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The Chalk Man

Title: The Chalk Man

Author: CJ Tudor

Genre: thriller, murder mystery

When I read and loved The Burning Girls, I made a point to get Tudor’s other book from my library. You guys, I burned through this book in two days. I absolutely couldn’t put it down. Not only was it a great story, tightly written, interesting characters, etc, it has a ton of Stephen King Easter eggs. He actually tweeted his recommendation of this book, and I imagine him giggling at the eggs as he’s reading. Even without the eggs, the book was excellent.

From Goodreads: In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.

That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

The story is told from Eddie’s perspective in both past and present, but the chapters are labeled as such, so it’s really easy to follow. Eddie is a great character, flawed but likable, so you still cheer for him. He has a dark side, though, too, probably due to various incidents as a child. Finding out the truth behind the dismembered body was a fun journey. So far, Tudor is two for two in my book. I can’t wait for her next book!

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Forget Me Not

Title: Forget Me Not

Author: Alexandra Oliva

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Thank you NetGalley for this book!

I can’t remember what it was about this book that made select it, but I’m really glad I did. This book started out really strange because I never read the blurbs ahead of time. I like to go in cold. So getting a feel for the book took a few chapters. But once the pieces fell into place, the book was smooth sailing for me, and I finished it in just a couple of days.

From Goodreads: What if your past wasn’t what you thought?

As a child, Linda Russell was left to raise herself in a 20-acre walled-off property in rural Washington. The woods were her home, and for twelve years she lived oblivious to a stark and terrible truth: Her mother had birthed her only to replace another daughter who died in a tragic accident years before.

And then one day Linda witnesses something she wasn’t meant to see. Terrified and alone, she climbs the wall and abandons her home, but her escape becomes a different kind of trap when she is thrust into the modern world—a world for which she is not only entirely unprepared, but which is unprepared to accept her.

And you couldn’t see a future for yourself?

Years later, Linda is living in Seattle and immersed in technology intended to connect, but she has never felt more alone. Social media continually brings her past back to haunt her, and she is hounded by the society she is now forced to inhabit. But when Linda meets a fascinating new neighbor who introduces her to the potential and escapism of virtual reality, she begins to allow herself to hope for more.

What would it take to reclaim your life?

Then an unexplained fire at her infamous childhood home prompts Linda to return to the property for the first time since she was a girl, unleashing a chain of events that will not only endanger her life but challenge her understanding of family, memory, and the world itself.

Because this book mentions the pandemic in the past, I knew it was set in the near future. Social media is now controlled by one tech, SocialHub, and people wear their phones are arm sleeves. See why I was confused at first? My own fault! But once I dug into Linda’s story, I couldn’t wait to see how her story, both past and present, would develop. I really enjoyed the fact that this book wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill thrillers, but rather, it has a fair amount of science fiction added to it. I found the story super creative and enjoyed the book quite a bit. Will for sure be recommending this one!

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The Burning Girls

Title: The Burning Girls

Author: CJ Tudor

Genre: mystery/thriller/horror

Thank you Netgalley for this book!

Holy smokes! (pun intended) What a crazy, great book. Let me make it clear that before I even finished this one, I requested The Chalk Man from my library. I was just so impressed with this book and its multiple plots that wove together so well. The book has so many layers of mystery all were so well-written and cohesive. I’m so glad I got to read this one. Oh, and Tudor makes a reference to my favorite band, The Killers, so I immediately tweeted my thanks to her, and she replied. So cool! Hi again, if you are reading this, Ms. Tudor! =)

From Goodreads: Welcome to Chapel Croft. Five hundred years ago, eight protestant martyrs were burned at the stake here. Thirty years ago, two teenage girls disappeared without a trace. And two months ago, the vicar of the local parish killed himself.

Reverend Jack Brooks, a single parent with a fourteen-year-old daughter and a heavy conscience, arrives in the village hoping to make a fresh start and find some peace. Instead, Jack finds a town mired in secrecy and a strange welcome package: an old exorcism kit and a note quoting scripture. “But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed and hidden that will not be known.”

The more Jack and daughter Flo get acquainted with the town and its strange denizens, the deeper they are drawn into their rifts, mysteries, and suspicions. And when Flo is troubled by strange sightings in the old chapel, it becomes apparent that there are ghosts here that refuse to be laid to rest.

But uncovering the truth can be deadly in a village where everyone has something to protect, everyone has links with the village’s bloody past, and no one trusts an outsider.

What I loved most about this book was that the story is really about the vicar’s past, the town’s past, and the town’s present, all at the same time. You learn more about Jack and why she left her previous post. You learn more about the martyrs from centuries ago and the girls who disappeared decades ago. And you learn about the townspeople and just what they have to hide. What I found interesting was that the story is told in first person from Jack’s perspective, but some chapters are told third person about Flo. I can’t say I’ve read a book that switches between first and third narrator like that. It didn’t confuse me at all, and I really appreciated the uniqueness of that. This book was great, plain and simple. I can’t wait to dive into The Chalk Man soon!

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The Push

Title: The Push

Author: Ashley Audrain

Genre: domestic thriller

Anytime I hear about this book, it’s being related to Baby Teeth, which was one of the most tense books I’ve ever read. The style of this book is one that I loved, but I’ve heard people struggle with it. The story is told in the second person, you. Blythe has written her side of the story directly to her ex-husband (not a spoiler…it’s in the first chapter). Remember when you did xyz….. I loved you so much…. etc. Once you adjust to the style, it’s really not hard to follow. This book really is a lot like Baby Teeth in the sense that it’s about a potentially psychopath child, but it’s not as tense because you know what the end result it (sort of) and the story is only told from the mother’s perspective.

From Goodreads: Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.

But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.

I really did like this book, but it wasn’t as nerve-racking as Baby Teeth was. That book was so hard for me to read because I was in constant terror of what that child was going to do. Don’t let the second person narrator scare you away. It really does become easy to follow after just a few chapters. I really don’t know why reading a mentally troubled children (I’ve also read We Need to Talk About Kevin and Defending Jacob) is so captivating, but this one ranks high on that list.

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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.