specials

My Favorite (and least favorite) Thrillers This Year

Happy almost Halloween! This means that it’s time to take stock of my spooky books over the last year.

I love the thriller genre. Some of you may be getting sick of seeing so many on the blog. But part of me is also picky. If the ending is weak, if a character is boring, if it centers around yet ANOTHER boring affair or someone else’s missing father, I will be at least slightly let down. I mean, sometimes they do get formulaic.

To me, the best thrillers are the ones I can’t stop thinking about. But what are they, and which ones could I live without?

Best Thrillers

The Woman in the Window

This was a great choice, not just because of the storyline, but because of the atmosphere. I really enjoyed the experience of reading it and “listening to” the author’s voice. It feels like a classic thriller movie and the MC liked classic movies as well, which was an interesting aspect.

Behind Closed Doors

I almost didn’t pick this one up, feeling it would just be a normal domestic abuse story. I was so wrong. OMG THIS WAS FREAKING INTENSE, PEOPLE. With preparation, this could absolutely happen in real life. I don’t understand the lukewarm Goodreads reviews. This is a strong candidate for not just Best Suspense, but for Overall Best Book in my December 2019 book awards. I just lent it out to a coworker and she feels the same way I do! Cannot recommend enough. Sometimes, simple plots are better.

One Perfect Lie

This was a different and exciting one! I like to think of it as taking place in thirds, at which points the story moves in a different direction. It’s hard to take all of these moving parts, and Lisa Scottoline does it pretty well. One problem though: it didn’t need the forced romance.

I am also currently reading Lock Every Door, which obviously I haven’t reviewed yet. However, it is looking good so far…

Perfectly Fine Thrillers:

Before She Knew Him

Okay, this was decent. I did figure out the ending, though, and I didn’t remember much else about it. A good story, but not an especially memorable one.

Best Day Ever

This was another book I enjoyed for the voice. Paul, our narrator, is authentic and creepy. It’s a slow burn but I went in prepared, and I liked the story more for it.

I Know Who You Are

An actress’ husband disappears, leading to a great mystery and even better backstory. Hmm, the backstory was more interesting…is that good or bad? The ending, which although Hitchcockian and creepy, left a LOT of questions.

Obsession

I hadn’t heard of this one before it was on a “recommended” shelf at a local bookstore. Huh. Cheating, cheating, and more cheating. We’ve seen this before…plenty. There were chilling moments for sure, but I also felt that characters acted rashly out of nowhere to keep the book moving. The title is also misleading.

Watching You

I didn’t always find the plot thrilling, but ultimately I connected to the characters. Also, I solved it, and that was super exciting. Not as much of the watching and stalking aspects as I hoped for, but it was still an interesting and well-written book.

With You Always

This was a unique twist…a Christian thriller! But the guy in question is so seemingly perfect that the first third of the book is boring, and again, there are a ton of unanswered questions here. It needed an epilogue.

Someone We Know

This one started out boring me. It was a murder mystery and not much else with regards to substance. However, as things picked up, I connected more and more with the characters and ultimately solved this one as well. It has the honor of being the first mystery I solved before the book ended. I bumped this one up from 3.5 stars to 4 stars just because it got better as it went on and I cared about these characters.

The Affair; Sheryl Browne

A lot better than I thought it would be, honestly. It came with The Babysitter, another novel by the author, so I had to read it. It was a surprising twist on a kidnapping, essentially.

The Babysitter

Like the book above, this is another tale of family hardship and getting the kids involved. I despised this villain, and I worried if she was going to get away with everything. The characters, too, are great, and I would love to see more about these detectives.

Disappointing Thrillers

The House Swap

A couple moves into another person’s house and gets the sense that someone is watching them. Fascinating concept perfect for me even if overdone…but it was very poorly executed. This book was so boring I couldn’t even finish it. It was very repetitive with the same actions taken over and over between the couple. The “twists” were insanely predictable except for the ridiculous one at the end. I also didn’t like the preachy “alcoholism is bad” aspect to it. If you’re going to address issues, do it naturally. And I just can’t get down with protagonists who cheat. Ever. It was a clear first time effort though; maybe we’ll see better in the future.

