Review: Friend Request

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**4.5 Goodreads Stars**

What if your entire life hinged on an irresponsible decision you made as a teenager? And what if you spent your entire life pushing everyone away in the hope that you can keep one life-changing decision secret, hidden from everyone but a select few who know what happened?

This is essentially the premise of Friend Request. The book follows the life of Louise, who, against her better instincts, desires to be part of the popular clique in high school as a teenager. To be part of this group, she is pressured to try drugs, drink alcohol, and change her looks. Sophie, beautiful and glamorous, is predictably the leader of the clique, and Louise wants nothing more than to be Sophie’s best friend and confidant.

To gain Sophie’s unfettered attention, Louise bullies girls who aren’t in the clique. One fateful night Louise, Sophie, and their male sidekicks, Matt and Sam, take things way too far.

The book picks up nearly 20 years later with Louise living a safe, solid middle- to upper-class life. Louise has divorced from Sam, one of the male clique members. She has cut ties with the clique, and the poor choices she made as a member of it. She has an adorable preschool-age son who she loves and cannot imagine life without. She will do anything to keep her son safe from her past discretions, especially when they begin to rise to the surface.

Louise’s tightly controlled world is upended when she receives a Facebook friend request from one of the girls she and her clique relentlessly teased: the friend who disappeared the night the clique’s prank went awry and was never found or seen again. This missing friend, Maria, knew (or knows?!) everything about Louise’s past sins, and threatens to unravel the quaint but comfortable life Louise enjoys with her 4 year old son.

I loved this book’s heart pounding plot. I also loved that this book raised philosophical questions about the emotional and physical turmoil of youth, both of which can painfully linger long after high school has ended. Can we escape who we were as teenagers, or will that period of life forever define us? Should someone (Louise) suffer eternal guilt for a horrible decision she made as a teenager?

Throughout the book, I kept second guessing the characters surrounding Louise and asking questions about the event that left Maria missing. Is Maria alive? What exactly happened the night of her disappearance?

Thank you to the author, Laura Marshall, NetGalley, and the publisher, Grand Central Publishing, for the advanced reader copy of this fantastic thriller!

Review: The Lying Game

The Lying Game
The Lying Game by Ruth Ware
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**5 Stars**


…I am thinking about how, however much we struggled to be free, this is how it always ends, the four us, skewered together by the past.


Why didn’t I realize that a lie can outlast any truth, and that in this place people remember?

I was so excited to receive an ARC of The Lying Game after finishing Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 last week. The Woman in Cabin 10 was such a fantastic read that I knew I needed to read Ware’s other two books as soon as possible.

The Lying Game is not the page turning, heart pounding read of The Woman in Cabin 10. Yes, as many reviewers pointed out, this book isn’t The Woman in Cabin 10, but it certainly outshines most of the mysteries I’ve read by a long shot. It’s gorgeously written, and involves a luscious and mysterious setting with a backdrop of a boarding school. While The Woman in Cabin 10 kept me on the edge of my seat, The Lying Game is a long slow burn, one that keeps you guessing with every page. The book is a different kind of thriller, one that spends a much more time sketching out the motivations and backgrounds of its characters. I believe Ware did this to build up the suspense, to make the reader question every word the characters utter. After all, this book is entitled The Lying Game for a reason.

The plot revolves around four women who were close friends at a remote boarding school for girls. The boarding school is regarded as a “last stop” for most of its boarders, as many of them have been booted out of other schools. Isa, the main character, finds her way to it when her father feels incapable of taking care of her due to her mother’s cancer diagnosis and treatment. Fatima, who quickly becomes Isa’s friend, is sent to the school because her parents are spending time abroad in Pakistan as doctors. The other two girls, Kate and Thea, are a year older than Isa and Fatima and are troublemakers. They run into Isa and Fatima while riding a train to the school, and immediately take them under their wings (for better or worse).

Thea and Kate are notoriously known for lying to everyone but each other. Feeling displaced and lonely, Isa and Fatima cling to Thea and Kate, copying their malicious behavior and agreeing to carry out their requests to lie and tease classmates. Soon Thea, Kate, Isa, and Fatima form a clique, one that other girls in the school regard with hatred and envy. On the weekends, the girls escape to Kate’s house known as “The Mill,” which is situated on a beautiful river known by the girls as “The Reach.” They spend countless hours frolicking in The Reach’s warm water, to the point that they begin sneaking out of their boarding school to spend an inordinate amount of time there.

