How To Lead A Life Of Crime by Kirsten Miller
Official Summary: “A Meth Dealer. A Prostitute. A Serial Killer.
Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.
Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?”
How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller was definitely not what I was expecting. Flick, the narrator of the book, is a teenager who spent his entire life being abused by his father, a powerful business man who attributes his success to his time at the mysterious Mandel Academy. This school scoops up children who have nothing going for them - mostly orphans and those that have already committed horrible crimes - and turns them into rich businesspeople and powerful politicians. By the time the book opens, Flick has escaped from his father and arrived in New York. When he meets a representative of the Academy, he initially has no interest in attending. But, when he is offered the information necessary to destroy his father in return for his attendance, it proves to be an offer he can’t refuse. Once he is enrolled in the school though, he discovers that he has underestimated the situation. The school is so much more than he ever could have anticipated and he may not be as in control as he believes he is.
Miller successfully creates a world that draws readers in even as it seems to be over-the-top. The students and staff that Flick encounters at Mandel are almost universally extreme in some way, but readers will still find themselves surprisingly invested in their fates. Flick manages to walk a fine line between being a jaded, cynical and bitter person and still believing in the best in at least some individuals and the potential for good in the world, even if he doesn’t believe that he does. As the truth of the Mandel Academy is slowly revealed, the book takes a bit of a turn, but Miller never loses her story and keeps the suspense up throughout the entire book including multiple unexpected plot twists.
How to Lead a Life of Crime is a very dark and violent book that is definitely not for those looking for a light read. It is a book that is perfect for a very specific reader, but may not appeal to everyone. However, if you are open to a dark page turner, this book will keep you engaged and on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.
Check it Out: How to Lead a Life of Crime will be released on February 21st and is currently available for pre-order.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
Shadowlands by Kate Brian
Official Summary: “Rory Miller had one chance to fight back and she took it. Rory survived … and the serial killer who attacked her escaped. Now that the infamous Steven Nell is on the loose, Rory must enter the witness protection with her father and sister, Darcy, leaving their friends and family without so much as a goodbye.
Starting over in a new town with only each other is unimaginable for Rory and Darcy. They were inseparable as children, but now they can barely stand each other. As the sisters settle in to Juniper Landing, a picturesque vacation island, it seems like their new home may be just the fresh start they need. They fall in with a group of beautiful, carefree teens and spend their days surfing, partying on the beach, and hiking into endless sunsets. But just as they’re starting to feel safe again, one of their new friends goes missing. Is it a coincidence? Or is the nightmare beginning all over again?”
Shadowlands by Kate Brian will keep you on the edge your seat from the very first page until its shocking conclusion. As the book opens, you are immediately into a violent attack, even before any of the characters are introduced and this heart-pounding pace never lets up throughout the entire book. After these initial tense chapters, readers are introduced to Rory Miller. A smart studious girl who has dreams of being a cancer specialist, Rory is completely taken by surprise when her math teacher, a man she considers a mentor, attacks her in the woods one day. Little did she know that he was secretly a serial killer who has been on the run from the FBI for over a decade. Though she manages to escape, her relief is short-lived when the FBI agent in charge of the investigation explains that this particular killer never stops once he has chosen a victim. She and her family are forced to enter the witness protection program in a bid to escape from this monster. Relocated to an isolated island, they quickly adjust to the pace of their new life, but Rory is still on edge convinced that she is being watched and having a hard time knowing what is real and what isn’t.
Shadowlands is a creepy and totally engaging thriller. It will keep you guessing, and turning pages, until the very end. The book opens from the point of view of Rory’s attacker, which immediately gives the reader a sense of his obsession and makes the threat seem more immediate. The second chapter then retells the same attack, this time from Rory’s point of view to give the reader a more complete sense of the experience. Even when you are reading through the attack for the second time, Brian manages to keep the experience engaging and to continue to build tension. After this, throughout the book, she periodically returns to the serial killer’s point of view, which adds an element of suspense to the book since the reader has access to more information than Rory does.
While the book initially seems like a standard story of a serial killer and his prey, something that has become somewhat of a mini-trend in YA publishing these days, this book goes far beyond this genre. Once Rory is “safely” hidden on the island, the suspense continues to build as weird behavior from the locals and strange disappearances make her question her sanity and struggle to connect to those around her. Throughout this, Brian does an excellent job of keeping her readers on the edge of their seats and magnifying the creepiness of the setting. I found that this was one book I couldn’t put down. My only two minor complaints were that I felt that there was a minor plot hole near the beginning of the book that made me question some of what came later and the ending was a bit abrupt (probably to leave readers eager for the next book in this new series). But even these minor issues couldn’t keep me from enjoying the book.