The Night Before

It was okay, and it had a solid ending unlike so many I’ve read recently. I just didn’t like the main character who constantly reminded us how messed up she was. Overall it felt disorganized and tried to take on too many twists that didn’t relate to the central story. Not terrible, but still somewhat of a letdown.

Looker

Me, Goodreads, and everyone on Goodreads’s brother agrees that this is NOT a psychological thriller. This was such a marketing misfire that I’m not sure it’s 100% the author’s fault. Truthfully, though, it was still pretty boring. There’s a main character, everyone hates her because she can’t have children (so messed up), and so she takes out her sadness on having affairs with her students and though watching an actress–not even doing anything, just making observations. If you want 180 pages about watching a character complain and do basically nothing else, this is it right here.

Did you read any of these? Which choices do you agree/disagree with?

specials

USA Road Trip!: Celebrate Independence Day With These Books Across The States

First of all, I am not dead! I realize I have not posted in almost a month. My apologies. I haven’t bought any new books, nor have I had the motivation to do any of the other posts lined up., and then I got sick. No worries; posts are on the way!

Below is a selection of books, each one taking place in a different state that’s obvious in the novel’s context or outright stated. Sadly I don’t have 50 books for the list, and a considerable amount that I own actually take place in Britain. Still, this is a good place to kick start your literary road trip. All summaries are written by me unless stated otherwise.

Qualifications for this list:
I have read every book here. For my book lists, each garners at least a 3-star rating.
One book per state with the exception of New York because another state is involved too.
All books must strictly take place in the U.S.

Colorado: A Dog’s Way Home

Bella begins her eventful life as a stray puppy in an abandoned building. She lives with a litter of cats, including a mother, and likes her life just fine. When the building is about to be demolished, she is rescued by new owner Lucas. In her new home, she loves playing games like Tiny Piece of Cheese and Go Home. Other times, she enjoys visiting the local VA hospital and bringing cheer to the patients there.
Then one day, Bella is picked up by animal control because pit bulls (or dogs that even look similar) are banned in their community. After sneaking out of her new owner’s fence, Bella finds herself in the big Colorado wilderness alone. The only thing to do, she knows, is to find her way home.

Connecticut: I Know This Much is True

Unfortunately I can’t find an official summary of this book anywhere. It’s been a while, but the premise is that Dominic looks after his mentally ill brother Thomas and struggles with the relationship between him and his father. A lot of the book explores what it means to love one another and familial bonds through the decades…and countries.

DC: Life on the Leash

Cora Bellamy loves dogs. She loves them so much, in fact, that she’s started her own dog training business. Based on a philosophy of love and understanding, she wants to prove the harsh well-known trainers that they’re wrong. So when she gets the opportunity to audition for a dog training TV show, she jumps at the chance.

There’s still one thing standing in the way: her latest client. He’s charming, handsome, and seems to like Cora back. The problem is that he’s taken. What’s a girl to do? Luckily she has the acquaintance of another client to help her. Eli is a great assistant, and little does Cora know that she may be attracted to him as well. 

Florida: Zeta or Omega

It’s late summer in Florida and a new school year at Latimer University is just beginning. And three girls are about to have the time of their lives…maybe.

VERONICA: Wants to escape her snobby parents once and for all in Boston. She wants to discover who she really is without the designer labels or the fancy family name. She’s already disappointed her parents by not choosing Harvard, so what has she got to lose? Maybe a sorority will give her the family she truly needs.

LORA-LEIGH: Would much rather be beginning her fashion career at FIT, thank you very much…except for that her father is making her attend the local university first. She is dying to get out of there and is only going through sorority rush because her mom wants her to join Tri-Omega, her own sorority.

JENNA: At Latimer on a band scholarship, Jenna doesn’t really care about rushing either, but her roommate is excited about it, so she’ll join in. But even if she does get some wonderful sisters, will her diabetes get in the way? Or will everyone see her as “Sick Jenna” like they did in high school?

When the three girls meet during recruitment, they become close friends and ultimately enjoy going through the process. But what happens at the end of recruitment? Will they find themselves separated? Or will they even get into a sorority at all?

