Friday Book Whimsy: Behind Her Eyes

In the past few years, I’ve become a fan of the so-called psychological thriller. Like the thousands and thousands of readers who, like me, got hooked on The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, I’ve read a number of books of this genre, trying desperately to find a worthy follow-up. Unfortunately, I’ve mostly been disappointed. For example, Girl on the Train’s author Paula Hawkins’ second novel, Into the Water, was a great disappointment.

Still, I forged on, and found myself reading Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough. The book was described as an eerie thriller with an ending that would surprise and shock the reader. It seemed like a safe bet. I like a good ending. Gone Girl had a good ending. When I finished that novel, I literally through the book across the room in frustration. But it was a good frustration.

When I finished Behind Her Eyes, I didn’t throw the book across the room because these days I read on my iPad, but I wanted to. Unfortunately, not because of a good frustration, but because of my disappointment that I had spent so much time on the book and the ending was so incredibly STUPID.

Don’t get me wrong. I found much of the book to be a good yarn with thought-provoking characters. Sure, at times I had to suspend belief because of the unlikeliness of what was transpiring. But the characters, while not particularly likeable, were interesting.

Louise is a single mom, stuck in a boring office job. One night she goes out for a drink after work. She meets an good-looking man whom she finds interesting and easy to talk to. This leads to that, and they share a passionate kiss and he leaves. She expects to never see him again, but lo, and behold, it turns out that he is her new boss, something she learns the next day when she goes to work. Oh-oh.

Oh-oh, because he has photos of his gorgeous wife sitting on his desk. What’s more, he still can’t seem to keep his eyes off of Louise. Louise vows to herself to make certain nothing untoward happens, but accidentally befriends his wife. Belief-suspension kicked in, because this reader can’t even begin to understand how this happened, despite the author’s efforts to explain.

It isn’t long before Louise realizes that something is amiss in the marriage, but she can’t figure out who’s at fault. David (the boss) appears to be controlling and Adele (the wife) appears to be frightened of her husband. As for David, he continues to appear to be the kind of man who is sweet and loving. Louise spends most of the novel trying to figure out what’s happening.

It isn’t badly written. In fact, I enjoyed most of the novel. The conclusion, however, was so ridiculous (at least in this reader’s view) that I simply can’t recommend the book. It became clear as to why Behind Her Eyes got such mixed reviews from other readers.

So, read the book at your own risk!

Here is a link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: The Woman in Cabin 10

imgresMurder on a cruise ship. It sounds very Agatha Christie, doesn’t it? All it needs is a small Belgian detective using his little gray cells to solve the mystery. Except about the only similarity between Agatha Christie and author Ruth Ware is their British background.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is Ware’s second novel. Her first, In a Dark, Dark Wood, (which I reviewed here) was a psychological thriller that took place in an all-glass house deep in the woods somewhere in England. Her second, The Woman in Cabin 10, is another psychological thriller, this one taking place on a cruise ship.

In fact, for the most part, The Woman in Cabin 10 is simply The Girl on a Train, except on a cruise ship. I found myself alternately at the edge of my seat because of gripping tension, or screaming out loud, “Oh for heaven’s sake, don’t have another drink!”

I found the book frustrating.

Laura Blacklock (called Lo) is a writer for a London magazine. Circumstances result in her getting a coveted assignment – reporting on the inaugural cruise of a very fancy schmancy small cruise ship on some rich-and-famous people will be traveling. This is her BIG CHANCE. DON’T. SCREW. IT. UP.

Unfortunately, at the very beginning of the book (and shortly before she leaves on this business cruise), Lo’s apartment is burgled while she is home. The burglar, though he has a gun, does not kill her, but instead leaves with some of her belongings. The incident shakes her up so much that she pretty much is a wreck for the rest of the book.

Already freaked out because of her own personal incident, the very first night on the cruise ship, she borrows some makeup from the woman in the next room, and later on witnesses a body being thrown overboard from that same room.

Well, it turns out no one else has seen that particular woman – EVER – and no one else heard a body being thrown overboard. And since Lo has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder for which she takes antidepressants, and since she is already freaked out by her own scare prior to leaving, no one believes her.

So what does she do? She drinks too much, takes too many prescription medications, and tries to solve the mystery herself.

The main problem with the story, at least in my opinion, is that the character of Lo Blacklock is so inherently dislikable. I wanted to not believe her myself. She seems to be paralyzed with fear – something that might be realistic, but doesn’t make for a very interesting novel. And I seriously got so very tired of her being drunk and overmedicated. Just say no to drugs, Lo.

And yet, just as with Ware’s first novel, the writing is quite good. Good enough, in fact, that I continued to read. And while the ending didn’t blow me away with surprise, I found it to be fairly satisfying and somewhat unpredictable.

Overall, I can recommend this book for people who like thrillers such as The Girl on the Train. Just be prepared to understand that this novel, readers, is not the next The Girl on the Train, as hard as the author might try and as strongly as the publishers might try to sell the idea that it is.

Here is link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: In a Dark, Dark Wood

searchYou’ve got your cabin in the woods, a gathering of friends, loss of cell service, thunder storms, and the inevitable murder, creating quite an unnerving tale of jealousy and insecurity.

What I found particularly disturbing in Ruth Ware’s creepy In a Dark, Dark Wood was the cabin itself, which for me provided the utmost in scariness. Smack dab in the middle of a deserted wooded area sits a house made entirely of glass. The trees provide the only cover, but also the spookiness. There is no privacy and no protection.

Nora is a 26-year-old writer who is invited to a friend’s bachelorette party that is being held in the glass house in the dark, dark woods. Though she has literally not spoken to her friend in over a decade, she agrees to attend. I admit I found that premise to be suspect. Why is she invited, and why on earth would she accept?

Upon arriving at the glass house, Nora learns that the man to whom her friend is engaged is none other than her old boyfriend, someone who broke her heart years before and for whom she has pined ever since.

The gathering includes a decidedly unsettling group of friends, particularly the woman who has put the weekend together. She seemed to come straight from a Stephen King novel.

Somewhere in the middle of the book (yes, it takes that long), the groom-to-be is murdered right there in the house. Why was he there and guess who all clues point to? Yes, the murderer can only be Nora herself.

Except we know it’s not her. But the reader really doesn’t know who the murderer is until the very end because the book has a multitude of red herrings.

I’m sounding cynical, but I actually liked the book a lot. It was spooky enough, but not enough to keep a reader awake at night. The setting and the author’s descriptions provide a sinister element that is suitably spooky.

My main complaint is the lack of a realistic premise. I can’t see any reason why Nora agreed to attend, nor does Nora’s fixation with the groom, with whom she had a brief high school relationship, seem convincing.

Still, I recommend the book. I am looking forward to reading Ware’s newest book The Woman in Cabin 10. It is reported to be the next The Girl on the Train. That’s a shock, isn’t it?

Here is link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy: The Gates of Evangeline

24875394In 2014 and early 2015, every thriller was marketed as being the next Gone Girl. Suddenly that changed. Now every psychological thriller is purported to be the next The Girl on the Train. I guess that’s how an author knows he or she has made it – you become the gauge by which all similar genre are measured.

But having liked both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, I was interested in The Gates of Evangeline by first-time novelist Hester Young, and purported to be the next The Girl on the Train. For one thing, in addition to being marketed to fans of The Girl on the Train, it is also called a southern gothic mystery, and that label will grab me every single time.

As it turned out, while not nearly as compelling as The Girl on the Train, I found The Gates of Evangeline  to be a worthwhile read for lovers of mysteries.

Charlotte (Charlie) Cates, an ambitious divorced career woman who lives in New York City, is stopped dead in her tracks when her 5-year-old son suddenly dies of a brain aneurism. Now she struggles just to get up every morning. The novel opens with her trying to get her life back together.

An old friend who is the editor of Cold Crimes Magazine comes to her rescue by asking her to investigate and write a subsequent article about a 30-year-old cold case at an old plantation in Louisiana called Evangeline. A child has been missing for three decades and is presumed dead. A body, however, has never been found and no one was every charged. Faced with a bleak future spent mourning the death of her son, Charlie is tempted by this offer.

About this same time, Charlie suddenly begins having dreams that accurately predict terrible things happening to children. This, coupled with her ongoing depression, lead her to accept the challenge and move to Louisiana to live on the estate with the family of the missing child.

What she finds are a lot of family secrets, mysterious and mixed reactions to her presence, and a spark of romance.

Though somewhat predictable (I was able to come up with the ending long before the book was over), I nevertheless enjoyed the story very much. Young developed interesting characters and I enjoyed her storytelling.

I look forward to her next effort.

Here is a link to the book.


Friday Book Whimsy-Thursday Edition: Favorite Books of 2015

I am often astounded at how many books some book bloggers read each year. Some post a book review almost every day. Of course, their blogs are devoted to book reviews, so it is incumbent upon them to read, read, read. I think that I read a lot, and yet I never seem to break the 100-books-in-a-year mark. This year my total was 93 books.

Oh well, I’m telling myself. I do have a life beyond books. Say, friends and family. Oh, and now crocheting.

I post a book review every Friday, but I read many more books than those for which I post a review. For example, I generally don’t post books (almost always mysteries) that are part of a series unless I found the book particularly compelling or I’m begging you to read the series. And since I’ve already admitted that my reading motto is Life is too short to read a bad book, I start many books that I set aside because I simply didn’t like them. That is why most of my book reviews are positive. So, sue me.

Having said all of the meaningless babble above, here are my five favorite books I read in 2015 for which I posted a review.

5. The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
An unexpectedly upbeat and pleasing read about a quirky family with an unhappy past joined together simply because they love one another. An interesting element of this book is that the mother is a hoarder, which definitely defines the family members and impacts the plot of the book. It isn’t, however, what defines this interesting story. I was surprised at how much I loved this book, which I wouldn’t have picked up if someone hadn’t so highly recommended it to me.

4. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
Karon’s Mitford stories are like eating dessert first. They are simply delicious and not to be missed. The characters, the setting, the stories — all mix together to make for a wonderful read. Her latest novel involves the marriage of two favorite characters, and allows readers the opportunity to get to know better some who previously were only marginally present. Pour a cup of coffee or tea and settle down for a pleasant experience.

3. The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
Talk about a book I can’t believe I liked so much! This story takes place in Cambodia, which is the only reason I read the book (a daughter-in-law is from Cambodia). Based on a true story, the family — mom, dad, and little boy — lives in a municipal waste dump in Cambodia and they survive on what they make from scavenging the dump each day and selling the wares. That’s the setting, but the story is about friendship and loyalty and what it means to love someone. It was a truly beautiful story that I highly recommend.

2. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
My heart broke year before last when one of my favorite authors — Kent Haruf — passed away. Our Souls at Night was his final gift to those of us who love his writing. The book is once again set in the fictional Colorado town of Holt. Septuagenarian Addie Moore, a widow for many years, marches over to her equally-aged neighbor Louis Waters’ house and suggests they, well, hook up. Sleep together. Just see how it works out. The result is a surprisingly beautiful story about love and friendship. I enjoyed Haruf’s stories for his characters, and while not as good as his first novel Plainsong (nothing could be), it was a wonderful book.

And my favorite book of 2015…..

1. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Dang, I hate being predictable. The Girl on the Train is likely to be the favorite read of 2015 of many book reviewers, but it’s for a good reason. I couldn’t put down this book. The author doled out the pieces of the mystery little by little, keeping the readers in constant suspense. The final pages were delicious. The characters were interesting, imperfect, multifaceted, and realistic. I can’t wait for Hawkins’ next effort. This one will be hard to beat.

I’m looking forward to many more good books in 2016. Maybe that will be the year that I finally beat that 100-book challenge.

This post linked to the GRAND Social 


Friday Book Whimsy: The Girl on the Train

Nana’s Note: Nanas Whimsies is currently undergoing some site construction changes. As these changes are taking place, I have noticed that some “comments” are vanishing. I assume the Case of the Missing Comments will be solved once my construction is complete. In the meantime, rest assure that I am actually seeing the comments, though they sometimes disappear. More about my web site changes at a later date.

searchI was drawn to the premise of Paula Hawkins’ novel The Girl on the Train even before it became apparent to me that it was going to be one of the Big Reads of 2015. Being a story teller at heart, it is not uncommon for me to observe someone in, say, the grocery checkout line, and create a story about him or her. The story becomes quite real to me, though I generally don’t see the person again and never find out whether or not my story is even remotely true.

The girl on the train is Rachel Watson, an unhappily divorced young woman who commutes daily on the same train to London. During her daily commute, the train passes a row of houses and Rachel observes two people living in one of the houses, an attractive couple she calls Jess and Jason. Rachel begins to invent a story about the two people she observes daily and their supposedly happy life.

Unfortunately, one day as she is passing by the house, she observes “Jess” kissing a strange man. The next day Rachel learns that “Jess” (whose real name, it turns out, is Megan) has gone missing. Thus, Rachel is drawn into the real-life story, as she feels compelled to make sure the police know about the stranger.

The Girl on the Train has a definite Gone Girl vibe to it. The story is narrated from three perspectives, giving the reader the opportunity to see what has happened from different viewpoints. We learn the depths of Rachel’s unhappiness, which lead her to severe alcoholism. (Or does her alcoholism lead her to unhappiness?) Her alcoholism becomes almost a character in the novel, often driving the story.

Megan and her husband (whose name isn’t Jason, but Scott) don’t have the wonderfully carefree life imagined by Rachel, and as the book progresses, we learn Megan’s disturbing story.

The final narrator is Anna, the wife of Rachel’s ex-husband, who seemingly wants nothing more than to have her husband Tom’s alcoholic ex-wife leave them alone with their baby and their life.

When Megan’s body is finally discovered, the story — as told from the different perspectives — unfolds. Creepy as it all was, I couldn’t put the book down.

Hawkins’ debut novel has the readability of that coming from a master storyteller, and I dare you to figure out the murderer very much in advance.

Comparisons to Gone Girl are inevitable, but the ending was more satisfying. I look forward to future books.

Buy The Girl on the Train from Amazon here.

Buy The Girl on the Train from Barnes and Noble here.

Buy The Girl on the Train from Tattered Cover here.

Buy The Girl on the Train from Changing Hands here.