Cover Image: Hunting Annabelle

Hunting Annabelle

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Sean was recently discharged from a psychiatric hospital and he relocated with his mom, a renowned neurosurgeon, from California to Texas. Each day he goes to a theme park and draw the people he sees. One day he sees a woman who he feels drawn to and approaches her. They begin to foster a relationship and she goes missing. As the reader gets further into the book, they find out a little more about Sean and his time in the psych ward. We also start to learn that the disappearance of Annabelle might be more than it seems. How much is Sean willing to risk in order to prove his innocence? I found the book to be an engaging read, but it was a little bit predictable.
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I started reading Hunting Annabelle not really having a clear idea of what it was about. I had made some general assumptions about a possible plot based on the title. Those assumptions could not have been more wrong. 
Hunting Annabelle is a first person perspective novel that follows Sean Suh, a troubled twenty something Korean boy who was discharged to his mother’s care after he spent years locked up in a psychiatric hospital. Sean has been diagnosed as a schizophrenic and he also experiences vivid visual hallucinations in the form of auras. These are best described as a sort of energy field that exists around each person. Sean’s life is relatively simple, he spends his days in a theme park called the 4 corners. Every day he goes there and draws people he sees in the park. Life is bumping along comfortably enough when he meets a Annabelle, a beautiful college student with a unique copper aura. Annabelle and Sean spend the entire day together and Sean briefly allows himself to believe that he could perhaps have a future with someone like Annabelle. Love is never simple for someone like Sean though, especially since he still struggles with some very dark, carnal urges. Sean’s world is completely turned upside down when Annabelle is abducted in front of his eyes as they are leaving the Four Corners. Sean reports the abduction to the cops, but the cops fail to take the abdication claim seriously, and Sean is forced into investigating Annabelle’s disappearance on his own. The risks go up for Sean as the cops start to dig deeper and find that Sean himself is a viable suspect in Annabelle’s disappearance, and the alleged kidnapper appears to be subtly threatening Sean via handwritten notes that are carefully left behind in areas only Sean will find them. Sean feels compelled to solve Annabelle’s disappearance, but the harder he tries to better he looks as a suspect, and the little life he has strung together slowly unravels. 

Sean is not a typical hero. He is deeply flawed and has enough dark urges in himself to be considered a predatory figure. His story is completely riveting and I had a hard time at times trying to figure out if I should cheer him On or fear what he is capable of. This is definitely a twisted tale, but it was fun to read and definitely had enough twists and turns to keep me interested.
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If you love twists and turns, read this book!
It’s got them all over the place.
I still don’t know if I understand it all.
I don’t want to say much, because I don’t want to spoil a single thing. 
It’s disturbing, mysterious, thrilling, confusing, and hard to put down. 
I will admit, some of the narration and what the main character thinks went a bit overboard every once in a while and had me rolling my eyes, but I get why the writer chose for it to be like that, and it served its purpose.

Thank you to Harlequin - Mira and NetGalley for my free ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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Thank you to Netgalley, the Publisher and the author for the opportunity to read this book in return for a review based upon my own honest opinion.

