REVIEW: Murphy’s Law (Molly Murphy #1)

For the month of December, I wanted some light books to read to help deal with the self-critical state I end up in towards the end of the year. One of those books I picked was the first of the Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen, Murphy’s Law.

This first mystery follows Molly from Ireland to America as she flees her home due to murdering her attempted rapist and then assists a dying woman get her children to New York City where she is faced with the murder of a man she was seen having a falling out with. In order to avoid being found out for her crimes in Ireland and be cleared of police suspicion, Molly – pretending to be a Mrs. Kathleen O’Conner – treks all over New York to find the killer.

What I signed up for was a book I would give my mystery loving grandmother, but what I got was a solid whodunnit with a very serious look at rape culture and the immigrant culture of America in at the very start of the 20th century.

Molly is an incredibly strong woman who has a nose for puzzles but doesn’t suffer from “Sherlock Holmes Syndrome”, as she does make mistakes. Molly is smart, but she is also rather naive which is really what makes her interesting to me as an amateur detective of sorts. I also appreciated how it showed what poor immigrants had to go through while coming to America including being tricked out of their money, their valuables, and essentially their time as constant delays arose even before the murder too place. It goes into the horrific tenement housing and the racism between nationalities and religion. It goes into rampant sexual assault and forced prostitution.

I loved the way Rhys Bowen wrote this novel and I loved the social commentary. It tackled a lot of heavy topics while remaining an easy book to get through and it was a solid whodunnit that kept me guessing which is rare for me.

Trigger warnings for racism, anti-semitism, and sexual assault but this book is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. I look forward to the sequel.

REVIEW: Lying In Wait

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


When I read Liz Nugent’s last novel, Unraveling Oliver, I felt that it was an interesting character study rather than the thriller I was expecting. Much can be said the same for this most recent novel.

The story follows three characters from two families as they come to terms with what has happened to a girl Annie Doyle once she is murdered. Lydia and Laurence are mother and son, and it was Lydia’s husband who murdered the girl. The third character to get POV chapters is Karen, Annie’s sister. Similar to Unraveling Oliver, the narrative is purely character driven and written in a style that reminds me of True Detective (season one, of course).

The way the story moves non-linearly, it reminds me of unreliable witness testimonies that featured into the story telling of True Detective or many true crime documentaries that are on Netflix. It’s a style that greatly appeals to me as it’s an interesting approach to the domestic thriller genre and having all three POVs written in first person also add to the atmosphere of the story. It is very much a psychological story where we really get to know the characters before we see them fall to pieces.

However, as much as I liked how the story was written, it wasn’t my favourite. I had no real sympathy for any of the characters and almost felt that it would have worked better as a novella that ends without resolution rather that a 300-page novel that feels to really drag on in the second act to the point where I almost stopped reading several times. The ending was worth pushing through, but I was disappointed that it felt like work to get there.

While I think her previous novel was more to my liking despite the problematic characters, this is by no means a bad book. If domestic thrillers are your thing, I definitely recommend picking up this book full of bizarre people and their strange lives.

A solid three out of five, in my opinion.

REVIEW: Foe

Thank you to Iain Reid and Ben McNally Books for providing me with a signed copy as a part of their Book-a-Month service.


Years ago I read I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid and was – for lack of a better term – scared shitless. Reid is a master of atmosphere and I was so excited to get my hands on this new book that I didn’t even know was coming out.

Foe is the story of a quiet couple whose lives get shaken up when a stranger comes to prepare Junior for an intergalactic trip he never signed up for to begin with. Tension builds as Junior’s wife Henrietta becomes more distant and angry without much reason.

It’s hard to go into this one without giving anything way but I’m going to do my best.

loved this book. Think Slaughterhouse 5 meets old school sci-fi movies with chilling atmospheric tension to rival that of Stephen King. I do want to be clear and say that this is not a science fiction novel. It’s a thriller. It’s a character study. It’s brilliant. I honestly can’t think of any other book like this. It’s truly so bizarre it’s brilliant.

Please read this book.


37796953Author: Iain Reid
Published: August 7, 2018
Pages: 261
Publisher: Simon & Shuster
ISBN: 9781501103476

Synopsis: Junior and Hen are a quiet married couple. They live a comfortable, solitary life on their farm, far from the city lights, but in close quarters with each other. One day, a stranger from the city arrives with surprising news: Junior has been randomly selected to travel far away from the farm…very far away. The most unusual part? Arrangements have already been made so that when he leaves, Hen won’t have a chance to miss him at all, because she won’t be left alone—not even for a moment. Hen will have company. Familiar company.

REVIEW: You Were Never Really Here

Trigger warnings: child abuse, domestic abuse, excessive substance abuse, human trafficking, sexual assault

Normally, trigger warnings go at the end of my reviews, as I usually have enough to say about the story that I can save discuss them directly in a spoilers section. However, the triggers connected to this novella are so ingrained in the story, I felt it necessary to mention them first as the review itself may be upsetting to some.

