Category: Thriller Review

Book Recommendations: Six Pick’s Thriller List

Have you been in the mood for a good thriller?

Read It Forward editors Abbe and Emma give their Six Picks recommendations.


If you like these books, you might want to try their playlist for more titles.

Looking for more recommendations? Try The Poisoned Pen bookstore.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest by Steig Larsson

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, by Steig Larsson, is next on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  You can read Roberta’s kick-off description here.

This post contains spoilers.

Steig Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Stieg Larsson first introduces us to Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (check out my review at Musings, Mischief, and Mayhem), where Lisbeth and Mikael team up to solve the mysterious disappearance of 16-year-old girl more than forty years ago.  The Girl Who Played With Fire continues the saga, with Lisbeth eventually confronting her father, the terror of her childhood, with disastrous consequences.  In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, Larsson pulls the various story lines from the preceding books together for a thrilling conclusion.

When I first saw this book on our list, I knew I would be reading all three books in the trilogy for a couple of reasons:

  1. I hate reading books out of order
  2. To compare the three books to figure out why only the third book showed up on our list

Each of the books in this trilogy became bestsellers, so why did the computer “kick out” this particular book as the best of the best and not the first two in the trilogy?

After reading all three books, I believe the answer is in the level of human interaction that Lisbeth achieves in this third book.  More than one character throughout the books made the observation that Lisbeth might be autistic.  She has extreme difficulties making and maintaining friendships and in sharing personal details about herself with others.  Partly this is a learned response – during her childhood, authorities repeatedly ignored her statements and requests.  Even worse, there was a government group that conspired to incarcerate her in a mental institution as a preteen in order to protect the identity of her father.  But even Lisbeth knows she’s different; she just doesn’t view friendships and social norms the same as others do.  She expends great energy, time, and expense in the first two books protecting her personal privacy to the point of anonymity.  Yes, that’s partly due to safety issues, but also because that’s how she prefers it.  Even those closest to her have learned they will never really know anything personal about her.

Personal Crisis → Growth?

In The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, though, Lisbeth undergoes a trial by fire that brings her to a personal crisis.  She must decide whether to take the advice of others, to rely upon others, to resolve her legal issues.  Without their help, it’s certain that she will end up incarcerated in a mental institution for the rest of her life.   Only with their help does she have a chance to be free.  And then when she achieves that legal freedom, Lisbeth goes through more personal conflict before she ultimately admits to herself that she has friends, that she needs friends, that she wants friends, and opens herself and her life up to them.

Larsson’s trilogy is Lisbeth Salander’s story, and it is in this third, and final, book that we see real character growth in her. Without this growth, even though the series wraps up nicely, we would not care as much for Lisbeth.  If she continued her solitary life, continued to ignore and block out of her life those who helped her, all she went through in the three books would have been pointless.  She might as well have allowed those conspiring against her to lock her back up.  Instead, Larsson allows Lisbeth to open the door to a potentially more fulfilling life.  And that, I believe, is reason enough for book three to make the 100 Books List.

What did you think of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.


You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.


What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 93 on the list, Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (2008) – Discussion begins February 13, 2017.  This books is classified as Literary Fiction.

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan

Let’s take a look at The Mill River Recluse: A Novel by Darcie Chan from a Reader’s Perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

Darcie Chan’s The Mill River Recluse: A Novel*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Mill River Recluse, by Darcie Chan, is next up on our 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.

Mary McAllister has lived alone for sixty years, rarely leaving her house or meeting with anyone other than her only friend, the parish priest.  From her house overlooking the sleepy Vermont town of Mill River, she pretends to herself that she is a member of the community.  But she’s not, and most of the residents of Mill River think of her as rather peculiar, if they think of her at all.  Everyone in this story has a secret to keep, some benign, some not so benign.  In the end, a feeling of real community is kindled once all the secrets are revealed.

So far, all the books we’ve read have been intense, evoking strong emotions from the reader – either you really liked or really disliked the book. The Mill River Recluse is the first book in this challenge that left me feeling rather disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong!  It is a nice read and leaves you feeling a little warm and fuzzy inside.  The small amount of violence is really rather subdued if you compare it to our previous book, The Last Child by John Hart.  I was left feeling like it could have been much more, though, than just a nice read.

