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.

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ARC Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Force of Nature
by Jane Harper

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The second book in Harper’s Aaron Falk series is just as good if not better than the first. Atmospheric and packed full of tension, this story of a corporate retreat gone wrong and a missing woman is absolutely riveting.

Please note that as this is the second book in the series it does follow on from the Dry but could easily be read as a standalone as there are only some very mild spoilers and very little overlap. This review is therefore spoiler free.


THE BLURB

FIVE WENT OUT. FOUR CAME BACK…

Is Alice here? Did she make it? Is she safe? In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice’s welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged landscape is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with.

Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.


MY REVIEW

I was a little late in discovering just how good Harper’s first book The Dry was, it felt like everyone had read it but me, but as soon as I finished it I knew I needed more. It was just so atmospheric and I found main character Aaron Falk very likeable and someone I wanted to know more about.

For me the highlight of this book was yet again the setting and character development. Unlike The Dry however there are no high temperatures and no drought but rather a cold, wet and rugged landscape where five women set out on a corporate team building event which ends in disaster. As they lose their way (and their supplies) in this remote and isolated location, the bickering and disagreements on how best to find their way or get help begin and in the end only four of them make it out. It’s one of those classic survival stories, mixed with a missing person investigation and I absolutely loved it.

This has a slightly different format to previous book but the writing is just as good. In The Dry the author interspersed flashbacks to different time periods and events within the narrative (something I found a little jarring at times) to give an insight into the characters motivations and thoughts. In Force of Nature however Harper alternates between two separate timelines, the first following Falk as he investigates the disappearance of his key informant and the other following the five women on the retreat.

I have to say I preferred this format but I did find myself more gripped by the women’s story than Falk’s investigation. It felt like Aaron and his partner Carmen were pushed a little to the side particularly in the first half of the book where they’re getting everyone’s story but that may just have been because I was rushing through their sections to get back to the retreat.

The sections on the corporate retreat are told in more or less chronological order and I found it absolutely riveting to read the changing dynamics within the group as their situation goes from bad to worse. Watching their relationships and attitudes shift as they move from their corporate personas and roles to their more natural, and at times primitive, behavior was by far the highlight of this story. It does make you wonder how well you know your work colleagues and how you would react in that situation. Would you really pull together or would it be every man for himself? What would you do if you thought your life was on the line and someone in the group was risking it?

As it’s told from the points of view of each of the women you do get a real insight into their characters and motives but it still keeps you guessing as to what happened between them until the very end. Did Alice really set out alone and get lost or did she push the others in the group too far?

Added to that there is a mystery around a serial killer who previously operated in the area and Falk’s current investigation into the shady dealings of the company Alice works for. Could someone associated with the killer have taken up where he left off, could someone have found out Alice was informing on them? There are so many potential options for what could have happened to her and so many red herrings thrown in that it’s impossible to figure it out and I suspected everyone at one point or another.

Like the previous book this isn’t necessarily a fast paced story but it’s no less gripping as a result. Yet again Harper creates real tension and atmosphere in the story and while I would have liked a bit more time on Falk I very much enjoyed this book and can’t wait for the next one in the series

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

ARC Review: Killman Creek by Rachel Caine

Killman Creek (Stillhouse Lake, #2)
Killman Creek
by Rachel Caine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my most anticipated reads, the sequel to Stillhouse Lake didn’t let me down. It’s a fast paced and gripping story that still has a few surprises in store.

Spoiler Alert: as Killman Creek is a sequel both the blurb and my review contain spoilers for Stillhouse Lake.


THE BLURB

Every time Gwen closed her eyes, she saw him in her nightmares. Now her eyes are open, and he’s not going away.

Gwen Proctor won the battle to save her kids from her ex-husband, serial killer Melvin Royal, and his league of psychotic accomplices. But the war isn’t over. Not since Melvin broke out of prison. Not since she received a chilling text…

You’re not safe anywhere now.