First, let me say that I really wanted to like this book,  it sounded good and the premise is good.  I even kind of liked the main character, Sean, but I did not like Annabelle.  I am not sure when it changed for me after that, but as the book went along, I disliked the characters even more and the story-line was so predictable about midway, I just lost complete interest.  I finished the book, and I will say, the book redeemed itself a little at the end, I did find the end to be most surprising.
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As a huge fan of the psychological suspense genre, I can honestly admit that very few twists are surprising to me.  That is why this book was such a pleasure to enjoy--I say enjoy, but the word is really "devour".  The novel explores dark and complicated topics (abuse, mental illness) in a way that both honors the experiences and unflinchingly illuminates the effects of these events.  A fabulous new author whose work I can't wait to devour next.
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Hunting Annabelle is twisty, dark novel told from the perspective of the killer. It's fascinating getting to read the story from this POV. The story is filled with tension. Readers who enjoy psychological thrillers will want to check this one out.
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Wendy Heard built this book one layer at a time, taking the time to build all of her characters then place them in a setting that turns them into someone else.  Even the main character who tells his story as he sees it, is not always what he seems.  After spending time in a psychiatric hospital, he is trying to fit into a world he does not recognize.  The people who are supposed to be his support system, mainly his mother, leave him struggling with his thoughts and afraid for himself and others.  As he investigates the disappearance of Annabelle, he must work through the limits he has placed on himself as well as the police suspicions.  Thriller is the perfect adjective for this book!
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Thank you to Net galley for giving me the chance to read and review, "Hunting Annabelle" by Wendy Heard. As a mystery/thriller book, I went into this book assuming that I had Sean and the other characters figured out but I was truly wrong. The climax was shocking and unexpected. The book was well written and I highly recommend it!
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I really liked the book as I started. I loved getting to know this young man as he came to terms with his issues, what he went through, his strange relationship with his mother. Is he a monster? Is he not a monster? It was all very interesting. However, I didn't love the twist, it felt cheap and then the ending...I just was really disappointed by it given how the book set you up. I still enjoyed the book but the ending lost a star or two from me.
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This book is a great book for lovers of Gone Girl, it truly reminded me of that book. I liked the POV in this book, which is Sean Suh's POV, a killer that is now free from a psychiatric prison. You get bits and pieces of information while you keep reading, and that's what makes this book so strong.

Pros
What is real?: It's so cool that you question everything and everyone. Especially since Sean was in a psychiatric prison for 3 years and he is doubting himself so much. His surroundings are doubting him and I was doubting the surroundings AND Sean and everything. It was so cool to not know what was real and what was not and it's satisfactory to figure out what happened.
Little bits of information: Like I said in my opening; the little bits of information you get is what makes this book so addicting. You know from the blurb that Sean is a killer, but what exactly happened is a question mark for a big part of the book. It's a great way to write a book; feed the reader a little bit of the wanted information every time.
Final part: SO FULL OF TENSION! It was action paced and I had no idea how everything would play out. I read the final 25% without moving and I just had to finish the book. The ending is seriously (pardon my French) fucked up and I was like WTH?! I remember having that same feeling in Gone Girl. If you liked that one, you will like this one.

Cons
Believability: I had my doubts about some parts of the book as of how believable it would be. I know that it maybe had to do something with the big plot, but some parts still felt a bit unbelievable.That being said, lets go to the next bullet point, that one has everything to do with this first bullet point.
Plot twist: The big plot twist is one that you can guess. I had 8 different plots in mind (you seriously don't know), because some parts of the book weren't that believable or felt like it had to do something with the plot. So if you're a real Sherlock, you can figure it out.

Overall
What a way to write a debut. This author is one I will definitely read another book from. I've never read a book with the POV from a killer, so that's points for uniqueness. I liked the ending, it was SO messed up. I just need books like that once in a while.
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Thank you to NetGallery for the opportunity to read and review “Hunting Annabelle.”  This is my honest review.
“Hunting Annabelle” is full of so many twists and turns, most of which I did not see coming or expect.  It is a psychological thriller that has a ending you will never see coming.
Missing people, murder and mental illness all play a part in this book.  
A must read for fans of psychological thrillers.
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This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. I was expecting to feel like the narrator was a monster, but that wasn't my experience at all. While he is the ultimate unreliable narrator (he doesn't even trust himself) he never struck me as a monster. In fact, he seems to be trying really hard to not be the monster that he and his mother believe him to be. 

I really liked the main character, and was surprisingly quite sad for him. He seems to want so badly to be normal. He doesn't want to hurt people, but doesn't believe that he will ever be able to stop hurting women, so he largely just avoids them. 

Overall I thought this was a pretty good book. The only reason it isn't five stars for me is that it wasn't quite as fast paced and thrilling as I wanted it to be. It was more of a slow burn mystery.
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This book will make your mind spin and your palms sweat, an edge of your seat ride into crazy town!
Oh how I love to spend time in the mind of a psychopath! Although in the case of Sean you were never quite sure if he was a psychopath or a victim? This really was what set this book a bit apart, the not knowing if you were sympathetic towards the bad guy or the good guy... but good or bad Sean was definitely an odd duck...

