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Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Category: Psychological Suspense (page 1 of 2)

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. 

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Just like most of the other reviewers, I absolutely loved this book and could not put it down. The plot was immediately interesting despite Jessica’s vacuous personality and poor decision making. Dr Shields was someone I loved to hate, with her internal monologues and her unemotional personality. At times she reminded me of a robot, until she started having feelings – and boy, were they unexpected!

The authors made each character an unreliable narrator, so you are thrown off balance towards the end, where the twists start to happen. The characters’ past affects their future in unexpected ways, and the authors do a great job of showing how tragedy affects people differently. The underlying tension of the morality study’s probing questions juxtaposed with Jessica’s difficulty with her own morals will make you think about your own actions, both past and present.

The psychological scars of each character shape their actions and decisions, giving the impression that we are no better than the sum of our past. As more light is shed on each character and their own past, things start to make sense – sort of. Once we learn Dr Shield’s motivation, the tension ramps up and you simply must devour each page in order to find out what happens next.

I found it quite interesting that the authors chose to have both women be strong characters, with Dr Shield’s husband somewhat of a weak link. He shows up in the book later on and is just as unreliable as the two women. Despite a strong beginning, he is no match for Jessica and Dr Shields as the story line comes to a head.  That being said, all three of these characters manipulate morality for their own benefit.

Dr Shields is a nearly perfect example of someone who needs control at all costs and will go to great lengths to gain it. At times she seemed too perfectly perspicacious, always seeming to be one or two steps ahead of Jessica’s machinations. However, each character has a flaw that can be exploited, and once those flaws are revealed the story starts to twist and turn as the characters unravel. I stayed up all night until I finished AN ANONYMOUS GIRL – it truly was that good. This is the book everyone will be talking about this year – don’t miss it!

You can get your copy here.

Autumn of Fear by Glede Kabongo

An ambitious girl with a promising future, a charming manipulator with a diabolical secret—the truth will destroy them both .
When college student Abbie Cooper wakes up in a hospital bed barely alive after a violent assault, her world comes crashing down. She has no memory of the attack or her assailant, and no idea how she ended up in the Emergency Room.
As she grapples with the horrific aftermath, Abbie is determined to uncover the truth about what happened that night. But to catch a monster, she must piece together the events in the weeks leading up to the assault. Why did charming senior Spencer Rossdale take a sudden interest in her, and why did her quiet study group partner Justin Tate want to meet with her alone?
The deeper Abbie digs into the events leading up to that fateful night, the more she unravels a stunning web of lies that stretch back decades. Revealing them will change everything but the truth is the least of Abbie’s problems. A vicious predator is watching her, and he’s willing to kill to protect his secret.

Thanks to the author for giving me this ARC in exchange for an honest review! Abbie Cooper is enveloped in intrigue again when she is the victim of an accident. Unfortunately, she cannot remember what happened. We follow her journey in flashbacks and present day as the author takes us into Abbie’s life.  Once you get used to switching  back and forth from the past to the present, the book flows smoothly. The tension mounts as we get closer to the day of the accident, and we learn about some difficult decisions she needs to make. Loyal friend Ty is at Abbie’s side, which frustrates his girlfriend (whom I love to hate!). Former acquaintances attempt to break Abbie’s tight control of her personal life, and it seems as though no one can be trusted.

Kabongo’s writing style is easy to read, and the suspense quietly builds until everything implodes. Abbie needs to make a life changing decision that will hit home with a lot of readers. I cannot say that I am happy with the way this part of the story turned out, but I know the author has her next book in mind and this twist will be a large part of that story.

The character of Abbie Cooper is growing and maturing. She is letting others get close to her and understands that sometime life throws a curve ball at you. The events taking place in Autumn of Fear are believable for the most part. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I look forward to see what adventures Abbie will experience in the next chapter of her life.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”0692082611″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

FINAL GIRLS by Riley Sager

Ten years ago, college student Quincy Carpenter went on vacation with five friends and came back alone, the only survivor of a horror movie–scale massacre. In an instant, she became a member of a club no one wants to belong to—a group of similar survivors known in the press as the Final Girls. Lisa, who lost nine sorority sisters to a college dropout’s knife; Sam, who went up against the Sack Man during her shift at the Nightlight Inn; and now Quincy, who ran bleeding through the woods to escape Pine Cottage and the man she refers to only as Him. The three girls are all attempting to put their nightmares behind them, and, with that, one another. Despite the media’s attempts, they never meet.
Now, Quincy is doing well—maybe even great, thanks to her Xanax prescription. She has a caring almost-fiancé, Jeff; a popular baking blog; a beautiful apartment; and a therapeutic presence in Coop, the police officer who saved her life all those years ago. Her memory won’t even allow her to recall the events of that night; the past is in the past.
That is, until Lisa, the first Final Girl, is found dead in her bathtub, wrists slit, and Sam, the second, appears on Quincy’s doorstep. Blowing through Quincy’s life like a whirlwind, Sam seems intent on making Quincy relive the past, with increasingly dire consequences, all of which makes Quincy question why Sam is really seeking her out. And when new details about Lisa’s death come to light, Quincy’s life becomes a race against time as she tries to unravel Sam’s truths from her lies, evade the police and hungry reporters, and, most crucially, remember what really happened at Pine Cottage, before what was started ten years ago is finished

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

FINAL GIRLS is a book that reads a little differently from its description. It wasn’t much off – but off enough that I wished the blurb was more accurate.

Quincy starts out as a sort-of-sympathetic character, then becomes annoying and confusing. Understandably she is happy with her food blog and her ineffectual boyfriend, but somehow changes persona 180 degrees when fellow survivor Sam comes into the picture. Together they become a two person mini-mob, stealing things and causing trouble.

Sam is a character that is not only unreliable, but unhinged. Her motives seem to be clear one minute, then murky the next. I wasn’t very fond of her at all and wondered how mealy little Quincy could enjoy her company. I also wondered how some of the things they did escaped unnoticed. In any case, the plot advances until the house of lies they built comes crashing down. Then follows a plot twist that I hadn’t seen coming (always a good thing) and the story abruptly ends.

Despite all the activity and violence, I wasn’t truly engaged in the story or the characters. I read through it halfheartedly hoping it would get better. I felt that I had to suspend my belief a few times and I struggled to care about the outcome. Perhaps if the story was a bit shorter, or there was less instances of Quincy’s monologues, and baking, and flashbacks (which had no detail, really), and love-hate interactions between Quincy and Sam ……. I’m not sure. Is it possible to call a thriller “dull”? It was certainly true in this case. I’d say without a doubt FINAL GIRLS is an instance where the plot holds great promise but the writer doesn’t deliver. Maybe this would have been better as a movie, given that the backdrop was similar to those silly-but-not-really 80’s horror flicks. Some things just don’t transition well from screen to page.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1101985364″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

THE PARTY by Robyn Harding

In this stunning and provocative domestic drama about a sweet sixteen birthday party that goes horribly awry, a wealthy family in San Francisco finds their picture-perfect life unraveling, their darkest secrets revealed, and their friends turned to enemies.
One invitation. A lifetime of regrets.
Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming of age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong?
But things do go wrong, horrifically so. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.
Harkening to Herman Koch’s The Dinner, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, The Party takes us behind the façade of the picture-perfect family, exposing the lies, betrayals, and moral lapses that neighbors don’t see—and the secrets that children and parents keep from themselves and each other.

Many thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

 

THE PARTY is a roller coaster, unputdownable book where all the characters are despicable. It’s the story of a sweet 16 birthday party gone horribly wrong, with consequences that will last a lifetime. Hannah, the daughter, is just trying to be more popular. Kim and Jeff are her parents, with the trope of “strict goody two shoes mom” plus “emasculated father trying to be cool”. The events of the fateful night are told over flashbacks, over the course of the story; which kept me interested and hungry for more detail.

The complex and turbulent relationships between the characters are drawn well and evoke a great deal of emotion. Everyone is manipulating – or manipulated by- someone else. There are multi layered agendas. There are mean girls. There is isolation, greed, and shallowness.

I literally could not wait to get back to the book, and thought about it while I wasn’t able to read; I just had to see what was happening next. It’s the kind of book you read with incredulity, wondering if there is going to be a happily ever after despite knowing another crash is coming.

The author exposes the ugly side of relationships with adeptness, even glee (if you read between the lines). Just when you almost start feeling sorry for someone, they expose their seamy side and you go right back to sneering at them. Delicious!

Do people really behave this way now, or is it just something that takes place in fiction? I am glad I don’t have to navigate the treachery of high school, where Facebook posts are created to hurt, and cliques do a lot more than name calling.

No one escapes unscathed from THE PARTY – it’s the kind of story that you will think about for days after you finish the book, considering all the wrong choices every character made and how it affected their lives.

Want our own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1501161245″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

the marriage pact

In this relentlessly paced novel of psychological suspense, New York Times bestselling author Michelle Richmond crafts an intense and shocking tale that asks: How far would you go to protect your marriage?
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.

Many thanks to NetGalley for this ARC given in exchange for an honest review!

Unfortunately, this book was a DNF for me. I was not interested in the characters at all, and the pace was very slow. Great idea, poorly conceived. That’s pretty much all I have to say about the book; I gave it two separate tries before I finally gave up about 25% of the way through.

You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”0385343299″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link], in case you want to try it for yourself.

The Child by Fiona Barton

the child

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

 

Many thanks to NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for a review!

The Child brings back journalist Kate Waters, first seen in Fiona Barton’s The Widow. When a baby’s skeleton is found at a construction site, the lives of three women are affected. Kate Waters seizes the story and tries to figure out where the tiny body came from.

 

Delightfully British with well written characters, The Child is another treasure. Kate’s interaction with her coworkers are dead on, as Barton illustrates how print journalists must cope with 24 hour online news media. The women’s family dynamics are integral to the story; giving the reader the backstory slowly and tantalizingly. Each woman gets to tell her story – there are changing points of view throughout and we see firsthand what Kate, Emma, and Angela are going through. Emma’s mother, Jude, is also part of the dynamic. I found Jude to be annoying and narcissistic; she was easy to loathe. Emma and Angela were both dealing with their own mental issues as well, and at times all of the angst became overwhelming. That didn’t deter me from continuing to read – but at times I wished there was a bit less whining and a little more action.

Kate is an expert reporter, adept at the art of manipulation to get her story. As a matter of fact, almost every character manipulates someone in some way. Barton is a master of keeping a dark story hovering just above the despair line, tempering the distress with hope.

Some reviews have noted that the plot twists were easy to spot- not for me! I had a feeling that these women were going to be intertwined somehow (for plot purposes, of course), but could not predict what was going to happen until Barton gave the Big Reveal. I was appropriately shocked and enthralled. Everything came together in a satisfying way and I felt that there was room for Kate’s character to grow, possibly to be featured in another book.

Barton’s insight into the female psyche is peerless, and knows how to illustrate the seamy side of the human condition perfectly. I’ll be eagerly awaiting her next work.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1101990481″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

The Empress of Tempera by Alex Dolan

tempera

The feud began forty years ago. On one side: one of the wealthiest families in America. On the other: an artist known as Qi, heralded as the next Andy Warhol. After an acrimonious falling out, a Cold War began between these two families, and very few people remember the artist at all. Until a piece by Qi appears in New York.
Outside the Fern Gallery, a man stabs himself in the heart while staring at the last Qi, a painting of a young Chinese empress. Paire Anjou, a young art student fresh to the city, stands so close, her dress is freckled with blood. The resurgence of Qi’s art stirs up widespread curiosity and attention. Much like Michelangelo’s David, the portrait evokes powerful reactions from people. Patrons pass out, write love letters, and try to vandalize it. Since the day she saw it, Paire can’t stop ruminating about the painting.
The descendants of both families converge, and Paire, who covets the Empress, is woven into an escalating blood feud. Paire Anjou is herself a descendant of criminal parents with a predilection for theft. And she has decided that she needs to possess the Qi for herself.

Thanks to Diversion Books for gifting me this book for review!

EMPRESS is the kind of book that has a dark undercurrent running through it. The darkness may ebb and flow, but it’s always there. Paire is a character who may be sympathetic at times, and other times she will make you cringe and wonder what you ever saw in her in the first place.

The titular Empress is the sun around which everyone’s world revolves. Dolan’s description of her is so precise, so fawning, that it makes you wish you could see her for yourself and become obsessed. As Paire slowly sinks into lustful infatuation with the Empress, the darkness flows into her and also makes her stronger. Paire gets involved with illegal activities, all the while with the painting at the back of her mind.

The darkness envelops other characters as well, and begets betrayal, or violence. It seems as though the painting is like a Rorschach drawing; people see what they want to see, while the image affects them all differently. I especially enjoyed this aspect of the book – watching everyone decompensate is a delicious, voyeuristic experience.

Another enjoyable facet of this story is the art and artist setting. New York is the perfect backdrop for this beleaguered gallery and its employees. There also was a great deal of authentic art discussion that taught me things and enriched the reading experience.  Any time I can learn something from a book, it’s a plus for me. This shows that the author is not just trying to create a story; he is doing his hardest to immerse the reader in a believable world where things occur because of the setting, not despite it.

THE EMPRESS OF TEMPERA was a compelling and brilliantly conceived story. I loved it! Definitely a must read this year. You can pick up your copy [easyazon_link identifier=”1682302970″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

Game of Fear by Gledé Browne Kabongo

game of fear

A desperate act, an explosive secret, and a diabolical enemy—all part of a treacherous game, with no limits.

Overachieving good girl Abbie Cooper has her future all planned out. As senior year at her elite private school kicks off, she has one simple goal: get into the Ivy League. But at St. Matthews Academy, nothing is ever simple. The pressure is overwhelming, the secrets are dirty, and the games are wicked. Abbie has a dirty secret—one that could destroy her chances of getting admitted into Princeton, and the lives of those closest to her.
One morning, she discovers a note in her locker with the warning, “I know what you did”. Then a photo arrives in the mail. It captures her most shameful deed—the shocking blunder she can never erase, in glorious detail. Someone is out to ruin her, but who and why? The answer lies with the sender of the photo, a mysterious girl known only as The Avenger. For a price, she assures Abbie her secret will remain safe. There’s only one problem: The Avenger may not exist at all. If Abbie doesn’t uncover her true identity before acceptance decisions are made, it’s game over…

 

Thanks to the author for gifting me this book in exchange for a review. I reviewed her previous work SWAN DECEPTION and thought it was wonderful. In GAME OF FEAR we see Abbie Cooper (the daughter from SWAN) growing up and wishing secrets from her past would remain hidden.

Stress is a common theme among high school students; after all, the stakes are high when you are trying to get into the college of your dreams. When you are faced with the possibility that a stupid thing you did years ago may ruin your entire future, it’s time to enact some serious damage control.

Control is a good word to describe Abbie Cooper – she takes no crap from the Mean Girls of her school, and stays true to herself throughout the book. She is fiercely loyal to her friends and is known to shoot from the lip when it comes to expressing her opinion. Abbie is the girl I wish I was in my younger days: confident, brash, intelligent, yet she has her feet firmly on the ground, and doesn’t let her position in an elite high school go to her head.   Her emotions are so tightly under wraps that she doesn’t realize animosity is really attraction:  Christian, a well known Bad Boy has been flirting shamelessly with her since junior year and all Abbie can do is deliver cutting barbs and sneer.

The requisite mean girl clique is truly bitchy, ready to spread rumors and gossip at the slightest provocation. When Abbie starts receiving threatening notes in her locker she is sure that her arch enemy, Sidney, is at the bottom of it. Some of the dialogue and interactions between these two are the best part of the book. In this scene, Abbie and Christian are having a snack after school when the mean girls show up.

“Well, well, if it isn’t sad, pitiful Abbie. Enjoy it while it lasts. You know Christian is just slumming, right?”

Sidney just showed up with her minions stuck to her side like dried cement, wearing identical smirks. Why, oh why can’t she just disappear into a black hole, and never return?  “Welcome to slumming it, Christian,” I say, looking directly at him. “You’re in for an unforgettable ride.” 

Sidney’s jaw drops. Jessica and Brooke just stand there looking like the insipid creatures they are. I look Sidney up and down with contempt, wave my hand at her in a dismissive gesture, and return to eating my pizza. 

See what I mean about Abbie having control? She tries her best to stay cool even when the going gets tough; and it gets really tough when her secret looms large over her budding relationship with Christian. So many lies have been told already; what path will Abbie choose?

Glede Brown Kabongo’s writing is completely on point – she captures teenage angst, jealousy and the world of the privileged in rich, glorious detail. The suspense keeps on building and the tension escalates with each new demand from the Avenger. The character development makes it easy to become emotionally invested in Abbie’s life, and her internal monologue will resonate with the reader. The story is a winner because of the first person narration; it’s a seamless transition for the reader to go from looking in at  St Matthews Academy to becoming part of the student body. I felt as if I were walking the hallways with Abbie and Christian, experiencing the same confusion and worry as if it were my locker holding those notes.

I loved, loved, LOVED this book – the plot was taut and kept me up all night reading it. GAME OF FEAR is the type of read you shouldn’t plan on putting down before it’s finished, because you will spend your entire day thinking about the characters and counting the minutes until you can be with them again.

I’ll be reviewing the sequel in a future post – but in the meanwhile you can pick up your own copy of GAME OF FEAR [easyazon_link identifier=”B01A7HDIDQ” locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

The Widow by Fiona Barton

widow

For fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, an electrifying thriller that will take you into the dark spaces that exist between a husband and a wife.

When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen…
But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.

There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.
Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.
The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…

Many thanks to NetGalley for offering this ARC to me!

One of the best things about THE WIDOW is that you don’t really know what is happening until the very end. The unreliable narrators seem sympathetic, then horrid, then sympathetic again, until your emotions are all twisted this way and that. It’s wonderful.

Both Jean and her husband Glen live a quiet life, despite Glen’s “nonsense” (Jean’s term for the Bad Thing that is the crux of the book). She is a quiet woman that can be manipulated; first Glen wraps her up in his little world, then the press cajoles her into giving a coveted interview. Jean’s inner monologue shows a strong but conflicted personality, with a critical weakness that holds sway over her emotions until the last page.

Barton’s writing style is smooth and her dialogue is easy to follow. There isn’t an overload of characters to remember; the ones that are there are well developed. We learn about Jean and Glen’s life together as each chapter goes by in the form of flashbacks, each one building upon the next until you are almost sure you know what is going to happen–then Barton leads you down a different path.

I completely, thoroughly, loved THE WIDOW.  Exploring the theme of “suburban life conceals dark secrets” (some a deeper hue than others) was glorious and satisfying.  We have all been that neighbor curious about the goings on next door, and perhaps some of us have been that friendly neighbor that slowly pulls away once misdeeds beget misgivings.

The sub plot of the manipulative reporter, worming her way into Jean’s life and maybe even her heart, along with the beleaguered detective who brings the case home every night (to the constant disappointment of his wife) round out the story perfectly, and give the reader a respite from the subtle creepiness of Glen’s “nonsense”.

This is a story that you can (and will) devour in one or two sittings.  Fiona Barton is an author to be celebrated, discussed, and most importantly, supported. I loved her freshman effort and look forward to her next work.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1101990260″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

 

Pumpkin Farmer by Michael Hughes PLUS GIVEAWAY

pumpkin

The year is 1979. Malaise, stagflation, turmoil in the Middle East, and a gas crunch; these things are but background noise for what unfolds when a lovesick businessman and a sociopathic drifter cross paths. John Nix, business manager of a Silicon Valley semiconductor startup, picks up Horace Fullworth, a ne’er-do -well heir of a wealthy California family, who has returned to San Francisco after surviving the Jonestown Massacre.
After John discovers his girlfriend cheating, he drives to a bar in the small rustic town of La Honda. He meets Ellie O’Neil, a pretty young woman he offers to drive home. Feeling misled by her, he leaves her on the side of the road, where Horace finds her. John hears that Ellie has gone missing and is overcome with guilt. His struggle with his conscience leads him back to those rugged coastal foothills of the San Francisco Peninsula.

Thanks to the author for giving me this review copy! I’m going to pass it on to one lucky reader: see bottom of post on how to enter.

Horace Fullworth flies back to California after surviving the Jonestown Massacre. He is curiously empty inside, devoid of feeling or conscience. John Nix becomes extremely depressed after walking in on his girlfriend in bed with another man. Their stories are intertwined when a girl named Ellie goes missing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the nostalgic atmosphere of California circa 1979–Harvey Milk, reduced emissions, smoking on airplanes, and Dallas on TV. Hughes does an exemplary job of setting the reader right back to those days, and that was one of my favorite things about the book. The mood is dark and murky, and happiness is just out of reach for the characters.

John spends a lot of time drinking and wishing he was a stronger man, while Horace is enjoying the life of a sociopath, living for himself and trying not to give in to those feelings and urges that lurk below the surface. I grew a bit weary of John’s self pity, and by the time things really started happening, the book was almost half over. This resulted in a rush to the end that felt a bit lopsided to me. The way the story was told needed better timing, but the plot itself was captivating and kept me focused.

John Nix’s life was so depressing that Horace seemed positively cheery in comparison. Hughes does an excellent job of showing how John stagnates while everyone around him goes on with their life, things falling their way effortlessly. Even Horace manages to develop a farm, complete with hired help to plant a pumpkin field.

The character of Ellie is a curious one, not as developed as the two man, and this bothered me a little. The plot twists seem a bit forced once you digest all the information revealed towards the end. Ellie is mostly a mystery, and it was hard for me to root for her to be found. Some things about her are made deliberately obtuse, for the purpose of furthering the mystery, but it just frustrated me. I think if the action was more spread out throughout the entire book it would have worked better.

Other than that, PUMPKIN FARMER was an easy to read book that gets its strength from the atmosphere. Choosing the 70’s as the backdrop makes this story work by inciting nostalgia along with the mystery. Times were more innocent back then, and the juxtaposition of these characters is what makes the dichotomy so powerful. The details are exact and mildly comforting (I remember almost everything Hughes describes) as they pop up amongst the drinking binges and self loathing. Hughes captures the emotions of the times well, adding the background naturally, not forcefully. I especially liked the idea of the emotionless Horace harboring the secret desire to become the titular pumpkin farmer. The lesson goes to show that what people appear to be on the surface, is not always the true measure of their souls. Remember this as you read the book.

9 giveaway-01

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Want your own copy? You can pick it up [easyazon_link identifier=”1612964745″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”gimmethatbook-20″]here[/easyazon_link].

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