This Young Adult thriller is just as good or better than many of the adult thrillers I’ve recently read! Five Total Strangers is about Mira Hayes, a high school art student traveling home for Christmas from San Diego to Pittsburgh. When a snowstorm strands her in Newark, she accepts a ride from Harper Chung, her seatmate on the flight. Harper, a college student at Pomona, has rented an SUV and offered rides to three others: Brecken, an intense pre-med student from UC Berkeley, Josh, a tall blond with sleepy eyes and a knee brace and Kayla, a willowy girl who sleeps a lot. At first, Mira thinks the others all know each other, but she soon discovers that they are all strangers, with an emphasis on strange.
But Mira doesn’t care as long as she gets home for Christmas. It’s just Mira and her mom this year and it’s also the anniversary of her aunt’s death, her mother’s twin. Plus she’s just discovered that her mom and stepfather have split. After a year of helping her mom through a devastating loss, Mira has become her mother’s emotional caretaker and getting home is a must.
Treacherous driving conditions become the first layer of suspense. Then, one by one, the strangers’ belongings, important ones, go missing. Someone is lying and Mira doesn’t know whom to trust. Things get weirder when they stop along the way and outsiders become involved. As tension builds, Mira asks herself, “What if one of us isn’t in this car to get home at all? What if one of us got in this car for all the wrong reasons?”
I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll stop with the plot development! I thought this was an excellent story and that the characters were realistic teens and early twenty-somethings. Like Mira, readers won’t be sure who’s trustworthy and who’s evil because they all have secrets (even Mira, who hasn’t told them she’s only in high school). Harper keeps looking at her phone in horror. Brecken smiles like a wolf. Josh doesn’t want help or attention and Kayla, when she’s awake acts strangely. Readers want Mira to get home safely, but they also want to know what’s up with these people.
Although the subplot of Mira wanting to get home to her mom is more young-adult oriented, the suspense is on par with adult thrillers. This is a fast, satisfying read and I recommend it to all readers who like thrillers.
Books: Hollystone Mysteries—To Charm a Killer, To Sleep with Stones, To Render a Raven, To Kill a King, and Lure River Romances—Lure: Jesse & Hawk
Bio: W. L. Hawkin writes mysterious romantic adventures from her home on Vancouver Island, Canada. Wendy graduated from Trent University with a BA in Indigenous Studies, then went on to study English literature at SFU in British Columbia, and teach high school. She found her voice publishing poetry and Native Rights articles in Canadian news magazines and is now an Indie author/publisher at Blue Haven Press.
What got you started as a writer? I started writing poetry as a teenager to make sense of my world: “It’s a maze. It’s a haze. It’s a crazy place.” But when I saw Romancing the Stone in the 1980s, I wanted to be a romance novelist. Shortly after that, I wrote the first draft of what has become my latest romantic suspense release (Lure: Jesse & Hawk).
What is your writing routine? I write when the muse is with me and then for as long as my body holds out—some days six hours if I’m on, and other days not at all.
What routes did you take to get your books published? When I first wrote To Charm a Killer, I sent it to a few agents and publishers. I had some interest, but no one wanted to commit to a first-time author who wrote blended genres. It’s hard to sell. So, I took a chance and published it myself. By that time, I’d finished my fourth book in the Hollystone Mysteries, I’d learned the ropes.
What things do you do to promote your books? I created a solid website and keep it updated. I enter contests and do readings/sales in my local community. Last year, I started working with a publicist who booked me on all kinds of media (TV, radio, podcasts, magazines) so I became comfortable talking about myself and my work (again, not easy for an introvert). I’m now able to approach people like you, Barb, and ask.
What is your favorite genre to read and why? Mystery/suspense is my favourite, no matter what century it’s set, and that’s what I write as well. Sometimes I venture into fantasy and action/adventure. I’m a regular reviewer with the Ottawa Review of Books so receive excellent ARCs from Canadian publishers.
