psychological thrillers

Kali’s 10 Best Brackish Books of 2015


Alright, here it is. A best books list. I was going to do a traditional best books list, including all the books, but I haven’t even finished A Little Life. I got to the part after all is revealed where a weak Jude must be scooped out of his chair by Willem after a wonderful dinner with friends. Jude peeks back to the hearty laughter and gives a pathetic little wave. And I was just like, “I’m going to put this aside for a bit.” I set it aside, and didn’t pick it back up.

Clearly there’s a type of book I love most. If you’re a reader of the blog, you’ve caught on to that. A guy at work exclaimed the other day, “You have a fascination with criminals!” And maybe I do. I like my books a little salty, a little lurid, enveloped in a whole lot of darkness with a few well-deserved twists. That means that most of my faves fall somewhere between literary fiction and thriller, walking a tightrope of noir and psychological horror. Some were released in other countries before this year, but it’s a blog, and I make up my own rules.

Without further ado:

  1. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh eileenThis book has all the things I hold dear to my heart. A slightly unhinged narrator. A wacky alcoholic family member. A boy’s home for adolescent offenders. A beautiful woman with dishonorable motives. And a bunch of raw nervous energy. You can read my original review.
  2. The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango the-truth-and-other-lies-9781476795553_hr The Truth and Other Lies is bitingly funny. Its cool narrator, a man taking credit for his wife’s blockbuster novels, steers the plot headlong into disaster. My original review.
  3. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
    head full of ghostsI see this one becoming a cult classic, if anything published by William Morrow and nominated for a Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award could ever be considered cult. The one word used to describe this horror novel is meta. This is a horror novel fully aware of horror novels, and films, and all the better for it. My review.
  4. Disclaimer by Renee Knight disclaimer I absolutely loved the premise of this one so much I had to go out and get a copy. A woman picks up a book and begins to read the story of her life. She notices the disclaimer in the front, that one that ensures the story isn’t based on true events, is crossed out. Who wrote the book? How did it get to her? My review.
  5. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins the girl on the train Unless you were living under a rock this year, you are familiar with this one. It was a runaway hit, hailed as this year’s Hitchcock-ian Gone Girl. Rachel watches an ideal couple each morning from the commuter train. When the wife of the couple shows up missing on the news, Rachel places herself into the investigation. Read my original review.
  6. Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates black chalk This is a bit of a cheat, as I had a copy of this last year. Random House UK released this in 2014, but it was released in the US this year by Picador with a beautiful new cover. Black Chalk brings a psychological Hunger Games to Oxford University. Six incredibly close friends agree to a game run by the mysterious ‘game soc’ club at their school. The game becomes more involved, taking over their lives, as the students begin to lose control. My review.
  7. The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi The Water Knife Let’s throw a little bit of near-future climate fiction on here, shall we? The Water Knife is brilliant because it pushes what is happening now just a bit farther, and magnifies it into something shocking. States are battling for water rights, and water knives slip through the night to bomb water plants and kill the right people, ensuring powerful cities stay wet. If you like drinking water, read this book. My review.
  8. Bone Gap by Laura Ruby bone gap And also we’ll add a tad of magical realism to the list. Bone Gap is a bright and crisp and beautiful young adult novel. I haven’t reviewed it because I’m just not sure what to make of it. As a lover of straight-shooting mysteries and thrillers, its more fantastical elements disappointed me. But does that mean I still don’t think about its lovable, well-crafted characters? Its charming little town? No, of course not. A part of me may always be in Bone Gap.
  9. Missoula by Jon Kraukauer missoula This isn’t even fiction. This is an exposé of the rape culture on America’s college campuses, with a focus on Missoula, Montana. It is shocking, and an absolute must-read. My original review.
  10. The Cartel by Don Winslow the cartel How many ways can people die in one book? Books about cartels love to explore this question. I became weary of all the descriptions of death, but at the same time understood it was part of the rough and angry territory of a sprawling epic of the Mexican drug war. Proceed at your own caution–the characters here are masterfully crafted, but also masterfully executed. My original review at the Manhattan Book Review.

Cuddle up with a cat and a comforter, cozy up with some cocoa and your Kindle. You’ve got a lot of books to get through. Happy reading!

Karin Slaughter Takes On Family And Other Gruesome Things In ‘Pretty Girls’

pretty girls

Karin Slaughter is legit. I say this having only read one of her huge Will Trent/Grant County series, Criminal, which didn’t totally blow me away. Where I did fall in love with that story was in its portrayal of women on the police force in the 1970’s, which Slaughter so intensely described it kept me up at nights, skipping the present-day, Will Trent sections of the book to get back those flashbacks of his mentor’s times on earlier, much meaner streets.

This means I was definitely a fan of Cop Town, Slaughter’s stand-alone novel focusing on women police in 1970’s Atlanta. And when Slaughter’s newest release, Pretty Girls, was announced as another stand alone, I was excited, just as Will Trent fans everywhere were dismayed.

In Pretty Girls, posh, confident Claire’s successful architect husband, Paul, is murdered in a robbery gone wrong. Immediately after his death, things stop making sense for Claire. She’s left in a stark, excessively large home she never wanted. A robbery takes place at Claire’s home during the funeral, and police and the FBI are a bit too interested in the case, a bit too attentive to Claire’s needs.

