contemporary, Psychological Thriller

Fierce Kingdom – Gin Phillips

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I battled with this one, guys. Let me tell you. I had been in a reading slump for a bit and since this one was only a seven day rental from my library – and due tomorrow – I decided to give this one a go. I know that, despite my issues with this book, that I will be having a bit of a book hangover on this one.

This book tells the harrowing tale of Joan and her four year old son, Lincoln, as they are faced with something no one should ever have to go through. It is getting late at the zoo that day, and Joan and Lincoln are headed towards the exit, when a sight at the entrance of the zoo has her running in the opposite direction. Within the first couple of pages the reader is tasked with living through the realization that there is a mass shooting and, over the following three hours and 274 pages, how strong a mother’s love is for her son, and what it takes to survive.

I am not a mother, and so cannot not particularly speak to the intense maternal drive Joan faces throughout this novel. However, I am a child of a wonderful mother, and so attempted to understand this book and what it was offering, through the eyes of Lincoln. My hands were sweating, and my heart was racing throughout the entirety of this novel; and once I started I couldn’t put it down until I knew what was going to happen at the end. I will say before discussing some of the issues I had with the book that Lincoln may be my new favourite child in a novel. I was a little put off initially with how adult-like he sounded; most children I know don’t speak that way. But man did he grow on me. What a brave little boy.

I’ve seen some reviews where readers were upset that the author did not delve too deeply into the motivations behind why the shooting was occurring in the first place and tended to focus a bit too much on the somewhat tedious ramblings and streams of consciousness from Joan. While I definitely did not feel satisfied at the end as I still found no closure as to what had happened, I did appreciate the author focusing on the relationship between mother and child (since that truly is the beauty of this book), and what would no doubt be what would be going through my head trying to make a life or death decision with an oftentimes worried child who did not truly grasp the importance of staying quiet. I felt Joan’s frustration when Lincoln could not keep quiet, or ignore his hunger, and I felt her desperation and fear. It was visceral.

My biggest gripe with the book is that it felt unfinished. I had so many questions at the end of this book that I feel the author could have at least provided some answers. I would have liked to know what happened to the other people in the narration, was the treasure found within the trashcan okay?, and a least a little hint about the end instead of ending with such ambiguity I almost pitched my book across the room once I read the final line. WHAT. ACTUALLY. HAPPENED?? I always wish for fewer perfect endings in books, as they don’t reflect reality, but not for this one Gin Phillips. Throw me a bone here. I’m getting flashbacks of Titanic arguments.

Also despite the horrific scenes being depicted, I couldn’t help but feel so sad at the detailed scenes regarding some of the animals that had been slaughtered. Ugh.

Overall I gave this book 4/5 starts just for my visceral reaction to the book. I loved the writing, and the rambling, and despite feeling totally pissed at the ending, I can’t help but admit it made the book that much more poignant to me; this will be one book I never will forget.

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Fiction, Psychological Thriller

Good Me, Bad Me – Ali Land

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Wow. Wow. WOW. What an interesting and unique read centred around a young teenaged girl named Milly, and her ongoing battle throughout the book of dealing with the aftermath of turning her mom in for the murder of nine children. This book is chilling and really questions whether homicidal tendencies are the result of genetics or environment, and unfortunately for Milly, she’s got both working against her.

In the immediate aftermath of turning her mother in, Milly is temporarily placed in the home of a psychiatrist, Mike, and the rest of his family: his daughter, Phoebe, and his wife, Saskia, as Milly awaits her mother’s trial. Due to the nature of the crime, no one, aside from Mike, Saskia, and a few people at Milly’s school know her story. She’s been given a new name and Milly hopes to give herself a fresh start, though try not to look at her too closely or else you are sure to see her mother’s face reflected. Since Mike is usually the home for wayward children, and therefore spends a lot of time with the children placed in his care, Milly and Phoebe do not get along, which strains their already tumultuous relationship both at home and at school.

As the trial date looms, Milly struggles to reconcile what happened when she was with her mother and the blame she puts on herself; as much as she wishes she could hate her mother and what she did to her and the other children, the familial bond is strong and nearly impossible to break. How can she cope with testifying against her mother and what is going to happen to her when it is done?

This book was a great read, and it had me hooked from the very beginning. I’m a sucker for psychological thrillers, and this book hits all the high notes of one. It makes you think, makes you feel for the main character and what she is going through, and inevitably sucker punches you by the end.

I really like the way the dialogue is sometimes spoken within the book. It is included within the paragraphs, almost giving the book a diary-like feel to it; it also disjoints the reader, a kind of back and forth between the main character and whomever, like if you were standing right there watching them speak.

The rest of the novel is also written in this choppy, sort of disjointed way, which really had the effect of putting me on edge, anxiously awaiting what was going to happen next. For the most part, this was executed well, however there were times where I found myself checking the page number, because it felt as if nothing had happened for pages and pages. This is one of my few critiques of the book; the beginning and end I absolutely plowed through, could not get enough, but the middle tended to drag at times.

I both liked, and disliked, the way the adults in this book were portrayed. It made me feel like I was reading a YA book at times, because of how absolutely oblivious the adults were, especially at school. There are numerous occasions in the book where teachers overlook the extreme bullying that Milly is experiencing. And then seem shocked at the repercussions. The biggest perpetrator of this though is Mike. He even expresses shock when he learns later that Milly and Phoebe have not been getting along. Like…??? It happens right in front of his face. I dislike this, just because it seems unrealistic that not one teacher or parental figure would notice what was happening, but I also really like it too because it shows, yet again, that everyone is failing this poor girl.

My only other gripe with this book is how the ‘twists’ were portrayed. I’m not sure if it was just me, but I had correctly assumed what was going to be happening early in the book. Even the ending, which was AMAZING, did not shock me. I almost wish Ali Land had taken it further. Overall though, this book is incredibly well written, well characterized, and accomplished that feeling of anxiety in a way I’ve never experienced in a book. I gave this book 3.75 out of 5, only because of the few issues I highlighted above. I definitely recommend this for the thriller lover in you!