Do you prefer to write dialogue or description? I don’t have a preference and you need to balance both in a scene to make it dynamic.
Have any of your characters ever surprised you? Did this change the plot of your book? Absolutely, and often. Once I connect with my characters, I meditate to get into an almost trance-like space where I can see and hear what’s happening. I’ve had reviewers say my writer is “cinematic” and I think that’s why. In To Sleep with Stones, one of the characters died in a very dramatic scene and I had no idea that was going to happen. I wrote that sequence in tears, and I think that raw emotion comes through to the reader.
What is the most difficult thing you have accomplished in your life? I quit high school in grade ten. In my mid-thirties, I was compelled to finish. One of the courses was Native Ancestry 11, and I had such an epiphany with that content, I wanted to go on and take university courses in Indigenous Studies. Coincidentally, I wrote the first draft of Lure: Jesse & Hawk, my latest release during that time. My ex-husband didn’t support me, so I left my marriage and completed my B.A. as a single mother going part-time to university courses for years. That was a challenging time, but also a healing time for me.
What three events or people have most influenced how you live your life? One: reading The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell in 1990 blew open my world and taught me to follow my “bliss.” Two: leaving my marriage and taking my young daughter taught me many things about living in this world. Three: graduating from university and getting my first paying gig as a teacher gave me financial independence and a sense of moral/ethical living in a community.
What would you tell your younger self? Borrowing from my mentor, Joseph Campbell, I’d say follow your passion, your bliss, and doors will open for you. Bundle up your problems and leave them outside, then walk through that door carrying a sense of curiosity, wonder, and hope.
Have you ever met up with a bear on a hike? If so, what did you do? If not, are you looking up what to do right now? I sure have! I live in the Pacific Northwest on bear territory so regularly see them. Remember that you’re a guest on their land, back up slowly, and give them the right of way. Hawk meets up with a bear in Lure, and unfortunately, he’s unable to back up and walk away, but that’s another story.
You’re locked in your local library for the night with no dinner. Thank goodness you have water, but you only have enough change to buy one item from the vending machine. Choices are limited to: Fudge Pop Tarts, Snickers or Doritos. Which would you choose and why? Doritos by default, despite the crumbs. I can’t eat gluten or cow dairy so until they start making junk food gluten free, and chocolate out of water buffalo milk and/or pure cocoa butter, I’ll stick to my corn chips.
What’s the largest number of people you’ve had in your kitchen at one time? In my whole lifetime? Probably a dozen at my parent’s wedding anniversary.
I’ve been trying to decide what kind of rating to give this atmospheric thriller about Abigail Baskin, a young woman on her honeymoon. Abigail’s marriage to Bruce Lamb isn’t off to a great start. Weeks earlier at her bachelorette weekend, she slept with a stranger. She’s filled with guilt, but the fling has convinced her she wants to spend the rest of her life with Bruce.
Bruce has made all the arrangements for the honeymoon and they arrive on Heart Pond Island, an isolated luxurious retreat off the coast of Maine. It looks beautiful, but something strange is going on. It’s nearly empty, except for the overly attentive waitstaff and only one other newlywed couple. What’s even weirder is that the rest of the guests are men, and Bruce seems to know them all.
To Abigail’s horror, one of them is the stranger from her bachelorette weekend.
I liked the setting and the story’s premise and that made me want to know how it all worked out. I could picture the island and its rocky coast. Swanson also does a good job describing Abigail’s character. She has an interesting background. For years, her parents ran a theater where they produced plays and musicals and Abigail grew up in this theatrical atmosphere. She’s also smart and wants to be a novelist. When she moves to New York for a publishing job, she meets Bruce, a wildly successful businessman. What he does is vague, but that’s what kept me reading. I also liked that Swanson included literary, movie and musical references. The title is a line from the song by The Police, “Every Breath You Take,” a creepy suggestion that Bruce may be a little too controlling.