Sean has recently been released from a psychiatric hospital, for reasons you’re not completely sure of until later in the book... his mother and he have relocated from San Francisco to Texas, The assumption is that Sean has brought shame on the family.... Shawn’s mother is a controlling, judgemental, condescending, neurosurgeon.... so I’m guessing there weren’t a ton of hugs and kisses and complements in Sean’s past... Shawn is an artist who spends his days drawing at a local amusement park, that is where he meets Annabelle... Shawn is immediately entranced by Annabel, and Annabelle seems to be charmed by quirky Sean... while on their first date somebody kidnaps Annabelle, and Sean is determined to find her... so who took Annabel? And why? And does Sean have something to do with this?Oh the mind f***!

Sean was both off putting an endearing, someone you wanted to give a hug and run away from.... I really had no idea if he was good or bad, or innocent or guilty, until the bitter end... Annabel was complicated, I really never could get a complete handle on her character.... two characters I didn’t necessarily like, but they were so well developed flaws and all! The book completely sucks you in from the beginning, this lonely eccentric character with an artist hand, what is really going on inside him? The pace slows down a bit in the middle with the search for Annabel, although I felt every piece of this puzzle was necessary.... then that ending! Wow that was explosive an unexpected and has you thinking to yourself what the actual f*** did I just read?

A dark and twisty creepy story that will keep you on your toes throughout, absolutely recommend!

*** A huge thank you to Harlequin Mira for my copy of this book ***
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This was a fantastic story told completely from Seans POV. 
Embarking on a journey together and as the story unfolded I felt I really got an insight into what made him tick.
There was almost an air of obscurity, intrigue and mystery enveloping the whole narrative and this made for such compulsive reading with some real shockers thrown in along the way.
I found myself questioning the hidden motives of every single individual here and as we are almost drip fed the answers this was almost at times like a journey of discovery: a kind of mystery tour with Annabelle the ultimate destination.
I was there questioning along with Sean his state of mind as each occurrence happened to further muddy the already murky waters.
Who is sending the notes? 
Is someone messing with Sean and also his meds? 
If so: who and why?
Is sean's own sense of vulnerability and powerlessness about himself also being a victim as well as a predator feeding his own internal rage?
Then there's his almost co-dependent relationship with his mother and also his obsession with Annabelle herself.
This story has so much going on in terms of content and each thread is kind of connected on a much deeper level until a complete visage is eventually formed for the reader.
I felt that I forged a connection along the way with Sean himself actually feeling an almost sense of sympathetic familiarity towards him.
It was almost like getting to know the monster living in his head and making a sense of peace with it despite its compulsion of ultimate wrongness.
There were also such contrasts between Sean and Annabelle: they were so different in terms of upbringing but also had such similarities that you could see why they ultimately gravitated towards each other.
I also must confess to being slightly shocked at the blatant racism and intolerance portrayed here: such injustices I know exist but as it is something I have no hands-on experience with I found it sickening to behold.
So I liked where this eventually took us and though I did guess some twists other reveals were complete surprises.
My only criticism of this story Is that I thought the ending here was slightly abrupt but that's actually it.
This is a story that captured my imagination almost instantly and once this journey started there was no getting off this train until final destination was reached: a fabulous read that I recommend highly.
I voluntary reviewed an Arc of Hunting Annabelle.
All opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
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I really struggled with this one. The ending saved it for me, or this would have been 2 stars.

I realize that this is a debut, so I have to give credit for that alone...I envy anyone who can put anything on paper and get it published. 

With that said, this was just a bit all over the place for me to really grab a hold of. The premise was great and had me excited going in, but it never took off for me. 
Others have had much better luck, so give it a go!

