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Leave the World Behind

Title: Leave the World Behind

Author: Rumaan Alam

Genre: Psychological thriller

Hands down the best book I’ve read so far this year. How’s that for a first line of a review? This book is exactly the type I love. Beautiful language, interesting characters, disaster-type plot, dark, tense, but subdued in its entirety. The terror I felt while reading was so palpable, yet there really was not a certain thing to be afraid of. It’s not like there was a concrete horror, but more of an underlying what in the world will happen next. Alam captured the mood perfectly.

From Goodreads: Amanda and Clay head out to a remote corner of Long Island expecting a vacation: a quiet reprieve from life in New York City, quality time with their teenage son and daughter, and a taste of the good life in the luxurious home they’ve rented for the week. But a late-night knock on the door breaks the spell. Ruth and G. H. are an older black couple—it’s their house, and they’ve arrived in a panic. They bring the news that a sudden blackout has swept the city. But in this rural area—with the TV and internet now down, and no cell phone service—it’s hard to know what to believe.

Should Amanda and Clay trust this couple—and vice versa? What happened back in New York? Is the vacation home, isolated from civilization, a truly safe place for their families? And are they safe from one another? 

Suspenseful and provocative, Rumaan Alam’s third novel is keenly attuned to the complexities of parenthood, race, and class. Leave the World Behind explores how our closest bonds are reshaped—and unexpected new ones are forged—in moments of crisis.

This book struck me as a less horrifying version of Cabin at the End of the World, which I also absolutely loved. The fact that the characters know there’s a blackout but have no idea why it’s happening or if there are other events happening out there is really traumatizing. Alam has a clever way of hinting at outside events to the reader without letting the characters in on the information. The characters react in realistic ways, trying to figure out what to do next, solve whatever problems (and there are many) arise, but they aren’t perfect. They cry and scream and meltdown, because who wouldn’t? But Alam’s writing is to be recognized. The understated way he captures parenthood is gorgeous. Any parent knows that feeling the weight of their child against them is a moment of perfection. I didn’t want this book to end. I loved everything about it, and it’s one I’ll be thinking about for quite some time.

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Darling Rose Gold

Title: Darling Rose Gold

Author: Stephanie Wrobel

Genre: Psychological fiction

PopSugar Reading Challenge: a book with a gem, mineral, or rock in the title

I’m not a big fan of ripped from the headlines plots in books. This story clearly was inspired by that of Gypsy Rose Blanchard. However, I couldn’t put this book down. The story was different enough that I had no idea where it was going. Rose Gold was such a great character. You never really knew her true motivations because the story is told out of order. You have a present day storyline where Patty gets out of jail and lives with Rose Gold. But then you back and forth between past and Rose Gold is trying to navigate life after the deceptions are revealed and the present day of living with her mother. This book was cleverly crafted so the true plot isn’t revealed until the very end.

From Goodreads: For the first eighteen years of her life, Rose Gold Watts believed she was seriously ill. She was allergic to everything, used a wheelchair and practically lived at the hospital. Neighbors did all they could, holding fundraisers but no matter how many doctors, tests, or surgeries, no one could figure out what was wrong with Rose Gold.Turns out her mom, Patty Watts, was just a really good liar.

After serving five years in prison, Patty begs her daughter to take her in. The entire community is shocked when Rose Gold says yes. And Rose Gold is no longer her weak little darling… And she’s waited such a long time for her mother to come home.

I couldn’t stop reading this book. And I was so nervous while doing so. Patty really is the worst. Very early on after her release, you realize she hasn’t changed at all. She still has no remorse for what she did, and she didn’t learn anything from her incarceration. So, when Rose Gold takes her back, you immediately cringe because you fully expect the worst to happen. I flew through this book. It is a tough read because it deals with some pretty awful stuff regarding children, but it’s definitely worth it in the end.

