Friday, September 8, 2017

Can you hear the dueling banjos?

As the summer nears its end, so does my list of thriller-suspense-novel-beach-read recommendations. Today I’d like to end this summer series by recommending The River at Night by Erica Ferencik. This is one I could not put down.

The novel begins: 


Early one morning in late March, Pia forced my hand.

And, we’re off. Four old friends; Pia, Rachel, Winifred, and Sandra get together every year for some sort of vacation or "adventure.” Most of the time their idea of "adventure” has the four of them sitting on a beach somewhere and sipping wine. Except this year. 

Pia, the definite leader in the group, has determined that they’re all going to do something different and exciting. And what's more exciting than white water rafting in Maine? Well, fine, except, the only one who really wants to go is Pia. The rest shift between not wanting to go somewhere where they have to camp outside at night, to being outright afraid of fast moving water. She allays their fears. They have a great guide, the very capable Rory. Nothing to worry about. It'll be fun. So, okay, they all give each other pep talks. How bad could it be?

Well, bad, as it turns out.

Their adventure begins on a unfortunate footing—literally—when the jeep their guide, Rory is using to take them to the raft, sinks in the mud and they are up to their knees as they attempt to push it free. He tells them that this neck of the woods is usually dry. That this has never happened before. By this time I can almost hear the dueling banjoes in the distance. That should have been a clue to turn around now. Except, they don’t. 

Good suspense is when you want to yell to the characters in the novel you are reading, "Don’t go there! Turn back now! Don't go down the basement without a flashlight! Don't go out on that river! Are you crazy?"

But, they don't turn around. The five clean up and then head out on a raft with the very hunky easy-on-the-eyes Rory as their guide. Maybe this won’t be so bad.

The author has an amazing way of describing the water, from the calm, meandering blue river, an easy to paddle and pleasant to be on, to the crazy rapids and currents and places that these four women, even with their experienced guide, are not prepared to tackle. The river is a character in this book.

No more spoilers, but there are definite parallels between this book and Deliverance. Remember that movie? Remember that book? Only this time it’s females who are on a river adventure.

As you know, if you follow my blog, a good story draws me in, believable characters make me want to read on, but if a book isn’t well-written, it’s only half a book. If the language isn't beautiful and imaginative, I'll put it down.

Here’s one example of the excellent description:

Nests of hair twined with bites of bone and tiny pinecones snarled from under the orange ski cap.

Who is that person with the bones tied in her wild hair? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.


The theme of human vs nature is a common one in books, and always remains popular. Goodreads has a list of these kinds of adventure books which includes the aforementioned Deliverance by James Dickey. The list also includes The Old Man and the Sea 
and Life of Pi 

Here's the list that Goodreads has compiled. Can you think of others that are favourites of yours?

Next time: Reading less? Here are my thoughts.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Most Disorienting Read

The cat under the front porch was at it again. Scratching at the slab of wood that echoes through the hardwood floors of my bedroom. Sharpening its claws, marking its territory—relentless in the dead of night.

That is how The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda,
today’s recommended summer-reading-super-suspense-novel begins. This story, with its many facets, its many faces, was immensely satisfying. First, there are the two friends (Leah and Emmy) who move to a new town and decide to room together. Then, there is the reason Leah is here in the first place (What was that horrible thing that happened in her old job?). Then, there is the colleague who Leah is sure is harassing her. And more. There is much more which is revealed as the story unfolds slowly.


In a nutshell, Leah had to leave Boston and her career as journalist after an article she wrote goes horribly wrong. She calls on an old friend Emmy, to come be her roommate in a rural Pennsylvania town where she has secured a teaching job. She needs someone to help her get her life back from that horrendous experience, and what better person than her strange friend, Emmy?

Here is where the whole thing gets disorienting in a way that makes you stop, blink, and shake your head as you read it. A woman who looks a lot like Leah is assaulted and left for dead down by the river. Shortly after, her roommate Emmy disappears. Leah and police investigator Kyle become close, as he helps her unravel what happened. It's all pretty straightforward. Or is it?

A large part of the novel becomes a case of, who do you believe? Even Kyle has doubts. He wants to believe her, but who is this supposedly good friend Emmy? There is no record of her anywhere—in any police data base that Kyle can locate. Emmy didn’t even have a cell phone. What young woman doesn’t carry a cell phone these days?

Why was Leah forced to leave her previous employment? Why is she accusing a fellow teacher of harassing her? Is Leah the problem? What’s with her former best friend and boyfriend? Why the restraining order? All of these questions are answered very, very slowly, very deliciously as the story progresses.

The unfolding of the story is almost disorienting. It got to the point that I would have to stop, think. WHAT did I just read? What is happening? No spoilers here, but the book is a very satisfying summer read.

