Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

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What’s it about?

Bo Luxton has it all – a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name. Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops … Or does it? Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

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Review

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This is one of the best book covers I’ve ever seen, it’s minimalistic but it says it all. There’s sensuality, there’s darkness, it’s simply an amazingly fitting cover and after you’ve read the novel you’ll agree even more! Exquisite is a very orginal psychological thriller that made me feel like I was suffering from a borderline disorder. I mean to say this novel was quite extreme in the emotions experienced by the characters and this is what made it all so enthralling in the end I think.

The writing was lyrical and beautiful and I savoured every moment. So much of it is so recognizable because we all experienced heartbreak sometime so it’s easy to relate to and connect with the characters. The plot was perfect, being very mysterious and captivating all of the time.

The novel opens with an anonymous woman serving time in prison. Why she’s there and who it is, remains a well-kept secret until the end and is a brilliant move because you just can’t imagine this ending badly, until you can :-). It all starts out very lovely though, even though you know it won’t be all roses in the end. The story takes a nasty turn halfway through the novel and suddenly I felt a bit cheated myself ;-). I’m afraid there’s something captivating about reading about another person’s misery which made me want to keep turning these pages.

I have liked, loved and hated one of the characters in the end. It took a long time figuring out who was telling the truth and what the true motives of some actions were though. The story was told by Bo first, making me really like her, then Alice’s who I then warmed up to in a flash because of the lousy background and her young and fragile personality, then Bo again… I’m just keeping it to myself who of these two main characters, Bo or Alice, wasn’t exactly the person I thought she was and made me feel this way so strongly.

This is a story about love and hurt and how painful it is to love. A great debut novel by Sarah Stovell.

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher, Orenda Books, in exchange for my honest opinion.

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

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What’s it about?

On Thursday afternoon, five students at Bayview High walk into detention.

Bronwyn, the brain, is Yale-bound and never breaks a rule.

Addy, the beauty, is the picture-perfect homecoming princess.

Nate, the criminal, is already on probation for dealing.

Cooper, the athlete, is the all-star baseball pitcher.

And Simon, the outcast, is the creator of Bayview High’s notorious gossip app.

Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom. Before the end of detention, Simon’s dead. And according to investi­gators, his death wasn’t an accident. On Thursday, he died. But on Friday, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about all four of his high-profile classmates, which makes all four of them suspects in his murder. Or are they just the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

Everyone has secrets, right? What really matters is how far you would go to protect them.

You can buy a copy of this novel on Amazon UK | Amazon US.

Review

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One of Us Is Lying is a fabulous debut YA thriller which starts with five students ending up in detention after having been found with phones in class. They hardly know each other but that’ll change drastically and they’ll know ALL about one another after one of them ends up dead in detention class.

They start out as the biggest high school clichés, Bronwyn is little miss know-it-all, the straight A-student going for a Yale scholarship, Cooper is the hot hunk and star of the baseball team, Addy is the blonde with ‘perfect hair’, and Nate is the rogue guy with the motorcycle, the one everybody whispers about because he was (or is) dealing drugs, but people don’t really know him at all because he allways keeps to himself.

All stereotypes are there but they all change and grow so much througout the story that they outgrow their cliché, or maybe it just becomes clear they weren’t that cliché after all and it took this unfortunate event to make their true selves come out.

The story is set out to be a whodunnit but as I read on and on, I actually became more and more invested in each and every one of these characters and who they really are and their voices – the story is told by 4 POV respectively – and interactions with each other even got on the forefront. I found it unlikely one of them to be a killer, they were so diverse but very easy to love, so this didn’t make it any easier because I couldn’t suspect anyone more than the others.

They all have their secrets which Simon was going to publish if he weren’t killed. Unfortunately they turn up in tumblr posts for the whole school to see. These make up the many twists and turns in the story and they gave me tiny little jolts each time something new came to light. It was an interesting and exciting journey for all of them with very different consequences depending on the person involved and a big difference in how they were treated after the truth came out. Some are forgiven more easily than others, some have the right looks and status, some can afford fancy lawyers who give them advice on what to say and how to act and some don’t. Throughout the story friendships and love interests are formed, the kids’ families react very differently to the truth, some truths are also easier to hear than others.

