book review (ARC): Lying Next to Me by Gregg Olsen

No matter what you see, no matter what you’ve heard, assume nothing.

Adam and Sophie Warner and their three-year-old daughter are vacationing in Washington State’s Hood Canal for Memorial Day weekend. It’s the perfect getaway to unplug—and to calm an uneasy marriage. But on Adam’s first day out on the water, he sees Sophie abducted by a stranger. A hundred yards from shore, Adam can’t save her. And Sophie disappears.

Unconvincingly written and disappointingly “one-note”, Lying Next to Me has such a promising blurb – but for me, it failed to deliver. Initially, I wondered if Gregg Olsen was inspired by the case of Heather Teague, who went missing over twenty years ago in Kentucky. A witness with a telescope saw Heather, who was sunbathing by the side of a lake, approached by a man who dragged her into the woods at gunpoint. To this day, there have been no signs of her whereabouts. All that was left of her was a small scrap of her bathing suit, discovered by investigators as they combed the scene.

It’s a case that has always haunted me.

This novel will not. It’s certainly readable, and it starts with a bang. Adam and Sophie Warner and their three-year-old daughter are on holiday. While out crab fishing with his little girl, Adam sees his wife abducted on the shore. Though he rows back with everything in him, by the time he returns, there’s no sign of her – and the search begins.

Right from the get-go, it’s clear there’s more to Adam than there seems. He’s not acting like you’d “expect” and even in his inner thoughts, there’s a veil over his feelings, as if he’s playing a role. Interestingly, Adam knows one of the two lead detectives on Sophie’s case.

Lee is the sister of Adam’s childhood best friend, and their history is a fraught one – tangled with an instance where Adam saved her life, in the most harrowing of circumstances.

There isn’t a likable character in this bunch. Adam is a hapless asshole, more interested in drinking whisky than parenting his child. Sophie’s parents are akin to caricatures – her father particularly is such a blustering blowhard that he”s impossible to swallow as a functioning human being. There is zero nuance to his character.

Even Lee is unsympathetic, due to the deeply stupid things she keeps doing. Her misguided crush on Adam seems more befitting of a 13-year-old girl than a police detective. It’s not endearing. I just wanted to shake her.

By the end, I didn’t care what happened to any of them. Even Sophie. While the “twist” is a good one, I couldn’t muster up anything but vague sympathy.

I think I might have appreciated it more if we’d had more time with her – or any time at all – she remained a mystery, and since the entire book is based around her disappearance, it’s weird that she’s a question mark. We’re meant to wonder what happened to her and why, and Olsen gives us nothing to go on.

While there were promising elements to this tale, for me, it didn’t quite get there, and I think it would have benefited from more time taken to flesh out the characters and make them more well rounded.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate it, as always!

cover & blurb reveal: Violent Delights by Jessica Hawkins

In the de la Rosa family, old grudges run deeper than loyalty, and betrayal is a three-letter word: war. But this feud isn’t between enemies. It’s between brothers. And I’m the prize.

I was born a princess among criminals. An untouchable among thieves. Heiress to a life others have killed for, and one I’d do anything to escape. I vowed not to leave without Diego, my first love and best friend, but if his ruthless brother has his way, I won’t leave at all. Cristiano de la Rosa is a man as big and bold as his legend. Once upon a time, he was our cartel’s best soldier . . . until he became my family’s worst enemy.

A man like Cristiano will bend fate to his will to get what he wants. Even if it means dragging me to hell—and tearing me from his brother’s arms.

“She is mine.”
Three words from two different men.
A life, future, and love I don’t get to choose.

This. Cover.

They could not have spoke more to my 90s-Romeo-and-Juliet-loving soul if they tried. I am verklempt.

There’s no way you’re not buying this book, so just get on it, would ya?

Amazon. <– clicky . Plus, remember to add on to share the love!

A note to all lovely readers that if you click the Amazon link above and purchase, I will receive a small fee for referring. Thank you for supporting this blog and in turn, supporting authors!

book review: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin


‘Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.’ 

This book is a treat.

No, it’s not going to solve world hunger or bring peace to the land, but it will entertain the absolute shit out of you, and don’t we all need a little bit of that magic these days?

Alternating between the past and present, The Escape Room is a deftly plotted tale of revenge, and revenge is never sweeter than when the people receiving it really, really deserve what’s coming to them.

The scene: four people are in an elevator in a building under construction. It’s flying toward the top floor, binding them all to a meeting they don’t know anything about. Each of these four people are tightly wound, high-flying business types, each with their own secrets, malicious thoughts, baggage, selfish hopes, dreams of better, more – more money, more love, more freedom – and they all know each other. Perhaps a bit too well. When the elevator comes to a halt, they realize that what they thought was a ‘meeting’ is actually a team-building exercise.