Georgia: TTYL

Zoe, Maddie, and Angela are ready to take on sophomore year by storm. Through their instant messages (or text messages in later editions), they share the ups and downs of high school. When Zoe gets into a flirtationship with a teacher and Angela is dumped by a jerky guy, they stand with each other through thick and thin. But it’s when Maddie tries to go too far for popularity that their friendship is really tested. Will the winsome threesome make it through the year?

Maine: Fudge-A-Mania

Peter Hatcher’s summer is in trouble. First of all, his little brother Fudge has just announced that he wants to marry Peter’s sworn enemy Sheila Tubman. Then it gets worse: he learns that he is going to share a summer house with Sheila’s family for three whole weeks! But between baseball games with old greats, new friends, and trips into town, maybe the summer won’t be as bad as Peter thinks. Real life locations make this a must-see on your bookish road trip.

Massachusetts: Before She Knew Him

It was supposed to be an ordinary dinner party.
But on the day she meets their new neighbors, Hen discovers something she shouldn’t. The item in question is reminiscent of a murder case that Hen followed intently a while ago, and she can’t help believing that her next-door neighbor is a killer. But the last time she accused someone of being a threat just before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she really hurt someone. So would anyone think to believe her? What do you do when you live next door to a killer?

Meanwhile, Matthew is keeping a dark secret, but he knows it was for the greater good. He also knows that he saw Henrietta looking at his shelf, but that doesn’t mean anything, right? He knows that he wouldn’t want to hurt Henrietta, but there is still a threat lurking. And little do they know that Matthew might not be done killing just yet.

New York: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

It’s New Year’s Eve in 1984, and Lillian Boxfish is putting on her mink coat and preparing to head out to dinner. But she has some walking to do first, and more even later. 
As a young adult, Lillian began writing copy for Macy’s and worked her way up to become the highest paid copywriter in the country. She became friends with one of the illustrators and eventually married a man who also worked in the store. Years later she would deal with marriage troubles, have a son, get a divorce, and battle depression. Many of these things happened against the backdrop of New York City, so as she goes on her walk, she’ll pass all the familiar places and think back to the events that happened there. But this is the 1980s and the city is gritty and scary. However, Lillian never let anything stop her before, and she certainly won’t tonight.

New York/New Jersey: Royal Wedding

Princess Mia’s life is finally becoming a fairy tale as she prepares to marry longtime boyfriend Michael. But with all the wedding preparations and Grandmere wanting to plan everything her way, getting a wedding together isn’t as easy as it seems. Then a royal scandal hits that has implications for Mia’s family life as she knows it. Add in a royal stalker and you have a can’t miss royal conclusion to a timeless series.

Ohio: Best Day Ever

Paul and Mia are heading to their idyllic lake house to spend their “best day ever” together. To Paul, this house represents everything he has in life: a wife, two boys, an impressive job, and a great life that everyone envies. In fact, Paul has big plans up his sleeve for this weekend, ones that could change the course of his life–and Mia’s– forever. But it doesn’t help that the neighbors keep getting in the way, and it’s not long before they find themselves asking: how much can they trust the other, really?

Pennsylvania: One Perfect Lie

In a small town, there is a threat looming that nobody knows about, especially three members of the the high school baseball team in a quiet Pennsylvania suburb.

Susan loves supporting her son Raz in his role as starting pitcher, but worries about how he is coping with the loss of his father. Mindy, the wife of a surgeon, has a comfortable life but isn’t aware of the things that her husband and son Evan are keeping from her. And Heather is proud of her son Jordan but worries about his relationships with other boys on the team.

Then there’s Chris. A newcomer to town, he’s taking on the roles of history teacher and baseball coach. He looks like the perfect addition, but everything about him is a lie. He’s only here to use some of the baseball players as a pawn in a bigger plan. So what is he really trying to accomplish? And how far will he go to get what he wants?

Tennessee: Pupcakes

Brydie Benson’s life isn’t going so well. She’s living with her best friend and is reeling from a bad relationship. So when she gets the chance to start over, she gladly takes the chance. She gets to live in a great house, rent free, as long as she takes care of the owner’s dog. She takes a job in a bakery, and off she goes.