Even when they all did something they shouldn’t have done, I still emphatised with each of them. I did guess Cooper’s lie quite early on even though it was just a hunch but some other lies were fessed up by themselves and were a nice surprise. The question is which one of them had the biggest to lose? Which mishap was worse than the others? The story is told in alternating voices by all four of them and really keeps you on your toes. The police even think some of them are in it together. I finally kind of guessed the real killer but it did not make it any less fun to read so this shouldn’t put anyone off for picking this one up.

The plot development is outstanding, there’s depth to the characters and they all come out better in the end. I’ve tremendously enjoyed this mystery.

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach

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What’s it about?

Ava doesn’t believe it when the email arrives to say that her twin sister is dead. It’s not grief or denial that causes her scepticism – it just feels too perfect to be anything other than Zelda’s usual manipulative scheming. And Ava knows her twin.

Two years after she left, vowing never to speak to Zelda again after the ultimate betrayal, Ava must return home to retrace her errant sister’s last steps. She soon finds notes that lead her on a twisted scavenger-hunt of her twin’s making.

Letter by letter, Ava unearths clues to her sister’s disappearance: and unveils harrowing truths of her own. A is for Ava, and Z is for Zelda, but deciphering the letters in-between is not so simple…

You can buy a copy of this novel on Amazon UK | Amazon US.

Review

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This is an undoubtedly brilliant debut novel, well thought out and cleverly plotted. This is the very first time I can also report that I’ve read a more ‘literary’ novel and I actually enjoyed it very much. I admit, at first I thought it wasn’t going to work out, the language and formulation, especially from Zelda’s POV, was different from my usual easy reads, but suddenly something gave way and I became totally engrossed in the story. Was it the author’s doing or was it just me getting used to it and acclimatising so well? I don’t have a clue but the prose just flew for me from thereon.

The story kicks off with Ava returning home after she hears of her sister’s death. Ava left home 2 years ago after a mysterious dispute with her twin sister, not having talked to her since. In a way though she also grabbed the opportunity when it presented itself to escape from her highly dysfunctional family. Her father had left them for his second family already by then and the twin sisters were left with a huge vineyard and a mother whose dementia could no longer be ignored. This delightful mystery about what happened to her sister was perfectly mixed with the unraveling of Ava and Zelda’s family history. A family where literally everyone is an alcoholic, an addiction rather easy to accomodate if your home is a vineyard. This was definitely a very character-driven novel as well, even though Zelda is presumed dead I really got to know her through the messages she sent to her sister.

Right from the start Ava has a hard time believing her sister is actually dead, even though remains were found, and when she starts getting messages from her sister and realises she’s sending her on some sort of scavenger hunt in and around the house her winner’s instinct kicks in. She has to figure out what game she’s playing and that means finding the clues her sister hints at and revisiting their shared past memories. A is for Ava and Z is for Zelda, like it always was, but she’ll have to look for the letters in between. I got lost in their wordgame easily and I eagerly anticipated each new letter that was coming up next. It was highly addictive and I felt we were racing towards the end of the alphabet but what would be the outcome? Would Ava find Zelda in time or would Zelda make a big appearance in the end, laughing at them all for playing her tricks on them? I honestly didn’t know how this was going to turn out. Would her sister set her up perhaps for her murder, but then who did they find in the barn, or would she leave everything behind and just disappear when the game was over and leave her to care for their demented mother alone? More possibilities seemed to crop up, her sister’s funeral looming in the distance and time cutting to a close. I don’t want to give anything away but the ending is excellent and makes me want to give it that little bit extra appreciation,.. you’ll have to read it to find out.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Final Girls by Riley Sager #BookReview

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What’s it about?

Each girl survived an unthinkable horror. Now someone wants them dead…

They were the victims of separate massacres. Grouped together by the press, and dubbed the Final Girls, they are treated like something fresh out of a slasher movie.