So all good buildup with a lot of strange conversations and uncomfortable setups on the island. Of course, a logical person would question the arrangements, never to be in the position that Abigail finds herself in. But characters who make bad decisions and go along with what we all know is trouble are what you want in a thriller.
Despite not really liking any of the characters and, I’m sorry to say that includes the heroine, I wanted her to escape danger. The problem was, just as things were getting interesting, the plot made an outlandish turn. Completely unbelievable! Swanson uses all the thriller/horror tropes as Abigail tries to escape danger and that includes gory and misogynist violence in the story’s final scenes.
Swanson wins in a way because I didn’t want to put the book down, but honestly, I was shaking my head through the last fifty pages. So I’m giving it 3 stars because I liked most of it, but was disappointed with the finish.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
Some bloggers liked the book and others felt the way I did. You can check out their reviews here:
With so many new books out there, would you consider reading an old courtroom thriller? I did! Presumed Innocent was published in 1987 and the movie starring Harrison Ford followed in 1990. So 35 years ago, it was a hot book and a hot movie.
This excellent story is about its narrator, Rusty Sabich, Kindle County’s chief deputy prosecuting attorney who has been arrested for the murder of Carolyn Polhemus, an ambitious attorney in Sabich’s office. Rusty and Carolyn had a brief affair and his fingerprints are found on the scene. This is all on the heels of Raymond Horgan’s lost bid to another term as chief P.A. Rusty, loyal to Horgan for twelve years, had one day hoped to succeed his boss. Now, everything has changed. Nico Della Guardia (whom Rusty had once fired) takes Horgan’s place and Rusty’s a pariah, fighting for his freedom. What does his young son think of him? Will his wife, Barbara will stand by his side? Readers have more questions. Did Rusty murder Carolyn? And if he didn’t who did?
Sandy Stern, a shrewd and sophisticated defense attorney, gives Rusty hope. That and the fact that Judge Larren Lyttle, Horgan’s best friend, will preside at his trial. Lyttle’s twenty years as a defense attorney could favor Rusty in rulings during the trial, but the ultimate decision rides on the jury.
Sound complicated? It is! Add police corruption, politics, a tangled web of relationships and a lost file from years ago, containing incriminating information, and it will take a book to figure it all out.
I liked Presumed Innocent for a lot of reasons. At 453 pages, and close to one hundred characters, this is not a book you read in a couple day. Its length made me think about all the pieces and wonder about the characters. Turow does an excellent job with his main characters. Readers get to know Rusty best of all and learn about the key players through his observations. Several characters with questionable motives muddy the waters and reflect the complexities in police and legal work. My favorite character was Sandy Stern. His composure and skill in the courtroom would make anyone want him on their side. But he plays his cards close to the vest and keeps his strategy to himself, a frustration for Rusty.
Presumed Innocent is Turow’s first of eleven books in the Kindle County series. Book 11, The Last Trial was published in 2020. The one criticism I would make about the book, which is obviously dated in the sense of crime scene investigations, is the author’s use of stereotypical ethnic characterizations, some of them cringe-worthy. I’m taking a star off for that reason, but would otherwise recommend this first book in the series, especially if you want to read the rest.
Have you read Presumed Innocent or seen the movie? Leave a comment!
I think summer is the best time to read a good thriller. Here are five I hope to get to soon. All descriptions are from Goodreads.
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood – I’ve always liked Margaret Atwood’s books, but I’ve never read this one. I read The Blind Assassin (which I think is catagorized as suspense) years ago and thought it was excellent.
It’s 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer and his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.
An up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories?
Captivating and disturbing, Alias Grace showcases best-selling, Booker Prize-winning author Margaret Atwood at the peak of her powers.
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena – I’ve been meaning to read this for a couple years. A lot of these titles blend together. I actually thought I’d read this but I had it mixed up with The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner!
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all–a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.
Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they’ve kept for years.
What follows is the nerve-racking unraveling of a family–a chilling tale of deception, duplicity, and unfaithfulness that will keep you breathless until the final shocking twist.
