Book Review: The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson

Book Review: The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson

Synopsis:

On the day she returns to active duty with the Serial Crimes Unit, Detective Inspector Anjelica Henley is called to a crime scene. Dismembered body parts from two victims have been found by the river.

The modus operandi bears a striking resemblance to Peter Olivier, the notorious Jigsaw Killer, who has spent the past two years behind bars. When he learns that someone is co-opting his grisly signature—the arrangement of victims’ limbs in puzzle-piece shapes—he decides to take matters into his own hands.

As the body count rises, DI Anjelica Henley is faced with an unspeakable new threat. Can she apprehend the copycat killer before Olivier finds a way to get to him first? Or will she herself become the next victim?

Drawing on her experience as a criminal attorney, debut novelist Nadine Matheson delivers the page-turning crime novel of the year. Taut, vivid and addictively sinister, The Jigsaw Man will leave you breathless until the very last page.

My Review:

Let me start by saying that The Jigsaw Man is the best book I have read so far in 2021! Yes, that good! Let me follow that up with a trigger warnings: this one is on the violent side. The serial killer being tracked is pretty brutal, and his crimes are described in the book. The descriptions are not over the top gruesome, however Matheson doesn’t hold back, either. If that is hard for you, consider yourself warned.

So what made this my favorite book of the year? Quite a few things! First, the character development is fantastic. In the police procedural style mystery novels, many times the main detectives and characters are described in terms of their jobs. The reader gets to know what history they have as a detective, and often times he or she may have trauma spawning from difficult cases in the past. In The Jigsaw Man, we get all that but so much more. DI Anjelica Henley had such a realness to her that I actually found extremely relatable! She is a married, working mom, just like so many of us, and is also struggling to balance it all. Bring in her trainee Ramouter and the dynamic blossoms even more! When Ramouter joins the case as Henely’s trainee, she is less that enthusiastic, yet as they work together a bond forms and she finds out that Ramouter is not only a good detective but a good person. I loved watching their relationship grow and cannot wait to see where they are heading in the next book!

At just under 500 pages, I was a little wary. Did this mystery really need all those pages to find a killer? The answer is yes! I didn’t get bored once, something was happening on literally every page and I just could not read this book fast enough! The plot is one of the most intricate and well planned out that I have ever read, and I was also able to easily follow along. Some of the more complex detective novels can get a little confusing, but not The Jigsaw Man. Everything fit and made sense and the ending is left as a very unusually cliffhanger. I am anxiously awaiting book 2!

Unfortunately, I feel like I write the worst reviews for the best books, I just want to say I LOVED IT over and over! I hope I did this one justice, it really is so incredibly good!

Book Review: What You Never Knew by Jessica Hamilton

Book Review: What You Never Knew by Jessica Hamilton

Thank you to Crooked Lane books for providing me with a free digital copy of What You Never Knew in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

Idyllic Avril lsland, owned by the Bennett family, where their hundred-year-old cottage sat nestled in acres of forest. Forty-year-old June Bennett believed that the island had been sold after the summer of her father’s disappearance when she was only twelve years old. It’s months after the shocking death of her older sister May in a fatal car accident, that June finds out that the cottage was never sold. Avril Island is still owned by the Bennett family and now it’s hers.

Still reeling from the grief of losing her sister, June travels back to Avril lsland in search of answers. As she digs, she learns that the townspeople believe her father may in fact have been murdered rather than having abandoned his family in the dead of night, as she was led to believe by her mother. And that’s when she begins to notice strange things happening on the island–missing family possessions showing up, doors locking on their own, unexplained noises in the night, shadowy figures disappearing into the woods. It takes June no time at all to realize that her childhood summers at Avril Island were not at all what they had seemed to be.

My Review:

I am a sucker for an atmospheric novel and this one hit the spot. June’s childhood summer cottage is on it’s own private island, in the middle of a lake. Having been closed up for 30 years, she heads back to see what is left of it, and also to find some answers to her unconventional upbringing. What ensues is a story about a woman starting over, finding herself, and also dredging up dark secrets from the past.

