Serpentine by Thomas Thompson

SerpentineSerpentine by Thomas Thompson

With compelling style and suspense this true-crime book reconstructs the bizarre, bloody journey of a mesmerizing but sinister young man named Charles Sobhraj. Sweeping back and forth over half the globe — from the boulevards of Paris to the slopes of Mount Everest to the underbellies of Bangkok and Hong Kong — Sobhraj left in his wake a trail of baffling mystery and inexplicable horror. He also led the police of a dozen nations on a chase that ended at least twelve and possibly twenty-four corpses later with a mere seven-year prison sentence in Delhi. Besides offering a riveting narrative of serial murder and a years-long manhunt, this singular volume examines the lives not only of the intelligent, charismatic, conscienceless, and thoroughly dangerous Sobhraj but also of the unsuspecting victims that he drugged, robbed, sometimes tortured, and without a qualm often killed. A chilling tale of deadly coincidences set in exotic, glamorous locales, Serpentine offers a reading experience as frightening as it is unforgettable.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Whilst the story of Charles Sobhraj is an interesting one, this book could have benefited from being shorter, in my opinion. The author did a excellent job of researching and fact collecting, but the book was so bogged down by minutia that at times, it became boring and the flow of the story was lost on me.

Even so, if you can wade through the many details, you will likely find this book very interesting. The early life of serial killer Charles Sobhraj was recounted in such a manner that you can get a clear and concise portrait of his mental struggles, including his co-dependent relationship with his mother and his fiery temper, often fueled by the fair-weather relationship with his biological father.

As the book progresses and Charles ages, it becomes clear that he has a very elastic sense of right and wrong and that he lives his life as he chooses, with only his own satisfaction in mind. His moral sense is absolutely misguided and the author makes this perfectly clear.

If you are looking for a true crime book that will make you stop and think about nature Vs. nurture, this is a good one to choose. Overall, I thought it was very entertaining.

This review is based on a complementary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Those Who Lie by Diane Jeffrey

Those Who LieThose Who Lie by Diane Jeffrey

Emily Klein doesn’t know she has killed her husband until the day of his funeral.
At first, signs point to a tragic accident. Yet, as Emily pieces together the events before his death – events which led to her own memory loss – she begins to suspect that her husband’s death may have been the result of more than a terrible twist of fate…

But the accident is only the beginning. Because while Emily’s physical scars will heal, the trauma of the accident has awakened old ghosts. She hears strange sounds, catches things that can’t possibly be there in the corner of her eye. Before long, everywhere she looks, she seems to see her husband.

And suddenly, Emily finds herself asking the most dangerous question of all.

Can she really trust herself?

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this was a decent book, but it didn’t grab me from the very beginning and refuse to let go. It was more like it was evenly paced and I didn’t want to set it down and forget about it, but wasn’t overly, ferociously determined to get to the end either. It was good, and definitely intriguing, but I felt there were some areas, such as how the MC felt about her husband’s death that could have been explored in more depth before the end of the novel.

Still, this book has a lot going for it and a lot to recommend it. Even when I was half way or so through the book, I never really knew who I could trust. Even the main character seemed to be on shaky ground and that made it far more interesting. I liked her personality and the way she presented herself when there was trouble happening all around her. Emily is a strong female character with a lot of determination to survive and find answers to both her murky past and her present situation.

The secondary characters were also interesting and made the book worth reading. This novel has a twisty plot that will keep you reading, and keep you questioning what you think is really going on. Overall, it was a pleasure to read.

This review is based on a complementary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Expecting to Die by Lisa Jackson

Expecting to Die (To Die, #7)Expecting to Die by Lisa Jackson

The menacing woods of Grizzly Falls, Montana, are not for the faint of heart. But for some, they’re the perfect setting for partying and pranks. They don’t know there’s a rapt audience amid the tangled trees, a killer with a different kind of game in mind, for whom the woods are dark and deep and perfectly deadly.

Some places earn their bad reputation through tall tales or chance. Grizzly Falls is different. Here, killers aren’t just the stuff of legends and campfire lore. Someone is in the night-time shadows, watching the local teens play around in the moonlit woods. Waiting for the right moment, the right victim. Waiting to take away a life.

Detective Regan Pescoli is counting the days until her maternity leave. Exhausted and emotional, the last thing she needs is another suspected serial killer. Especially when her daughter, Bianca, is swept up in the media storm. When a reality show arrives in town, the chaos only makes it harder for Pescoli and her partner, Selena Alvarez, to distinguish rumor from truth.

