As the sun comes out, I can’t help looking for darker books 😉 Psychological thrillers and sunshine are an odd delight. Of course, it’s hard to talk about these without spoilers, so I’m going to be light with my descriptions. Just know that if you’re looking for a good thriller to read this summer, then look no further.
What Lies Between Us– a locked in thriller, featuring a mother and daughter relationship gone *really* wrong. The warped perspectives and endless twists had me on the edge of my seat. I actually walked away from this one a little bit disturbed- you have been warned!
The Family Upstairs– Jewell knows how to delve into the truly disturbing- and this one is the creepiest by far. Honestly, the family dynamic gets a little sick and twisted. I don’t recommend this for the faint of heart.
The Maidens– this takes dark academia to another level. The secrets in this one leave you feeling the cold.
The Ice Twins– it’s not just the location of this one that’s moody- but themes of loss that will chill you to the bone.
Sharp Objects– frankly, this one is graphic to the point where I felt queasy. This small town secrets story has a dark edge.
Home Before Dark– exploring the bleak truths of childhood trauma, this book won’t let you rest easy. It’ll keep you up long after dark.
Rock Paper Scissors– sometimes marriage is made in heaven… other times it’s made in hell. This one is the latter. If you’re looking for a romance that’s all sunshine and rainbows, I suggest you look elsewhere.
Sometimes I Lie– I didn’t know where I stood with this book. Getting stuck inside the narrator’s brain took me to a very dark place indeed.
Exquisite– there’s something so intense about this book that made me obsessed… much like the stalker in this book 😉
You– speaking of stalkers, this unsettling read freaked me out all the more because the set up reminded me more of a rom com than a typical thriller… and that’s just horrifying!
What do you think of these books? Do you plan to read any of them? And what deliciously dark thrillers can you recommend? Let me know in the comments!
We all have different expectations for books. Sometimes that’s more general (like good writing) and sometimes it’s a bit more genre specific. In the last few years, I’ve really changed things up and discovered a new love for psychological thrillers. And over time, I’ve realised there are really specific things that can get me revved up… or completely grind my gears. So, today I’m talking about some of those tropes I love and hate. And I’m going to do it without spoilers (the book covers don’t necessarily correlate with the list and are in a random order to avoid giving anything away!). Let’s get into it!
Thriller Tropes I Love
Secret sociopaths– one of the best things about thrillers are the bad guys. I love a lot of the villain types that come up- but do get a kind of particular pleasure when the person pulling all the sadistic strings is a secret sociopath the whole time. Bonus points if I can get inside that person’s head, which leads me onto…
Multiple POVs– I don’t always love multiple POVs in books, but it can really work in thrillers. Especially if we get inside the head of the bad guy (preferably not knowing who that is!) It’s one of the biggest pulls to the genre.
Unreliable narrators– on the topic of getting inside people’s minds, an unreliable narrator can be used very powerfully in a thriller. There are lots of different ways this can create a fascinating psychological profile and keep the reader on their toes, so most of them work for me. It’s just all about the execution.
Justified bad guy– oof this can be a masterful twist, especially if they get away with it, cos then you’re kinda rooting for it.
Person you least expect did it– this can be so much fun. I know that some people like it to be paired with justified baddie, however, cos apparently I’m a messed up individual, I actually prefer if this goes with sociopathic killers. It multiplies the creep factor for me!
Creepy kids– this is taking me back to my gothic roots and my love of Turn of the Screw. If done well, this subversion of cutesy innocence can be a killer move.
Isolated in the middle of nowhere– this also plays into the gothicy vibes I love. Not only is it a great way to build atmosphere, I also love how much it builds tension because YOU CAN’T ESCAPE!!
Dark past and buried secrets– I mean, this is pretty much a staple of most thrillers, yet I still love when the past is dug up and the truth is exposed.
Cliffhanger ending or final gut punch twist- I know a lot of people like a clean ending with everything neatly tied up… but when it comes to thrillers, I want the exact opposite. I want there to be a last second reveal that turns everything on its head and makes my stomach drop. Well, within reason. I still want it to make sense, which I guess leads me onto the tropes I don’t like.
Thriller Tropes I Don’t Like
An impossible twist– or anything really that comes out of nowhere. The worst example I’ve ever seen is in a book that thought (for some reason) it’d be a good idea to have a paranormal plot twist. Which, yeah, I didn’t see coming from a seemingly realistic thriller… but that’s also what made it really dumb. Don’t genre shift at the last second! Grr!!
