Review: Our Kind of Cruelty

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

“And you should never trust people who yearn to be something other than who they are.”

Araminta Hall’s debut thriller Our Kind of Cruelty takes you into the inner recesses of a deeply twisted mind. This is one of those books that won’t leave my head for years to come.

Mike Hayes, the narrator, falls in love with a beautiful lithe woman named Verity while in college. Verity has a penchant for danger, finding arousal and excitement in a game that she and Mike have nicknamed the “Crave.” Crave involves Mike and Verity going to nightclubs separately. Verity entices men at the nightclub, luring them to dance and/or kiss her. As soon as Verity gives Mike a sign (which involves touching an eagle necklace she wears), he intervenes and starts a fight with whoever is with Verity. Then Mike and Verity have passionate sex, sometimes right there in the public eye of a nightclub. Sometimes they take the game further, luring men and women into their hotel rooms.

Upon Verity’s insistence, Mike leaves London to take a high paying job in the banking industry. According to Mike, Verity encouraged him to take the job so that they could save up enough money to retire in their 40s. He also took the job so that he could buy Verity a beautiful house in London.

However, Mike is lonely on his own in New York and makes a fatal mistake by having a one night stand with a coworker who he doesn’t even like. When Mike returns to London for Christmas, he admits his betrayal to Verity, who immediately breaks up with him. Mike cannot believe that one brief affair could lead to the destruction of their long-term relationship. He begins to think that this is a new form of the Crave, as absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Much to his surprise, Mike discovers that Verity is getting married to a wealthy socialite a short 9 months after she broke up with him. He cannot believe Verity would move on so quickly after nearly 9 years of dating, so Mike continues to believe this is all part of the Crave. To what length will Mike go to get Verity back? Is her engagement part of an extended version of the Crave? Or is Verity playing both partners as part of a more elaborate game?

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I read this book in a day. I absolutely could not put it down. The narrator’s voice is infused with intensity, making you wonder what Mike is truly capable of. Is, for instance, the Crave all in Mike’s head? Or is something even more twisted than the Crave taking place?

Thank you to Araminta Hall and the publisher, MCD/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, for an advanced reader copy of Our Kind of Cruelty. I cannot wait to see what Hall publishes in the future!

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Review: The Absolved

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**3 Goodreads Stars**

It’s the year 2036 in Matthew Binder’s The Absolved and humanity is living a questionable existence, one where automation has rendered human labor nearly obsolete. The “Absolved” refers to the majority of humankind who no longer have jobs. Instead, they are given a minimum wage on which to live and provided a home, food, and minimal comforts.

The story is narrated by Henri, a wealthy oncologist who has yet to be absorbed by machinery. He has a beautiful wife, Rachel, and a young son. He also has a woman on the side named Taylor who hopes to attend medical school someday. Henri is shielded from the reality of the Absolved for the most part, but every now and then he gets a thrill by hanging out in a dive bar frequented by many of the Absolved.

I had a lot of hope for this book because I enjoy speculative fiction and the premise sounded promising, but unfortunately, it fell short for me. For one, 2036 really didn’t feel that far off from today’s society; it felt like an amplified version of it, but nothing too drastically different for me to feel as though I was in an entirely unfamiliar and new world. I expect speculative fiction to present creative twists on the world as we know it, especially when it is set only 20 years from today’s society. This world, for me, was too close for comfort. For instance, healthcare is one of the few areas of life that are not dictated by machinery. However, healthcare mandates passed down by politicians have resulted in universal healthcare that is based upon cost-benefit analyses of human life. I’d say this practice is very much alive here in the United States, where insurance coverage often dictates the care a patient is able to obtain.

The characters also left me wanting. Henri is self-motivated and narcissistic, engaging and indulging in anything that pleasures him despite who it might hurt. His wife, who has some fairly odd behaviors (such as dressing up as Snow White??!), is also superficial, obsessed with her looks, decorating their house, and her son’s education. The characters’ self-worth is entirely wrapped up in their money.

