Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Audiobook Reviews: Winter at the Door and The Girls She Left Behind by Sarah Graves

Winter at the Door (Lizzie Snow, #1)
From Goodreads:
Moving from Boston to remote Bearkill, Maine, isn’t homicide cop Lizzie Snow’s idea of a step up. But breaking away from tragedy and personal betrayal is at least a step in the right direction. Her dead sister’s fate still torments her, as does her long-missing niece’s disappearance. Lizzie hopes to find the mysteriously vanished child here, amid the coming ice and snow. But in the Great North Woods, something darker and more dangerous than punishing winter is also bound for Bearkill...

A rash of freak accidents and suicides has left a string of dead men—all former local cops. Now the same cruel eyes that watched them die are on Lizzie—and so is the pressure to find out what sort of monster has his hooks in this town, what his ruthless game is, and just how brutally he’ll play to win. Whatever the truth is, its twisted roots lie in the desolate backwoods of Allagash County: where the desperate disappear, the corrupt find shelter, and the innocent lose everything. It’s there that a cunning and utterly cold-blooded killer plans the fate of the helpless lives at his mercy—one of whom may be the lost child Lizzie will do anything to save. As a blizzard bears down, and Bearkill’s dark secrets claw their way to the surface, Lizzie gears up for a showdown that could leave the deep, driven snow stained blood red.
Anytime I can find another good episodic crime/detective thriller, I'm pleased.  It's like finding another show to binge like Criminal Minds or SVU.  It's perfect mindless listening - I like something that keeps me interested and has lots of twists and turns, but is easy enough to follow that it doesn't require my total attention.  I can clean the house or drive or color while I listen and not miss anything major if I'm momentarily distracted.  So I was pleased to find this series on Hoopla, my current go-to for audiobooks.

I wasn't, however, pleased with the book itself.  There's nothing super awful about it, but I didn't feel like it lived up to my expectations.  I wasn't super excited about the main character or her love interests, and I felt like the plot was all over the place.  There are about five major plot lines going on and only a couple of them wind up mattering.  All of the time spent exploring the extraneous plot lines dragged and left me annoyed when I found out they didn't even matter.  The characters are fairly cliche and pretty static.  I was unimpressed, but decided to go ahead and give the second book a try...

The Girls She Left Behind (Lizzie Snow, #2)
For Lizzie Snow, the ice and snow of her first punishing North Woods winter are dreadful enough. But near the small town of Bearkill a stubborn forest fire now rages out of control, and as embers swirl dangerously in the smoke-filled air, a teenage girl with a history of running away has dropped out of sight again. The locals and the law both think Tara Wylie is up to her old tricks—until her mother receives a terrifying text message.

Equally disturbing: Henry Gemerle—a kidnapper and rapist who once held three girls prisoner for fifteen years—has escaped, and may be lurking in Bearkill. As the fire closes in, Lizzie teams up with her boss Sheriff Cody Chevrier and state cop Dylan Hudson to search for the missing girl and the wily fugitive. But they're blocked by Tara's mother, a frustrating teller of needless lies and keeper of dark, incomprehensible secrets.

Following a trail of grisly clues—a bloodstained motel room, a makeshift coffin in a shallow grave—Lizzie is drawn ever closer to the flames in her race to save an innocent and corner a monster. Someone else also wants to find Tara Wylie and Henry Gemerle, though, for reasons that have nothing to do with mercy or justice. And when they all meet, the inferno threatening Bearkill will pale in comparison to the hell that's about to break loose.
This one is better.  There are fewer plot lines to follow and every thread the author begins actually leads somewhere, which was nice.  It didn't take me as long to listen to this one because I was more involved in the story, since it was more concise and focused.  On more than one occasion I thought I had figured out who the bad guy was and what the motivations were only to be surprised by a twist I didn't see coming - which was a huge refresher after the first book.

I still didn't really love any of the characters or care about their outcomes.  I also thought it was interesting that the author chose to use another act of nature (a fire this time, rather than a blizzard) to add suspense to the climax.  It made me feel like she has to use something outside of the story itself to add drama and make up for what she hasn't achieved in the plot and characters.  If the series continues, I'll be interested to see if she has another natural disaster to keep things moving along.

As much as I enjoy small town settings, its also somewhat problematic to me that Bear Kill is a sleepy little town where nothing ever happens - until the main character moves there.  Then there are suddenly serial killers and kidnappers and organized crime members coming out of the woodwork.  It's not an uncommon thing to happen in a crime series set in the small town, but it always makes me cringe a little to think that suddenly EVERYONE evil in the world is coming to Bear Kill, Maine to commit their crimes just by happenstance.

Overall
This is a series I'll probably give up on.  I thought the second book was much improved, but neither thrilled me enough to keep reading.  I didn't like the main character and I feel like I could find something just as engrossing but without the problematic aspects that I found in these.  I WILL however be keeping an eye on the series, because I really want to know if there will be another natural disaster in the next book.

Thanks to my local library for providing me with access to these!

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