Meanwhile, Claire’s sister Lydia, estranged from the family, is revisiting old wounds as another young girl goes missing in the media. Where Claire is classy and sophisticated, Lydia is overweight and runs a pet-grooming service. As different as the sisters are, they both are haunted by the the memory of their third sister Julia, who went missing in their childhood.

The sisters’ stories alternate until they intertwine, as they come together to figure out just what the police could want from Claire, and who Paul really was.

The best part of this book, and maybe all thrillers for me, was its tense beginning. Claire, nervous and in mourning, realizes something isn’t right. But what, exactly? Everyone is acting strangely, the husband she relied on is dead, and she is left entirely on her own to discover his dark secrets. Like Stephen King’s A Good Marriage, the idea that you may not know the person you married, the person you sleep in bed next to each night, is terrifying.

There is quite a bit of gore, with some really ugly stuff presented. These scenes are brief, and play a role in explaining character development.

The story complicated itself as it progressed, and it began to lose a bit of steam for me, raising too many red flags of plausibility. I didn’t need that many twists for the book to be good. Despite feeling a bit bogged by the end, this is a finely-crafted thriller, with well-developed and realistic female characters confronting both family issues and much uglier, darker things. I know Will Trent fans are eagerly awaiting Slaughter’s next book in that series, but I’ll be eagerly awaiting her next stand-alone release.

Pretty Girls on’

In Jonathan Kellerman’s ‘The Murderer’s Daughter,’ A Victim’s Advocate Goes Vigilante

the murderer's daughter

Who can resist a novel with a title like The Murderer’s Daughter?

Not me.

Jonathan Kellerman’s newest release, The Murderer’s Daughter tells the story of survivor Grace. Grace grew up brilliant but fearful, passed from abusive (murderously so, hence the title) family to stereotypically unstable foster homes.

Now, a sought after therapist, considered a “victim whisperer” by those who need just such a soothsayer most, Grace’s dark childhood has caught up with her. A mysterious man seeks a session with her, intrigued by a little-known paper she wrote on families of criminals. Is he related to an offender himself? Does he look familiar?

Before Grace can find answers to any of these questions, the man loses his nerve and stumbles out of the session. Out of the session and right back into the grips of whatever violent element haunted his life.

There was a lot to love about The Murderer’s Daughter, and a lot I just wasn’t feeling. I appreciated Grace as a brilliant, independent, and manipulative woman, and the story of her upbringing interweaved with modern day was as intriguing as the mystery itself. As for the mystery, much of Grace’s investigation was done on the internet–while this may be realistic, it isn’t exactly the most thrilling way to reveal information to a reader.

In the age of Dexter, books with a bad seed turned to justice are all the rage: Chelsea Cain’s One Kick is my favorite thus far. If you love the vigilante justice of Dexter and the heady analysis of psychological thrillers, check out The Murderer’s Daughter.

The Murderer’s Daughter on’

In Robin Kirman’s ‘Bradstreet Gate,’ College Is Hell

bradstreet gate

Robin Kirman’s Bradstreet Gate elicits strong emotions, good and bad. I read it in two days. I saw its premise online and knew I needed an advanced copy STAT. Once I found one and dove in, I wasn’t able to put it down, causing sleep deprivation and a neglect of life’s other demands for a day.

Bradstreet Gate focuses on the bright, beautiful, blonde Georgia Calvin, the crush of all young Harvard men from the day she steps foot on campus. Aloof from years spent transferring schools, trailing after a successful photographer father, the story follows Georgia and those put under her spell through their years at Harvard and beyond. The story is juicy and unpredictable from the start, as Georgia becomes involved with headstrong and moody professor Rufus Storrow. We meet Georgia’s small circle of friends as they each take turns narrating, illuminating their own motives, insecurities, and views of each other. There is young Republican, bow-tie wearing Charlie, and cold, determined journalist Alice.

Harvard’s small enclave is rocked when a student, Julie Patel, is murdered on campus. Friendships begin to fall apart as Professor Storrow, Georgia’s secret lover, is the prime suspect in the murder. But this isn’t primarily a mystery novel. It is a book of betrayals and hidden motives, our private definitions of success and those we measure ourselves against.

The novel is less literary than some of the college-friends-gone-wrong fare we’ve known and loved: it is compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History in its blurb, which I’m glad I didn’t see until after I completed it. If I had gone into this book with Secret History-esque expectations, I would have been disappointed. Based on plot alone, I went in expecting a soap-opera-style drama set on a college campus, and I feel those expectations were certainly met.

Professor Storrow reminded me of an unhinged Christian Grey, popping up at odd times, saying inappropriate things, making demands. The murder, while a background mystery, just hung like a foreboding cloud over this small group of friends and their already strained relationships. Those relationships, these characters, are the focus of the book. If you don’t fall in love with Georgia Calvin, you’ll definitely want to be her. The fiercely disciplined, slightly unhinged Alice is the perfect combination of wicked and vulnerable.

I read this on my Kindle and when I got to the last page, I kept madly poking the screen to get to something more. If you are the type of person who needs their endings nicely tied up, you might want to skip this one or prepare to be infuriated at the end. But if you can tolerate ending with questions unanswered, Bradstreet Gate’s characters are compelling and the story of their high points and struggles will keep you riveted.

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