Photographer, book reviewer, mama, cat-lover in Seattle. Originally from England. I'm usually busy taking cat photos at a cat rescue or reading books...
I put my reviews up on Goodreads, Amazon, and Edelweiss+. I have MS so I'm tired a lot but it's a good excuse to have a lie-down and read! My Litsy handle is kamoorephoto
This book was a pick for my Litsy horror postal book club, and the second in a row that had the theme of a haunted house (this came on the back of the classic 'The Haunting of Hill House', which almost isn't fair, since that book is so well-known, and it was hard not to think of it).
'The Grip of It' was on my radar for a while after I noticed its cover, which is covered in the 'drawings' that show up mysteriously inside the house that the young couple, Julie and James, buy when they move to a small town outside of the city. There are lots of things that mysteriously go on inside the house (or do they?), after they move in, and the couple learns of the family that used to live there (or was it next door?), and they have so many questions that they start to run together...and largely are unanswered. ALL the way through to the end of the book. That was ultimately my biggest problem with 'The Grip of It': not ever feeling like questions were answered. The two main characters were also so similar (and weak, in my opinion), that their perspectives ran together, so the storytelling device of different chapters being their alternating different voices was ineffective. Whether or not this was intentional or not as a device to show that they were becoming of 'one mind' as the house took over, it was very confusing to read as the book continued.
I mostly enjoyed the literary prose and new approach to a 'horror' novel but occasionally I was a annoyed with the short sentences, which broke up some very beautiful writing, and very quotable prose.
And like most horror stories, the couple, Julie and James do frustratingly keep going back to this house that is obviously causing them to drift apart and for Julie to become ill (ergot poisoning? seizures?), yet the house sells quickly, so even though it seems that in general we have a no-nonsense 'literary' horror novel, we still have these silly tropes that don't make sense after all.
And what on earth happened to Rolf? ?
Still, I read this quickly, and it was a page-turner, it kept me engaged. It just could've been so much better.
So Excited. That's been me since I discovered one of my most favorite thriller authors back when I read 'Final Girls', with its flashy red and black cover, back in the first week of July of 2017. I now like to pretend that author Riley Sager is releasing his books in time for my birthday each year, even though this time I was one of the lucky ones to get to read the book early.
This time I had to save my review for this tour, and deliberately chose this date (Friday the 13th), since it's the end of the tour, and so I could play around with some horror movie and books in my post. How could I not, when the plot of the book is set at summer camp in the woods, just like one of the most iconic horror movies of all time?!
And I'll unashamedly say right now that after finishing this book, the first two words out of my mouth (and originally onto social media, along with 5 stars), were 'Holy ***p, so you can probably tell I love the book. So with no surprise I can tell you now that the book is already on the New York Times Bestseller list, and has been optioned by Amazon Video to be made into a miniseries (at time of writing). I’m thrilled for Mr. Riley Sager!
My post for you below will be a review PLUS a ‘quick chat’ about some of the best horror/thriller novels that have been made into movie adaptations, thanks to the above news. I hope you can dive into the book recommendations! AND GOOD LUCK with the GIVEAWAY!!
ABOUT RILEY SAGER, THE AUTHOR
Riley Sager is the pseudonym of a former journalist, editor and graphic designer who previously published mysteries under his real name.
Now a full-time author, Riley's first thriller, FINAL GIRLS, became a national and interna-tional bestseller and was called "the first great thriller of 2017" by Stephen King. Translation rights have been sold in more than two dozen countries and a film version is being developed by Universal Pictures.
Riley's second book, THE LAST TIME I LIED, was published July 3rd. It was inspired by the classic novel and film "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and one horrible week Riley spent at summer camp when he was ten.
A native of Pennsylvania, Riley now lives in Princeton, New Jersey. When he's not working on his next novel, he enjoys reading, cooking and going to the movies as much as possible. His favorite film is "Rear Window." Or maybe "Jaws." But probably, if he's being honest, "Mary Poppins."
Riley's website is HERE
ABOUT THE BOOK, 'The Last Time I Lied' by Riley Sager
Publisher: Dutton Press
Release Date: July 3, 2018
Genre: Adult, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the young-est of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she--or anyone--saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.
Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings--massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.
Yet it's immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp's twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present. And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.
NOW IT'S MY TURN....
So by now, you have had the chance to read the synopsis of the book, and even better, may have already read the book. Usually for my blog tour posts, I do straight reviews, and immediately my response for the book, upon finishing it, I was blown away, and couldnt even write my review as soon as I had finished. I was speechless, and I then uttered a few curse words because Sager has written yet another bloody brilliant book.
In FINAL GIRLS, Sager blew us out of the water with a thriller that focused mainly on two girls , and the very concept that they were the final girls left from slasher killings (even without the book revolving around the killings themselves) was enough to get into the reader‘s psyches and make us all terrified. In THE LAST TIME I LIED, he manages yet again to take the reader to a very vulnerable place, alongside the main character Emma, this time back to when she was a teenager, self-conscious and needing to be accepted, but how could it be worse than back then?
Going back to the same camp as an adult where your friends went missing and you were accused of being responsible for it, that’s how. But Emma is going to figure out what really happened at Camp Nightingale all those years ago (Jason Voorhes had nothing to do with it). The book is absolute brilliance, in terms of pacing, use of different timelines (and we see this as a writing device a lot, but not always done well), depth of characters, and ultimately, the story has the best plot twist I could (never) imagine. One of my best (sorry, Sir Sager) compliments is that I could swear Riley is a female author because he writes female voices so well. I don’t know how he does it.
So I never went to summer camp - this is something kids in America do, I learned this from watching movies and reading teen novels (I grew up up in Hong Kong and England; I’m a Brit, if you don't know this yet), so this American custom fascinated me when I was younger. I definitely didn't play two truths and a lie. Somewhat ironically though, my parents did send me away to boarding school all the way back in England while we lived in Hong Kong (actually at my request).
But I had an early fascination with ghosts and creepy stories, and actually chose my boarding school because of the history of the school, and because I was sure there would be ghosts there; I chose Battle Abbey, the building built by William the Conqueror on the site of his conquest in 1066. My fascination has continued to this day...
And so I wanted to talk about movies AND books (I just so happen to have a film degree and once upon a time, used to work in film production). As I mentioned, I also just happened to have heard the insanely awesome news that THE LAST TIME I LIED has been acquired by Amazon Video to be made into a series, and I couldn't be more excited.
I truly believe some of the best horror and thriller movie adaptations came from the best books that have been written so I want to make some recommendations to end this tour. Especially now that Riley has joined these ranks! Read the book AND watch the movie…
~ A little bit before going away to Battle Abbey back in the UK, I went to a sleepover and I saw a movie (adapted from a book) that changed me to no end (and made me want to bail and go home). I also just saw that Riley is a big fan of this one too, PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK by Joan Lindsay. About girls at a Victorian boarding school in rural Australia, several girls go missing to never be found ever again when a group goes on a picnic one day out at this huge rock formation. It terrified me. This is a must see and read.
~ Several books on this list will not be a surprise, perhaps because the films are so notorious (as is the author), but that's the thing - go and read the book and you will find out why they were able to make such a successful film: the book was good. You may have seen CARRIE by Stephen King, but have you read it? It's pretty short, just 305 pages (my copy), but the 'Carrie' you read may end up giving you a whole different perspective. First of all, did you know this was Stephen King's first novel?! Such immense talent from the get-go. And another author who was able to connect with his feminine side agnd create a female character that will NEVER be forgotten!
~ Another King book to read that was then filmed (by one of the best directors of all time, Stanley Kubrick), THE SHINING. To get lost in the depths of this book, is to get lost in the recesses of Jack Torrance's mind. The film has been dissected and mimicked, and has now become part of popular culture, but the novel came out a good 3 years before the film; why not read it and see what you make of it today? It reads differently from the film, but you can see why Kubrick (plus the excellent cast, and everyone from production design to location scouts) made couldn’t have gone wrong with this one.
~ One of my all-time favorites is next: this novel was actually more popular than the film, selling over 4 million copies, making it the best selling novel of the 1960’s, where the success would help launch the "horror boom", where horror fiction would achieve enormous commercial success. Do you know what it is? ROSEMARY’S BABY by Ira Levin. This was Ira's second novel and he knocked it out of the ballpark with a story about a couple who move into a Gothic Revival style New York City apartment building, and end up finding out they are living next to leaders of a Satanic coven. I won't go further than there. I will then say that Roman Polanski's film, made just a year later, in 1968, starring Mia Farrow, is utter movie perfection. Ironically (or not), my son's name is Roman.
~ Last classic to read that has been adapted that basically needs no explanation or introduction, is PSYCHO by Robert Bloch (I choose this over THE EXORCIST, also by Bloch; as much as I love that film, this is a quieter book and film, and the methods by which the directors got their performances were very different, ie. Hitchcock vs. Friedkin).
It’s a much shorter book, and I think most readers will find a this a more satisfying read. Maybe play the soundtrack in the background while reading. That might be more infamous than the books or film for some people.
And since it's Friday the 13th, you should guess what I’ll suggest you should watch, even though it’s one of the cheesiest horror flicks out there...that’s right, switch over to Hulu tonight and watch the ‘campy’ horror flick from 1980 that started off a whole slew of horror movies in the same vein, the one and only original, starring Kevin Bacon himself, FRIDAY THE 13TH.
It actually makes me laugh even though it still makes me jump (number 2 is better, when Jason starts doing the killings - sorry if I spoiled anything). But it will get you in the mood for Camp Nightingale and Riley’s excellent thriller in the woods.
I don’t know what Riley Sager will come up with next time but I’m super appreciative the books release in time for my birthday, and even more so, that we have one of the best thriller writers of our generation right here, right now. Even Stephen King said so, not just me.
Now enter to win the book....
* This time there's no Rafflecopter or anything like that; there's 1 finished copy per blog— that's right, you can WIN A COPY OF THE BOOK RIGHT HERE! Thank you to Dutton Books.
* US/Canada Only— sorry!!!
* Note: winners may only be chosen ONCE for the tour, meaning each person can only win from one blog and if they win on another blog they are to turn it down or be disqualified completely (you can enter on another blog but only win once).
* Ends: July 20th.
* All I would like you to do TO ENTER is a) FOLLOW MY BLOG
and b) COMMENT below with what your favorite HORROR OR THRILLER MOVIE adaptation IS!! (is it one of these???)
*You can follow all the Book Blogs on the tour HERE: The Last Time I Lied Blog Tour SCHEDULE
BUY 'The Last Time I Lied' (and 'Final Girls', while you're there)...
*Buy the book on AMAZON
*Buy the book at B&N.com
*Buy the book via Indiebound
I love feedback and I can’t wait to read your answers (I’ll be drawing a winner on the 20th)! Let me know what your favorite book is too, if you like.
And HAPPY READING, guys!!
I’ve read a lot of great thrillers lately, and despite the fact that this has a great premise (young girls accused of murdering their best friend five years ago, reunite back in the small town that still calls them the ‘Monsters Of Brickhouse Lane’), it just falls short. Putting it another way, this was a thriller that really did end up feeling broken.
Five years ago, the case against Mia and Brynn is dropped, and Owen was acquitted in court, after they were accused of brutally killing their friend Summer in what looked like a ritualistic murder. Now that a memorial has brought them back together, the three of them (along with their new tag-along friend, and so-called YouTube fashion sensation Abby), plus Brynn’s second cousin Wade, are now going to solve the murder.
This plot reads immediately like it has been done before and only recently (I do not like comparing to specific books so I won’t).
I will however, point out how the girls’ obsession with the book ‘The Way Into Lovelorn’ (‘fan fic’ made me do it!), and the similarity of this obsession we see in the real life ‘Slender Man’ killings came off as all too familiar, and so it didn’t seem original or clever for me very early on. I also found myself wanting more from these passages from ‘Lovelorn’ as they gave me few answers as to why I should believe any behaviors should come from this book. As the crux of ‘Broken Things’, these passages needed to be way stronger for me to be convinced that it had anything to do with the killing, the girls’ obsession, and their friendships.
Lauren Oliver is an established and fluid writer; conversations flow well, nothing really seems ‘wrong’ in terms of how the story ‘works’, but I had a hard time getting myself through this, and at times the story seemed to be meandering. Aside from the fact that Summer, the murdered ‘best friend’, seemed to be a nasty piece of work anyway, so I didn’t really care that the others may well have bumped her off, the twist and subsequent Scooby-Doo ‘unmasking’ gave me zero payoff. I felt badly that the characters hadn’t been given more action, especially with how long the book is.
Many will enjoy this thriller but sadly I have to say it’s too long, and has too much jumping around between the two main characters, Brynn (who I just can’t believe would get away with ‘living’ in rehab like she did), and Mia, and the two timelines. The relationships are half way there, and the general ambiance is generally right, but this is a very full genre right now, so I had much higher expectations for this one.
*Plus a cat was killed.
When I first heard about this book ‘The Cheerleaders’ from Liberty on Book Riot, my ears perked up at it being a new thriller from Kara Thomas (plus Liberty said it’s awesome). Then I saw the amazing bare-bones cover with the cheerleading skirt, and that absolutely convinced me. A thriller with cheerleaders? Bring it on!!
Cheerleaders have been an iconic feature in American culture since the sport of cheerleading became popular for teenage girls in high schools and colleges (rather than it previously being a male sport) in the 1950’s. There’s really no mistaking what a cheer uniform represents in terms of status when one is donned; the cheerleaders in high schools seem to occupy their own certain bewildering stratosphere in the hierarchy of school cliques, and it’s hard to describe the ‘cheerleading effect’ (although it’s done really well in the hilarious movie ‘Bring It On’). Cheerleaders have long made perfect fodder especially for movies (particularly of the horror variety), TV, and books, because of the stereotypes that befall girls who become them.
In this book,'The Cheerleaders' of Sunnybrook have either been killed, or they’ve had to become the not quite as high-flying dance squad, so there's not much cheerleading going on. After the deaths of five cheerleaders (two dead from hitting a tree in a car crash, two brutally murdered by the man who lived net door to them, and one by suicide, the squad is disbanded. Monica, whose sister Jen died by her own hand, is now on the dance team, and even though it's five years on, she doesn't have the answers she needs about her sister's death, especially after she comes across her sister's cell phone in her stepad's (the cop) desk. She also has a new friend at school who really pushes to find out what really happened, and to see if the deaths are connected.
Now there's a lot about this novel that I really loved: a seasoned writer like Kara Thomas means the reader gets to enjoy clear voice for our protagonist Monica, who is surrounded by friends and family, but still seems rather lonely, having lost her sister Jen some five years prior (and we have some chapters told from her perspective too), and she leads us through this thriller/mystery. Opening with what clearly is her having to deal with the aftermath of an abortion, thanks to an unplanned pregnancy, this is something pivotal to the plot, and something that may turn a few readers unnecessarily away (Thomas isn’t afraid of that though).
Quickly though, the reader is given the back story about how the cheerleaders died and why Monica becomes so adamant on finding the truth. But this is also where I find the major flaw: I really did want more ‘cheerleaders’, and more action than just at the end (the twist is still good, although a few times I’d got bogged down in too many details, and got lost in the information given). The book gave me an entirely sad feeling as a takeaway; after ‘solving the mystery’ I came away with such a profound sense of loss for these characters, which I didn’t expect. There’s some closure but it doesn’t balance how much I wanted a bit more of a bloody thriller, much like the blood splatter on the cheerleader skirt on the cover suggests, instead of a sad mystery.
This is a solid mystery from Kara Thomas, well-written and with an unexpected twist. Just very sad, and with a lot of amateur sleuthing (instead of cheerleading).
This book about a ship full of fierce, brave, loyal women ready to take on any battle on the high seas, is definitely an adventure with a strong girl-power message (as promised).
Captain Caledonia Styx takes charge of the ship Mors Navis after losing her family to a corrupt and vicious warlord, Aric Athair, and his fleet of ships who he fills with ‘Bullets’, boys and men who he doses up with the drug Silt. Caledonia vows to avenge her loss, and all those of her ‘sisters’, and leads them on mission to find her two brothers, who she finds are still alive (and also now Bullets), after capturing one ‘boy’ called Orna.
The characters on the Mors Navis are tight friends and fighters, loyal to the end, and they are all written with fascinating idiosyncrasies (and names!). What is so great about this book in general is that this is a story about family, friendships, the importance of bonds and loyalty, and how that carries these self-professed sisters through such adversity together.
Parker has written the book with a lot of sailing lingo (I just read that she grew up in a Navy family), so that took a bit of getting adjusted to, but is totally necessary for it to feel authentic. It’s interesting that she has chosen to have the book read as though it’s in some sort of past, but it’s written with talk of the ‘Old World’ and there is some interesting tech, ie the electromagnetic field around the Bullet ship.
The conflict that Caledonia has within herself, that makes her so hardened, is most interesting; I struggled with it a little though, in connecting with her, but it would be appropriate since that’s how it would be in reality. Other characters are also just as fascinating, and Parker will hopefully develop these further when this adventure continues. The pacing was a bit slow in parts, but when I think about that, I think about how the crew has to actually wait as they sail on the high seas, and would spend time preparing to reach their next port or venture.
Overall, this is an exciting take on a sea adventure, and I expect the reader will end up gunning for the crew of Mors Navis like I did. And unsurprisingly, the ending has left the reader with a major cliffhanger.
I'm so excited for the release of this book, and I'm thrilled to be on the blog tour because of how amazing the book is. This was an easy 5-star read for me; as soon as I put the book down when I was finished, I was engulfed with strong (all good!) feelings for it; I’ll share more in my review!
Thanks again to the amazing Fantastic Flying Book Club for having me on this blog tour; I’m especially grateful to have been on this one!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: DEMETRA BRODSKY (she's amazing, by the way)
Demetra Brodsky is an award-winning graphic designer & art director turned writer. She has a B.F.A from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and lives in Southern California with her family of four and two lovable rescue dogs. Dive Smack, her debut novel, is dedicated to Pumpkin, the monarch butterfly she once saved from the brink of death. Once you read the book, you’ll understand why. She is a first generation Greek-American and a member of International Thriller Writers. Dive Smack is a 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection.
CONNECT & BUY THE BOOK!
***You can find all her links to connect with her *HERE* and EVERY single link to PREORDER and BUY her book (via Amazon, B&N, Target, Powells, iBooks, EVERYWHERE, ie, you have NO excuse). There are some great preorder incentives (yes, I've already got my order in!).
There is also an audiobook sample, a book excerpt, and even a Dive Smack Spotify playlist!
You can find her on Twitter as demetrabrodsky!
Category: Young Adult, Contemporary
Release Date: June 19th, 2018; Tor Teen
Theo Mackey only remembers one thing for certain about the fire that destroyed his home: he lit the match.
Sure, it was an accident. But the blaze killed his mom and set his dad on a path to self-destruction. Everything else about that fateful night is full of gaping holes in Theo’s mind, for good reason. Maybe it’s better that way. As captain of the Ellis Hollow Diving Team, with straight A’s and solid friends, he’s only one semester away from securing a scholarship, and leaving his past behind.
But when a family history project gets assigned at school, new memories come rushing to the surface, memories that make him question what he really knows about his family, the night of the fire, and if he can trust anyone—including himself.
So it was quite easy to give this twisty and exciting psychological YA thriller a 5-star review. It has been harder to put into words every single thing as to why, because I was so taken by surprise by Demetra’s brilliant debut novel. It seems as though from the moment I laid eyes on the beautiful cover for ‘Dive Smack’ (the flames above a young man plunging into the water), I needed to read it. And then I was immediately lost inside this book from the opening two quotes, particularly this one from Carl Jung,
"Your vision will become clear when you look inside your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens."
What a way to start the book!
If you read the synopsis of the book above, you'll know by now that it’s about Theo Mackey, a high school springboard diver who has had both of his parents pass away tragically, and then he starts to question the memories he has of the fire that killed his mom, particularly as new ones surface as he researches a family project for school. Theo luckily has some great friends he can count on, but he lives with his alcoholic grandfather (GP), and he's starting to find his home life and new stressors are affecting his usually perfect diving, something he can’t afford to screw up, being the captain of Team Monarch. And the big school family project is what really starts to mess with Theo’s understanding of the fire, his family, and this makes him question what’s going on in his head. It seems he’s gradually losing his grip. That’s really what leads him to get more help from Dr. Maddox, a family friend and psychiatrist.
*Note: I’m leaving a LOT of story/plot out, so there are no spoilers.
Now that’s a very basic overview of what you are getting yourself into with this, but it goes from being a book about this likable guy on the diving team at a high school (and I now know so much more about springboard diving beyond my watching the Olympics every four years), to being a very clever, psychological thriller with details and twists I never expected. Demetra has employed some very clever writing devices that make this a standout: I love the way she begins each chapter with a diving term that correlates to the part of the story that it contains (note that Dive Smack is pretty painful), which is absolute genius. Her writing is also very fluid, and weaving interludes with the past and other ‘voices’ are done seamlessly. Also, since this is a thriller, the pacing builds up steadily to an eventual crescendo, within an ending where all the tense energy flows throughout the end chapters.
Theo is such a well-fleshed out character (as are Chip, Iris, Amy, and others), that you really get a feel for who this guy is; Demetra has created so many endearing things about about him, that you can’t help but root for him the whole way through: we know he has two moles on his face, his car is called Bumblebee after the Transformer, he likes classic rock, and of course, he's an orphan. And he likes to use puns.
But the real treat in this book is how it ropes you in (it gets better and better the deeper you dive in: pun intended), how it becomes way more than a book about a few high schoolers; it becomes about a sensitive young man uncovering his past and the deception that is swirling around him. Then the massive and very dark twist at the end takes the reader, and Theo, by surprise, making this precisely what earns this book its top marks. It left me tearful, it made me laugh, AND gasp. I can’t wait to see what comes from Demetra next, especially if it’s another thriller as riveting and original as this one.
*And just so you know - Dive Smack: When a diver under or over rotates or twists on a dive, hitting the water with enough force to cause pain or physical injury.
Hardcover copy of DIVE SMACK by Demetra Brodsky & Prize pack of necklace, bracelet, signed bookmark, & signed book plate! US only, ends 6/26.
Click *HERE* to enter the giveaway. Good luck!!
To continue following the tour, this will take you to the DIVE SMACK BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE.
That was a long one, I hope you read it all! If you go back to the first post on the tour you can read a great interview with Demetra (surprisingly she is NOT a diver, and I was so stoked to find out she also loves Teen Wolf).
I hope you add this to your TBR, and buy this book! Happy reading!
I read this book just about at the perfect time; after reading seven dark thrillers, mysteries, and moody fantasies, I needed something to cleanse my literary palette and get me back to 'bookish square zero'.
This really was a delightful read, taking me to all the right places that I hoped a book like this would. It revolves around Jolie Peterson, who is sixteen, in high school, and has an underbite, which is medical termed as 'mandibular prognathism' (I didn't even know that, and my dog has the most severe underbite; he was my motivator for requesting an early copy of this book - yes, really). Jolie has spent her entire life NOT wanting the spotlight before of her teeth, but also preparing for surgery to 'fix her face' so that she can end the headaches, chew properly, and stop feeling like she's different from everyone else. She wrestles with the questions of what makes someone beautiful, just like a lot of young people do, whether they have a misaligned jaw or not, and it takes her a long time to realize that many people worry if they're good enough, smart enough, pretty enough.
While she prepares for this long-awaited surgery, so many things come up for Jolie, and it may seem like you're reading a book with all the high-school literary tropes crammed into it. But it's DONE SO WELL. She is dreading the surgery and creates a list of things she must do in case she dies under anesthesia, and these naturally include doing things like finally kissing a boy. But she also dares to try out for the school musical, and guess what, she is amazing when she auditions and she gets the lead. She also has the best of friends since kindergarten and one that happens to be a guy, Derek, and she's just now realizing he's hot. This always presents a massive problem.
You may think you have read this before but the author, Kerry Winfrey, writes ALL these scenarios and these characters with so much sincerity and originality, that they are not ones that I'd met before. The male high school boys are ones with honest concern for their female counterparts. The female high schoolers are smart, and Winfrey didn't see it necessary to play the 'mean girl' card, or have Jolie really bash herself into the ground to come to her final conclusions about self-esteem and beauty (although she does a lot of natural questioning and normal comparisons). Characters acknowledge their mistakes in ways that make sense, without being preachy, and I love the tone of the writing throughout the novel because of this. I also totally enjoyed the TV obsessions of the family, and the 'Terrible Movie Night' Jolie and Derek share.
This is a light and funny book, with some bigger issues like self-esteem, and dealing with grief and changing friendships within it, but it's ultimately about Jolie's chance to shine, to change, to grow. Her voice is charming and heartfelt, and the book left me in such a great place, feeling like I knew all these great people!
Ruth Ware has done it again! 'The Death of Mrs. Westaway' is even better than her last book, 'The Lying Game', and for me, that's saying quite a bit. I completely fell for Ware's writing and storytelling with that book (bonus points were given for taking me back to my boarding school days in Sussex), and I knew I had found my new favorite mystery author.
'The Death of Mrs. Westaway' takes the reader to Sussex again, this time to 'sunny' Brighton, where Hal - Harriet Westaway - has a job as a tarot card reader on the pier, which is what her mother used to do before she was killed suddenly by a car, leaving her alone and scraping by. As the bills are piling up and the dodgy 'bill-collector' keeps popping up, so does a letter saying that she has inherited a large sum of money by a mysterious and very old Mrs. Westaway. Although Hal realizes there is some mistake with the connection to her and her mother, she decides to go to the funeral at the Trespassen House out by Penzance. She wants a chance at just a bit of that money, and to figure out some family secrets that she feels her mum left behind.
Now that's a very rough, short synopsis. Since I'm from England, I have the fortune of reading Ruth Ware's books and imagining the English countryside, the Brighton pier, the foggy desolation around the abandoned mansion that is Trespassen House. But what is so glorious about Ware's writing is that she is able to create such atmosphere and mood, that she can conjure up imagery (I'm pretty sure) so effectively that it envelopes the story entirely, without having had to have been over there. In 'Westaway', the mansion and the grounds basically become a character of their own, and the gothic and dark images of Trespassen House are so well-written they come alive.
What also makes this novel so successful are the other family members make for a great ensemble, the secrets that swirl around slowly reveal themselves throughout the novel at the perfect pace, and Ware shows the reader what happened in the past without seeming contrived. It all fit so perfectly. And I never saw that ending coming! My biggest complaint was that I read it too quickly because once I picked the book up, I couldn't put it down.
It’s no coincidence that the current ‘Mistress Of Mystery’ has been so heavily influenced by Agatha Christie (and Daphne du Maurier) because Ware feels like the Christie of today.
It was a breath of fresh (ghostly) air to read this, even though I’m far from being in the target middle-grade reading group, but 12-year old me read it anyway (and lined up at Yallwest for 45 minutes for an early copy).
Cassidy Blake, a self-professed nerdy tween, has parents who have just about the coolest jobs: they are ‘The Inspectres’, a ghost-hunting team, and they have just been given a round-the-world TV gig, that starts in Edinburgh, to hunt down ghosts in haunted cities.
But that’s only part of what makes Cassidy a fascinating main character for Schwab’s new book; Cass once drowned, and because she came back from near-death, she came back with her very own ghostly sidekick and now, best friend, Jacob. Cassidy can see him and other ghosts, and go beyond ‘The Veil’, and she only comes to truly understand what this all means when she gets to Edinburgh.
The book is endearing, funny, and clever throughout, and contains enough appropriately-scary scenes and ideas for the age group it’s written for. I would have been clamoring for this book when I was younger. The scary scenes beyond ‘The Veil’ and with the Red Raven are expertly written, and are creepy enough to only leave the reader with a chill but not scare beyond their wits. There are also some other minor characters written, like the young girl Cassidy meets in Edinburgh, Lara, who teaches her a lot about ‘what’ she is actually is, an ‘In-Betweener’ and even the city of Edinburgh feels like a character of its own.
Victoria Schwab has crafted a near-perfect book, middle-grade or otherwise, which blends reality with fantasy, and gives the reader characters who are identifiable and likable. I felt like Cassidy was written for a younger version of myself (or is that still me?); I was obsessed so much with ghosts at that age of around 11-12, that it influenced my choice of boarding school, and Cassidy is also walking around with an old camera around her neck, and with her cat Grim by her side (a camera AND a cat?!) . And the glorious part where she tries British fish and chips for the first time; Schwab was after my soul. Our ghostly friend Jacob has emotion sweeping about him and makes the idea of having a spirit for a sidekick (especially if they’ll save your life on a whim), incredibly appealing.
The excitement around this book is warranted, and I hope the adventures of Cassidy (and Jacob) continue. This may well be a book written for 12-year old girls, but the actual readers will surely span ages and other reader groups. Just such a special, unique, and thrilling read.
Two things up front: I think ‘LIFEL1K3’ is a great novel, essentially a sci-fi novel, and I think readers might either just love it or hate it. Not much in between. And I have to say just a few things about it right before/on release day, even though there have been so many reviews and I already know that this wild and crazy book by the behemoth (in more than one way) Jay Kristoff will be a success no matter what.
The success of the Illuminae Files (written with Amie Kaufmann), and the books ‘Nevernight‘ and ‘Godsgrave’, immediately meant that ‘LIFEL1K3’, once announced, was on everyone’s TBR lists and getting preordered right out the gate. But I think so many books (especially by big name YA authors) are getting pre-judged based on hype, so I really want to try and write about the book I read; ‘LIFEL1K3’ seems to be one of those books that will have people buying ahead, and I hope the right readers are there for it.
The thing that Kristoff does so very well is world-building, and from the time you open the book until long after you finish it, you are thrust into a post-apocalyptic Earth that barely resembles the one we live on today. Kalifornya is now called Dregs and is (surprise) an island after the big Quake, and has split from the the rest of the Grande Ol’ Yousay. There has been War 4.0 and the land is desolate, scrap piles of piles of metal and junk lay waste where gangs try and salvage what they can for weapon parts or for machina building. The environment has now become so blisteringly hot, that it’s dangerous to be out in sun without protective clothing let alone SPF (what’s that now?). Real food is the thing of the past, and now Neo-Meat (trade-marked, I might add), that comes in a can is what humans must subsist on: salty colon, anyone?
But this is all small fry when it comes to the entirety of the world that Jay has created; he has created a whole way of speaking for this book, new words (how does he come up with all this stuff?), and envisioned humans living in a future with not only robots, androids, but also a type of more human-droid called (naturally) LIFEL1K3s. They are so real in terms of how similar they are to humans, it’s frightening, but with advanced abilities to heal.
This is the crux of the story. The merry band of characters that Kristoff has centered the novel around: Eve, Cricket, Lemon Fresh, Kaiser (a mechanical dog, a blitzhund), meet Ezekiel, a LIFEL1K3, who tells Evie that she is actually Ana, and everything goes crazy from that point onwards. It starts with giant bot fights and that isn’t the craziest part of the book. There is so much action in this book that it’s hard to describe too much, but given that readers will be largely from a YA audience, and that they will be met with a major amount of science fiction, they may be surprised at how it does not slow down; once you are in, you must commit to a sci-fi novel. I really feel like it’s less YA, and intensely post-apocalyptic and science-fiction. There is definitely romance in this book, and a plot line where ‘Lil Evie’ is tryin to come to terms with her identity and her past, but while you can take a breather more easily with the Illuminae Files, thanks to the format, this is far more immersive. Kristoff has done a fantastic job at making the reader feel entirely swept up into this world; just like the characters who are stuck in their fates, the reader must stay entirely absorbed to grasp everything going on.
I’d say that ‘LIFEL1K3’ is a book like nothing I’ve read before and it leaves you feeling a little bit chewed up and breathless. And with a major cliffhanger. I will expect that some readers may feel like that wasn’t what they were expecting but if you go along for the ride you will have read some genius.
This was so good that it was one of those books I just could not put down. Being thrown into a dystopian nightmare that doesn’t seem so far-fetched is thoroughly unnerving because it’s feels entirely too familiar. We’ve read and seen a lot of imagined dystopias lately where women are quite brutally subjugated, but reading ‘VOX’ felt more subtle and thus a little more frightening.
‘VOX’ centers around Dr. Jean McClellan, a former doctor and professor who studied aphasia (loss of speech), and her family, and we quickly see how the new Government ‘rules’, and the ‘Pure’ Movement have affected her family. ‘Bracelets’ have been placed on all females’ wrists, and they track words spoken each day; the word counter allows them only 100 words in 24 hours and beyond that, they’ll receive electric shocks. Jean’s daughter has got to the point to where she barely speaks at all. Women can’t work anymore, use birth control, read, write, spend their own money; men have the ultimate say in everything. There are also stiff punishments for extramarital and premarital sex, even exiling and humiliating teenagers on public TV.
Jean is eventually called up by the very Government that has put all of this in place, for her help and expertise. The President’s brother suddenly has lost his ability to talk after an accident and they need her help, as one of the top experts in the country on aphasia. Her rather meek and quiet husband, who works for the Government, encourages her to do it, and she’s motivated by the deal of having her daughter’s word counter removed.
Does this all seem too convenient? Maybe. There are a few plot points that work out a little too easily. But it’s compulsive reading. As well as being one of those books that doesn’t feel so far away from being our truth, it’s hard not feel like this could happen to your family.
That makes it successful.
And the fact that we are drawn in by all the hints of other great dystopian novels written by Margaret Atwood, Naomi Alderman (just recently), or even George Orwell, so be it. There are some great action scenes in here, grand questions about how we should be living our lives, a huge argument that is playing now with the ‘Pure Movement’ concept (getting back to basics, and the religious right), and that is really why feel like Dalcher has hit the nail on the head with this. Great read!
*Thank you Penguin for my First Read! Having an early digital copy has not affected my ability to give an honest review.
One of the most hyped books of 2018, with not one, but two versions of early review copies sent out to reviewers and booksellers months in advance, some with a special promo box, 'Furyborn' has been primed for its release for (I'm hazarding a guess) about 8 months now. Every blogger and reviewer I know has wanted to get their hands on a copy of this book to read and review (and likely have the 'one with the artwork on the cover' in their permanent collection) because it is THE book on everyone's blog, and the 'must-read fantasy series of 2018', according to blurb on the back of the book. The publicity campaign has done a rip-roaringly good job to get everyone on board. So does it live up to the hype? Those are high stakes these days when YA fantasy is the genre to reel everyone in.
The premise is grand: two young women, one thousand years apart from each other, hold the immense power that will either save their world or doom it. Each one is either the queen of light and salvation, or the queen of blood and destruction, according to prophecy: which one is the Sun Queen, and who is the Blood Queen?
Rielle Dardenne must endure seven trials to test her magic, which she has been hiding since was a child, and prove herself to be in control of her elemental powers, or she will be executed. Then, some thousand years later, Eliana Ferracora is the counterpart to would-be Queen Rielle. She is a bounty hunter and assassin, known as the ‘Dread of Orline’, and she goes on a mission to find her mother who has been taken along with countless other women, in the violent empire of Ventera. Eliana has had to join a rebel captain, the ‘Wolf’, to get to the heart of the disappearances. And while Rielle knew of her powers for many years, Eliana is just coming to terms with her magic, the power that her body has to heal itself. These two storylines and timelines alternate back and forth throughout the novel, between Rielle and Eliana, and don’t seem to relate to each other; the only thing binding them together throughout is talk of the Sun and Blood Queen .
So I’ll be honest: it was really hard for me to connect to ‘Furyborn’, and I dipped in and out of the book for a while and read several complete other books at the same time, which is unusual for me. It’s only at about halfway through the book that I became more invested in the story and the characters (and then only somewhat), and then I reserved my time solely to this book. For a long book (512 pages), having to read half of it to get invested, is close to reading a whole shorter-length YA novel, so that’s a lot of reading to try and see what all the fuss is about. It’s not to say there wasn’t any action happening on those pages; it just felt like it wasn’t going anywhere. I couldn’t even put my finger on why I felt like the action wasn't ‘happening’, but I rarely ever skim through words on a page but sometimes I wanted to because the same stuff seemed to keep repeating itself.
I was also getting tired of the back and forth between the two storylines; maybe if the reader got to sit with one of the characters longer, a better connection could be felt. I personally felt like you never are given a true feeling for the actual relationships in this book because you can never stay with them long enough to connect with them.
Both lead characters lack the real spunk or inner beauty that I feel they needed to shine through as deserved heroines, so maybe that was what held me back from truly loving their stories. I didn’t feel like either of them were pulling me through to the finish line.
Despite the world-building and the pretty fascinating underbelly of this novel built on dark angels and visions, which are pretty good openings for some amazing subplots, as well as the thrilling opening to the book ‘An End, and a Beginning’, I don’t feel like ‘Furyborn’ delivered for me.
Legrand is a dynamic author and her lyrical writing skills make much of what you read look like poetry. But I don’t like feeling as though a book is 100 pages longer than it needs to be, just so a book is an ‘epic fantasy novel’. I also wanted more time (but not with extra pages) to get to know these characters so I could connect to them. I hate feeling like I’m writing all of this and it will be an unpopular opinion, but I think this could have been so much better, because this was a ‘big one’, but I’ll be reaching, not for the sequel of this, but for Legrand’s ‘Sawkill Girls’ next.
I usually have a ‘thing’ about books with images of people on the cover (is that strange?), so when I first saw ‘Grace and Fury’ with the striking, and beautiful, photo of the two girls, who are the two main characters in the book - Serina (Grace) and Nomi (Fury) - I was a bit flummoxed. I’d heard good things, PLUS the caveat is that we only see half of their faces. I could continue!
‘Grace and Fury’ also turned out to not be your usual ‘princess’ tale, even though YA fantasy is inundated with them, and that was my worry going in. Quite quickly, the story of Serina and Nomi was turned upside down. Serina and Nomi live in a world where women basically have no rights, and they have few choices as to what they are going to do with their lives. Serina has spent her short life being groomed to become a ‘Grace’, basically a submissive concubine for the Heir to the throne. Nomi, her sister, smarter and more rebellious, is Serina’s handmaiden, and makes the mistake one day of being caught ‘reading’ while they’re at the royal palace, but Serina takes the fall for this, and is exiled to Mount Ruin as punishment, and Nomi remains as one of the chosen Graces; they’re both suddenly severely out of their element.
What Serina finds though, is that the women on Mount Ruin are used for, is basically entertainment for the guards there, fighting to their deaths like gladiators. And Nomi is trapped inside a life she didn’t want, inside the palace, where although she may not have to fight for her food, instead she’s ‘competing’ for a place at the side of the Heir, something she never wanted in the first place. She is in an environment where there are few people around her, and deception by those close to her feels likely in every conversation she has. They are both life sentences that they see no immediate way out of.
Both sisters try and hatch plans to escape and get to each other, and they don’t know who to trust, and what’s fascinating about this novel is seeing their individual growth and self-discovery, particularly Serina’s, as they are locked inside their individual new inescapable (and very lonely) hells. The world that is created by author Tracy Banghart is particularly brutal and some of the scenes that are written on the island of Mount Ruin are especially bloody and violent; the fighting that occurs between the women is at-once survivalist but forced by the guards, and the descriptions of it are very detailed. This book certainly isn’t your usual ‘princess in the palace fairytale’.
We are left with a grand cliffhanger and I’m fascinated to know what happens next, especially since the ‘supporting’ characters played a big part in creating a lot of intrigue and interesting storylines. ‘Grace and Fury’ surprised me and gave me a new ferocious, if not bloody, wake-up call to the princess fairytale; these two sisters are saying a big fat ‘NO’ to the patriarchy in this one and I hope it has as strong a voice in the sequel.
I'm host on a blog tour for another book, this time it has already had its release date back on Feb 26th of this year, and while this is not the usual sort of book for me to read or review, I accepted it on a whim. Thank you to Rock Star Book Tours for including me on this blog tour. Make sure to enter the giveaway for a copy of the book after you have read my post and review!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, TROY DURANT
Troy Dukart is the author of the Venerate Saga (The Venerate Order, The Venerate Redemption, sequels to follow). Troy grew up outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota: Twin Cities. Troy is recognized by Toastmasters International as an Advanced Communicator Bronze and Advanced Leader Bronze. He's lived in Japan as well as California. He loves to travel. Make sure to stop by his website and sign-up for the newsletter to stay in the know!
ABOUT THE BOOK:
Title: THE VENERATE ORDER
Author: Troy Dukart
Pub. Date: February 26, 2018
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Strafe Rocknus has suffered hard losses in his life, but now things are looking up for the college graduate.
He has a sizzling girlfriend, good friends and a bright career ahead of him. But one day, Strafe awakes in a mysterious cavern, discovers an ancient artifact, and unwittingly ignites a war that spans two worlds: his own, and one he never knew existed.
With the abyss of the unknown before him, Strafe enters the swirling darkness. Desperate, he must navigate a new and hostile world on the brink of catastrophe, and learn the truth of who he is, while facing a darkness with the power to destroy everything Strafe has ever cared about.
Soon, he will discover that his greatest strength comes from those he fights for.
The craziest thing about reviewing a book you know nothing about beforehand is all you are going on is a book cover, the blurb on the back, and you’ve heard absolutely no talk about it. Since I decided to review ‘The Venerate Order’ I went into it just a bit like that: just seeing some bright colorful artwork for a cover, and going from there. It turns out that the insides are very colorful too.
From the very beginning, the reader is plunged into the (pretty) near future of 2088 ‘New Santa Barbara’, a part of California that has been broken off from the mainland, due to a large seismic crack. This probably isn’t that far-fetched (every time I read something like this, it seems totally plausible). The main character Strafe has recently graduated with his pilot’s license, and is a budding engineer, and is keen on entering the city contest that seeks to find a way to bridge the gap between the city and the other cities around them, across the canyons created by the seismic shifts.
This is where Strafe, with the help of his pal Gain, and his girlfriend Yessa, come to catapult our main character across the divide, and essentially into a whole new world and role for himself. When he discovers an ancient artifact in a cave, Strafe couldn’t possibly realize that this would mean the beginning of an adventure where a secret organization would be on his tail, his girlfriend would be kidnapped, or that he would find himself on another planet.
Going along with the story in this book meant leaving absolutely all my disbelief at the ‘door’/portal. I immediately (and quite obviously) felt in love with Strafe’s large wolf/spirit animal called Brutus, who I found out is named after a dog that author Troy Durant had for 14 years. And right away Strafe is forced into fighting in a bloody battle.
All the characters and the story in general are colorful and fantastical, not just the giant talking dog. The main characters are all Guardians, Protectors of the World, representing the Power of Love, Joy, Elation, Passion, Pride, (it made me think just a little bit of something like Power Rangers, with their different colors) including my favorite Brutus. Strafe is an absolutely likable antagonist, ready for a challenge, and loyal to his friends, but there are some deeper levels to the writing of the book.
Durant shows from his writing how much he has been influenced by his own reading and learning; he has been been influenced heavily by various cultures from around the world (Asian, Middle Eastern, European), and also has said that he researched extensively about Samurai and ninja histories for the character of Zon and weaponry. There is also an obvious appreciation for ancient history and myth, and that was one of my favorite things about reading this.
What strikes me too about VO is how visual it is, and so when I think on it, and maybe this is because it’s high fantasy, the cover art, or my production background, I can’t help but see this as some kind of animated film. The fight scenes are particularly vivid and descriptive. I also happen to know that Troy is a ‘Final Fantasy’ gaming fan so I can see how that inspiration led him here! Beyond this book there are several more installments in the ‘Venerate Order’ saga; this one ends with a ‘continued in part 2’, so the wild adventures of Strafe, Taleri, and everyone else don’t stop here!
It’s a really wild ride!
And here's the GIVEAWAY!!
3 winners will receive a finished copy of THE VENERATE ORDER, US Only.