I kept trying to figure out what the plot was and how the characters would transform, but I was disinterested by the time the author got to it. Henri does experience a moral reckoning, but those around him fail to experience the same transformation. I felt that women, in particular, were painted as one-dimensional characters who were out for themselves or as objects of sexual desire: there is so much more to humanity (and women!) than this.

Thank you to the author, Matthew Binder, the publisher, Black Spot Books, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Absolved.

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Review: The Perfect Friend

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**4 Goodreads Stars**

From the outside, Carrie and Alex’s relationship seems healthy: two survivors who found each other at a support group for people suffering from all kinds of afflictions. Carrie, who is 24 years old, is in remission from a cancer that completely ravaged her body. Alex, who was abandoned by her twins and husband, is recovering from anorexia: a disease that started as a way to cope with the depression and sadness of being neglected by her family.

Both Alex and Carrie have more in common than they realize: they are both liars and are concealing secrets from each other and their support group. The secrets start to unravel as soon as Carrie’s cancer comes back, which draws Alex into Carrie’s life even further.

Threatening notes are left on Carrie’s doorstep, which Alex intercepts thinking they are associated with the lies she has been telling Carrie about her past. Then Carrie’s cat disappears and her car windows are smashed, suggesting that whoever is after either Alex or Carrie is intensifying their behavior. Alex begins to fear that whoever is targeting her or Carrie is going to harm them, so she starts digging deeper into Carrie’s past. She finds that Carrie may have a darker past than herself, one that is coming back to haunt the both of them.

I really enjoyed the pacing of this book and how secrets were slowly unraveled chapter by chapter. This helps keep tension throughout the book, which made me want to keep turning the pages. I thought both of the characters were well-developed, and, as someone who has struggled with eating issues, I also felt that the representation of anorexia was accurate and absolutely heartbreaking. If you like a simmering, well-written mystery, this book should definitely be on your shelf!

Thank you to the author, Barbara Copperthwaite, the publisher, Bookouture, and NetGalley for an advanced copy of The Perfect Friend.

The Perfect Friend - Blog Tour

Amazon Links:         mybook.to/TPFBCSocial

Description

She’ll do anything for you…

My name is Alex, and my world has been shattered.
My husband has left me.
My children won’t speak to me.
My friend Carrie is the only person I have.
She’s the only one I can trust to keep all my secrets.
She’d never do anything to let me down.
Would she?

This dark, gripping psychological thriller will have you holding your breath until the very last page. Fans of Behind Closed DoorsSometimes I Lie, and The Girl on the Train will be captivated.

Barbara Copperthwaite author picture

Author Bio

Barbara is the Amazon and USA Today bestselling author of psychological thrillers INVISIBLE, FLOWERS FOR THE DEAD, THE DARKEST LIES, and HER LAST SECRET. Her latest book is THE PERFECT FRIEND.

More importantly, she loves cakes, wildlife photography and, last but definitely not least, her two dogs, Scamp and Buddy (who force her to throw tennis balls for them for hours).
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Having spent over twenty years as a national newspaper and magazine journalist, Barbara has interviewed the real victims of crime – and also those who have carried those crimes out. She is fascinated by creating realistic, complex characters, and taking them apart before the readers’ eyes in order to discover just how much it takes to push a person over a line.

When not writing feverishly, she is often found hiding behind a camera, taking wildlife photographs.

Author Social Media Links:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AuthorBarbaraCopperthwaite

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BCopperthwait

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/author_barbara_copperthwaite/

Website: www.barbaracopperthwaite.com

Review: An Unwanted Guest

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**4.5 Goodreads Stars**

“How quickly and how absolutely trust – built over many years – can collapse.”

I took a break from reviewing this past month as I had several big work projects I wanted to finish. I am glad to end my review hiatus with Shari Lapena’s An Unwanted Guest, which was a thrilling whodunit mystery set in a mysteriously rustic wooded retreat.

If you enjoy Agatha Christie novels, you will love Lapena’s newest book. Much like Christie’s And Then There Were None, the cast of characters in An Unwanted Guest all have curious, intriguing backstories. The backstories are slowly revealed to the reader as guest after guest is picked off. There’s the dowdy empty-nest couple who have yet to jumpstart their relationship after devoting it to raising their children. There’s a young couple who are devastatingly attractive and appear to be passionately in love, but are perhaps hiding secrets of their own. There are two formerly close friends who have come to the resort seeking to rekindle their friendship, which begins to unravel even further as soon as their trip starts. There’s the lawyer who has been publically defamed for his wife’s death despite failing to be convicted for it. Finally, there’s the lonely writer who is trying to pen her next big hit and is seeking solitude at the remote resort in the woods.

What I enjoyed about this book is how each one of the characters could be implicated in the murders. The author reveals just enough information about each character to make you wonder about their motivations for coming to the lodge. Are they there to commit foul play? To connect with a loved one? To betray?

I also enjoyed the setting of the novel, which is at a historic hotel in the woods. An ice storm strikes the area, causing the power and phone lines to go out. Cell phone service is non-existent. The roads are impassable. Thus, the hotel guests are left to their own devices to help find the murderer before he or she (or they??) kills again.

This is a read that I finished quickly amid a busy work period. It was also my first book by Lapena. Thank you to the author, Bantam Press, and Edelweiss+ for an advanced reader copy of An Unwanted Guest.

Review: Natural Causes

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**4.5 Goodreads Stars**

“In the health-conscious mindset that has prevailed among the world’s affluent people for about four decades now, health is indistinguishable from virtue, tasty foods are ‘sinfully delicious,’ while healthful foods may taste good enough to be advertised as ‘guilt-free.’ Those seeking to compensate for a lapse undertake punitive measures like fasts, purges, or diets composed of different juices carefully sequenced throughout the day.

I had a different reaction to aging: I gradually came to realize that I was old enough to die, by which I am not suggesting that each of us bears an expiration date. There is of course no fixed age at which a person ceases to be worthy of further medical investment, whether aimed at prevention or cure.”

Have you ever struggled to get a medical diagnosis? Been told that you aren’t sick or been dismissed by a doctor? I am guessing most people at some point in their lives have experienced this frustration, and while Barbara Ehrenreich’s Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Our Illusion of Control isn’t specifically about misdiagnosis, it’s about the many problems involved in the healthcare industry.

Some people have written about this book as though it’s merely about deciding not to have preventative care once you reach a certain age, but that’s only part of the picture. Ehrenreich takes on the health industry full stop, debunking the myths that manage to still dictate patient care and revealing the industry as it is, which is that it is a business. She also unravels the wellness and mindfulness industry that pervades America right now, which severely lacks evidence to support its claims.

What I came away with after reading this book is that medicine (and the mindfulness industry), while wonderful and helpful, is still in the dark ages on certain issues, such as the immune system. We still have a lot to learn about how the immune system compromises and interacts with the rest of the body. The book also made me feel less responsible for what happens to my body, because sometimes you can do all of the right things that society tells you to do – exercise, eat well, meditate, etc. – and still end up with a body that turns on you. As Ehrenreich states:

“What is the point of minutely calibrating one’s diet and time spent on the treadmill when you could be vanquished entirely by a few rogue cells within your own body?”

I like that Ehrenreich explores both the business side of medicine as well as how our culture pushes for control over one’s body. Controlling one’s body has become a business, whether it is one’s looks, one’s weight, or one’s health. It’s not just the medical industry that is trying to create more tests and interventions to prevent the inevitable – death – but it is also patients demanding more testing. But Ehrenreich does not see value in subjecting herself to more testing that has no evidence to prolong people’s lives when they get to old age. She writes:

“I reject the torment of a medicalized death, but I refuse to accept a medicalized life, and my determination only deepens with age. As the time that remains to me shrinks, each month and day becomes too precious to spend in windowless waiting rooms and under the cold scrutiny of machines. Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.”

Her reflections, of course, only apply to those of us healthy enough to not need regular prescriptions. It does not apply to people with chronic health issues or those who have been and are sustained by medicine. I personally know I could not get my inhalers – which I rely upon twice a day to breathe – without seeing my asthma doc at least once a year.

This review barely scrapes the surface of this book. There is so much good information here and so many thoughtful discussions about healthcare, medicine, and culture in the Western world. I think I highlighted half of the book. This is one of those books that will have a permanent place on my bookshelf for years to come (as is the case with Ehrenreich’s other publications!). Thank you to the publisher, the author, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of this book!

Review: The Ex-Wife

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

Natasha is struggling to make it as a barista in the city. Living on a tight budget, she cycles to work daily until one fateful day dramatically changes her life for the better – or so she thought.

While racing down a steep street on her bike, Natasha accidentally swipes the side of a car and tumbles to the street. A handsome, older man steps out of the car to check on Natasha. She’s fine, but the man, Nick, feels guilty and offers to take her out to dinner. Things seem innocent until Natasha finds herself falling hard for Nick. There’s only one little problem: Nick is married to Jen, his high school sweetheart.

Natasha falls pregnant – something Jen never was able to do – and Nick casts aside Jen. He is eager to be a father and ready to welcome his new baby girl Emily into his life. Natasha moves into the house Nick and Jen shared and everything seems shockingly perfect beyond Jen’s occasional lengthy phone calls to Nick.

Things change when Nick gets one too many tickets and is under a court order not to drive. Jen suggests that he hire a private driver, which Natasha thinks is unnecessarily extravagant. Nick goes against Natasha’s wishes and hires a driver, who ends up spending a great deal of time with Natasha. Natasha begins to question her reality as her driver suggests that Nick isn’t being honest with her. Is Nick cheating on her? Is Jen somehow still involved with Nick? Is Nick really spending so much time on international business travel or is something else going on behind Natasha’s back?

This book was an intense, hold-on-to-your seats ride from start to finish. The author drops hints here and there at what might be going on; clever suspense readers may figure out what’s happening mid-way through the book, but that certainly won’t spoil this tantalizing thriller for even the most seasoned mystery readers. This was a super quick read for me and so very difficult to put down! I loved how tension mounted in this book; it was there from the first page and continued to build with every turn of the page.

Thank you to Bookouture, NetGalley, and Jess Ryder for an advanced reader copy of The Ex-Wife! I hope to read more of Ryder’s books in the future!

The Ex Wife - Blog Tour

Description

You’ve got everything she wants …
Newly married Natasha has the perfect house, a loving husband and a beautiful little girl called Emily. She’d have it all if it wasn’t for Jen, her husband’s ex-wife who just won’t leave them alone …

Then Natasha returns home one day to find her husband and Emily gone without trace. Desperate to get her daughter back, Natasha will do anything even if it means accepting an offer of help from Jen. But can she trust her? And do either of them really know the man they married?

If you loved The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl or The Couple Next Door then this dark, twisting psychological thriller from Amazon chart bestseller Jess Ryder is guaranteed to have you gripped.

Author Bio

Jess Ryder Author Photo

Jess Ryder is the author of three psychological thrillers – ‘Lie to Me’ (April 2017) and ‘The Good Sister’ (August 2017), and The Ex-Wife (June 2018) -all published by Bookouture. She also writes books for children, teens and young adults as Jan Page, with many titles published including ‘Selina Penaluna’. With many years’ experience as a scriptwriter, she loves watching television crime drama. Jess is a passionate reader and particularly enjoys thrillers. She blogs about writing, reviews books and interviews writers atwww.jessryder.co.uk and www.janpagewriter.com.

Jess lives with her partner in London, UK and has four grown-up children.

