Strangers – Review

“Both of us are sure we’re right, but one of us is living in a world of make-believe right now.”

Strangers was the January book club read for the Instagram group BlackHeart Reads. If you’re on Instagram and are interested in joining their monthly reads, click the link and follow their page! It’s always a ton of fun!

The premise of this book was intriguing: a woman faces a stranger in her home claiming to be her fiancé. She has no memory of him, to her he is a complete stranger. A man comes home to a fiancé who claims to not know him. Every single item belonging to him is gone, his existence in their life erased.

One of them has to be lying, but both are convinced they are telling the truth.

As events continue to unfold around them, it becomes obvious that something is happening that neither of them understand. And if they are going to discover the truth and get out of this alive, they are going to need to trust their instincts. And each other.

After the beginning chapters of this novel, I was expecting some serious twist, a la Black Mirror. Everything about the plot felt like some sinister, devious, horrifying conspiracy was taking place.

Initially, the characters were fantastic. Joanna was appropriately freaked out, and believed that Erik was some crazed madman. Until her best friend confirmed their relationship. It would have been easy to leave all the doubt on Joanna, but the authors made sure to balance the doubt between both Jo and Erik. They did a fantastic job making not just the reader but the characters themselves wonder which of the two was crazy. Or what possible explanation could be at play.

“A hand, as cold as ice, reaches for my heart. And, for the first time, the thought crosses my mind that maybe the person who’s lost their mind here isn’t Joanna, but me.”

Unfortunately, the book lost steam for me towards the end. The book was action packed and held an intense pace throughout, but the entire plot hinged on the twist. And for me, it fell flat into cliche disappointment.

In all, the book was entertaining and kept me interested until the end. But I felt like the ending was too easy, a bit predictable, and didn’t really go far enough to feel satisfying based on what the authors built up. However, if you enjoy books full of action that keeps a fast pace, you may enjoy what Strangers has to offer.

I’m going to discuss a few things that felt problematic for me, which will include spoilers, so if you have not read this book, please be warned!!!

*

*

*

*

*

The ending, as I mentioned was way too easy and fell into the eye-rolling territory very quickly. A bunch of Nazi’s plotting to cause chaos to purify the country of Germany just didn’t really add up or feel satisfying to what they had built up throughout the book. Beyond trying to make their terrorist attack look like Muslims were at fault, there really wasn’t anything to even support this weird Nazi plot line.

Beyond that, a brief hypnosis session while she was on vacation as the entire catalyst of her memory loss and violent urges? Talk about disappointing. I felt like there were so many other avenues that would have at least fallen into the realm of possibility, hypnosis felt too easy. And not at all believable.

If the ending was the only weird cliche pieces in the book, it may not have bothered me. But this book was full of them. Nadine, the ex-girlfriend was written as a sad, desperate woman who would do anything to get Erik back. Even going so far as to blatantly insult Joanna to her face in front of Erik. It came across as all the terrible stereotypes of women.

Joanna’s own father was a controlling rich man, willing to risk his daughters life if she didn’t follow his rules. Honestly, I was hoping he was behind the entire thing, it would have made his character feel more real than it did.

The gun wielding muscle sent to “collect” Joanna that suddenly jumps to the rescue. They are pretty standard and self-explanatory.

It felt like the side characters were presented as these stereotypes to offer plausible villains behind the memory loss and strange violent events following Jo and Erik. But since that wasn’t where the plot was headed, and the authors didn’t offer any redemption so they ended up feeling flat and one dimensional.

There was a lot of action and this book had some serious potential, so I was really disappointed at the end. This book read more like an action movie than a thriller. Lots of action not as much plot.

I did have a ton of fun reading this book for our group discussion, and loved hearing everyone’s thoughts on this book in our group!

The Vanishing Season – Review

“He’d locked up the monster but failed to notice: the monster had already won.”

Ellery Hathaway just wants to live a quiet life, in a quiet town, and be a good police officer. She’d prefer to keep her past in the past, and her secrets her own. But when people begin to go missing, one a year for the last three years, Ellery can’t quite shake the certainty that they’re connected.

The thing about Ellery, the thing no one knows, the thing that makes her so certain of these connections, even when all other law enforcement dismisses her, is that she once survived a serial killer. She was the only one to survive Francis Coben.

But admitting that would mean revealing secrets about herself that she’d do anything to keep hidden. Instead she turns to Agent Reed Markum, the FBI Agent who found and saved her against all odds. Together, they find themselves thrown into a terrifying past with a killer who is determined to finish what was started.

“Ellie wasn’t suicidal; she’d fought hard for her life and won. But sometimes, especially during the longest nights, she did wonder if maybe the other girls had been luckier after all.”

The Vanishing Season is an amazingly complex book. On the surface it reads like normal crime fiction, full of suspense and intrigue. But beneath the surface, this is also a book that explores what it means to survive, to save and be saved, and how to endure trauma that will never leave you.

The idea that our past defines us really is brought to life through both Ellie and Reed in different ways. For Ellie, she just wants to live her own life. She wants to be seen as a woman capable and strong on her own. The idea that people will see her differently if they know her past is a horrifying thought for her. Conversely, Reed carries the burden of being a savior. He was the only one to see the details that led to Ellie’s rescue and Coben’s conviction. But to walk into every investigation with that same expectation shining in the eyes of hopeful parents is a heavy weight to bear.

“Now he understood the attractiveness of alcohol: it coursed through your insides like a river over a rock, smoothing you out so you didn’t feel so damn much.”

Schaffhausen does a really good job casting just enough doubt on everyone in the book. While the killer seems obvious in hindsight, it wasn’t that obvious as you’re reading. I did have my suspicions from the beginning, but multiple other suspects gave my initial hunch just enough doubt that I wasn’t sure until the end. And this is good writing to me. I like solving the crime and picking up the bread crumbs authors leave behind. But I also enjoy being stumped and not reading something super obvious.

I also really enjoy anything with a psychological twist, so while Schaffhausen doesn’t delve too deeply into the psychology of the killer, there is a lot written into Ellie and Reed that makes their profiles and issues very interesting to me.

“People would gladly tell you who they were if you only cared to listen.”

The Vanishing Season is a very fast read. It’s written in a very compelling prose that pulls you into the novel, urging you to turn page after page. Suspicion is cast on every single character in the book, including Ellie and Reed, so you feel very uneasy as you read, as if the rug could be pulled from beneath you at any moment. Which felt very poetic to me, since that’s probably exactly how Ellie and Reed both felt. I love when an author can make me feel the same thing as the characters. It makes the reading a much richer experience.

For fans of crime fiction, suspense or thrillers, I think The Vanishing Season is a fantastic book choice. There isn’t much graphic violence, although there are some disturbing scenes. We are in the world of serial killers after all, you can’t completely escape the reality of violence in that landscape. But it isn’t graphic, and doesn’t go into vivid detail. This is definitely a novel playing on the psychology of horror rather than exposing you to the grotesqueness of the horror itself.

I am so thrilled this was the December book choice for the Instagram group Black Hearts Reads! Click their name to link to their Instagram page and join in! They choose amazing books and host a discussion at the end of the month. It’s a wonderful way to experience a book club without leaving your house! And the ladies who host are amazingly sweet. They also do a number of giveaways, so if you’re on Instagram, and especially if you’re part of the #bookstagram community, come join in!!!