When something terrible happens to Lisa, put-together Quincy and volatile Sam finally meet. Each one influences the other. Each one has dark secrets. And after the bloodstained fingers of the past reach into the present, each one will never be the same.

You can buy a copy of this novel on Amazon UK | Amazon US.

Review

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If this eye-catching cover doesn’t get your attention immediately, I don’t know what will. I’m totally loving those pink flashes on the front cover and on the side of my paper copy. I can only confirm that the story itself is just as attention-grabbing as the title, it won’t let you get on with your life!

Quincy, Lisa and Samantha… three girls with one thing in common: they all belong to a very select group of survivors when everybody else was killed. They are the ‘Final Girls’. Quincy is the survivor of the Pine Cottage killing and is trying to make a living with a baking blog. She’s thrown back into the spotlight when Lisa is found dead. Isn’t it ironic really to survive a massacre only to kill yourself afterwards? Where did that survival instinct go?

Things start to get really weird when Samantha – after years of hiding – turns up on Quincy’s doorstep, claiming she wants to make sure she’s ok and isn’t thinking about killing herself too. Since Quincy is feeling guilty in some way for not having been able to stop Lisa, she welcomes her in her home and before you know it Samantha settles right in.

Before I knew it a string of questions started to form, it was like a stampede inside my brain and I felt compelled to read ‘just one more chapter’ only to have lost hours when I finally looked up again. The storyline had me in its grip, the writing was brilliant, there was plenty of suspicion to go round in this novel with one of my favorite tropes: two seemingly unreliable characters.

The further into the story the more suspicious I got and the more I wondered what was happening under my own nose. Is Sam to be trusted? Why is she really there? She clearly has a manipulative streak as she goads Sam to show her darker side. So is Sam a bad girl? Or is it Quincy, does she have something to hide? She doesn’t remember anything about what happened 10 years ago, or so she’s telling. After a while I even started to wonder if it could be that she stabbed her friends. And why was Sam pushing Quincy to remember at all? Many many questions that make this a very intruiging plot to follow. At some point I really didn’t know who to suspect more! They both seemed to hold a lot of promise :-).

The story is gradually revealed through snippets of that fatal weekend in the past at Pine Cottage until it finally comes together into a heart-stopping finale, and believe me, I’m not exaggerating at all. This book already reads like a full-on movie scene and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on the big screen in the (hopefully near) future! I’m rounding my rating up to 5* on Amazon and Goodreads, so get in on this novel, you won’t regret!

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

The Follower by Koethi Zan

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What’s it about?

SHE’D DO ANYTHING FOR HER HUSBAND.

Julie has the perfect life. A kind boyfriend, loving parents and good grades. She has everything ahead of her.

Cora’s life is a nightmare. A psychopath for a husband, a violent father and a terrible secret. There’s no way out.

But one night, their worlds collide.

Locked in an isolated house together, they must work out what has happened – and who they can trust to set them free.

From the bestselling author of The Never List, this is a breath-taking new thriller about the wife of a kidnapper and her relationship with his last victim.

You can buy a copy of this book on Amazon UK | Amazon US.

Review

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This novel is very character driven. There are three characters (Julie, Cora and Adam) who are the main focus but there was actually one that I felt this novel was really most about and – here’s a surprise – it wasn’t the girl kept captive. Don’t get me wrong, I felt for Julie, the girl that got abducted and locked up in a room with boarded up windows. Her ordeal was horrific and although nothing graphic is mentioned, it doesn’t take much to feel the impact of her situation. Fact is, she gets only a few scraps to eat from Cora turning her into a severely emaciated girl. She certainly isn’t the lively girl from before, her days turned monotone and all she’s able to do is think about the best tactic to escape. I was happy to see that even in the most dire moments she never loses the fire within completely and she’s quite smart too in the way she’s thinking, how she tries different tactics to please her captor. I read her chapters and was very on edge every time because I knew she would only need a moment. I was waiting with her for that break, that opportunity to attack and be free again after all these months. Unfortunately, that moment doesn’t seem to come along as all angles are covered…

