Book Review: The Marriage Pact

Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact, and most of its rules make sense: Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples–and then one of them breaks the rules. The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life, and The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule. For Jake and Alice, the marriage of their dreams is about to become their worst nightmare.

The premise of this book sounded intriguing: A mysterious, secretive club, with complicated rules and requirements, dedicated to enhancing and strengthening marriage. Alice and Jake join the Pact mostly on a whim — they’re amused by the sense of formality and ritual during the initial sales pitch, and sign the contract without a moment’s hesitation. After all, if they sign now, they’ll be just in time to attend the big fancy party coming up.

Uh oh. Never sign without reading the fine print! Alice, a lawyer, really should know better.

Alice and Jake soon learn that there’s a dark side to the Pact. First tip should have been the manual — a huge volume containing endless rules about how to behave in the marriage — and long lists of punishments, graded misdeamenors to felonies — for marital infractions big and small. The couple simply doesn’t take any of it seriously. They act like it’s a silly game. No one actually MEANS any of this stuff, right?


They realize quickly enough that crimes like lack of focus on the marriage carry a penalty, such as relatively benign mandatory counseling sessions with a more senior Pact member, or required early-morning workout sessions with a trainer when one’s weight falls outside the prescribed limits. Yes, there are weigh-ins. Shudder.

The penalties escalate with the severity of the crime against the marriage, and before they know it, Alice is being manacled and shackled and carted off to a prison facility in the Nevada desert. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Too late, Jake and Alice realize that the Pact is not a game at all… and that there’s no way out.

What I liked:

The premise is certainly different, I’ll grant the book that. It’s intriguing at the start to wonder about the true agenda of the Pact. As each consequence become harsher than the previous one, the suspense ratchets up. The book moves quickly, and the tension continues to mount as the book proceeds. Who can be trusted? Where can they turn? Is the danger real? There’s definitely a lot to keep us going.

I liked Alice and Jake as characters, although I need to counter that by saying that they’re way too smart to end up in the situation they find themselves in.

And stretching for anything else positive to say — well, I did like the author’s use of the San Francisco setting. Every time Jake describes which route he took from his house, I can picture the turn-by-turn directions, and I enjoyed seeing “my” beach, Ocean Beach, feature into the plot.


What I didn’t like:

Oh, where to start?

My biggest issue, and the one that will pretty much keep me from recommending this book, is that it pretty quickly changes from being dark to being outright sadistic. Yes, people, the punishments include all sorts of sadistic, painful torture and humiliation, and that is so NOT what I thought I was signing up for. The book became frankly unpleasant by the last third. I don’t mind creepy thrillers — but this isn’t that. The Marriage Pact gets into detailed descriptions of horrible acts involving pain and loss of control and cruelty for the sake of cruelty.

Beyond the awfulness of those parts, the plot itself doesn’t hold together. I made light of it earlier, but really, these are two well-educated people who should absolutely know better than to sign contracts on the spot, as if they’re buying a timeshare that they’ll regret later. There’s every indication right from the start that they’re getting involved in something big and scary, and they just ignore the warning signs and sign on the dotted line. Sheesh.

Also, hate to say it, but the Pact just never made sense to me. It’s filled with rich and powerful people, the implication being that if you ever try to leave or expose the Pact, they have the power and the reach to destroy your careers, your reputations, and possibly even your chance of staying alive. But why? The Pact is dedicated to the preservation of marriage. Fine. But what drives all these people to enforce it and be loyal to it? It’s not about money or power — it seems to be only about dedication to the Pact itself. The rituals of punishment, coupled with the loyalty of Pact members, just doesn’t add up.


Wrapping it all up:

Reading The Marriage Plot is like watching a train wreck. It’s a horrible sight, but I had a hard time looking away. I did want to know what would happen next and whether Alice and Jake would find a way out. Also, the truly sadistic, torture-ific parts don’t come until later in the book, and by that time I was too far in to walk away without finishing. I guess not everyone will be as bothered by those parts as I was, but that’s definitely not what I thought I was signing up for when I started this book.


