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The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

The Weight of LiesThe Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What makes an amazing thriller? Creepy characters, family secrets, a surreal setting, a touch of romance, an intriguing mystery you just can’t seem to figure out?

Emily Carpenter packs it all into “The Weight of Lies,” a beautifully crafted mystery/thriller which pulls you in from the first pages and doesn’t let up until the very end. I enjoyed every minute of this book, and am wondering how I’m going to possibly follow it up.

Megan Ashley is a trust fund kid trying to find her own calling and her own identity after living in the shadow of her famous mother her entire life. Her mother wrote a phenomenally popular bestseller as a young woman (think the “50 Shades” type success), based loosely on the tragic events of a summer she spent at a hotel on a remote Georgia coastal island. Now, Megan decides to solve the decades-old mystery once and for all, visiting the now shuttered hotel and writing her own book. But she can’t shake the bad feelings that engulf her as she spends time on the island. What happened all those years ago? And how will it all come to a head now, 40 years later?

The atmosphere of this book is tremendous. You can’t quite get a grip on the characters as you meet them. Everyone seems to have something to hide and something to gain from the situation so it creates an atmosphere of miss trust and tension that ripples deliciously throughout the book.

That ambiguity and the multiple layers of the story really make the central mystery so compelling and just out of reach. You think you have it solved several times throughout the novel, but then something else throws you in a new direction. I didn’t guess the ending ahead of time.

I enjoyed the excerpts of Frances’ famous book, “Kitten” throughout the novel, but would have enjoyed a book summary or something to clear up exactly what happened. We just get glimpses, but no the total picture explained. Like, I wish the CliffNotes summary of “Kitten” was the last chapter, lol.

Bottom line: Anyone who enjoys a good mystery/thriller in the vein of “Girl on the Train” or Gillian Flynn’s novel should go get this book right away. You won’t regret it.

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The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

The Roanoke GirlsThe Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one had been in my queue for awhile, as I got busy with other deadlines. But I was so happy to get to read it, and I am ecstatic to say that this book was well worth the wait. Creepy, suspenseful and full of drama – this book has it all and kept me turning pages late into the night.

First: one of the themes of this book is sexual abuse, and those who wish to avoid that topic should probably skip this book.

The book follows two timelines: Lane Roanoke moves to the family home in Kansas after the suicide of her mother. Living there are her grandparents and her cousin (also 16 years old at the time) live there. All Lane knows about her relatives is that her mother was estranged from them and that her and Allegra are the last of “the Roanoke Girls,” a line of young women who either die young or run away. After one fateful summer, Lane runs. Eleven years later, she learns Allegra is missing and she decides to return to Roanoke to find Allegra and face her family’s demons once and for all.

This book packs quite an emotional punch, really grabbing you from the first page and never letting go. There is a pervading sense of something being “off” as soon as Lane gets to the house, and while it doesn’t remain a secret for long, you can’t look away because you want to know how it all ends. There are so many things that you need to know.

The book also touches on a lot of issues that are really important (fidelity, love, abuse, etc.) and it really gives a great weight to the story. You don’t feel like you’re reading a gratuitous, dramatic novel, but something much more important, if that makes sense. It gets you thinking about different issues and things people face.

I really liked this book and can’t recommend it enough. It’s hard to describe why, but I guess the book just pulls you in and makes you care about the people in it.

I can’t wait for more from Amy Engel.

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Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

Dead Letters: A NovelDead Letters: A Novel by Caite Dolan-Leach

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I would put this book at right around 3.5 stars. It’s a intense story which kept me reading, but much like “The Good Daughter,” “Dead Letters” had some flaws.

But overall, I did like this book, and I enjoyed guessing to see if I could figure it out (I didn’t). It kept me plenty entertained, for sure.

The story revolves around Ava Antipova, who comes from an incredibly dysfunctional family of alcoholics (including her father who left the family and started again and her mother who was diagnosed with Lewey Body Dementia and is barely able to grasp reality at times), who own a vineyard in upstate New York. She has been in Paris for the past 20 months when she gets word that her estranged twin, Zelda, has died in a barn fire. When she arrives home, not only does it come out that the fire is being labeled as “suspicious,” but her sister may have faked her death. She must follow clues Zelda left for her to find out whether her sister is dead or alive, and why she had to resort to such a drastic measure.

Some reviewers have said it’s more of a “family drama” than a mystery/thriller, so they felt let down or mislead. While this novel really is a family drama on a basic level, there is a mystery right at its core – is Zelda alive or dead? – that I think pushes it over the edge into mystery/thriller territory. I was hooked on trying to figure in out, and the author does a great job of keeping up the suspense. I flipped my opinion with each passing chapter: “No she’s definitely dead….No way, she’s alive!…..Are you kidding me? She’s dead!”

I also loved that it was set in Watkins Glen! I live about 40 minutes away, and love visiting there – and the author really gave an accurate depiction of the region, IMO.

My main issues with the book were that I really didn’t like any of the Antipovas. Like, I actively hated each of them at some point. In the book, Ava admits that all four members of the family are alcoholics, but while she can acknowledge that, she doesn’t do anything about it, so the novel is essentially like watching an alcoholic friend destroy themselves slowly while they refuse to get help. It was frustrating. For girls that seemed to have so much potential, both sisters were completely unlivable in their own ways, and I found myself rooting for the whole damn vineyard to burn down; it was probably what was best for all of them.

Also, the ending sucked. It really did. Without spoiling it, it raised more questions than answers. While the Zelda puzzle is solved, not much else is. I actually had to reread the last chapter because I came up with a new question and thought I missed something.

Basically, if you like reading a good mystery, this one is good. You’ll enjoy trying to figure it out. But if you are looking for character development or redeeming endings, they’re not here.

Moderately recommended.

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The Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt

The Good DaughterThe Good Daughter by Alexandra Burt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So I want to start off by saying that I liked this book. I’m glad I stuck with it, didn’t listen to the negative reviews. But I understand where they come from.

First things first: one of the main storylines involves a violent sexual assault. Readers should be aware.

The story is good and has potential, lots of it: Dahlia is a woman who has come back to her hometown (or at least the place she lived the longest with her eccentric mother) to care for said mother and finally hear the truth about her past. Then, Dahlia stumbles upon a woman, badly beaten, in the woods. And her mother begins acting stranger than normal. All of it is connected, if Dahlia can only figure out how.

The issue with the story is that it’s like an airplane that doesn’t quite take off. Every time the story gets going, any time there’s a big reveal, the author drops it and move onto another thread. Or starts a new chapter from a different perspective in a completely different place. Its hard to stay excited with that happening.

Also, it’s hard to connect with the characters. They’re so “eccentric” that they’re aloof, really. I couldn’t get a good read on them or their motivations. Like how Dahlia just accepts that she’ll never be more than an under-the-table hotel maid. Just like that. It’s hard to understand.

But the story did keep my interest. You can tell everything’s connected somehow, and I did want to find out. I just didn’t feel desperate to know, like with other mysteries.

I think this book is really miscast as a thriller, when it’s more a drama. Maybe knowing some of that going in, people would understand it better. I might have had less of a “thriller” expectation, and understood that it would be slower paced.

I would say if you have the time and patience to read a good family drama, this would be a good book. It’s going to take a little bit to get into it. But it will turn out enjoyable if you stick with it. Trust me.

If you’re looking for a nice, tight thriller, skip it.

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