Author Social Media Links

Website: http://jessryder.co.uk/

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

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/jessryderauthor

Review: The Ever After

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**3.5 Goodreads Stars**

Sarah Pekkanen’s The Ever After merges the genres of suspense and domestic drama to tell a story of a husband’s infidelity. The lead character, Josie, discovers a salacious text from another woman on her husband, Frank’s, phone by accident. The book follows the aftermath of this discovery, peering into the mind of Josie as she struggles to understand why her husband cheated on her. Was her marriage always a sham? Were there signs she missed?

To make matters worse, Josie and Frank have two young daughters. They both do their best to hide the situation from them, but ultimately Josie realizes she needs Frank out of the house to figure out a way forward. The book follows Josie’s inner dialogue as she tries to reconcile the many sides of Frank: the loving and doting father, the once caring and adoring lover, the hard-working employee, the solid friend, son, and brother. How could someone who was all those things rip a marriage to shreds?

I struggled with the ending of this book as it felt flat and abrupt. I felt like I truly understood Josie’s train of thoughts, but Frank’s motivations for the affair still felt unclear to me. In some parts of the book I felt like I was reading a self-help non-fiction book rather than a piece of fiction. The writing is good, but I really struggled to see Frank’s point of view in all of this.

Thank you to the publisher, Atria, the author, Sarah Pekkanen, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Ever After.

Review: The Psychopath Next Door

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

I’ve read a lot psychological thrillers and murder mysteries, but I haven’t spent a lot of time reading the psychology behind why people are ruthless killers. Dr. Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door shines light on people who are sociopaths: not the sociopath who kills, but the sociopath who is manipulative, deceptive, cunning, emotionally destructive, and, at times, physically violent. Dr. Stout, a clinical psychologist, wrote this book after a lifetime of working with patients who have been affected by sociopaths.

Sociopaths, by definition, lack a conscience. They have no moral compass and no sense of guilt. They are self-motivated and self-interested, only concerned in using people to fulfill their own desires and wishes.

“When a sociopath identifies someone as a good game piece, she studies that person. She makes it her business to know how that person can be manipulated and used, and, to this end, just how that chosen pawn can be flattered and charmed. In addition, she knows how to promote a sense of familiarity or intimacy by claiming that she and her victim are similar in some way.” (Stout 90)

According to Dr. Stout, 1 in 25 Americans are sociopaths. So how do we protect ourselves from such people? 

Dr. Stout argues that we should avoid sociopaths at all costs. If someone has lied to you three times, then assume they are a sociopath. If they have shared a pitiful story to gain your sympathy, be on alert.

Part of the reason sociopaths are allowed to run rampant in American society is because they cause their victims to question their own sanity and to feel as though they are the ones who are crazy. Sociopaths convince people who know their victim/victims that the victim is the one who is deceptive, manipulative, and dangerous. Consequently, victims often stay quiet out of fear of retaliation:

“Certainly she will hesitate to tell her story again, since trying to expose the sociopath casts doubts on her own credibility and maybe even on her sanity. These doubts, our own and other people’s, are painful, and readily convince us to keep our mouths shut. Over the years, listening to hundreds of patients who have been targeted by sociopaths, I have learned that within an organization or a community, in the event that a sociopath is finally revealed to all and sundry, it is not unusual to find that several people suspected all along, each one independently, each one in silence. Each one felt gaslighted, and so each one kept her crazy-sounding secret to herself.” (Stout 95)

For these reasons, Dr. Stout argues that victims must do everything in their power to separate themselves from those who exhibit sociopathic behavior.

This book was eye-opening for me. I especially enjoyed segments that discuss the history of world leaders who exhibit sociopathic tendencies. One of the questions that haunts me is why humanity – which compromises of mostly good people – tolerates and even complies with the demands of sociopaths.

“But history shows us also that a leader with no seventh sense can hypnotize the group conscience still further, redoubling catastrophe. Using fear-based propaganda to amplify a destructive ideology, such a leader can bring members of a frightened society to see it as the sole impediment to the good life, for themselves and maybe even for humanity as a whole, and the conflict as an epic battle between good and evil.” (Stout 59)

I flew through this book because it was accessible for non-experts. The case studies, in particular, were so compelling and frightening. They were just as terrifying as the suspense books I read!

Review: Tell Me a Secret

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**5 Goodreads Stars**

“…the worst kind of secrets are always the ones we keep from ourselves.”

“Even therapists have secrets.”

Lorna has a deep, dark secret that threatens to destroy her family and her career. Her secret is so thorny that she will do everything in her power to keep it from the people she loves.

What is this secret? 

Lorna has been hiding an affair from her coworkers, friends, and family for nearly a year. It’s an intensely passionate relationship, one that caused her to violate her professional code of ethics as a practicing clinical psychologist. This is because the affair involved one of her patients, Andrew. Lorna tries to end the smoldering affair by up and leaving her psychology practice for a new one, but Andrew hunts her down at her new practice. And despite Lorna’s best intentions, they rekindle old flames.

But there’s someone watching from afar, taking note of Andrew and Lorna. They want revenge. They want to settle the score. They are stalking Lorna like prey. And Lorna and Andrew have no clue.

Samantha Hayes’ Tell Me a Secret could be used in a master class on writing a suspenseful psychological thriller, one that shocks at every turn. I can’t reveal much without revealing significant plot twists and turns, but I can promise you that this book will keep you on your toes. This would be the perfect book for a women’s book club; when I finished it, I wanted to talk about the ending to anyone who would listen. I did not see the ending coming, which is all the more reason I enjoyed it!

Another thing that I enjoyed about the book was the different ways Hayes’ told Lorna’s story. She gives readers insight into Lorna’s deep thoughts by providing snippets of Lorna’s journals (take note, readers!). She also incorporates illicit conversations via text and a dating website into the narrative, giving us hints of what is to come with Lorna and Andrew. This writing style kept the book current and fresh for me.

Thank you to the author, Samantha Hayes, the publisher, Bookouture, and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced reader copy of Tell Me a Secret!

Tell Me A Secret - Blog Tour

Buy Link:   mybook.to/TMASSocial

Description

Tell her all your secrets and she’ll tell you all her lies…

Everything in Lorna’s life runs like clockwork, from her 6 a.m. morning run to the strict 60-minute counselling sessions she gives. It’s the only way she can deal with the terrible secret she carries.

When a new client arrives for his first appointment, Lorna feels her perfect life unravel in a matter of seconds. It’s Andrew, the man she’s spent the last year desperately trying to forget. It seems he can’t forget her either…

Against her better judgement she anonymously contacts him on a dating site. Messaging him could mean the end of her marriage and her career, but she needs to know if his motives are genuine.

When Andrew is found dead in his home, grief quickly turns to fear when messages from him continue to arrive on Lorna’s phone. Somebody knows her secret and wants to use it to destroy everything she has.

Will she risk her family and her sanity to keep her secret? Will she risk her life…?

If you love twisty psychological thrillers that get under your skin, like The Girl on the TrainI Let You Go or anything by Louise Jensen, you’ll be utterly blown away by the jaw-dropping lies in Tell Me a Secret.

NEW Samantha Hayes author photo

Author Bio

Samantha Hayes grew up in Warwickshire, left school at sixteen, avoided university and took jobs ranging from private detective to barmaid to fruit picker and factory worker. She lived on a kibbutz, and spent time living in Australia and the USA, before finally becoming a crime-writer.

Her writing career began when she won a short story competition in 2003 and her ninth novel, THE REUNION, was published in February 2018. Her novels are family-based psychological thrillers, with the emphasis being on ‘real life fiction’. She focuses on current issues and sets out to make her readers ask, ‘What if this happened to me or my family?’

Tell Me A Secret is out now!

To find out more, visit her website www.samanthahayes.co.uk
Or connect with Samantha on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/SamanthaHayesAuthor
And she’s on Twitter @samhayes