Category Archives: thriller

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

book coverMeeting your partner’s parents for the first time can be a bit tense, especially if you’re contemplating ending the relationship. That’s the premise for this amazing story, which on the outside seems relatively simple but is actually a very interesting and compelling dive into the mind of someone suffering from depression and grappling with the meaning of one’s life, among other things.

After seeing the movie adapted from this book on Netflix, I was really curious to see what differences it would have in book form. Without spoiling things I will say the movie is perhaps a little more surreal at times, but otherwise it was a very close representation of the novel. The audiobook narrator even sounded very much like Jessie Buckley, the actress playing the (nameless à la Rebecca) main character.

This is a novel that surprises, keeps you thinking and gives me goosebumps thinking about it as I write this, highly recommend!

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Emily Nelson Ringholm ’07
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book to film and audiobook

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

book coverThis was another much-hyped summer book but I found that it lived up to it. It’s hard to describe without giving anything away, but think Sleepless in Seattle meets The Fugitive… if that helps at all. The story follows Hannah, who has only been married to her husband Owen for a short time, living on their house boat in California (hence the Sleepless in Seattle reference) with his 16-year old daughter Bailey. Then one day Owen doesn’t come home from work and Hannah is left a mysterious note that says simply, “Protect her.” I enjoyed the rising tension, and for a book that started off a little slow for me, I found myself unable to put it down about halfway through and spent a morning finishing it. It will definitely keep you guessing as to what Owen is hiding about his past as Hannah and Bailey try to get to the truth. It’s mysterious and heartbreaking in more ways than one.

Availability:  COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Kaylie Jasinski ’14
Rating:  Must Read
Challenge: Published in 2021

The Bad Seed by William March

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I was worried that this book, written in 1954, would not transfer well to 2021. There were some parts that did not – like how some of the male characters spoke about the female characters – but for the most part it held up well. The book was driven entirely by the cast of female characters (another surprise for me) who were, by turns, annoying, admirable, sympathetic, capable, disturbing, and intelligent. It was this female case that kept me reading, continually trying to guess what the next crisis would be and how it would be resolved. The surprise at the end regarding Christine (the mother) I found fresh and unexpected. As the book barreled to its conclusion I found myself “knowing” how it would end and hoping I was wrong (I wasn’t).

It’s not secret who the “bad seed” is; rather than save that as a mystery for the reader to discover, March makes the bad seed’s intentions and character perfectly clear from the beginning; the only real mystery is what atrocity she will commit next, what has she done in the past, and how will she be stopped. This kept me in anxious suspense for the entire novel.

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Stephanie Marsich
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book to Film

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

Fever Dream cover Fever Dream/Distancia de rescate (Rescue Distance)

A vacation in the country that turns into an absolute nightmare, Fever Dream was a page turner that I could not stop listening to. Played out in what we are told is a rural medical clinic, we slowly piece together the narrative as Amanda recounts it for the mysterious kid, David, as she lies dying. Where exactly is she? Why is she dying and who is David really? All these details become clearer as young David guides Amanda through her memories of the past few days.

There’s not a lot I can say without spoiling something, but this story will hit home with anyone who understands the anxiety of allowing a child independence and space to explore the world, while simultaneously being available to step in, at a moment’s notice, to avert danger. While Fever Dream is a great title for the book, I would have preferred the direct translation of the original title, Distancia de rescate or Rescue Distance, as that is such a key concept for the narrative and one that really resonates with me as a parent. Amanda’s constant calculation of “the rescue distance” between her and her child adds to the insidious tension, especially since every caregiver knows that a child can never be completely protected from the world.

Availability: COSMOS
Submitted by: Emily Nelson Ringholm ’07
Rating: Must Read
Challenge: Translated Book, Audiobook

The Bad Seed by William March

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What happens if your child starts to clearly display sociopathic and violent tendencies? That’s what Christine has to figure out in this 1954 classic. How do you do what’s best for you child, while protecting others from a child who doesn’t understand empathy?

I thought this novel held up well in modern times, though of course research has progressed since. March clearly was interested in mental illness and portrayed it not as evil nor the fault of the sufferer. He problematizes the class structure to a degree and even mansplaining (I know, wow!). I enjoyed the implications that we all have neuroses and that none of the characters were without flaw. Definitely an enjoyable vacation thriller!

Availability: USMAI, COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Emily Nelson Ringholm ’07
Rating: Recommended
Challenge: Book to Film

Pretty Little Wife by Darby Kane

book coverWhile everyone else is concerned about Lila Ridgefield’s missing husband, she feels nothing but confusion. She got rid of his body, so how did he disappear from where she left him?

Domestic thrillers are some of my favorite books so it was no surprise that I enjoyed Pretty Little Wife. The premise was intriguing and, for a debut novel, it was executed relatively well. Oftentimes, I found myself frustrated with the main character, Lila, though I was ultimately glad for how things ended for her. The pacing was good and the chapters short enough that I didn’t want to put it down. Towards the end of the book, I was able to guess part of the big twist, but the rest left me shocked. I definitely recommend it if you are looking for a fun, fast, and casual read.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jamie Ourand
Rating: Recommended

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American DirtA lot of people have given Jeanine Cummins flack for writing American Dirt and for the publishing claim that it is the modern Grapes of Wrath. While Cummins did do extensive research on Mexican immigration to the U.S. in the process of writing, I would not pick up this book if your reading goal is to get an accurate picture of the immigrant experience (for more information, check out the Latinx response to American Dirt reported by NPR and Alt.Latino.) I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for an improbable but well written chase/suspense novel.

Availability: USMAI and COSMOS
Review Submitted by:  Izzy Lott
Rating:  Highly Recommended (with reservations)

Reckless Creed by Alex Kava

Reckless Creed
Well written, this 2018 copyright book is eerie with a story line about a pandemic (bird flu strain). Without giving the main points away, suffice it to say that it is interesting to see how a naive author imagined a pandemic spreading and how the government would react. Spoiler alert: The world survives in the book.

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko
Rating: Highly Recommended

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

book coverLet me start off by saying I finished this entire book in one sitting (on National Book Lovers Day, to be exact). It has been years since I’ve read a book in one day. This book blends psychological thriller with dark, twisted mystery. Without giving away the plot, just know that this book will confuse you. If you’re into horror and psychological thriller genres, give this one a try. What seems like a book about a girl thinking of ending her relationship turns into a dark tale of warning signs, eerie places, and a massive identity crisis. Once you think you know exactly what is going on, you will realize that things are much more messed up than they seem. Your head will be turning at the end of this.

A movie adaptation is coming to Netflix in September. I’m eager to see how the movie compares to the novel.

Availability:  COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by:  Reilly Cook, class of 2019
Rating:  Highly Recommended
Challenge: Book to film

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

cover artThe Luminous Dead is a psychological thriller about a young woman named Gyre who fakes her caving credentials to land a very lucrative job so she can get off the planet to search for her mother who abandoned her. Unfortunately, Em, the financier and support staff of the expedition has goals of her own and will seemingly stop at nothing to achieve her mysterious ends. The book is very suspenseful and keeps drawing the reader in to see if Gyre can win the battle against the cave…and her mind.

Availability:  COSMOS,
Review Submitted by:  Joanne Hoppe
Rating:  Recommended

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

book coverTW: this book contains description of a sexual assault. Like all readers I yearn for books that capture my attention so fully that I can’t put them down. Miracle Creek did not disappoint. It’s been years that I’ve had a book so constantly in my thoughts that I finish it in just about one sitting. Miracle Creek tells the story of a murder trial after a woman and child are killed and others are wounded while undergoing an experimental treatment for a variety of ailments. Kim asks, how do you determine the truth when everyone is a liar? This book is heartbreaking and immersive. Kim doesn’t shy away from tough topics like immigration, inter-generational acculturation, sexual assault, and caring for children with disabilities. I love Kim’s portrayal of many types of women in this story, all who feel like real people with hopes, dreams, strengths, and flaws. I highly recommend this read!

Availability: COSMOS, USMAI
Review Submitted by: Kristina Howansky
Rating: Must Read

Deck the Halls by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark

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I deliberately read this book, set around Christmas, to try to cool my brains as I walk in the summer heat. As usual, the authors (singly or combined) give an enjoyable, if simple, read. No twisted plot to follow, but characters that are modestly interesting (if a bit over-stereotyped).

Availability: COSMOS
Review Submitted by: Jane Kostenko
Rating: Recommended