You can enter through *THIS LINK*!!! GOOD LUCK!
There are some more blogs on the book tour; the full schedule can be found at this link here: VENERATE ORDER BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE - more reviews, interviews, and more!
You can also check out what other book tours are coming up and find lots of other book reviews on the Rock Star Book Tour site!!
Thanks for stopping by again, and checking out one of my reviews! Happy reading!
Before I fully launch into my review (which I've saved up for release day), I have to first say how totally excited I am that this book is going to finally going out into the world. I got to be on the ‘Street Team’, one of the 'Relay Riders', for 'Onyx and Ivory', which meant I helped get the word out for it on social media. BUT that does not play into my review of the book.
Happily though, I fell in love with Mindee Arnett's book. I've not read her other books but I have a feeling she is putting something different out here and pouring something of herself into this one. O&I is an epic fantasy that started off (I believe) as a germ of an idea for Mindee some 6 years ago now, and it became a novel that opens up a world of dark monsters, forbidden magic, and brings us characters that feel complex and vibrant.
The main character of the novel is Kate, otherwise known as ‘Traitor Kate’, named as such for her father’s actions, for trying to assassinate the high king of Rime many years ago. Her father had been master of horse to the king, but he was executed for his crime, one that Kate can’t believe he would have knowingly committed.
Now she hides the gift of wilder magic that allows her to touch the minds of animals that makes her so in tune with horses as her father was, but wilder magic is forbidden and punishable by death. Because of her father’s treachery, she has been relegated to being a Relay rider for Farhold, the imperial courier service, but there are these nasty monsters out there called ‘nightdrakes’ (deadly flightless dragons), that make her job intensely dangerous, and soon these drakes are attacking in the daylight, massacring whole caravans of people.
Now, beyond this basic plot of Kate and her forbidden magic, and the drakes, as a reader you are quickly immersed in a world where there is a lot going on. This is a book that is not fast-paced but it is totally absorbing: when I took my time to read it, I felt like I was settling in to fully entrench myself in the world of several sub-plots that weave together and a number of fascinating characters. They are key to enjoying this book.
To name some, there’s Corwin (Kate’s first love, and heir to the throne), Signe (her spunky best friend), Edwin (Corwin’s nasty brother and competition for the crown), and Bonner (long-time friend who knows her magical secret). Kate reunites with her first love Corwin, after saving him from an attack by drakes, and she and her counterparts must embark on a full-on quest to not only understand who tried to kill the king, but also who is controlling the daydrakes. Corwin must also prove he is more worthy to be the heir to the throne than his brother. Something that I particularly think that is important for a novel of this length, is that the characters felt fully realized and fleshed-out, so much so that I could imagine them all throughout the book like companions. While there seem to be a number of subplots going on in the book, Arnett proves she is a skilled writer because I never felt lost. When one part of the story wasn’t being written about, it was fine to just leave it for a while, and continue with another part, and then go back to the other one. I don’t want to say too much about the plot lines of the book because it is jam-packed, but somehow Mindee has threaded them all together, and they’ve culminated in an ending that begs for another epic book. As long as O&I is, I didn’t want the journey and the book to end!
There is so much great imagery and vivid world-building woven into the book, such as the different types of magic, the descriptions of clothing, and landscape; on Mindee Arnett’s Website, there is some beautiful artwork and images to represent the Land of Rime, maps that show political regions, all the magic descriptions, and way back to her original conceptual beginnings for the book; it’s all there if you want to see it in detail.
I highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for a fantasy they can really dig into, not rush through; there’s action, complex subplots, strong friendships, magic AND monsters(!), depictions of females as positive, independent characters, and there’s also the questioning of judgement of others/hypocrisy with respect to the laws regarding use of magic. There may seem to be, at first glance, the usual tropes of ‘fighting for the throne’, and ‘childhood friend likes girl now she’s grown up’, but I didn’t feel like the book was covering old ground, particularly as I got further and further into it.
‘Onyx and Ivory’ really is an amazing book, and it’s already on my ‘best-of’ list for 2018. I definitely want to be there for the Relay Ride for Book 2!
I love a good mystery and especially ones that are set in England (where I am from), written by British authors, and somehow they keep making their way to me for review; pretty convenient actually. I say keep them coming honestly. I'm a pretty good litmus test for whether the Brit lingo is going to work well here (plus it always wins bonus points from me).
So Bring Me Back, with its beautiful bright yellow cover, along with some standout pink font, is the the third novel from B.A. Paris, and judging from her past successes, this will catch the eye of many mystery fans for many reasons beyond the cover.
It has a very simple premise really: a couple is away on holiday, skiing in Megeve, France, and then are driving back home through France to England. They make a stop for the toilets (at a rest area) at night, and that’s when Layla goes missing, and Finn goes looking for her, and reports her as missing…she is never seen or heard from again, and in some minds, presumed dead. Finn is cleared as a suspect, but it seems that could be from some of the embellishments he told the French police.
The novel is written from Finn's perspective, at least at the beginning; we are given accounts of Before Layla, and Now/After Layla. He is now, at least in theory, years away from what happened at that rest stop, and is about to marry Layla's sister Ellen, but it seems that he is still obsessed with Layla's disappearance, as well as it being obvious he's not wholly in love with Ellen. Finn isn't the most endearing character, since he is not entirely trustworthy and too neurotic to be that type of protagonist. But as the reader, we realize he doesn’t know the full truth about what happened that night at the rest stop.
Suddenly, these tiny (Matryoska) nesting Russian dolls start appearing in Finn's life, popping up in the strangest of places, at the bar of the local pub, on the wall outside their house; these are a sign of something that Ellen and Layla shared as children, and when Finn starts getting cryptic emails from someone, it's all too much. He has too many theories. Is Layla alive?
After about halfway through the book the tone and pace change, and while I felt a few dragging parts (Finn's neurotic brain!), the mystery unfolds evenly, with a great big thunderbolt at the end. My heart really left this book feeling so very sad, for so many reasons; there was a horrific crime of of the past, a number of mistakes of recent past, and then sad stories of the present. Even if you guess towards the end what is happening, I urge that fully read through to the end because that’s where it all comes together in all its sweet sorrow.
Some of the mystery tropes may be familiar (I can't name for spoilers) but this was an engaging, if heart-wrenching at the end, read.
*Note: I received a wonderful surprise early copy of this from St. Martin’s Press. Thank you! This does not affect my views or opinions.