The elevator has become their own personal escape room, and they have to answer riddles in order to be let out of the elevator before the hour is up. Believing this is a test to keep their jobs, they get to work unraveling the scant, frustrating clues. Already fractious, their tempers fray as their personalities clash and it becomes apparent that something a bit more sinister is going on. The temperature is rising, the clues are impossible, and why aren’t the doors opening when the hour is up?

Between these bites of suffocating tension, Goldin tells another story – Sara’s story. A young financial analyst, Sara begins working at Stanhope & Sons, a company that thrives on making money, and will do anything to get its clients rich – and its employees even richer. Drunk on the prospect of unlimited income, Sara is willing to drink any sort of Kool-Aid to rise to the top of the wolfpack. As she begins to sacrifice her own ideals, values and even friendships for the sake of the company, she wonders if she’s in over her head. Things take a bloody turn when an associate dies under suspicious circumstances, and Sara wonders if Stanhope & Sons is really all that it seems, and what might be unspooling beneath the surface, rotten and dark.

How these two tales intertwine is fairly obvious from the beginning, but it’s nonetheless fascinating watching how it plays out. It’s one of those books that just makes you feel damn good about life. Perhaps not a morally sound admission, but some people getting their just desserts gave me a little glow of happiness, and I think it will do the same for you.

Revenge is a dish best served … up high, in an elevator, with no way out but down.

Support authors & literacy & imagination! Get your copy of The Escape Room here.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I really appreciate it!

A note to all lovely readers that if you click the Amazon link above and purchase, I will receive a small fee for referring. Thank you for supporting this blog and in turn, supporting authors!

book review: The Hiding Place (also known as: The Taking of Annie Thorne) by C.J. Tudor

Because for Joe, the worst moment of his life wasn’t the day his sister went missing. It was the day she came back. 


That is one hell of a lede. Okay, so it’s not the first sentence of the blurb, but damn. The second I read it, I was hooked. Not that I wasn’t determined to read this book to begin with, having enjoyed C.J Tudor’s first novel, The Chalk Man so much. Largely, I’ve seen positive reviews of this one, with a few detractors. I’ve even seen comments about of racism and homophobia, and maybe my memory is shot, but I can’t recall any that spring to mind …? If I’m wrong, please correct me by all means!

However, I’m not sure when it became important for books to be perfect in that regard. My own personal opinion is that it’s more entertaining to read about flawed human beings that angels. Further, I didn’t get the sense that Tudor set Joe up specifically to be a “hero”. If anything, he’s a cautionary tale.

Set in Arnhill, a soiled spot on the British landscape, The Hiding Place captures one of my favourite journeys – the adult returning to their childhood home to face a half-remembered horror. Stephen King is particularly good at this, and so is C.J. Tudor. Every step that Joe Thorne takes is leaden, every page he turns in the ghostly book of his past is crumbling, and every detail he reveals to us seems to come directly from the belly of the beast.

The novel begins with an act of madness. A local teacher murders her son and then shoots herself, leaving only questions behind. In Arnhill, an old mining town that seems best left to rot, the questions go unanswered. Enter (walking disaster) Joe Thorne, stage left. Ostensibly, Joe returns to Arnhill to work as a teacher at his old school and pay off debts (or hide from his lenders), but in reality, he’s back because something is happening.

And what is happening,

happened before.

What exactly occurred in the past, I’ll leave you to discover. Suffice to say, it involves the disappearance of Joe’s sister, Annie, a childhood gang of “friends” that lead Joe straight into the bowels of the earth, and a particular horror that once it gets its claws into you, doesn’t let go, not for anyone, not for death or dreams or innocence or tears.

Genuinely creepy and viscerally atmospheric, this novel interrupted my sleep. What more can you ask for? Click here to buy The Hiding Place, and support imagination, literary and our treasured authors!

A note to all lovely readers that if you click the Amazon link above and purchase, I will receive a small fee for referring. Thank you for supporting this blog and in turn, supporting authors!

Book Review: The Housewife by Valerie Keogh


“There’s no place like home” – that’s what I tell myself as I pull another flawless meal from the oven. This perfect house on a quiet street was supposed to be my sanctuary, a place to recover. But everything changed the moment I saw that woman in the charity shop. She triggered something dark, buried deep within my memory… 

By no means unentertaining, The Housewife nonetheless falls prey to “Girl on the Train” syndrome. It’s touted as wildly thrilling and with a twist you’ll never see coming, and can no book just be a JOURNEY? Must it always be about the denouement? Because this kind of marketing never truly serves the book. I did in fact see the ending coming. Most readers will. It doesn’t mean that the book isn’t worth reading.

