Review: No Exit

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**4 Goodreads Stars**

Taylor Adam’s No Exit is a keep-you-on-your-toes thriller that mixes classic storytelling with contemporary high-velocity suspense novel pacing. It’s been forever since I  read a thriller that was so scary I had to put it down at night. No Exit had so many skin-crawling twists and turns that I ended up reading most of it during the day!

This book is basically one of my worst fears made real. I used to live in a remote, rural part of the inland Pacific Northwest (United States) and spent a good deal of time driving from one really remote place to another. Rest stops were the only places where I encountered other human beings, and when you are driving for hours on end to get from one small city to another, you have to stop to go to the restroom. I absolutely hated these drives, especially in the winter, because rest stops are usually pretty empty spare a few questionable folks.

The lead character, Darby, is embarking on the same kind of trip in the middle of a snowstorm. The storm becomes so bad that the roads are closed and she is forced to stop overnight at a sketchy rest stop with a cast of equally oddball characters. Darby has been desperately trying to get home to see her mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing surgery for it. Her mind is clouded with regret over things she hasn’t said to her and things she wishes she didn’t say to her mother.

Amid these terrible feelings, she soon begins to suspect that something is gravely amiss at the rest stop when, in an attempt to get cell phone service outside, she sees what appears to be a child trapped in a sketchy looking van. Is her guilt and mind playing tricks on her, or is something absolutely horrific taking place at the rest stop? When Darby goes back inside the rest stop, she must figure out who is lying, who is the owner of the van, and who may be posing a threat to the entire rest stop. This is a very traditional whodunit (like Ten Little Indians or Clue!) in that the lead character must follow clues to decipher the potential killer/child-kidnappers.

My only complaint is that I am not a huge fan of horror writing, and this is a personal preference There are many gruesome parts of the book that I could have skipped. Nonetheless, this book kept me on the edge of my seat during the entire read. There were so many terrifying twists and turns, many of which I did not see coming!

Thank you to the publisher, William Morrow, the author, Taylor Adams, and Edelweiss+ for an advanced copy of this book!

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Review: An Anonymous Girl

**4.5 Goodreads Stars**

“Sometimes a simple gift is actually a vessel utilized to issue a warning shot.”

“We all have reasons for our actions. Even if we hide the reason from those who think they know us best. Even if the reasons are so deeply buried we can’t recognize them ourselves.”

To what lengths would you go if you were barely making ends meet?

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s latest book, An Anonymous Girl, examines this question when the book’s lead character, Jessica, finds herself embroiled in a psychological study for generous compensation. Jessica is working as a struggling makeup artist when a client mentions a psychological study in which they are enrolled. This study piques Jessica’s interest as she needs money to make rent and help her family out. Jessica decides to pose as her client to get access to the study. Surprisingly, she is accepted into the study.

At first, the study seems like a financial dream come true. She gets paid a generous sum each time she fills out digital surveys about morality and choices she would make in particular scenarios. Soon, however, Jessica starts to question the purpose of the study and the intentions of the psychologist running it. Jessica feels as though she is revealing her entire life story – good and bad – to the mysterious psychologist behind the computer screen and begins to wonder if sharing such intimate details of her life is worth the price.

She becomes infatuated with the psychologist running the study, Dr. Shields, and wants to know why Dr. Shields needs to know so much information about her study’s subjects. Jessica discovers the gorgeous, wealthy, academically brilliant Dr. Shields has a dark past, one that Jessica believes may have led to the death of one of Dr. Shields’ subjects. Jessica finds herself drawn closer to Dr. Shields, befriending her with the intention of unraveling the shocking truth about the psychological study and its effect on its participants. The closer Jessica gets the more she questions her initial consent to the study.

I really liked the premise of this book, but I think it could have used a bit more editing; at times it felt a bit drawn out and slow. That being said, the authors know how to weave a clever, engaging story with characters with whom the reader can relate. They are brilliant writers who craft interesting prose that keeps you reading even if the story is a bit farfetched. As a researcher who has to follow the same institutional review board protocols discussed in this book, I can’t imagine someone like Dr. Shields surviving in academia (though she was on leave in the book for her misdeeds!). Psychological studies like the Stanford Prison Experiment have been known to take advantage of their subjects, though I would hope those are now far and few between.

