What Happened at the Lake by Phil M. Williams — A Review

What Happened at the Lake by Phil M. Williams

RaeleighReads rating: love--coffee-png-image-52236love--coffee-png-image-52236love--coffee-png-image-52236

Trigger warnings: rape, sexual violence, murder

Whew! This one had some intense moments!

The Palmer family goes on vacation in Tennessee, but not everyone who goes on that trip makes it back home. Alex Palmer and his wife Emma are the organizers of this family getaway, and they’ve invited everyone — all of Alex’s siblings, their spouses and significant others, his father and his stepmom, and his daughter and her boyfriend.

The family dynamics alone are enough to make this a good read, but Williams adds to this with some incredibly graphic and disturbing violence. In fact, that’s how the book starts. The first chapter turned my stomach, but I kept reading because I wanted to know where Williams was going with all of it.

The next 30-40% of the book was fairly boring to be honest. There was too much telling me what each character thought and did, but I’m a lover of description. This is not to say that Williams does not possess incredible powers of description. He certainly does, but he uses them for describing the brutal sexual assaults and murders that occurred on the lake the Palmer family was visiting.

When the action picks up in this novel, it nearly speeds out of control. What remains in the last quarter of the book is a father’s desperation and love for his daughter. For me, that was the most compelling part of this book — Alex Palmer’s quest to find out what happened to his daughter.

To me, Alex was the only fully realized character in this whole book. A few others — his father Harvey and brothers Matt and Jeff — were filled out to some extent, but for many of the other characters, I was left wanting more. Because I did not feel much of a connection to the large cast in this book, it dropped my rating from what would have been four coffee cups to three.

I mentioned trigger warnings of murder, sexual violence, and rape at the beginning of this post, and I want to reiterate that here. Those scenes were incredibly graphic and difficult to read at times. If you are at all turned off by those kinds of images, do not read this.

If you’re a fan of thrillers and family drama (and possess an iron stomach), this book is for you.


The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson — A Review

21996The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

RaeleighReads rating: cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3


Okay, my initial reaction was, “OOoooo, I think I really like this!” But then a few days passed, and now I’m leaning more toward, “Umm, this really isn’t non-fiction.” :/

Now, I don’t typically read non-fiction. I spent the better part of a decade immersed in academia only to come out of it as an academic librarian. My whole day is consumed by research, problem solving, and technical jargon. So, when I read I lean toward YA fantasy, so as not to overtax my already overtaxed brain.

That said, the academician lurking in my breast just can’t be satisfied with this. It’s too speculative. It’s too fabricated to truly call itself non-fiction. Larson did an AMAZING amount of research, and I believe he strung together two different narratives — the creation of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, Chicago and the horrifying story of Dr. H. H. Holmes and his “Murder Castle” — fairly well. BUT. He inserts himself too much into the facts of these events, giving people gestures and thoughts and motivations that can’t possibly be verified. Frequently I found myself withdrawing from the book because he would state that so-and-so felt a certain way or must have thought a certain thing.

I’ve been trained to eschew this type of speculation from my academic (non-fiction) writing, but Larson’s book runs rampant with it. Unfortunately for me, the more I think about it the less happy I am with the book.

I will say this in Larson’s favor, this is the only “non-fiction” book I have read quickly and thoroughly that was not required reading for my studies or my profession. So, kudos for that! Also, I will likely try one more of his books. I find his writing style compelling just not convincing or academically rigorous.

This book was the January read with the group Diversity in All Forms on Goodreads.

Stay tuned for a review of our February read, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh — A Review

i let you goI Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

RaeleighReads rating: cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3

This was so. good. Suspenseful. So many twists and turns. I highly recommend it.

I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray, a somewhat diminutive figure, as she tries to put her life back together in a tiny cottage in Penfach (UK). At the same time, the book follows two police people as they investigate a hit and run case in Bristol.

At first, I found the switch between a first person narrative (Jenna’s story) and a third person narrative (the investigators), a little jarring. As the story went on though, I started to find it effective in moving me in and out of focus. In fact, the switch to third person started to act as a much needed reprieve from Jenna’s first person narrative.

Mackintosh’s prose are evocative and heartbreaking. Her characters are well developed and utterly human. Every time I thought I had the story figured out, she would drop a plot bomb and I’d be thrown in a completely different direction. The suspense was palpable, and I just HAD to know what was going to happen next.

Read warily. If you are particularly sensitive to violence you may not want to read this. It definitely tugged on my heart strings — it made me cry. It made me laugh. It made me have all the feelings.

my emotions

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Group (USA) for my review copy.

Where Death is a Hunter by Christopher Stookey — A Review

where death is a hunterWhere Death is a Hunter by Christopher Stookey

RaeleighReads rating: cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3cup-of-coffee3

YES! A case where a subject specialist is also capable of noveling.

Where Death is  a Hunter follows the story of Hannah Fâtier, a young, ethnically ambiguous anesthesiologist. She’s in San Fran, and is in her first real job at a good hospital. She’s all set one morning to anesthetize a patient for an elective procedure — plastic surgery. Things are normal…until they aren’t. I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll just say the rest of the book is a compelling whodunnit.

Now, there is nothing particularly ground breaking about this novel. It doesn’t give a twist on a generic plot or introduce anything we haven’t seen before. BUT, I just couldn’t put the darn thing down. Stookey’s writing flows effortlessly throughout. It is simple and descriptive with, what I think, is typical and appropriate dialogue.

The back cover blurb calls it “un-put-down-able”, and I wholeheartedly agree. I read this in two sittings. It would have have been one sitting, but I had to, you know, sleep. Argh.

Hannah is seriously put through the wringer in this. Does she come out on top? *shrugs mysteriously* Guess you’ll have to read it to find out! (And you totally should.)

dean shrugs and grins

I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.