A: Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood #AtoZChallenge

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Summary

It’s 1843, and Grace Marks has been convicted for her involvement in the vicious murders of her employer and his housekeeper and mistress. Some believe Grace is innocent; others think her evil or insane. Now serving a life sentence, Grace claims to have no memory of the murders.

An up-and-coming expert in the burgeoning field of mental illness is engaged by a group of reformers and spiritualists who seek a pardon for Grace. He listens to her story while bringing her closer and closer to the day she cannot remember. What will he find in attempting to unlock her memories? – Goodreads

My Thoughts

Margaret Atwood has been described as “one of the most brilliant and unpredictable novelists alive” – Literary Review. I would have to agree with that statement. This is the third of Attwood’s books that I’ve read and they have all been highlight reads for me. Alias Grace is an absolute highlight.  The story of Grace Marks, one of the most well known female prisoners in the 19h century is a work of fiction based on fact. The end isn’t hidden from the reader. From the start the outcome is fairly obvious, but the way this book is written, the reader is still kept entranced and enthralled to the end. This book invoked so many emotions for me . I found it ‘unputdownable’. There were so many passages that I had to read over and over or stop and think about. I could easily describe Alias Grace as being very dark and sad but it is aso very humorous. I did often laugh out loud. My favourite genre is Historical Fiction and Alias Grace is the best of the best. 

Alias Grace, deservedly, has received many literary awards around the world.

 Quotes:

“If we were all on trial for our thoughts, we would all be hanged.”

“Sometimes at night I whisper it over to myself: Murderess, Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt across the floor.
Murderer is merely brutal. It’s like a hammer, or a lump of metal. I would rather be a murderess than a murderer, if those are the only choices.”

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.

Throughout her writing career, Margaret Atwood has received numerous awards and honourary degrees. She is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction and is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood’s dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth ­ in the Massey series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood’s work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM.
Goodreads

Published December 1996 by Doubleday Nan A. Talese

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Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

 

The Shadow of the Wind – The Cemetary of Forgotten Books #1

The Shadow of the Wind : Shadow of the Wind Series - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Summary

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love
Blurb

My Thoughts

This book had me hooked from the start. I loved the story of the young boy who was taken to the cemetery of forgotten books and told to choose a book. As the book progressed and the child became older, his life almost mirrored the life of the book he had chosen.There were many parallels between the life of the child and the author.  l found the story riveting and couldn’t leave it alone.

There is a theme of death throughout this novel, from start to finish, which raises its head in many different forms. The writing is beautiful. There were many passages, that, though romantic, had me laughing out loud.

There were a few things about the narrative, however, that grated a little. At times, there were aspects to the story and sequence of events that didn’t seem to me to be believable. Also, the conversations at times seemed a little stilted, but that could be because this book was translated from Spanish to English.

The things that annoyed me were few and far between, and I was able to put them to the side, so they didn’t interfere with my enjoyment of the story.

In the edition that I read there were bonuses at the end – an interview with the author, discussion notes and an illustrated Shadow of the Wind walk through the streets of Barcelona. I especially enjoyed the illustrated walk. It was the icing on the cake of this novel for me. 

Recommendation

“If you thought the true gothic novel died with the 19th century, this will change your mind. Shadow is the real deal. Be warned, you have to be a romantic at heart to appreciate this stuff, but if you are this is one gorgeous read” – Stephen King

“Zaffron’s tightly plotted thriller, is sharp, sexy, gothic (perhaps even a little goulish), powerfully atmospheric, often funny and utterly unputdownable – Australian

Quotes

Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.

Death was like a nameless and incomprehensible hand…like a hellish lottery ticket. But I couldn’t absorb the idea that death could actually walk by my side, with a human face and a heart that was poisoned with hatred.

Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

About the author: Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a Spanish novelist. Born in Barcelona in 1964, he has lived in Los Ángeles, United States, since 1994, and works as a scriptwriter aside from writing novels.

This edition was published by Text Publishing, Melbourne in 2001.
Paperback, 536 pages

Thanks to my friend Kerryn for recommending this book

Book Review: The White Earth by Andrew McGahan

Summary

After his father’s death, young William is cast upon the charity of an unknown great-uncle, John McIvor. The old man was brought up, expecting to marry the heiress to Kuran Station—a grand estate in the Australian Outback—only to be disappointed by his rejection and the selling off of the land. He has devoted his life to putting the estate back together, and has moved into the once-elegant mansion.

McIvor tries to imbue William with his obsession, but his hold on the land is threatened by laws entitling the Aborigines to reclaim sacred sites. William’s mother desperately wants her son to become John McIvor’s heir, but no one realizes that William is ill and his condition is worsening.

Issues covered are Native Title legislation, the Mabo decison and Australian politics.

My Thoughts

When I first began to read this book, I had no idea what it was about. I wasn’t far into it when I realised this was the perfect book for me to read, in the week of Australia Day.

The setting is the Darling Downs in Queensland, spanning a time frame of 150 years. I really enjoyed the sense of place and landscape that this novel evoked. I loved it’s Australian-ness.

The publicity material describes this book as ‘part family saga, part history and part gothic thriller’. I agree with that completely. I do love a family saga and a historical novel, but the mention of gothic really had me intrigued. I’m not really interested in gothic or ghost stories, but I found the story to be entirely believable.

There is so much to this novel, including multiple themes but I would prefer to say less rather than more for fear of spoiling the reading experience for someone who picks up this book.

William was a lovely, beautiful, innocent young boy, but he was surrounded by very unattractive and flawed characters. This gave a dark and sinister feeling to the story. The characterisations by the author, I felt were brilliant.

I listened to this as an audio book. It didn’t lose any of the tension of gothicness in that form at all. The narrator, Edwin Hodgeman, an actor of many decades, was able to portray the darkness of certain characters and events in the story.

Recommendations

Winner of the Miles Franklin Award in 2005.
Winner of The Age Book of the Year Award in 2004

“…..The White Earth has all the trappings of a classic supernatural tale, and McGahan seamlessly blends the factual elements with the preernatural dimensions – the ghosts of black and white that haunt the landscape”  – The Age

Star Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author

Andrew McGahan, was an Australian novelist, born 1966, in Queensland, Australia. He passed away in 2019 at age 52. He is  best known for his first novel Praise, and for his Miles Franklin Award-winning novel The White Earth. His novel Praise is considered to be part of the Australian literary genre of grunge lit.

This review is linked to lovelyaudiobooks.info
#2020 AussieAuthorChallenge

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Book Review: The Institute by Stephen King

 

The Institute - Stephen King

SUMMARY

Luke Ellis is abducted from his bed in the middle of a night, and his parents are murdered. The super intelligent twelve year old with special powers is spirited away in a black SUV. When he wakes, Luke is in a room, at The Institute, hidden deep in the forest at Maine. The room is set up to look like his own at home, but with one difference. There is no window. Luke soon realises that The Institute is home to many children, who arrived in the same way that he did. All of these children, along with being intelligent, have the extra special powers or telepathy and telekinesis.

The children of The Institute are subjected to a series of experiments. The staff are dedicated to these experiments, and don’t give any thought to the children’s desires. The children are rewarded for going along with the experiments, and punished very severely for choosing not to be compliant. As children that Luke has become close to, begin to disappear, he becomes desperate to find a way out and to get help. But nobody has ever escaped from The Institute.

MY THOUGHTS

I really did enjoy this book, although I felt it was a little bit flat and repetitive before the action started, towards the end. As is usual with a Stephen King novel, I find that in a review, less is best. I’d rather the reader dive in without knowing too much.

The large cast of child characters were very endearing, and I found myself caring very much about what was happening to them. King’s usual excellent characterisation was evident here. It’s my opinion that he is the master of characterisation. The story is mostly about the children and their experiences, with some great action towards the end.

What The Institute was doing to those children was horrifying, but I didn’t feel that I was reading one of King’s horror stories. I do prefer his books that make horror and unreal situations totally plausible. And I did enjoy this book. But I do have to declare that I am a fan of King and have been since I first read Carrie in 1975. As usual when reading a Stephen King novel, I find myself wondering ‘how on earth does he come’ up with his ideas’.

I found the author’s note at the end to be very very touching.

STAR RATING
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

King at the 2007 Comic Con

Stephen King is a No. 1 Best Selling Author many times over. He is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. Many of his books have been adapted into major films and TV series. King received the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.  In 2007, he won the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America and in 2015 he received America’s National Medal of Arts.

He lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, novelist, Tabitha King.

Published on 10 September 2019 by Scribner.
Softcover 482 pages plus author’s note.

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Book Review: One Good Deed by David Baldacci

Summary

This novel, set in 1949, introduces a new character, Archer, a WW11 veteran who has recently been released from prison, where he served time for a crime he didn’t commit.

On his release, he encounters many obstacles that make it difficult to honour his parole conditions. His good intentions to stay out of trouble are challenged over and over.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed this character and look forward to the next in his series. The storyline had me hooked from the start and I enjoyed the historical aspect. I’m not a regular reader of crime but would definitely recommended this novel.

Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the author

David Baldacci has been writing since he was s small child and his mother gave him a pen and notebook to write his stories down.

His first novel ‘Absolute Power’ was published in 1996. He has now had 39 novel published and translated into many languages. He has also written seven novels for younger readers.

David and his wife are co-founders of the Wish You Well Foundation which supports family and literacy programs in the United States.

Published 23 July 2019 by Grand Central Publishing

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The First Lady by James Patterson & Brendan Dubois

The First Lady

Summary

American President Harrison Tucker has been caught out in a scandal, and the media is  all over it, sending shockwaves through his Presidential Campaign. It is probable that the will lose everything that he has worked for, unless his wife, Grace Tucker, the First Lady, stands by his side, and shows her support.

For years Grace has put up with her husband’s deception, broken promises and betrayal. But this time she refuses to give in to his demands to stand by him. GraceTucker disappears and is nowhere to be found.

But there are doubts about her disappearance. Did she run away? Or is she in grave danger? 

My Thoughts

This story is fast paced and filled with political intrigue and mystery. There were many twists and turns, which kept me guessing right up until the ending, which caught me by surprise. I enjoyed the strong female characters that were the backbone of this novel.

This collaboration between two succesful crime writers really is a good read, and I look forward very much to their next project. A quick read with short chapters and enough mystery and action to keep me well and truly engaged.

I listened to The First Lady as an audio book. The only criticism I would have, is that of the narrator’s pronunciation. I can only imagine that it must have driven American’s nuts to hear the way some of their place names were butchered. Even this Aussie picked up on it.

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

About the Authors

James Patterson

James Patterson is the world’s bestselling author and most trusted storyteller. He has created more enduring fictional characters than any other novelist writing today, with his Alex Cross, Michael Bennett, Women’s Murder Club, Private, NYPD Red, Daniel X, Maximum Ride, and Middle School series. He has sold over 380 million books worldwide and currently holds the Guinness World Record for the most #1 New York Times bestsellers. In addition to writing the thriller novels for which he is best known, among them The President Is Missing with President Bill Clinton, Patterson also writes fiction for young readers of all ages, including the Max Einstein series, produced in partnership with the Albert Einstein Estate. He is also the first author to have #1 new titles simultaneously on the New York Times adult and children’s bestseller lists. – https://www.goodreads.com

Brendan DuBois

Brendan DuBois of New Hampshire is the award-winning author of twenty novels and more than 150 short stories. His novel, “Resurrection Day,” won the Sidewise Award for Best Alternative History Novel of the Year. In addition to his thrillers, Brendan DuBois is the author of the Lewis Cole mystery series.  https://www.goodreads.com

 

 

Published in December 2018 by Century.

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Book Review 11.22.63 by Stephen King

15739070The day that changed the world. What if you could change it back

Summary

Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family. Jake is blown away…but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke…… Finding himself in warmhearted Jodie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten…and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful  – from the back cover

My Thoughts

As with many of Stephen King’s novels, this time travel story had me hooked from page one. I’m a huge Stephen King fan, but a few years ago, became disappointed with the novels he was writing. I have decided to go back to those novels, and give them another try. This novel is the first of those. I’m so glad I did, as this is exactly the type of King novel that I enjoy. Stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. And not a monster in sight! The love story thread is quite touching and lovely. Not something normally equated with a Stephen King novel.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of life in 1950s and 1960s America, with it’s references to the popular culture of the time. And then there is the story of the shooting of American President JFK by Lee Harvey Oswald. King builds up a picture of the life of Oswald before the shooting which I found to be totally believable.

During the entire book, even as the date of the assassination was approaching,  I couldn’t decide how King was going to end the story. Would the assassination be foiled? If so, what would be the ramifications of that. Even after 740 pages, I was still enthralled and surprised by the ending.

Stephen King has such a talent for writing about real people. The plot might be bizarre, but the strength of his characters makes the storyline totally believable. He makes it very easy to believe that everything his characters say and everything that happens to them is real.

This book is fantastic!

My Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

About the Author

King at the New York Comic Con in February 2007

Stephen Edwin King (born September 21, 1947) is an American  author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy novels. His books have sold more than 350 million copies,many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television series, and comic books. King has published 58 novels (including seven under the pen nameRichard Bachman)  and six non-fiction books. He has written approximately 200 short stories, most of which have been published in book collections.

King has received many awards.  In 2003, the  National Book Foundation awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He has also received awards for his contribution to literature for his entire oeuvre, such as the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement (2004),and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America (2007) In 2015, King was awarded with a National Medal of Arts for his contributions to literature. He has been described as the “King of Horror”. – Wikipedia

Stephen King is known as one of the best novelists of our time.

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 Published on July 5 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton. First published November 8 2011. Paperback 740 pages

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A Month of Sundays by Liz Byrski

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Summary

An online bookclub has been meeting for over ten years, but they have never met face to face. Until now…

Adele invites members of her book club to the Blue Mountains, where she is house sitting. Each member has been asked to bring a book that will teach the other members more about her. The women in this club are all at the stage of their lives, when life as they have always known  it, is changing. Each week. as they studied another book, not only did they learn more about the person who chose the book, but they were learning more about themselves.

My Thoughts

I asked myself what book I would choose to teach others more about me. I’m still not sure about that. It was interesting to see the books that were chosen.  I was surprised at each choice, as I did expect the author may have chosen more well known books or best sellers. The books chosen by each character were perfect to help better understand her life and what she was going through at the time.

As a member of two bookclubs, I do enjoy a book about bookclubs, and this one was no exception. I came to love the characters despite their flaws. They seemed very real to me, and by the end of the book, I wanted to know what would come next for each of them.

This is the first book that I’ve read by this author. I will definitely reading her previous books.

Recommendation

“Byrski is by turns turbulent and tender. Her characters are portrayed as warm, funny, flawed heroes and heroines grappling with the cards destiny has dealt them.” – West Australian

“A Month of Sundays demonstrates the capacity of a book to act as a mirror to the soul and an eloquent guide to a more contented future.  Executed with wit and affection, the novel delivers exactly what it promises” – Weekend Australian

My Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About The Author 

Liz Byrski

Liz Byrski is a writer and broadcaster with more than 40 years experience in the British and Australian media. She is the author of eleven non-fiction books and five novels, and her work has been published in national and international newspapers and magazines.

In the nineties Liz was a broadcaster and executive producer with ABC Radio in Perth and later an advisor to a minister in the Western Australian State Government; she now lectures in Professional and Creative Writing at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, and has PhD in writing with a focus on feminist popular fiction.

Liz was born in London and spent most of her childhood in Sussex. As an only child she spent a lot of time alone, much of it buried in books. She began her working life as a secretary and later moved into journalism working as a reporter on a local newspaper until she took up freelance writing when her children were born. Before moving to Western Australia she also worked as an appeals organiser for Oxfam.

After moving to Perth with her family in 1981 she once again established a freelance career writing for Australian publications including The Australian, Homes and Living, Cosmopolitan and Weekend News.

Liz lives between Perth and Fremantle and in addition to enjoying the company of family and friends, she spends most of her time reading, writing and walking. She has two adult sons and twin grandsons. – Goodreads.com

Recommendations

What book would you choose to teach others more about you? I found this a tough question, and would love to hear about your book choice. I promise to reply to all comments made.

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Published in July 2018, by MacMillan Australia. Paperback 352 pages

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#AtoZChallenge Z is for The Zahir by Paulo Coelho

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Summary

The Zahir is narrated by a best selling author, who lives in Paris and has been living the perfect life with his wife, war correspondent Esther. But now, Esther has disappeared with a friend Mikhail. It’s not known after her disappearance, if Mikhail is her lover. He may be, but then again, he may not be.

Esther’s disappearance is a mystery, as she also appears to have been living the perfect life, with her husband. Was she murdered or perhaps kidnapped. Or did she escape the confines of a life with her husband which left her feeling unfulfilled and empty.

The narrator is lost for answers. Eventually he is contacted my Mikhail, who promises to reunite him with his wife. In the process of this the narrator discovers something unexpected about himself.


“…I had convinced myself that I could only be happy with her, not because I loved her more than anything and anyone in the world, but because I thought only she could understand me; she knew my likes, my eccentricities, my way of seeing the world…….I was used to seeing the world through her eyes.” – Paul Coelho, The Zahir


“…suffering occurs when we want other people to love us in the way we imagine we want to be loved, and not in the way that love should manifest itself – free and untrammeled, guiding us with its force and driving us on.” – Paul Coelho, The Zahir

My Thoughts

I’m a huge Paul Coelho fan, so was looking forward to reading this book. I wasn’t at all disappointed. The Zahir is a pilgrimmage of sorts and cover the themes of love, loss and obsession. I love Coelho’s writing, and this book is no exception. As is usual, in Coelho’s books, he focuses on the meaning of life, the mean of love, and finding our place in the world.

The narrator of the story annoyed me at times, and parts of the story annoyed me at times. However, I really did enjoy this book. The questions the narrator asked himself and the tiny bits of trivial information he felt that he needed, truly did captivate me. There were many literary references which I also enjoyed.

My Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the author

Paulo Coelho

 

Paulo Coelho was born in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro. Before dedicating his life completely to literature, he worked as theatre director and actor, lyricist and journalist. In 1986, Coelho did the pilgrimage to Saint James of Compostella, an experience later to be documented in his book The Pilgrimage.

His books are written in Portugese and translated into English.

 

 

Published in 2006 by Harper One. Paperback 336 pages

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#AtoZChallenge Y: You by Caroline Kepnes

#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary blogging from A to Z challenge letter

The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge  is for bloggers who wish to participate by publishing a blog post every day in April except for Sundays. Each blog post will focus on a letter of the alphabet. For example April 1 will be A, April 2 will be B and on it goes. By the end of April, a blog post for every letter of the alphabet will have been posted.

Summary

This is the debut novel, by Caroline Kepnes. Guinevere Beck, an aspiring writer, wanders into a book store. Soon, she is having a friendly conversation with Joe Goldberg, who is working in the store. Joe googles her name from her credit card, to find out all he can about her. He checks out her public Facebook page, and her Twitter feed, where he gets a huge amount of general information about her and about her life.

When she posts on Twitter that she will be at a particular bar that night, Joe makes sure that he is there for a ‘chance’ meeting. From there, he makes sure he has her under his control to the point that he takes over her life.

On the surface Joe is her perfect man. However, things are not as they seem. Joe is controlling her and stalking her. This is a story about the modern age of communications and living life online. You demonstrates how vulnerable we all are in the digital age, to stalking and being manipulated, without even being aware.

My Thoughts

You has been compared to Psycho, Gone Girl and even Stephen King’s Misery. I loved all of those books, but unfortunately I can’t say the same about You. Everything that happened seemed to me to be too easy for Joe.  But perhaps that’s the way the world is today, in this digital age.  The story line seemed to me to be very contrived and convenient.

For me, You was a difficult read, as I didn’t really care too much about the characters and could have put the book down. and decided not to finish it, at any time. I definitely didn’t feel it was a page turner, though going by some of the reviews, it appears that I am in the minority. I also should state. that I’m not a huge fan of crime or psychological thrillers, so am probably not the best person to comment on this book.

About The Author

Caroline Kepnes

 

Caroline Kepnes was born and lives in the U.S, dividing her time between California, Cape Cod, and Massachusetts.

My Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️

First published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster
Paperback 424 pages

 

 

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