A bride’s dream honeymoon becomes a nightmare when a man with whom she’s had a regrettable one-night stand shows up in this psychological thriller from the author of Eight Perfect Murders.
Abigail Baskin never thought she’d fall in love with a millionaire. Then she met Bruce Lamb. But right before the wedding, Abigail has a drunken one-night stand on her bachelorette weekend. She puts the incident—and the sexy guy who wouldn’t give her his real name—out of her mind, and now believes she wants to be with Bruce for the rest of her life.
Then the mysterious stranger suddenly appears—and Abigail’s future life and happiness are turned upside down. He insists that their passionate night was the beginning of something special and he’s tracked her down to prove it.
Does she tell Bruce and ruin their idyllic honeymoon—and possibly their marriage? Or should she handle this psychopathic stalker on her own? To make the situation worse, strange things begin to happen. She sees a terrified woman in the night shadows, and no one at the resort seems to believe anything is amiss… including her perfect new husband.
No Exit by Taylor Adams – I have this one on my shelf! Loaned to me by my son. It’s been a few years, so I need to read It soon!
On her way to Utah to see her dying mother, college student Darby Thorne gets caught in a fierce blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. With the roads impassable, she’s forced to wait out the storm at a remote highway rest stop. Inside are some vending machines, a coffee maker, and four complete strangers. Desperate to find a signal to call home, Darby goes back out into the storm . . . and makes a horrifying discovery. In the back of the van parked next to her car, a little girl is locked in an animal crate. Who is the child? Why has she been taken? And how can Darby save her? There is no cell phone reception, no telephone, and no way out. One of her fellow travelers is a kidnapper. But which one?
Trapped in an increasingly dangerous situation, with a child’s life and her own on the line, Darby must find a way to break the girl out of the van and escape. But who can she trust?
Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath, influencing countless novelists and filmmakers. In this first novel, we are introduced to suave, handsome Tom Ripley: a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan in the 1950s. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley becomes enamored of the moneyed world of his new friend, Dickie Greenleaf. This fondness turns obsessive when Ripley is sent to Italy to bring back his libertine pal but grows enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent feelings for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, The Talented Mr. Ripley—is up to his tricks in a 90s film and also Rene Clement’s 60s film, “Purple Noon.”
Do you like reading thrillers? Which ones are your favorites? Leave a comment!
After reading a few long books, I was in the mood for a good thriller and One by One fit the bill. I’d read Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 a few years ago and thought it was a very readable suspenseful story. There’s something about the premise of a group of people stuck and alone in a dangerous situation that I can’t resist.
One by One takes place in the French Alps where ten members of a tech startup gather for a retreat. The company, Snoop, run by extremely hip twenty-somethings, owns latest music app that enables subscribers to listen in on the music other subscribers are playing, real time. The key players are Snoop’s co-founders, Topher and Eva. They come from money and privilege, as do Elliot, their programmer and Rik, their accountant, who both went to boarding school in England with Topher. These four own nearly all the company’s shares. The last two percent belong to Liz, a former employee who has been invited to the retreat. Liz is the opposite of cool. Shabby, frumpy and awkward, she didn’t fit in at Snoop and left the company. Added to the mix are Carl the lawyer, Miranda from PR and Tiger from marketing. As personal assistants, Inigo and Ani try to keep Topher and Eva happy.
Right away, tension is thick because, although the company is hot, it’s out of cash. Eva surprises the group with news of a lucrative buyout offer, but Topher is furious because he doesn’t want to lose control of the company. An early vote shows a 50-50 split between the four shareholders. Liz will need to make the deciding vote.
Warnings of heavy snow and avalanches prompt the group to get in one good day of skiing before they’re snowbound. But Eva, an expert skier, doesn’t return and then, as predicted, the avalanche hits, crushing the area and knocking out power. Then, one by one, members of the group turn up dead. Readers will need to sort out the details of Eva’s disappearance and of the other deaths. Snoop’s remaining members, plus the chalet’s employees, Danny and Erin, must all rely each other, but trust no one. Very loosely based on And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, Ware provides all the backstories that help you figure out just enough to take you to the finish, which of course, true to a thriller, is full of dangerous action.