If you are interested in the author’s other works: I read Sarah Pekkanen’s The Ever After earlier this year, and you can read my review here. I also read Hendricks and Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us, and my review can be found here. Thank you to the authors, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for an advanced e-galley of what will likely be one of the hottest psychological thrillers of 2018!

Review: Lies

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

“Everything you know is a lie. There was a stranger in my house, and I was married to her.”

Joe’s ordinary life as a part-time English high school teacher and stay-at-home-dad to his adorable 4-year-old son William is thrown into absolute chaos when William sees his mother’s car parked at a seedy hotel. William begs his dad to stop to see his mommy, which Joe does out of curiosity. What is his wife, a stunning, successful businesswoman, doing at a rundown hotel in the middle of the afternoon when she should be at work?

Joe reluctantly parks their car and enters the hotel. There, he discovers that his wife is meeting with a mutual family friend, Ben, who is wealthy beyond imagination. Ben and Joe’s wife are having what appears to be a heated discussion over a meal. Realizing this isn’t the best place for a 4-year-old, Joe quickly exits the hotel hoping his wife and Ben did not see them. As soon as they get to their car, Ben appears out of nowhere. Joe and Ben get into a confrontation, which leads to Joe pushing Ben onto the ground. Ben’s head hits the pavement and he is knocked unconscious.

As if things can’t get worse, William starts to have an asthma attack and Joe can’t find his inhaler. Joe abandons Ben in the parking lot and speeds home to get William’s inhaler. Plagued with guilt, Joe heads back to the parking lot once William is better only to discover Ben is no longer there. What happened to Ben? Is he okay? Or did something terrible happen?

Even worse, Joe confronts his wife about Ben and fails to get a straight answer from her about their meeting. What is Joe’s wife lying about? Why won’t she tell Joe the truth? In the meantime, Ben has gone missing. Ben’s wife, Beth, and teenage daughter, Alice, are distraught and report his disappearance to the police. Soon Joe is drawn into a police investigation and becomes the number one suspect in Ben’s possible murder. Joe’s friends and family doubt his innocence, leaving him on his own to solve the mystery of what happened to Ben.

TM Logan’s Lies is a heart-pounding, fast-paced thriller that never has a dull moment. There are so many creative twists and turns in this book and I was sad to see it end.  I loved all the cyber espionage in the story and the discussions of how technology can be used to sabotage a police investigation and conceal reality. Logan has a gift for drawing the reader into the story. I love books that have characters who are relatable, empathetic, and authentic. Joe, the lead character, was all of these things and more. While the ending was a bit Lifetime Movie-esque, I was captivated by all the scenes leading up to the finale. If you like novels that keep you guessing until the very last page, Lies is definitely for you.

Thank you to the author, TM Logan, and NetGalley for an advanced e-galley of Lies. I look forward to reading Logan’s next book!

Review: Almost Everything

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**5++ Goodreads Stars**

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”

“Haters want us to hate them, because hate is incapacitating. When we hate, we can’t operate from our real selves, which is our strength.”

Oh Anne Lamott, how do you manage to rip my heart into pieces and then mend it ever so carefully back together? This is what Lamott calls a paradox or conundrum, that life brings both immense joy and heart-wrenching pain, pain that, at times, is unbearable. Take her discussion of having children:

“We are consumed by the most intense love for one another and the joy of living, along with the grief and terror that we and our babies will know unbelievable hurt: broken bones, bad boyfriends, old age…Every day we’re in the grip of the impossible conundrum: the truth that it’s over in a blink, and we may be near the end, and that we have to live as if it’s going to be okay, no matter what.”

Lamott’s Almost Everything: Notes on Hope is meandering and rambling in the most poignant way, a method of writing only Lamott can get away with. It is structured around themes that she wants to share with her grandchild, stories she wants to pass on that she deems critical for one’s survival in a brutal world.