I really enjoyed this one, and it was a quick read. The author did a good job of building up the characters of this unusual family, especially considering all but one of them are dead. The chapters alternate between June and her sister May as a spirit. However, I don’t feel like that gave it a supernatural feel, it was more like the reader could feel just how close the two sisters were, and I felt that those parts were very well done. The mystery elements adding a nice air of suspense that of course I loved, and the twist at the end was fun, but not all that surprising.

However, I don’t feel like this one was correctly marketed. It’s out there as a dark and ominous thriller. This was not a thriller. Yes, there is a mystery surrounding June’s past and there are some shady characters, but I felt like the focus of this book was more on June’s recovery and how she is dealing with the grief of loosing her beloved sister. I did like the book, but if you are looking for a fast paced thriller, this is not the one. But if you are in the mood for something engaging but a little lighter, you might really like What You Never Knew.

Book Review: Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

Book Review: Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson has become an auto-read author for me and his newest thriller was no exception!

Synopsis:

Abigail Baskin never thought she’d fall in love with a millionaire. Then she met Bruce Lamb. He’s a good guy, stable, level-headed, kind—a refreshing twist from her previous relationships.

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 much, much more. Something special. Something real—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.

My Review:

What started out as a typical domestic thriller, Every Vow You Break took a wild turn at the end of the book and I loved every minute of it! With topics of love, marriage, and infidelity, Bruce and Abigail are all set to walk down the isle and then leave for a surprise honeymoon location. However, Abigail is in for the shock of her life!

The character development in this one was just ok, but the plot was great. I would definitely call this a popcorn thriller, it was fun to read and hard to put down. The ending is absolutely bananas, and while I have heard other reviewers mention that it is unrealistic, I viewed it from a metaphorical point of view. I can’t say much more without spoiling it, but I really liked it and what I felt it represented. I will continue to read whatever Swanson puts out!

Book Review: A Pairing To Die For

Book Review: A Pairing To Die For

Thank you to Berkley publishing for providing me a free digital copy of A Pairing to Die For in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

It’s fall in Boulder, Colorado, and the leaves aren’t the only things changing. Parker Valentine, owner of Vino Valentine, is finally settling in to her winery and her new relationship with Reid Wallace, a local chef. But their delicate pairing is endangered when Reid’s estranged family comes into town to celebrate the opening of his new restaurant.

Reid and his family are immediately at loggerheads, given their often acidic temperaments, but Parker still wants to make a good first impression. However, her efforts might be in vain when Reid’s sous chef is found dead in the alley behind the restaurant, and Reid is implicated in the murder. In order to save Reid, Parker will have to find the real killer, even if the truth is difficult to swallow.

My Review:

Another fun installment in the series, A Pairing To Die For was heavy on the mystery, this time around. Some of the same, lovable characters return, but there wasn’t as much focus on food and wine, which I feel like I missed. I wanted to spend more time in Parker’s winery. But overall an enjoyable read that was surprisingly fast paced! Looking forward to the next one!

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa

Thank you to William Morrow books for sending me a free copy of My Dark Vanessa in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

My Review:

This was one powerful book, but I do want to start off by disclaiming a trigger warning: the entire book is about grooming, sexual abuse, and rape. So if those things are difficult for you, this book is going to be difficult for you as well.

With that being said, I think that the story within these pages is a very important story to tell. And while it’s not based on a single true story, the authors note mentions that the story is based on pieces and parts from many of these true stories that have occurred over the years. The amount of power men have used against women over the years is atrocious and while this book was an uncomfortable read, I feel like it had to be that way to truly get the point across.