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The Other People

Title: The Other People

Author: CJ Tudor

Genre: thriller

I cannot stop reading CJ Tudor’s books. She might be my new favorite author, and I will definitely be reading all her books. Looks like I only have one book left- The Hiding Place. And…. just put it on hold at my library. Hooray! What I love about her books is that they are so tightly written. This one was so full of so many threads that seemed to have nothing to do with each other, but of course they did, and when it all came together, it was just fantastic. Tudor did a great job putting the hints of plot points without revealing exactly what’s going on until later. She digs those hooks in and strings you along, digging the mystery deeper until the reveal. And she’s so good at it.

From Goodreads: Driving home one night, stuck behind a rusty old car, Gabe sees a little girl’s face appear in the rear window. She mouths one word: ‘Daddy.’ It’s his five-year-old daughter, Izzy. He never sees her again.

Three years later, Gabe spends his days and nights traveling up and down the motorway, searching for the car that took his daughter, refusing to give up hope, even though most people believe that Izzy is dead.

Fran and her daughter, Alice, also put in a lot of miles on the motorway. Not searching. But running. Trying to keep one step ahead of the people who want to hurt them. Because Fran knows the truth. She knows what really happened to Gabe’s daughter.

Then, the car that Gabe saw driving away that night is found, in a lake, with a body inside and Gabe is forced to confront events, not just from the night his daughter disappeared, but from far deeper in his past. His search leads him to a group called The Other People. If you have lost a loved one, The Other People want to help. Because they know what loss is like. They know what pain is like. They know what death is like. There’s just one problem . . . they want other people to know it too. 

Gabe’s story is just so heartbreaking. Losing his wife and daughter. No one believing him. Wallowing in his grief and frustration. The Other People plot line is really terrifying. The “far deeper in his past” storyline is really creative, and I loved how it ultimately tied to the present. There are some really great side characters, as well. I thought this book was so great. I’d get sucked in and look down and realize I had read 50+ pages in one sitting and it felt like only a few minutes had gone by. That’s a sure sign of a well-written book for me.

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Mirrorland

Title: Mirrorland

Author: Carole Johnstone

Genre: thriller

I started reading this on my Kindle and about 20% through, I gave up. I wasn’t into the book, and it kept flipping between past and present with no warning, and I was so confused. However, I kept thinking about it, so I tried a different format. I got the physical book from the library, which was perfect. I ended up reading the book in two days. And wow. It was worth it.

From Goodreads: Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting…

A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.

The aforementioned shift between past and present is confusing at first, but once you get used to it, you see how critical that viewpoint is. Cat is an unreliable narrator, and her memories clearly illustrate that. The twists and turns of this book are clever, and Cat’s revelations about both the past and present are well-crafted. I’m so glad I gave this book another chance. It was definitely worth the read.

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A Dark Lure

Title: A Dark Lure

Author: Loreth Anne White

Genre: Thriller

I read In the Dark last year, which ended up being one of my top 10 of 2020. I just thought it was so clever and well-written. That book immediately put White on my radar as an author who I want to keep reading. And this one definitely kept her on my list. What a great, thrilling, suspenseful book.

From Goodreads: Twelve years ago, Sarah Baker was abducted by the Watt Lake Killer and sexually assaulted for months before managing to escape. The killer was caught, but Sarah lost everything: her marriage, her child, and the life she loved.

Struggling with PTSD, Sarah changes her name to Olivia West and finds sanctuary working on Broken Bar Ranch. But as her scars finally begin to heal, a cop involved with her horrific case remains convinced the Watt Lake Killer is still out there. He sets a lure for the murderer, and a fresh body is discovered. Now Olivia must face the impossible—could the butcher be back, this time to finish the job?

As a frigid winter isolates the ranch, only one person can help Olivia: Cole McDonough, a writer, adventurer, and ranch heir who stirs long-dormant feelings in her. But this time, Olivia’s determination to shut out her past may destroy more than her chance at love. It could cost her her life.

