1. Those Girls by Chevy Stevens
narrated by Jorjeana Marie, Emily Woo Zeller, Nicol Zanzarella
Life has never been easy for the three Campbell sisters. Jess, Courtney, and Dani live on a remote ranch in Western Canada where they work hard and try to stay out of the way of their father’s fists. One night, a fight gets out of hand and the sisters are forced to go on the run, only to get caught in an even worse nightmare when their truck breaks down in a small town. Events spiral out of control and a chance encounter with the wrong people leaves them in a horrific and desperate situation. They are left with no choice but to change their names and create new lives.
Eighteen years later, they are still trying to forget what happened that summer when one of the sisters goes missing and they are pulled back into their past.
This time there’s nowhere left to run.
I haven’t heard a whole lot about Chevy Stevens’ books, but I see them float around on thriller list every once and awhile, so when Those Girls was a book Overdrive recommended to me as I waited for a bunch of other books to come in, I decided to give it a listen. In the end, I was conflicted about how I felt about this book. Those Girls follows three sisters who flee town the night they murder their abusive father. Unfortunately, however, they go from a bad situation to an even worse one in which they are held captive and brutalized by two boys.
On one hand, Chevy Stevens sure knows how to write characters I’m instantly compelled to and want to root for. There was never a time in which I didn’t want the best for these three sisters. I was also captivated by their story and the way they related to each other. The pace of this book never lets up from the opening, and I listened to this book over the span of two days. I couldn’t put it down. However, the things the girls go through are just so brutal. I’ve read a lot of thrillers and books with violence in them. There are very, very few books that have actually made my stomach churn. This is one of them. Stevens is not content to just imply violence — the brutality and trauma leaps off the page. At times it comes across as almost insensitive. So I did in some ways “enjoy” this week, and I ended up giving it 3/5 stars, but I don’t necessarily recommend it.
2. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
narrated by Caroline Lee
Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:
Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).
Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.
New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.
Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.
I picked up Big Little Lies because I was intrigued, but skeptical. Considering how popular the HBO show has gotten, it seems like everybody is always talking about this book. I vaguely recall skimming a review for Big Little Lies several months back that called it a “domestic thriller”, and I think that’s an apt comparison. Big Little Lies follows the mothers — three in particular — who all have children who attend the same kindergarten. At the very beginning of the book, the reader learns there was a murder at a school trivia night, but you don’t know who was murdered or the murderer. This mystery keeps the plot driving forward, interspersed with scenes from various characters being interrogated, but it mostly takes a backseat to the day-to-day lives and relationships of the three women the book follows.
I loved Big Little Lies, and that fact surprised me. Parts of the book felt salacious and not unlike reading a gossip magazine, but with a weird depth and sensitivity of issues, particularly domestic abuse, I would have never imagined. There are laugh-out-loud funny parts, and there are parts that intentionally have you rolling your eyes. But between all that is a sensitive story about getting help, going to therapy, and what it means to do everything on your own. I know I’m not the first to make this comparison, but it does remind me a lot of Desperate Housewives at its peak — that sort of dark, soap-opera drama ridiculousness, but one that also manages to capture what it means to be a wife, mother, or daughter in a nuanced way. I’ll finish by saying I didn’t love the audiobook narration, but it was tolerable. At first it really grated on me, but not so much that it overshadowed the story. I’d prefer to re-read this one in book format, though. 5/5 stars.
3. The Girl Before by Rena Olsen
narrated by Brittany Pressley
In this powerful psychological suspense debut, when a woman’s life is shattered, she is faced with a devastating question: What if everything she thought was normal and good and true . . . wasn’t?
Clara Lawson is torn from her life in an instant. Without warning, her home is invaded by armed men, and she finds herself separated from her beloved husband and daughters. The last thing her husband yells to her is to say nothing.
In chapters that alternate between past and present, the novel slowly unpeels the layers of Clara’s fractured life. We see her growing up, raised with her sisters by the stern Mama and Papa G, becoming a poised and educated young woman, falling desperately in love with the forbidden son of her adoptive parents. We see her now, sequestered in an institution, questioned by men and women who call her a different name—Diana—and who accuse her husband of unspeakable crimes. As recollections of her past collide with new revelations, Clara must question everything she thought she knew, to come to terms with the truth of her history and to summon the strength to navigate her future
This book is most often shelved on Goodreads as a thriller, but I don’t think that’s quite accurate. If I had to come up with a new term to describe this book, I would use the term “post-thriller”. The Girl Before picks up where many psychological thrillers end — with a rescue. Only, Clara, the main character, doesn’t see it that way. She was kidnapped by a young girl and raised up around a human trafficking ring. Clara doesn’t realize that until towards the end of the book, but readers will hone in on that fact within the first few chapters. The Girl Before explores Clara’s past, including her marriage to Glen, the man who inherited the trafficking ring. At a young age, their relationship is almost fairytale-like in its intensity and love, but soon takes a darker turn as Clara learns not to speak against her husband for fear of punishment. The Girl Before is about Clara learning to cope with all the trauma that’s been done to her, even before she realizes it’s trauma. There is still an air of mystery about a particular event that happened — I won’t go more into detail than that — but it’s not nearly important as the character exploration.
I think the concept for this book is brilliant. Like I mentioned, this book starts off with a rescue, and it explores so much of what happens after trauma and after the heart-stopping events that are sometimes portrayed in other books in this genre. However, the pacing is very slow. I’m not sure if I found it slow because I was expecting a thriller, or it was legitimately slow on its own, but I did find it hard to get invested in the story. I also felt Clara was very naive, which was to be expected, but she was written as supposedly being very sharp and quick-thinking. I do realize that of course because smart and resourceful about life in general doesn’t mean that a person would have insight into their own trauma, especially something that happened to Clara at such a young age and became “normal” for her very quickly, but there was such a disconnect in the way Clara was described in the dialogue of other characters and the way she acted. I did enjoy the audiobook narration, which I think is particularly important to this story because it’s such an internal one. Overall, I thought the concept of this was fantastic and I liked listening to it, but there were also things that annoyed me. 3/5 stars.
4. Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
narrated by a full cast
A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.
But some can never stop searching for answers.
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?
An inventive debut in the tradition of World War Z and The Martian, told in interviews, journal entries, transcripts, and news articles, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by a quest for truth—and a fight for control of earthshaking power.
It’s been a long, long time science I really got swept away in a science fiction or fantasy book, but did Sleeping Giants ever deliver! This book reminded me of why I used to eat up science fiction and fantasy books like candy, and how great they can be when they’re good. Sleeping Giants is told entirely through interviews, journal entries, and other documents, similar to Illuminae. The premise of the story is rather simple, though it becomes more complex: When she was twelve, Rose Franklin found a giant metal hand. Years later, Rose is a scientist as people around the world begin to discover more pieces of this giant robot. A mysterious man whose name is never revealed starts funding the project (or at least is a point person for who ever is funding the project), and assembles a team that involves Rose, a geneticist, a linguist, and two Army pilots. However, working on the robot is an all-consuming project and more and more information is revealed as the story goes along.
I’d heard excellent things about the audiobook of Sleeping Giants, and I’m ready to repeat them now. If I had read this in print, I would have liked the book, but I don’t know that I would have loved it as much as I did. The format and cast of this audiobook worked so well. I loved every single narrator — I didn’t feel like I was listening to an audiobook, I felt liked I was listening to a radio drama. Every narrator’s voice became that character for me. The story was so intriguing and I wanted to know more about the robot just as much as the characters did. It’s been a long time since I had so much fun reading a book. 5/5 stars.