Kate’s father, Ambrose, lives at The Mill, and also teaches at the boarding school. Thea, Isa, and Fatima see Ambrose as a father-figure and friend, a relationship that soon attracts the attention of a number of teachers and students at the boarding school. What is going on between the girls and Ambrose? Why are they spending so much time there?

A catastrophic event takes place at The Mill that results in Thea, Isa, Kate, and Fatima’s expulsion from the school, one that will also have a ripple effect in the girls’ adult lives. The book follows Isa as she attempts to understand what happened at The Mill on that fateful day, to make things right and be able to live her life free from the guilt and anxiety that has plagued her since her teens.

I love Ware’s gift for storytelling and her ability to weave a mystery without relying on cliches. I also loved the side story of Isa trying to grapple with being a new mother, and learning how to walk the fine line between preserving your pre-parenthood identity and autonomy and being a good mother and parent. Here is one of the many gems of quotes about this struggle: “Freya’s cry is like a hook in my flesh, pulling me inexorably across the darkened marsh.”

I can’t wait to read Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood, and hope she keeps churning out these fabulous mysteries!

Thank you to the author, Ruth Ware, Gallery/Scout Press, and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of The Lying Game.

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Review: The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10
The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**5++ Stars**

Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 is by far my favorite read of 2017 (which is when I got around to reading it). If I didn’t have to go to work, I would have sat at home in the sun and read this book until the very end. As it is, I spent most of my evenings up late reading this put. I could not put this thriller down!

This book reminds me so much of the best of Agatha Christie’s novels, such as And Then There Were None, one of my all-time favorite reads. The setting and plot mirrors Christie’s books in that it involves characters, all of whom are somewhat suspicious, damaged individuals, in an enclosed setting. With And Then There Were None, the characters were trapped on an island in a mansion. In Death On The Nile, the characters were trapped on a luxury cruise. Murder On The Orient Express involved characters trapped on a train. In The Woman in Cabin 10, the characters are trapped on a small luxury yacht. There is something to be said for a setting that involves placing your characters in a confined space, one that no one can escape with a murderer on the loose.

Both the plot and the writing are brilliant. Ware is talented writer who paints rich, vivid scenes and characters by avoiding tired metaphors and similes. The plot was original and unique, and that’s coming from someone who has read a great deal of mysteries/thrillers. Ware kept me on the edge of my seat with every single page of the book; I had absolutely no idea how the book was going to end, and once it did, it felt very satisfactory. I would love for there to be a sequel or prequel to this book! This would also make for a fabulous movie.

For those of you wanting a brief summary of the plot, here it is. Lo Blacklock is a journalist who has been sent to cover the debut of a high-end cruise experience. Blacklock has been struggling with depression and anxiety, especially after being assaulted during a burglary that occurs right before she is supposed to leave on the cruise. Her journalism career has been somewhat stagnant, which has landed her a position working for a mediocre travel magazine. Sick from pregnancy, Lo’s boss asks her to cover the cruise that was slated for her. Lo sees the cruise as an opportunity to move up in her profession, and network with the big players in her field.

As soon as she boards the cruise, she becomes overwhelmed and panicky. The yacht is much, much smaller than she imagined, making her feel like she is trapped. In addition, Lo has been suffering from insomnia and panic attacks prior to boarding the cruise, so she is exhausted when she arrives. Lo thought the insomnia would dissipate once she was out of her apartment and in a space where she wasn’t robbed, but her sleep habits only worsen on the cruise.

While getting ready to meet and greet the other tourists and journalists on the cruise, Lo discovers she forgot to pack mascara. She knocks on the door of the cabin next to her, cabin 10, and a beautiful young woman answers the door. Though rushed for some unknown reason, the young woman loans her mascara and then quickly shuts the door.

