“The Escape Room” by Megan Goldin

Genre:          Mystery and ThrillersThe Escape Room
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:    July 30, 2019

A publicist from St. Martin’s Press contacted me to read and review this book, which I find hard to review.  The plot is simple and predictable, not to mention implausible.   The twist is a cinch to figure out and yet, interestingly, I enjoyed the story.   Possibly, this is because most of the story could be straight out of the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” which I, and most moviegoers, thoroughly enjoyed.  (If you are too young to know the film, google it).

I would say that the book is more a psychological thriller than a mystery. The novel reveals the cut-throat world of Wall Street corporate finance, where greed and corruption rule.   Four hot-shot financial dealers work and live in a world of million-dollar salaries—designer everything.  We are talking $11,000 for a pocketbook to be bought in numerous colors.  And all four would turn on their grandmother to ensure they keep their million-dollar salaries.  Think of the character Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.”  Gekko says to the young new financial advisor, “The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don’t want to do.”  And these four have done some horrible things to ensure they have numerous $10,000 wristwatches.  I thought the author did overkill in writing about their ridiculous spending habits but she proved her point.  These four coworkers, who you will love to hate, are summoned into an elevator in the belief that they are engaging in some sort of team-building exercise.  The reader knows from the prologue that bullet shots are heard from the elevator.  It is not a team-building experience but a revenge plot against the four.

There are two timelines in the novel told in the first and third person.  The four characters trapped in the elevator are told in the third person.  The second timeline follows a young woman who graduated at the top of her class with an MBA.  She sacrifices food and all her savings to buy an interview suit to look the part for a job in a top-tier finance company.  She gets the job and works as the bottom link with the hot-shots.  Her narrative is a bit boring.  The author clearly wants a good vs. evil theme so, I guess, she is needed to have a moral character in the story.  What kept my attention, even when things got a bit tedious, is just how horrible the other four actually are.  How far would they go to ensure their hefty bonuses?   This one is unquestionably movie material.  If you go in knowing the novel’s flaws, you will be able to enjoy the elevator ride.

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“Lie With Me” by Sabine Durrant

Genre:        Mystery & Psychological Thriller Lie with me
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pub. Date: January 11, 2018

Have you ever told a lie? Most of us have. The question in this psychological thriller is guessing who is telling the truth and who is lying. I don’t think I just wrote a spoiler because the reader will wonder this for him/herself relatively early in the novel. This is an unusual thriller. I would even venture to say that this is a work of literary fiction. Usually, mysteries and psychological thrillers are written in a rapid pace. “Lie With Me” reads slow. Since I enjoy the slower pace of foreign movies, the novel is a good fit for me. Think the 1994 French film, “Léon: The Professional.”

Paul is a character in this book who is a major loser. Jobless at age 40, he moves back home to live with his mom. Paul tells so many lies he confuses them. He can forget what is true and what is false. He has written one novel in his youth and twenty years later he is still trying to hang onto his 15-minutes of fame. He meets an old college friend who is ultra-rich. Through him, Paul meets Alice, who is also ultra-rich and another member of the 1%. Paul is fascinated with them and their lifestyles. He tells some whopper lies to Alice, becomes her reluctant beau and worms his way into their annual Greek holiday. He seems to have the notion that somehow they will transform him into a good person living the good life, (as Leon the character played by actor, Jean Reno, hoped the child would transform him.) The reader is aware that he wants to be Cinderella. We also know that Paul is a pathological liar—but is he a murderer? The author, Sabine Durrant, gives deliberately confusing hints to the reader when she goes back and forth in time.