The story is about ex-Marine and ex-FBI agent, Joe and how he has become a hitman of sorts specializing in rescuing kidnapped children. After being hired to rescue a 14-year-old girl from a brothel run by the mob, the job goes sideways and Joe is determined to figure out where things went wrong.

The novella by Johnathan Ames has recently been turned in a film that received several major awards at the Festival du Cannes in 2017. Given the academic praise, I figured I would give the book a try before seeing the movie. Let me tell you one thing, I will not be seeing the movie.

The story moved at a reasonable pace, and I felt like it was action packed and gave enough information to know what kind of man Joe is. However, it was extremely graphic when it came to discussing the trafficking circles Joe used to bust as an FBI agent, and the level of violence against innocent bystanders was a little much at times. But the biggest problem, for me, was the open ending. 112 pages was more than enough for me and I wish that there had been some kind of justice or at the very least a concrete ending to the mayhem.

It was a very cinematic read, and I can see why it did so well at Cannes under the directorial eye of Lynne Ramsay (who also directed the adaptation of the very disturbing book We Need to Talk About Kevin). I can also say that as graphic as it was, it was an engaging read that was honestly reminiscent of dime store crime novels.

A solid 3 out of 5.


36515910

Author: Jonathan Ames
Published: January 6, 2013
Pages: 112
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9780525562894

Synopsis: Joe has witnessed things that cannot be erased. A former FBI agent and Marine, his abusive childhood has left him damaged beyond repair. He has completely withdrawn from the world and earns his living rescuing girls who have been kidnapped into the sex trade.

When he’s hired to save the daughter of a corrupt New York senator held captive at a Manhattan brothel, he stumbles into a dangerous web of conspiracy, and he pays the price. As Joe’s small web of associates are picked off one by one, he realizes that he has no choice but to take the fight to the men who want him dead.

REVIEW: The Disappearance of Sloan Sullivan

Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin TEEN for providing me with a free copy of this book.


Today The Disappearance of Sloane Sullivan by Gia Cribbs hits the shelves, and today is the day I tell you to get to the nearest bookstore and pick it up.

The story follows Sloane, a girl who has been in witness protection with her handler, Mark, for the last six years. Together that have been 19 different aliases and if this is to be Sloane’s last, she wants to make it count and finally go to college and begin to live her life… But then she sees Jason at school, her best friend from her original life, the plan goes out the window and Sloane scrambles to keep things together.

I loved this book. I was already so excited for it, but I loved it. The tension is amazing the whole way through, the characters are multi-dimensional, and I honestly had no idea where it was going until the reveal was already happening. The best part about Sloane, is that she has been trained in a lot of skills not typical of teenagers, but she also makes mistakes like normal people. She gets caught up in drama she doesn’t mean to get caught up in, she has regular worries about school and boys and friends. It’s very relatable.

The only issue I had was towards the end. The way the action builds with the tension and every reveal tries to one-up the previous one, it kinda feels like the “Mmm what’cha say” video from SNL. Not to mention, every time this comparison popped into my head I couldn’t stop laughing.

Regardless of that, this book is worth reading and I can’t wait to see more from Gia Cribbs.


35750271Author: Gia Cribbs
Published: May 29 2017
Pages: 400
Publisher: Harlequin TEEN
ISBN: 9781335015372

Synopsis: No one wants me to tell you about the disappearance of Sloane Sullivan.

Not the lawyers or the cops. Not her friends or family. Not even the boy who loved her more than anyone. And most certainly not the United States Marshals Service. You know, the people who run the witness protection program or, as it’s officially called, the Witness Security Program? Yeah, the WITSEC folks definitely don’t want me talking to you.

But I don’t care. I have to tell someone.

If I don’t, you’ll never know how completely wrong things can go. How a single decision can change everything. How, when it really comes down to it, you can’t trust anyone. Not even yourself. You have to understand, so it won’t happen to you next. Because you never know when the person sitting next to you isn’t who they claim to be…and because there are worse things than disappearing.

REVIEW: Unraveling Oliver

I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review


Unraveling Oliver tells the story of a man disturbed throughout his life by many internal factors that ultimately lead to his destruction as he behavior grows cruel. Trigger warning: This book contains abuse, ableism sexism, homophobia, and racism. All are relevant to the story, but are present none the less.

The Story

The story begins with Oliver mercilessly beating his wife after she finds out the contents of a lock box he keeps hidden away. My initial impression of this book was that it was supposed to be like Gone Girl in Ireland, but what I got was more of a character study of a man with a rather unpleasant childhood that grew into something of an unpleasant young-adulthood and became a mess of a grown up.

Oliver is not a character who warrants much sympathy, if any. However, what is interesting about the way this book is written is the non-linear, testimony-like narrative conducted by several characters who lives crossed paths with Oliver in varying ways. The twisting narrative was complex and revealed a lot about the prejudice of Ireland during the 50’s to the 70’s.

The Characters

As I mentioned, Oliver is an asshole. He had a hard live only made harder in later years, but that does not excuse him at all. He is homophobic, racist, and sexist. Oliver is honestly the kind of skeeze that just takes advantage and uses his past to justify his actions. But the story is less about him as a person and more about finding out why he did what he did.

