“A writer should never have the audacity to write about themselves unless they’re willing to separate every layer of protection between the author’s soul and their book. The words should come directly from the center of the gut, tearing through flesh and bone as they break free. Ugly and honest and bloody and a little bit terrifying, but completely exposed.”
I had a VERY hard time deciding how to rate this book. On one level it was so engrossing and compulsively readable, creepy, and twisted – really good! But on the other, there were parts of the book that were actively turning me off from it and ruining my enjoyment, namely the characters and their behavior/choices. I was warring between 3.5 or 4 stars and I think in the end, I am going to settle on 3.5 stars.
This was actually my first dip into anything by Colleen Hoover and it was way more than I was expecting. I knew going in that she was a well-known romance author, that a lot of booktubers had “cancelled” her recently 🙄, and that this was her debut thriller attempt. I heard it was really good, so I promptly requested it from the library. Of the plot, I knew there was a woman (Lowen) who was called in to ghost write another author’s (Verity’s) series and in doing so, finds a manuscript that shakes the family of the author. And disrupts her own life in a big way.
Honestly, based on Hoover being a romance writer and this being dubbed a “romantic thriller,” I was expecting some mild family drama or mystery stemming from the discovered manuscript, something that shocks the family and brings the love interest, Jeremy, into the main character’s arms for comfort. The love interest who I also assumed was the original author’s son. I just had it in my head for some reason that Verity was an old lady who couldn’t finish her series and that is why the main character was recruited. Well. I was wrong. On both accounts. I would have preferred it I think, if the love interest was the son of the author, versus the husband of the author. It would have changed up some of the creepy elements, but it would also have eliminated that ole cheating trope that I just can’t fucking stand. Hahaha no. It literally brings a book down so much for me and I know it does for other reviewers, too. Why do authors keep doing it??
Welp, I was wrong, because not only is the love interest married to the incapacitated author Verity (for shame), but this book is wayyyyy more messed up and scary than I had expected it to be. Props to Hoover for actually freaking me out and making me put the book down for the night! I was genuinely freaked during one scene in particular. When the story was focusing on the thriller aspects, versus the romantic elements, the book really shined. It was very unsettling and disturbing! One of the scariest movies ever to me is The Skeleton Key, and (I am not even certain why) this book gave me major Skeleton Key vibes! I think perhaps the concept of someone trapped in their body, like mentally there, but unable to move or speak, but then at the same time, they might be faking it to run around the house at night. Ughhh! So spooky!
The strongest part of the book for me was the novel within a novel, Verity’s “autobiography.” It was evil and sinister and the most interesting part of the entire story by far. I mean, it was heinous as all hell, but I loved reading the manuscript chapters! They had such a stronger voice and a more intense effect than anything from Lowen’s perspective. She was too worried about the married man’s biceps. The manuscript chapters were very reminiscent of Gone Girl for me, which is a tone I really enjoy, so I was all here for it. I have heard a few people reference both Gone Girl and Rebecca as having similar vibes to this book, and I absolutely see that.
Other than the writing of the manuscript chapters, the rest of the novel was written pretty well. It was a direct, sort of simplistic method of narration that worked for the story. I think most thrillers have a straightforward tone that keeps the reader moving along without giving too much away. At least the ones I have read. It was written well, but nothing really new or outstanding. I have nothing to compare Hoover’s writing to, so I am not sure if her more standard romances are written in the same manner. There were a few standout sentences/passages, but again, those tended to be in the Verity chapters. I liked the interesting look at two different kind of authors and what writing meant for each of them/how they viewed being an author.
As for Verity herself, I thought she was a really well-done villain. She was cold, callous, and calculated. She was jealous and manipulative and heartless. Obsessive and paranoid. It was so cool to see how Lowen came to perceive Verity differently, based solely on the manuscript she was reading. I sympathized with Lowen at first. She was a struggling author with social anxiety and a less than ideal love life (#relate). But over time, it was clear that Lowen was becoming just as messed up and “crazy” as the version of Verity she was reading about. She became obsessed with Jeremy and with his opinion of her. She was hiding things and lying and warping his perspective of events. Maneuvering, scheming, and manipulating, just as much as the woman in the manuscript she so despised. Lowen might not have been doing such terrible acts as Verity was, but she was descending into just as much of a dark place, and it was creepy seeing her trying so hard to become Verity. To replace her in the eyes of her husband and child. And to justify her actions along the way. So, while the lusting after a married man and the eventual cheating really irritated me, the concept itself, in terms of Lowen’s sanity, was quite interesting.
Jeremy read as kind of just a big dummy to me for most of the book. The cliche “perfect guy” that’s so nice and sensitive, but also fucks another woman in his wife’s bed (while she’s literally paralyzed upstairs) because he just can’t deny the connection they have. Gag! Yeah he sounds great. But after the twist(s) at the end, things kind of made more sense. I was like “Ohhhhh ok. Yeah I still hate you guys, but now I know I’m supposed to.” None of them were written to be likable characters, except maybe one at the end, and even that is questionable. I just wish that Hoover had made her transitions from thriller to erotica a little more subtle. If you want smut, then write smut, but don’t try to wrap it up as a romance and actually try to play it off as one to your audience, and then take it all back at the end because your characters are “bad.” It just made me hate the romance! I hated the romance and the characters. If you wanted them to be evil then write them that way; don’t just waffle between the two to try and force a romance into a thriller novel. It just seems like it could have been written way more smoothly, without the blatant cheating trope thrown in for good measure.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book while reading it (except for those few scenes). I was completely immersed in the story, wanted to keep reading, and felt pretty satisfied with the ending. Not everyone is a fan of the twist at the end, but I liked it. It was very ambiguous and kind of left the reader feeling all-around desolate, but hey, that makes a great story! I would certainly recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick thriller. And, I for one, will be happy to check out some of Hoover’s other books. She seems like a very competent writer.
What did you guys think?