Such A Pretty Smile by Kristi Demeester #bookreview #thriller #psychological suspense

A biting novel from an electrifying new voice, Such a Pretty Smile is a heart-stopping tour-de-force about powerful women, angry men, and all the ways in which girls fight against the forces that try to silence them.

There’s something out there that’s killing. Known only as The Cur, he leaves no traces, save for the torn bodies of girls, on the verge of becoming women, who are known as trouble-makers; those who refuse to conform, to know their place. Girls who don’t know when to shut up.

2019: Thirteen-year-old Lila Sawyer has secrets she can’t share with anyone. Not the school psychologist she’s seeing. Not her father, who has a new wife, and a new baby. And not her mother—the infamous Caroline Sawyer, a unique artist whose eerie sculptures, made from bent twigs and crimped leaves, have made her a local celebrity. But soon Lila feels haunted from within, terrorized by a delicious evil that shows her how to find her voice—until she is punished for using it.

2004: Caroline Sawyer hears dogs everywhere. Snarling, barking, teeth snapping that no one else seems to notice. At first, she blames the phantom sounds on her insomnia and her acute stress in caring for her ailing father. But then the delusions begin to take shape—both in her waking hours, and in the violent, visceral sculptures she creates while in a trance-like state. Her fiancé is convinced she needs help. Her new psychiatrist waves her “problem” away with pills. But Caroline’s past is a dark cellar, filled with repressed memories and a lurking horror that the men around her can’t understand.

As past demons become a present threat, both Caroline and Lila must chase the source of this unrelenting, oppressive power to its malignant core. Brilliantly paced, unsettling to the bone, and unapologetically fierce, Such a Pretty Smile is a powerful allegory for what it can mean to be a woman, and an untamed rallying cry for anyone ever told to sit down, shut up, and smile pretty. 

The publisher sent me the NetGalley widget for this novel, and I was on the fence about downloading it, but took the plunge. I’m still not quite sure how I feel after reading it.

I like the theme of female empowerment and stopping men who try to silence women or dismiss them as hysterical when they try to express their feelings. But this is a very bizarre, sometimes confusing, and occasionally disturbing story. At times I honestly didn’t know what was happening – but I plowed through this book in a couple days.

Fifteen years apart, young teen girls are brutally killed in similar ways. It happened when Caroline was in her twenties and has started again. She’s understandably worried about her thirteen-year-old daughter, Lila. When Lila begins acting strangely, memories Caroline hoped to keep buried are resurrected, and her backstory and their similar experiences are revealed in alternating POV and timeline chapters. From her dying father, Caroline learns that as a very young girl she went missing for several days, but has no memory of what happened to her during that time. By the end of the novel, I still didn’t have a firm grasp of what she experienced during that disappearance either.

This is a bloody, gory tale, and those scenes are well-written and sure to delight horror fans, but for me personally, too many elements are left undefined, and I needed more of a concrete explanation for what happens to Caroline and Lila. Were their experiences real? Just delusions? I’m not certain. Reviews are split, so if you’re a reader who enjoys ambiguous storylines this may be for you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Last House on Needless Street by Catriona Ward #bookreview #psychologicalthriller #suspense #TuesdayBookBlog

Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street is a shocking and immersive read perfect for fans of Gone Girl and The Haunting of Hill House.

In a boarded-up house on a dead-end street at the edge of the wild Washington woods lives a family of three.

A teenage girl who isn’t allowed outside, not after last time.
A man who drinks alone in front of his TV, trying to ignore the gaps in his memory.
And a house cat who loves napping and reading the Bible.

An unspeakable secret binds them together, but when a new neighbor moves in next door, what is buried out among the birch trees may come back to haunt them all.

With this book blurbed by heavy hitters Stephen King, Joe Hill, and Sarah Pinborough, I doubt many readers passed on requesting it from NetGalley. And what an eerie cover!