ARC provided by NetGalley
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Short Take: Sing it with me now! “I see your truuuuueee colors shining through…”

Hello to all of my nerdlings, and Happy New Year(‘s Eve)!! It’s that time of year, where we make a bunch of resolutions that will be forgotten by February, when the piles of Valentine chocolates arrive to wreak havoc with waistlines and willpower. Or sooner, if you’re me, and there’s still some Christmas fudge hanging around the house.

But at the same time, I can’t imagine a better poster boy for making resolutions than Sean Suh, the star of Wendy Heard’s delicious Hunting Annabelle.

The year is 1986, and Sean has a lot of issues. Like, a LOT a lot. Recently released from a mental institution after committing a horrific crime as a teenager, Sean now lives with his mother, a prominent neurosurgeon who loves, fears, and resents her son in equal measure. 

A diagnosed schizophrenic and gifted artist, Sean spends his days at Four Corners Amusement Park in Austin, sketching random people and admiring the beautiful, colorful auras he sees surrounding them. It’s there he runs into Annabelle, and where the fun really gets going.

Over the next couple of days, Sean is charmed by Annabelle and her glittering, copper-colored aura, even as he fights his own worst, most violent impulses. It seems like he might be getting things under control, when suddenly, Annabelle is shoved, screaming, into a strange van and disappears.

Needless to say, Sean’s life quickly takes a turn for the desperate. Unsure at first if Annabelle is even missing, it doesn’t take long for the authorities to focus their attention on Sean, and he himself can’t even be sure that her kidnapping actually happened, or if it was another one of his delusions.

What follows is a somewhat by-the-book thriller, as Sean must Search Annabelle’s Past to find out Who She Really Is, and to try to save her (and himself) Before It’s Too Late.

But then…. Well, then there are a few really great twists and an ending that is absolutely dizzying. And while my curmudgeonly side is trying to poke holes and find alllllll the ways it would never ever work out that way, I’m smacked upside the jowls over and over again by Ms. Heard’s one brilliant, simple, perfect plot device:

She set the book in 1986.

Seriously, I caught myself repeatedly thinking things like “Why doesn’t Sean just Google Annabelle?” Uh, 1986, ya stupid nerd. “Wait, you’re telling me the FBI databases don’t show a pattern of [spoiler]?” Hello, 1986, lunkhead.  And so on and so forth. Simple, but extremely effective.

And the author maintains the illusion perfectly. From the color scheme that every home had (peach and aqua) to the fashions (shoulder pads, slouchy socks with snow-white Keds), to the music on the walkman (SO MANY FLASHBACKS!!), the mullets, the white pages and rotary phones, smoking indoors in public places, and a thousand other details, it’s seamless.

But the juiciest treat of all is that ending. THAT ENDING. I had guessed fairly early on who was behind Annabelle’s kidnapping, but the why of it, and the aftermath, well, chalk up another jowl-smack. Of course I won’t give it away here, but trust me, you are not prepared for where Hunting Annabelle takes you. 

Now, time to break out some booze and snacks, cause it’s midnight somewhere, and I want to get a head start on my resolution-breaking.

The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS (and a New Coke. Seriously, SO MANY FLASHBACKS.)
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The choice to write this book in first person from Sean's POV was truly inspired. As a creepy unreliable narrator, it was the perfect vehicle for dragging me into the story.  From the very start, I struggled with whether to believe Sean's perceptions as much as he questioned his own. Sean wavers between childlike innocence and scary throughout the book, which kept turning the pages. I absolutely did not see the twist at the end coming. This was a completely fresh take on a psychological thriller!
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Thanks to NetGalley for a Kindle ARC of Hunting Annabelle.

There were parts of Hunting Annabelle that I really enjoyed.

First, the 80s era and setting was great; the lack of cell phones, social media and other high tech conveniences that we have today provided realistic constraints for the main characters.

Second, the portrayal of the main character, Sean, is a minority. It is always refreshing to see an Asian character take center stage in a novel, play, movie, or television show since that is rare. I was more than pleasantly surprised by that.

Third, the premise was intriguing; sort of like a YA version of Dexter without all the killing.

