Posts Tagged thriller

book review: Blood Highway


Blood Highway by Gina Wohlsdorf. Algonquin| August 7, 2018| 320 pages | $16.95| ISBN: 978-1-61620-563-8

RATING: 3.5/5*

–review by Amy Steele

Scrappy teenager Rainy Cain knows how to fend for herself even though she’s still in high school. She manages to be independent and to present herself a certain way so that no one will ask too many questions. She’s been through an awful lot in her life and she’s yet to graduate from high school. She’s developed protective coping mechanisms that enable her survival. Her severely mentally ill mother neglected her long ago. They still live in the same house but don’t communicate with each other (sounds like me and my stepfather). After her mother commits suicide, Rainy’s felon father, recently released from prison, kidnaps her in hopes that she’ll lead him to money that he believes her mother hid when he was sent off to prison for a series of armed robberies. He’s a violent, ruthless man. Rainy wasn’t even aware he existed. Blaine, a seemingly good guy and police officer, with more in common with Rainy than one might suspect, pursues them. I love this sentence about Blaine: “His interior was this packed, cluttered museum of guilt and regret.” Author Gina Wohlsdorf spent a decade writing the novel. When she started she wasn’t that much older than her central character, strong-willed and determined feminist Rainy. As I dove into this thriller, which really skirts into horror, I didn’t know what was going on for quite a bit but the compelling writing kept me reading. There’s a cinematic edginess to the characters and this riveting and scary cross-country chase.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Algonquin.

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book review: Sunset City

sunset city

Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg. Ecco| April 12, 2016| 208 pages | $25.99| ISBN: 9780062429704

 RATING: ****/5*

When this book arrived unsolicited I was positive it would be another mystery/thriller that wouldn’t interest me all that much. I wasn’t enthralled by Gone Girl. I need a bit more depth in my thrillers. Fortunately, the phenomenal writing and intriguing characters and plot grabbed me from page one. Author Melissa Ginsburg writes a taut, colorful and gritty noir. She highlights the darker side of Houston—the strip clubs, the dive bars, the run down neighborhoods, the places where average Americans scrape by on minimum wage work. The descriptions of both setting—“By morning the city was hot and muggy, awash in dirty yellow air.”–and the drug use “With one more bump the world drifted from the stream of regular existence. I loved the separateness of it. I smelled the cocaine in my nostrils, a plastic bitterness that repulsed me if I gave it any thought. Back at the picnic table I was jittery, excited.”– take you right there.

A police detective shows up at Charlotte Ford’s house and she finds out that her high school friend Danielle Reeves was murdered. The now early twenty-somethings stopped hanging out when Danielle became addicted to heroin and went to prison. Danielle possessed a magnetic quality that attracted all types to her. Ford recalls: “Danielle was easily the coolest girl at our school. She wore outfits no one else could pull off—scarves and hats and glamorous upswept hair. She dressed for class like a movie star at some gala, and it seems elegant, never pretentious. Sometimes being around her made me feel sparkly, too.” Several days before Danielle’s murder, the two old friends met for a drink and Charlotte thought they might move beyond the past and become close again.

Danielle supported Charlotte when her alcoholic mother got sick and later died. Charlotte spent lots of time at Danielle’s house. Danielle partly escaped into drugs and the sex industry due to her overbearing and wealthy mother. Lately every novel unfolds from several points of view, often trading chapters back and forth between different characters. I’m getting a bit tired of this style. It’s refreshing and fitting that this story is told in first-person by Charlotte. Readers will feel empathy for Charlotte and her hard knock life. She’s gutsy and resilient which ensures an immensely readable and compelling read.

“I never got addicted to drugs when Danielle did. After a couple of days of being high, I wanted a break. I craved order, time alone, exercise. Danielle just wanted more pills. I knew it wasn’t any kind of strength of character. I wasn’t better than her. We both did whatever we felt like. It was only luck that what I wanted was not as dangerous.”

A bereft Charlotte decides to spend time in the places and with the people that Danielle did in order to understand how she possibly could have ended up viciously murdered in a crappy hotel room. Charlotte delves into the drug scene again as she hangs out with Danielle’s friends and at places Danielle frequented. She spends quite a bit of time and enjoys a physical connection with Audrey who worked at the same porn company as Danielle. She meets Danielle’s manager Brandon. But she also speaks with and shares an attraction with the handsome detective intent to solve the case. Besides tons of drug use, there’s lots of raw, hot sex.  Will Charlotte get hurt as she delves into this debased underworld or will she find answers and peace?

–review by Amy Steele

 FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Ecco.