It’s difficult to review this without giving away spoilers, but let’s give it a shot. A layered story, a gradual reveal, a slow unraveling of the truth – all are apt descriptions of this novel. You’ll form and discard plenty of theories. Some of them may actually be half correct – or not. Told primarily from the viewpoints of Ted, his daughter Lauren, and Olivia the cat (as a servant to many feline overlords over the years, I can say the author totally nailed a cat’s internal thoughts), it’s clear early on something isn’t right in this house. Sometimes their viewpoints contradicted each other, and I questioned if they were even reliable narrators.

This is a dark, dark novel that may make you uncomfortable at times with its subject matter. You may not even like the story and characters, but it grabs you in a way that makes it nearly impossible to stop turning the pages so you can discover exactly what’s going on in this boarded up house.

Intriguing, disorienting, heart-breaking, and horrific at times, this isn’t a story for the faint of heart, but it’s one I’d highly recommend to fans of dark psychological suspense/thrillers bordering on horror. Make sure to read the author’s note at the end of the story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman #TuesdayBookBlog #suspense

This chilling novel from the bestselling, award-winning author of The Lake of Dead 30759310Languages blends the gothic allure of Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca and the crazed undertones of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper with the twisty, contemporary edge of A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife—a harrowing tale of psychological suspense set in New York’s Hudson Valley.

When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation—of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career.

They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.

But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is—this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate—it seems to be after Clare next… – Goodreads.com

Reading The Widow’s House was a strange experience for me because rarely have I come across a book in which I disliked so many characters.  That being said, this is a wonderful blend of gothic and twisty psychological suspense and once I reached around the halfway mark, I honestly wasn’t sure which direction this story would take.  And I still wasn’t certain until the last several pages.  So, yeah – it’s compelling.

The setting is modern day New York, but Riven House might as well be an old ancestral manor in the English countryside.  With a long tainted history, it holds many secrets that are gradually revealed as the pages are turned.  Toward the end of this book, like Clare, I wasn’t sure what was real anymore and questioned everyone’s motives and actions – which thrilled me as a reader.

Getting back to the characters – I’ll focus on Clare.  It’s difficult for me to connect to a story when I can’t get behind the MC.  Clare isn’t very likable for various reasons, but for me, it’s because she considers herself inferior to her husband and is constantly worried about upsetting him, and when there’s friction between them, she looks for another man to rescue her.  Slather some paranoia on top of that and you’ve got yourself a basket case; however, I’ll say that some of her behavior makes sense at the end.

Although I didn’t care for most of the characters, the plot was strong enough to hook me and I’d recommend this to fans of psychological suspense.  The Widow’s House is scheduled for publication March 21st, 2017.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the ARC.

 

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman #FridayBookShare @ShelleyWilson72

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Friday Book Share was created by Shelley Wilson.   Anyone can have a go – all you need to do is answer the following questions based on a book you are currently reading/finished reading this week and use the hashtag #FridayBookShare.  The rules are as follow:

First line of the book.

Recruit fans by adding the book blurb.

Introduce the main character using only three words.

Delightful design (add the cover image of the book).

Audience appeal (who would enjoy reading this book?)

Your favorite line/scene.

I’m currently reading The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman – will probably finish it today or tomorrow.

First line:  When I picture the house I see it in the late afternoon, the golden river light filling the windows and gilding the two hundred year old brick.

Recruit fans by adding book blurb:  When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation—of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career.

They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.

But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is—this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate—it seems to be after Clare next…

Introduce the main character:  Clare is far from my favorite character – I actually don’t care for any of the characters in this book, but am enjoying the mystery.  Clare is kind, weak, and subservient.

Delightful design:

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Audience appeal:  Fans of psychological suspense with a gothic feel.

Your favorite line/scene:  I pulled the sleeping bag over his chest, stood up, and startled at the sight of my reflection in the glass doors.  Only it wasn’t my reflection.  The figure on the terrace was splattered with blood too, but she was wearing a long dress and a shawl covering her head and shoulders and she clutched a bundle to her chest.  I stood frozen, waiting for the image to dissipate into something else – as it always had before – into a scrap of fog, a trick of moonlight, a shift of shadow.  But it didn’t.  Instead it – she – turned and vanished into the darkness of the lawn.