The author was good at setting the tone and urgency of Annabelle's kidnapping, Sean's inability to provide help due to his previous medical record and incarceration and how no one would give him a chance, because he's ill and Asian, which added to his predicament in finding Annabelle.

An unreliable narrator is nothing new but Sean is unique in that he struggles with his conscience, hampered by his mother's controlling behavior and the drugs he ingests, and battles constantly with his dual natures.

Did he witness Annabelle's abduction or was that just a figment of his drug-addled sociopathic brain?

I have to admit, the author had me doubting Sean's mental state so well done on her part.

I did figure out the ending, mostly because I read many books with similar premises and not the fault of the author.

My main caveat is that sometimes Sean came off as mousy, weak, a doormat-type, but that might have been due to all the drugs his mother was prescribing.

Sean is aware that he has blood on his hands (literally) but he seems unable to reconcile his behavior with his true self.

Is he a bad person because he hurt someone before, as he reminisces often as to what put him in a psychiatric facility in the first place?

Or does he feel bad that he doesn't really feel bad?

Is he truly remorseful about putting his mom through his travails? Why? A sociopath wouldn't care.

Some of Sean's actions and behavior were muddled and confusing. Because he's young? I'm not sure and I wasn't comfortable with his passivity in that regard.

I would have liked Sean to own up to who (and what) he is, like Dexter. A true killer knows what he or she is. No backpedaling, no worries, no cares.

Hunting Annabelle was a better than average read and I would recommend it to friends.
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I received an ARC of this book thanks to Net Galley and publisher Harlequin-Mira in exchange for an honest review.

It is so hard for me to pin down how I felt about this book. On the one hand, I felt it was fairly well-written and I was definitely engaged throughout most of it. On the other hand, I absolutely hated the ending and felt like it got very rambly and repetitive about 50% of the way through.

One thing I would like to make clear is that this should definitely be considered a YA thriller. Hunting Annabelle is about a teenager named Sean with severe mental health difficulties (labelled schizophrenia but as a psychologist, I'm not entirely convinced). Sean meets a girl called Annabelle, goes on a date with her and then sees her get kidnapped in front of his eyes. He goes straight to the police but due to his mental health difficulties and some dark things from his past, they don't believe him. He then decides to take matters into his own hands and investigates her disappearance.

For the first half or so of this book, I was very engaged and intrigued by the story. I don't really enjoy reading thrillers with unreliable narrators anymore because I tend to just switch off and wait until the author reveals what really happened at the end, but Sean's potential hallucinations are sort of kept to a minimum and aren't too intrusive. The mental health rep in this is pretty shocking but then, I don't expect a lot from thrillers. There is a fair amount of accuracy in terms of treatment and that side of things but the actual details about the condition are few and far between. Maybe this was meant to add to the ambiguity aspect but it felt lacking to me. I can definitely see it angering some people.

The problems start to kick in around 50% of the way through. Firstly, the story becomes incredibly repetitive. Sean goes to meet someone from Annabelle's past, he finds out a little more about her and then he gets the name of the next person to go see. Rinse and repeat for like 100 pages. Secondly, Sean discovers something very incriminating about a person in Annabelle's life which seems like it would be important to the investigation. An intense fight happens and Sean escapes with evidence of this incriminating thing and then...nothing happens? It isn't mentioned properly until the very end and it's incredibly distracting to have this plot device just hanging there like the elephant in the corner. I initially expected this encounter to be a hallucination of Sean which would explain why it was just forgotten about but this turns out not to be the case and it's just a really baffling writing decision.

This review is spoiler free but the final and biggest problem with this book is the ending. I found it very unbelievable and frankly a bit of a cop-out, and it soured the tone of the whole book for me. Overall, I can see some people really liking this book but I'm just not convinced it brings anything new to the thriller genre. I think the writing has real potential and there are a lot of nice elements at the start of the book. I would want to read more by the author but I can't really recommend this to people, and the problems far outweigh the good points. Sadly this was not a winner.
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Absolutely five star fantastic. Though Sean is a killer, you kinda find him likeable. The book grabs you on the first page and never lets you go. Great story, great characters, great writing.
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