the girl on the train

Had to see what the hype was about with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins! From Goodreads:

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

The Girl on the Train, for me, does live up to the hype, and does jive with certain aspects of Gone Girl (to which it has been frequently compared), but while The Girl on the Train wasn’t 100% a Gone Girl redux for me, I did enjoy this fast-paced psychological drama. I had a similar reading experience for both these books—the suspense, the unreliable narrators, and the need to keep going after every chapter to find out what happens. Gone Girl was more shocking and The Girl on the Train a little more predictable, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the novel.

The characters are not exactly likable, or even necessarily sympathetic. With the shifting narrative perspectives it’s hard to know whom to believe at times. Everyone has their version of the truth or how things happened (in this book and IRL!). The Girl on the Train is full of assumptions that lend themselves to the suspense and twists and turns of the book well. I had an inkling of what was going to happen in the finale, but not all figured out ahead of time. Everyone’s just so messed up—anxiety, insecurity, guilt, paranoia—any one of them could be capable of anything.

Read from May 2 to 8, 2015.

the farm

For my final round of orchestra rehearsal commutes this past month, I listened to Tom Rob Smith’s The Farm on audiobook. From Goodreads:

“If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.”

Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes. “Your mother… she’s not well,” his father tells him. “She’s been imagining things—terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.” Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: “Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.” Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

I picked this up on a whim browsing my local library last month. I recognized Tom Rob Smith’s name from the Child 44 movie info that’s all over the place lately, and decided to give this one a shot when I saw it on the shelf. The Farm‘s premise is great, with awesome potential for a suspenseful drama.

While there is quite a lot of drama, I’m not sure it was quite as suspenseful as I was expecting. Most of the book is in “tell” mode rather than “show”—more than half of it is Daniel’s mother Tilde recounting events leading up to her fleeing Sweden and ending up at Daniel’s apartment in London. Her account is engaging and rather convincing, but I do wish there was more of a balance—we’re supposed to be wondering whether she’s telling the truth or not, but there’s little to counter her story.

The Farm is a slow, steady, intense burn with some twists and turns, and Smith is a talented storyteller. I was just hoping for more action in this psychological drama. I’ll keep Child 44 on my radar, though—people love it and the movie looks like it could be great!

Listened to audio from April 17 to May 5, 2015.

mind of winter

Last month I was looking for an audiobook that was creepy and not too long for my orchestra rehearsal commutes, and found Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke. Edited from Goodreads:

Thirteen years ago Holly and her husband, Eric, went to Siberia to adopt the sweet, dark-haired child they had wanted so desperately. How they laughed at the nurses of Pokrovka Orphanage #2 with their garlic and superstitions, and ignored their insistent warnings. After all, their fairy princess Tatiana—Baby Tatty—was perfect. On Christmas Day, Holly senses that something is not right, and has never been right since they brought their daughter home. Now Tatty is a dangerously beautiful, petulant, and often erratic teenager, and Holly feels there is something evil lurking within their house. She and Tatiana are alone. Eric is stuck on the roads, and none of the other guests for Christmas dinner will be able to make it through the snow. With each passing hour, the blizzard rages and Tatiana’s mood darkens, her behavior becoming increasingly disturbing… until, in every mother’s worst nightmare, Holly finds she no longer recognizes her daughter.

This book had its ups and downs for me, but ultimately came through with a strong finish. Most of the book is spent inside Holly’s head, and she’s paranoid, self-absorbed, obsessive, and honestly not all that interesting (except her backstory, revealed bit by bit in flashbacks). I think this may have been more effective as a short story instead of a novel—so much was repetitive, like “Something followed them home from Russia” or saying the whole name of the orphanage over and over… but the ending was such a gut-punch that I had the immediate urge to start the book all over again.

I had some theories and guesses as to what Mind of Winter was all about, but I was surprised in the end and I have to give the author credit for building the tension throughout. Looking back, it was a brilliant slow burning suspense, with things becoming more and more… off and not-quite-right as the story moves towards that climax.

Not a new all-time favorite, but a great psychological thriller that has stayed with me after I finished it!

Listened to audiobook from March 31 to April 13, 2015.

bird box

I saw a few really positive reviews of Bird Box by Josh Malerman around online and decided to give it a shot, especially after my husband was asking for scary and dark books. From Goodreads:

Something is out there…

Something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.

Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remain, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, Malorie has long dreamed of fleeing to a place where her family might be safe. But the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but Malorie’s wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. And something is following them. But is it man, animal, or monster?

Bird Box skips back and forth through time, from the day Malorie discovers she’s pregnant and the world starts going to hell through her pregnancy when she lived with a handful of other survivors holed up in a house, to four years after her children are born and they embark on their perilous journey down the river. It’s really skillfully done, each part of the timeline just as fascinating and gripping as the other. You just HAVE TO KNOW what happens next.

Bird Box is just about everything I want in a horror/thriller book. If you need slasher-gore-fest in your horror, this is not for you (although the climactic scene near the end is more graphic than the rest of the book). Malerman deftly builds suspense with every page, proving (like others have) that what is unseen is often more terrifying than what is seen. We never get a physical description of whatever it is out there making people go insane, so my imagination went wild with that one. I loved that the reader isn’t privy to things before the characters.

I’d even call this a psychological thriller somewhat, and of course post-apocalyptic, since you don’t really know what’s the cause of all this hysteria—is it aliens? A man-made catastrophe? Environmental disaster? Who is truthful, who is lying, who can you trust in this new world? It’s a study in debilitating fear. I like zombie fiction a lot, but it was a welcome departure from the recent zombie craze, too.

You guys. I read this book in one day, almost 300 pages. Totally absorbed—couldn’t put it down. Spine-tingling terror and thrilling suspense done right. If you liked The Road and The Walking Dead you’d probably like Bird Box. Read it!

Read on June 15, 2014.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

I had an AMAZING weekend of reading! I finished Wool by Hugh Howey on Saturday, and then yesterday I ended up reading TWO books: Unintimidated: Wisconsin Sings Truth to Power by various authors/photographers about the Solidarity Sing Along in response to Governor Scott Walker’s damaging, devastating  agenda, and Bird Box by Josh Malerman. Unintimidated was short, more like an extended essay punctuated with lots of pictures, so I’m not surprised I was able to read it all in less than an hour. But OMG you guys. Bird Box. ~300 page book that I could NOT put down. I broke up my reading through the day (still had to get some housework etc. done!) but it was totally gripping and I just HAD to finish. So, with this weekend’s reading, after finally getting myself all caught up with review posts I find myself four behind again!

Late into the night last night after I finished Bird Box I decided to start We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. I only read about 10 pages before falling asleep, and I have a confession that I did end up seeing the movie before reading (I didn’t know it was a book first when I saw the movie), but I’m still interested in finding out more on this story and I like Lionel Shriver’s writing after listening to her Big Brother on audio last year (my review). And of course, the book will be vastly different and I’ll probably end up liking it more than the movie anyway!

What are you reading this week?