ARC Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest
An Unwanted Guest
by Shari Lapena

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

An edge of the seat who dunnit that’s reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. It kept me guessing until the very end and had just the right amount of creepiness and tension to keep me reading late into the night.


THE BLURB

We can’t choose the strangers we meet.

As the guests arrive at beautiful, remote Mitchell’s Inn, they’re all looking forward to a relaxing weekend deep in the forest, miles from anywhere. They watch their fellow guests with interest, from a polite distance.

Usually we can avoid the people who make us nervous, make us afraid.

With a violent storm raging, the group finds itself completely cut off from the outside world. Nobody can get in – or out. And then the first body is found . . . and the horrifying truth comes to light. There’s a killer among them – and nowhere to run.

Until we find ourselves in a situation we can’t escape. Trapped.


MY REVIEW

Oooh I liked this. A story with a group of strangers trapped together, isolated from the outside world and a killer on the loose is always my idea of a great read and Lapena does a brilliant job with it. It’s packed full of tension, has some genuinely creepy moments (which I probably shouldn’t have read while on my own on a dark and stormy night) and there are enough twists and reveals to keep you guessing till the very end.

It’s a classic who dunnit that reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None but brought right up to date. I do love a good who dunnit and I had so much fun trying to figure out which of the guests (or staff) was the murderer and what their motive could be (or if in fact there was someone else behind it all). There are lots of hints and clues along the way but with lots of red herrings thrown in and a mix of characters who all seem to have some kind of secret it’s almost impossible to figure out. I did have an inkling but considering I guessed pretty much everyone at some point or another I don’t think I can really say I had it sussed.

The story is told from the pov of almost every one of the characters which I have to admit I’m not sure was a wise decision in this story. I do like how it showed the reader the events from various different perspectives and helped you to get to know each of them better but I think the author made her job of keeping it a mystery harder than it needed to be.

With the necessarily fast paced nature of the story there’s not a lot of depth given to the characters and I can’t say I really connected with any of them but it didn’t spoil any of my enjoyment of the story which had me completely gripped until the very end. There are quite a good mix of different personalities and while some are a little stereotyped and some are not very nice I did love watching them under pressure and trying to guess who would do something stupid, who would get themselves killed and who would be the killer.

I’m obviously not going to say how it does end or who the killer is but I will say that I felt a little bit disappointed in the big reveal. It’s not that it wasn’t good or that I disagreed just that with the build up I was expecting something more. It was over a little too quickly for me.

The writing throughout however is wonderful and the author does create a very tense and atmospheric setting. I loved the sense of isolation, the bleakness and threatening nature of the environment and the very primal fear it creates in both the characters and the reader. I read a lot of it late at night and can honestly say it was giving me the creeps. I wanted to put it down and hide under the covers but my need to find out what happened next overrode this.

There were a couple of sections, mostly giving characters backstories which were a little clunky but otherwise it’s pitched just right.

This was an edge of the seat (or hide under the covers) read that I found incredibly difficult to put down. Would definitely recommend to anyone who loves a good who dunnit in a creepy setting.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance reader copy. As always all thoughts are my own.

An Unwanted Guest will be out on the 26th July

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Review: The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

The Good SonA dark and disturbing story that had me gripped from the very first page until the very last.


THE BLURB

Yu-jin is a good son, a model student and a successful athlete. But one day he wakes up covered in blood. There’s no sign of a break-in and there’s a body downstairs. It’s the body of someone who Yu-jin knows all too well.

Yu-jin struggles to piece together the fragments of what he can remember from the night before. He suffers from regular seizures and blackouts. He knows he will be accused if he reports the body, but what to do instead? Faced with an unthinkable choice, Yu-jin makes an unthinkable decision.

Through investigating the murder, reading diaries, and looking at his own past and childhood, Yu-jin discovers what has happened. The police descend on the suburban South Korean district in which he lives. The body of a young woman is discovered. Yu-jin has to go back, right back, to remember what happened, back to the night he lost his father and brother, and even further than that.

The Good Son deals with the ultimate taboo in family life, and asks the question: how far will you go to protect your children from themselves?


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This was such a great read and so different from what I was expecting when I accepted the publisher’s offer of a copy. Based on the reviews I skimmed through prior to picking it up, I will admit I was a little wary. There was a lot of “it’s a slow burn” and “you have to stick with it” but this was not my experience of reading it at all.

From the very first page I found myself gripped and completely immersed in this story. There may not be a huge amount of action (although I should warn it is violent and a little gruesome in places) and it’s heavy on internal monologue and flashbacks (something I usually hate) but the whole story and Yu-jin in particular absolutely fascinated me.

The central premise of “main character awakes to discover a brutally murdered body and has no memory of what happened” is not a unique one but it is one that intrigues me and this author does it so well. The story is told almost entirely from the point of view of Yu-jin and I found being in his head a very interesting experience. There is clearly something not quite right but I found myself drawn to him and wanted to know more.

The truth of what happened to his mother and the reasons behind it are uncovered very slowly over the course of the book as Yu-jin finds clues, makes deductions and recalls the events from the night before (and further into the past) while simultaneously trying to cover everything up for as long as possible. It quickly becomes clear that there was something not right in the relationship between mother and son but, while we’re given the impression that she’s overly controlling and he’s afraid of her (and his Auntie), it’s obvious that Yu-jin may not be the victim he first appears and there could be a reason he’s kept on a tight leash.

I will say I wasn’t necessarily surprised by what is revealed over the course of the story as the author leaves enough hints and clues along the way for you to figure it out but this wasn’t the main draw for me. I was much more invested in what was coming next and what would happen to Yu-jin. I wouldn’t say I liked him, and he admits himself that he’s a skilled liar so you know not to trust him, but I was intrigued by him. Despite being the classic unreliable narrator he is very convincing and I found myself empathizing with him even when I knew I shouldn’t.

There’s a very claustrophobic, dark and disturbing feel to this story and while it’s not all action all of the time there were more than a few moments which had me on the edge of my seat. It is fairly limited in terms of scope, it’s primarily set within the apartment, takes place over a short period of time and there are very few characters (or interactions between them) making it quite quiet and intense but for me this just added to the suspense and anticipation.

The ending when it comes was brilliant but I will admit I found it a little disappointing. It wasn’t bad, I think it was more that the rest of the story had built my expectations up so high that I was expecting more.

If you can’t tell by now I really loved this book and would recommend to anyone who loves a thriller that really gets into a characters head.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. As always all views are my own.

Review: Deadly Secrets by Robert Bryndza

Deadly Secrets by Robert Bryndza

This may be book 6 in the series but DI Erika Foster shows no signs of slowing down and I think this is possibly my favorite so far.

Note: while this is book 6 in the series it can be read as a standalone so there are no spoilers in this review, although I do recommend the others in the series


THE BLURB

To commit the perfect murder, you need the perfect cover. 

On a cold icy morning, a mother wakes to find her daughter’s blood-soaked body frozen to the road. Who would carry out such a horrific killing on the victim’s doorstep?

Straight off her last harrowing case, Detective Erika Foster is feeling fragile but determined to lead the investigation. As she sets to work, she finds reports of assaults in the same quiet South London suburb where the woman was killed. One chilling detail links them to the murder victim – they were all attacked by a figure in black wearing a gas mask.

Erika is on the hunt for a killer with a terrifying calling card. The case gets more complicated when she uncovers a tangled web of secrets surrounding the death of the beautiful young woman.

Yet just as Erika begins to piece the clues together, she is forced to confront painful memories of her past. Erika must dig deep, stay focused and find the killer. Only this time, one of her own is in terrible danger…


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’ve been reading this series you’ll be familiar with the format, it begins with a gruesome murder (beware Bryndza has upped the ick factor) and the discovery of a body. Erika who’s supposed to be on the way to Christmas lunch with her former boss and old police training pal, can’t resist getting involved and before you know it she’s leading the search for yet another serial killer.

Unlike previous books in the series however, this time Bryndza has put the focus almost entirely on the investigation and this is much more police procedural than thriller and personally, I think it is so much the better for it. There are still some chapters from the killer’s point of view but they’re fairly brief, give little away and are very chilling. It’s rare that an author can present a convincing view from inside the mind of a killer so I’m always happier to stick with the detectives, particularly those in this series.

The characters are definitely what I love the most about this series. They really are such a wonderfully diverse, interesting and well rounded bunch and I love how their relationships have evolved and developed over the series.

There’s a little bit less of Erika this time around as something in her personal life forces her to pass on the case to one of her team but, while less Erika seems like a bad thing, it actually added an extra element to the story as it allowed the personal side of her character to be developed while also providing a bit more insight into her backstory. It also had the benefit of giving some of the other team members the opportunity to shine. Moss, my favorite character, gets a much more prominent role which I really can’t complain about.

The case itself is an intriguing one and it really kept me guessing. There are a few clues and a few red herrings scattered along the way but I can honestly say my theories as to who the killer was were completely wrong.

You may be wondering why if I enjoyed this so much I couldn’t give the full five stars (believe me I wanted to). Unfortunately it suffers from some of the same issues the previous books had in terms of continuity errors (there are some disappearing shoes and inconsistencies in setting). I also felt that at times there was something off about descriptions of expressions and reactions but this may just have been me.

Despite these niggles this is a gripping read and one I’d recommend if you like a fast paced serial killer type story with quite a few twists and turns.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for providing me with a copy. As always all views are my own.

Review: Skin Deep by Liz Nugent

Skin Deep by Liz Nugent


THE BLURB

The sinister new novel from the No 1 bestselling author of Unravelling Oliver and Richard and Judy Book Club pick Lying in Wait.

‘Once I had cleared the bottles away and washed the blood off the floor, I needed to get out of the flat.’

Cordelia Russell has been living on the Côte d’Azur for ten years, posing as a posh English woman fallen on hard times. But her luck is running out. Desperate to escape her grotty flat and grim reality, Cordelia spends a night at a glittering party. Surrounded by the young, beautiful and privileged she feels her age and her poverty. As dawn breaks she stumbles home through the back streets. Even before she opens her door she can hear the flies buzzing. It hasn’t taken long for the corpse in her bedroom to commence decomposing …

Liz Nugent’s novel is the dark, twisted and shocking story of what takes Cordelia from an island childhood in Ireland to ruins in Nice.


MY REVIEW

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I’m at a bit of a loss what to say about this book as I’m not entirely sure what I thought about it. There were moments I loved but there were probably more where I felt a bit more meh and reading it became a struggle.

It’s possible I was just too excited about it and my expectations were too high. I absolutely loved Nugent’s previous book Lying In Wait so had really high hopes for this. It turned out however to be a very different type of read than I was anticipating.

It does begin with yet another fantastic opening line and a scene that draws you right into the action and it is a brilliant character study of a not very nice character but it just didn’t grab me the way I wanted it to.

Delia, the main character, whose story we learn over the course of the novel is certainly not likeable but for me wasn’t quite horrible or twisted enough for me to care about and I’m afraid it’s the characters who make or break a book for me. I don’t have to like them, in fact often it’s the nasty ones that intrigue me the most, but there has to be something about them that I either love or hate. Delia shows so little emotion and cares about so little that I found myself reflecting that back on the story.

There were moments and certain characters which intrigued me but as the story covers some 40+ years these were fairly brief and viewed through Delia’s uncaring eye.

Her perspective makes up the majority of the story but there are a few pages here or there from a different pov which give you their thoughts and feelings. These did bring additional insights but also felt quite factual and unemotional to me so I never really connected to those characters either.

What I did love however were Delia’s recollections of the stories her Daddy told her about the island she grows up on. It’s dark and violent folklore and really adds another element to the story. The superstitious and insular nature of such a small town community really fascinated me.

The pace of this story is slow and I can’t say I found it particularly exciting but the writing is good and the characterization brilliant.

I think this was just a case of not the right book for me or possibly just not the right book for when I read it. It is memorable for main character Delia and I think if you like a dark, cold and manipulative character whose actions are often shocking you’ll love this.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.

Mini Review: Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter
Not If I Save You First
by Ally Carter

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

From the very first page I knew I was going to love this book, hell from the blurb I knew I was going to love this book, and it did not disappoint.


THE BLURB

Dear Logan,
Someday I’m going to write a book: How Not to Die in Alaska – A Girl’s Guide to Fashionable Survival.

I bet you don’t know that a hair pin can make an excellent fishing hook. You may think you can use just any kind of mud for mud masks, but trust me, you CAN’T! In a pinch, nothing starts a fire like nail polish remover. Alaska is tough. You might know this, if you ever replied to my letters.

After Maddie’s Secret Service dad takes a bullet for the president, he takes Maddie somewhere he thinks they’ll be safe – far away from the White House and the president’s son, Logan.

But when Logan comes to Alaska, so does the danger.

If there’s one thing Alaska has taught Maddie, it’s how to survive. And now her best friend’s life depends on it …


MY REVIEW

This book is fast paced, full of action and so so funny. Madison (Maddie, Mad Dog) Manchester is just the best main character. She’s totally kick ass and runs rings around both teenage boys and trained assassins. I do think she’s totally crazy and over the top but it makes for some fantastically fun reading. I love how she has all of these incredible survival skills, is super smart but seems most concerned about her beauty regime and how her hair looks. She plays the stereotypical silly little girl to perfection while really out plotting and scheming just about everyone. I loved how fearless she was and how independent and just how funny she could be.

Unfortunately though being such a strong main character, she leaves pretty much everyone else in her shade. Former best friend and potential love interest Logan is likeable enough and there’s some great banter between them but he’s not as strong a character so gets left behind a little.

I loved the Alaskan setting and the plot has plenty of action and excitement throughout. The writing is short and punchy adding a lot of pace to the story but still giving you a great sense of place and characters.

If I had one criticism, and it’s a pretty minor one, it’s that I thought it got a little bit repetitive in places. We get it Alaska is dangerous and there’s a serious lack of bedazzled weapons.

Other than that I loved it and am off in search of more books by Ally Carter.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own.

ARC Review: Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris
Bring Me Back
by B.A. Paris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may have a familiar plot but it’s packed full of tension and has enough twists and cliffhangers to make it a truly addictive read.


THE BLURB

A young British couple are driving through France on holiday when they stop for gas. He runs in to pay, she stays in the car. When he returns her car door has been left open, but she’s not inside. No one ever sees her again.

Ten years later he’s engaged to be married; he’s happy, and his past is only a tiny part his life now. Until he comes home from work and finds his new wife-to-be is sitting on their sofa. She’s turning something over in her fingers, holding it up to the light. Something that would have no worth to anyone else, something only he and she would know about because his wife is the sister of his missing first love.

As more and more questions are raised, their marriage becomes strained. Has his first love somehow come back to him after all this time? Or is the person who took her playing games with his mind?


MY REVIEW

A truly addictive read I devoured the whole book more or less in one sitting. It is very much the classic psychological thriller but while parts seemed familiar and it was occasionally predictable the quality of writing made it a very enjoyable read.

It is a classic story, man’s soon to be wife disappears following a row and many years later it seems she, or someone connected to her disappearance, may have returned just as he’s about to marry her sister. What do they want, do they really know what happened to wife to be Layla, could they in fact be her or is someone just stirring up trouble?

This is a very twisty story that’s packed full of tension and almost every character seems to be hiding something. The author keeps you hooked throughout by dropping little hints and teasers, usually at the end of the chapter, so you have no choice but to keep reading. It’s frustrating as hell at times but effective. There are maybe a couple of pacing issues, some sections were dragged out a little too long in my opinion, but these are easily forgiven.

The story is told predominantly from main character Finn’s point of view and while I never really liked him, he has a temper, lies, threatens and is abusive, I did find him an intriguing character to read. I do often think however that it’s the horrible people who are the most enjoyable to read.

In the second part of the story he’s joined by another narrator whose voice I wasn’t so keen on. There was just something a little too much about it, but it was maybe just that I’m not a fan of the whole voices in my head thing. It tends to result in lots of eye rolling by me.

I also think the story was a little light in terms of secondary characters. I would have liked them to feature a little more and to get some more insight into their motivations. Finn’s best friend Harry for example is constantly bailing him out of trouble or riding in to the rescue despite knowing what he’s like and being treated badly. Finn is violent towards everyone but they all seem to want to help him. It just didn’t make sense to me.

Despite these niggles I did very much enjoy this story and even the ending which I guessed around halfway through was worth waiting for.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all thoughts are my own.

ARC Review: Everything is Lies by Helen Callaghan

Everything Is Lies by Helen Callaghan
Everything Is Lies
by Helen Callaghan

My rating: 4 of 5 star

Unexpected and gripping, Everything is Lies is yet another great thriller from Helen Callaghan.


THE BLURB

No-one is who you think they are

Sophia’s parents lead quiet, unremarkable lives. At least that is what she’s always believed.

Everyone has secrets

Until the day she arrives at her childhood home to find a house ringing with silence. Her mother is hanging from a tree. Her father is lying in a pool of his own blood, near to death.

Especially those closest to you 

The police are convinced it is an attempted murder-suicide. But Sophia is sure that the woman who brought her up isn’t a killer. As her father is too ill to talk it is up to Sophia to clear her mother’s name. And to do this she needs to delve deep into her family’s past – a past full of dark secrets she never suspected were there . . .

What if your parents had been lying to you since the day you were born?


MY REVIEW

This is only Callaghan’s second book but she is fast becoming one of my favorite thriller writers. I very much enjoyed her first book, Dear Amy, but I think this may be better. There are still a couple of issues but it’s a gripping read and one that really surprised me with some of its twists.

The story begins with main character Sophia out another pretty much compulsory night out with her work colleagues. She receives a call from her mum begging her to come home as there’s something important they need to discuss but, having had a few drinks and with a handsome architect showing some interest in her, she brushes her off. When she visits the next day however she discovers her mother dead and her father seriously injured. The police believe her mother killed herself and attacked her father when he tried to stop her but Sophia doesn’t believe it. The plot thickens when she discovers some notebooks her mum had been using to write about her past revealing secrets that it seems some people will do anything to conceal.

I don’t really want to say much more about the plot than that, as I think it’s better to experience the twists and turns for yourself. I unfortunately stumbled across a review with a major spoiler but I have to admit that despite this I did find it to be completely different from what I was expecting.

The story begins in the present then flashes back to the past via the notebooks and while I did like the present day story I have to admit it was the flashbacks I found so much more intriguing and actually felt like that was the more developed part of the story. Her mother’s story, and her mother was so different from what I (and Sophie) believed her to be and the other characters that are introduced are so much more fascinating and complex.

Sophie was a pretty likable lead, intelligent, principled and determined but I’m afraid I couldn’t feel much connection to or empathy with her, I think because there just wasn’t enough of her. It seemed to me as if her role was primarily to find and read her mother’s notebooks. Her life and her issues (problems at work) felt a little pushed to the side making it difficult to really get to know her, particularly in the first half of the story where the notebooks make up the majority of the narrative.

I can’t however complain too much about the amount of time spent on her mother’s story as it absolutely fascinated me. She frustrated the heck out of me and a lot of the time I wanted to give her a shake but there was something so understandable about her actions that even when she was doing the stupid thing I still found myself rooting for her and found it impossible to look away.

Callaghan can definitely write an engaging story and this was one book I found myself reading late into the night and thinking about at odd times. I do think maybe too much time was spent on some things and not enough on others but for the majority of the book the pacing is just right. I did see a few of the twists coming but there were certainly elements that caught me by surprise something which is pretty rare.

If I had one main criticism of the book however it would be the ending, not so much that I disagreed, more that it went on a little too long. Again I felt the balance was off between what I wanted to know and what I was happy not to.

Overall a great story and I can’t wait for Callaghan’s next one.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. As always all views are my own.