What I love about this is that all the character motivations make sense. A lot of thrillers just have characters doing things that really don’t make sense, just to make the plot work. And it’s so frustrating. But White has her characters’ actions make sense within the development of said character. When Sarah/Olivia keeps her past a secret, sure it helps the plot, but it’s really because White has created a character the craves privacy because of her past. I just detest thrillers that underestimate the reader. We are smart. We require well-written books. And so many writers just cheapen the genre. Not Loreth Anne White. She’s the real deal and I can’t wait to read the next book in this series.

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Hairpin Bridge

Title: Hairpin Bridge

Author: Taylor Adams

Genre: psychological thriller

Thank you NetGalley for this book!

I LOVED No Exit. One of the best, most suspenseful thrillers I’ve read in a long time. So when I saw that another Taylor Adams book was coming and was available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to get it. Thankfully, my request was approved because this one was fantastic. I’m happy to share a fantastic review of this one. And I cannot wait to go through Adams’ back catalog to uncover some other gems of his.

From Goodreads: Three months ago, Lena Nguyen’s estranged twin sister, Cambry, drove to a remote bridge sixty miles outside of Missoula, Montana, and jumped two hundred feet to her death. At least, that is the official police version. But Lena isn’t buying it.

Now she’s come to that very bridge, driving her dead twin’s car and armed with a cassette recorder, determined to find out what really happened by interviewing the highway patrolman who allegedly discovered her sister’s body.

Corporal Raymond Raycevic has agreed to meet Lena at the scene. He is sympathetic, forthright, and professional. But his story doesn’t seem to add up. For one thing, he stopped Cambry for speeding a full hour before she supposedly leapt to her death. Then there are the sixteen attempted 911 calls from her cell phone, made in what was unfortunately a dead zone.

But perhaps most troubling of all, the state trooper is referred to by name in Cambry’s final enigmatic text to her sister: Please Forgive Me. I couldn’t live with it. Hopefully you can, Officer Raycevic.

Lena will do anything to uncover the truth. But as her twin’s final hours come into focus, Lena’s search turns into a harrowing, tooth-and-nail fight for her own survival—one that will test everything she thought she knew about her sister and herself.

I loved this book. It was just a notch below No Exit, because that one just floored me, but this one is great and absolutely worth reading. The bulk of the story takes place in just a few hours, which was really interesting. Lena is full of fun surprises, as is Cambry’s story, which is also told, but only from Lena’s guess as to what happened. This duality creates a great unreliable narrator perspective. Is Lena’s idea of what happened to Cambry the truth? Or wishful thinking taking suicide off the table? If you liked No Exit, this one definitely needs to be on your to read list when it comes out. Another great one from Taylor Adams.

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Little Secrets

Title: Little Secrets

Author: Jennifer Hillier

Genre: psychological thriller

I’m a sucker for a good plot twist. As long as it’s reasonable and not just some random thing thrown in to convince the reader that the author is clever. Because it’s not clever. At. All. But if you can lead the reader down a path, throw in a twist, then the reader can follow the plot back and see how it all makes sense… I’m in. Sure thing. And this one definitely made sense. Whew.

From Goodreads: Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They’re admired in their community and are a loving family—until their world falls apart the day their son Sebastian is taken.

A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding Sebastian, she learns that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman. This discovery sparks Marin back to life. She’s lost her son; she’s not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix. Permanently.

From the blurb, it sounds like Marin is a pain in the ass, but she’s not. She’s raw and dealing with a terrible situation. She is struggling, her marriage is struggling, and she’s just at a loss on how to deal with anything. She makes rash decisions, but they all make sense. I flew through the second half of the book and couldn’t wait to see what happened. This book was a good, fun, entertaining twisty thriller.

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Too Good to Be True

Title: Too Good to Be True

Author: Carola Lovering

Genre: psychological thriller

This book was offered as a Book of the Month offer, and although I selected another book, this one sounded good, so I looked for it at my library. Holy. Smokes. This book is one of the best I’ve read this year. I absolutely loved it. It’s definitely crazy, but in such a fun way. It took turns I wasn’t expecting.