As with Lamott’s other books, I highlighted nearly everything. So many beautiful passages, so much wisdom that has come from the pain that Lamott has known well. This is not a pain she monopolizes. Rather, this book is about how pain is part of the human condition. And because it can happen to any one of us, Lamott believes that we must find peace and happiness every single day. That joy cannot come from a number on a scale or your paystub, though:

“Could you say this about yourself right now, that you have immense and intrinsic value, at your current weight and income level, while waiting to hear if you got the job or didn’t, or sold your book or didn’t? This idea that I had all the value I’d ever needed was concealed from me my whole life. I want a refund.”

“The opposite of love is the bathroom scale.”

Lamott argues that happiness is not found in materiality but something that is omnipresent, waiting to be found in the most mundane places. There is also beauty in grief and beauty in tragedy, though she certainly does not argue that there is a rhyme or reason as to who gets saddled with grief in this universe. Grief is not a lesson to learn, forced upon those who have sinned.

“We do get a taste of the spheres in birdsong, eclipses, the surf, tangerines. In the dark, we see the stars. In the aftermath of devastating fire, the sun rose red. To pay close attention to and mostly accept your life, inside and out and around your body, is to be halfway home.”

How do we cultivate this love of the quotidian? Through play, observing the world around you, through helping others, and, of course, through reading:

“Books! To fling myself into a book, to be carried away to another world while being at my most grounded, on my butt or in my bed or favorite chair, is literally how I have survived being here at all. Someone else is doing the living for me, and all I have to do is let their stories, humor, knowledge, and images – some of which I’ll never forget – flow through me, even as I forget to turn off the car when I arrive at my destination.”

As always, Lamott also has some brilliant things to say about writing:

“Write because you have to, because the process brings great satisfaction. Write because you have a story to tell, not because you think publishing will make you the person you always wanted to be. There is approximately zero chance of that happening.”

“We have to cultivate the habits of curiosity and paying attention, which are essential to living rich lives and writing. You raise your eyes out of the pit, which is so miserable and stifling to be in and which tried to grab you and keep you there, until something sneaky hauled you out and changed you.”

Lamott won’t give you easy answers about life in this book, but she will give you a lot to chew on. She challenges you to be reflexive, to examine what’s holding you back in life and what you need to move forward – that these things are not a one size fits all sort of solution. We need to dig deep and find that with which we struggle: confront it and learn to live with it the best we can.

Above all else, she asks her reader to sit with the world: watch it, learn from it, listen to it, breathe it in. For “God is often in solitude and quiet, through the still, small voice – in the breeze, not the thunder.”

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I loved this book. I love nearly everything Lamott writes (Bird by Bird is one of my all-time favorite books!). Thank you to Edelweiss, Anne Lamott, and Riverhead Books/Penguin Random House for an advanced reader copy of Almost Everything.

Review: Her Final Hour

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**4 Goodreads Stars**

“Her secrets were her secrets. They were nibbling through her flesh like worms trying to eat their way out of an apple, but, as far as she was concerned, the apple could rot and take her with it.”

Carla Kovach’s Her Final Hour is the second installment in the Detective Gina Harte series and is the second book I’ve read by Kovach. I read the first installment earlier this year and my review can be found here. Beyond being great reads, I absolutely love the cover art for both of Kovach’s books.

Kovach’s latest book starts with a terrifying murder in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Melissa Sanderson and her daughter are home alone when intruders break into their house and terrorize Sanderson. Sanderson is murdered in a brutal fashion by a killer (or killers?) who seems to know how to keep a crime scene semi-pristine. Over the course of her murder investigation, Sanderson’s private life, which from the outside appeared idyllic, is revealed. We discover that there were dark secrets she was hiding from the world. Melissa appears to be abused or the victim of longterm sexual violence, placing the spotlight on her husband as the potential killer. We also learn that Melissa was in an incredibly unhappy marriage to the point she had started to see someone on the side, someone who she had tried to leave.

Who is the killer? Melissa’s husband? A man with whom Melissa was having an affair? Or someone else lurking in the shadows, tormenting other women?

