Book Review: The Collector by John Fowles

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3/5 Stars.

Considered by many to be the first psychological thriller, The Collector is the story of Frederick Clegg, a lonely, obsessive man, and Miranda, the beautiful young art student whom he kidnaps and holds captive in his basement.

The story begins with Clegg’s perspective, and then switches a third of the way through to Miranda’s diary entries, allowing considerable insight into both characters. In many ways they are opposites: where Miranda has a vibrant zest for life and a passion for creating beauty, Clegg is consumed by a desire to capture and possess the beauty that has always been absent from his life.

It’s an interesting character study. And while Fowles never makes excuses for Clegg’s actions, he carefully presents him as a human rather than a monster. I was fascinated (and not really surprised) to learn that several serial killers and kidnappers have referenced The Collector as the inspiration and justification for their crimes.

My problems with the book have little to do with the book itself and more to do with what I have been conditioned to expect from psychological thrillers. It’s hard reading a book that was ahead of its time or the first of its kind when you’re already so familiar with what the genre has become. Fowles’ story may have been inventive and shocking when it was published, but approaching it decades later, I found the plot to be rather predictable and diluted. Again, this is one of those situations where “it’s not you (the book), it’s me.”

Ultimately, I’m glad to have read The Collector to understand and appreciate its influence on the genre.

Summer Beach Reads: 10 Mysteries & Thrillers To Keep Your Lazy Summer Brain Entertained

Maybe you’re the kind of person who reads Ulysses on the beach. Hey, if that’s your thing, more power to you. I love me some literary fiction, but when I’m on vacation, I’m in relaxation mode, and that applies to the books I bring, too.

We’ve all got our personal go-tos for fluffier, less challenging books that don’t require a whole lot of brain power. Mine happen to be mysteries and thrillers, and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone here. So without further ado, here are some page turners to kick off your summer.

Think of these as a step (or two or three) above the mass market paperbacks you’ll find at the convenience store around the corner from the beach, but nothing too highbrow.

I LET YOU GO BY CLARE MACKINTOSH

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Believe me when I tell you: You will not see the major twist in this book coming. Even if you’re looking for it. Trust me. This is the kind of book that keeps you on your toes until the very last page. The best part? The twists actually make sense; they don’t feel like they author threw them in there just for the sake of it.

Learn more about I Let You Go

ALL THE MISSING GIRLS BY MEGAN MIRANDA

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Early reviews for this book about a series of small-town disappearances told me that I wouldn’t be able to put it down — and they were right. This is a smart, fast-paced thriller with an interesting stylistic twist: the story is told in reverse. It’s a gimmick that could easily fail, but in Megan Miranda’s capable hands, it works.

Learn more about All the Missing Girls

THE PASSENGER BY LISA LUTZ

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There’s a trend in thrillers where the unreliable female narrator isn’t very likable. What’s cool about The Passenger is that you actually like the protagonist. This is a fast-paced book about a woman escaping her past, rife with changing identities and surprising reveals.

Learn more about The Passenger

The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

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Okay, so it’s not quite as twisty as some of the reviews make it out to be, but this is a compelling story about a marriage gone horribly awry, with plenty of moral ambiguity to keep things really interesting.

Learn more about The Silent Wife

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

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I’m going to be honest with you: I didn’t love this one as much as many of my fellow book lovers did, but this list isn’t about me, it’s about you. I have friends who swear by this book as one of their favorite thrillers of 2015, so I feel compelled to include it. There are more than enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. Just beware: You will hate the protagonist for most of the book.

Learn more about Luckiest Girl Alive

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

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You may have heard of a book called Gone Girl? Kidding. We’ve all read Gone Girl by now. Many of us are sick of hearing about Gone Girl (not me, because I loved it, but the point is Gone Girl has had its time and now we all need to move on). Well, hey, if you loved Gone Girl as much as everyone else with a pulse, you’re in luck, because Gillian Flynn has a couple other books, and they’re pretty awesome. Dark Places promises Satanism, a secret club obsessed with famous murders, and a shit ton of seedy people. Can’t go wrong there.

