You Can Trust Me (April 14, 2015) by Sophie McKenzie

You Can Trust MeYou Can Trust Me by Sophie McKenzie

First, thanks to the publisher through NetGalley for the opportunity to read You Can Trust Me by Sophie McKenzie.
I have been writing and rewriting my review of You Can Trust Me for days, struggling to both give credit to the hard work of the author, but also explain why this book was a big frustration for me.
Here’s my honest review:
You Can Trust Me is a mystery/thriller that I would rate at 2.5 stars on Goodreads if I could. Here’s why:
First, the plot is decent, convoluted, your sort of dime-a-dozen, uber-popular, twisty-turny-psych-thriller that is currently flying off the shelves. The plot is not bad; it does keep your attention and is a fast read.
On the other hand, the plot of You Can Trust Me is nothing new, special, or especially convincing. Though You Can Trust Me could easily be labeled “domestic-noir,” part of why the story didn’t work for me was that, on closer evaluation, it failed to explore the elements specific to that micro-genre.
There’s a very cool article on author Julia Crouch’s blog in which she coins and describes this term, first inspired by books like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. You can find the url to that post here:
Obviously, the term domestic noir is fluid and ever changing. However, what I love so much about domestic-noir-psychological-thrillers over and above say, a novel I would describe as a mystery-thriller, is in large part lacking in You Can Trust Me.
You Can Trust Me has many of the surface elements that I associate with domestic noir, such as an every-woman female protagonist who investigates a crime and discovers that someone she knows is not who they seem. The story also features a classic sociopath (or should I say, someone who exhibits all the clichés that are generally associated with a sociopaths.) However. Most murders, in real life, and in mystery fiction in general, are committed by someone the victim knows. Also, mysteries, by definition, involve the uncovering of secrets.
Without giving away plot spoilers, I will say that I don’t feel that You Can Trust Me explored power dynamics or revealed a dark reality lurking beneath the ordinary in a way different from most mystery novels. Furthermore, I found the token sociopathic killer to be surprisingly lacking as far as being a psychologically interesting character.
This lack of originality unfortunately reflected a larger problem within the novel. You Can Trust Me relied heavily on clichés. An example of this is that at one point, the main character Livy makes the clearly brilliant decision to drive out to an isolated farmhouse on a lonely moor with a man she barely knows. The description here is what I can only describe as lazy, and the scene itself, set in a Deliverance-style farmhouse, increasingly jumps the shark as the action unfolds.
The story took on the quality of a “B” grade horror film, and I found myself feeling increasingly emotionally disconnected from the characters.
The worst part of all this, for me, was that this description was one of the only times in the book in which the McKenzie actually attempted to create any sense of place. You Can Trust Me is set in several locations which literally ooze atmosphere, including Bath, Dorset, and other locations in the English countryside. Yet, aside from the house of horrors mentioned above, nary a descriptive word is used. Livy in fact states that she always found growing up in Bath dull (and of course, she has every right to her own opinion), but as an anglophile and traveler who adores Bath, it made me sad that Livy was meeting people in front of cathedrals and such, and seemed completely blind to or even dismissive of the beauty around her.
However, as I’ve implied above, Livy also does a lot of driving/riding around southern England during the course of the novel. From my admittedly limited experience travelling by bus, taxi, train, and tube in that area, I found the ease (and perhaps the distance) with which Livy traipsed all over the place within the course of a day unrealistic. Livy has nary a wait for a taxi or a bus, no matter how remote her location.
And finally, I felt frustrated by the sentiments that Livy expresses at the very end of the novel. Without revealing spoilers, I’ll just say that the conclusion that Livy comes to for herself is based on one condition specific to her personal, fictional situation. However, the conclusion she makes is presented in such a way that it would be easy for a reader to extend it to similar situations in the real world (which do not have the single condition that makes Livy’s opinion a possibility). My feeling as I finished You Can Trust Me was that of being let down, and told a story with lazy writing, and hazy logic.

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Dark Rooms (March 3, 2015) by Lili Anolik

Dark RoomsDark Rooms by Lili Anolik

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thank you to William Morrow for my advance reader’s edition of Dark Rooms, by Lili Anolik.
Dark Rooms has been variously promoted as a combination of Twin Peaks, Megan Abbott, and The Secret History. To me, these descriptions didn’t fit the book, and so, I felt disappointed.
There is a little of the wonderful creepy, quirky, hallucinatory quality of Twin Peaks, especially in one scene at the end of the novel, but the strangeness that made Twin Peaks so unique is
lacking in Dark Rooms.
In the same way, Dark Rooms can be compared on the surface to the subject of Megan Abbott’s novels-the social lives of teenage girls-but whereas Abbott’s writing style is visceral and impressionistic, Dark Rooms was told in a much more straight-forward writing style. Megan Abbott describes the sex, jealousy, and cruelty of adolescence in a way that is unsettling and powerful. Lili Anolik used actions, rather than hinting at the deep, shadowy, feelings behind them, to tell her story. And, as to The Secret History comparisons, all I can say is that both novels take place in schools on the East Coast of the United States, and contain characters who do “shocking” things. The gothic mystery of The Secret History is absent in Dark Rooms. In fact, if anything, I am surprised at how little the author of Dark Rooms took advantage of what could have been a gothic setting; attending a private prep school next to a graveyard has never felt so prosaic!
Ultimately, I did not connect strongly with any of the characters. I wanted to root for the narrator, Grace, as well as to Damon, her partner in trying to solve the mystery of her sister’s death.
But they both acted, (or thought) in ways that seemed slightly sociopathic- not all the time, but enough that I just couldn’t fully empathize with them.
In the end, Dark Rooms was readable. It just wasn’t any of the things I had hoped it would be, and, a few days after finishing it, I find myself forgetting it. Dark Rooms is the kind of novel I’d recommend reading on a plane or while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. It’s easy to lose yourself in, but not something you’ll miss if you get distracted.

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The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

The Boy Who Drew MonstersThe Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This wasn’t poorly written, but I enjoyed it less that I thought I would.
I did not connect with any of the main characters…they all seemed to just be showing the least altruistic of human motives, not evil, necessarily, but just, you know, being drunk, and arguing, and being mean to each other.
My favorite character was probably the creepy but wonderful Miss Tiramaku, the ancient, autistic housekeeper to the town priest. With her one cloudy eye, she saw more of what was truly going on than anyone else the novel.
Overall, The Boy Who Drew Monsters was a ghost story with a lot of potential, but one that, rather than giving me chills, just left me cold.

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The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar

The Hidden GirlThe Hidden Girl by Louise Millar

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Having really enjoyed Louise Millar’s two previous novels, I was excited to receive an advance reader’s copy of The Hidden Girl from the publisher via NetGalley.
This domestic-noir thriller begins with Hannah and Will, a young, hip, London couple, moving to an old fixer-upper in the English countryside. At first, the reader is only given bits of the whole picture…we know that Hannah is desperate to renovate the house for a mysterious visitor scheduled to arrive in two weeks. We also know that Will is a music producer who is not happy about moving from London, and we know that the relationship between the two is inexplicably strained. In short order, Will commutes to his studio in London, leaving Hannah alone in the creaky, tumble-down old house. When a storm snows her in, Hannah is left to fend for herself, along with a cast of neighbors straight out of the movie Deliverance.
What follows is nothing short of bizarre and baffling.
First off, The Hidden Girl doesn’t seem like it is written by the same person who wrote Accidents Happen and The Playdate. I don’t know if author Louise Millar’s previous novels were heavily edited before publication, or whether she felt uninspired or rushed to complete this work, or simply was trying something new, but the writing itself is generally, perplexingly poor.
One reason that the writing seems disjointed is that Millar overuses the characters’ proper names. Where she could have substituted “he” or “she,” she refers to “Hannah,” and “Will,” even when each character is by themselves.
Secondly, the story itself is a bit of a mess. As other reviewers, such as Cleo at have noted, the plot stretches the limits of credulity. If written differently, it could perhaps have dealt with “big” issues. Instead, to this reader, it was simply unbelievable.
The odd thing is that, despite all these negative qualities, The Hidden Girl is not an unpleasant read. In contrast, I am currently reading Ninepins, by Rosy Thornton. I am really impressed with the depth of characterization, the original voice, and the subtle symbolism in this novel. However, Ninepins is a slow burn of a read. It takes a bit of work and patience.
The Hidden Girl, on the other hand, is not brilliant. The characters don’t make much sense as real people. But despite this, and despite generally feeling like I’ve stepped into a rather weird dream, I found The Hidden Girl to be an easy, interesting, mess of a story.
The closest thing I can compare it to are the novels of Sophie Hannah. Often, they have a pervading sense of strangeness, and I find the characters hard to relate to as more than horror concoctions. About halfway through her thrillers, I often find that I’m pretty confused by all the twists and turns, and yet, the fact that I don’t understand the plot, and don’t really like the characters, somehow doesn’t matter. I’m still addicted to the weird, strange, suspense that Sophie Hannah so skillfully weaves.
The Hidden Girl will entertain you, if you like twisty tales like those of Sophie Hannah, or any kind of domestic noir in which you’ve got an isolated, possibly crazy, main character who gets, through no fault of her own, into a dangerous situation.
The Hidden Girl is not great art, but it is fun. Louise Millar is still one of my favorite authors, and I will wait hopefully for her next novel.

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The Book of You by Claire Kendal

The Book of You: A NovelThe Book of You: A Novel by Claire Kendal

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

First off: While I have tried to avoid spoilers, this review has more information about the plot of the novel than I usually include. This is because the reasons for my critique are difficult to discuss without going into some detail about the story itself.
I had high expectations when I started Claire Kendal’s debut thriller, The Book of You. Promotions compare it to Into the Darkest Corner and Before I Go To Sleep (both of which I enjoyed immensely) and also The Silent Wife (which for me, was a complete bust).
After months of developing perhaps unrealistic hopes for The Book of You, I found it to be a perplexing, underwhelming read.
The Book of You follows Clarissa, a young, sylphlike, ultra-feminine woman, who is being stalked by a disgusting loser named Rafe. Whereas in Into the Darkest Corner, or in Killing Me Softly, the dangerous boyfriend is initially charismatic, sexy, and intelligent, in this novel, Rafe comes across as an unlikeable weirdo from the very beginning. His first intimate encounter with Clarissa is a bad one, and things just get worse from there.
The reader is introduced to the dynamics between Rafe and Clarissa part way into their story…and the fact that we meet Clarissa when she is already avoiding Rafe reduces the sense of building suspense. There is a sort of repetitive monotony to this tale, with Clarissa trudging through the bleak, unremitting snow of a wintery city, and receiving one after another vaguely threatening gifts from Rafe, which she duly catalogues as evidence to eventually turn in to the police.
For much of this story, I wondered, “where is this going?”
As a counterpoint to the primary narrative, Clarissa is serving as a juror on a six week trial dealing with alleged kidnapping and rape. Ding, ding! The trial mimics Clarissa’s experiences in ways so obvious that even she is aware of them. The trial, like Clarissa’s own life, seems to drag on monotonously, with Clarissa cataloguing the names of legal and forensic experts who she could use in her own defense (but which she never, apparently does) and pondering all the ways in which the trial imitates real life. (I realize this is an inaccurate statement, since the trial is also someone’s “real” life, but that is the way it seems to be presented in the novel.)
With all this going on, there is another character to add to the mix, a hunky fireman named Robert, who is Clarissa’s fellow juror. As a reader, I was confused as to how I was supposed to feel about Robert- and not confused in a good, suspenseful way. On the one hand, Clarissa falls for him hook, line, and sinker, but she also realizes that he says many of the same things to her that her stalker, Rafe, does. She notes that when Robert says these things, she doesn’t feel creeped out. It is unclear whether Clarissa’s realization is meant to show us that a)Robert is also a stalker and Clarissa just doesn’t get it, or b)romantic words are all in the delivery. On top of this, several people make comments to Clarissa, seemingly apropos of nothing, that they think something is “off” about Robert. I didn’t feel that Robert was presented as an especially likeable character, but neither did he seem to be a psychopath. I kept hoping that some other man-the nice barrister, the helpful fellow walking his dog in the park-would turn out to be Clarissa’s true love.
As a reader, I was unclear as to who I was supposed to root for, or what the author wanted this book to be. The constant references to bloody fairytales confused the issue still further. In the preface, the Kendal thanks her father for giving her her first book of fairytales, and her mother for teaching her to read. The sections of the book reference fairytales, and Clarissa is compared to a princess, while she ponders dark tales like Bluebeard and Sleeping Beauty.
I like Kendal’s idea, of exploring how fairytales echo real life themes of obsession, sex, and violence. But in The Book of You, I did not feel that she was able to work this concept into the story in a comprehensible way.
I have admiration for anyone who writes a novel, and in The Book of You, I have the sense that Claire Kendal really put her heart and soul into her work. She clearly has lots of good ideas, and she seemed to want to create more than a generic thriller. Unfortunately, The Book of You ended up being a confused mess, with flat pacing, rather than building suspense, characters who were hard to warm to, and explicit detail about S&M torture that made me feel sick without adding anything necessary to the story itself.
If you’re interested in stories about obsession or domestic abuse, I would recommend Killing Me Softly by Nicci French, Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, Close Up by Esther Verhoef, The Bed I Made, by Lucie Whitehouse, or Darling Jim by Christian Moerk. All of these novels are amazing and unique, and will stay with you for a long time.

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