Just that we all need to cool it with expecting a twist that will cause an earthquake in our brains.

The Housewife circles around Diane, a woman recovering from a trauma and suffering from short-term amnesia. While she remembers her husband and the basics of her life, she can’t recall what’s caused her memory loss, or why she’s so afraid of the sitting room in her home. Often, she hears the haunting sound of a baby crying, and it sends her spiraling down into the darkest shadows of her mind. These moments of terror impact the rest of her life – and she begins to forget to pick her daughter up from nursery or make dinner on time for her husband. When she tries to pick up the pieces and volunteer at a local charity shop, she has a run-in with a woman who looks at her with scorn – and begins to “stalk” her around their small suburb of London. But is she truly being stalked? Or is she imagining things?

Horrified by what she sees as the disintegration of her mind, Diane hides what’s happening from her husband, and begins to drink secretly during the evenings. Her paranoia soon leads her to believe that everyone is conspiring against her, and that even her own house is a dangerous place, full of barbed memories around every corner.

As I mentioned earlier, the “twist” is not really a twist. There’s a lot to examine in this book that goes largely unpacked by the author. For instance, the utter misogyny and contempt displayed by Diane’s husband (I forget the prick’s name already), the odd whirlwind romance they have (in this day and age, does it really make sense that she wouldn’t see his house until the day she moved in??), and the truly upsetting reason for her amnesia. The “twist” is revealed and I think the horror of it is almost… too much for the author? It’s glossed over, in favour of bog-standard notions of revenge. I’m being deliberately obtuse, because spoilers are awful, but if you read, you’ll see what I mean.

I do think The Housewife is a good little thriller, but it has the potential to be so much more, and particularly in the relationship of the husband and wife, there’s A LOT to unravel that could have provided meaty character development.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. I appreciate the chance, as always!

Book Review: Waisted by Randy Susan Meyers


In this provocative, wildly entertaining, and compelling novel, seven women enrolled in an extreme weight loss documentary discover self-love and sisterhood as they enact a daring revenge against the exploitative filmmakers.

From the blurb.

Would I call this “wildly entertaining”? In a word, no.

However, I was interested in this book from the get-go. I’m a devotee of Jillian Michaels and Gwyneth Paltrow, while still craving (tee hee, I’m so funny…) Chrissy Teigan’s recipes and dreaming daily of nachos. Balance, sure, but it’s not always that easy. Weight and food and body image – they are all wrapped up in the fabric of my every day life, and sometimes, they take over. So it’s natural that Waisted intrigued me. The premise – a weight loss documentary gone wrong – seemed right up my alley.

I wish I could say the execution lived up to the premise. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong here, but for me, I didn’t buy that Randy Susan Meyers had ever struggled with her weight. I could be way off base, and I haven’t searched for any interviews to ascertain either way, because the proof is in the pudding so-to-speak, and this novel felt like it was written by a woman of average weight.

From the scene where the women’s bodies are described, along with their heights and weights, everything was just… off. I’m not sure if Meyers did her research but the height to weight ratios didn’t add up. A 5’2” woman who weighs 178 pounds is not going to look obese. I remember reading a mystery once where the author had the heroine pulling out her hair at the idea of being over 120 pounds. I DNFed that shit because no thanks. This novel reminded me of that. I mean, come on, one of the heroines is like, 5’10” and weighs under 195!

Rest assured, I am NOT saying these women might not struggle or feel like crap or want to lose weight, etcetera. But in a world where we’re lectured constantly about the “obesity epidemic” and fat shaming abounds, I find it very hard to believe that these very, very average women would be the subjects of an extreme weight loss documentary. We’ve all seen The Biggest Loser – TV sells itself on being OTT. I’m not sure if Meyers didn’t want to deal with heroines that couldn’t lose enough to be considered “normal” (heavy quotation marks implied) by the book’s end, or if she honestly thinks that the weights / heights she mentioned are reasonable for this sort of endeavor.

The novel is told from two viewpoints, but I couldn’t see much difference in the narrative voices. One of the husbands is such a colossal prick that I was shocked no one had set him on fire by the end of the book. Not to mention, the whole ‘message’ just felt super … icky. The women dabble in drugs pretty heavily to lose weight, and the ramifications of this is never touched on or discussed? One daughter cries because her mother doesn’t emphasize her beauty enough (she’s relentlessly described as “thin as a pin” and “a wispy waif”, gag me), another’s mother is an absolute monster and this is treated as endearing, and the much-touted “revenge” is extremely muted to the point of being nonexistent.