Another body is found and another. And as the nightmare strikes closer to home, Pescoli races to find the terror lingering in the darkness, where there are too many places to hide and countless places to die.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love series that are set in small towns and Grizzly Falls is one of those places where you come to feel like you know everyone there and could easily navigate the streets if you came to visit. It’s also the perfect setting for a book where a killer need a place to hide–with the forest and mountains and location out of the way of the modern world surroundings. The author takes full advantage of that and thrills her readers from beginning to end with “Expecting to Die.”

I’ve always had a thing for Lisa Jackson books because I know the suspense will be high and it will be hard to guess the ending, and this book is no exception to that rule. This novel has a pretty large cast of characters and gets more complex as the plot moves along, but is never confusing. I liked Bianca a lot in this book and although some of the subject matter could have gone awry and become worthy of an eye-roll, it never did. Lisa Jackson could turn just about anything into a solid hair-raising story, just as she proved with this book.

I’m a glutton for punishment. I love reading thrillers at night, when the house is dark, or when we are out in the wilderness somewhere camping and away from civilisation. This is just the kind of novel that would scare the living daylights out of me in such a situation (it did, at night, on the couch) and so if you, like me, want to go prematurely grey with worry over what is stalking you that you can’t see but can feel just beyond the tree line, this is the book for you.

In the end, this was a great book with a lot to recommend it. If you love stories that never stop and hardly slow down, surprise endings and characters that make you care what happens to them, this is a great book to choose. Read the rest of the series as well, they’re a lot of fun, too.

This review is based on a complementary copy from the publisher, provided by netgalley. All opinions are my own.

The United States of Absurdity

The United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American HistoryThe United States of Absurdity: Untold Stories from American History by Dave Anthony

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought this book was hilarious. I loved the way the narration pointed out the finer points in the stupidity of history, and thought the running commentary on absurd history was great. This book may not be for the feint of heart, as there are some very strange, as well as…ewww, moments included in it. If, however, you are a brave individual with a strong stomach, I say go forth and populate the earth with the knowledge that you gain from this book. Just don’t sue me for your psychiatry bill. Go for the authors instead. They are at the root of this mess.

This is the kind of book that makes you laugh at inappropriate times and in the worst of places. It also makes you feel lucky that we live in modern times, until you realise that history is doomed to repeat itself because we are all morons that don’t learn from books like this. Then you feel something else.

In any case, I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants a good laugh and to learn about the stupids that came before us. If nothing else, it will make you think. Thoughts you might not want to share. Those are the best kind.

This review is based on a complementary copy from the publisher, provided through netgalley, who must have decided my stomach strength passed the test and decided to offer me the book in exchange for an honest review.

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Confrontation with Evil by Steven A. LaChance

Confrontation with Evil: An In-Depth Review of the 1949 Possession That Inspired the ExorcistConfrontation with Evil: An In-Depth Review of the 1949 Possession That Inspired the Exorcist by Steven A LaChance

Known as the 1949 St. Louis Exorcism, the story of possessed child Roland Doe was immortalized in the groundbreaking novel and film The Exorcist. Much has been written about the case, but the truth has been shrouded in secrecy…until now.

Join Steven A. LaChance, as he shares the shocking evidence for how a family’s grief over the death of an aunt progressed into a full-blown demonic possession. While the conventional story is that Roland Doe brought the demonic infestation upon himself, LaChance convincingly suggests an alternative interpretation, and provides new insights into the nature of possession itself.

The events of 1949 culminated in grueling exorcism rites, but the story doesn’t end there as LaChance guides readers through the stunning aftermath that forever changed the Catholic church and the city of St. Louis.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I ended up giving this a full five stars, simply for the interest factor. It kept me turning pages. I can’t say that I fully accept everything about this case as fact, regardless of who has dissected it and reported on it, but the author’s arguments were convincing, for his in-depth research and unique personal experiences.

Honestly, I found most of the value in the first half of the book. It was written from a new angle, spending more time focusing on the family and clergy and their poor decisions regarding the treatment of the boy in question, rather than blaming the entire event on the child himself.

You can come at this book from many different directions and probably form a million different opinions based on your faith and your own experiences, but one thing is for sure, something happened that no one will ever be able to completely explain.

The latter half of the book did not lose my interest, but I saw it as more speculation than proven fact. I would have liked to have seen more witness interviews included to back up the ideas of the author.

Still, this was a fascinating look at a case that still draws interest today. If you are interested in the case, you want to read this one.

This review is based on a complementary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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A Taste for Murder

A Taste For MurderA Taste For Murder by Burl Barer

Frank Rodriguez, a much-loved counselor of troubled teens, lies dead on the bedroom floor. His wife and step-daughter are in shock, and so is the medical examiner when he performs the autopsy. Aside from being dead, Frank is in perfect health.

Demanding to know the cause of her husband’s death, Angie Rodriguez badgers the police, insisting that Frank was murdered. The cops attribute her assertions to overwhelming grief, but soon they too believe that Frank didn’t die of natural causes.

When the police enlist their number one suspect to help in the investigation, things spiral out of control until police are dealing with a daring plot to murder Angie’s best friend, and allegations of another homicide so evil and perverse that even seasoned L.A County Detectives are shocked beyond belief … and so will the readers!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a quick read, that will make you wonder how much you really know about the people around you. For the most part, I enjoyed this book. The author was a bit heavy on inserting themselves into the story via interjection of personal opinion, but otherwise, the facts were there and the flow of the story worked well. I do understand that it was intended to be a rather conversational book rather than a boring recount of documented events, so I suppose that is why it comes across as opinionated.

The central figure in this book is a truly awful person that will make you thank your lucky stars that she is not your mum, sister, daughter, friend or worst case scenario, wife. I was disgusted by her actions, and as far as the possibility that she committed the earlier crime mentioned in the book, well, it really wouldn’t surprise me.

I believe this book is so striking, because it is not fiction. To think that there are people in the world that would go to such lengths to obtain what they want is disturbing and terrifying. This book takes you on a journey through the life and mind of a person who was damaged at an early age, and never recovered. If you are sensitive to things that are sexual in nature, this might be a book that you want to prepare yourself for.

Mostly, I thought this was a really good read with a lot to recommend it. I would definitely give it a solid four stars for the way it was written, the intrigue that the writing style created and the fact checking. However, it lost a star for me near the end when the central figure was compared to a well-known, overweight, Star Wars character. Professional? I think not.

Interesting read.

This review is based on a complementary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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The Graveyard Apartment

The Graveyard Apartment: A NovelThe Graveyard Apartment: A Novel by Mariko Koike

A terrifying tale of a young family who move into an apartment building next to a graveyard and the horrors that are unleashed upon them.

One of the most popular writers working in Japan today, Mariko Koike is a recognized master of detective fiction and horror writing. Known in particular for her hybrid works that blend these styles with elements of romance, The Graveyard Apartment is arguably Koike’s masterpiece. Originally published in Japan in 1986, Koike’s novel is the suspenseful tale of a young family that believes it has found the perfect home to grow in to, only to realize that the apartment’s idyllic setting harbors the specter of evil and that longer they stay, the more trapped they become.

This tale of a young married couple who are harboring a dark secret is packed with dread and terror, as they and their daughter move into a brand new apartment building built next to a graveyard. As strange and terrifying occurrences begin to pile up, people in the building begin to move out one by one, until the young family is left alone with someone… or something… lurking in the basement. The psychological horror builds moment after moment, scene after scene, culminating with a conclusion that will make you think twice before ever going into a basement again.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After finishing this book, I was left with a lot of jumbled opinions and feelings. In some ways, this book is everything I hope for in a horror novel. It is certainly full of suspense and makes you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next. On the same hand, the never ending suspense was what killed it for me. I like it when things are tense in a book like this, but when that happens, I also expect there to be a big payout and the longer the author waits to give me that, the bigger and better I expect it to be.

After following the lives of this family from the beginning of the book, I truly found the ending to be a huge disappointment. With all the buildup throughout the book, the creepy happenings and the odd events, I thought some moment of absolute horror when good fights evil was sure to happen, but that was not the case. For me, this book just fizzled out, as if the author couldn’t figure out how to end it, so they just left it.

I wanted answers to the underground tunnels. I wanted to know why things were happening. I’m still wondering.

I think that all in all, this is a good book and is worthy of a recommendation, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the end. I was left with questions, and books that do that annoy me.

This review is based on a complementary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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the Wicked Boy

From the internationally bestselling author, a deeply researched and atmospheric murder mystery of late Victorian-era London

In the summer of 1895, Robert Coombes (age 13) and his brother Nattie (age 12) were seen spending lavishly around the docklands of East London — for ten days in July, they ate out at coffee houses and took trips to the seaside and the theater. The boys told neighbors they had been left home alone while their mother visited family in Liverpool, but their aunt was suspicious. When she eventually she forced the brothers to open the house to her, she found the badly decomposed body of their mother in a bedroom upstairs. Robert and Nattie were arrested for matricide and sent for trial at the Old Bailey.

Robert confessed to having stabbed his mother, but his lawyers argued that he was insane. Nattie struck a plea and gave evidence against his brother. The court heard testimony about Robert’s severe headaches, his fascination with violent criminals and his passion for ‘penny dreadfuls’, the pulp fiction of the day. He seemed to feel no remorse for what he had done, and neither the prosecution nor the defense could find a motive for the murder. The judge sentenced the thirteen-year-old to detention in Broadmoor, the most infamous criminal lunatic asylum in the land. Yet Broadmoor turned out to be the beginning of a new life for Robert–one that would have profoundly shocked anyone who thought they understood the Wicked Boy.

At a time of great tumult and uncertainty, Robert Coombes’s case crystallized contemporary anxieties about the education of the working classes, the dangers of pulp fiction, and evolving theories of criminality, childhood, and insanity. With riveting detail and rich atmosphere, Kate Summerscale recreates this terrible crime and its aftermath, uncovering an extraordinary story of man’s capacity to overcome the past.

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child MurdererThe Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

And just like today, music, video games and exposure to a culture caught in a downward spiral are to blame for everything! Damn those penny bloods!

Yep. The first half of this story is where none of the redemption is, but where most of the stuff worth reading is found. This author is great at taking her research and turning it into an easily readable and interesting story. She is great with details and makes excellent connections that she points out to the reader without sounding pretentious.

Robert was certainly a mystery all on his own. Trying to assess his motive, his reactions and the causes behind his behaviour after the death of his mother are enough to make this book worthy of reading and sharing with others.

I was immediately fascinated by this story and by the characters themselves. Kate Summerscale chose an interesting group of subjects for this book, and knowing that they were more than just simple figments of an author’s imagination made it that much more compelling. Still, I struggled through the latter half of this book. I felt the author ran out of worthy information to convey and much of the last part of this was just padding to create a longer book. Needless information on the people Robert met and was incarcerated with, or in the service with bored me. Very few of the character sketches of these people turned out to be important.

When I finished, I walked away glad to have had the opportunity to read this book. If you enjoy real life mysteries and the Victorian era, this should satisfy.

This review is based on a complementary copy from the publisher, provided through Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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the Sister by Louise Jensen

The SisterThe Sister by Louise Jensen

Grace hasn’t been the same since the death of her best friend Charlie. She is haunted by Charlie’s words, the last time she saw her, and in a bid for answers, opens an old memory box of Charlie’s. It soon becomes clear there was a lot she didn’t know about her best friend.

When Grace starts a campaign to find Charlie’s father, Anna, a girl claiming to be Charlie’s sister steps forward. For Grace, finding Anna is like finding a new family, and soon Anna has made herself very comfortable in Grace and boyfriend Dan’s home.

But something isn’t right. Things disappear, Dan’s acting strangely and Grace is sure that someone is following her. Is it all in Grace’s mind? Or as she gets closer to discovering the truth about both Charlie and Anna, is Grace in terrible danger?

There was nothing she could have done to save Charlie …or was there?

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even after finishing this book, I struggled with what I thought of it. On one hand, this is an entertaining and mysterious read with enough complexities to keep you hungrily reading. On the other, some of the characters have so few redeeming qualities that it is hard to feel anything for them other than dislike.

Grace is an interestingly flawed character, but the kind that you want to like. Ever read a book and wish you could slap some sense into the main character because things they entirely miss are so plainly obvious to you, as the reader? That was how I felt about Grace. I understand falling apart at the seams after a tragedy, but there comes a point when you have to move on…and I almost felt like the idea of her grief was the only thin thread holding this book together. Everything else that happened was only possible because the main character was such a clueless mess.

I hated Anna and was mistrustful of her intentions from the very beginning. As the story progressed, I hated her even more, along with Grace’s husband. It was hard for me to read the ending of this book and not think…”that’s it?” As I truly wanted retribution for Grace.

In the end, this wasn’t a bad book, but one that I felt left more questions than answers.

This review is based on a complementary copy from the publisher, provided by Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

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Jessica

JessicaJessica by Helena Hann-Basquiat

Who is Jessica?
There are rumours that I keep a writer trapped in my basement… but I assure you… Jessica is and always was here of her own free will. Until one day she disappeared, and I began to realize that everything I thought I knew about her was wrong. Everyone has a terrifying story about Jessica B. Bell. Some of them are even true.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What makes for a truly terrifying read? For me it isn’t all about the cover or some creative monster that jumps out of the closet or hides under the bed. I want the author to know, instinctively what scares the hell out of me. I want to face my worst nightmare staring back at me from the page and wonder how the author knew what I feared most and how to bring it to life. Jessica, will do that to you. If you don’t want to sleep at night, perhaps you should read this book.

I think what I liked about this the most, was that I was never sure who was crazier–the people who wrote it, the characters, or me. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, something unexpected happened and the story shifted, leaving me questioning everything I thought I knew up to that point.

This book is filled with good, old-fashioned psychological thrills and terror. That seems to be hard to find these days, and I appreciated that the authors allowed the reader to think for themselves, not over evaluating every little thing and immersing them in miles of pointless description.

If you want to read something different, that will terrify and excite you in equal measure, you can’t go wrong with Jessica.