Review: Bitter – Francesca Jakobi

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I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: It’s 1969, and while the summer of love lingers in London, Gilda is consumed by the mistakes of her past. She walked out on her beloved son Reuben when he was just a boy and fears he’ll never forgive her.

When Reuben marries a petite blonde gentile, Gilda takes it as the ultimate rejection. Her cold, distant son seems transformed by love – a love she’s craved his entire adult life. What does his new wife have that she doesn’t? And how far will she go to find out?

It’s an obsession that will bring shocking truths about the past to light . . .

Bitter is a beautiful and devastating novel about the decisions that define our lives, the fragility of love and the bond between mother and son. – via Goodreads

Bitter is a really strange book. When I read it, I initially disliked Gilda intensely. She is nasty and cruel and reminded me of someone, and I didn’t like how obsessed she was with her son. Like really, it is unhealthy. She is not a likeable character at all. And yet she is the main character of the book and we need to follow her story, and as we do, we slowly learn more about her.

Gilda has a fantastic friend she treats like dirt but who loves her enough to stick around, though why anyone would put up with that for as long is beyond me. Then there is her obsession with her son and jealousy of his wife. It is pretty intense when a mother cannot see her son (child) as an individual, something more than just a title, a person who has hopes and dreams, but instead has a concept for them that they must adhere to, but still insists that they know their child better than anyone.

Anyway, let me not get caught up in that. It really seems that Gilda needs some serious mental health help, and the book goes on to show you the disturbing things she does, and as it does so, you learn more about her, that ultimately you can understand how Gilda got to the place she is in life, and you really hope that she will be able to overcome it. Bitter is not an easy read, though it reads fast. It is a decent one, one I am glad that I read. I could definitely recommend Bitter to anyone interested in darker books that are more of a character study.

Review: Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager

7

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: 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 youngest 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.  – via Goodreads

You know, last year I read Final Girls by Sager and quite enjoyed it, though I didn’t quite love it like most people did. When I saw he had a new book, I thought I would definitely have to check it out, and boy, this time I loved it, not just like.

Last Time I Lied slowly (read: excruciatingly slow) reveals Emma’s story. The book constantly flips between Emma as an adult, returning to Camp Crystal Lake Camp Nightingale as an instructor, and fifteen years before when she was a gangly young teen who was present when something awful happened, something that coloured every aspect of her life. Now, this flipping between the past and the present totally sets up the reveals, but is also so gradual that it gets under your skin because you just want the damn story already. Clever, because even as the fingers of frustration claw at you, the atmosphere wins out and you can totally deal with the mystery unfolding painstakingly.

I won’t lie, I got a super Pretty Little Liars vibe while reading this. Like, something awful happened at this camp, something terrible, and it is laced in secrets and people incapable of just revealing something and dealing with the consequences. Vivian also made me think of Alison diLaurentis, which is a cruel but accurate description. I quite enjoyed reading about all the suspense, the theories, the conspiracies, as well as digging into this mystery with Emma, because soon I, too, needed to know exactly what happened to Vivian, Natalie, and Allison (no, that is not lost on me).

There are some snags along the way, but nothing that detracts too heavily from the experience. A touch of predictability tossed in here and there, but nothing that made this eye-rollingly obvious and cliché. I truly enjoyed the characters as well as some of the feelings that were conveyed successfully here – the guilt, the confusion, the childishness at times, the betrayal, the anger, it all worked quite well.

All I have to say when all is said and done is that I was so hooked while reading Last Time I Lied. Sager crafts a mysterious, suspenseful story that will take you hostage. I raced through this book, and even thought about it when I was denied reading it because I have to adult and hold down a job (speaking of, what utter nonsense is that?!). I would highly recommend this read, especially if you enjoy Sager’s work. It is solid, thrilling, entertaining, and this is something I might very well return to in future.

Review: The Woman In The Window – A.J. Finn

2

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems. – via Goodreads 

Uhm… I don’t really have an awful lot to say about this book. Not really much at all. It is not a bad read, at all. It is predictable – I mean we have all seen this plot in some book or some movie somewhere – someone housebound who sees something they should not and all the shenanigans that follow that.

The Woman In The Window had some interesting parts to it and some concepts that I enjoyed, and Anna’s situation is a quite fascinating – agoraphobic in the extreme, but a therapist helping others in a similar situation, and an alcoholic struggling to pull her life together. I thought at times this was overdone and other times it was underutilised. I feel that the only character that had any real depth is Anna, though that could truly be by design.

Anyway, the book is slightly longer than it strictly needs to be, though it is a pretty fast read. It’s decent but not fantastic, though I do think Finn writes quite well. I don’t really want to say too much because the book has some twists and turns, whether you expect them or not. I will certainly check out future works.

Review: The Fear – C.L. Taylor

2

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: When Lou Wandsworth ran away to France with her teacher Mike Hughes, she thought he was the love of her life. But Mike wasn’t what he seemed and he left her life in pieces.

Now 32, Lou discovers that he is involved with teenager Chloe Meadows. Determined to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself, she returns home to confront him for the damage he’s caused.

But Mike is a predator of the worst kind, and as Lou tries to bring him to justice, it’s clear that she could once again become his prey… – via Goodreads

You know, it rarely happens that a book makes me uncomfortable when I read it, but this was one of those that did. It just… I didn’t like that. It was weird. This book gives you a look see at how the victims of a paedophile feel about him and what is happening to them, and it makes me both sick and mad. Ugh.

Now let me get straight into the book – the story flips between Lou’s present and her past, so you get a look at her as she is now, scarred and emotionally broken, and then to the past, when she was kidnapped and groomed by a paedophile of note. Ugh. My stomach rolled reading about how she was so in love with him and how he understood her and loved her like nobody else, and to read how he preyed on her was absolutely horrifying.

I think with that being said, there will be triggers for some people, that’s for sure. I was both frustrated and disgusted reading this, and intrigued in other places (not the parts about the feelings of the victims that were preyed on, but the aftermath, and then there is the odd section featuring Wendy). I thought that it the story actually comes together quite well, and while making you queasy, keeps you interested enough to continue and see what happens.

There were so many unsavoury characters peppered throughout this book, but there were also some really nice ones, so the balance struck is decent. I don’t foresee myself rushing out to reread The Fear, and it is not necessarily a book that would be easy to recommend, but it isn’t a terrible read, but also didn’t strike the highs I was hoping for.

Review: Deadly Recall – T.R. Ragan

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Jessie Cole #2

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: When you search for the missing, there’s no telling what you’ll find. PI Jessie Cole learned that painful truth firsthand when her sister disappeared. Now a new case will test Jessie and Ben once again.

Owen Shepard, the public face of one of the country’s biggest health insurance companies, has become the target of a vengeful father. The man blames Shepard for his child’s death and plans to make the CEO know what it’s like to live with a broken heart—and watch others die. After killing two employees, the desperate father kidnaps Shepard’s daughter. Tasked with finding her, Jessie and crime reporter Ben Morrison are running out of time to save her.

Meanwhile, Ben is still seeking insight into the man he used to be before a car crash erased his memories. And each discovery is leading Jessie and him down a frightening road. What they find could scar both of them forever. – Goodreads

You know, I have read the majority of the Lizzy Gardner series, and I am really not a fan. It’s like… they are okay to read, but nothing special at all. When this series launched, I thought it would be worth giving it a shot, and I was actually impressed with Her Last Day. I didn’t expect to be, but I was. I am pleased to say that the second instalment in the Jessie Cole series is also a pretty good read.

There really are so many parallels between the Gardner books and the Cole books, but I honestly feel that the execution and characters are far better in the Cole books. Again, the pacing is a lot better in this. The book speeds by and is interesting throughout, not suffering from a lot of unnecessary bloat, and the multiple cases being dealt with are handled really well here, neither being forgotten or wasted away.

Zee returns in this book, and I am glad about that, as she is a character who is odd but I like her. Deadly Recall also gives us a bit more time to chew on Ben Morrison and who/what he is, as this book spends some more time digging into that. I really like this aspect, and I think Ragan is handling it really well.

Overall, Deadly Recall is a solid follow up to Her Last Day, and I am really interested to see where Ragan takes it from here. The book reads quickly, is interesting, and has characters that are more memorable than her other series. All in all, it works better, and is well worth the read if you are looking for a little something new to look into.

Review: The Confession – Jo Spain

2

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Late one night a man walks into the luxurious home of disgraced banker Harry McNamara and his wife Julie. The man launches an unspeakably brutal attack on Harry as a horror-struck Julie watches, frozen by fear.

Just an hour later the attacker, JP Carney, has handed himself in to the police. He confesses to beating Harry to death, but JP claims that the assault was not premeditated and that he didn’t know the identity of his victim. With a man as notorious as Harry McNamara, the detectives cannot help wondering, was this really a random act of violence or is it linked to one of Harry’s many sins: corruption, greed, betrayal? – via Goodreads

So the write up for this looked interesting when I skimmed it. I requested it, read some other books, then picked it on my reading list without remembering what it was about exactly, and man oh man, that was just so worth it. I was so hooked on this book and just wanted to know what was going on every step of the way. I wanted answers!

Spain sets up the story really well. We get this brutal crime, and from there we get three people reconstructing the story for us, from their own perspective. We read about JP from when he was a child and how his upbringing was, and it is quite something to read. Then there is Julie telling us about her marriage to her husband, the man so brutally and senselessly attacked by JP, and finally there is Alice, relentlessly pursuing the truth, desperately clawing at the crime to see how it all fits.

So the story is told in those three fragmented parts, each contributing to the story every step of the way. It is easy to pick up where you left off, as well as to see which character’s section you are reading, which is dead helpful. I appreciated how you never really get a sense of who has done what, and who is innocent, and who is wrong. Each character has their own reasons, their own flaws, their own idiosyncrasies, and the book blends them and blurs them all so well that you are on the fence the whole time, commiserating with a character one moment and condemning them the next.

Something that did irritate me endlessly, however, was the constant referencing of Julie’s tits. Not breasts, not ample chest, but tits, and this point was hammered in, as though this character was definitely purely by her tits. I don’t know, it got old and annoying really quickly, and just felt out of place in this the whole time.

The Confession is written well and flows, you just breeze through it, and just want to know what is going on because the pacing, too, is spot on. Not too much information too quickly, not too little too slowly, so you get just the right amount of satisfaction to keep you going back for more and more. I could highly recommend this read, and have no regrets for checking it out. I had an absolute blast with it, and found it super entertaining.

Review: Her Last Secret – Barbara Copperthwaite

2

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: There are some secrets you can never tell.

The last thing to go through Dominique Thomas’s head was the image of her teenage daughter’s face and her heart lifted. Then the shot rang out.

They were the perfect family. Successful businessman Ben Thomas and his wife Dominique live an enviable life, along with their beautiful children; teenager Ruby and quirky younger daughter, Mouse.

But on Christmas Day the police are called to their London home, only to discover a horrific scene; the entire family lying lifeless, victims of an unknown assailant.

But when Ruby’s diary is discovered, revealing her rage at the world around her, police are forced to look closer to home for the key to this tragedy.

Each family member harboured their own dark truths – but has keeping their secrets pushed Ruby to the edge of sanity? Or are there darker forces at work? – via Goodreads

Okay, so this one was something that I went back and forth on. I was interested, but I was also frustrated with the pacing of it, as well as the slew of characters and the rate the reveals were put forth. Not because it was agony to wait for the next reveal, but because there was a bit of drag between things. That being said, Her Last Secret is not a bad read.

There are an array of characters, and you are introduced to each one and their struggles, and get a clear look at how communication could have made such a difference here. Ruby suffers extreme bullying at the hands of her school peers and only has her boyfriend Harry to prop her up, and resents her parents for not seeing there is something wrong. Dom is dealing with Ben cheating on her, and is so fixated on that and wrapped up in it and keeping her family going she is missing everything. Ben is a cheating dweeb who is so wrapped up in stroking his ego by having a mistress and proving to the world he is so important. The only person who might not know exactly what is going on but is more aware of the distance and issues between people is Amber, the youngest.

All the characters have their own secrets, and all of these come together to paint a bigger picture at the end of the day, and it is an interesting one. The book flips between the lead up to Christmas day and the events of Christmas day. This works, but sometimes you totally forget that there is a flip back to Christmas day, so when it happens it is rather jarring.

Her Last Breath is a decent read and has a pretty good story to it. You can see the innocence of youth, the desperation and powerless of it, too, as well as the issues that come up when you are an adult. I like that it deals with a lot of themes, and it handles them well. While the writing sometimes frustrated me in terms of laying things out, I was certainly engaged. The final third of the book definitely barrels along and finally ties everything together and it does smoothly. I thought this was worth the read.

Review: Bonfire – Krysten Ritter

4

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Should you ever go back?

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’ biggest scandal from more than a decade ago involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as Abby tries to find out what really happened to Kaycee, she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game,” which will threaten the reputations, and lives, of the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her. – via Goodreads

Well, this one was unexpected. When I saw Krysten Ritter’s name attached to this I requested it purely to see how it was. I was interested to see whether I would prefer her writing to her acting. I honestly didn’t have high hopes – it can’t be easy getting involved with multiple arts. Well, I am here to tell you that Ritter indeed writes rather well, surprisingly!

The book opens and hits the ground running, but in fragmented pieces, so it takes quite some time to get the flow of things and work things out, and it works really well here. The lead character, Abby Williams, is not necessarily a character you like too much, but she grows on you. You can understand parts of her logic, too, even if you don’t always agree. Most of the characters are rather flat, but this book is Abby’s internal show, and you definitely get some of that. To see her return to her hometown and to see how a decade has made a difference is quite cool.

The story is quite a heavy one, told in  bits and pieces, and the primary water investigation becomes a totally secondary thing in Abby’s hunt to find out what, exactly, happened to Kaycee, who sounds like a right piece of work. Misha, too, is a nasty character. Bonfire does fall prey to some debut mistakes in some parts of predictability in characters, but it is a pretty good ride all the same.