Later that night, Lo awakes to hear a woman’s scream and a splash outside her balcony’s window. She peers out of her window and sees what she believes to be bloodstains on the balcony of the cabin (cabin 10) next to hers. She calls for help, and when the cruise’s staff arrive, the blood is gone and Lo is told no one was staying in cabin 10. The staff begin to doubt Lo’s story due to her drinking, burglary, and anti-depressant consumption, but Lo will not let it go. She knows there was a woman in cabin 10, but everyone doubts her story. Who was the young woman in cabin 10, and why is everyone ignoring the bits of evidence that suggest this woman was on the cruise?

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Review: House. Tree. Person.: A Novel of Suspense

House. Tree. Person.: A Novel of Suspense
House. Tree. Person.: A Novel of Suspense by Catriona McPherson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

**3.5 Stars**

Usually I am wary of reading suspense/thriller books that use psychiatric facilities as a backdrop for tales of horror and murder. I was therefore nervous when I first started Catriona McPherson’s House.Tree.Person., which revolves around a live-in care home (Howell Hall) for young people with mental illnesses.

However, the author did not rely upon stereotypical tropes, and instead breathed life and humanity into the psychiatric facility around which her story is centered. The story begins with the character of Ali McGovern, mother to a teenage son, Angelo, and wife to her husband, Marco. Ali’s family are recovering from a difficult couple of years; both Ali and her husband had to close their businesses due to Marco’s irresponsible business practices, forcing them out of their nice house and into an apartment that leaves a lot to desire. Ali also suffered from a mental breakdown 10 years ago, which haunts her and leaves her fighting to repair her relationship with Marco and Angelo.

To keep financially afloat, Ali applies for a job as an art/recreational therapist at a psychiatric facility known as Howell Hall. She lies about her experience with the help of her husband, who wrote her resume and cover letter. Her interview at Howell Hall lands her job despite her lack of qualifications and training, which makes her concerned about the quality of the facility and treatment of its patients.

As soon as she accepts the job offer, one that comes with an unexpectedly hefty salary, Ali begins to question why they hired her, and why the patients are at Howell Hall in the first place. The staff also seems to be unqualified for their jobs, which is a red flag to Ali. The way patients are treated is also concerning, and makes Ali want to quit. The only thing anchoring her to the job is her tight financial situation.

The secondary plot of the book involves a murder mystery. Ali’s son is implicated in the murder because he was the one to find the body of an unidentifiable man. In a turn of events, Ali discovers that her son and Howell Hall are linked in the murder. In order to save herself, her son, and the patients at Howell Hall, Ali must solve the murder mystery.

I got lost in some of the plot because there was a lot going on. I really needed the author to spell a few things out for me, especially at the end. The author does a really good job developing her characters, which made the sometimes murky plot manageable.

Thank you to the author, Catriona McPherson, NetGalley, and Midnight Ink for the advanced reader copy of House.Tree.Person.

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Review: Lie to Me

Lie to Me
Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank you to the author, J.T. Ellison, MIRA/Harlequin, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of Lie to Me. I rated this book 5+ stars.

If you love mysteries and psychological thrillers, Lie to Me is the book for you. Lie to Me has been touted as the next “Gone Girl,” and that it certainly is. It’s not as chilling as Gone Girl, but it is a page turner that will keep you guessing right until the very end!

Sutton and Ethan have everything, or so it seems. They have the perfect marriage, the most beautiful renovated Victorian house, and successful writing careers that are the envy of every author. Under the surface, however, their lives are anything but perfect.

The author takes us beyond the veneer of Sutton and Ethan’s extravagant life, exposing their selfishness and narcissism. Sutton is not only an amazing writer but a beautiful woman who is the envy of men and women alike. She is cold, calculating, and uses people to fulfill her needs. Ethan is equal parts handsome and eloquent; he is smart, witty, and a playboy. He ignores Sutton’s needs, and Sutton ignores his. Instead, they both privilege their own needs and feelings. Their past year has been absolutely miserable, marked by affairs, misdeeds, and, sadly, the loss of their one and only child due to what appears to be SIDS.

When Sutton goes missing, Ethan becomes a suspect. Ethan and Sutton’s troubled lives are exposed to the press, and soon Ethan begins to question if he ever truly knew Sutton at all.

