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Psychological thrillers with female protagonists are all the rage these days, and I as I love reading them, this new trend suits me just fine. Animals We Are by Valerie Brandy is a fresh and rather unusual take on this subgenre.
Zoe and her boyfriend, Mike, are not quite fully committed, but hopefully getting there. The problem lies with Zoe, as due to her complicated past, she can’t quite trust people. Her former relationships have been a bust, and Mike might just be the one, but what if he isn’t? What if Zoe will get hurt in the process again?
When the couple decides to go on a week-long horse tour to the Yosemite, little do they know that this trip will change their lives forever. As much as they try, they can’t enjoy their getaway together because someone is after them and hell-bent on making their lives as miserable as possible.
Before they know it, Mike disappears, and Zoe has to shoulder the responsibility of getting him back before it’s too late. Because there’s a killer on the loose, one who has been leaving bodies left and right around them.
Psychological thrillers are usually slower going than action thrillers, and by their nature, these kinds of books take place in the main characters’ heads. Throughout the story, we follow Zoe in her quest to find and rescue Mike, which is kind of unusual in that Mike is the “princess,” the one in need of saving, the damsel in distress, as it were, while Zoe is the one who does the saving – or dies trying.
Zoe’s character arc is well defined, and she undergoes a major transformation by the end of the story. Regardless of the outcome, she is no longer the same doubting person she was at the beginning.
We see Mike mostly through Zoe’s eyes; he seems to be an open book, except for that one thing he doesn’t want to talk about. And that thing is mostly what keeps Zoe from fully committing to the relationship. Zoe has a constant inner monologue which doesn’t stop until the very last page. Let me tell you, I would probably go crazy living in her head. It’s very crowded in there, as she either muses about every small thing that’s ever happened to her including every word, inflection, or gesture coming from Mike in the past, or is in wonder about the harsh but beautiful nature around her.
Despite her inner tumultuous world, Zoe is quite a strong and determined person. She knows she loves Mike and will try to find him even when everything seems to be against her. Yet she doesn’t give up. Just remember every survival in the wilderness book you’ve read or movie you’ve seen, and you know what Zoe is going through in those mountains, especially considering it’s also winter.
I figured out the identity of the killer quite early on. If Zoe hadn’t been so busy in her head pondering about her relationship with Mike, she would have figured it out sooner too. There was even a moment when I spoke out lout to her pointing out the big clue the author left for us to find. I enjoyed the red herrings in the book, as even when I figured out who the killer was, there were those moments of doubts that were nagging at me.
Overall, the book was fun to read. It was an interesting character study wrapped in a psychological thriller with some romance in between. I am curious to see how Zoe fares and develops further in the next installment of the series.