The details:

Title: The Marriage Pact
Author: Michelle Richmond
Publisher: Bantam
Publication date: July 25, 2017
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Library












Book Review: Mr. Mercedes

In the frigid pre-dawn hours, in a distressed Midwestern city, hundreds of desperate unemployed folks are lined up for a spot at a job fair. Without warning, a lone driver plows through the crowd in a stolen Mercedes, running over the innocent, backing up, and charging again. Eight people are killed; fifteen are wounded. The killer escapes.

In another part of town, months later, a retired cop named Bill Hodges is still haunted by the unsolved crime. When he gets a crazed letter from someone who self-identifies as the “perk” and threatens an even more diabolical attack, Hodges wakes up from his depressed and vacant retirement, hell-bent on preventing another tragedy.

Brady Hartfield lives with his alcoholic mother in the house where he was born. He loved the feel of death under the wheels of the Mercedes, and he wants that rush again.

Only Bill Hodges, with a couple of highly unlikely allies, can apprehend the killer before he strikes again. And they have no time to lose, because Brady’s next mission, if it succeeds, will kill or maim thousands.

Mr. Mercedes is a war between good and evil, from the master of suspense whose insight into the mind of this obsessed, insane killer is chilling and unforgettable.

I’m super late to this party, having finally read Mr. Mercedes just about three years after its publication. Why did I wait so long? No idea… but I’m glad I convinced myself to pick up the paperback that’s been sitting on my shelf for so long.

In Mr. Mercedes, Stephen King introduces us to a wonderful main character, Bill Hodges — a retired detective with nothing much to do except watch TV and fiddle with his gun, until he’s contacted by an elusive mass murderer who lives for the destruction he causes. As Hodges becomes reenergized by his search for the killer, he risks himself, his allies, and possibly thousands of lives to track down the psycho before he strikes again.

The plot is so tight and exciting that it’s impossible to look away. I sped through the story, because it’s one of those books where you just need to know what’s next and what’s after that.

I loved the main character and his two unlikely sidekicks, and found the chapters told from the killer’s perspective utterly chilling and convincing. Ick. Inside Brady’s head is not a healthy place to be. I also loved the shout-outs to King’s earlier works, as well as the mention of Judas Coyne from Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box.

I can’t wait to continue with this trilogy! Stephen King is my go-to guy for when I need a book to keep me company while traveling, and he never lets me down. Mr. Mercedes is a winner. A must-read for King fans, of course (and why did I ever doubt that?), but also just a great crime thriller for anyone who enjoys the intensity of the genre.

The details:

Title: Mr. Mercedes
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: June 3, 2014
Length: 436 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Purchased

Book Review: The River At Night

A high-stakes drama set against the harsh beauty of the Maine wilderness, charting the journey of four friends as they fight to survive the aftermath of a white water rafting accident, The River at Night is a nonstop and unforgettable thriller by a stunning new voice in fiction.

Winifred Allen needs a vacation.

Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on, despite her misgivings.

What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare: A freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But as Wini and her friends grasp the true intent of their supposed saviors, long buried secrets emerge and lifelong allegiances are put to the test. To survive, Wini must reach beyond the world she knows to harness an inner strength she never knew she possessed.

With intimately observed characters, visceral prose, and pacing as ruthless as the river itself, The River at Night is a dark exploration of creatures—both friend and foe—that you won’t soon forget.

You know when you go to a horror movie, and the main character does really stupid things, and you just want to shout at her (because, let’s face it, horror movies love to make it about a her)… NO! TURN BACK! DON’T OPEN THE DOOR! DON’T GO DOWN THAT CREEPY CORRIDOR!


Okay, on the one hand we have a very readable, action-packed story that keeps the adrenaline pumping. On the other hand… STOP MAKING STUPID DECISIONS!

In The River At Night, four women in their mid-thirties decide to follow ringleader Pia’s crazy push to embark on a white-water rafting adventure for their annual get-together, rather than basking on a beach or basically anything at all sane or safe. Instead, they drive nine hours into the Maine wilderness to go rafting on a pristine river with a tour company — really just a father and son — who don’t even have a website, as Wini points out.