On the path to rebuilding, she meets many people along the way, including a handsome doctor, people at the dog park, and Pauline, the owner of the dog and house she’s taking care of with a mysterious past. Soon the puppy becomes a bigger part of her life than she could have imagined and even finds that she is a great baker for pets, gaining her popularity in the pet community. Maybe starting over isn’t so bad after all.

Washington/Oregon/California/Minnesota: Wild

Cheryl’s early 20s were a period of insecurity. Dealing with parental losses and much more, she decided to set out on a journey to hike parts of the Pacific Coast Trail. With no hiking experience or outdoor experience minus her time in Minnesota, she is left to her own devices and can barely even lift her backpack. Still, she survived many miles of hiking, sketchy hikers, wildlife, and more, all while discovering a resilience she didn’t know she had. A great memoir of the American spirit.

West Virginia: The Rocket Boys

In 1957 a young man watched the Soviet satellite Sputnik shoot across the Appalachian sky and soon found his future in the stars. ‘Sonny’ and a handful of his friends, Roy Lee Cook, Sherman O’Dell and Quentin Wilson were inspired to start designing and launching the home-made rockets that would change their lives forever.

Step by step, with the help (and occasional hindrance) of a collection of unforgettable characters, the boys learn not only how to turn scrap into sophisticated rockets that fly miles into the sky, but how to sustain their dreams as they dared to imagine a life beyond its borders in a town that the postwar boom was passing by.

A powerful story of growing up and of getting out, of a mother’s love and a father’s fears, Homer Hickam’s memoir Rocket Boysproves, like Angela’s Ashes and Russell Baker’s Growing Up before it, that the right storyteller and the right story can touch readers’ hearts and enchant their souls. -Official Summary

Happy independence day! What are your favorite U.S. books?

specials

Exploring Settings: Judy Blume’s Fudge books

Heads up: I recommend viewing this on a computer.

In a recent post I wrote about my love for Judy Blume’s Fudge series and how I once looked up some of the locales in the book.

I want to show you how fun it can be to dig deeper into novels by looking up the setting. This particular post, though, may make more sense if you’ve read the books. Even if you haven’t, I encourage you to read the post and see how building a setting off existing places can be an interesting concept.

Disclaimer: Screenshots are grabbed from Google Maps and are an attempt to make a setting more authentic. Allegations to fictional places are not necessarily true and some are just speculation. Images of buildings or businesses does not mean endorsement or lack thereof. Additionally, both brief quotes are taken from Fudge-A-Mania and Double Fudge, both by Judy Blume, used for review purposes, and I take no ownership of them.

The Family’s Vacation Locale

In book 3, Peter’s family travels to Maine for three weeks with Sheila’s family, a classmate that Peter does not always get along with. The result is a highly realistic, funny novel. They end up in a town called Southwest Harbor.

The island is located a very long drive from my own house. One could probably even fly there. Peter said that it took ten hours for the family to get there from NYC. I believe it!

Peter described Southwest Harbor as a tiny town that had a main road surrounded by a few shops. You’ll find that to be Route 102. A lot of the businesses in the book are, in fact, fictional, because the owners play roles in the books. However you can see the locations which may have inspired Bicycle Bob’s (Southwest Cycle) and Ickle’s (Quietside Cafe). Looking at the book, I’m 99% sure that these places were the inspiration. And the book never actually says that the shop was CALLED Bicycle Bob’s…hmm…

Southwest Cycle aka Bicycle Bob’s

Peter then describes pulling into a dirt driveway and pulling up to a house near the end of it. Assuming that the house is a very short bike ride from town and walking distance from the beach (context clues are given), it could have been one of these three.

When Fudge lets Uncle Feather out of his cage, they think he’s escaped the house and Peter and Fudge must go asking around if anyone has seen him. There they meet the neighbors, Mrs. Apfel and her visiting daughter Mitzi. They supposedly walk through a path through the woods and come to a beachfront house. I would assume their house to be one of these below. It’s probably expensive, but considering what Mrs. A’s husband used to do, they could afford it I’m sure…see below.

