Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter is the thriller you are not going to want to put down, and in fact, may not be able to. Blake Crouch has written good books before, but Dark Matter is his best, most complete, and most satisfying novel to date.

Dark Matter is the story of Jason Dessen, a university professor with a beautiful wife and son who goes out one night for a drink and wakes up in a different life. Not just a different life, but his own life, minus the wife and kid and instead of a teaching job, the greatest professional success in his field he’d ever imagined. Jason is desperate to return to the life he knew and be reunited with his family.

This book is a scientifically plausible and fascinating thriller with amazing concepts and page-turning action. What really grounds this book, though, are the strong characters and relationships. Jason tries to reconstruct what has happened to him and find a way back to the woman and son he loves. This takes him down a path that is both mind-blowing and thrilling. There are a number of twists and turns in this book, a few of which you might see but most of which will just blow your mind.

Dark Matter explores the choices we make and how these choices are both influenced by who we are and influence who we become. It does this in the context of a story filled with characters you care about and does it at a thriller’s pace. I enjoy a fast paced thriller, which this is, but the character depth is what takes this book to the next level.

Blake Crouch has written his best book to date and one of the best thrillers of the year. He’s displaying all his skills and joins some of the best writers in the field today. Fans of Harlan Coben, Michael Crichton, Joseph Finder and thriller lovers in general will find a lot to like in this book. If you’ve ever wondered about the road not taken, you’re going to want to read this book. Highly recommended!

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: “Are you happy with your life?”
Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.
Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.
Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”  
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. Hiswife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.
Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

Laura McHugh is making me fall in love with gothic mysteries all over again. Her debut novel, The Weight of Blood took readers deep into the Ozarks, and her new novel, Arrowood takes readers to a decaying and haunted Keokuk, Iowa along the Mississippi River. Mood and setting play as important a role in these stories as plot and character.

In Arrowood, Arden Arrowood returns to the home that bears her family’s name and is also the location of a childhood tragedy when 8-year-old Arden’s 2-year-old twin sisters disappeared from their front yard. This incident defines Arden’s life as well as her family and neighbor’s. When Arden returns to Arrowood upon her father’s death, she finds herself consumed in the mystery and discovers that the house and the town hold many more secrets than she ever suspected.

McHugh has a special knack for capturing small towns and rural areas with all their signs of past splendor and facades that hide the decay going on behind them in both their structures and their inhabitants. She infuses both her settings and her characters with a haunted feeling. Arden is fixated on the day her twin sisters went missing and the altered course upon which it set everyone’s lives. Arden is a history student doing a thesis on nostalgia, and nostalgia is a theme that permeates the book;  Arden’s memories of her childhood home during happier times and Keokuk’s nostalgia for its prouder days when it was prosperous and filled with wealth and dreams.

Arden is a fascinating character who has never given up hope of learning what happened to her sisters. She clings to their memory as well as the memory of happier times in her childhood, including her friend, Ben. Clinging to these memories though has locked her in a sort of stasis which prevents her from moving forward. Coming home has begun to unlock secrets that no one is sure they want revealed. With the help of a mystery site blogger, Arden continues probing into her sister’s disappearance. What she finds makes her begin to doubt her own recollection of events and leads to a powerful and moving conclusion.

Arrowood is a wonderful novel that will haunt you long after you reach the final page. Laura McHugh has become must read. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: Arrowood is the most ornate and beautiful of the grand historical houses that line the Mississippi River in southern Iowa, where the days are long and humid and communities are small and closed. It has its own secrets and ghostly presence: It's where Arden's young twin sisters were abducted nearly twenty years ago—never to be seen again. Now, Arden has inherited Arrowood, and she returns to her childhood home determined to establish what really happened that traumatic summer. But the house and the surrounding town hold their secrets close—and the truth, when Arden finds it, is more devastating than she ever could have imagined.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Lo Blacklock is a travel writer who gets a chance to take a trip on the maiden voyage of a small luxurious cruise liner, the Aurora, in Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10. Lo is excited for the opportunity to advance at her magazine with this assignment although she is scarred by a recent burglary which has left her bruised both physically and emotionally. When Lo witnesses what appears to be a woman thrown overboard, she sounds the alarm only to be confronted by an insistence that none of the passengers or crew are unaccounted for.

The luxurious, opulent setting offers a stark contrast to the dark mood and events of The Woman in Cabin 10. The boat also provides a claustrophobic atmosphere as Lo fights to get to the bottom of the mystery and prove the existence of a girl no one but she recalls seeing. Ware does a masterful job of casting doubt on all the characters, turning them from allies to suspects and back again throughout the course of the book. The twists start early and keep coming in this book. You are never sure who to trust, especially Lo herself.

