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a turtle’s eye view – the girl before by j.p. delaney

disclaimer – i received a copy of this book via ballantine books in exchange for an honest review.

the girl before is described as a thriller but it is actually an incredible study of the choices we make to protect ourselves after. after tragedy. after trauma. after horrific mistakes. we get to watch the choices two women, emma and jane, make as they try to move on after. we also get to see what came before the attempt at after and it’s tempting to judge the decisions, but we can’t. we weren’t there, right? well, maybe we actually can because there is such a thing as reality. there is accountability, or there should be.

j.p. delaney created two amazing women in the girl before. all of the characters are good but emma and jane are so nuanced, so complex, so very human that they draw you into their respective stories. even if you don’t actually like the character, you know you’re in her world when it’s 3:00 a.m. and you’re saying “oh honey, no” because that was such a stupid choice. how could she not see that that was a stupid choice?

in the past, i’ve found point-of-view narration tricky but delaney makes great use of it and switches between the two voices effortlessly, leaving no confusion. overall, the girl before was a great read, an excellent thriller with a mystery that i wasn’t able to figure out until the end but it was the psychological side of the story that kept me enthralled.

four out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – a time of torment by john connolly

disclaimer – i received a copy of this book via atria books in exchange for an honest review.

this is the first book i’ve read by john connolly. it sat on my to be read shelf for several months because i knew it was part of a series and wasn’t sure i was ready to get attached to a long-lived character. sometimes, walking in on a character with a well-developed back story seems overwhelming and just the idea of trying to catch up is daunting. i was lucky because connolly made it easy in a time of torment. there’s obviously A LOT i missed by coming into the series in the 14th book but i didn’t feel as behind as i could have. connolly presented the highlights of charlie parker’s life that were relevant to this point but didn’t overwhelm with superfluous details. in addition to making it easy to relate to a character i was meeting far after his premiere, connolly’s other characters were well written and, given the setting, realistic.

it is important for me to note that connolly did present the physical abuse and repeated sexual assault of two characters. i didn’t feel at any time that he was doing it simply as a plot point. he handled it tactfully, wrote about it without providing details, and presented it as the horror that it was regardless of the reasoning used by the men committing the crimes.

overall, i enjoyed a time of torment and it was a good way to meet charlie parker.

three out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – two days gone by randall silvis

disclaimer – i received a copy of this book via sourcebooks landmark in exchange for an honest review.

a wife and three children were brutally murdered. the only suspect is the small town’s most beloved resident. the detective in charge of the case not only knows the suspect, he has a great respect for him and considers him a friend. that could be considered standard mystery fare, right? in randall silvis‘ hands, though, it becomes a taut and nuanced thriller with secrets that don’t explode until the end.

i opened two days gone thinking i would read a few chapters then go to sleep. five hours later, having gotten completely caught up in not only the story but in the interplay between the characters and the ongoing discovery of their connections to each other, i finished the book. the characters were complex and the story danced from one to the next with no mistakes or missteps. there were no trick misleads here, nothing pastiche, nothing common, just texture and pain and the inevitability of life.

four out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – the spirit chaser by kat mayor

disclaimer – i received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

second disclaimer – i am a genre snob and i absolutely admit that. i’m the kind of person who tells friends that i can’t go down the romance aisle in bookstores because i can feel my iq dropping. they flip me the bird, i wander off to the horror section or the thriller section or whatever, we go on with our book lives. had i actually paid attention to the genre description of this book when it was sent to me, i would never have selected it because, hello, romance.

that said.

the spirit chaser is a good supernatural thriller. i was interested immediately in the general premise (ghost hunters get their collective asses handed to them by ghosts) and wanted to see how the years of interfering in the lives (after-lives? non-lives?) of paranormal entities was going to finally catch up to the characters. kat mayor‘s (who is also k.m. montemayor) characters are generally well developed and we are given just enough information about their backgrounds to really relate to the human drama that makes the supernatural drama that much more perilous.

what i was less interested in was the “romance” side of the story, not just between the human characters but between the human and the demon who wants to possess him. who decided that the combination of sex and supernatural peril was sexy? there’s really nothing sexy about a demon raping someone – i use that word specifically, knowing how loaded it is, because who would ever consciously submit to sex with a demon. who would submit to sex with a ghost, even?

there are some uneven parts in the execution of the story. a good example is when the story veers from a discussion of serious theological doctrine to having a character call the demon as a “beeyotch”. there are several of these types of startling transitions and not only do they ring false, they pulled me completely out of the story each time. to balance that, however, the ending absolutely killed me and overall i’m glad i had the chance to read the story.

three out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – chills by mary sangiovanni

disclaimer – i received a copy of this book via lyrical underground in exchange for an honest review.

there’s something very soothing about a snow storm – the fall of the snow, the blowing of the wind, the shine of the lights. it’s all so calming when you’re inside with a book and a blanket. unless you’re in colby, connecticut, during this odd spring snow storm. then it not only feels malevolent, it is actually capable of murder with a little help from the worshippers who are trying to invite a few brutally evil and ancient gods to colby.

chills wastes no time getting to the point. there are monsters, there is violence, and there is brutal death. mary sangiovanni describes all of this in almost loving detail and she leaves nowhere for readers to hide and almost no air for them to breathe. i enjoy this in your face writing style in horror novels occasionally, but in this case the dedication to the monsters and the mayhem comes at the expense of character development. i was really captivated by kathy ryan, the occult expert called in to assist on the case, and though there are some details about her background and her relationship with the colby detective assigned to the case, her character suffers from a lack of development as the focus stays on the literal hell making its home in colby.

chills is a fast read but not for the faint of heart. if you’re looking for in-depth character development, this isn’t your read but if you’re looking for solid horror, descriptive violence, and some great criminal procedure details you’re in the right place.

three out of four stars.

 

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a turtle’s eye view – mirror image by michael scott

disclaimer – i received a copy of this book via tor books in exchange for an honest review.

at seven feet tall and four feet across the mirror is already considered unusual. but size isn’t all that matters here because this mirror doesn’t just show your reflection, it feeds on your emotions, your life, your soul.

in some ways, mirror image reminded me of the 2013 movie oculus (ignore the description because it’s just wrong) but only in that the mirror is somehow responsible for a great deal of death and madness. michael scott has written some interesting characters and a plot that is actually two different stories combined into one, but the story isn’t really about the people, it’s about the overarching life of the mirror and how it gets people to help it fulfill its desires.

the difficulty i had with the book was the mingling of sex and graphic violence and the descriptions of sexual violence being committed against women. the most egregious description portrays a rape as turning into an experience that the victim not only responds to but becomes complicit in. although the sexual violence is not used solely as a plot point, and scott spends time trying to explain it as how the mirror functions, the story suffers because of its inclusion.

one out of five stars

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a turtle’s eye view – nightmares edited by ellen datlow

disclaimer – i received a copy of this book via tachyon publications in exchange for an honest review.

nightmares is a collection of 24 short stories but they’re not just any short stories. in this collection, editor ellen datlow has once again drawn together stories that not only complement each other but work together to make it clear to the reader that evil exists and sometimes it can’t be beaten.

normally, i review collections as a whole but this time there were a few stories that stood out, towering over the others and making it clear that they were not going to be dismissed when the ebook was turned off for the night.

closet dreams by lisa tuttle is desperately engaging despite the sparse details. tuttle maintains a visceral level of horror throughout, and still delivers a throat punch of an ending that is as emotionally devastating as it is shocking. if i were rating it alone it would definitely get five stars.

interstate love song (murder ballad no. 8) by caitlin r. kiernan is a bloody rampage on lonely highways but it’s full of love and unutterable sadness. it’s another five-star story.

the atlas of hell by nathan ballingrud had a feeling of familiarity that was extremely disconcerting. the malevolence in the story felt like it was leaking into my room and each page turn added to the oppressive feeling that something horrible was going to happen. even when i realized that i had read the story before, in fearful symmetries (also edited by datlow and i doubt that’s a coincidence!) that feeling of weight did not depart. this is another five-star story.

overall, this is a great collection. it’s a little uneven in some places but all the stories deliver.

four out of five stars