Also—and this is important to me—the writing is excellent. Here are a few examples:

And then Emmy came along while I was this stripped away version of a person. So was it strange that I felt her in my skin? She was there when it re-formed. She existed inside the sharper edges I erected.

And, you can almost feel this version of winter:

The chapped lips, the red noses, the dry skin around our knuckles, and the way the sweaters itch across our collarbones. How you want nothing more than to stay in. The things you do to stay warm.

I began this blog with the first lines of The Perfect Stranger, the lines after which, I knew I would enjoy this book.

If you are a reader of I Like It, you know that first lines matter to me. First lines draw me in. First chapters draw me in. Just out of curiosity and because I’m a writer myself, I Googled “How not to begin a story.” The first thing that popped up was this Writer’s Digest article.

It suggests not beginning with a dream, an alarm clock buzzing, too little dialogue, or opening with dialogue. Pretty good advice, I would say. I Googled further to read that a whole lot of literary agents and writing instructors suggest not using a prologue. Hmm. The Perfect Stranger begins with a prologue. 


As a writer, I sort of pay attention to this advice, but as a reader it flits off me like fine fine feathers in the wind. If the word “prologue” disgruntles you, just put a sticky note over the word “Prologue” and pretend it’s "Chapter One," and then proceed.

So yes, put this book high on your summer reading list.

Next time: The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Invited to a Party? Beware!

Another Thursday morning, another great summer suspense recommendation. Today, the novel I am recommending is In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. I read this book in the space of a couple of days, so enthralled was I.

Here is how the story begins:

I am running.

I am running through the moonlit woods, with branches ripping at my clothes and my feet catching in the snow-bowed bracken. Brambles slash at my hands,. My breath tears in my throat, It hurts, Everything hurts.


So begins the journey of Leonora who casually accepts the invitation to a “hen party.” An old friend she hasn’t seen in years is getting married. Why is she invited? She parted company with this “friend” many years ago, and it wasn't under the greatest of circumstances. Why is she being called now? Should she leave her comfortable but solitary existence in London to go to this party way out in the countryside? But her curiosity is piqued. The party is being held in a huge, modern glass-windowed house. Who wouldn’t be intrigued?

Persuaded by a mutual friend, she packs up and they drive there together.

After that, of course, the strange things start happening.

Two days later, she wakes up in a hospital bed with no memory of the entire weekend. She can only piece together bits and pieces. The book deftly moves from past to present as Leonora puts together what happened to her.

Yes, I suppose these are pretty timeworn conventions in the psychological suspense genre—amnesia, old secrets, isolation (in this case, a deserted house in the woods), “ghosts” in the woods (whether real ghosts in the form of a horror novel, or in this case, the “ghosts” of past secrets), a storm, and of course a murder. The book is replete with quirky characters—the quirkiest is the friend who wants everything to be “perfect” and even when things are falling apart will go to to any lengths to make sure this is so.

These “conventions” are used over and over, and yet for beach reads, we never tire of them. Or, at least I never do. Bring on the amnesia and the Stephen King-like quirky characters!

Here’s a fascinating article in Psychology Today about why we enjoy reading suspense novels so much.

The author suggests that we like the intellectual challenge—the old “figuring out the mystery puzzle” but in a psychological suspense it’s more than just figuring out “whodunnit”, it’s coming up with why. It’s connecting past "ghosts" to present reality.

The article also suggests that these kinds of novels are usually so engrossing, so captivating, that “nothing else has a chance of sneaking into our minds, thus giving us a break from everyday worries.”

And with things the way they are in the world, I think we DO need this break. Agreed?

So, take the suggestions that I’ve offered over these past number of months, and enjoy your thrillers.



NEXT TIME: The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Stay Inside and Read This Book

As promised, I am devoting this entire summer to recommendations for  psychological suspense thrillers. The books in this genre are probably my favorite beach/back deck/cottage/couch-inside-with-the-AC-on reads. Today I am recommending Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington. Carrington is a female author from the UK. I don’t know why this is, but I am discovering that a lot of what I would call literary psychological suspense thrillers are written by UK authors. Maybe it's the climate. Maybe it's the history. Maybe it's the ghosts.

Saving Sophie begins when teenaged daughter Sophie is returned home by the police to her horrified and out-of-their-mind-with-worry parents. No matter how she is prompted and questioned, she cannot remember where she was the previous night. Nothing is coming back to her. To top it off, Sophie's best friend is missing. No one can find her. Everyone fears the worse. The community is in chaos and worry.

That is only the beginning. The book seems to be really about Sohie's mother Karen, and a past occurrence that she has kept secret and private. Is it coming back, finally, to haunt her? Or is this crime something quite new and different?

Her past secret, kept even from her husband, has led to her present struggles with agoraphobia. Tremendously fearful, Karen doesn’t ever leave her house. I have never known anyone with this mental health issue, but know that it exists. But I do know that any kind of anxiety can leave a person helpless and afraid to move. 