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purchase at Amazon: Sunset City: A Novel

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IN THE REALM: 13 Film Suggestions for Halloween


I’m not into horror. Not into lots of blood and gore. I do enjoy a well-written thriller. In the 80s there were lots of scary films out there and I think that many GenXers can’t those out of our heads: Amityville Horror; Poltergeist; Friday the 13th; Children of the Corn. Here’s a mix of films that are excellent, flip-you-out thrillers or are about vampires or ghosts.

drag me to hell

1. Drag Me to Hell (2009)— yes this is horror and I loved it. Directed by Sam Raimi, Alison Lohman plays a loan officer who kicks an old woman out of her house and gets cursed. it’s brilliant
rating: A


2. Byzantium (2012)— another gorgeous film directed by Neil Jordan. Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton are sisters and vampires in a quiet seaside town.
rating: B+

Only Lovers Left Alive

3. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)— as you’d expect vampires to be. all sex and drugs and rock and roll. Directed by the arty Jim Jarmusch and starring Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston.
rating: A-


4. Dead Again (1991)— Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh in a jumpy, classic make-you-scream thriller.
rating: A

let the right one in

5. Let the Right One In (2008)— girl vampire and it’s GOOD. completely unique.
rating: A

rosemarys baby

6. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)— Mia Farrow in this classic about a mysterious pregnancy and its aftermath. Directed by Roman Polanski.
rating: B+


7. The Blair Witch Project (1999)— the original found footage horror/scary film. I saw it in the theater and was freaked out for days.
rating: A

skin i live in

8. The Skin I Live In (2011)— Antonio Banderas stars in this Pedro Almodovar (love him) film about a plastic surgeon who creates an indestructible synthetic skin.
rating: A-

secret in their eyes

9. The Secret in their Eyes (2009)– retired attorney writing a novel about one of his unsolved homicide cases.
rating: A


10. The Ghostwriter (2010)— Ewan McGregor plays a writer hired to write the memoir of the former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). As he completes research and writes he uncovers some secrets the PM would like kept hidden.
rating: A


11. Swimming Pool (2003)— a British mystery writer (the venerable Charlotte Rampling) visits her publisher’s South of France vacation home. Her interaction with his unusual daughter sets off a series of unsettling events.
rating: B+


12. Contagion (2011)— appropriate. all-star cast portraying healthcare professionals, government officials and everyday people who find themselves in the midst of a worldwide epidemic.
rating: B+

the others

13. The Others (2011)— Nicole Kidman plays a woman convinced her old, darkened house is haunted.
rating: B+

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The Other Woman: book review

The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Publisher: Forge (September 4, 2012). Mystery/thriller. Hardcover. 416 pages. ISBN 978-0-7653-3257-8.

Every time I review a mystery, I say that I don’t read that many mysteries and it’s true. Of the 60-100 books I read each year, only about 10% are mystery/thrillers. One of my favorite mysteries ever is The Street Lawyer by John Grisham. I lived in D.C. for one happy year while attending graduate J-school at the University of Maryland at College Park. I spend a ton of time exploring D.C. and not just the touristy places but Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle and downtown clubs etc. Grisham’s writing deftly took me back to all those places. I mention this because author Hank Phillippi Ryan fails to illustrate Boston for the reader.

Her novel could’ve been in any city. At the end she states that she “tweaked” some of Boston’s geography to protect the “innocent.” I don’t approve. There’s no need. Why can’t Mt. Auburn Cemetery be mentioned or certain well-known streets? She’d go from reporter Jane Ryland’s Corey Road apartment [a real Brookline street] to some made up streets. It all rather confused me. The novel would’ve been all that much better if she’d detailed Boston. Phillippi Ryan certainly knows Boston and could have energized it. Instead Boston becomes a dry and rather bland city that no one would even want to visit. What’s the point in even setting it here? Make up the city altogether then. Either fictionalize it all or none of it. It’s confusing to go back and forth.

The Other Woman is a fantastic mystery layered with nuances and new developments. It starts with several unsolved murders by bridges along the Charles River. Reporter Jane Ryland, who used to be a hotshot TV reporter, made a dire mistake in protecting a source who then disappeared. Ryland looked wrong. She lost her prestigious post. Now she works at a newspaper. She’s trying to make that a success and regain respect among her peers. It’s campaign season and her editor assigned her a fluff piece about a Senate hopeful’s wife. As a seasoned investigative reporter Ryland sees more to the story. She focuses in on “the other woman” she sees in some campaign pictures. Throughout the case and the novel, the other woman shifts and Phillippi Ryan’s taut first-rate thriller keeps the reader guessing. My only other concern for future novels, besides the setting, is that Phillippi Ryan focuses on character development. We really didn’t learn that much about Jane or her crush/cop friend Jake. If the reader isn’t invested in Jane Ryland it won’t matter how fascinating the next case.

FTC Disclosure: I received this for review from the publisher.