Her refuge at Stillhouse Lake has become a trap. Gwen leaves her children in the protective custody of a fortified, well-armed neighbor. Now, with the help of Sam Cade, brother of one of Melvin’s victims, Gwen is going hunting. She’s learned how from one of the sickest killers alive.

But what she’s up against is beyond anything she feared—a sophisticated and savage mind game calculated to destroy her. As trust beyond her small circle of friends begins to vanish, Gwen has only fury and vengeance to believe in as she closes in on her prey. And sure as the night, one of them will die.


MY REVIEW

I was blown away by Stillhouse Lake when I read it a few months ago so I was beyond excited to finally get my hands on a copy of sequel Killman Creek from NetGalley and while my expectations were ridiculously high, Caine didn’t let me down.

Whereas Stillhouse Lake was a good old fashioned who dunnit which kept you guessing till the very end this is a much different type of thriller. Unlike the first book where Gwen was very much on the defensive this time she’s going on the attack. Her serial killer ex-husband is still on the loose and with help from hacker Absolom he seems to be able to find her and her children everywhere they go. She’s fed up of running and hiding though so she stashes the children Lanny and Connor somewhere safe while she and Sam go hunting.

Due to the nature of the story there’s a lot less mystery this time around, it’s more a game of cat and mouse, but that’s not to say there isn’t the odd unexpected twist and there are still a lot of questions over who can be trusted. It’s a fast paced and gripping story that does somehow make you question everything you previously thought was true.

Rather than being told solely from Gwen’s point of view, Killman Creek is told from multiple pov’s, something that took a little bit of getting used to. As well as Gwen, there are also chapters from Sam, Lanny and Connor’s points of view and while I liked some more than others it did add a new and interesting perspective to the story and let us get to know the other characters a bit better.

I have to say I do love Gwen/Gina. She does get put through the wringer time after time but no one can say she isn’t a fighter and I love how she always puts her kids first. Sam is quite an intriguing character, brother to one of Gwen’s ex-husband’s victims, he’s out for vengeance but is very confused about his feelings towards Gwen. It was great to see them spending so much time alone together this time around. The way the dynamic between them shifts and changes makes for some brilliant reading.

As for Lanny and Connor, gah!!! I know they’re young but really? Did they have to do everything they weren’t supposed to do? So frustrating but you just know they’re going to do the stupid thing that lands everyone in danger.

There aren’t very many new characters, and the ones there are come and go fairly quickly with only one or two making much of an impression, but really this is all about the relationships between those we know, so who cares.

This is pretty much non stop action and suspense from beginning to end and the final explosive showdown makes it all worthwhile. Caine’s writing is as always brilliant, creating just the right balance of tension, action and the more emotional scenes which keep you connected to and rooting for the characters.

Overall I thought this was a great conclusion to the story and definitely one I’d recommend.


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

Killman Creek will be published on the 12th December

Review: Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten

Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by [Weingarten, Lynn]
Bad Girls with Perfect Faces
by Lynn Weingarten

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Wow!!! This book had me gripped from the very first page until the very last. It’s dark and twisted but oh so good and not at all what I was expecting.

Bad girls know there is no right and wrong. There’s just what you’re willing to do.
What you need to do


THE BLURB

From the New York Times bestselling author of Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls comes a stylish thriller about the darkness that lurks inside all of us.

When I looked up, his smile was wide and real. “Ready?” he said.
I faked a smile back. I had gotten so good at faking things.
I thought: You brought this on yourself, Sasha. You will have to pretend forever now.
He squeezed my hand again. He couldn’t begin to imagine what this actually was. He had no idea what I’d done. What any of us had.

When Sasha’s best friend Xavier gets back together with his cheating ex, Ivy, Sasha knows she needs to protect him. So she poses as a guy online to lure Ivy away.

But Sasha’s plan goes sickeningly wrong. And she soon learns to be careful of who you pretend to be because you might be surprised by who you become…

Told in multiple points of view, Bad Girls with Perfect Faces is sexy and twisted with shocks at every turn.


MY REVIEW

Before I start this review properly I should probably confess that I mixed up the blurb for this book with the blurb for another and found myself a tad confused about what I was reading. Despite this, there was something about it that drew me in instantly and I was completely hooked before I realized what I’d done. So hooked in fact that I ended up reading the whole thing without ever going back and reading the synopsis, something that probably worked in my favor as the less you know about it the better.

For that reason I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on the storyline. What I will say is that this is a very dark and twisted story that questions just how far you’d go for someone you love, what you’d do to protect them and just what you’d be willing to forgive. It begins very much like your usual YA contemporary with a girl, Sasha, in love with her best friend, Xavier, but too scared to tell him how she feels. When his ex Ivy reappears in his life and starts trying to rekindle things Sasha resorts to a bit of catfishing to prove to Xavier what Ivy’s really like but things don’t exactly go to plan.

The story is pretty fast paced with more than a few surprises and I found it a lot more gripping than I could have imagined. It was one of those books I couldn’t resist reading at every possible opportunity, and if I wasn’t reading it I was either thinking about it or talking about it. The author’s writing style is perfect for me, it just drew me in completely and didn’t let go. I’d previously read and loved Suicide Notes for Beautiful Girls but I think this may actually be better.

The story is told from three points of view, Sasha’s, Xavier’s and a mystery person’s and the author does a brilliant job of keeping each of these very distinct and different. Even though a big proportion of the book is from Xavier’s point of view though it feels like this story is all about the girls, with Xavier a pawn for them to play with. He’s sweet and kind and a bit fragile, making him no match for the girls. He was probably the only character I kind of liked but still found myself becoming frustrated with how weak he was. I just wanted him to act, to stand up for himself and get free of this toxic relationship with Ivy.

As for Sasha, I wouldn’t say she was necessarily that likeable or even very relatable but there was something about her that fascinated me from the very beginning. She’s very much a loner, left to fend for herself by her mother and with no real friends other than Xavier. She’s completely fearless in some ways, she’ll walk into a party or a club alone and just pick someone up for a one night stand, but you can’t help but wonder how much is an act. Xavier is the only person she really cares about and she loves him fiercely and possessively. Her actions at times were a mystery to me, not because they didn’t make sense but because they were so completely alien to me.

There aren’t many other characters in the story and those that do appear only do so briefly but still manage to make an impression. I loved that the author kept it so simple in this respect as it kept the focus very much on the relationships between Sasha, Xavier and Ivy.

It is a surprisingly dark and disturbing story and I feel like I should add a little bit of a warning that it’s probably more one for older YAs. There is underage drinking, sex, drugs and other things that I won’t go into as they’re spoilery and this isn’t a book you want to know too much about.

Overall though I thought this was an incredible read and is one I’d definitely recommend to anyone who likes a good thriller.

I received a copy from the publisher via NetGalley. This has not affected my review.

ARC Review: The Treatment by C.L. Taylor

The TreatmentThe Treatment by C.L. Taylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A fast paced and gripping read that’s extremely difficult to put down. I loved the premise of a reform school with a special treatment program that transforms wayward and rebellious teens into model citizens. I kind of wish the author had gone a step further into invasion of the bodysnatcher territory but I found this very enjoyable and engaging.

Despite hearing a lot of great things about Taylor’s adult thrillers this, her first venture into YA, was actually the first book by her I’ve read. I had been meaning to pick up her other stories but it was the usual case of too many books too little time. When I spotted this one on NetGalley however I just couldn’t resist. A book about a reform school that’s brainwashing troublesome teens, count me in. It’s just such a fascinating premise and I love all things about brains, memory and behaviour.

The story follows 16 year old Drew Taylor whose younger brother Mason is sent to the residential reform academy by his mum and stepfather after he’s expelled from school for the third time. Initially she’s a little relieved her brother isn’t causing trouble and she can get some peace and quiet but then one day she’s followed home from school by someone claiming to work at the school. Dr Cobey has a note for Drew from her brother which says that all is not as it seems, the treatment is changing people and he’s scared.

When no one listens to her concerns, Drew is forced to take matters into her own hands and investigate. What she finds leads her to believe her only option is to infiltrate the school to get her brother out, but can she reach him before it’s too late.

It’s a really fast paced and enjoyable read and I found myself flying through the pages, so much so in fact, that I finished the whole book in a few hours. The author definitely knows how to tell a gripping story and despite it being a little predictable in places it held my attention through a couple of long and noisy train journeys.

I loved the idea of this slightly sinister reform school which takes wild and uncontrollable teens and somehow transforms them into perfectly turned out, mindless drones who want to serve society and look down on their former friends. There is something inherently creepy about someone who loses their personality and is completely single minded and almost fanatical, with no sense of humor or mind of their own. It kind of reminded me a bit of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and in a way I do wish the author had taken it further down this path and made it that little bit more creepy and sinister but I suppose it’s supposed to be a thriller rather than out and out sci fi / horror.

In terms of the characters I have to admit that I wasn’t entirely convinced by Drew. She begins the story as this shy and quiet goody two shoes who doesn’t have any friends in real life and is bullied at school then all of a sudden seems to transform into a completely different person when she finds out her brother could be in trouble. I suppose it is possible but it didn’t quite ring true to me which is a shame because I thought the other characters were incredibly well crafted. The staff at the school were particularly well done, superficially nice but with something harder lurking underneath.

There were a few other things that niggled at me a bit as well. I felt like certain aspects were resolved a little too easily, passed over too quickly or just too coincidental to be entirely convincing. I do understand why the author does it but personally I prefer things to be a little less clear cut with a few more twists and turns.

Despite these niggles however I would still recommend you read this book. It’s rare to find a really good YA thriller and this is definitely a good YA thriller. If I hadn’t been travelling to events I probably would have devoured the whole thing in one go.

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

The Treatment is released on 19th October.

Review: Cold Blood by Robert Bryndza

Cold Blood (Detective Erika Foster, #5)Cold Blood by Robert Bryndza

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great book from Mr Bryndza.

This is the fifth book in the Detective Erika Foster series but could probably be read as a standalone (although why would you when there are four other great books in the series). The story picks up not long after the events of the previous book and follows a fairly similar format, beginning with the discovery of a body. Bryndza does seem to be upping the ick factor however as this time the body is found dismembered in a suitcase. When it’s linked to another body Erika is positive a serial killer is at large once again (I’m so glad I don’t live anywhere near or know Erika) and fights to get a team to investigate.

The story is told from the pov of both Erika and someone who may have been involved in the murders or who may know who did it. As result this isn’t really a who dunnit but more of a police procedural mixed up with the psychology of a killer. For me it was probably the Erika chapters that worked best. There was something a little unconvincing about the killer(s) story. I didn’t 100% buy into it for some reason.

As far as Erika goes there are bits of her I love and bits that really bug me which I suppose is the sign of a well rounded character. Sometimes I’m cheering her on (mostly when she’s fighting her corner against the big bad bosses) and at others I want to shake her (stop pushing everyone away) but I’m always on her side and want the best for her.

She doesn’t get the easiest ride in this book, it just seems to be bad on top of bad (please give her a break soon) but I do get the feeling that she is starting to change and we can expect better things for her in the future.

There are quite a few secondary characters (her team seems to be ever expanding) and while we don’t get as much of certain ones as I would have liked (McGorry, Isaac) I was very happy that Moss was present throughout and that Marsh made a return. I find the relationship between Marsh and Erika fascinating so it’s always good to have them interacting. They have a long and complicated history and things get even more complicated in this book when he becomes part of the case.