Amazon lists The Mill River Recluse as a psychological thriller.  As such, it leaves a lot to be desired.  It seemed more like your run-of-the-mill episode of a seventies detective series, not much in the way of character development for the bad guy (so much for “psychological”) and certainly not much of a “thriller” in his actions.  He comes across more a bumbling fool than a terror.

By now you might be asking yourself why this book is on the 100 Books List.  I know I was.  So I pulled out my notes from The Bestseller Code and checked what the computer algorithm looks for when choosing a likely bestseller.

  • 3 or 4 central themes, with the most frequently occurring and important theme involving human closeness, followed by home, work, kids in school, and modern technologies.  The Mill River Recluse is 100% about human closeness, both at home and at work, and also include interaction with kids.  Checkmark on this one!
  • Plot lines with a regular beating rhythm.  The chapters in The Mill River Recluse alternate between the 1940s and present day, building the backstory of Mary while at the same time introducing us to those who live in present day Mill River.  Checkmark this one!
  • Style. The author should have an understanding of everyday language, i.e. working experience in journalism or similar field.  Darcie Chan worked in the legal field before becoming a successful author. Checkmark this one!

So maybe the computer did pick a winner.  The fact that this book was on the New York Times bestseller list for several months backs up the computer’s choice.  Just because I think this book doesn’t have the literary or emotional “heft” it should have to belong on the 100 Books List is the fault of my own expectations.  Obviously, a heart-warming, feel-good book can be a bestseller if it is well written.  After all, bestsellers aren’t all thriller / mysteries or literary adventures.

What did you think of The Mill River Recluse Child? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

  1. The Mill River Recluse landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.


You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.


What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 94 on the list, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest by Stieg Larsson (Originally published in 2007) – Discussion begins January 30, 2017.

#BestsellerCode100: A Writer’s Review of The Last Child

Let’s take a look at The Last Child by John Hart from a writer’s perspective. (The discussion began here).

Note:  Post contains spoilers.

The Last Child* by John Hart

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Johnny Merrimon’s twin sister disappeared a year ago when she was seen being dragged into a van. Now everyone seems to think she’s dead. Thirteen-year-old Johnny can’t give up on her, though, so he decides to start a search of his own. Will he be able to figure out what happened to her without becoming a victim himself?

1. Character Development

John Hart has made some incredibly interesting choices regarding characters in The Last Child. His protagonist is a thirteen-year-old boy named Johnny Merrimon, even though a teenage protagonist  is unusual for a novel intended for adults. The antagonist is a rich bully named Ken Holloway who is abusing Johnny’s mother. She would probably be best described as an impact character. Johnny’s sidekick is a boy his age, Jack Cross.

This book is an excellent example of how to write a contagonist. If you are not familiar with the term, a contagonist is a character who is on the protagonist’s side, but often gets in the way or meddles preventing the protagonist from easily reaching his or her goal. Reading the blurb on the back, you might assume Detective Clyde Hunt will mentor Johnny during his search for his missing sister. That is not the case. Instead his well-intentioned interference leads Johnny to go underground and to take bigger risks.

What did you think of the teenage protagonist? Would an older protagonist have worked as well?


The author’s strength in this novel is his descriptions. I love how the dialogue flows with, between, and around the action.

At twenty-five minutes after six, Hunt’s phone rang. It was his son. Hunt recognized the number and flinched. With all that was going on he’d not thought of the boy. Not even once. “Hello, Allen.”
“You didn’t come home”
Hunt moved back onto the porch. He looked at the flat, gray sky, pictured his son’s face. “I know,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“You coming home for breakfast?”
Hunt’s guilt intensified. The kid was trying to make things right between them. “I can’t.

Doesn’t that flow beautifully?

sandhill carolina setting The Last Child

(Photo by Jack Culpepper, USFWS, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license and retrieved from Wikimedia.)

2. Setting

The Last Child is set in the Sandhills region of southeastern North Carolina. The setting plays a big part in this book, and the descriptions are rich and active.