I find that with thrillers, you need to be a little forgiving with loose details and accept them as a way of keeping the story flowing. I liked the high-tech aspect of the story and how Ware included details of what music the Snoopers listened to. I recommend One by One to readers who like suspense and intrigue.
I know to be wary about books that get a lot of hype, but I fell for it this time. When I saw the critical acclaim from The New York Times, NPR, The Washington Post and many others, naming Razorblade Tears one of the best books of 2021, I wanted to read it.
In the beginning, I thought I was part of that cheering crowd, but I soon changed my mind. Here’s the premise of the book:
Ike Randolph and Buddy Lee Jenkins are two ex-cons whose gay sons, Isiah and Derek (married to each other) were gunned down outside a wine shop in Richmond, Virginia. When Buddy Lee suggests they combine forces to avenge their sons’ deaths, Ike agrees.
Ike, a successful Black business owner, has kept a clean record in the fifteen years he’s been out of prison for manslaughter. And he’s kept his violent temper at bay. He needs to, especially now that he and his wife have custody of three-year-old, Arianna, Isiah and Derek’s daughter. Buddy Lee, who is white, is a career con man and an alcoholic, living in a dilapidated trailer. On top of their grief, they have many regrets about shunning their sons for their homosexuality. Now they have a chance to make things a little better.
They soon learn that Ike’s son, Isiah, a journalist, was about to expose a scandalous relationship between a woman named Tangerine and an unnamed powerful man she’d met. On the other side, this powerful person has hired a hit man and his violent gang to find Tangerine and kill her before the story gets out.
Over a period of several days, Ike and Buddy Lee chase the killers and the killers chase them. And there are many violent casualties along the way, described in graphic detail. Between the violence, they move towards friendship as they joke around and share their struggles about accepting their sons. Ike also sets Buddy Lee straight on a number of racial assumptions. I thought these were good ways to bring out the subtleties of racism, one of the better parts of the book.
I was interested in the premise, but honestly, the rest of the book just isn’t that good, with all kinds of weird metaphors and choppy sentences. Razorblade Tears is described as noir fiction, and as a reader you have to accept the violence as part of the genre, but I found the characters to be stereotypical and the fight scenes hard to follow. In addition, to say you must suspend all disbelief is a huge understatement.
In the end, I felt manipulated by the hype and in the heavy-handed message about race, gender, sexuality, and a host of other social issues. I felt this could have been a much better book if the author had focused more on the characters and had chosen one or two issues.
Other WordPress bloggers have written mixed reviews. You can check them out here.
When Neve Connolly’s phone pings during a family breakfast, she drops everything and goes to Saul Stevenson’s pied-à-terre. At forty-five, she’s deeply embedded in what’s become a drudgery of marriage and children. Her affair with Saul makes her feel young again.
When Neve arrives, she finds Saul dead on the living room floor, brutally murdered. Terrified their affair will be found out, she scours the apartment and removes all evidence that she had ever been there. After hours of careful cleaning, Neve returns home, anxious to resume a normal life. But she can’t shake the feeling that she’s forgotten something and it begins to torment her.
Saul was her boss. His company, Redfern Publishing, has just taken over Sans Serif, a small printing company that Neve and her friends started after college. Now all of Redfern is shocked at Saul’s death. His assistant seems to know all and Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching is on the scene, asking questions and taking DNA samples.
As the story develops, readers learn that Neve and her husband, Fletcher have been struggling. Neve is the main breadwinner and Fletcher, an illustrator, can’t find work and battles depression. Their two young boys need attention and their moody daughter, Mabel may or may not go off to college.