The 'stay inside' part of this recommendation? That's in deference to Karen who won't leave her house.

And so Karen stays home, even when it’s the daughter of Karen’s closest friend who is missing. Karen will not leave the house to go over there to comfort her. There were times when I wanted to physically push her out of the house and call her a selfish slob! But there are deeper issues, and there were far deeper issues in the book. 

Here is an interesting link on agoraphobia.

Every character in this book struggles with their own demons, including the officers set about the solve the case. When you write reviews which refuse to spoil the books, sometimes the reviews can be exceedingly short. But, I won't spoil this book, I can't, but trust me when I say I raced to the ending of this one, and it didn't disappoint.


I give this book a full 4.5 stars. It has enough for me to recommend it here as a fun beach read, and one that will keep you glued to  it for the duration.


Next time: In a Dark Wood by Ruth Ware





Thursday, June 29, 2017

Classical piano, Genius IQs and Murder

As promised, I plan to review an unputdownable thriller every two weeks this summer, and so I begin with a book that absolutely grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan is perfect for summer back deck reading.

This novel introduces the reader to the world of precocious musician children. 


We meet genius IQ Zoe Maisey a seventeen-year-old musical prodigy. Three years prior to the book’s beginning she was involved in a traffic accident in which three friends died. Was she responsible? How? Was she sentenced unfairly? That fact is made known little by little as the book progresses.

When she "did her time" as a juvenile offender, she and her mother Maria moved to a new town with changed names to begin their “Second Chance Life.” Her mother’s new husband Chris whose son Lucas is also a musical prodigy know nothing of her past life. And they won’t, too. Neither she nor Maria plan to tell them. All seems well, except for one thing. 


Her music.

It’s unmistakeable and unique and of course people from her “old life” would recognize it in an instant. Which is exactly what happens.

The book, the entire book, revolves around the incidents which occur in one terrible, awful, heart-rending 24 hour period following a concert where her mother Maria is murdered.

The reader goes from loving Zoe with an intense understanding, to wondering if she is really all that changed. The reader is introduced to all of the members of this family—Maria and Chris, Zoe and Lucas their children, Grace, the new baby, Sam, Zoe’s first solicitor and Maria’s sister Tessa.

It’s hard to review a novel like this without giving spoilers, so none here, but what kept me glued to this book was the way the author goes into the lives of each of the characters in turn revealing new horrors.

There are three things I demand in the thrillers that I read:

1. Being well-written. This one is.

Here is how the book begins:
Before the concert begins, I stand inside the entrain to the church and look down the nave, Shadows lurk in the ceiling vaults even though the light outside hasn’t dimmed yet, and behind me the large wooded doors have been pulled shut.

In front of me, the last few members of the audience have just settled into their places. Almost every seat is filled. The sound of their talk is a medium pitched rumble.

I shudder.


2. Things revealed slowly, but steadily with a “hook” at every chapter end.

3. A darn good story. And this one is.

If you're interested in this genre, here's a wonderful article in Writer's Digest.

For the next summer thriller review: Saving Sophie by Sam Carrington

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bunches of Thrillers for the Summer!

As the summer begins here in Canada (finally, right?), I’ve decided to devote this blog to recommending thrillers. Whether you’re at the beach, on your back deck, on a boat, or even in a comfy couch in your living room (and it’s raining outside), summer vacation is a time to read.

A few weeks ago I read with interest this article in the New York Times on the best summer thriller reads for 2017. I decided to take a page from their book, and come up with my own list of summer thrillers that you simply MUST read. the same. Here’s the NY Times article, if you want to read some of their recommendations.

My favorite get-comfy-on-the-couch reading is a genre called literary thriller. Although closely related to, it differs somewhat from the genre of “mystery.” Mysteries involve a crime (which often occurs before the book begins), and a crime solver which can be a police officer, private detective or amateur crime solver (librarian, etc.).



Thrillers are about crime as well, but often the crime hasn’t occurred yet. It is only ominously threatening on the horizon, or overhead, or it's something in the past. There isn’t necessarily a crime solver, just someone (often a woman in the books I’m reading) in danger. And often she, alone, has to figure out what is happening to her or to her family. Others clearly, don’t see the danger.

Although I do have a few true “mysteries” in the following list, (X by Sue Grafton and Breeding Ground by my friend Sally Wright,) most of the following recommendations are in the thriller category.

Whether you read by print, on a Kindle or my favorite—my waterproof and dustproof (read sand) Kobo Aura H20, which is loaded with books to read. 


Here are a few wonderful thrillers that I’ve already reviewed here on I Like It that you can add to your beach reading satchel.  