This is the perfect read for those who love creepy settings and edge-of-your-seat action. It will keep you guessing throughout and will leave you anxiously waiting for the next book in the series.
Check it Out: Shadowlands was released today.
Readalike: If you are intrigued by this book, you might want to read Kate Brian’s other books, such as the Private series. For other thrillers with serial killers, try Paper Valentine or take a look at the list compiled on Teen Librarian’s Toolbox.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
The Hollow City by Dan Wells
Official Summary: “Dan Wells won instant acclaim for his three-novel debut about the adventures of John Wayne Cleaver, a heroic young man who is a potential serial killer. All who read the trilogy were struck by the distinctive and believable voice Wells created for John.
Now he returns with another innovative thriller told in a very different, equally unique voice. A voice that comes to us from the realm of madness.
Michael Shipman is paranoid schizophrenic; he suffers from hallucinations, delusions, and complex fantasies of persecution and horror. That’s bad enough. But what can he do if some of the monsters he sees turn out to be real?
Who can you trust if you can’t even trust yourself? The Hollow City is a mesmerizing journey into madness, where the greatest enemy of all is your own mind.”
Dan Wells is well known for his trilogy about John Wayne Cleaver, a teenager with many of the tendencies found in serial killers. But in The Hollow City, he tackles the equally difficult topic of a protagonist suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Michael Shipman has long suffered from anxiety and depression, but recently, his mental problems have increased. He believes that he is being watched by Faceless Men who are trying to control him through electronics. Even worse, he doesn’t remember anything from the last two weeks of his life, which coincides uncomfortably closely with the period during which the Red Line serial killer has murdered a number of people.
As the book opens, Michael is in the hospital having been picked up by the cops. After an examination, the doctors determine that his psychiatric condition has declined and his diagnosis is revised to include schizophrenia. At first Michael is in denial over this diagnosis, but over time, it leads him to question everything around him. What is a hallucination and what is real? Could he actually be a killer? Or, perhaps even worse, what if he is right?
In The Hollow City, Wells definitely succeeds in creating a disturbing portrait of the uncertainty that comes from schizophrenia. While many thrillers present protagonists who are pursued by a threatening conspiracy, in this case the biggest question is whether any of the conspiracy actually exists and this ultimately makes the book even more unsettling. In large part, this is because Wells does such a good job of portraying Michael in a way that seems to be believable. At first, he believes that the doctors are wrong about him and is completely resistant to treatment, but he slowly comes to question himself in a way that feels believable for someone dealing with this sort of mental health issue.
The Hollow City will keep you guessing until the very end. Wells has crafted a believable portrait of the uncertainty of mental illness that he then uses as the basis of an utterly unique thriller.
Check it Out: The Hollow City is currently available.
Readalike: Those who find this complicated protagonist compelling will also want to read Wells’ John Wayne Cleaver trilogy starting with I Am Not A Serial Killer. Those looking for a similarly tense psychological thriller, should try The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler.
Note: This review is based on a review copy of the novel from the publisher.
Amped by Daniel H. Wilson
Official Summary: “Technology makes them superhuman. But mere mortals want them kept in their place. The New York Times bestselling author of Robopocalypse creates a stunning, near-future world where technology and humanity clash in surprising ways. The result? The perfect summer blockbuster.
As he did in Robopocalypse, Daniel Wilson masterfully envisions a frightening near-future world. In Amped, people are implanted with a device that makes them capable of superhuman feats. The powerful technology has profound consequences for society, and soon a set of laws is passed that restricts the abilities—and rights—of “amplified” humans. On the day that the Supreme Court passes the first of these laws, twenty-nine-year-old Owen Gray joins the ranks of a new persecuted underclass known as “amps.” Owen is forced to go on the run, desperate to reach an outpost in Oklahoma where, it is rumored, a group of the most enhanced amps may be about to change the world—or destroy it.
Once again, Daniel H. Wilson’s background as a scientist serves him well in this technologically savvy thriller that delivers first-rate entertainment, as Wilson takes the “what if” question in entirely unexpected directions. Fans of Robopocalypse are sure to be delighted, and legions of new fans will want to get “amped” this summer.”
