Tag Archives: thriller

Review: Then She Was Gone

Recap: Laurel Mack has been struggling for a long time. Her daughter went missing at the age of 15 and was never found. It was the kind of tragedy that destroyed her marriage and broke her relationship with her other children too, as they remained just that: “other.” So when she meets a nice man, the first who has taken interest in her in quite some time, she is flustered, flattered and fairly fixated on him.

Very quickly she meets his daughter, Poppy. Laurel can’t seem to get Poppy out of her mind. Poppy and her daughter, Ellie, look so much alike that Laurel finds herself consumed with the disappearance of Ellie once again. She doesn’t want to let her family in on it since they’ve finally reached a point in which they’re getting along well again after so many years of grief, pain and awkwardness.

So she sets out for answers by herself, and what she learns leaves her astonished.

Analysis: Holy, Gone Girl vibes. This twisty thriller was a page-turner, but offered a different determination than Gone Girl did for me (and yes, Gone Girl has become my go-to book of comparison for all modern-day, female-written and female-driven thriller novels); where Gone Girl‘s twists captured me by complete surprised, I’ve now come to expect the shocking surprises. Instead of desperately trying to learn what happened in Then She Was Gone, I found myself powering through to figure out if my theories were rights.

As it turns out, it was. And therein lies the problem for me. As much as I enjoyed this book – and I really did! – the foreshadowing was anything but subtle. Several friends who read the book along with me also figured out at least some aspect of the mystery. And while it’s fun to play to detective, I think it’s more fun to be completely blown away. Without giving away any spoilers, my prediction of what led up to the book’s ending was definitely off. Some of the story lines played out a lot creepier and weirder than I expected.

What really made the story for me were the alternating characters narrating, as my favorite novels do. The book goes back and forth between present day and the time of Ellie Mack’s disappearance, offering us many more breadcrumbs as to what may have happened to Ellie.

MVP: Ellie Mack. Though we know less about her than some of the other characters, we learn enough to know that despite what she’s been through, despite her age, compared to the other characters, she might be the only one to have a good head on her shoulders.

Get Then She Was Gone in paperback now for $8.78.

Or on your Kindle for $11.99.

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Lara’s Top Picks of 2018

20181231_144316.jpgWelcome to my eighth edition of “Top Picks!” Easily one of my favorite blog posts of the year, this is where I tell you about the ten best books I read this year. Again, this has nothing to do with what year they came out. In fact, I’m pretty sure only one of the books I read this year was published in 2018. For a list of the best books published this year, check out The New York Times annual Notable Books list. For now, here are the best books I read this year (followed by the complete list of all the books I read this year).

10. Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. After my dad passed away, this was the perfect book to help me out of my slump and come to terms with my grief. Sheryl Sandberg is not just a Facebook COO here. She is a woman navigating loss like so many of us have. If she can do it, we all can, especially with her tactile, concrete advice. Buy it now. 

9. The Lost Family by Jenna Blum. It’s a novel that spans 30 years and three generations of a Jewish family in New York and New Jersey in the years post-WWII. The patriarch lost his first family in the war and starts a new one with an aspiring model. It’s a book that I really enjoyed when I read it, but since I finished it, I simply can’t stop thinking about it. Buy it now.

8. One More Time by Carol Burnett. Both an in-depth look at the iconic comedianne’s life and a book about life lessons, One More Time is a memoir that almost feels like a self-help book. There is so much to be learned from this strong woman who overcame trauma, failure and poverty to become the icon she is today. Buy it now.

7. Cujo by Stephen King. It’s scary to think that it took me this long to read a Stephen King novel (yes, it was my first!!), but everyone told me this was one of his best and it did not disappoint. More thriller than horror, Cujo brilliantly jumps between characters I legitimately cared for while making a dog scary to me for the first time in my life. The ending is something to be both celebrated and mourned — a bittersweet juxtaposition that makes the read all the more complicated and engrossing. Buy it now.

6. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan Harris single-handedly got me interested in meditation, but it took me several years to finally read his book. Both memoir and self-help (is this a common theme here?), 10% Happier makes a case for changing yoru life and through meditation — even for the skeptics — while also telling tales of the fascinating network newsman life he leads. Buy it now.

5. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. Set on reading it before seeing in the theater, I had high hopes for this one, and it surpassed them all. It was more than just a romantic story or an Asian story. It was also a funny store! So tongue-in-cheek in its prose and dialogue, it was a long book that turned into a quick read, and I’ve never been more excited to read a sequel. Buy it now.

4. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. Julie Powell needed something in her life. She surprised herself by finding it in Julia Child’s famous cookbook. So she set her sights on cooking the entire book in a year’s time. The book details the true story of Powell achieving this crazy and kind of obnoxious goal, even while it tears much of the rest of her life to shreds. She is a hilarious writer who had me laughing out loud. But she also learns a lot about life and herself through the process, and so do we. Buy it now.

3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. A story from the point of view of a dog, Racing is a more dramatic tale than I expected. But it’s refreshing perspective gives us hope in both dogs and humanity, proving that there is nothing more important than the bonds of friendship and family. It’s a grand story about life trapped in a doggie fiction novel in the most beautiful way. It left me breathless. Buy it now.

2. Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman. After seeing the sexy movie that so deeply resonated with me in its portrayal of first love, I found myself wanting more so I picked up the book the movie was based on. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book is even better than the movie with more details, more sexiness, more teenage uncertainty and more finality. Oh, and the prose is supreme. Buy it now.

1. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. As I turned 30, I thought a self-help book would help me better round the corner. What I found in Badass is a swift kick in my badass that left me empowered. Jen Sincero’s real-talk and tangible tips allow for a true journey in confidence-building and goal-setting unlike I’ve ever experienced before. Buy it now.

Here’s a link to the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2018. 

BOOKS I’VE READ 2018

In the Studio with Michael Jackson – Bruce Swedien

Damned Good- J.J. DeCeglie

Wonder – R.J. Palacio

Julie and Julia – Julia Powell

A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle

Call Me By Your Name – Andre Aciman

Soul Witness – William Costopoulos

Option B – Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

A Load of Hooey – Bob Odenkirk

Emma – Jane Austen

Cujo – Stephen King

Ann M. Martin – Margot Becker R.

The Last Dropout – Bill Milliken

How to Love the Empty Air – Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Strangers – Nigel Gray

Notorious R.B.G. – Irin Carmon

One More Time – Carol Burnett

On Becoming Fearless – Arianna Huffington

The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein

Choose Your Own Autobiography – Neil Patrick Harris

10% Happier – Dan Harris

The Gene Guillotine – Kate Preskenis

You Are a Badass – Jen Sincero

Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan

The Lost Family – Jenna Blum

Sharp Objects – Gilian Flynn

A Simple Favor – Darcy Bell

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers

The Day The World Came to Town – Jim DeFede

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Movie vs. Book: A Simple Favor

simple favorThe entire time I read Darcey Bell’s page-turner of a noir novel A Simple Favor, all I could think was “this is VERY Gone Girl.” And that’s not a bad thing. Were some of the plotlines a bit predictable? Yes. But the French noir tone of the book, the rotating narrators and the big twists every 50 pages or so kept me on my toes.

A Simple Favor tells the story of a widowed mother, Stephanie who meets a beautiful bombshell of a working mother named Emily. Their sons are friends at school, and they spend time together while the boys have playdates. Shortly after their friendship blossoms, Emily goes missing. Her husband Sean is the initial suspect, but has an alibi. So Stephanie spends the following weeks searching for Emily, blogging about her disappearance and requesting help from other mothers, caring for Emily’s son and eventually falling in love with Emily’s husband. She moves in on Emily’s life.

But then the boys start telling Stephanie they see Emily at school, and suddenly Stephanie is receiving phone calls from her. Emily is very much alive. Disappearing and faking her own death to earn life insurance money, Emily doesn’t really care about Stephanie or Sean. She’s a woman on a mission and she’ll do whatever it takes to accomplish that and find a better life for her and her son. Screw the husband. And screw Stephanie.

All this is pretty well-followed in the first half of the movie version. Blake Lively is the PERFECT Emily — so exquisitely beautiful, fashionable, direct, and confident. Anna Kendrick is the perfect Stephanie: kind of slutty and inherently dumb. But all the twists in the second half of the movie are a significant departure from the book. In the movie, more people are murdered. In the movie, a completely different person “wins” in the end.

The changes made for the movie deeply villainize Emily’s character, making her inherently evil, whereas in the book, Emily has a soft side. There are certain people in her life who she cares for deeply. Her character in the book is a lot more complicated, which makes her so deliciously fun to follow along. It’s easy to get down with her badassery and be swept away by her charm. The changes made for the movie also empower Stephanie’s character. She is emboldened and stands up for herself in the cat and mouse game she plays with Emily. In the book, she starts as the mouse and remains the mouse.

My guess is the changes made for the movie were meant to indulge the audience: the less complicated the characters, the easier it is to root for one over the other. And the movie does a good job of still being deliciously fun (even though the ending goes a little off the rails in its absurdity).

I prefer the book and its darkness, its open-ended finish, its complicated grey-area characters. But that said, watching Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively spar with each other is never a bad way to spend two hours.

Get A Simple Favor in paperback for $11.22.

Or on your Kindle for $10.99.

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‘Pretty Little Liars’ Author To Debut First Adult Fiction Novel

the-elizas-9781501162770_hrShe’s already published dozens of books, had them adapted for television and became a huge bestseller, but now Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game author Sara Shepard is set to release her first adult fiction novel.

According to Entertainment Weekly, The Elizas is about a debut novelist (sound familiar?) named Eliza who claims she was pushed when she was found at the bottom of a hotel pool. Her family assumes it was just another failed suicide attempt. In an effort to prove them wrong, Eliza begins to investigate her own death and find that her life and character’s life are intertwining. Memory loss from the accident doesn’t help either.

Creepy, huh? Shepard knows a thing or two about creepy thrillers.

The Elizas is set to be released on April 17th. EW has an exclusive available excerpt now.