From Goodreads: Skye Starling is overjoyed when her boyfriend, Burke Michaels, proposes after a whirlwind courtship. Though Skye seems to have the world at her fingertips―she’s smart, beautiful, and from a well-off family―she’s also battled crippling OCD ever since her mother’s death when she was eleven, and her romantic relationships have suffered as a result.

But now Burke―handsome, older, and more emotionally mature than any man she’s met before―says he wants her. Forever. Except, Burke isn’t who he claims to be. And interspersed letters to his therapist reveal the truth: he’s happily married, and using Skye for his own, deceptive ends.

In a third perspective, set thirty years earlier, a scrappy seventeen-year-old named Heather is determined to end things with Burke, a local bad boy, and make a better life for herself in New York City. But can her adolescent love stay firmly in her past―or will he find his way into her future?

On a collision course she doesn’t see coming, Skye throws herself into wedding planning, as Burke’s scheme grows ever more twisted. But of course, even the best laid plans can go astray. And just when you think you know where this story is going, you’ll discover that there’s more than one way to spin the truth.

Nuts. This book is nuts. But in the best way possible. I actually shouted “HOLY CRAP” a couple of times when certain plot points were revealed. The story is expertly crafted and the characters jumped right off the page. Whether they were good people or not, they were definitely dynamic. I couldn’t put this book down. I’ve only read a handful of truly great thrillers this year (out of the dozens I’ve read), but I’m happy to say this one will be high on my recommendations.

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Pretty Little Wife

Title: Pretty Little Wife

Author: Darby Kane

Genre: thriller

PopSugar Reading Challenge Prompt: A book from your TBR list that you meant to read last year but didn’t

In my quest to get through all my BOTM books before they stack up too much, I’m prioritizing the ones that don’t fit into a specific PopSugar prompt, like this one. The prompt I used for it is really vague, so I shoehorned it in. I’m trying to read more of what I want vs. books that I don’t really want to read but happen to fit a prompt. But if I can find one on my giant TBR list AND fits a prompt, fantastic. And since I’m a thriller junkie, most books from BOTM fit in this genre. Some have been great, some mediocre. Sadly, this book fits into the latter category.

From Goodreads: Lila Ridgefield lives in an idyllic college town, but not everything is what it seems. Lila isn’t what she seems. A student vanished months ago. Now, Lila’s husband, Aaron, is also missing. At first these cases are treated as horrible coincidences until it’s discovered the student is really the third of three unexplained disappearances over the last few years. The police are desperate to find the connection, if there even is one. Little do they know they might be stumbling over only part of the truth….

With the small town in an uproar, everyone is worried about the whereabouts of their beloved high school teacher. Everyone except Lila, his wife. She’s definitely confused about her missing husband but only because she was the last person to see his body, and now it’s gone.

Lila is such an unlikeable character. I didn’t feel any sort of connection to her at all. The plot reveal was obvious, the minor characters fell flat, and I didn’t care about the ending at all. But since I didn’t hate the book like I did others, I went ahead and gave it three stars.

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The Shining Girls

Title: The Shining Girls

Author: Lauren Beukes

Genre: murder mystery, thriller, time travel

I am a pretty snarky person. I’d like to think that it’s funny rather than mean. That’s certainly how I intend it to be, at least. And snark is hard in print, however, this book’s main character manages it perfectly, so well done Lauren Beukes! Kirby is funny, smart, and a badass survivor.

From Goodreads: In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. Curtis stalks them through their lives across different eras until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

Working with a former homicide reporter who is falling for her, Kirby races against time and reason to unravel an impossible mystery. 

The time-travel aspect is a bit confusing at first, even though the chapters are labeled with a date and the character it focuses on. The events are told out of order, so you see the result of something before you see the actual event happen. But if you keep reading, it all comes together. The book is definitely worth sticking with. I really enjoyed this creative thriller. Through the non-traditional narrative, I was left guessing and thinking about what was going on. I would love to read more from Beukes and definitely recommend this one!