Ware creates an interesting protagonist in Lo Blacklock. One who is strong and determined even as she is consumed by self-doubt and fear. She is the most unreliable of narrators which keeps you guessing not only what has happened, but if it has happened. The boat is populated with well-drawn characters who run the gamut from helpful to skeptical to suspicious. The atmosphere is tense throughout and you are left waiting for another twist until the very last page.

As admirable a character as Lo is, she isn’t terribly likable. Her treatment of both her current boyfriend Jude as well as her ex, Ben, don’t really endear her to the reader, even if some of that is necessary to fostering her sense of isolation. That characterization and a pace that is somewhat slow for the first two-thirds of the book are drawbacks in an otherwise tense thriller.

The audio version of this book is narrated by Imogen Church who does a wonderful job with the narration. She slips in and out of a variety of English and Norwegian accents leaving no doubt as to which character is speaking at any time. She conveys the mood of the story through both pace and tone which complements and enhances the experience.

This is a great book for fans of atmospheric mysteries and unreliable narrators. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this audiobook.

Description: In this tightly wound, enthralling story reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s works, Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea. At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant: the cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for—and so, the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong…

With surprising twists, spine-tingling turns, and a setting that proves as uncomfortably claustrophobic as it is eerily beautiful, Ruth Ware offers up another taut and intense read in The Woman in Cabin 10—one that will leave even the most sure-footed reader restlessly uneasy long after the last page is turned.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope is an interesting twist on the serial killer/tracker story. In a lot of books about FBI agents tracking serial killers, the agents seem to have a sixth sense that allows them to anticipate the killers actions. In Collecting the Dead, FBI tracker Magnus “Steps” Craig actually does have a sixth sense. Steps can see an aura left behind by both the killer and the victims.

Kope has come up with an interesting ability here to imbue his main character with. It’s obviously a useful tool, but it’s not a superpower and it must be used in concert with other skills and team members in order to be truly useful. Steps and his partner Jimmy Donovan, himself a skilled agent and profiler, make a great team here, along with the supporting characters and setup of this one-of-a-kind tracking unit. Steps power also comes with some side effects and the work he and his team does leaves its own set of emotional scars.

A serial killer who leaves depictions of sad faces behind at his murder scenes is the main antagonist in this book. The fact that he doesn’t kill his victims right away keeps a sense of urgency running throughout the book. Steps and Jimmy have a lot of legwork to do in tracking down this killer, and even more work in trying to anticipate his next move and save his most recent victim. Collecting the Dead is filled with strong supporting characters, both in Step’s and Jimmy’s personal lives, their Washington state based tracking unit, and the various other law enforcement agencies they work with.

Kope’s writing has a fluidity to it that a lot of first time novels lack. The characters are relatable and have an easy camaraderie and a sense of humor that hovers somewhere between chuckle and groan. The story moves along at a steady pace and keeps the pages turning. Along with the sad face killer, there’s another killer from Steps’ past that hangs around the fringes of the story and remains at large at the conclusion.

Collecting the Dead is an outstanding introduction to a new character and new series. Spencer Kope has found something new to say in a genre where it is easier to blend in than to stand out. There is always room for a good story told well. Expect to see more of both Spencer Kope and Steps Craig. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: Magnus "Steps" Craig is part of the elite three-man Special Tracking Unit of the FBI. Called in on special cases where his skills are particularly needed, he works as a tracker. The media dubs him "The Human Bloodhound," since Steps is renowned for his incredible ability to find and follow trails over any surface better than anyone else. But there's a secret to his success. Steps has a special ability---a kind of synesthesia---where he can see the 'essence' of a person, something he calls 'shine,' on everything they've touched. His ability is known to only a few people---his father, the director of the FBI, and his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan.

When the remains of a murdered woman are found, Steps recognizes the shine left by the murderer from another crime scene with a physically similar victim. And he uncovers the signature at both scenes---the mark of a sad face. At the same time, another killer, one Steps has dubbed Leonardo and has been trying to track for over ten years, appears again, taunting Steps. But while Steps tries to find a clue that will lead him to Leonardo, the case of the Sad Face Killer heats up. The team uncovers eleven possible victims: missing women who fit the same pattern. Using his skill and the resources of the Bureau, it is a race against time to find the killer before it's too late.