The trail bent to the high ground and Levi used his free hand to pull on roots and saplings to get him up the slick clay. He dug in the edges of his shoes for traction. When he reached the high, flat stretch, he stopped to catch his breath; and when he started again, the river lights winked out behind the willows and the ash, the sweet gums and the long-fingered pines.

3. Themes in The Last Child

Because this is a genre thriller, we might not expect the themes to be as well developed as we might find in literary fiction. Once again, John Hart surprises us. Interwoven is a very strong theme of faith.  When his sister first went missing, Johnny prayed for three things. When those things didn’t seem to be realized, he explored alternatives, even at the risk of alienating his friends and family.

Johnny looked at his friend, and knew, without a doubt, that Jack could never understand Johnny’s desperate need to believe in something more powerful than his own two hands.

4. Voice

As said previously, the authors voice is like the salad dressing on the salad because it adds flavor. John Hart’s voice is rich and savory. It is distinctive, yet at the same time easy to read. In fact, it reminds me of rolling hills, lilting up and gliding down. Or gentle waves, spilling over and coursing on and on.


From a writer’s perspective, John Hart uses tools from the writer’s toolbox in some innovative ways. He offers many things to study and emulate.

I want to read more books by John Hart.

What about you? What are your thoughts?


You can also join us on social media:


What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 95. The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan (2011) – Discussion begins January 16, 2017

#BestsellerCode100: Reader’s Review The Last Child by John Hunt

Let’s take a look at The Last Child by John Hunt from a Reader’s Perspective.

This post contains spoilers.

John Hunt’s The Last Child*

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

The Last Child, by John Hunt, is the fifth book we have read for the 100 Bestsellers List reading challenge.  Like Shutter Island, the first book we read, The Last Child is a Mystery / Thriller, but that’s where the similarity ends.   In the first book, U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels, is sent to Shutter Island, a hospital for the criminally insane, to locate a lost inmate.  By the end of the book, though, we come away uncertain about who Teddy really is – the strong, capable law enforcement agent or an inmate himself who created his own reality as a way to deflect dealing with a tragedy in his life.

In The Last Child, Johnny Merrimon is a thirteen-year-old boy who has endured unimaginable losses and pain over the past year – his twin sister, Alyssa, was kidnapped and never found; his father, unable to handle the grief, ran off; his mother, Katherine, has withdrawn into a haze of drugs and alcohol; and his mother’s boyfriend physically and emotionally abuses both Katherine and Johnny.  And yet, through it all, Johnny exhibits perseverance, dogged determination, and an inner strength that seems to elude most of the adults in his life.  Johnny believes that his twin is still alive, and when a second girl is kidnapped, Johnny redoubles his search for her.  This search unearths dark secrets in this small North Carolinian town, secrets others are willing to kill to keep.

Author John Hunt covers a number of adult topics through the character of young Johnny – grief, abuse, sex predators, family love, hope, faith, friendship, sin, courage – topics we don’t want to think that a thirteen-year-old should have to deal with, and yet I found Johnny,  both his thoughts and actions, very believable.  I felt his pain, understood his determination, marveled at his unfailing belief that his sister was still alive, and hoped beyond hope that he would be able to find her.

I won’t reveal the outcome, but I did appreciate the fact that all the loose ends were neatly tied up at the end of the book.  Likely that is one reason I thought The Last Child was the best of the five bestsellers we have read so far – no open-ended, “what to you think happened?” ending.

I also really appreciated Hunt’s ability to write about his native state of North Carolina with such great intimacy.  Many scenes in the book take place in the countryside – riverbeds, forests, abandoned homesteads, swamps, old cemeteries – and his writing took me back to childhood hikes through woods, wading in the stream behind our house, and finding refuge in a nearby cemetery.  He evoked the smell of a decaying forest bed, the slippery danger of moss along the rocky stream, the sudden warning silences of birds in the trees.  The only other author I’ve read recently that really made me “feel” the setting was Pat Conroy with his Prince of Tides.

The Last Child most certainly belongs on this list of 100 Bestsellers, and it will most certainly NOT be the last book I read by John Hunt.  I’ve added all of his books to my Goodreads “want to read” list and intend to find the time to read them soon.