No the one I’m talking about is Cora, the woman who brings her food and who Julie tries to appeal to and engage in conversation every day. When I met Cora I thought she was pure evil to let this happen. When her husband James is away she could set her free if she wanted too. Then it became clear that these women share a bond. Even though Cora can move freely, she is just as scared for her husband and after a while it dawned on me that there was a time when she was just a normal kid. The only thing that made her different from you and me was her tragic life and the fact that nobody believed in her, was her friend or lover. I couldn’t help but feel pity and just when that feeling of empathy overruled, I was catapulted back to the present situation. I wanted her to still have some good in her, I wanted to believe in her, but all I saw was someone cold and detached, evil. How did it come to this, how can she be like that? All is explained in chapters in between, going back and fro present and past, working its way slowly up to her encounter with James, her husband and leader of a cult.

James’ voice isn’t very prominent but it was rather horrifying to read that she’s falling for him. It’s clear he kind of brainwashed her, or perhaps she wanted to believe in what he was telling because she never had anyone who believed in her and just wanted to belong. Again, I felt understanding and sympathy with her past self, alternating with anger for her present character. She dreams of living a quiet life on the farm and having a loving family. With a father who never gave her the time of day she finally sees someone who can give her the life she longs for. She starts believing and becomes his follower. They believe that The Revelation will come. What that entails will be revealed slowly, after I already feared the worst.

A final mention is for Adam, an ex-cop with an – unhealthy – obsession for finding missing girls and this case in particular for his own personal reasons. Adam is on a mission to rescue someone but who is he going to rescue exactly? I was a bit confused how Adam got on Cora’s trail because she wasn’t missing and I thought I spotted a few plot holes there in his explanations but nothing that put a downer on my reading experience.

This is Koethi Zan’s second novel and although it wasn’t as mind-blowing as The Never List (which I gave 5 stars) and has a different approach, it was intriguing and played with my feelings brilliantly. The characterization of Cora and Julie was very strong and on point and I could have given it 4 stars but I don’t think I really want to read it again, it’s not a very uplifting story after all, hence my 3.5 stars.

I received a free copy of this novel from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Phantom Limb by Lucinda Berry #BookReview

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What’s it about?

Emily and Elizabeth spend their childhood locked in a bedroom and terrorized by a mother who drinks too much and disappears for days. The identical twins are rescued by a family determined to be their saviors.

But there’s some horrors love can’t erase…

Elizabeth wakes in a hospital, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak. The last thing she remembers is finding Emily’s body in their bathroom. Days before, she was falling in love and starting college. Now, she’s surrounded by men who talk to themselves and women who pull out their eyebrows.

As she delves deeper into the mystery surrounding Emily’s death, she discovers shocking secrets and holes in her memory that force her to remember what she’s worked so hard to forget—the beatings, the blood, the special friends. Her life spins out of control at a terrifying speed as she desperately tries to unravel the psychological puzzle of her past before it’s too late.

Phantom Limb is a character-driven mystery that begs to be read in a single setting. The shocking and shattering conclusion will make you go back and read it again.

You can buy a copy of this book on Amazon UK | Amazon US.

Review

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Elizabeth’s story is written so eloquently it was hard to imagine sometimes that Phantom Limb is in fact a work of fiction. The story was mesmerising and the true beauty of this novel most definitely lies in the ability of Ms. Berry to write a story that felt like I was reading a true story. A story about self-discovery and tragedy with a protagonist who feels like she’s a normal and ordinary person until we delve deeper into her past and the author peels away the layers of her nondescript life one by one.