The Other Woman
by Hank Phillippi Ryan

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Blood of My Brother: quick book review

Title: Blood of My Brother
Author: James LePore
Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Story Plant, The (December 28, 2010)
Category: thriller
Rating: C+

I don’t read a lot of thrillers. I’m a closet fan of James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series and I read everything John Grisham writes. Other than that, every once in a while I get in the mood for a semi-mindless page turning mystery which hovers between clandestine military operations and something contrived, simplistic, petty. I don’t like too much gore. I’m not a fan of serial killer mysteries. Blood of My Brother is about two lifelong best friends. Attorney Jay Cassio and Dan Del Colliano grew up rough and tumble in Newark, New Jersey. Several years ago, Jay’s parents were killed in an airplane crash and Dan’s support further strengthened their bond. When Dan is murdered in a professional-looking hit, Jay immediately begins to search for answers. While investigating, Jay becomes entangled with a lovely Mexican woman with [naturally] a mysterious past, drugs, money laundering and sex trade [also very South of the Border]. Blood of My Brother dragged at times with too many unnecessary details and a tired premise.

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book review: A World I Never Made

Megan, I too have read your articles. I know you are a serious writer. I do not doubt that terrorists are incubating in Paris and Madrid. But this is an Arab country. Nothing is as it appears. Secrets here are the most valuable of currencies. The Arabs in Europe are outré. They will talk because they are isolated and perhaps desperate. Here you will get only polite nonsense.
–Abdel Lahani

Yet another attorney turned thriller writer, James LePore adeptly draws the reader into a page-turner involving a faked suicide, a young journalist on the run and a possible terrorist plot. His simple, straightforward writing style propels the story and sets its pace and mood. LePore’s exhaustive research on the various countries, as well as the unique historical elements, provides authenticity and increases the level of intrigue of A World I Never Made.

Expatriate American journalist Megan Nolan has lived abroad off the luxuries of well-to-do lovers (and freelance articles) for well over a decade, accumulating an impressive array of passport stamps. Megan’s father, Pat Nolan, gets a call that she has committed suicide and he needs to come to Paris to identify the body. Megan has actually faked her suicide and left some clues for her father. Pat teams up with a beautiful, savvy French detective named Catherine Laurence and the two risk their lives to find Megan. They also fall in love. Meanwhile, Megan is in Morocco seducing her latest man and also doing some risky research on a terrorist cell. The Saudi Arabian businessman Abdel Lahani is more dangerous than even worldly Megan can handle and she soon finds herself in grave danger. Soon the FBI, French police, Saudi version of the FBI, gypsies and some terrorist thugs are all searching for Megan, Pat and Catherine.

Pat had not talked Megan into anything since she was in high school, maybe even grammar school. But this was not as hollow a statement as it would have been a few weeks ago. He was convinced that his one-of-a-kind daughter had laid down a trail for him, a trail through a minefield, trips wires everywhere.

The characters zigzag through France, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the Czech Republic. While there are some superfluous moments with the romance between Pat Nolan and Catherine that slow the story down, in general it is a fine debut. A World I Never Made contains plenty of unexpected twists and red herrings to keep the reader guessing until the shocking ending.

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DVD Review: The Lookout

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Isla Fisher, Jeff Daniels
Directed by: Scott Frank
Miramax Films

Everyone was saying how you woke up this other guy.
–Luvlee [Fisher] to Chris [Gordon-Levitt] about his coma.

Chris Pratt [Gordon-Levitt] seemed to lead the charmed life: star hockey player, pretty girlfriend, popular, family wealth and a number of prospects ahead of him. Now, he lives by lists. People do not expect much of him. And he seems an easy target and you get uneasy when anyone talks to him. Stuck in a mind he did not choose to be in, nor wants to be can be surprising and is often frustrating for Chris. He’s now treated differently. Sometimes he surprises himself and gets frustrated too by his slow verbalization process or the way he blurts things out at times.

Gordon-Levitt expresses a naivety and just the right expression. On the extras, Gordon-Levitt said he intentionally did not get much slept and was really worn out on the set to get in to the mindset of this character. It’s an impressive character study. Fully aware of his shortcomings, the character knows at times how slow and complicated things are and other times is lucent.

Despite wealthy parents he works cleaning floors at the local bank and lives in a shady part of town with his blind friend. Guilt? Some form of self-punishment? Townies befriend him and convince him to collaborate on a scheme to rob the bank; will he go through with it after all. Especially conniving and convincing is Luvlee [played by the effervescent Fisher]. Chris hasn’t received so much attention in a long time. But will he risk it all for the thrill or for the money or the power that it will provide?

The Lookout is a superior psychological thriller.

STEELE RECOMMENDATION: Top of the netflix queue.

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