The Collective by Alison Gaylin

“None of these monsters are evil. It’s the evil of others that makes them powerful. Beaten down by the world, shunned, robbed of what they love, they don’t curl up and die. They don’t apologize. They fight back. They get bigger, stronger, more terrifying. You are a monster. We all are. Be grateful for THAT.”
― Alison Gaylin, The Collective

Alison Gaylin’s latest mystery novel, The Collective, tells the story of mothers who are angry. Camille Gardener is obsessed. Her daughter died five years ago at the hands of a young man. Fed up with the empty platitudes from the people who surround her and her marriage’s dissolution, Camille is still obsessed with the young man she believes is responsible for her daughter’s death. She has been following him and his family all these years, wanting to keep up with what they have been doing.

Camille’s actions finally cross a line and she ends up in the spotlight of a secretive group of women called the collective. It starts out innocent enough with a Facebook group, but then ends with Camille being drawn into the dark web. She finds a group of mothers sharing their devastating stories of loss and their intense desires for justice. They all feel wronged by the world – how dare no one hold the perpetrators responsible?! They demand justice and retribution for the unimaginable loss they have been put through.

Rage motivates them. Soon Camille discovers that the group is responsible for many seemingly random killings that are actually incredibly precise, plotted, and planned by group members who are instructed to follow different tasks without knowing what the others are doing. All of their individual tasks culminate into the completion of a plan: the murder of someone who had done them wrong.

When Camille first joins the group, she debates whether or not the collective is a game or reality. The more she becomes involved, the more her feelings shift. Are these women monsters or righteous avengers? There are truths that lie beneath the surface that have the power to destroy the small amount of comfort Camille found within the collective. It all depends on what she believes.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

‘She felt quite light-headed. Low blood sugar, maybe, or perhaps it was the dizzying effect of watching her horizons, narrowed for so long, expanding once again.’

Paula Hawkins’ latest thriller A Slow Fire Burning is a book that messes with your mind, but in a good way. Hawkins has written a book that talks about how far someone is willing to go to find peace (or revenge).

Someone has been killed. A young man was found gruesomely murdered in his London houseboat. When the authorities start investigating, questions begin to mount surrounding three women who knew him and the others living in his periphery.

Laura is a troubled young woman who was the last person seen both with the victim and in his home. Their one-night stand was fraught with violence, something that Laura admits to the police when questioned. Laura was in a devastating car accident when she was young that left her hot-tempered, rash, and dangerous. Others judge her, something that has left Laura living as a loner.

Miriam knows all too well about how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the person who lives in the houseboat next to the dead man, Miriam has a unique insight into his life, plus she’s nosy. She also knows that just because she saw Laura leaving the houseboat covered in blood, that doesn’t mean she killed him. Miriam has been taken advantage of one too many times, so she will do whatever it takes to clear Laura of any wrongdoing.

Carla’s nephew was just brutally murdered. Her sister died in an accident eight weeks earlier. So much tragedy in such a short amount of time has left her completely stricken and at a loss. Carla no longer trusts anyone and views those around her as damaged creatures. All she wants is peace. Or does she?

Others circulate behind the scenes: Carla’s husband Theo and the women who lives next door to the deceased man’s mother. Everyone in this story is filled with resentment. While their reasons may be varied, they all desire to right the wrongs perpetrated against them. Their journeys to revenge will lead them to peace or destruction, risks they are all willing to take.

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Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough

Once a cheat, always a cheat.

Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough is a twisty psychological thriller that tells the story of a crafty second wife who will do anything to come out on top.

Marcie is determined. Determined to keep her husband interested in her so he won’t leave her. Determined to keep the life of luxury that she currently has forever. Determined to never end up back the way she started. Marcie has secrets and those secrets could destroy the life she’s created. Lucky for her, Marcie has had years of practice keeping those secrets and the stakes are even higher for her now.

Marcie worked hard for her marriage with Jason. Never mind the fact that Marcie and Jason’s relationship began as an illicit affair and that she is much younger than him. When she moved to Savannah, Georgia to start her new life with Jason, she had to deal with backlash from his ex-wife, their joint friends, and the people that Jason works with. Her new life filled with country clubs, yachts, and giant houses is getting harder and harder for her to maintain no matter how hard she tries. Her relationship with Jason is becoming strained as well.

Their relationship becomes even more strained when Jason’s boss comes home from his trip to London with a brand new wife in tow. The new Mrs. William Radford IV has some big shoes to fill and she is definitely not what everyone expected. Keisha is gorgeous, young, attractive, sexy, reckless, and black – and most importantly she quickly takes over Marcie’s place as the beautiful and best looking second wife.

Marcie begins to feel uneasy when she notices the spark between Jason and Keisha. The two have an instant magnetic connection that puts Marcie immediately on edge. She starts working harder to keep Jason’s interest, but nothing she does seems to be working. Keisha and Jason begin to get closer and closer while Marcie tries to destroy the bond the two have cultivated from the inside. Marcie decides the only way to survive is to get revenge on the two. Insecure in her relationships, Marcie knows that if she loses Jason, she will find herself struggling to maintain even a fracture of her current lifestyle. She may have married into Jason’s world, but she will never truly be a part of it. How dare Keisha try to steal her life from her! Keisha has no idea who she’s messing with.

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Sadie by Courtney Summers

I spend a lot of time in the car either driving to work or driving to explore. This means that I have so many hours to fill that the music on the radio starts to repeat itself. I have learned to spend this time listening to podcasts and audiobooks instead. Looking at award-winning book lists, I found Sadie by Courtney Summers: a book that is presented like a true crime podcast. This sounded perfect to me.

Sadie by Courtney Summers highlights the story of Sadie and her sister Mattie. When thirteen-year-old Mattie goes missing from her small Colorado town and is eventually found murdered, her nineteen-year-old sister Sadie is devastated. Sadie has been raising Mattie by herself for years ever since their mother left. While she had some help from her surrogate grandma, Sadie took on the bulk of the responsibilities associated with her and Mattie’s welfare. When Sadie all of a sudden disappears about a year after Mattie is found, her surrogate grandma reaches out for help.

West McCray is a radio personality who has been slowly making his way across the country to work on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America. While stopped in one such town, he overhears a local talking about Sadie’s disappearance. Shortly after, West is contacted by Sadie’s surrogate grandma and finds himself drawn into the case. West decides to turn his examination into the disappearance of Sadie and the murder of Mattie into a true crime podcast called ‘The Girls’.

When Sadie runs away, rumors abound about why she left and where she’s going. Told in the alternating perspectives of both Sadie as she runs away and West’s podcast about her disappearance, readers are able to follow this story from both points of view. While Sadie has run away in order to track down her younger sister Mattie’s killer, West and the rest of her family don’t have access to that information and struggle to find out why she’s gone, where she is, and what has happened to her.

I enjoyed this book as it combines three of my favorite things: true crime, podcasts, and audiobooks. After looking at different reviews, flipping through the print book, and listening to the audiobook, I agree with others when they say that, if given the option, you should listen to the audiobook. By doing so, you are privy to the little audio clues present in the podcast sections that you would miss out on if you only read the book. Give it a try and let me know what you think!


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Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Finding old black and white photographs hidden in drawers or on the shelves of antique stores is one of my favorite things. Those photographs seldom have identifying information on the back. As a result, my mind will wander and make up stories about whoever happens to be in the shot. When I stumbled upon my last read, I knew it was meant to be, based purely on the cover. When I read the description, I was even more hooked.

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin is a mysterious murder plot of a book. Carl Louis Feldman is a documentary photographer living in a home for suspected serial killers who have mental issues. It’s thought that Carl has dementia. Certainly all the symptoms point to it, but the fact that Carl is not in prison at the moment for his crimes leads a mysterious young woman searching for answers to his doorstep.

This young woman has been obsessively searching for answers to her sister’s disappearance since she was twelve years old. She has been waiting to meet Carl and has planned, researched, and trained in every way possible. Showing up where Carl lives and breaking him out of the home is the easiest part. Now she and Carl are traveling across Texas to three red dots marked on her map as she works to see whether or not Carl is guilty of murdering all these women and of kidnapping and murdering her own sister.

Carl might be a serial killer. He might have dementia. He might not remember committing a string of violent crimes across Texas that match up with a series of famous photographs he took. This woman doesn’t believe anything Carl says and hopes that this road trip will help her figure out the truth about Carl and what happened to her sister.

This novel could have gone many different ways. I found myself constantly wondering what was going to happen to Carl and this mysterious young woman. Was he faking? Was she going to kill him? Would either of them ever find answers? I was hooked cover to cover. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham

 

The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham is a great read. Sharp, twisted, vengeful, and delightfully macabre with the sense that justice no matter how dark it might be, is nice when served with a slice a fashion.

The story enfolds in a 1950’s small Australian town called Dungatar where all the characters come together in their dark histories and lucid small town cantor. This is where the story begins and ends with Tilly Dunnage who has just returned from Paris haute couture fashion houses where she’s become an esteemed and accomplished dressmaker, to visit her ailing mother Molly Dunnage.  The town and Tilly have a cloud of bad energy encircling the twisted past of Molly’s daughter who was separated from her mother and sent away suddenly when she was a child.

The dark twists and turns of this novel will keep you reading, and the revenge Tilly erroneously or knowingly (reader’s interpretation) bestows upon the town and it’s misfits is quite laughable in a dark and entertaining sense. However, there are moments of sadness sprinkled throughout but overall a good and enjoyable read.

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

John Grisham is the king of legal thrillers. I always know whenever I pick up one of his books, I am going to be introduced to another part of the legal system that I had no idea existed.  I recently finished listening to The Rooster Bar, Grisham’s latest. Grisham dives into the gritty world of law schools, student loans, and financial scams. Speaking as someone who still has a pretty good chunk of student loan debt, I found the premise of this book to be interesting.

The Rooster Bar by John Grisham is a legal suspense thriller that is packed full of crime. Mark, Todd, and Zola are all third-year law students at Foggy Bottom Law School. All three decided to go to law school to try to change the world, but now that they are in their third year, Mark, Todd, and Zola have realized that they have been scammed. Only one of them has a job lined up and it’s not in the best law firm. His job is contingent on passing the bar exam, something that only 50% of Foggy Bottom Law School students do. The job market is a mess anyway, at least for FBLS graduates. With student loan collectors hounding them, Mark, Todd, and Zola realize that they have hundreds of thousands in debt, no solid job prospects, and a soon-to-be worthless degree from a third-tier, for-profit law school. Things are bleak.

When another one of their friends hits his breaking point, Mark, Todd, and Zola realize that their school is part of chain owned by a hedge-fund operator out of New York who ALSO owns a bank that specializes in student loans. That school is shady! This whole situation reeks of a scam and the friends decide they have to do something about it. Mark, Zola, and Todd name their situation The Great Law School Scam and try to figure out a way to expose it.

Mark and Todd slowly come up with a plan to get rid of their massive debt, expose everything, and maybe make some money to survive. They decide that continuing to go to Foggy Bottom Law School is a complete waste of time. Why not just stop going?! After all, what’s the worst that could happen?? The Rooster Bar is an examination of Mark, Todd, and Zola’s life decisions and what happens when they decide to actually take their lives into their own hands. It’s a good read. You should check it out.


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The Dressmaker

The Dressmaker, starring Kate Winslet and Liam Hemsworth, tells the story of Tilly Dunnage, played by Kate Winslet. This movie is based on the novel of the same name by Rosalie Ham. Tilly is an accomplished dressmaker who spent years traveling the world learning her trade. She has returned to her small Australian hometown in 1950s Australia. Tilly escaped from this town when she was young after being accused of murdering a young boy. She has returned to learn the truth.

Upon arriving back in town, Tilly finds her eccentric mother, played by Judy Davis, living in squalor. She begins taking care of her and scheming to get revenge on those who accused her of murder. Tilly’s way of dressing shocks the town. She begins to offer her dressmaking services to women in town, seemingly as a kindness, but really as a way of revenge. She begins working with the local sergeant, a man who has secrets of his own. Tilly also falls for a local farmer, Teddy, a man who lives next door to her mother and whose family has been stopping in to care for her mother while she’s been gone.

This small backwoods Australian town is rife with secrets and scandals, more than just Tilly’s exile for the supposed murder of her young classmate. More and more of these secrets are exposed as Tilly works her magic on the local women. This movie shows that nothing is what it seems and that everyone has secrets. Tilly struggles to find out the truth, remember her past, and clear her name. I really enjoyed this movie because Tilly clearly knows how to get revenge on people. While she may appear strong, she also has a lot going on under the surface.

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

I have a pretty long commute to work and as a result, I have been listening to audiobooks through OverDrive and One Click Digital in my car. (If you don’t know what either of those resources are, come in and ask a librarian or give us a call. They’re fabulous!) Anyway, I’ve been finishing an audiobook at least once a week and I have discovered I have a type. I LOVE gruesome mysteries, the more complicated a plot the better. Add in strong women who can defend themselves and I’m hooked. My latest audiobook listen fit into that plot perfectly and I couldn’t get enough.

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens is a piece of riveting suspense fiction that covers many years in the lives of the Campbell sisters: Jess, Courtney, and Dani. Their life has never been easy with their mother dying when the girls were young and their father away for weeks at a time working. The three girls live on a remote ranch and must provide for themselves when their father is gone. When he is home, they struggle to stay out of his way, as he is very abusive and has an explosive temper. One night, he comes home in a particularly foul mood and a fight gets out of hand. The sisters have to leave their home and go on the run.

On their way to a new city, their truck breaks down and the girls find themselves facing a new nightmare. What seems to be two good Samaritans offering help devolves quickly into a worst-case scenario with the girls struggling to survive. Jess, Courtney, and Dani don’t know if they will ever be able to escape this new problem or even if they will be able to come back from what has happened to them. Starting completely over in a new town with new names and new lives is their only chance at redemption, revenge, and escape from both the fight with their father and this new terror.

While this book can be a bit of a downer at times, the sisters have an extremely close bond that pulled me in and had me rooting for them to finally get what they wanted. I’ll admit that I had to start this book over twice because I found the beginning to be a little slow, but once the action picked up and I had listened to it for about 15 minutes without stopping, I was hooked. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live a horrifying, depressing, and nightmarish life, but through it all, they stick together and they know that the others will always have their back no matter what.


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