I mean really. Who doesn’t have a website?

Anyhoo… the four friends have been getting together for years for their annual escape from their real lives, their meaningless corporate jobs, their unhappy marriages, their stressful obligations. Wini, as our main character, is particularly in need of escape this year after the implosion of her marriage and the suicide of her mentally ill brother.

Pia is the wild one, always in the lead, always pushing the others to take chances and live on the edge — so when she decides they need this life-affirming adventure, the other three fall in line, with some doubts, but ultimately following along. Off they all go to REI to buy their shiny new gear, and then it’s off to the wilds, where they encounter creepy people in a remote general store before arriving at the wilderness lodge from which they’ll start their river adventure.

Their guide is young, sexy, and perhaps has a shady past. No one is 100% comfortable, although Pia insists that everything is fantastic. And then, of course, they hit the river, and pretty quickly all hell breaks loose. Before long, the four women find themselves without a guide, without their gear, completely cut off from the outside world with no means of communication, and with no clue what to do.

And then they encounter the crazy hill folk.


While the book held my attention and kept me turning the pages, certain things just drove me nuts.

First of all, I can’t stand when people place themselves in peril as a growth opportunity. Nope, I’ve never rafted before, so it makes total sense for me to do so on a dangerous river with an unknown guide and no support systems! Slow your roll, sisters.

Second, there are about a thousand warning signs that any rational person might have considered. The roads are creepy. They’re miles past any sign of civilization. Their cell phones don’t work. All the buildings they see along the way are falling apart. The few people they encounter are weird and menacing.

Third, loose ends and/or unexplained bits. If these women are the first to hit this pristine river, then what are all the other people doing at the lodge? Where are they all off to? Did our group of supposedly smart women ask any questions at all about emergency procedures or insurance or any other of about a thousand what ifs? What was up with that kitchen worker at the lodge who seems like she has an agenda with guide Rory but then disappears from the story? What about Rory’s dad? If they had to hike to get to the launching spot because there aren’t passable roads, how did their raft and gear get there? On and on and on.

What really made me bonkers was how these women see themselves and each other. There are repeated references to them being middle-aged. Hello? Middle-aged at age 35? Um, no. Or take this brief description — Wini’s view of one of her friends:

It occurred to me that here was a woman who might not age well, especially in the face. Too many of her emotions already lived there in ever-deepening lines around her eyes and mouth — even at age thirty-seven. But I loved her scrappy toughness; in fact, we all made fun of her for injecting her own Botox […]

I mean, really. Who talks about her friends this way?

Finally, though, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was the crazy hill folk. If this had just been about a group of women, ill-advised and ill-prepared as they were, having to survive alone in the wilderness, it might have worked for me a lot better. I mean, there are even some good passages that convey the fear of all that they face:

Full on darkness, and all its terrors. I suddenly understood cultures that believed in demons and chimeras, werewolves and gollums. With no walls around us, no light or source of warmth, what besides the monstrous makes sense? Every sound was a beast.

So if it were just about surviving a rafting accident, maybe what happens might have sustained an air of believability. Because no matter how dumb the whole enterprise was, it’s conceivable to think that Pia’s strong personality might have been able to convince everyone else to play along against their better judgment. And given that, it could be really exciting or inspiring to see them working together, overcoming obstacles, outsmarting their own circumstances.

But nope. The crazy hill folk, rather than the river and the wilderness, becomes the chief danger. At which point I got muscle strain from how hard I was rolling my eyes. I mean, our heroines end up fleeing the crazy lady with a gun by jumping on a wooden raft and going down a series of waterfalls without any oars… and somehow survive? None of what happens makes a lick of sense. And never mind the continuity bits, such as having a dinner of roasted varmints and then on the next page talking about incessant hunger. And why bother having a character warn about getting sick from drinking the river water if nobody ends up getting sick?

I don’t know. There are definitely exciting moments in this book, but ultimately, the profound personal growth these characters supposedly undergo because of their ordeal feels flat and false. Wini starts bland, and ends bland. I never quite got the friendship between these women, and that didn’t change by the end of the book.

And then there’s the fact that even in the next to last paragraph, as Wini is supposedly being positive, she’s still focusing on her “aging body” and “dull job”. Way to be upbeat, Wini!

So, once again, I find myself rambling on about a book I can’t really recommend. Sure, it’s a fast-paced read and it never lost my attention — but too many pieces make little sense, and the weird plot choices only make it worse. Besides which, for me, a book in which supposedly smart people make decision after decision that’s foolish or illogical — well, no. Clearly, that’s a situation that leaves me fuming, so this just probably wasn’t a good reading choice for me at all.


The details:

Title: The River At Night
Author: Erica Ferencik
Publisher: Gallery/Scout Press
Publication date: January 10, 2017
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Library




Take A Peek Book Review: Before the Fall

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.Before the Fall


(via Goodreads)

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

My Thoughts:

Wow, what a thrill-ride! Although choosing to start this book the night before a long plane trip was maybe not the brightest idea I’ve every had.

In Before the Fall, the story starts almost immediately with the terror of the crash, and then the miracle of Scott’s long swim to safety, saving his own life as well as that of one small boy. But that’s only the beginning — from here, the author takes a post-mortem approach, giving us chapters focusing on each of the people on board the small plane, so that we see how the pieces fit together. Was it mechanical failure? Something deliberate? And if it was deliberate, who was the intended target?

The storyline shows Scott’s growing closeness to the surviving child, the intensity of the government agents investigating the crash, and the firestorm of media attention and sensationalism that soon follows. The chapters focusing on the different characters and their backstories are fascinating, always leaving me wanting more.

Overall, Before the Fall is a gripping read that builds and builds. It’s tense, well-constructed, hard to predict, and surprising in all the right ways. The characters are well-defined, so much so that it’s hard to approach the end of the story and realize that these people — good and bad, all flawed, almost none irredeemable — are doomed to the end that we knew about from the start.

It’s a pretty neat trick, telling us up front that all of these characters have died, and then taking the time to let us get to know them. Somehow, the tragedy of their senseless deaths is all the more striking with this backwards approach. Meanwhile, Scott’s story is compelling and sympathetic. It’s hard to see a decent man caught up in the tabloid frenzy that follows the crash, but how Scott manages is pretty good stuff too.

Before the Fall is a great summer read — quick, absorbing, and impossible not to care about.


The details:

Title: Before the Fall
Author: Noah Hawley
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: May 31, 2016
Length: 391 pages
Genre: Adult fiction
Source: Purchased (e-book)


Shelf Control #44: Reconstructing Amelia

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!


My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Reconstructing AmeliaTitle: Reconstructing Amelia
Author: Kimberly McCreight
Published: 2013
Length: 382 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A stunning debut novel in which a single mother reconstructs her teenaged daughter’s life, sifting through her emails, texts, and social media to piece together the shocking truth about the last days of her life.

Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is stunned when her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, calls with disturbing news: her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating.

Kate can’t believe that Amelia, an ambitious, levelheaded girl who’s never been in trouble would do something like that. But by the time she arrives at Grace Hall, Kate’s faced with far more devastating news. Amelia is dead.

Seemingly unable to cope with what she’d done, a despondent Amelia has jumped from the school’s roof in an act of “spontaneous” suicide. At least that’s the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. And overwhelmed as she is by her own guilt and shattered by grief, it is the story that Kate believes until she gets the anonymous text:

She didn’t jump.

Sifting through Amelia’s emails, text messages, social media postings, and cell phone logs, Kate is determined to learn the heartbreaking truth about why Amelia was on Grace Hall’s roof that day-and why she died.

Told in alternating voices, Reconstructing Amelia is a story of secrets and lies, of love and betrayal, of trusted friends and vicious bullies. It’s about how well a parent ever really knows a child and how far one mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she could not save.

How I got it:

I bought the Kindle version when I saw a price drop.

When I got it:

In 2014, I think.

Why I want to read it:

I’m pretty cautious about hyped books, but the description of this one caught my eye, despite the blurbs at the time of release which called it the next Gone Girl. (Ugh, when will thrillers stop being compared to Gone Girl? Enough already.) It sounds intense and disturbing and fascinating… and although I often shy away from books with daughters in peril, I think I’ll give this one a go sometime soon.


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control




Thursday Quotables: The Travelers


Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

The Travelers

The Travelers by Chris Pavone
(release date March 8, 2016)

I’m loving this tense spy thriller, which features a lot of moving parts and people doing mysterious things. I’ve read about 40% so far, and just wish I had time to read straight through to the end without interruption! One thing I’m really enjoying is that beyond the intrigue and spy shenanigans, there are a lot of little moments that show so much about marriage and relationships:

This is one of the things that drives Chloe crazy about this renovation project, about her husband in general. She doesn’t care if everything is perfect; she merely wants it to be good enough. And this is exactly why Will doesn’t let her handle any of it. he knows that she will settle, will make compromises that he wouldn’t.

Here’s another:

Will sprawls amid the sheets while Chloe rearranges her hair, and replaces earrings, reties her scarf, all these tasks executed distractedly but deftly, the small competencies of being a woman, skills unknowable to him. The only thing men learn is how to shave.


What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (, if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Shelf Control #2: The Accident

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Instead of looking ahead to upcoming new releases, Shelf Control focuses on already released books that I want to read. Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, books that are either on my shelves or on my Kindle!

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


My Shelf Control pick this week is:

The AccidentTitle: The Accident
Author: Chris Pavone
Published: 2014
Length: 416 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the author of the New York Times-bestselling and Edgar Award-winning The Expats

As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through the explosive revelations about powerful people, as well as long-hidden secrets about her own past. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals with publication of The Accident, while always looking over his shoulder.

Over the course of one long, desperate, increasingly perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies, placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril.  The rich cast of characters—in publishing and film, politics and espionage—are all forced to confront the consequences of their ambitions, the schisms between their ideal selves and the people they actually became.

The action rockets around Europe and across America, with an intricate web of duplicities stretching back a quarter-century to a dark winding road in upstate New York, where the shocking truth about the accident itself is buried.

Gripping, sophisticated, layered, and impossible to put down, The Accident proves once again that Chris Pavone is a true master of suspense.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

A few months ago.

Why I want to read it:

I read this author’s first novel, The Expats, earlier this year, and thought it was a terrific espionage thriller (review). So not only am I excited to read more by Chris Pavone, but I’m also delighted to see that one of my favorite characters from The Expats appears in The Accident as well — and the fact that the plot has to do with a secret manuscript and publishing makes it even more appealing!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!


For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

Blog Tour & Book Review: Second Life

Bookshelf Fantasies is participating in the blog tour for the release of Second Life, author S. J. Watson’s second novel following the huge hit Before I Go To Sleep.

Second Life


From the New York Times bestselling author of Before I Go to Sleep, a sensational new psychological thriller about a woman with a secret identity that threatens to destroy her.

How well can you really know another person? How far would you go to find the truth about someone you love?

When Julia learns that her sister has been violently murdered, she must uncover why. But Julia’s quest quickly evolves into an alluring exploration of own darkest sensual desires. Becoming involved with a dangerous stranger online, she’s losing herself . . . losing control . . . perhaps losing everything. Her search for answers will jeopardize her marriage, her family, and her life.

A tense and unrelenting novel that explores the secret lives people lead; and the dark places in which they can find themselves, Second Life is a masterwork of suspense from the acclaimed S. J. Watson.

My thoughts:

In Second Life, Julia is a part-time professional photographer married to a successful surgeon named Hugh. Julia and Hugh have adopted the baby son born to her sister Kate, now grown into a teenage boy, Connor. Life is good — until Julia gets the horrifying news that Kate has been murdered, apparently the victim of a random mugging.

Distraught and wracked with guilt, Julia decides that there’s more to the story. She begins to dig into her sister’s life, uncovering bits and pieces of a world that her estranged sister never shared with her. Kate lived a free and easy life in Paris, and was an active participant in the “hook-up” lifestyle, meeting men online for cyber and real-world sexual encounters.

Julia decides that Kate’s hidden life must hold a clue to her murder, and begins to explore. But at some point, the exploration stops being about Kate, as Julia gets sucked into an online flirtation with a stranger that turns sexual, and before long, Julia is consumed by the affair she’s stumbled into.

We know early on that Julia has a history of addiction, involving both alcohol and heroin, and the temptation of a drink is ever-present in Julia’s mind as she deals with her guilt and grief over Kate’s death. It’s easy to see that she’s channeled her out-of-control emotions into yet another addiction, her obsession with the online world — and the seemingly perfect and sexy man she meets there.

Second Life spends a great deal of time detailing Julia’s headlong rush into an affair, and unfortunately, the emphasis on the seedy details of Julia’s seemingly willful endangerment of her marriage and family takes center stage for far too much of the book. For large sections, the mystery of Kate’s death is almost an afterthought. Julia throws herself completely into the affair, and the book bogs down in the sexual encounters and hotel trysts.

After a somewhat slow start, the book picks up momentum by about the halfway mark, as Julia starts to realize that her perfect lover is hiding all sorts of secrets from her, and as her affair starts to overshadow everything else in her life that she values. Eventually the pace quickens and the plot becomes more intriguing, as the dangers closing in on Julia become connected back to Kate, as well as to Julia’s hidden young adult past.

I hate to say it, but Second Life overall didn’t really work for me. The main plotline was highly unappealing, with its voyeuristic emphasis on the details of Julia’s infidelity. I understand that Julia was acting out her grief and loss, giving in to her addictive tendencies and flirting with danger to numb herself in some way from the pain of losing her sister. But I just couldn’t sympathize, and felt that her horrendous choices were so clearly illogical and bad for her family (including the son she claims to love so much) that the plot teetered on the edge of becoming completely implausible.

As my own personal bias, I think it’s only fair to add that a book about infidelity had better have a lot of other compelling elements going for it if it’s going to appeal to me in any way. Otherwise, it’s a turn-off — and that was the case for me with Second Life.

I did find myself hooked for the last 100 pages or so… until the abrupt and unsatisfying ending. I won’t say more about it, but the answers to the mystery were fairly prediction, and what’s more, the final scene was a lousy payoff for the tense build-up.

I really enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep and ended up recommending it to lots and lots of reader friends. Sadly, Second Life does not live up to the promise of the earlier book.

I usually try to find a reason to recommend or praise a book if I’m participating in a blog tour. While Second Life didn’t work for me, I could imagine that readers who are into thrillers and aren’t bothered by the subject matter the way I was might enjoy this book. If you read it and have a different opinion, please share your thoughts!

Find out more:

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Purchase Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

About the Author:

S-J-WatsonS. J. Watson was born in the Midlands and lives in London. His first novel was the award-winning Before I Go to Sleep, which has sold over four million copies in more than forty languages around the world. It was recently adapted into a major motion picture starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth, and Mark Strong.

Find out more about S.J. at his website, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


The details:

Title: Second Life
Author: S. J. Watson
Publisher: Harper
Publication date: June 9, 2015
Length: 416 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours

tlc logoFor further information, stop by TLC Book Tours to view other blog tour hosts.

Book Review: The Expats

ExpatsLooking for a fast-paced thriller for your beach bag? You can’t go wrong with The Expats.

The Expats is a spy thriller, a cat-and-mouse espionage tale… and the story of a marriage. Mixing spycraft with ruminations on trust, love, and family, this books is quirky and dramatic all at the same time.

Kate Moore is the main character, a wife and mother of two young boys… and a former CIA field operative who resigns from the Company when her computer geek husband Dexter receives a lucrative job offer than entails moving to Luxembourg for a year.

Kate becomes one of the expat moms — the women from all corners of the world, married to wealthy but very busy men, who congregate in coffee shops and tennis clubs while their children attend preschool, then plan family outings, ski trips, and shopping adventures all over Europe. It’s a great life… except Kate can’t help being just a wee bit bored. As a working mother, she was itching for more time with the family, but now that she has it, she finds the daily routine — cooking, cleaning, shopping, chauffering, playdates, endless mommy gossip — not quite as fulfilling as she’d hoped.

Meanwhile, Dexter is suddenly the absent parent, as his new job entails high-level, hush-hush work for private banks to ensure that their online security systems are unbreachable…. or so he says. Kate begins to suspect that something is just a little bit off about Dexter’s new job… and the new American couple who have befriended them seem to have more than just a friendly interest in worming their way into the Moores’ lives.

The timeline jumps back and forth between “today”, in Paris, as Kate is confronted by someone she thought she’d never see again, to two years ago, starting with Dexter’s announcement about his new job and following the couple and the children forward into their new lives in Europe. The two timelines converge by the end, of course, as bit by bit the many threads start to form a pattern and the bigger picture emerges. Added to that, we learn about Kate’s CIA background and the event that haunts her from her time as an operative, and all sorts of shades and nuances come into play.

And then there’s the fact that Kate has never told Dexter about her real line of work. As far as he knew, Kate was a State Department employee whose works entailed writing position papers. So how can Kate be angry with Dexter for hiding secrets from her when he spent the first ten years of their relationship in complete ignorance of her profession, not knowing such an important part of what made her tick?

As the clues pile up, there’s danger and drama, a few edge-of-the seat action sequences… and also trips to Ikea, playtime with the kids, and uncomfortable cocktail parties with other American expats. Kate is a terrific main character — smart, kick-ass, but tormented by her own set of demons; wanting to be a good wife and mother, but unable to completely come clean or to trust her husband. The plot twists and turns, there are complications galore, and small revelations in both timelines pile on top of each other to create a whole that’s a real thrill ride.

The Expats is fun and compelling, mixing spy drama with domesticity in a way that highlights the deceptions in everyday life and love. The characters are well-developed, the plot is convoluted enough that we can’t see all the answers before the author wants us to, and the cosmopolitan European setting gives the book a feeling that’s both dangerous and exotic.

This book was perfect for me on a long plane ride. It’s highly entertaining and very hard to put down. So if you’re looking for a great beach read for the summer, consider picking up The Expats!


The details:

Title: The Expats
Author: Chris Pavone
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publication date: March 6, 2012
Length: 352 pages (paperback edition)
Genre: Espionage/thriller
Source: Purchased


Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday: The Girl on the Train

There’s nothing like a Wednesday for thinking about the books we want to read! My Wishing & Waiting on Wednesday post is linking up with two fabulous book memes, Wishlist Wednesday (hosted by Pen to Paper) and Waiting on Wednesday (hosted by Breaking the Spine).

This week’s pick:

The Girl on the Train: A Novel

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
(to be released January 27, 2015)

A debut psychological thriller about a woman who becomes emotionally entangled in a murder investigation because of something she witnesses on her daily commute.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and every night. Every day she rattles over the same track junctions, flashes past the same stretch of cozy suburban homes. And every day she stops at the same signal and she sees the same couple, breakfasting on their roof deck, living the perfect life that Rachel craves for herself—a lifestyle she recently lost. She looks forward to observing this household every morning, even makes up names and narratives for its residents. Then one day Rachel sees someone new in their garden, and soon after, the woman who lived there disappears.

Unable to keep this information to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and in the process is drawn into the lives of the couple she thought of as Jason and Jess but whose names—she has learned from the news—are really Megan and Scott Hipwell.

But the police accuse Rachel of being unreliable, and it’s true that her memories can’t always be trusted. Plus there are the stories that her ex-husband’s new wife has been spreading about her. By the time Megan’s body is found, Rachel is in over her head, intricately entangled in the details of the investigation, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she put others in danger? Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

I just entered a giveaway for this book, and I really hope I get a copy!

What are you wishing for this Wednesday?

Looking for some bookish fun on Thursdays? Come join me for my regular weekly feature, Thursday Quotables. You can find out more here — come play!


Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!