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    Book Review: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, by Alyssa Mastromonaco with Lauren Oyler

    Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?I’m teetering between three and three and a half stars for this book. I think that when I picked it up I expected more light, witty commentary and humorous anecdotes about life in the White House. There are some humorous stories, but there are also a lot of amazing, frustrating, and sad stories. It’s less of a humorous book and more of a general memoir/self-help tome, which I discovered partway through (and which reminded me to read book jackets more carefully whilst still at the library to avoid false expectations!).

    I’m trying to sprinkle more nonfiction books into my reading list, and Who Thought…? was a pretty good addition. Covering the author’s years working in the Obama administration, it’s a mixture of stories about her White House life and honest advice to young women looking to navigate the professional world, whether in government or the private sector. The book is divided into chapters focusing on the traits she feels are required for success, such as being prepared and showing kindness, and I felt like she had a lot of very down-to-earth experience packed into those chapters to back them up. It’s also a lot less condescending than a lot of the “self-help” books I’ve picked up in the past.

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    Book review: In the House in the Dark of the Woods, by Laird Hunt

     

    In the House in the Dark of the Woods, by Laird HuntI think that In the House in the Dark of the Woods is one of those books that people will either rate very lowly (and possibly shelve as DNF), because they find it too weird and nonsensical; or rate very highly, and write long reviews praising the genius of the author in crafting it.

    God, did I want to love this book. I mean, just look at that cover! I’m somewhere in the middle, though, at two and a half stars. I did actually finish the book at least, though this is partly due to the fact that it’s so short. But throughout, and afterward, I kept saying “What the hell did I just read?”

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    Book review: Emma in the Night, by Wendy Walker

    Emma in the Night, by Wendy WalkerOne ordinary night, Emma and Cass Tanner disappear. They drive to the beach and seemingly dissolve into thin air. Or maybe only Emma goes to the beach—there’s nothing to say Cass was actually with her. Or maybe they never made it to the beach, though how else do you explain Emma’s shoes left so neatly at the edge of the water?

    That’s not where the story begins, however. It begins on another night, three years later, when Cass Tanner reappears. She has a story to tell about what happened that night, and where she’s been for the past three years. Or maybe she’s gotten some of the details confused, and this memory is a product of a shattered mind. Or maybe she’s flat out lying—something about her story doesn’t sound right to Abby, the FBI psychologist who worked the original case and now returns to interview Cass.

    I realize that Emma might look a lot like dozens of other thrillers that are published every year. The cover, the title, the subject matter—teen sisters go missing, one comes back, psychological chaos ensures—they’re not necessarily unique. (But is anything, anymore? Still, I digress…) What made this book stand out to me was the author–I previously read All Is Not Forgotten and greatly enjoyed it—but if you don’t have previous experience with Wendy Walker, allow me to give you a few reasons to select her book over another:

    • Walker doesn’t mess around with her words. Clocking in at a succinct 300 pages, Emma doesn’t waste your time with scenes or descriptions that are mere fluff. It’s a fast and tightly edited read.
    • Like unreliable narrators? Then you’ll like Cass, Walker’s heroine, who walks that fine line between traumatized teen and master manipulator like it’s in her blood. Oh, wait—it is. Which brings me to reason #3:
    • The family drama in this book is so out and out crazy, and yet, these characters never feel like caricatures. I’ve read quite a few thrillers where I just never quite connect to any of the players, or where the villains feel one-dimensional. But even if I didn’t necessarily like Walker’s characters, I understood them. She’s a master at creating psychological suspense with people who seem completely normal on the outside, and almost a little bit sympathetic.

    So now that I’ve convinced you to read this book, why are you still here? Go grab a copy and curl up for a binge-reading session!

    Emma in the Night, by Wendy Walker (308 pages). Psychological thriller, suspense, mystery. Four out of five stars. Find it on Goodreads and remember to follow me while you’re there!

     

    Like psychological thrillers about unreliable narrators? You might also like The Last Time I Lied, by Riley Sager (review here).

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    Book review: The Last Time I Lied, by Riley Sager

    The Last Time I Lied, by Riley Sager“The time for lies is over.”

    Or is it?

    I absolutely love unreliable narrators. It’s fun retracing my steps to see all the ways they fooled me, the reader. I love guessing at whether they’re being truthful and if not, whether they even realize as much. It adds a delightful layer of mystery to a standard whodunit and increases the tension as I try to decide if I should in fact be suspicious of the hero/ine, rather than cheering them on.

    The Last Time I Lied uses the concept of an unreliable narrator to further the drama surrounding an unsolved disappearance as murky as the waters of the lake at Camp Nightingale, where a trio of teen girls vanishes without a trace. The last person to see them is thirteen-year-old Emma Davis, who watches the girls tiptoe out of their shared cabin late one night, never to return.

    Fifteen years later, Emma—now a breakout darling in the art world—returns to Camp Nightingale as a painting instructor at the behest of the owners. But what are their hidden motives for inviting her to return? Emma certainly isn’t showing all her cards, as she still suspects foul play in the disappearance of the girls. She hopes this trip will give her a chance to dig deeper into the mysteries of the camp.

    What secrets is the elderly Franny hiding? What about her sons, one of whom Emma originally accused of harming the girls? Other players lurk on the edges–staff, former counselors, fellow campers now returning as instructors.

    And maybe…Emma herself? Emma swears she’s done telling lies, but is that a lie, too? She has quite a few dark secrets of her own, as it turns out.

    I rocketed through this book in one sitting, and I suspect you’ll have trouble putting it down too: it’s hard to guess what’s going to happen until the very last pages. Sager is a master of red herrings. The way the book switches between past and present also ratchets up the tension, as new truths and falsehoods are slowly revealed.

    My recommendation: if you love twisty thrillers like Gone Girl, full of darkness and unreliable characters, do yourself a favor and clear out a weekend to binge-read this book! Just make sure you have a frozen pizza on hand, since you won’t want to stop reading to cook dinner.

    The Last Time I Lied, by Riley Sager (384 pages); thriller, mystery, suspense. Find it on Goodreads and don’t forget to follow me while you’re there for more book updates and reviews!

     

    Love thrillers? You may also want to check out The Silent Wife, by A.S.A. Harrison.

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    Book review: The Escape Room, by Megan Goldin

    The Escape Room, by Megan GoldinThe Escape Room intrigued me because of the premise: four hotshot investment bankers are lured to an abandoned office complex under the premise of participating in a team-building “escape room” exercise. Instead, they’re locked in an elevator, where clues and hints about their pasts create an atmosphere of suspicion.

    Who among them knows more than they’re letting on? Is it Vincent, alpha male and full of secrets? Sylvie, bitter over the unfair assessment of her worth versus that of her male peers? Or could it be Sam or Jules, both cash-strapped and desperate to outshine the competition in a season of small bonuses and large layoffs?

    And what does their plight have to do with a long-gone colleague named Sara, whose POV is intercut with the elevator scenes?