Durrant has written a different kind of beach read, one that begins and ends with a lie. The novel’s development comes from the characters rather than the plot, which I enjoy. My only issue is that about three quarters through, I did figure out the truth. There was (at least for me) no big ending twist. It was the author’s writing style that kept my interest to want to finish.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Baby Teeth” by Zoje Stage

Genre:          Mystery and Thriller  baby teeth
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:    July 17, 2018

The book is marketed as a “We Need to Talk About Kevin” meets “Gone Girl” meets “The Omen.”   I am not always a fan of commercial fiction, but since I enjoyed both books and liked the movie “The Omen,” I assumed I would enjoy “Baby Teeth.”  Well, I was wrong.   The story is about a disturbing little girl that wishes her mother dead so she can have her father all to herself.   There is suspense at first, but soon chilling turns into repetition, which makes for a boring book.  Just how many times do you want to read about a child viciously attacking her mother?  Or, read about a father who ignores, or plays down his daughter’s behavior?

bad seed

The story attempts to emulate the 1956 movie, “The Bad Seed,” which is also melodramatic storytelling.   In “Teeth” the reader is left wondering just what is wrong with the parents and especially the little girl.  Is she mentally ill, does she have multiple personalities, is she a witch?   This tale shocks for shock purposes only.  There are a lot of good thrillers out there.  Don’t bother with this one.

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I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Girl Unknown” by Karen Perry

Genre:         (General Fiction) AdultGirl Unkown
Pub. Date:   Feb. 6, 2018
Publisher:    Henry Holt and Co.

This book is marketed as general fiction, but I feel it is a psychological thriller, as it appears to be with all books that have the word “girl” in the title.  The reader will meet a family consisting of husband, wife and two children, a 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl.  I liked the fact that the author did not present this Irish family as perfect.  Both parents have secrets from one another.  They certainly have their troubles, but the parents work hard on making their marriage work.   They do love one another and want the best for their children.  The father is a college professor.   In his first-year class, a 19-year-old female student informs him that he is her father from a relationship he had before he married.  The reader already knows that this girl’s mother is the true love of his life.

He accepts the girl into his world right away.  He is rather naïve in thinking he can easily integrate this daughter into his established family.  As the reader expects, almost immediately problems arise.  The novel is narrated by the husband and wife.  As the title indicates, this girl is an unknown variable in their lives.  She has more of her own secrets than this family ever had.  She seems to take pleasure in causing conflict, usually ending with the females in the family seeing her as a narcissistic person enjoying the drama she creates, while the males feel she is a troubled person who needs their support.  I imagine that this book is advertised as general fiction since it reads like a family drama and a character study.  Grant you, an easy character study that is a quick read: a beach book that will probably become a movie.

Half-way through the tale, due to the stressors, all family members begin to crumble.   Both parents have major setbacks in their careers as well as in their personal lives.  The son is acting out in school, while the 11-year-old daughter has become withdrawn.   But it is during a family vacation in France that all hell breaks loose.   I would ruin the story for you if I explain why.  The previous twists in the book were predictable, easy to find since the family dynamics became rather warped.  However, the twist on the last page of the novel did surprise me.   It actually left me wanting to know more, wondering what will happen now, which tells me that “Unknown” is a decent read after all.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“All Things Cease To Appear” by Elizabeth Brundage

So many different thoughts went through my mind while reading this novel.  First, I All Things Cease To Appearresigned myself to read another contemporary thriller (not my fav) that needs to be reviewed.  Then early in the book I thought “this is very well written,” more literary than bestseller-like.   Next, the story became Gothic, a genre I do enjoy.  Plus, it also has a noir feel which is another genre that I love to get lost in.  So, to my surprise, I am pleased that I read this book.  It is not until the very end of the story that I find criticism with the tale. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The story begins with a short chapter describing an old farmhouse and all the people that once lived there.  The first family that we meet is a married couple with three sons trying to keep the farm alive in horrendous conditions born from poverty.  The parents die in the house and the boys are left orphaned.  The next family who moves into the house is a young married couple with a little girl.  They buy the farmhouse for almost nothing since it went into foreclosure.  The town’s people held that against the young couple.  The new owners are city people who move to the country for the husband’s job as a professor at a small college.  The “whodunit begins in the first chapter when the professor comes home from work and finds his wife murdered in her bed.  The three sons who first lived in the farmhouse are in all other chapters of the book.