The chapters in this book go back and forth between Vanessa‘s high school days leading up to and into her relationship with her teacher, and 20 years in the future. This was a very smart way to write the story because it demonstrated two different things. The first, was showing the difference between how people reacted to accusations of rape even just 20 years ago versus how they react to them now. The difference is astounding. It also showed just how deeply the inappropriate relationship Vanessa had with her teacher affected her for the rest of her life. The reader gets to see just how much the relationship skewed Vanessa‘s view of men, love, and relationships forever. 

And that is what I think is the most important point. A man grooming a young girl just to get sex from her is only thinking as far as the next time he can take her to bed. But he’s not thinking about how this will damage her and how it will affect her and how long the inappropriate relations will negatively affect her life. For him it’s just sex, but for the girl it is life-long trauma, and that is the big picture painted in this book.

This is one of those books that I can’t say I loved it because it was so uncomfortable but I can say that it was amazingly well written and I’m so glad I read it. These stories need to continue to be told, whether they are truth or fiction, brushing these things under the rug is no longer acceptable.

Book Review: Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Book Review: Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Thank you to the author for sending me a free copy of Betty in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

So begins the story of Betty Carpenter. Born in a bathtub in 1954 to a white mother and a Cherokee father, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit in the rural town of Breathed, Ohio, is one of poverty and violence–both from outside the family and, devastatingly, from within. The lush landscape, rich with birdsong, wild fruit, and blazing stars, becomes a kind of refuge for Betty, but when her family’s darkest secrets are brought to light, she has no choice but to reckon with the brutal history hiding in the hills, as well as the heart-wrenching cruelties and incredible characters she encounters.

Despite the hardships she faces, Betty is resilient. Her curiosity about the natural world, her fierce love for her sisters, and her father’s brilliant stories are kindling for the fire of her own imagination, and in the face of all to which she bears witness, Betty discovers an escape: she begins to write. She recounts the horrors of her family’s past and present with pen and paper and buries them deep in the dirt–moments that have stung her so deeply she could not share them, until now.

Inspired by generations of her family, Tiffany McDaniel sets out to free the past by delivering this heartbreaking yet magical story–a remarkable novel that establishes her as one of the most important voices in American fiction.

My Review:

A bold and vibrant story about family, Betty is one of those books that stays with you for a long time. I loved getting to know the tough-as-nails Betty, as well as her enigmatic father and other family members. This family’s story is one of love and strength and overcoming all the difficulties life has to throw at you.

I do feel it is important, however, to mention that this book comes loaded with trigger warnings. Graphic scenes of rape and violence made sure to tell the whole story, every gritty detail of it, but I don’t think I am necessarily a fan of that. I personally felt like the novel became an account of every bad thing possible, and that took focus away from the depth of the characters and what could have been shown of their inner struggle. I wish the focus had been more on how the family reacted to these events and how they got through them, but the extreme focus on the actual events took center stage instead.

With that being said, I have to keep in mind that this book does represent the struggles of poverty, women, racial injustice and so much more. So it could be argued that this book is very real and shouldn’t be criticized. I have also kept in mind that this novel is based on a real life. So I will just say this: if you are ok with dark content and deep stories, then this book will probably work well for you.

Book Review: The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell

Book Review: The Truth About Melody Browne by Lisa Jewell

Thank you to Atria books for sending me a free copy of The Truth of Melody Brown in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

When she was nine years old, Melody Browne’s house burned down, taking every toy, every photograph, every item of clothing and old Christmas card with it. But not only did the fire destroy all her possessions, it took with it all her memories – Melody Browne can remember nothing before her ninth birthday. Now in her early thirties, Melody lives in a council flat in the middle of London with her seventeen-year-old son. She hasn’t seen her parents since she left home at fifteen, but Melody doesn’t mind, she’s better off on her own. She’s made a good life for herself and her son and she likes it that way. Until one night something extraordinary happens. Whilst attending a hypnotist show with her first date in years she faints – and when she comes round she starts to remember. At first her memories mean nothing to her but then slowly, day by day, she begins to piece together the real story of her childhood. Her journey takes her to the seaside town of Broadstairs, to oddly familiar houses in London backstreets and to meetings with strangers who love her like their own. But with every mystery she solves another one materialises, with every question she answers another appears. And Melody begins to wonder if she’ll ever know the truth about her past…