What did you think of The Last Child? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Related posts:

  1. The Last Child landing page
  2. Book-beginnings, a discussion of the first line of the novel
  3. Roberta’s review from a writer’s perspective

After you finish the book, you might want to drop by to take our survey.


You can also join us on social media:

Do you have suggestions for ways to improve this reading challenge? We’d love to hear them.


What are we reading next?

If you ever have questions about what we are reading next or when we’re starting the next discussion, check the 100 Book List tab in the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The next book is number 95 on the list, The Mill River Recluse by Darcie Chan (2011) – Discussion begins January 16, 2017.

#amreading Lee Child Night School Interview

This week author Lee Child chatted via Facebook about writing and his newest Jack Reacher novel, Night School, published this month.

Novel Teaser:

Night School travels back in time in the series. It is 1996 and protagonist Jack Reacher is still in the army. An undercover asset overhears a snippet of conversation: “The American wants a hundred million dollars.” Along with an FBI agent and a CIA Analyst, Reacher is assigned to find out what is going on.

Interview with Lee Child:

During the interview, Child revealed some absolute gems about writing and the life of a writer. For example, he said he doesn’t outline, but starts with a general feel. His definition of a feel is  hot, cold, rocky, or soft.  He explains that if the feel is cold, then the novel might be set on the coast of Maine. If it is hot, he might choose the south of Texas. From there he simply writes whatever comes out.

While he was speaking, he made it clear that he continuously thinks of the reader. For example, he writes one book a year because he thinks that is how long it takes for a reader to finish the last one and build up an anticipation for the next. Longer than that and readers might lose interest. More often, and readers might become over saturated.

Even though Lee has little control over the movies that are made from the books in the Jack Reacher series, he graciously answered questions about those as well.

Want to find out more? Check out the archived interview.

Talking about his main character, Child confessed that Jack Reacher wants to settle into a committed relationship with a woman, but he is attracted to smart women. Too smart, in fact, to consider him as a lifelong partner. Awww…

He also admitted he envisioned Jack Reacher to look like rugby player Lawrence Dallagio.



Photograph by zoonabar license Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic downloaded from Wikimedia.

Overall, it was an informative interview and I look forward to reading the book.

Are you a Lee Child fan? Have you picked up Night School yet?

#Thriller: Duet in Beirut

Have you ever used a novel as research for a writing project? This week we have Duet in Beirut: A Thriller by Mishka Ben-David and translated by Evan Fallenberg. It is so informative that at times it reads like nonfiction.



In Duet in Beirut a Mossad commander, Gadi, is trying to prevent an ex-operative named Ronen from carrying out a rogue mission. In a catch-22 situation worthy of Camus, Ronen had been disgraced because he had been assigned to assassinate a member of Hezbollah in Lebanon and failed. Now Gadi must prevent him from killing the same target.


Author Mishka Ben-David served in the Mossad (Israel’s intelligence agency) for 12 years, so you know the details of the story are authentic. Not only does he give the reader insight into the politics within the Mossad organization, but he also reveals what it is like to be a Mossad operative. For example, his main character Gadi is nervous when he approaches the border and he takes off his tie when he observes other airplane passengers are not wearing them so he can blend in.

Ben-David also describes the communities of Beirut in such a way that the reader feels like an insider. He says, “In a police state the path from suspicion to arrest is short, and in the extraterritorial Hezbollah area the path from suspicion to being kidnapped or murdered is even shorter.”

In fact, the book has quite a few lines that are memorable. My favorite quote from the book is on page 263:

“He lacked the ability to continue living in that dark, deceptive, treacherous world in which you can never really know what is good and what is evil, in which the permissible is forbidden and the forbidden permitted.”

Doesn’t that eloquently capture the uncertainty of being an operative?

The most interesting flaw in the book? Someone misspelled Israel in the first line of the blurb on the dust jacket as “Isreal.”

Duet in Beirut is an enlightening look at a complex situation. If you are looking for pure entertainment, this book might not be for you. If you are looking for something instructive about the Middle East, however, and how the Mossad works, you may want to give it a try.

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: The Overlook Press (May 3, 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1468313002
ISBN-13: 978-1468313000




© 2017 It's A Mystery Blog

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