While the murder investigation is underway, we are introduced to additional characters who are suffering or have suffered at the hands of a cruel man. Is this man somehow connected to Melissa’s murder? This story occurs in between narratives about Detective Harte’s investigation of Melissa’s murder. It acts like a carrot dangled in front of the reader, taunting you to make connections between the several intertwined stories of women suffering at the hands of abusive men.

I love Kovach’s ability to create three-dimensional, relatable characters. She makes you truly care about the fate of the characters and makes the reader want to know what will happen to them at the end of the story. My only critique of the book is that I would have liked to have a bit more backstory/parallel story with Detective Gina Harte. Her story was very compelling and kept me engaged in the first book of the series. Detective Harte’s story is what will also keep me reading this series. Thank you to Bookouture, Carla Kovach, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of Her Final Hour.

Her Final Hour - Blog Tour

Buy  Links:       mybook.to/HFHSocial

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Description

Do you really know the family next door?

Melissa Sanderson is the perfect wife and mother. She dotes on her daughter, and lives in her dream home in a quiet cul-de-sac in the suburbs.

But looks can be deceiving. 

Something is amiss in that house – all the neighbours think so. Some say Melissa is having an affair. Others say she’s been drinking too much.

Then one night, sirens wake up the whole neighbourhood.

Melissa Sanderson is dead.

AN ABSOLUTELY UNPUTDOWNABLE THRILLER WITH A BRILLIANT ENDING YOU WON’T SEE COMING – if you like Lisa Gardner, Robert Bryndza or Clare Mackintosh, Her Final Hour will keep you reading well into the night.

 Carla Kovach

Author Bio

Carla Kovach was born in Birmingham, UK and now resides in Redditch, Worcestershire. Author of supernatural drama ‘Flame,’ psychological thriller ‘To Let,’ crime thriller ‘Whispers Beneath the Pines,’ and holiday comedy, ‘Meet Me at Marmaris Castle.’ Carla also writes stage and screenplays, some of which have been produced in the Worcestershire area. Her feature film ‘Penny for the Guy’ is being made and is set for release in 2019.

Her latest book, Her Final Hour, has been published by Bookouture. It is the second in the DI Gina Harte crime series.

Author Social Media Links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarlaKovachAuthor/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CKovachAuthor

Website: https://griffbuck.wordpress.com/

Review: Keep You Safe

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**4 Goodreads Stars**

Natasha finds herself in a world of trouble in Rona Halsall’s Keep You Safe (formerly titled Guilty Little Secrets) with few friends or family to help her out. Her picture-perfect life of comfort, wealth, and new motherhood is ripped away from her when the police arrest her for embezzling. Taken complete off-guard, she is confused and destitute, her only potential help a solicitor (lawyer for American readers) who seems disinterested in Natasha’s case and doubtful of Natasha’s innocence.

Natasha is encouraged to plead guilty to the crime to lessen her sentence so that she can get out in 2 years to see her son. Seeing no hope, she does it. She is immediately sentenced to prison for 3 years. When incarcerated, the prison doctor discovers she has opioids in her system. She has no recollection of ever taking them and believes her husband, a businessman who comes from old money, was drugging her. Her husband immediately files for a divorce from her, leading Natasha to believe that he may have been involved in both shady business practices that went unnoticed by her and an affair. He never writes or visits her in prison, leaving her to sort out the truth alone in prison – so far away from her baby son and the life she once knew.

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The story seesaws between the past and present. The current timeline picks up with Natasha’s unexpected early release from prison due to overcrowding. She is on the hunt for her husband in the hopes of finding her son. She gets in touch with an old friend, Sasha, who Natasha hopes will help her find her baby boy. We also hear the voice of an unknown predator, someone who is following Natasha’s every move with malicious intent. Is it Natasha’s ex-husband or someone associated with her prison time?

The story unfolds methodically. It’s clear the author took great care in writing the story, pacing it so that only certain parts of the story were revealed to the reader as to avoid spoiling the mystery. It was fun to guess what may be going on. Is Natasha a reliable narrator? Is she telling the reader the truth? And who is this person stalking her? What parts of the story has Natasha left out? Why, for instance, hasn’t her friend Sasha regularly visited her in prison? Why does Natasha’s mother despise her so much that she, too, refuses to visit her in jail and doubts her daughter’s innocence?