There are no quotation marks anywhere in the novel.  The author expects the reader to be smart enough to know who said what.    I enjoyed this style of writing it keeps me on their toes.   There are many characters in this book that can feel overwhelming, but they are tied together nicely, and I enjoyed each one’s part in the plot.   It read similar to “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strout, where the characters were interconnected short stories.   In addition, the author adds a large dose of irony into her novel.  The professor’s boss is a big fan of Emanuel Swedberg who is best known for his book on the afterlife, “Heaven and Hell” written in 1758.

The last chapter focuses on the little girl who is now all grown up and in her last stages of  training to become a surgeon.  The reason why the ending is a bit of a disappointment for me is that I thought the author was attempting to add romance into the plot.  In hindsight, it may have been karma (if I explain it would be a spoiler).   Still, all in all, this is a literary spellbinding page-turner that is a ghost story, as well as a psychological thriller.   Was I displeased with the ending? Yes, that is true.  Did I need to sleep with the lights on?  Yes, that is also true.  Read the book and see if you cease to appear.

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In The Shadow of Lakecrest” Elizabeth Blackwell

Pub. Date:   February 1, 2017shadow

Historical fiction is my favorite genre.  I am not sure why this book is labeled as historical fiction.    Although the story takes place in the 1920s, I didn’t see any history in the plot (except for references of flappers.)  The story revolves around a poor young woman, with a shady past.  She marries a rich man that she meets while she is employed as a governess.  It turns out that her hubby’s family is just as shady as hers.

“Lakecrest” has potential.  The heroine’s new home is an creepy isolated old mansion, complete with scary gargoyles.  She inherits a mysterious unwelcoming new family with a mother-in-law from hell.  She learns that her gentleman husband has his own demons.

This could have been a good psychological thriller with a Gothic “Rebbeca” theme, but the writing is dull and not believable.   I know I am telling and not showing which makes for a boring book review, maybe my review is emulating the book, a Gothic wannabe that poses as historical fiction.

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“Eileen” by Ottessa Moshfegh

Eileen was released in 2015, so I was surprised wheneileen I was offered an Advanced Review Copy (ARC).  I assume I received this book so that the author, Ottessa Moshfegh, receives publicity for her latest book, Homesick for Another World.  No matter.  I am glad I was given an ARC, for Eileen is one heck of a book, shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and winner of the PEN/Hemingway debut fiction award.  Eileen is dark.  It is the darkest version of a dark comedy.   It is a literary psychology thriller except unlike most in this genre, the thrill is not in the plot, but in the language.

The story is narrated in the first person when Eileen is an old woman telling us about a time in her life when she was 24-years old.  She was a rather dull young woman in appearance as well as in personality.  Although the year was 1964, there was nothing hip about Eileen, there were no go-go boots in her closet.  Eileen was anorexic and hid herself in her deceased mother’s matronly clothes.  She had mousy brown hair held in place with a childish barrette and wore a mousy brown coat everywhere.  She went to college for a year and a half, was called home to take care of her dying mother and never went back to school.  She continued to live at home with her alcoholic father who did not leave the house.  He was an ex-cop who was verbally abusive to his daughter.  Their only interactions came when she made her daily trip to the liquor store to keep him in his continuous gin stupor.  She had no girlfriends and never had a boyfriend though she longed for both. Clearly, Eileen had a boring life as well as a boring appearance.  She may at first seem like a predictable character, but the reader learns making any assumptions about Eileen would be dead wrong.

Eileen was an extremely odd young woman.  Her good luck charm was a dead mouse in her broken down car’s glove compartment.   She worked at a boy’s juvenile correctional facility.  She had no empathy for the boys even though she could see they were being abused.  She most likely had a sociopathic personality and hated everyone including herself.  Still, it is hard to hate Eileen.  She was so lonely and only cared about escaping her life in a small New England town.  Her dream was to run away to New York City.  Being a thriller, of course, there is a crime that involves her escape plan (a crime that I cannot mention in this review as it is the big secret in the novel.)  When a young attractive woman was hired at the correctional facility Eileen made her very first friend.  It was her friend that initiated the soon to happen mysterious crime.   It is not the crime scenes that you will find so interesting, but rather it is watching Eileen’s psychological unraveling.  This book is not for everyone, but if you like sinister character studies, you will enjoy Eileen.

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