Now, paths are very hard to find (supposedly they took a path through the woods and most of the paths on the map lead to private property), but assuming that their vacation house is down one of the driveways I found, I find that this is plausible.

Here is another(actually probably better) possibility I found down the road:

Now let’s go back to town again.

“We went to town the next afternoon. The gears on Dad’s bike were stuck so he dropped it off at Bicycle Bob’s shop for repairs. Bicycle Bob is a big, friendly guy who wears a T-shirt that says I’d Rather Be Biking. Then we went to Sawyer’s Market for groceries and to Oz Books, where Fudge and I each got two paperbacks.” (24-25, p. 1991 Yearling edition)

Oz Books does not seem to exist. But…ba-bam! Sawyer’s Market is an 100% real place still operating today. A front view:

The library is right next door, just as described in the book later on. The exterior was described as a building that looked like a house with flowerpots at the entrance. When I first browsed the area, there was a library that looked just like the description. It’s either been changed or I looked at a different library. Either way, here is the inspiration for the building where Fudge demands a book about himself and where Peter falls in love with the librarian:

Peter, Jimmy, and some of the Tubmans go on a sailing adventure. The group that went sailing wasn’t on the water for more than three/four hours. It is easy to believe that they got a boat at one of the marinas in this area, like the one on the far left, and set up camp at one of these islands, perhaps the little one near Route 3.

Here’s the pond where Mom and Dad may have taken baby Tootsie to see the ducks:

There is also a rocky beach to the other side of the pond where the gang spends some time, so I wonder if my second finding really is the location of the Apfels’ place because it’s so close.

Weekly baseball games took place at the high school field. Everyone took part in them, including former baseball great Big Apfel who lived down the street from the rental house. This is the only high school in the area, so I assume this to be the field.

And as a bonus, here is the place that served as the turning point in Book 4 in Washington D.C. Money-obsessed Fudge goes on a tour of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where they run into long-lost cousins. I have heard rumors that the tour location has moved or is different now or something but in 2002, this is where they were.

Other tourists in the building. Could Cousin Howie be among them? Thanks to Google user ajques for the Maps image.

The Hometown

Peter’s family lives in NYC, where two of the books take place.

The apartment was easy to find. 25 West 68th. But does it have at least sixteen floors, as mentioned in book 4? Hard to tell.

Some of the view down the street. Times Square it ain’t. Heck, I could probably even manage living there.

In a previous post about these books I stated that I couldn’t find a Harry’s shoe store on Broadway. There is one. (Two, actually…the adult Harry’s is just down the street.) This is where Fudge had a tantrum after not being able to buy the several pairs of shoes he wanted.



There is also a vet’s office on 62nd between York and the FDR Drive just as Blume said. Cousin Howie drove the boys there when Uncle Feather crashed into the window.

Um…I’ll stick to my vet’s office in the suburbs with easy parking, thanks.

And finally, does anyone remember what happened at this subway station?

Well, let Peter explain…

“It wasn’t until we got off the subway at Spring Street that I noticed Fudge was wearing just one shoe….”Where’s your shoe?” I asked him. “What shoe?” “The shoe that’s not on your foot.” “Oh, that shoe.” Dad said, “Put on your other shoe, Fudge.” “I can’t.” “Why not?” Dad asked. “I took it off to itch my foot and now its gone.” “Gone?” Dad said. “Yes,” Fudge said.”That was one of your new shoes,” Dad told him. “I know, Dad.” “And now you’ve lost it.” “I didn’t lose it. I know where it is. It’s on the subway.” “The subway?” Dad said. “Yes,” Fudge said. (Double Fudge, pg 50, p. 2002, Scholastic)

Lesson learned: don’t take your little brother anywhere.

Detailed settings are a testament to how knowledge of your setting can make a richer book. Judy Blume does a wonderful job and has clearly been to all the locations.

Let me know if there are any other books you’d like to see an exploration of in the comments. They should take place in the United States, and also need to be a book I’ve read. I definitely want to do more of these posts in the future, and hopefully for adult books that more blog readers will be familiar with. Let me know, and thank you for taking the inaugural journey with Fictionista Book Tours.