Learn more about Dark Places

You: A Novel by Caroline Kepnes

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This one sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. I didn’t want to put it down. It places you directly into the mind of a psychopath — and damn, is he a creepy motherfucker. The writing isn’t going to win any awards, but if you want dark and disturbing and utterly absorbing (with more than a hint of satire and social commentary) this is for you. BONUS: There’s also a sequel.

Learn more about You: A Novel

The Stranger by Harlan Coben

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The Stranger is an anonymous person who goes around ruining people’s lives by exposing their deepest secrets to their loved ones for reasons that aren’t immediately clear. If that sounds intriguing to you, Coben’s your man. The dude can tell a good story. I read this in one day because it’s such an easy read and it moves along at such a fast pace.

Learn more about The Stranger

GOOD AS GONE BY AMY GENTRY

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Imagine if your daughter – kidnapped nearly a decade ago – suddenly showed up on your doorstep. Now imagine having doubts that it’s actually your daughter. It’s an uncomfortable premise, and it just gets more interesting from there. Disclaimer: This one doesn’t come out until July 26th, so you’ll have to make it a mid-summer read.

Learn more about Good as Gone

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU BY CELESTE NG

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A moving story about a Chinese American family in the 1970s struggling to find the truth about their teenage daughter’s tragic death. There’s certainly a mystery at the heart of this novel, but it’s by no means a heart-pounding thriller. It’s more of a quiet, nuanced account of a family in the wake of a tragedy.

Learn more about Everything I Never Told You

Book Review: Good as Gone by Amy Gentry

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4/5 Stars.

Note: I received an advanced digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. U.S. publication date: July 26, 2016.

This one was a pretty intense little roller coaster ride, full of some genuinely surprising twists and turns.

Eight years ago, 13-year-old Julie Whitaker was kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, shattering the lives of her parents and younger sister. Now, all these years later, Julie suddenly returns home. But her story about where she’s been seems suspicious, and her mother — much to her discomfort — begins to have doubts that this is even her daughter. So begins a search for a truth that will forever change everyone involved.

Amy Gentry does a fantastic job exploring the long-term repercussions that such a horrible tragedy can have on a family, providing especially deep insight into Julie’s mother, who’s wracked with the guilt of failing to protect her daughter and now struggling to connect with her after eight years.

While not without it’s flaws, Good as Gone checked most of the boxes I seek to fill when I read a thriller: unpredictable twists, genuinely dark subject matter, well-developed characters and decent writing.  It hits the shelves July 26th, and would make a great summer beach read.

Book Review: The Girl Before by Rena Olsen

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3/5 Stars.

Note: I received an advanced digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. U.S. publication date: August 9, 2016.

When Clara is taken from her husband, her daughters and the only life she’s ever known, she soon comes to learn that everything she thought was normal and good is quite the opposite.

It’s clear in the very beginning that this is a book about human trafficking, so I don’t feel bad coming right out and saying that. In fact, that’s part of what piqued my interest, as it’s a topic I haven’t read much about. The story jumps back and forth between “Now” (after Clara has been rescued and taken into custody) and “Then” (her life in captivity). The author’s ability to seamlessly weave the past and the present is impressive.

I always enjoy books that give me insight into things that I can’t otherwise fathom. The Girl Before explores a lot of interesting aspects of Clara’s situation: her Stockholm Syndrome, her inability to grasp that she’s a victim because this life is all she has known, her ultimate guilt at being complicit in the horrible activities that surround her. There’s a lot of complexity, not only in Clara’s emotional arc, but in some of the other characters as well. I wasn’t surprised to learn that the author is a licensed therapist.

As interesting as the subject matter is and as deftly as the author handles much of it, there were times when I found myself getting bored with the story — times when it seemed to drag. There’s a lot of matter-of-fact recounting of events and dialogues, and while Clara is a well-developed character, it still felt like something was missing to really round out the narrative.

I liked this one, but didn’t love it.