Neve and her Sans Serif friends move in a unit and know each other’s business. Tamsin’s marriage is over. Renata drinks too much and Gary’s bitterness over the merger has changed him. At the center is Neve, the friend everyone thinks has it all together. During the investigation, she continues to play this role, but she’s cracking underneath. Hitching’s relentless questions and shocking revelations at home force Neve into a manic overdrive. A days-long party at their house with awkward overnight guests provides a look at how the characters interact with each other and the secrets they keep.
I enjoyed reading The Lying Room, a standalone book set in London. It’s much different from the other book I read by Nicci French (Blue Monday, the first in the Freida Klein series.). At first, I thought I was reading a thriller but the more I got into it I felt like it was more of a classic mystery. Scenes at the Connolly house remind me of other mysteries in which clues and motives emerge. And while the story begins with the tension of a thriller, it becomes much lighter as we learn about the characters and their lives. In addition, many references to cooking up sophisticated meals during the chaos of Neve’s nightmare give it a cozy feel. Although I enjoyed getting to know all the characters, I didn’t like all of them, but that’s okay.
Themes of marriage, friendship and motherhood play strongly in the story. The authors (yes that’s plural – it’s a husband-wife team) finish up with an exciting confrontation and a satisfying tie-up. I recommend The Lying Room to readers who enjoy lighter suspenseful mysteries.
Suspenseful psychological thriller about a woman with amnesia, who builds a new life for herself, only to be confronted by her past. Many twists, plus the absolutely required suspension of disbelief, take you on a wild ride of new developments, just when you’re getting comfortable with how things are.
The story begins when a strikingly beautiful and vulnerable young woman finds herself on a highway in New Jersey, injured and with no memory of how she got there. A trucker named Ed picks her up and fortunately, he’s the good kind. Wanting to do the right thing, Ed and his wife, Gigi take the young woman into their home in Philadelphia.
Ed and Gigi provide loving support while the young woman recovers and struggles with questions about her injuries and disturbing flashbacks. After the woman recovers from her physical injuries, the new “Addison Hope” begins a job at a photography store. While working, she meets Gabriel Oliver, a gallery owner from a wealthy family. It’s instant attraction. Gabriel and Addison fall in love and Gabriel proposes. Gabriel may be smitten, but his mother, Blythe is suspicious. She wants to love Addison, but Blythe’s protective instincts tell her that they must know more about this woman before she joins the family.
Meanwhile, Julian Hunter, a prominent doctor from Boston, has not given up hope that he will find his missing wife, Cassandra, mother to their seven-year-old daughter, Valentina. A chance discovery reveals, as the reader has already figured out, that Addison has another life in Boston. Readers see how the two families react to this news, especially Addison/Cassandra. The interesting part is how Gabriel, Blythe, Julian and Valentina adjust, as a lurking evil overshadows them all.
Constantine’s characters represent the good, the evil and the manipulated, and a few who do the right thing but for selfish reasons. And the story’s villain, while somewhat obvious, acts unpredictably with a twisted set of ideas. The author includes themes of marriage, family and parenthood, especially what it means to be a good mother. Problems of mental health and domestic violence show the repetitive nature of these family struggles.
The Stranger in the Mirror is a fast read, with an interesting premise. In the first half, the author lulls the reader into a false sense of security, only to pull out the rug and disrupt the characters’ lives. The second half of the book is filled with twists and reveals, many too outrageous to believe. But the story moves along to a satisfying conclusion.
Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. They are also the author of The Last Mrs. Parrish, The Last Time I Saw You, and The Wife Stalker.
Have you ever noticed how often the books we read include characters who (or is it that – someone please tell me the rule!) are writers? Some are novelists, poets, journalists or podcasters. Some are based on real-life writers. Many are struggling with their careers. They’ve either made it big and are losing their touch, or they’ve written one successful book, but haven’t written a second. Still others have made it big but struggle with the fame. These characters aren’t always the main part of the story, but many are.
I wonder if I’m just drawn to this kind of book? Here’s a list of what I’ve read: