocked me. And I’m not saying this because I’m so clever, no one can fool me, ha ha ha. I just wasn’t as captivated as I hoped I would be.

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The Woman in Cabin 10

I like a good thriller. And after reading Gone Girl and In the Woods, I got a bit spoiled with well written stories that kept me guessing. But finding a good writer has proven difficult. I think I just have high expectations, but I really want an author to be creative and not use cheap plot devices. And, granted, it has been a couple weeks since I finished this book and I have forgotten a bit, but I gave it 3 stars on Goodreads.

Here’s what I remember not liking about it. There was a lot of telling rather than showing. You spend so much time in this character’s head that nothing really happens. She is trying to figure out who the woman in cabin 10 is, why this person has vanished, and who might be behind it all. But there’s a really ridiculous plot device of the main character, Lo, being drunk and tired so she second guesses herself a lot. This is just not creative storytelling at all. And I was really disappointed that this book got such great reviews.

If anyone has great mysteries that are creative and unique, send them my way. Because I keep getting let down.