The story is in fact told by one part of a twin who seems to have her life quite in order despite having ‘survived’ an unimaginable traumatic childhood. She’s doing well in school and has a part-time job and now she even has found someone she’s interested in and she can imagine herself proclaiming the L-word to him. Her sister with whom she forms some kind of symbiosis didn’t have the same reaction though. She’s depressed and always struggled coping with the first 7 years of their lives. Elizabeth is used to her sister’s cutting and nursing her back to health, but this time she seems to have really gone too far. Elizabeth wakes up in a psych ward and learns that her twin is in fact dead. She thinks she’s there to cope with the loss, the emptiness of losing your other half, but she’s there to learn also about herself and why she doesn’t remember anything after she found her sister’s lifeless body. It seems the scars of their past run deeper than she ever imagined.

The talks to the doctors, with the other patients in the ward, with her new-found friend Rose who is dealing with another psychological problem, they all help her to get an insight into what happened. It felt very realistic and you can clearly feel the author’s expertise in the matter. The only remark that I might have about this novel is about the twist in the end which felt a bit like it was something fabricated especially to appeal to readers looking for the promised thrill and twist. I can understand it but it wasn’t really necessary for me and I mean that as a compliment really. It was entertaining enough for me without it.

When I think about a psychological thriller I kind of expect a super suspenseful read filled with tension, suspicion and doubt about multiple characters. This certainly isn’t a psychological thriller in the traditional sense but a different reading experience altogether. The pacing was very consistent and I felt many emotions while reading Phantom Limb. I felt my heart breaking when I read about what these twins had to endure, and later on I was experiencing and discovering everything right along with Elizabeth and that made me really connect with her too. She’s not dramatic or whiny but just investigative and sceptical and I admire how she comes to terms with her past. This novel is certainly packed with enough intrigue to keep you entertained from the first page to the last.

Overall, I’m very impressed with this novel and I certainly wouldn’t mind reading it again. I’ve always had a deep interest for everything relating to the human psyche so this novel satisfied me in every sense.

I received a free copy from the author and publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

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What’s it about?

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared without trace. Then a letter from her father arrives – ‘I need to talk to you. That girl. I saw that girl.’ Has her father’s dementia worsened, or has he really seen Corinne? Returning home, Nicolette must finally face what happened on that terrible night all those years ago. Then, another young woman goes missing, almost to the day of the anniversary of when Corinne vanished. And like ten years ago, the whole town is a suspect.

Told backwards – Day 15 to Day 1 – Nicolette works to unravel the truth, revealing shocking secrets about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne.

You can buy a copy of this novel on Amazon UK | Amazon US.

Review

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Ever since Nic’s best friend Corinne went missing 10 years ago, life stood still for her. She left town trying to escape all the talk, all the suspicions, all the sorrow, but she was never really able to move on. Now she’s gone back for the summer she is once more catapulted into the past events because on her first day back at home another girl goes missing and she was asking the police about Corinne’s case.

All the main players of the past are in the picture again: her brother Daniel, Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson, her ex Tyler, their friend Bailey, and in the middle of this was the girl who witnessed their little group from a distance at the fair 10 years ago and was their alibi. So what did she know and who felt threatened?

This book has done me in! It’s just brilliant how it takes you back in time from Day 15 to Day 1 and is able to ramp up the suspense going backwards. It actually shows first, prickling your interest, making you wonder how the scene you are reading about came to happen and then it actually explains in the following chapter from a day further in the past. It’s unheard of and so clever.

Even if Corinne was the one missing in this story, she felt so present and real, I really felt like I knew her in the end. I didn’t like her at all but she was a great character. The suspicion was also pretty much on everyone in this novel.

There were people who knew more than they said, who chose to keep silent. There must be more of us. I had to understand the silence. With Corinne comes Anneleise. With Anneleise comes Corinne. Apply one filter to the next, watch it all slide into focus.

If you are one of those readers who always figures out the ending way in advance, then this is definitely the book for you. You can’t know how this all holds up until you get to the end, I mean beginning.. whatever. And I can tell everyone that the ending is bound to surprise you, as it did to me.

This is a different kind of format all right and one that worked really well. I’ve read many past and present mystery plotlines but never one like this before. When you reach the end of the book, you’ll want to reread it again from the beginning, just to see how it all fits together. I know I did.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.