What also drew me into this story was the author’s writing. She writes beautifully composed sentences that paint a vivid picture of what is going on in the characters’ heads and what their surroundings look like. Here’s one example of Halsall’s writing:

“My first clenches around the phone, my patience a thin veneer.”

Halsall takes the most ordinary, mundane parts of life and makes them come to life with her prose. That’s what kept me turning the pages on top of wanting to know what was happening with Natasha.

Thank you to the author, Rona Halsall, the publisher, Bookouture, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this thrilling book!

Keep You Safe - Blog Tour

Buy Link: mybook.to/KYSCover

Description

What if trying to protect your child only put them in danger?

Natalie is desperate to find her little boy. It has been more than three years since she saw Harry. Three long years in prison for a crime she knows she didn’t commit.

But her husband believed the police, and took their son.

Who has gone to such great lengths to destroy Natalie’s life? Everyone she once trusted – friends, family, all the people close to her – what secrets do they hide?

If Natalie finds the truth, will she get Harry back, or lose him forever?

A totally gripping psychological thriller – perfect for fans of Big Little LiesThe Girl on the Train and C.L. Taylor.

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Author Bio

Rona’s debut psychological thriller, Keep You Safe is out on 17th August and her second novel will be out in November 2018.

Rona lives on the Isle of Man with her husband, two dogs and three guinea pigs. She has been a bookworm since she was a child and now she’s actually creating stories of her own, which still feels like a dream come true.

She is an outdoorsy person and loves stomping up a mountain, walking the coastal paths and exploring the wonderful beaches on the Island while she’s plotting how to kill off her next victim. She also makes sure she deletes her Google history on a regular basis, because… well, you can’t be too careful when you spend your life researching new and ingenious ways for people to die.

She has three children and two step-children who are now grown up and leading varied and interesting lives, which provides plenty of ideas for new stories!

Social Media Links

To find out more about Rona’s novels, go to www.facebook.com/RonaHalsallAuthor or follow @RonaHalsallAuth on Twitter.

 

 

Review: The Thinnest Air

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

Newlywed Meredith Price seems to have it all: a sprawling mansion in a highly desirable mountain resort community; an older, but insatiably attractive husband whose wealth knows no end; and any and everything that money can buy.

But Meredith’s infatuation with her husband and the lavish lifestyle he lives begins to dissipate when the reality of marriage sets in.

There’s the obnoxious, spoiled stepchildren Meredith has to entertain, children who resent her for breaking up their parents’ marriage. There are the cliquish older women in the neighborhood who gossip about her and her husband, Andrew, and who think she is just the newest flavor of the month for him. And then there’s Andrew, whose behavior as of recent seems to confirm the neighbors’ speculation that Meredith is just a new plaything for him to admire until he tires of her and moves on to a younger version of her.

Meredith feels as though there is so much more to life than wealth and comfort. Meredith starts to feel trapped by Andrew, who expects her to play house and keep up appearances for the neighbors. Bored with the life foisted upon her, Meredith ventures outside of her home, enrolling in self-defense classes taught by a local detective. Soon, she finds her heart straying from Andrew and becomes entangled in several relationships, one of which may lead to her demise.

When Meredith goes missing, her sister, Greer, must face some hard truths about her baby sister. Greer learns that her sister and family members kept secrets, some of which may provide clues as to what happened to Meredith. Did Meredith take off and abandon everyone for a reason? Is she safe, or in serious danger? Did Meredith’s husband find out about her infidelities and harm her? Or is something else going on?

This book is a heart-pounding page-turner perfect for the beach or vacation. I liked how the narrative switched between Meredith and Greer, which gave the reader insight into how two very different people can have different versions of the “truth.” I highly recommend this book to fans of suspense and psychological thrillers.

Thank you to the author, Minka Kent, the publisher, Thomas & Mercer, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Thinnest Air.