If you’re new to following us, then welcome! Those of you who have been following us for some time have probably seen a trend in the types of books we review. They tend to be romance, or as Erica has shared with me, “New Adult Contemporary Romance,” which is not to be confused with the Fabio-on-the-cover romances…I guess. I don’t know. Man-brain.
Anyway, it’s been a little while since we did something outside that genre, so you can imagine my excitement when Erica mentioned reviewing The Rules of Burken, a thriller by Traci Finlay.
The Rules of Burken (the title will make sense when you read it) is about a brother, Ian, and sister, Charlotte, who basically grow up playing hide-and-seek on crack, and what happens when one of them takes it too far. In our previous reviews, I’ve found myself growing accustomed to reading dual perspective stories. Maybe authors feel readers expect that now. Maybe it just might be the books we’ve read, but I feel like most of the romance books have had both male and female perspectives, which works great for those kinds of books. But this book is different.
The Rules of Burken is told from a single point of view; in this case, it is Charlotte’s perspective. The story unfolds as a dual timeline in a way you would expect with a thriller—cliffhangers at nearly every current-time chapter, before flashing back to give more of their family history. I can see how some people would say they wish they had Ian’s perspective in the book. However, for me, it was more exciting not to know where Ian was, what Ian was thinking, and when he would show up. It left it up to me to wonder and helped build the tension.
I like thrillers, although I feel like there are different kinds. There are scary or horror Stephen-King-type thrillers, suspenseful what’s-happening-next thrillers, and then the whodunit serial thrillers. Whenever I start reading one of these, I know in advance that some of it will feel like “that wouldn’t really happen” or “I wouldn’t do that,” but as the only thing I can remember from high school English Shakespeare lessons, we must “suspend thy disbelief” (or some crap like that) to focus on enjoying the story. We know the woman shouldn’t run upstairs or down into the basement; she should jump out the fucking window and run! We know that noise downstairs is never something you’re supposed to go check; you should get the hell out of there! And if a dog named Cujo shows up or you see a clown holding a red balloon, no! You should NOT just think it’s quirky and no big deal. But when reading these types of books, I don’t read for the accuracy, I read for the story. I don’t find myself focusing on minute details and facts, like I have in other genres. My litmus test for thrillers is whether I feel like I’ve been taken on a fun roller coaster of emotions and stress. With The Rules of Burken, not only did I feel like I was taken on a great roller coaster, but it felt like Traci had given me the whole theme park to myself.
Also, Traci managed to weave into the story one of the best 90s songs ever written, the Crash Test Dummies’ “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm,” which I have had in my head ever since reading the book. I find myself making up new lines and singing them in my head. I literally can’t stop. “Once there was this girl who, wrote a book about some fucking twisted fucked-up shit.” See? Easy! And if the song is now in your head, you’re welcome. If you don’t know the song, go look it up. Do it. Do it now.
So back to the review… I would probably categorize The Rules of Burken as a suspenseful what’s-happening-next thriller rather than a horror or serial thriller. It’s my understanding that Traci has had this story in one form or another for quite a few years before being encouraged to publish it now. I am very glad she did. I had so much fun reading it, and I look forward to seeing what she does next. She’s definitely an author to watch.
Full disclosure: I co-edited this book. And this isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed something I’ve worked on. But in those other cases I was like proofreader #3.5, so I figured it was no big deal. Should it be? Should I not be allowed to share my thoughts because I’ve been behind the scenes? That’s for you to decide. If I didn’t believe in this book, if I didn’t feel like I had something to add to the discourse, I wouldn’t write about it.
The Rules of Burken is Traci’s first published novel. Let me say that again for the people in the back: THIS IS TRACI’S DEBUT! It should’ve lacked fluidity, it should’ve had plot holes, it should’ve had major typos. It had none of these things. Instead, I read it and thought, “Should she be paying me to edit this, or should I just send her my $3.99 RIGHT ABOUT NOW?” In truth, editorially, there wasn’t much to change. It was clean. It was precise. It was clearly suspenseful and well-crafted. Her choices related to perspective and characterization were intentional and well-supported. Really, she didn’t need me or Willow, but Traci, if you’re reading this, just know I’m forever your girl. (Another 90s song for the win!)
Maybe what makes Traci different from other rookie authors is that she’s spent the last decade focusing on her craft. Maybe what makes her unique is that she writes and edits (and, damn, can this girl edit!). In any event, she has spent the last ten years growing as a writer and polishing her work. And it shows.
Like Matt said, this is not the most realistic of tales. You won’t find yourself saying, “This is EXACTLY what happened to me!” But what I love about books is that they provide an escape, and Traci’s is no exception. The entire time I was reading, I was spellbound. Literally on the edge of my seat, or bed, if I’m being honest. Who reads in a seat?? Bed-reading is where it’s at! Anyway, laundry piled up, the dishes were left in the sink, and there were many cereal-for-dinner nights. Even in my rereading of it, I didn’t want to stop. That says something, guys! I knew what was coming, and I still didn’t want to stop.
No, the story itself wasn’t real, but the places described were. I’ve never been to Michigan, but because I’ve read The Rules of Burken, I feel like I have. I’ve swum while fully clothed in Lake Missaukee with Charlotte. I’ve had Bay City pizza with Nikka on a papasan chair. The places described and scenarios put forth were at times very realistic, turning a tale that could’ve been far-fetched into something that pushes you into “what if” territory. What if I were Charlotte? Who would I go to for help? What would I do without a phone or a car? How sane or logical would my actions be if I feared for my life? It’s this “what if” terrain that illustrated Traci’s authorial talent. She found the balance between the extreme and the relatable, and she handpicked when to reveal each side. The result was a kind of literary harmony that I always wanted more of, especially once the story ended.
THAT’S why we had cereal for dinner?! Dang.
Erica is absolutely right—Traci’s writing definitely evokes emotions, makes you feel like you are there, and also triggered some childhood memories for me. No, we didn’t play like Charlotte and Ian, but I have an older sister who used to agree to play hide-and-seek, always sending me to hide and never coming to look. I get it. I was the annoying little brother. She would leave me hiding while she went off to do whatever it was tweens did back then—in their jellies and heading to Claire’s, I’m sure.
While I never hope to have to play a game of Burken, I do hope you take a chance and read this book. Doing this blog with Erica has really made me think about how much time and effort authors put into creating their books before releasing them. Thinking about how Traci had this book on her computer for the better part of decade, toying with it here and there, makes me think back to all the books I’ve read and reviewed in the past, whether here or through Amazon/Goodreads. I am grateful these independent authors put their lives into these books just to give us something we can, as Erica said, escape into. While money is always tight, I am happy to support the independent author. $3.99 for a decade of work? One-click. And with The Rules of Burken, that is a steal. I’ve paid much more for trade-published thrillers that weren’t as good as this one.
Curious? Go find out for yourself, Little Spider.
To purchase a copy of or read the synopsis for Traci Finlay’s The Rules of Burken, click here.