*Surprise* not dead– this can also break my suspension of disbelief, cos while it happens an awful lot in thrillers, it never does in real life… so maybe it’s not the best trick to pull. Plus, I’m never keen on being robbed of an emotional moment. I guess the only way this could work is if a character was believed to be dead before the plot ever began and somehow wormed their way back into the story. I could just about get behind that.
Police procedurals– okay, this isn’t really a trope, it’s more of a subgenre, but anything in this vein doesn’t do it for me.
Clueless mc– this is probably one of my most hated tropes, because even if it helps the plot, it can be annoying to be in the head of someone really stupid. A lot of the time, if the book is otherwise well written, I can let this slide. But it will still make me dock points, because there’s only so much a person can go through before I think “wow this person has the IQ of a pigeon- and not even a smart pigeon, a stupid pigeon that keeps flying into windows” (this is why so many books involve unreliable narrators with substance abuse issues!)
Bad guy is irrelevant character– quite simply, this will spoil the fun of a good thriller. You want to feel invested and terrified of the antagonist. You don’t want to get to the end and go who?!
When the red herring was a better solution- similarly, I don’t like it when the misleading subplot would’ve been a better outcome. It’s disappointing when a writer lays down a roadmap to a really entertaining outcome… then veers off course. I end up wishing they’d taken the other route.
Agenda driven twists or plots– this is another way I’m seeing authors really spoil a dramatic plot. What makes this even worse is how heavily signposted and moralising this can be. It’s not that thrillers can’t deal with hard-hitting topics- I’ve read a number that really work. It’s that it shouldn’t take away from the thrill of a thriller. It’s supposed to keep me on the edge of my seat… not make me feel like I’m slumped over, held hostage in a lecture theatre by a crazed activist, trying to tell me something painfully obvious. Yeah, no thanks. I was reading this to be entertained.
They’re not so bad, really– this is very close to the justified killer- so it’s probably odd that it’s on the hate side. Still, I can’t help hating it when a character does something terrible and everyone in the story goes above and beyond to excuse their behaviour. There are times when this can work… and others when it can fall flat on its face. Even if a character’s justified and even if the plot demands they get away with it, I think it’s a delicate balance to reach, so I can’t stand it when characters keep going on and on and on about how the character shouldn’t be punished. I think it’s just a question of knowing when to stop.
Alrighty then- that’s all I’ve got for now! Do you love or loathe any of these? And do you have any thriller tropes to add? Let me know in the comments!
I don’t know about you, but I’m lapping all the lists about *distracting books* to read right now- so I thought I’d throw (another) one into the mix! Today, I’m going for some claustrophobic thrillers to help you escape- let’s get stuck in!
The Guest List– this was pure escapism and I loved it! A bunch of people (most of whom have beef with each other) stuck on an island together at a wedding- that’s an unmissable event! 😉 And speaking of feeling trapped…
Lock Every Door– just about anything by Sager will do! But for some reason, being cooped up, I find my mind drawn to this claustrophobic gothic (maybe it’s a case of schadenfreude- no matter how bad quarantine is- at least it’s not as bad as staying at the Bartholomew!)
Death of Mrs Westaway– if you’re looking for something else with a gothic atmosphere, then look no further! I personally love this for how it takes inspiration from Rebecca, while not being a direct retelling. And it’s got some killer twists and turns to boot!
Turn of the Screw– of course, if you want to go more of the classic route, then this is one of my favourites and the best scary story I’ve ever read (incidentally, Ware’s Turn of the Key is an excellent take on this, it just happens to have a trope for the final twist that I don’t like- but I still recommend it!)
The Woman in Black– likewise, this may be an older read, but it never fails to shock and chill readers to the core!
Dark Places– and if you can deal with going to a very dark place right now, then this is worth a look. Plus, it’s written by Flynn, so the writing’s top notch!
Sometimes I Lie– get tangled up in this for a few hours and I guarantee you’ll be transported to a very different kind of dark place. You’ll go on a journey through the dark recesses of the mind, until you won’t be able to trust your own interpretations. You’ll be stuck in someone else’s brain- and that person is likewise trapped in their own mind. I’m still not sure what to entirely make of it- but I know that it took me out of my own head for a bit and that’s always a good thing!
Seven and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle- this one will transport you much further you think- into something of a supernatural realm (you’ll see once you get started!). This is a bit of a head spinner, so it’s not going to be for everyone and you’ll have to figure out for yourself what you make of this groundhog day murder mystery- but one’s thing for sure, you won’t be able to think about the real world until you get to the end of it.
The Martian– for more of an out of this world experience, you can’t go wrong with this surprisingly funny stuck-on-mars story. Now’s the perfect moment to lose yourself in this race against time!