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Review: The Bookworm

51mmaglqrll-_sx329_bo1204203200_Recap: She’s lovingly called “The Bookworm” by her friends, but Lara Klimt is more than just a nerdy bookworm. She’s a Russian historian and former Soviet chess champion who suddenly finds herself attempting to solve a mystery that landed in her lap — a mystery dating back to the 1940’s during the rise of Adolf Hitler. She must listen to six recordings from a then-famous actor and playwright who — unbeknownst to her and…well…most people — was secretly a British agent reporting to Winston Churchill. All this coincides with her being asked to interview the U.S. President live on Russian television.

If something smells funky, it most likely is. Lara works to unravel the mystery of these tapes, trying to figure out how it connects to today while also trying to keep her distance from the man who sought her out for the Presidential interview.

AnalysisThe Bookworm packs a punch similar to that of a Dan Brown novel. Similarly it uses a quasi-historical fiction plot mixed with thriller that sees our heroine attempt to solve a mystery by using her mind more than her actions. Combine that with the back-and-forth between the 1940’s and present day and The Bookworm has all ingredients in the recipe for my favorite kind of books. It held up until the last third of the book. Maybe it was my own personal lack of knowledge of Britain’s role in WWII or maybe it was the abundance of foreign character names, but eventually I got some of the storylines crossed and was confused as to the intent of some of the characters.

The end seemed to wrap up rather quickly and the reconciliation between Lara and her ex seemed far-fetched, especially after the novel made it clear from the beginning that he was never kind to her. I would have preferred to hear more from the WWII-era tapes to better understand how everything came together.

MVP: Lara. Her brilliance still shines throughout the novel — albeit maybe not in the romance department. Even when she seems unsure of how to crack the historical case, she realizes what she needs to do to achieve a breakthrough. Her mind is steady and her bookworminess pays off.

Get The Bookworm  in hardcover for $17.07. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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Review: Best Day Ever

bestday_narrowRecap: Paul Strom has the best day ever planned for him and his wife, Mia. He’s planned a weekend away at their lake house with a special dinner and surprised the night they arrive. The kids are at home with a babysitter. The weather is perfect. But then Paul takes a phone call. They arrive too late to their favorite bakery to get the snack Mia’s so badly craving. Mia finds out Paul never left money for the babysitter. When they arrive to the lake house, Mia immediately greets their good-looking single neighbor who helped with her garden last summer. At the grocery store, Paul’s credit card is declined. Slowly but surely, the “best day ever” is slipping out of Paul’s grasp, and he is panicking. Slowly but surely, we, the readers, are realizing something’s going on with Paul.

In his anger, he begins reflecting on other aspects of his life, including his mistress, Gretchen, his dead parents for whom he doesn’t seem to care, the fact that he actually lost his job after he was reported to HR for harassing a woman in the office. Paul’s crazy shifts in mood and temper have been apparent to the reader from page one. Mia puts up with it, but it’s still unclear why this is the best day ever when Paul and Mia so clearly hate each other. What does Paul have planned? And at this point, we must begin to wonder whether Mia will make it out alive?

Analysis: A gripping story of love, hate and betrayal, Best Day Ever feels like a new version of Gone Girl with a different kind of twist. The format used is storytelling at its best. Where we usually read “man attempts to kill wife” stories from the victim’s perspective, Best Day Ever flips it, instead telling the entire story from Paul’s point of view. That decision allows the reader to understand how scary Paul is without knowing whether or not the victim realizes it. It’s that uncertainty that adds another layer of terror to the story. The question is not “what’s he going to do?” but rather “is she going to be able to stop it?” We don’t get any insight into her thoughts, feelings, or plans until the book’s epilogue.

It sounds like an obvious way to switch up the format, but considering how infrequently we see this perspective, it’s really not that obvious. Where in other books, an unlikable narrator makes you want to quit, here the book is still a page-turner despite the narrator becoming vehemently more and more unlikable as the book goes on.

MVP: Mia. Without spoiling the end, we inevitably learn that Mia is a strong, smart, caring and loving woman who is not afraid to ask for help when she needs it in the most dire of situations.

Get Best Day Ever in paperback for $15.99. 

Or get it on your Kindle for $12.99.

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New Dan Brown ‘Robert Langdon’ Novel Coming

originWhether or not you saw or read Inferno — which you absolutely should have — have no fear; Dan Brown is blessing us all with another ‘Robert Langdon’ novel. Yes, I said blessing because yes, I truly love his books.

According to his web site, Dan Brown’s next book in the series is Origin, due to be released September 26, 2017.

Little is known about the  novel. It was only recently announced, and there isn’t even cover art yet. What we do know is that it will once again involve Brown’s character Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbologist and will “thrust” him “into the dangerous intersection of humankind’s two most enduring questions, and the earth-shaking discovery that will answer them,” according to the press release.

I, for one, am all in, but I hope Brown’s books continue to sell. Inferno, the movie, did…well…less than stellar in theaters, so hopefully people aren’t starting to get sick of this character and format. They truly are fun, adventurous, dark and thought-provoking books.

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