It is a pretty fast paced read and was definitely one I found difficult to put down. The author knows just how to hook you and keep you reading late into the night. I do feel though that I need to highlight a couple of issues with it. I hate doing this because I do love the author and his books but the little mistakes and inconsistencies scattered throughout drove me nuts (for example, “nice weather for ducks” is not an unheard of expression in the UK, the description of the bones in the arm isn’t right, and the twins who can’t be told apart on one page are referred to by the correct names on the next). I’m afraid I’m one of those people who once they spot a couple start spotting everything and I had to drop the rating a little for it.

I also felt like it could have done with a bit more depth and detail. The story would possibly have lost a bit of pace but I do think it would have added to the tension and made me a little more invested in the story and characters. There’s just something a little bit jarring about it at times. It’s so frustrating because it’s so close to being absolutely brilliant but just slightly misses the mark because of small silly things that probably only bug me.

Overall however it is an enjoyable read that I flew through and will continue to recommend to everyone I know. Personally, I can’t wait for book 6.

Thanks to Netgalley and Bookouture for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.


The Blurb

She fell in love with a killer, now she’s one too.

The suitcase was badly rusted, and took Erika several attempts, but it yielded and sagged open as she unzipped it. Nothing could prepare her for what she would find inside…

When a battered suitcase containing the dismembered body of a young man washes up on the shore of the river Thames, Detective Erika Foster is shocked. She’s worked on some terrifying cases but never seen anything like this before.

As Erika and her team set to work, she makes the link with another victim – the body of a young woman dumped in an identical suitcase two weeks ago.

Erika quickly realises she’s on the trail of a serial killer who’s already made their next move. Yet just as Erika starts to make headway with the investigation, she is the victim of a brutal attack.

But nothing will stop Erika. As the body count rises, the twin daughters of her colleague Commander Marsh are abducted, and the stakes are higher than ever before. Can Erika save the lives of two innocent children before it’s too late? She’s running out of time and about to make a disturbing discovery…there’s more than one killer.

ARC Review: Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Genuine Fraud

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A brilliant and cleverly plotted story makes this a truly addictive read. It’s packed full of mystery and questions making it frustrating as hell but impossible to put down.

The characters may not be the most likeable but they are definitely some of the most intriguing. You definitely need your wits about you if you want to figure out what’s real and what’s not.


Synopsis

The story of a young woman whose diabolical smarts are her ticket into a charmed life. But how many times can someone reinvent themselves? You be the judge.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.


My Review

Hmm how to review a book where you can’t really talk about the story, you can’t really talk about the characters and you definitely can’t talk about the ending, or should that be the beginning? I think this is going to be quite a short review.

This is a story that begins at the end, yep literally. The first chapter is number 18 and from there it goes back in time to chapter 1 the beginning. Our main character Jule is a bit of a mystery. As the story begins (or ends as it were) she seems to be on the run and pretending to be someone else. The big question is why but this is only the first of many questions.

This is a story that’s absolutely packed full of mystery and secrets and it raises far more questions than it ever answers. As you travel back in time the answers are gradually revealed but every discovery seems to raise a hundred more questions so that you have to read that little bit more. Needless to say I read the whole book from cover to cover in an afternoon and immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and read it again to try and figure out what I’d missed.

It’s a a very intricately and cleverly plotted story that’s full of detail and little hints and clues scattered throughout. The back to front format of the story works incredibly well as you’re always trying to guess how they got to a specific place or moment and why they behave or act in a certain way. You really have to pay very close attention or you’re sure to miss something.

Main character Jule is the definitive anti hero and a bit of an enigma. She’s not particularly likeable, how can you like someone who’s always pretending to be someone else, but she’s definitely intriguing. I did on occasion find myself feeling sorry for her but when you never know what’s real and what’s fake, you never really know if you’re just being played.

This is an absolutely brilliant book but it’s frustrating as hell which means I can’t say it was an enjoyable reading experience. It is however one I’d definitely recommend. Just set aside plenty of time because you won’t be able to put it down.

I received an advance copy of this book free from Readers First. This has in no way influenced my review.