The other characters in the story – there are several who narrate the relationships with Oliver and his wife, Alice – are not all that great either, but each of them have depth and well thought out motivations and back stories. I found myself more fascinated with them than with Oliver at times.

The Issues [ spoilers ]

I didn’t really have “issues” with this book, but I want to discuss the trigger warnings I mentioned above. This contains major spoilers to the plot of the book.

Let’s start with the sexism. Oliver has no use for women and no care for them outside what they can do for him. Alice was useful to him in their relationship and he was constantly manipulating her – once by even abusing her disabled brother – in order to get what he wanted. Moya was useful to him through their affair. He even admits to having sex with prostitutes on a regular basis and cheating with other women as well to get off how he wanted to. Even when it came to Laura, the one girl he seems to think he actually loved, he brushed her aside when he didn’t need her for comfort or company any more. The same could be said for Oliver’s father, a man who engaged in sexual conduct with a young African girl (who just wanted to go to school by the way) and then didn’t bat an eye when the poor thing fled the village after birthing his son (who was born as white-passing).

This brings us to the racism in the book. There are examples of blatant slave work during the moments set in France where a white man brings South African men with him to do all the work in the vineyard while he keeps all the money and gives them only wine. Not to mention the man also beats them. Then we have white-passing Oliver who is so intolerant that he refuses to believe he is mixed raced until the very end when he discovers his daughter with Laura was born black. He even lies to her, under the guise of protecting her, that he is not her father. I can understand Oliver’s hurt of being lied to, but his abandonment and neglect as a child was clearly motivated by racial intolerance rather than anything else his father could have thought of.

I could honestly go on and on forever about the abuse Oliver was victim to as well as the abuse he inflicted on several people, including Alice’s brother who is mentally disabled. The mistreatment of Eugene made me truly uncomfortable and I honestly almost stopped reading. I only didn’t because I had come to far to keep from wanting to know what Oliver had locked away in that box Alice found.

Conclusion ★★★½

In conclusion it was a brilliant way to tell a purely character driven story and a very interesting character study. The different narrators telling their own stories as well as contributing to Oliver’s was a rather great way of going about this novel. The content, however, was upsetting and bordered on offensive at times (at one point Oliver tells his gay friend that he “finds queers disgusting”) but that only contributed to why Oliver is not a protagonist to root for. It was not at all what I was expecting, and I honestly would not call this a thriller or a mystery but more of a dark contemporary novel with violent tones. I was pleased with how author Liz Nugent was able to tie up every loose end to each of the narrators’ tales and find myself curious about her other work.

Not at all a bad story.


32920306Author: Liz Nugent
Published:  February 6th 2018
Pages:
272
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster Canada
ISBN:
9781501191275

Summary: Oliver Ryan, handsome, charismatic, and successful, has long been married to his devoted wife, Alice. Together they write and illustrate award-winning children’s books; their life together one of enviable privilege and ease—until, one evening after a delightful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious, and subsequently beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath of such an unthinkable event, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.

REVIEW: If We Were Villains

If We Were Villains is a Shakespearean dream of a thriller set in a tight knit community of theater students in the final year at an incredibly prestigious college. As friends turn to enemies, and people get hurt, Oliver, James, Meredith, Filipa, Alexander, and Wren all discover parts of themselves they don’t like. The question very quickly becomes clear, what happened to this group that was otherwise inseparable?

The Story

Divided into the five acts and then further divided in scene headings, M.L. Rio‘s debut novel unfolds through Oliver’s memories as he recounts what happened in the months leading up to his arrest for murder. Bouncing through time we follow him and his friends as the stress of their final year begins to eat at their sanity, pushing them all into unseemly behaviours. Each of them have their roles, in reality as well as on stage. These roles are the catalyst that triggers a series of events so horrible, Oliver has kept them secret for the ten long years of his incarceration.

What I loved most about the motion of the story was how the twists were insidious, always peaking out from behind a corner but never quite showing itself until you’re ready to finally see it. Which, if I’m being honest, is never. It’s a punch-in-the-stomach kind of twist that honest to God had me white knuckling the book as I re-read the words to confirm what I had just read.

The Characters

Oliver is probably the character I related to the most, always good enough but never truly feeling like the spotlight is his. However, everyone was so well rounded and had such depth, I felt like I knew all of them for far longer than just the few days it took me to read the book.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about each of them and risk spoiling anything, but Rio’s narrative style truly makes you connect so completely with each of the character’s emotions as the come, with all the intensity that they express them in.

Conclusion ★★★★★

With a murky ending that is almost more satisfying than a clear one would be for this story, this is hands down the best book I read in January (2018). I live for Shakespeare and the clever mashing of plots combined with the constant quoting of the rest of the Bard’s famous work was beyond satisfying. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a thriller like this, and even longer since I’ve thought “I will definitely re-read this” after finishing one.

If you’re game for a good murder full of twists and turns, topped with a dollop of Shakespeare, then pick up this book. Just do it.


30319086Author: M.L. Rio
Published:  April 11, 2017
Pages: 368
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN: 9781250095282

Synopsis: Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.