Amped by Daniel H. Wilson is a near-future thriller about the consequences of medical advances that allow scientists to implant technology into patients to cure a wide range of diseases. Initially, this has the most noble of intentions. The technology is used to cure epilepsy, repair brain damage and help people with other major health problems. But, over time, the uses expand to include more elective uses by those who simply want to improve themselves for one reason or another. Slowly, those with implants begin to surpass those without in terms of both intelligence and physical ability. As this happens, those without implants begin to fear that they will be left behind, leading first to a legal battle which finds the implanted individuals to be declared not to be human and then with escalating tensions and even battles between the two groups.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first picked up Amped. I hadn’t read his other book, Robopocalypse and, while I was definitely intrigued by the idea of a conflict between those with physical modifications and those without, I had no idea how Wilson would handle this idea. While on balance I was looking forward to the book, I concerned at the same time that it wouldn’t be able to meet my high expectations. I definitely shouldn’t have worried. Amped is an extremely enjoyable and powerful book that combines thought-provoking statements about technology, human nature and humanity with an action-packed plot that feels like it could be the basis of a summer blockbuster movie. Wilson has structured the story so that the tension continues to build over the course of the entire, densely-packed novel with increasing speed so that by the end the reader is left reading as fast as possible to determine the resolution. And, he breaks up the narrative with fictional primary sources that include news reports, courts cases and congressional testimony which adds to the sense of realism in the book and makes it clear that the events are occurring in a world not much different than our own as opposed to a completely alien society.
For fans of action and suspense, Amped is a perfect summer read. It is tautly plotted making for a relatively quick read that nevertheless stays with you after you are done. The action scenes are written in an immersive way that makes for a gripping read while the human emotion never recedes too far from the forefront. If you enjoy near-future science fiction or stories of the future of medical technology, I would highly recommend checking out Amped as soon as it is released.
Read Alike: If you just can’t wait until June 5th, try Wilson’s Robopocalypse or, for another book about people “improving themselves”, try Machine Man by Max Barry or the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
Getaway by Lisa Brackmann
Official Summary: “Michelle Mason tells herself she’s on vacation. A brief stay in the Mexican resort town of Puerto Vallarta. It’s a chance to figure out her next move after the unexpected death of her banker husband, who’s left behind a scandal and a pile of debt. The trip was already paid for, and it beats crashing in her sister’s spare room. When a good-looking man named Daniel approaches her on the beach, the margaritas have kicked in and she decides: why not?
But the date doesn’t go as either of them planned. An assault on Daniel in her hotel room, switched cell phones and an encounter with a “friend” of Daniel’s named Gary gets Michelle enmeshed in a covert operation involving drug runners, goons, and venture capitalists. Michelle already knows she’s caught in a dangerous trap. But she quickly finds that running is not an option. If she’s not careful, she’ll end up buried in the town dump, with the rest of the trash. Now she needs to fight smart if she wants to survive her vacation.”
Getaway tells the story of an American woman whose trip to Mexico quickly veers off from her relaxing plans. While Michelle comes to Mexico to escape the stresses of the life that she left behind in L.A. where she is dealing with the aftermath of her husband’s death, she rapidly comes to realize that those problems are small compared to the ones that she finds on the beach in Puerto Vallarta. After an initial encounter with a man she meets on the beach ends in a violent robbery, Michelle quickly becomes tangled in a network of criminals and conspiracies that she never fully understands.
This book impressed me with the way that it managed to maintain intensity throughout. While the first couple of pages may make this seem like a book about a relaxing beach vacation, this proves to be deceptive almost immediately. Michelle is caught up in a web of mysterious expats and locals by the end of the first chapter and the book just keeps delivering more twists and turns to the very end, which even leaves the reader guessing. While many books are structured so that the reader knows more than the protagonist, in this case part of the impact of the story comes from the fact that the reader shares in Michelle’s confusion and therefore never knows what to expect next. While I ultimately felt that the plot may have left me uncertain about a few too many of its twists and turns, fans of thrillers that merge action and suspense will likely appreciate this book’s relentless pace and intriguing characters.
Check it out: Getaway will be available May 1st. If you can’t wait until then, you can check out the first chapter and more about the book on Lisa Brackmann’s website.
Read Alikes: If this sounds interesting, you might want to check out Lisa Brackmann’s first book, Rock Paper Tiger. For books by other authors, try Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger or The Expats by Chris Pavone.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.