My Review:

This book was an absolute delight! Although Jewell is now known for her clever psychological thrillers, The Truth About Melody Browne isn’t one. This book is actually 12 years old and published in America for the first time in January, and many of Jewell’s older titles are more in the genre of women’s fiction. But don’t let that dissuade you: even though The Truth About Melody Browne isn’t a thriller, I couldn’t put this one down!

Melody felt so real to me and was such a loveable character! I can’t remember rooting for a fictional character as much as I did with Melody Browne! Her story was so compelling but also equal parts sad and inspiring. This novel is a story about family, both the family you are born with and the family you choose. It’s about love, friendship and finding yourself amidst the craziness of life. It’s about finding out where you belong and recognizing a good thing when you see it.

A full cast of eclectic characters added the magical touch to this book that I just could not put it down. I would recommend this to people that don’t have the strongest family ties, or those that didn’t have conventional childhoods. But I also recommend it to any reader with a hear beating in their chest. An absolutely wonderful story, I give this book five stars!

Book Review: Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff

Book Review: Raft of Stars by Andrew J. Graff

Thank you to Ecco books for sending me a free copy of Raft of Stars in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

It’s the summer of 1994 in Claypot, Wisconsin, and the lives of ten-year-old Fischer “Fish” Branson and Dale “Bread” Breadwin are shaped by the two fathers they don’t talk about.

One night, tired of seeing his best friend bruised and terrorized by his no-good dad, Fish takes action. A gunshot rings out and the two boys flee the scene, believing themselves murderers. They head for the woods, where they find their way onto a raft, but the natural terrors of Ironsforge gorge threaten to overwhelm them.

Four adults track them into the forest, each one on a journey of his or her own. Fish’s mother Miranda, a wise woman full of fierce faith; his granddad, Teddy, who knows the woods like the back of his hand; Tiffany, a purple-haired gas station attendant and poet looking for connection; and Sheriff Cal, who’s having doubts about a life in law enforcement.

The adults track the boys toward the novel’s heart-pounding climax on the edge of the gorge and a conclusion that beautifully makes manifest the grace these characters find in the wilderness and one another. This timeless story of loss, hope, and adventure runs like the river itself amid the vividly rendered landscape of the Upper Midwest.

My Review:

Raft of Stars has such a great set up, two boys running away from a crime they committed. This sounded to me like the makings of a fantastic coming of age story. And while the book was enjoyable, I felt like it lacked the depth that I was expecting. The entire book alternates between the boys running away, getting deeper into the forest, and the adults chasing after them. I felt like the novel focused on what was going on and the action, and not as much on character or plot development. The result is a novel that feels much more like a YA story than a mature and emotional read. There were quite a few characters with baggage, but once again they don’t get developed enough to allow a chance to feel any kind of connection with them. I think if you go into this book knowing it’s more an action story that a coming of age tale, you will enjoy it. And I did like it, but I was expecting to really love it, but that just wasn’t the case.

Book Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Book Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for providing me a free digital copy of Malibu Rising in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

My Review:

Well, I will start by saying that I anticipate being in the minority on this one, I did like Malibu Rising but I didn’t love it, even though I have really liked a lot of TJR’s previous novels. So for this review, I am going to be comparing and contrasting what I liked and didn’t like.

What I liked: The characters. In my opinion TJR write some of the most relatable, honest and realistic characters. I fell in love with the Riva siblings and honestly, I wanted to know more! They are such a dynamic group that they could easily fill another novel! I felt like in Malibu Rising, the siblings are written as a collective group, but I would have liked to get to know each one on a deeper individual level.