I loved the twists and turns of this novel. The plot was cleverly and thoughtfully imagined by Ellison, and the characters, as insufferable as they were, were entertaining and multi-dimensional. The only minor complaint I have is that the ending seemed too tidy, especially for two characters whose lives were dragged through the mud in a very public fashion. Otherwise, this is an excellent read that any fan of psychological thrillers NEEDS to read!

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Review: The Night Child

The Night Child
The Night Child by Anna Quinn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you to Anna Quinn (the author), Blackstone Publishing, and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy of The Night Child. I rated a solid 4 stars.

First off, this book needs a trigger warning. It contains sexual violence and child abuse, including fairly graphic descriptions of both. If this is not your type of book, make sure to pass on it given its content.

When I read the premise of the book, I thought it sounded unique (and I had no idea it involved sexual violence/child abuse from the description, which reveals part of the plot I suppose). I decided to try it out because of the unusual description – a high school English teacher named Nora starts suffering from debilitating headaches and seeing the face of a disembodied child. She thinks she’s losing it, or suffering from a severe medical issue. Her home life is likewise falling apart; her spouse is disengaged and impatient with her, and doesn’t seem to really care at all about her health issues. The most important people in Nora’s life are the students she teaches, and her young daughter Fiona, who she adores.

Scared of what is going on in her head (literally and metaphorically), Nora seeks out a psychiatrist. Her sessions slowly reveal her tragic childhood, one that is coming back to haunt her in the present. Secrets are revealed, and the mystery of Nora’s mental and physical health is unraveled as the plot unfolds.

I read this book in a day and a half during a really busy couple of days. The writing is excellent, and while the subject matter isn’t something I would usually read (especially a story dealing with child abuse), I was able to tolerate the subject matter because the story was compelling and seemed real. I identified with the characters and wanted to know how the story resolves.

To summarize: a quick but terrifying read through a damaged human psyche.

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Review: The Weight of Lies

The Weight of Lies
The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you to the author, Emily Carpenter, Lake Union Publishing, and NetGalley for an advanced reader copy of The Weight of Lies.

I read this book because it had great reviews and a lot of hype from others who had read it as an advanced reader copy. I am a fan of mysteries, especially ones with a female lead. It was a quick read, one that had me curious where it was going and how it would end.

The book is told from the perspective of Megan, the daughter of famous writer Frances Ashley. Frances is conniving, stuck up, and self-absorbed, someone who is so obsessed with her own fame and wealth that everything and everyone, including her own daughter Megan, is just a backdrop to her story. Megan is estranged from Frances, and is living off of the money Frances has put into a trust fund for her. After growing up in a spoiled but neglected household, Megan seeks to free herself from the financial ties she has with her mother. She is tired of living in her mother’s shadow and off of her mother’s fame.

When the one person who truly treated Megan like a human being growing up – Edgar, her mother’s financial advisor and assistant – passes away, Megan decides she is going to do something different with her life. Megan is approached by her mother’s new assistant, Asa, to write a tell-all book about her mother. At first Megan balks at the idea, but then she decides that this is an opportunity to set herself apart from her mother’s legacy and shadow.

Megan embarks on a trip to the island upon which her mother’s most famous book, Kitten, was written. Kitten is what made her mother famous, and it still maintains a large cult following given its controversial content and supposedly true horror story. According to the book, a little girl living at the island’s resort is a killer who seeks out the guests as prey. This little girl is now a grown woman who goes by the name of Doro and is still living on the island. Megan ends up living at the now closed-down resort where she begins to investigate and unravel the real story behind Kitten.

I thought there were some interesting elements in the book, including the history of colonial violence and race relations in the south. However, I didn’t fall in love with the book. The characters were okay, but Megan was the only person who felt real. The writer kept me interested, but it wasn’t what I would call a page turner. A good, fun summer read, though, and I appreciate the free copy of the book!

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Review: Final Girls

Final Girls
Final Girls by Riley Sager
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley, Riley Sager, and Dutton (Penguin Random House) for the advanced reader copy of Final Girls. I give this book a solid 3.5 stars (but oh so close to 4, especially for the first half of the book).

Let me begin by saying that I am not a huge fan of horror literature, so I was hesitant to review the book. After seeing all the great reviews and hype, however, I decided to request a copy. It did not disappoint, and if I was a fan of this genre, I would probably give it a higher rating.

