I’m so excited to share my second blog post in my CBTB Recommends holiday feature! (In case you missed it, you can find my first CBTB Recommends post here.) 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!
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 submit your question! Think of this as a bookish advice column that's here to help you find your next perfect read. I’ve loved answering these reader inquiries so far, and am so excited to see what questions you guys share next. Happy reading, and thank you so much to those of you who have participated so far! Xx A
Question 1: Lighter Suspense Novels
Sometimes after a dark/heavy read I want to read something a little lighter. However I want to stay within the crime fiction genre (of course!). Could you recommend some lighter crime fiction reads that can serve as a bit of a break from the books with darker content?
This is a great question, and one I receive a lot! One of my favorite things about the crime fiction genre is that it’s so elastic—it can include everything from a dark, violent serial killer thriller to a lighter suspense novel to classic mysteries. This means there is so much crime fiction variety to choose from when you want to take a break from the really dark and heavy stuff!
Authors like Ruth Ware and Emily Carpenter will deliver exactly the kind of read you’re looking for. Ware’s most recent novel, THE LYING GAME, is definitely her lightest psychological suspense story yet - but that’s not a negative. In fact, that quality makes THE LYING GAME a great option when you’re looking for something that still falls under the crime fiction umbrella, but that’s truly more of a suspense novel than a thriller. THE LYING GAME centers around four women who, as young girls, met at boarding school and became fast friends. But their friendship was centered around a game - “The Lying Game” - a game that turned out to have lasting consequences. Now adults, the women have largely gone their separate ways, until a secret from their past is unearthed and forces them back together to make sure what’s in the past stays buried - this time, for good.
Emily Carpenter’s THE WEIGHT OF LIES is another fantastic choice. This book draws on classic horror themes to deliver a read that’s part cult classic horror nostalgia, and part on-trend psychological thriller. THE WEIGHT OF LIES follows the daughter of a famous horror writer who sets out to learn more about the inspiration behind her mother’s bestselling horror novel, and in the process uncovers shocking truths about the woman she thought she knew so well. I absolutely loved this book - it completely blew me away, and delivered one of those reads that I just couldn’t put down no matter how hard I tried. THE WEIGHT OF LIES might draw inspiration from horror novels, but it’s not a horror novel in and of itself - it’s a blend of family drama and psychological suspense that kept me glued to the pages.
If you’re open to a bit of romance in your thrillers, you might check out EXQUISITE by Sarah Stovell. This tense, bookish psychological thriller follows two writers who embark on an affair - with possibly deadly consequences. I’m not usually one to pick up a book with a romance angle, but Stovell’s masterful storytelling completely won me over. The romance angle to this story is just enough to illustrate the characters’ chemistry without overshadowing the thriller plotline - and I say that as someone who is very skeptical of romance in crime fiction! My experience reading EXQUISITE was that it’s simply fantastic escapist crime fiction—I got completely swept up in this story of love gone very wrong. EXQUISITE isn’t dark or violent, but it is entrancing and completely engaging.
Last but certainly not least, my personal go-to author for lighter crime fiction is Camilla Lackberg. Her Fjallbacka series, though technically classified as “Nordic Noir,” provides a break from the bleak atmosphere and troubled characters typical of the genre (but don’t get me wrong - I love those qualities of the genre as well!). Book 1 in the series is THE ICE PRINCESS. Readers meet a cast of wholly endearing characters, most prominently a female journalist (Erica) and a male detective (Patrik). Lackberg’s books do have the slow-burning pacing of Nordic crime fiction, but they have a big heart at their core. The author spends time developing the personal lives of her characters, and readers will discover that these characters are people you’d actually want to be friends with in real life! These aren’t books filled with violence or gore; they do involve troubling crimes, but they have a certain innate optimism and endearing quality that I love.
Question 2: Stalker Thrillers
I love thrillers that involve the main character being stalked, in the vein of Into the Darkest Corner, You, and The Book of You, but I seem to have a hard time finding others to read! I'd love any suggestions you may have!
If you love YOU by Caroline Kepnes, you simply have to check out PERFECT DAYS by Raphael Montes. This is one of the most unique and polarizing thrillers I’ve ready lately - and it’s one which delivers probably the only protagonist I’ve read who can rival Joe of Caroline Kepnes’ YOU. Brazilian writer Montes is a rising star in crime fiction, and his PERFECT DAYS is an unnerving, masterful, wholly original story of obsession. Readers meet Teo: a medical student who is a true loner. His only friend? A cadaver at the medical school where he studies. But that all changes when he meets spunky, vibrant aspiring screenwriter Clarice. Teo becomes deeply obsessed with Clarice—he begins to stalk her, and ultimately kidnaps her and takes her on a twisted odyssey across Brazil. I personally loved this book - but of course, full disclosure, I also have friends who struggled with it. Montes’ writing is sharp and unnerving, and his main character is intentionally off-putting on a very visceral level. I loved every tense and twisted moment of this read, and would absolutely recommend it to fans of Caroline Kepnes’ YOU.
Chevy Stevens presents another take on the “stalker thriller” in her outstanding book NEVER LET YOU GO. This was my first Chevy Stevens read, and it absolutely won’t be my last. NEVER LET YOU GO plumbs the depths of an abusive relationship in a twisted and shocking psychological thriller. Eleven years ago, Lindsay Nash grabbed her young daughter and fled her abusive husband in the middle of the night. He was arrested, and Lindsay and her daughter started their lives anew. But Lindsay’s now ex-husband is being released from prison soon, and she finds herself afraid again… as the weeks pass, Lindsay can’t shake the feeling that she’s being watched. Has her former husband come back for her and her daughter? NEVER LET YOU GO is a visceral and often stomach-churning read due to the atrocities the author protrays within this marriage - do proceed with caution. That being said, I found this to be a stunning and completely gripping read - highly recommended.
This is yet another different direction in which to take the “stalker” concept, but last but certainly not least, we need to talk about THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS by Michael Robotham. Instead of a “guy stalks girl” setup, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS explores infatuation in friendship. This book will without a doubt be appearing on my “best of 2017” list - it’s just that good. Readers meet Agatha - a bit of a wayward soul, working at what she feels is a dead-end job, pregnant by a man who is now absent from her life. While working at her job at the local grocery store, Agatha begins to notice Meg, a woman who seems to have it all together: she too is pregnant, but she has a beautiful family and a loving husband. Agatha becomes fixated upon Meg, and is determined to become her friend—no matter what it takes. THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is completely original, richly-developed, and very character-driven; in short, it’s a superb addition to your reading list. It’s not quite the same style of “stalker thriller” as the books you mentioned, but it involves similar interpersonal manipulations and suspense.
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