Big Little Lies– closer to home, this murder mystery will take you to a (seemingly) quiet seaside town. Utterly absorbing, this was more than a simple thriller to me. I felt like I bonded with the characters and really entered their world.
The Godfather– I may be one of the few people on the planet who happens to like the book as much as the movies, but there’s a reason for it! It’s a delightfully distracting read and completely took me out of my comfort zone.
Nemesis– this YA series combines a whole bunch of different thrills- amnesia, small towns, crime, a great BIG mystery… it’s got it all! If you’re looking for sheer entertainment, this’ll hit the spot!
So, have you read any of these? And what thrillers help you escape? I could definitely do with some recommendations right now! Let me know in the comments!
Well, I don’t know about you, but this time of year definitely makes me drawn to creepier reads. Now, I don’t tend to gravitate towards horror, but a good thriller is right up my street. And having stalked a few lately, I figured I’d share a fast and fun list… before the authorities catch up with me 😉
Lock Every Door– in the last couple of months, I’ve quickly become a fan of Riley Sager (as you’ll notice from this list)- and for good reason! I was locked in place with this modern gothic novel. Prepare yourself for a creepilicious, entertaining and addicting read!
The Death of Mrs Westaway- in a similar vein, if you’re looking for a thriller with a claustrophobic feel, look no further! This modern take on Rebecca will lead you to familiar and unfamiliar territory. Expect the unexpected from Ruth Ware’s masterful retelling.
Ice Twins– moving north now, this excellent atmospheric read will get you in the mood for winter. Warning: may cause a shiver to run down your spine.
The Last Time I Lied– I read a lot of thrillers last month and this slightly-summery mystery was my favourite! Set after the disappearance of three teenage girls, with an unreliable narrator trying to piece together what happened to them, this will take you down a dangerous path to a killer plot twist!
Gone Girl– speaking of twists, if you haven’t read this already, seriously why not?! This husband vs wife drama is the perfect book for *Spooktober* if you haven’t read it yet!
Suitable Lie– looking for a good domestic noir? Then I have the book for you- this moving and melancholic read will show you dark secrets that can lurk behind closed doors. Rather than taking you a million miles away, this one hits close to home.
Mountain in my shoe– another book filled with realism, this wonderfully written thriller will draw you in and persistently nudge away at you until you turn the last page.
Nemesis– for something a little different, there are some strong YA thrillers. This series is by far one of the more memorable books I read as a teen. Pacey and brilliantly executed, this story does not relent from the awakening of the first page!
Dark Matter– another book that’s more action-based, this is a blend of sci fi and thrillers. With a sprinkling of interesting themes along the way. Provoking some fascinating discussions, this time-bending book is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
You– of course, if you are looking for a different kind of terror, then this horrifying reflection on social media is GUARANTEED to freak you out. You’ve been warned 😉
So have you read any of these? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!
A while back I was in a MASSIVE slump- the kind that wouldn’t budge no matter what I read and wouldn’t allow me to read even the teensiest of books. I needed something a little bit different… And then I decided to give this a try. Now who’d have thought the cure for a slump would be a very dense, 450 page book? Not me! Before I tried Big Little Lies, I struggled at 300 pages. But honestly, this book ended up being my saviour! I was so gripped by it that I just couldn’t get enough of it!
On the surface, it was a murder mystery and centred round a primary school. I’ll admit, I didn’t find the prospect of competitive-mummy-drama all that thrilling- and yet, somehow, it was. The story builds from a point of seeming irrelevance, telling us of the incident from the angle of a bystander, withholding vital information. Told like a police report, the reader is clued in slowly, with hints ingeniously woven into the plot. All the way through the book, right upto the final reveal, we never know for certain who the suspects are and even who the victim is! This adds so much to the suspense and keeps you guessing the whole way through.
More than that, the gossipy tone of many of the characters drew me in and had me deeply invested in even the smaller mysteries. With writing that was simultaneously dark and witty, I felt like I was being led by the hand into a mysterious maze of drama and unexpected excited. Thanks to the third person limited narration, I saw inside some of the main player’s heads, with each one being given a distinctive and loud voice.
The book’s cast felt nothing short of *shiny*. I was instantly attracted to the lead trio. I was actually amazed at myself for clicking so quickly with the likes of Madeline- she felt like the sort of person I wouldn’t be close to in real life- and yet here I was drawn to her. She was just so ruthlessly herself. Invigoratingly so- to the point where I could completely understand how she could form friendships with Celeste and Jane- two people who couldn’t have been more different.
Both Celeste and Jane were wonderful characters in their own right and the development of their stories lead to some real depth I hadn’t expected from a story like this. In fact, it was thanks to their perspectives that all my previous expectations were subverted. I appreciated the way it allowed female friendships to blossom; I liked how it dealt with family drama in a way that felt authentic and not overblown. Sure, there were divorced and blended families, which led to some issues, but it wasn’t pure melodrama and there were signs of real love and beautiful bonds between them. Most importantly, however, Big Little Lies explored the subject of trauma in a raw and believable way. It dealt with characters trying to make sense of horrible situations, coming to terms with hardship and finding some resolution. As a result of this, they weren’t just painted as victims and designed to be merely gawped at. Instead, the people pictured at the centre of the chaos felt relatable, evolving through the continuous narrative, and allowing you to grow close to them.
While you become friendlier with a select few characters, you also got a flavour for everyone else involved. What was great was how they felt fleshed out, even though they were mostly described through a biased slant. Funnily enough, I particularly liked viewing characters from Madeline’s point of view. She certainly had strong OPINIONS (in all CAPS) about Bonnie (her ex-husband’s new wife) and Renata (her sworn enemy 😉 ). Viewing them through this lens made them seem more antagonistic and never knowing their true thoughts lent to the air of suspicion that surrounded these characters.
For all my biases, however, I never got close to guessing any of the plot twists. Everything was veiled so well, that it wasn’t until the curtain was pulled back by the author that I had the AHA moment (as it should be 😉 ). With a BIG showdown, all the truths came out. And somehow, masterfully, Moriarty managed to take this explosive ending and gently nudge it to a harmonious conclusion. For all the heretofore mentioned action of the story, it remarkably finished on a sweet note. I don’t know how Moriarty did it, but the whole experience felt crafted so that I would feel the *exact* right emotions and the *exact* right time. For that matter, I couldn’t have enjoyed it more if it had been designed especially for me– it was just that good!
Rating: 5/5 bananas
So have you read this? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!
In my effort to read more widely this year, I’ve started picking up a genre I rarely ventured into in the past: I have entered the rather dark and deadly world of thrillers. And while I have found some of these very entertaining, I find I am often rather put off by the blurbs. So I decided to put together an example made up of all the composite elements that I see so often on the shelves. Enjoy!
Jane Doe hasn’t been the same since the death of her BELOVED (but ultimately irrelevant) RELATIVE. Even though she has the perfect life, perfect husband, perfect home- her life is far from uncomplicated.
Something isn’t right. Everything around her is SUSPICIOUS- phone calls in the middle of the night, weird glances from her husband and even people following her that disappear whenever she looks round! Then, just when she thinks she might be going crazy, she sees something shocking that will change her life forever. *dun dun dun*
Now she has so many questions- like will she ever find out the truth? Or won’t she? Is she losing her mind? And most importantly, in the grand scheme of things, does it even matter?
GIRL- GOING SOMEWHERE…. is just like Gone Girl… sort of… I hope… (Whatever- it has “girl” in the title- so that means women have to like it- and so do men- otherwise you’re all sexist!!)
Still you should read it cos some girly magazine said it’s “SPECTACULAR” (well, “spectacularly bad”, but that’s almost the same) and BECAUSE I SAID SO!!!
*Disclaimer: you may, or may not, see the twist coming*
Okay- that was a little weird- hope you enjoyed that. Let me know if you’ll be reading Girl Going Somewhere… when it hits the shops- in, well, never! And see if you can guess the *crazy* twist!
So I made the classic mistake: I watched the film before I read the book. And I have to say because as I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think “this would be so much better if I didn’t know what was gonna happen!” Cos this book has so many twists and turns that it easily could’ve been a complete mind-bending shocker. But it wasn’t- because I knew *exactly* what was gonna happen- which was a real shame.
It didn’t completely spoil my enjoyment, because this is a really well-crafted book. According to Amy Dunne, cool girls don’t exist- but not to worry cos cool books definitely do- this one proves it!
I was also glad to see that the ending worked so much better in the book than the film. Half the reason it was better was because having literally been inside the character’s heads I was able to understand why they made certain decisions (as I said, no spoilers). That made it far less frustrating (I mean, there’s still an element of frustration, but at least it made sense). Also, the ending was given far too much space in the film- 30 pages worked out as half an hour and so much that was speculated on was added. Here, it felt condensed, to the point and just drilled home the whole point of the story. Which is another reason why I should have read the book first!
So the moral of the story is READ THE DAMN BOOK BEFORE YOU WATCH THE FILM.
Rating: 4/5 bananas
It’s kind of appropriate that I’m posting a review of “Gone Girl”, cos I may be gone for a few days (well, I may get the chance to read posts and comment, but I definitely will not be posting).