The book starts out with Quincy, who has become a seemingly normal and very successful food and cooking blogger. She lives in a nice, semi-upscale apartment in a big city, and has a loving lawyer boyfriend to boot. As we soon find out, Quincy’s normalcy is a ruse; she was a victim of a heinous crime that involved the deaths of all her close college friends during what was supposed to be a fun trip to a cabin in the woods (yes, it’s that cliched).

Quincy is the only person to survive the massacre, and as a result she is known as a “final girl” by the media. Final girls are women who have been the lone survivors of violent killing sprees. To her knowledge, there are two other “final girls” out there: Lisa and Samantha. Lisa has managed to make her life also seem normal, and has written a bestselling book about being a survivor. Samantha, in contrast, has disappeared off the radar of society, and no one knows what she looks like or where she went.

Though Quincy seems to have everything (despite being a victim/survivor of a brutal crime), she is wounded. She takes Xanax to ease her constant anxiety. She bakes to exercise control over something, even if it is just a recipe. She feels like she cannot be intimate with or trust anyone, including her own boyfriend. Her scars are not visible to others, but she lives with them day in and day out. On top of this, Quincy has psychological damage that prevents her from accessing memories of the day of her attack, making her question what happened and even her own sanity.

Quincy’s life is shaken up when Samantha, one of the final girls, shows up in her neighborhood after Lisa, the other final girl, has supposedly committed suicide. Samantha, or “Sam,” is looking to connect with Quincy given their unique status as now the only two “final girls” left standing. At first, Quincy denies Sam’s offer of friendship, and questions her motives for showing up at this particular moment in time. But something is off with Sam, and Quincy, desperate to relieve her daily anxiety and pain, befriends someone who seems just like her on the inside (but definitely not on the outside). As readers will soon discover, many people in this book aren’t who they initially seem to be, which leads readers on a quest to discover the truth behind the final girls and the events that lead up to Quincy’s attack.

The first half of the book was excellent, but it slowed down at about the half-way mark. Nonetheless, it makes for a good summer read, and is well written.

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Review: Guilty

Guilty
Guilty by Laura Elliot
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you to Laura Elliot, Bookouture, and NetGalley for providing with me an advanced reader copy of Guilty.

I rated this book a solid 3.5 stars. If I had to rate the first part of the book, I’d give it 5 stars. I’d give the second part of the book 2 stars. This is one of those books that starts off so incredibly well, and then takes a divergent path that leaves you wanting so much more for the characters and from the plot. I couldn’t put the book down the first day I started reading it.

Karl is the uncle of Constance, a 13 year old girl who goes missing in the middle of the night. Karl was known as the “cool uncle” to Constance; because of his writing gig with a popular underground music scene magazine, he gets Constance and her friends into concerts and gives Constance unreleased CDs.

Justin, Karl’s brother and Constance’s father, disapproves of this relationship because of his strict parenting style. One night Justin grounds Constance for her behavior and tells her she cannot attend one of her favorite musician’s concerts with Karl as a consequence. Constance runs away, engaging in dangerous behavior that results in her disappearance.

Karl becomes a key suspect in Constance’s disappearance, and is subjected to the typical rash of social media speculation and online gossip in an age where news is often reported before it is vetted. Karl loses his family, his job, and his friends over such speculation, his life essentially ruined by the media. Amanda is one of the reporters that pushes questionable stories about Karl, helping to incite violence against him and what remains of his family.

I won’t give away the plot or spoilers, but the book becomes an entirely different story about 40% of the way in. The second part is about revenge and the desire for power, which was interesting but not as compelling or heart-pounding as the first part of the book. I think the book would have been more successful if it had focused on the story of Constance and drawn that out much longer.

Laura Elliot, the author, is a good writer, so I kept reading because I did enjoy her writing style and prose. Karl’s character was written very well at the beginning, but I felt like his actions and behavior became questionable once I started the second part of the book. The twists and turns seemed out of character for Karl, and also seemed a bit unbelievable in an age where everything we do and say is captured digitally. I wish I could say more, but I don’t believe the things he did in the second part of the book would be possible.

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