I’m so excited to unveil my first blog post in my CBTB Recommends holiday feature! The idea behind this feature is simple: you send me your bookish questions or recommendation requests, and I’ll feature them in a blog post exactly like this one! I’m going to be providing blog posts like this as often as necessary leading up to Christmas. (My original idea was to do one per weekend, but demand has been high, so I’m going to keep the blog posts coming whenever they are needed!)
If you need help picking out a mystery to read this winter, are trying to decide on a thriller to give as a holiday gift, or just have a bookish question you’d like to ask, please feel free to fill out the form at the bottom of this post to submit your question! Think of this as a bookish advice column that's here to help you find your next perfect read. This feature has been so fun already, and I can’t wait to continue answering your bookish questions. Happy reading, and thank you so much to those of you who have participated so far! Xx A
Question 1: Gripping Thrillers
"I need a good read. Mystery or psychological thriller - something that grabs you in the first few pages and doesn’t let go. I’ve tried a number of books outside my usual genre lately but now I’m ready to get back into my mysteries and thrillers!"
Awesome question! When it comes to books that hook you at the beginning, I’ve recently had fantastic luck with domestic thrillers. Check out LIE TO ME by J.T. Ellison; this is a totally gripping and fast-paced psychological suspense story that follows a seemingly perfect literary couple. When the wife goes missing, suspicion immediately falls on the husband - but nothing is as it seems. This book is twisty, entertaining, and just plain fun to read - it’s not particularly dark or gritty, but it’s pure entertainment! I refer to this one as “popcorn reading” because it’s just so addictive.
If you’re looking for something a little bit darker, you might check out the DI Helen Grace series by M.J. Arlidge. Book 1 in the series is called EENY MEENY - it introduces readers to Helen Grace, a tough-as-nails yet also quite flawed and compelling main character who is tracking down a serial killer. This killer has a gruesome pattern: he kidnaps pairs of people and forces them to choose: only one of them can make it out alive, and it’s up to them to decide who that will be. The Helen Grace books have the instant entertainment value of TV shows like Criminal Minds - once you pick one up, you won’t want to put it down until the last page!
And, last but certainly not least, if you want to go even darker and grittier, Karin Slaughter’s THE GOOD DAUGHTER is an utterly gripping psychological thriller that delves into family secrets in a small southern town. This book is more visceral and graphic than the two I mention above—Slaughter doesn’t shy away from writing in great detail about the violence people inflict on one another. At the same time, however, this book is also deeply moving and emotional. I loved this one, and highly recommend it! Just make sure you’re in the mood for something dark and grim, because this book is exactly that.
Question 2: Winter Mysteries
"I am looking for a good thriller book suggestion for reading during winter! I love picking out my book to read based on the weather - a book where the characters talk about a hot summer night during July, a book where the character has to drive through a snowstorm to get to their destination during December, etc.
I also really like thriller that focus on a "normal" character - so not necessarily a detective, but a normal person who is thrown into an intense situation. I also enjoy stories where there is a *slight* possible paranormal twist. The Ice Twins and The Fire Child by SK Tremayne were two of my favorite reads in the past few years. The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is a good example as well."
This is such an excellent question - and one that I’ve received from a number of readers!! I totally agree, reading books that incorporate the season you’re currently in always makes the reads even more relateable and immersive. Many of my favorite “cold weather” thrillers are from Scandinavia - no surprise, no one writes about the cold weather as beautifully as they do!
When it comes to a winter mystery, there’s nothing more fitting to the season than Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series. Book 1 is SNOWBLIND, and it’s available in the US now! This story is set in a small town on the northern coast of Iceland. A young police officer takes a job in this town and moves there from Reykjavik - only to find himself in over his head (basically literally) when a massive blizzard comes in and cuts the town off from the rest of the country by blocking the only road leading in and out of the town. This book has major Agatha Christie vibes, and Jonasson writes endearing characters who you’ll love to follow along with. However, this book does focus on a police officer - something to keep in mind, since you mentioned those typically aren’t your favorites.
You might also try THE ICE PRINCESS by Camilla Lackberg, Book 1 in her Swedish crime series. The main character in this book is a true crime writer named Erica. When Erica’s childhood best friend is found dead in her home of apparent suicide, something doesn’t sit right with Erica, so she begins to investigate the tragedy herself. This book does have a second main character who is a detective, but I love how Erica (a journalist) balances out the police procedural angle of the story. Lackberg also writes wonderfully endearing characters - these aren't your stereotypical "damaged detectives," but rather people you'd actually want to be friends with!
Because you’re up for something just a touch supernatural-y, I highly, highly recommend Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s THE UNDESIRED. This is a slow-burning blend of psychological thriller, Nordic Noir, and supernatural suspense. It centers around a juvenile detention center in rural Iceland, and follows (in dual timelines) a young woman who worked as a housekeeper at the detention center and witnessed the disturbing and puzzling happenings in the building, and, in the present day, a man tasked with looking into claims of abuse at the center. It’s atmospheric and chilling (in more ways than one!). It’s a slow-burn of a story, so you’ll find it a bit more dense than the S.K. Tremayne books you mentioned - but if you’re game for something a bit horror-y, this will be right up your alley!
Last but certainly not least - and this might be my top recommendation for you - try HOUSE OF SPINES by Michael J. Malone. This book doesn’t have quite the same “winter” vibe to it as the other books mentioned above do, but it’s set in rural Scotland (aka it has a great sense of place and a fantastic, vivid atmosphere) and it blends binge-worthy psychological suspense with a potential supernatural element to it! I’m confident you’ll love this one, despite it not having the same seasonal tie. It follows a down-on-his-luck writer who inherits a beautiful mansion in the Scottish countryside from a previously unknown relative. He can’t believe his luck… and he’s right, he really shouldn’t. When he arrives at the house and begins moving in, it becomes apparent that not all is as it seems, and that the house might have its own plans for him… it sounds like horror, but it’s really psychological suspense. It’s fantastic!
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Just fill out the form below! The more you can tell me about what kind of book you're looking for, the better. I'm so excited to hear from you!