Abby’s investigation yields results piecemeal, and it ties in rather neatly with what Abby originally went to Barrens for. I liked Condor as a character, and Brent just seemed odd. I was relieved that a love triangle was not jammed into this, as it is not the time, story, or place for it. The reveals are spaced just right, giving you what you need, when you need it. I do feel that the relationship between Joe and Abby was glossed over, and yet it is described as more important in the book.

Bonfire might not be perfect, but it is engaging, has a pretty good story, hooks you while barrelling along. Well worth checking out I reckon, and I will certainly check out any other work from Ritter in future.

Review: The Hazel Wood – Melissa Albert

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I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong. – via Goodreads

I was intrigued by the sound of this when I read the write up, and thought it might be worth looking into. I quite enjoy a fantasy fairytale type story that deals with the fantastical in a particular manner, especially when it reels you in. From the off the vibe I got from this book made me think of one of my closest friends.

The Hazel Wood is, in a word, magical. Right in the beginning, when it starts, you wonder what it is that you are reading and where, exactly, it is going to go, and before you know it, an adventure barrels in and sweeps you off your feet, dragging you, whether you are ready or not, off into the Hinterland.

Melissa Albert builds a really good world, too. Alice is our protagonist, and her story unfolds slowly but surely, giving you bits and bobs and plenty more mystery than you know what to do with. Her search for her lost mother is conducted with the assistance of Ellery Finch, a character I quite enjoyed, as he brought a lot to the table in terms of diversifying the story. He knew things, so many things, and he was quite involved with helping Alice in her quest, and I quite liked the dynamic between Alice and Finch.

Albert seamlessly blurs the lines between Hinterland and the real world, and it is balanced so well, too. You know what is and what isn’t, and yet the story cleverly weaves between the worlds, the Stories, the characters. Sometimes not too many answers are provided, which I think added to the vibe of the book, though it is something that might irritate other readers.

The Hazel Wood is a dark, magical, crazy, weird story that is bound to sweep you up if you are into fantasy edged with grim fairy tales. The writing flows and the story engages, making this book well worth the read. I can see it is something I will revisit.

Review: Her Last Day – T.R. Ragan

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Jessie Cole #1

SYNOPSIS: Ten years ago, PI Jessie Cole and reporter Ben Morrison each suffered a tragedy that changed their lives—and now these two strangers are about to share a nightmare.

For Jessie, who makes her living finding missing persons, no case has consumed her more than the disappearance of her younger sister, Sophie. But left alone to raise Sophie’s daughter, she realizes that solving the case has become an unhealthy obsession.

For Ben, a horrific car accident resulted in scars both physical and emotional—and amnesia that has made his life a mystery. But curiously, out of his shattered memories, there’s one person he recognizes without a doubt: Jessie’s sister. He just doesn’t know why. Yet.

But Sophie isn’t the only phantom drawing Jessie and Ben together. An elusive serial murderer known as the Heartless Killer has reemerged from the shadows. His next move will cut even deeper into Jessie’s worst fears. And for Ben, what happens this time is going to be unforgettable.  – via Goodreads

Ha! This! This was good. I have been reading Ragan’s Lizzie Gardner books, but they have certainly not hooked me and drawn me in like Her Last Day. Initially when I started I saw it was yet another private investigator with a past and a possible boyfriend in law enforcement, and I felt my enthusiasm dwindling, but I was drawn in by the writing that is better than the Gardner books and characters who are more real and far less grating. This world drew me in, and the story is really good.

From the off, minus my initial gripe, I was interested. This is dark and gritty and the characters are good. While a little predictable at times, it is a solid story that is methodically laid out. Jessie has more than one case she is working on, what with Zee Gatley and the Parker Koontz stalking case, not to mention re-investigating her sister’s disappearance. Even with all of that going on, none of the cases is really forgotten. Sure, the stalking case is the least handled of the lot, but it does feature, and I liked how it all balanced. The pacing was also quite good, nothing feeling too forgotten, or shoehorned in randomly at a later stage.

Ben Morrison is a complex character, and I am interested to see where his story goes, as well as find out more about who he was before his accident, as a lot of his flashbacks are a bit dodgy and rather violent, which begs pause. I never really thought he was super involved with any of the cases Jessie was investigating in this (with the exception of his possible involvement with her sister), so that makes me wonder all the more. This has a lot of potential, and I liked how it was not rushed into this, or that Ragan didn’t rush to resolve it all in this book.

The plot flows rather well, and the book doesn’t read like it is chock full of filler to make the book longer or lots of roundabout reasoning. It gets into everything, and does so well. Overall, I think that Her Last Day is a solid read with good characters, a captivating premise, and reads really easily. I am quite looking forward to seeing where Ragan goes with this series.