Safe with Me by K.L. Slater

Behind Closed Doors by BA Paris

The Lake House by Kate Morton

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

 Here are a few books I’m currently reading (and yes, ah, I do read more than one book at a time!) and will be reviewing here in the coming weeks:

Breeding Ground by Sally Wright—if you like horses, WW11 and intrigue, you will love this mystery set in 1962 in the southern US

In the Woods by Tana French. A new murder that detective Ryan must solve bears too much resemblance to an older, unsolved crime from his childhood.

In no particular order, here are the books on my Kobo just waiting to be read this summer:

The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda - a journalist sets out to find a missing friend, a friend who may never have existed at all.

After the Lie by Kerry Fischer - Your past will devastate your family. But your lies could destroy them.

Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah  - She's a wife. She's a mother. She isn't who you think she is.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik - What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller - Ingrid writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but she never sends them. Instead she hides them within the thousands of books her husband has collected. After she writes her final letter, Ingrid disappears

Somebody I Used to Know by David Bell - a pulse-pounding thriller about a man who is haunted by a face from his past.

Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner - a page-turning literary mystery that brings to life the complex and wholly relatable Manon Bradshaw, a strong-willed detective assigned to a high-risk missing persons case.

Here’s another list put out by Goodreads. 


And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention my own thriller/mysteries here. Night Watch and The Bitter End are my newest babies.

Well, all of these lists should get you going on some great summer reading!



At the end of the NY Times article there is a question- what are your favorite thrillers for the beach?

So, that is my question for you - What are some of your favorite thriller authors and summer reads?

Next Time: It’s more suspense with The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Not Letting Go

Today on my blog, I’m recommending The House We Grew Up In, a compelling and wonderful novel by Lisa Jewell

This was a choice for the bookclub I belong to (And may I take a moment out to recommend that you join a bookclub. If you don’t know of any that meet, ask at your public library. They are veritable fonts 
of information on all things book, and bookclubs. Do it. You’ll thank me later.), and all of us in our small group agreed—this one was a winner.


The House We Grew Up In revolves around the lives of Lorelei Bird and her family—her husband Colin and their four children—Megan, Bethan, Rory and Rhys and neighbor Vicki. Lorelei is a hoarder, you know, one of those persons who lets their possessions pile up in boxes around them. It wasn’t always this way with her. At one time she was a a whimsical mother who tacked up all her children’s school papers on the wall. She was the sort of mother any child would want—cooking, baking, having family parties, doing cartwheels in the backyard, and taking care that the annual Easter egg hunts in the backyard went on without a hitch. It is here we get the first inkling of her disorder, when she must save the colorful foils from the chocolates, because they are so pretty.

When one of her her sons dies by suicide, the entire family goes into a downward spiral. Each family member deals with the death in a different way, including his mother who just begins adding and adding and adding to her collections.

As the book plunges toward its horrific ending, we discover why Lorelei turned from being a happy, loving—although eccentric—mother, to one who would not throw anything out, and who would eventually drown and starve in all her stuff.

I know some of you are reality TV fans, and a program like Hoarders is sometimes interesting to watch. What is amazing to me about the few TV hoarding TV shows I’ve watched is the unbelievable link the hoarders feel to their stuff, the weeping when it is suggested that a broken DVD be thrown out. People with hoarding disorders sometimes choose their junk over their families. Their children will walk right out of the door and yet they choose to remain with their boxes.

The disclaimer at the beginning of the particular TV show I've linked to says that “hoarding is a mental disorder marked by an obsessive need to acquire and keep things, even if the items are worthless, hazardous or unsanitary.”

I wasn't sure I wanted to read a book about hoarding, but I found once I picked up this book, I could not put it down. It was one of those books that got propped up on the kitchen counter while I cooked and washed dishes and got carried with me in my purse everywhere I went.

Good writing and a well-put-together sentence is all important to me, and the writing in this book sparkled.

Here's an example. At one point in the book Lorelei says, 


Look at that sky, just look at it. The blueness of it. Makes me want to snatch out handfuls of it, and put it in my pockets.

Maybe that is the essence of hoarding—when a person loses the ability to simply sit and admire things, but instead needs to own them, and store them within your own walls and keeping.

Here’s another description on hoarding from the novel:

Everything was halfway to being where it needed to be, everything was a work in progress, with no systems, no logic, no sense of organizations about any of it.

And, here is how her neighbor Wendy describes Lorelei to her granddaughter:

You see, your nana is a very special lady—she is really quite magical you know—and when she looks at the world she sees it in a very special way, like it’s a party bag or a toy shop, and she likes to keep bits of it. And she feels sad when she throws things away.

Even if those hoarding TV shows don’t appeal to you, (they don’t to me, especially) I think you will enjoy this book.


I will be reading more of Lisa Jewell, and in fact, have another of her books I Found You just downloaded onto my Kobo.

Next Time: It’s more suspense with The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan.