I've been on a bit of a thriller kick recently. I've found myself in the mood for a quick, light read more often than usual, and I've also come to realise that if any genre is my 'guilty pleasure', it's the psychological thriller. Even when they're not very well-written, they do at least tend to be very entertaining and compelling. Here's a bit of a summary of some new releases I've read recently and would recommend...
Reconstructing Amelia (2nd April 2013) by Kimberly McCreight
Kate Baron, a stressed, overworked lawyer and single mother, receives a call from Grace Hall - the exclusive private school which her only daughter, Amelia, attends - to say Amelia has been caught plagiarising an English paper. This is odd in the first place, since Amelia is a straight-A student whose favourite subject is English. But when Kate arrives at the school, she is greeted by a phalanx of police and the devastating news that her daughter has died jumping from the building's roof, apparently in a case of 'impulsive suicide'. A month or so down the line, Kate starts to question her acceptance of this theory. Why would a happy girl like Amelia decide to kill herself out of the blue? Kate sets out to discover the truth, and to do so she must immerse herself in her daughter's world, from secret societies to forbidden crushes and dubious internet friends.
The narrative of this book is composed of various elements including Kate and Amelia's narratives, blog posts, journal entries, emails and text messages. This means the story moves quickly and it's easy to stay engaged, but despite the patchwork nature of the narrative, the characters are well-rounded and likeable. I actually guessed quite a lot of the twists before they were revealed, but that didn't stop me from finding the story incredibly compelling nevertheless: I was absolutely glued to my Kindle while I was reading this. Naturally, there were a few minor problems - some artificial dialogue and one particularly unbelievable revelation - but when something's this enjoyable, it's quite easy to get carried along and not really care about the little annoyances. I really think that if it gets enough exposure and a wide enough readership, this could be the next Gone Girl. Not in the sense that the stories are similar, but in the sense that this is a smart, well-plotted, well-paced thriller with intriguing characters, nail-biting tension and a lot of good twists, which is incredibly readable and has the potential for mass appeal. Very highly recommended - it might be a guilty pleasure, but guilty pleasures don't get much better than this.
Rating: 8/10 | My full review on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon: Hardback
Jellybird (14th March 2013) by Lezanne Clannachan
Twenty-nine-year-old Jessica is a happily married jewellery designer who seems to have the perfect life. Under the surface, however, she is haunted by the disappearance (and possible death) of Thomas, her best friend and first love, when she was in her early teens. The trauma of this experience has left her with an inability to form friendships which means her husband, Jacques, is the centre of her world. So when an enthusiastic customer, Libby, strikes up a friendship, Jessica is delighted. However, things start to unravel when Libby's attention becomes too intense and Jessica overhears an odd conversation between her new friend and Jacques. Determined not to kill her relationship with jealousy, she decides instead to return to the caravan park where she grew up and throw herself into an investigation of what really happened to Thomas.
Told partly in the present day and partly in flashbacks to Jessica's youth, the narrative crams in loads of detail and various subplots - it all seems like it should be a bit too much, but Clannachan does a good job of juggling all the different segments of the plot. The author's writing style is extremely florid and took me a while to get used to, but once I got into the rhythm of it, I really started to enjoy it. In fact, I really lost myself in the story and ended up reading the whole book in one day. I do think it works best as a quick read, as after finishing it I did, retrospectively, think of a few problems which I hadn't noticed earlier because I was just flying through it. I wouldn't recommend Jellybird to everyone, but if you like a good character-driven psychological drama, it might just be right up your street. All in all, an engrossing and entertaining way to pass a Sunday afternoon!
I won my copy of Jellybird in a giveaway at Reading Matters.
Rating: 7/10 | My full review on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon: Kindle & Hardback
The Quickening (28th March 2013) by Julie Myerson
Rachel and Dan are newlyweds who, after a rushed wedding, embark on a three-week honeymoon in Antigua. Rachel is filled with inexplicable dread from the moment she looks at a picture of the resort, and when the couple arrive there, bad luck seems to follow them - from a smashed glass on their balcony to the mysterious death of a waitress who works at their hotel. However, Dan blames Rachel's paranoia on her pregnancy and insists they stay. But why does it seem as if Dan is already familiar with the island, when he claims to never have been there before? And who is the shadowy figure Rachel keeps spotting?
The Quickening is compelling, well-written and thoroughly entertaining: a good old-fashioned creepy ghost story with a modern horror twist. The narrative is atmospheric and keeps you guessing all the way through, from the fast-moving opening (maybe a bit too fast, but it does the job of hooking you from page one) to the dramatic denouement. I loved the mystery, suspense and supernatural touches, and in fact I was impressed by how effectively the 'ghost' and various dark secrets were worked into the story. This book is part of the Hammer imprint of horror novels and ghost stories, and I enjoyed it more than any of the others from this series I've read. You could criticise it for being silly and full of clichés, I suppose, but I would argue that's what makes it entertaining. It's fun, schlocky and, eventually, genuinely scary - what more could you want from a Hammer Horror book? I'd recommend this to ghost story/mild horror fans wholeheartedly, and it would also make a great holiday read... Though perhaps not if you're going to Antigua.
Rating: 8/10 | My full review on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon: Kindle & Hardback
The Asylum (to be published 20th June 2013) by John Harwood
Circa 1882: a young woman, Georgina Ferrars, wakes up in an unfamiliar room. At first believing her surroundings are a dream, she soon comes to realise she is an inmate in a lunatic asylum - Tregannon House - with the chief doctor insisting she has admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton. Unable to recall any memory of the past few days, she is convinced it's all a terrible mistake - until her uncle, with whom she lives, sends a telegram to the asylum saying the 'real' Georgina is safe and well at home...
This is an addictively readable and deliciously compelling gothic mystery which grabs your attention on the first page and refuses to let go. The plot and structure are both pretty simple: Georgina tells her own story, relating her frustration, disbelief and attempts to get out of the asylum, with an interlude devoted to a number of letters written some years earlier by a cousin of Georgina's mother. The story is breathlessly fast-paced and very exciting despite the limited scope of the setting. As the evidence mounts up against Georgina, the reader is led to believe she may indeed be deluded, or genuinely insane - yet she remains such a likeable, sympathetic character that it's impossible not to hope for her to escape. There are shades of Sarah Waters' work in some of the relationships that develop and in the highly emotive depiction of Georgina's imprisonment, and some of the explanations are quite ingenious in their detail while also being simple enough to believe. The only thing really wrong with The Asylum is that its ending spirals out of control a bit, and it all goes a bit over the top, but on the whole this book is purely enjoyable, and irresistibly easy to read quickly. Fans of gothic fiction, get this one on your wishlist now and you can thank me later.
I received an advance copy of The Asylum through NetGalley.
Rating: 8/10 | My full review on Goodreads | Pre-order on Amazon: Hardback