The past couple novels from TJR (Daisy Jones and the Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo) had very strong settings, focused on a specific decade, and were very well done in that regard. However, in Malibu Rising, set in the 80’s, I just didn’t get as strong of vibes for the decade. Maybe it’s because the 80’s aren’t all that long ago, but other than a few descriptions of some outfits, the decade nuances just did not shine through in this novel.

The biggest problem I had was with the structure and setup for the entire novel. The book takes places over the course of 24 hours, part one is 7am to 7pm, and part two is 7pm to 7am. Part one leads up to the big party Nina is going to have at her house at 7pm. When I saw that the book was set up this way, I was thrilled. I think a book taking place in just 24 hours is so fun! However, in part one, each chapter is an hour in the day (7 am, 8 am, 9 am etc). But within each chapter, only about 10% was about what was happening in the present and instead was 90% about backstory of the Riva’s parent’s meeting, marriage, and lives. I just thought it didn’t make sense to have each chapter take place in an hour of the day, but spend almost the whole chapter in the past.

I think it would have worked better to make part one about the Riva’s parents’ story, and part two be about the Riva siblings. I think I would have been more engaged that way, but instead the pacing was clunky and didn’t ever have that “pull you in” moment.

Did I like the book: Yes, it was entertaining and interesting. But I did not love it, I had too many issues to love it. I will still continue to read what Taylor Jenkins Reid puts out, because I think she is a very talent writer and storyteller. I would also still recommend this book if it sounds appealing to you or if you really like TJR. I did really like the ending and how everything came together, but as I type this, it’s been about a week since I finished the book and I already feel it fading from my memory.

Book Review: Surrender the Dead by John Burley

Book Review: Surrender the Dead by John Burley

Thank you to William Morrow books for sending me a free copy of Surrender the Dead in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis:

When Erin Reece left Wolf Point fifteen years ago after graduating high school, she’d planned to never set foot in her childhood hometown again. But an urgent phone call from her father’s doctor leaves Erin with no choice but to return to a place filled with painful memories and wounds that never closed. Two decades ago, people in Wolf Point started disappearing without a trace—including Erin’s mother—and no explanation was ever found.

It’s been years since the last disappearance, but the town is still steeped in suspicion and haunted by the ghosts of the missing. No one is thrilled to see Erin back, including her former best friend, Robbie, who has changed from a spirited, fearless boy to a reclusive shut-in.

Then a body is discovered, buried in a makeshift grave for years . . . on the Reece family’s land. The police reopen their investigation, and the evidence against Erin’s father is damning. After such a long time without answers, the community wants justice. It’s up to Erin to clear her father’s name, but the path to the truth will force her to unearth long-buried secrets and confront a terrible evil. Because in Wolf Point, everyone knows more than they are letting on . . . 

My Review:

Sometimes when a book is described as a slow burn, I think, “Ok, it’s slow paced, I won’t like it”. I always prefer a faster paced book, and can only handle a slower novel if it’s done right. Surrender the Dead is one that is done right! And it is causing me to realize that people use the phrase “slow burn” too frequently and inaccurately. In order to really call a book a slow burn novel, it has to have that tension simmering just below the surface. It has to keep you invested and wanting to keep reading. Maybe it doesn’t move at break neck speed, but you can just tell everything is all building up to something cacophonous!

That was exactly the case with Surrender the Dead. This was one of those books that I carried around with me, trying to sneak in a chapter between every adult responsibility I had, I just couldn’t put it down! A lot of back story gets filled in between the present day chapters, and some chapters were outright terrifying as they described some of the abductions that occurred in the small town of Wolf Point 20 years prior. But the back and forth of timelines wasn’t confusing and I had no problem following along.

The characters were well developed and gave me a sense that Burley really cares about his characters and what happens to them. The relationships were very natural and endearing and added such emotional depth to this thriller, which is not common in the genre. It was heartfelt and thought provoking and a really nice change of pace for me. The ending was wild, full of twists and so much fun! I highly recommend this one!