Book Review: Fractured / The Murder Game by Catherine McKenzie

fractured-the-murder-game
Title: Fractured / The Murder Game
Author: Catherine McKenzie / Julie Apple
ISBN: 9781503937826 / 9781537316604
Pages: 362 / 340
Release Date: October 4, 2016 / November 1, 2016
Publisher: Lake Union / Self-Published
Genre: Psychological Thriller / Mystery
Source: Publisher / Author

Summary

Julie Apple Prentice and her family have decided to make a fresh start after Julie was being stalked because of her bestselling book. They’ve settled into a neighborhood that appears welcoming on the surface, but after a series of mishaps and mistakes, Julie realizes these people aren’t as friendly as they first seemed. When unexplainable things start occurring, Julie isn’t sure whether her stalker has found her again or it’s her neighbors conspiring against her.

In The Murder Game, Meredith Delay is a prosecutor and is handed a huge case that is ripped from the headlines: a man has murdered a fallen sports star, accused of sexually abusing a young boy, and claims that he did it while sleepwalking. If that wasn’t difficult enough, the man who is accused of committing the murder is one of Meredith’s friends from law school and the man defending him is her ex-boyfriend.

Review

You might be wondering why I paired these two seemingly unrelated books together to be reviewed, but they are actually connected—they’re by the same author. More than that, though, The Murder Game is the book that the main character in Fractured wrote, the one that led to her being stalked. It feels a little gimmicky (and unnecessary, as both books are strong enough to stand on their own two feet), but I actually appreciated the background The Murder Game gave me before picking up Fractured.

The Murder Game and Fractured are companion books; you don’t need to read both, or read them in any sort of order, to enjoy them. Fractured is a compelling psychological thriller, while The Murder Game is an intriguing mystery novel. I personally read The Murder Game before Fractured and was glad I did; there were elements of the former book that would have been ruined for me if I had read it after Fractured.

The two main characters in Fractured and The Murder Game, Julie and Meredith, respectively, are very similar, but they aren’t identical. Meredith is incredibly passive, allowing the world to act upon her instead of trying to take charge of her own fate. Julie is much less passive, yet her influence on the world appears to be destructive. It seems as though everything she touches falls to pieces, even when she has the best intentions. Her experience with a stalker has made her brittle, liable to break, rather than bend.

If you have an afternoon to spend reading, I highly recommend both these books. Individually, they are solidly good, but together, they create an fascinating portrait of Julie, the main character in Fractured.  I didn’t love the gimmick with the authorship, but there are a lot of great themes and layers to peel away in both of these books; if you’re looking for book club reads, put Fractured at the top of your list.

Other books by Catherine McKenzie

Hidden
Forgotten

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Book Review: The Bullet – Mary Louise Kelly

Title: The Bullet
Author: Mary Louise Kelly
ISBN: 9781476769837
Pages: 384
Release Date: December 8, 2015
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Mystery
Source: Publisher

Summary

Caroline Cashion is settled into her job as a professor in the French department at Georgetown University. She enjoys her solitary life and is thoroughly content with the way her things have turned out. But then, in one moment, everything changes: doctors discover a bullet lodged at the base of Catherine’s skull. It’s been there for quite awhile, but Catherine has never been shot: How did that bullet get there? What secrets have been kept from her?

Review

I picked up The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly on a whim; I wanted something intriguing, a mystery or thriller that would keep me hooked. I’d tried a few other books that just weren’t keeping my interest, so I didn’t have high expectations for this novel I’d barely registered in my head. But from the very first pages of this well-written mystery novel, I knew I was in for a real treat.

The premise of The Bullet may seem like the introduction to a crazy, twisty thriller, and it is in some ways. But what I appreciated most about this story was how introspective it was. This isn’t an action novel—though plot is important, it is, first and foremost, character driven. This book is about Catherine and the way she reacts to and processes information that turns her world upside down. She’s not always rational and she doesn’t always make the best decisions—but you can see her trying to adjust to each piece of information she comes across, even when they feel like physical blows. The characterization in this novel, for both major and minor characters, is excellent.

It’s rare that I’m surprised by a novel, especially a mystery. I’ve read so many that I can predict the plot and guess the ending on a pretty predictable basis. It’s not so much that I couldn’t guess the ending of The Bullet; it’s that I didn’t even care to try. I enjoyed the experience of being drawn into this book so much that I didn’t want to know what was going to happen. I luxuriated in just reading it and watching it unfold before me. It’s rare to experience a book like that, and it’s nice when it comes in an unexpected package like this great little book.

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Book Review: Dark Road Home – Anna Carlisle

dark road homeTitle: Dark Road Home
Author: Anna Carlisle
ISBN: 9781629536361
Pages: 304
Release Date: July 12, 2016
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Genre: Mystery
Source: Publisher

Summary

Gin Sullivan likes her job as a medical examiner in Chicago. She likes not thinking about small-town Trumbull, PA, the hometown she left without looking back. But when she receives a phone call from the boy she used to love, Jake, telling her that, after all these years, Gin’s sister’s body has finally been found, she realizes that she has to go home and face the past that she’s worked so hard to get away from, and find out what happened to Lily once and for all.

Review

Life’s been busy lately, and I know I’m not the only one who feels that way. This year has been hard in myriad ways, and you’d think I’d want to read the happiest books I can in order to escape. My brain doesn’t quite work that way, though; when things get tough, I find comfort in mysteries that can pull me in from the very first page and that can make me forget about what I’m dealing with in real life for a few hours. Dark Road Home was absolutely one of these books.

Dark Road Home is a character driven as it is plot driven, and that worked very well. Gin’s a great character. On the surface, she has it all together: she’s successful, brilliant, has a great relationship—she looks like she has it all. But underneath the surface, things are different. I appreciated this novel because it didn’t use the trope of “woman who is successful at work but a mess in her personal life”; it’s much more nuanced than that. Gin seems to be a success in every aspect of her life, but her problem is that she doesn’t let people in. She’s isolated herself emotionally, and she doesn’t realize how bad it’s become until she returns home.

As you’d expect with a psychological thriller/crime novel, the plot of Dark Road Home is twisty from beginning to end; I saw some of these coming, while I was surprised by others. Towards the conclusion of the novel, it felt as if there was one turn too many, but I appreciated how Carlisle fit all the pieces together by the end. The atmosphere of this novel is also very well written; dark, gritty, and ominous, she nailed the vibe of a decaying small town.

Dark Road Home was the book I needed to read. I needed something that would capture my attention, fire my imagination, and keep me riveted from beginning to end, and it was perfect for that. I loved the small-town world that Carlisle built, and I’m hoping the author will choose to revisit it in sequels.

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Pirate Vishnu + Quicksand – Gigi Pandian

pirate vishnuTitle: Pirate Vishnu (Jaya Jones Book #2) and Quicksand (Jaya Jones Book #3)
Author: Gigi Pandian
ISBN: 9781938383977
Pages: 306
Release Date: February 11, 2014
Publisher: Henery Press
Genre: Mystery
Source: Publicist

Summary

In the second novel in the Jaya Jones treasure hunt series, Pirate Vishnu, Jaya must discover the truth about one of her ancestors—did he die in the United States, as her family has believed for so many years, or did he become a pirate, with the key to a treasure? In Quicksand, the third and most recent novel, Jaya receives a note from her old flame Lane asking her to meet him in Paris—but once she arrives, she realizes that more is going on than appears and Lane’s past has caught up with him.

Review

I love adventure and treasure-hunt type novels, so when I discovered that Gigi Pandian was writing this type of series with a half-Indian main character, I was incredibly excited. The Jaya Jones mysteries (which start with Artifact) are smart, fun, and engrossing—it’s difficult to not read these in one sitting.

Pandian did an excellent job setting up the characters and their dynamics in Artifact, but she’s not afraid to play around with relationships in her later novels. These characters are fluid, developing and growing as the series progresses—notice I said characters, plural. One of the great things about this series is how much time and effort Pandian spends on the secondary characters. The reader gets to know Jaya very well, but it’s the supporting cast that make these books colorful and fun.

Pirate Vishnu and Quicksand take the reader on an armchair journey, and Pandian excellently writes these different places. These novels aren’t lacking for atmosphere, and the author pays close attention to details, clearly intent on creating a rich reading experience. The plots move at a brisk pace, and there are enough twists and turns to satisfy discerning readers. These books are fun, adventurous, history-filled romps, and I hope there are many, many more of them to come.

Other books by Gigi Pandian:

Artifact

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Book Review: Lies that Bind – Maggie Barbieri

Title: Lies that Bind Author: Maggie Barbieri ISBN: 9781250011701 Pages: 336 Release Date: February 17, 2015 Publisher: Minotaur Books Genre: Mystery Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Maeve’s life has settled down since the events of Once Upon a Lie, and she’s making ends meet and providing for her two daughters at her bakery. But […]

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Book Review: Hush, Hush – Laura Lippman

Title: Hush Hush Author: Laura Lippman ISBN: 9780062083425 Pages: 320 Release Date: February 24, 2015 Publisher: William Morrow Genre: Mystery Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: Tess Monaghan is at her wits’ end. She loves her daughter, but can barely keep up with the busy schedule of being a working mom, not to […]

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Book Review: The Bishop’s Wife – Mette Ivie Harrison

the bishop's wife cover

Title: The Bishop’s Wife Author: Mette Ivie Harrison ISBN: 9781616954765 Pages: 352 Release Date: December 30, 2014 Publisher: Soho Crime Genre: Mystery, Cultural Fiction Source: Publisher Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: Linda Wallheim is the wife of a bishop living in a tight-knit Mormon community. People see Linda and her husband as pillars of the […]

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Book Review: The Last Taxi Ride – A.X. Ahmad

last taxi ride cover

Title: The Last Taxi Ride Author: A.X. Ahmad ISBN: 9781250016867 Pages: 368 Release Date: June 24, 2014 Publisher: Minotaur Genre:  Mystery, South Asia Source: Publisher Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Summary: When taxi driver Ranjit Singh meets Bollywood actress Shabhana Shah, he’s dazzled by her. But when she’s later found murdered in her apartment, and Ranjit is the police’s […]

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