By the conclusion, the emphasis is back on who’s gained weight and who’s lost, and the examination of culture, beauty norms and body image that I was waiting for never arrives. There’s no feeling of growth or empowerment (besides one small scene that I enjoyed around the dinner table), and no realizations about unhealthy behaviours or patterns. This novel had so much potential to unpack, and for me, it fell short of true bravery in the telling.

Thank you to NetGalley and Atria Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. I appreciate the chance to read, as always!

book review: Wolfhunter River by Rachel Caine


She can’t ignore a cry for help. But in this remote hunting town, it’s open season.

Gwen Proctor escaped her serial-killer husband and saved her family. What she can’t seem to outrun is his notoriety. Or the sick internet vigilantes still seeking to avenge his crimes. For Gwen, hiding isn’t an option. Not when her only mission is to create a normal life for her kids.

But now, a threatened woman has reached out… 

The third in Caine’s immensely readable and thrilling ‘Stillhouse Lake’ series, Wolfhunter River is nonetheless a departure from the norm. The book feels very much like a bridge that had to be crossed before Caine could continue the series the way she wanted. This isn’t a criticism. Actually, I was worried that Caine wouldn’t be able to move Gwen and Sam away from the malevolent spectre that was Melvin Royal, and I’m very pleased to be wrong. I can imagine – given the narrative thread that Rachel Caine introduces toward the end of this book – a very satisfying series coming from this new direction in Gwen’s life.

Part of me just wants Gwen to catch a break. What else can she possibly endure without going crazy? But the other part finds these books way too exciting to let go. In Wolfhunter River, Gwen answers the call of a panicked woman named Marlene Crockett, who is desperate for help to escape a looming threat. She won’t explain what – or who – she’s terrified of, but it’s evident that there’s something rotten in Wolfhunter. After sick Internet vigilantes come after Gwen and her family once again, and she receives another disturbing call – this time from Marlene’s daughter, she heads to Wolfhunter, feeling called to help, any way she can.

The second half of the book is packed with action, but Caine doesn’t sacrifice character and relationship development in the process. Gwen and Sam are struggling both with their romance, and with their pasts. Gwen sees camera eyes in every corner and Melvin in every patch of dark, and Sam is rocked to the core by the re-emergence of Miranda Tidewell in his life – a particularly repellent character that is hellbent on misery and revenge.

There’s also the very real threat from online sources and ghosts from Melvin’s past. He’s made sure that even in death, he’s a part of his family’s life, and like a spider, he keeps tightening the web – until someone is bound to choke. He’s a black stain on their lives, and it only continues to get worse, not better.

By the end, Caine has set up Gwen for a new beginning, but crucially, a beginning that is shaped irrevocably by the blood and horror of her past. I’m very, very happy that we haven’t seen the last of Gwen and her family, and hopefully, we’ll get more glimpses of Melvin (what a name hiding such a monster!)

My favourite part of these books – the beating heart that runs through them like a golden cord of steel – is Gwen’s love for her children, and YES – her love for herSELF. She SURVIVED. *She* did that. And she’s not giving up – not for anyone. It’s such a gorgeous portrayal of what it means to be a survivor, and what it means to be a woman in this world – this world of rape culture and #MeToo and Internet dog-piling and incessant, damaging vitriol. A world where your husband was a serial killer, and somehow it’s your fault for not controlling him, pleasing him, stopping him. It’s still, somehow, all on the woman.

I love Rachel Caine for this honest, unflinching depiction of a woman who has gone through the fire – and come through scarred, but alive, kicking and ready.

Click here to buy Wolfhunter River and support literacy, imagination and our treasured authors!

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I appreciate the chance, as always.

A note to all lovely readers that if you click the Amazon link above and purchase, I will receive a small fee for referring. Thank you for supporting this blog and in turn, supporting authors!

book review: Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle

Dear Wife: a novel. By Kimberly Belle.

From the bestselling author of The Marriage Lie and Three Days Missing comes a riveting new novel of suspense about a woman who, in a fight for survival, must decide just how far she’ll go to escape the person she once loved

Beth Murphy is on the run…

Tautly suspenseful and genuinely moving, Dear Wife by Kimberly Belle is exactly the kind of thriller that pushes all the right buttons for me. While it has twists and turns that you won’t see coming, the novel is also a stirring examination of the epidemic of violence against women, in particular – violence perpetrated by their partners.

Told from alternating viewpoints – “Beth” (a woman on the run from her abusive husband), Jeffrey (who comes home to find that his wife Sabine has disappeared) and Marcus (the police officer assigned to Sabine’s case), the novel moves at a rapid-fire pace as Beth continues her desperate journey across the South, and Sabine’s fate grows ever uncertain.

Beth’s tale is the most riveting, and the one I felt most anxious to get back to as the book progressed. Interspersed with horrific, yet subtle details of the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, Beth’s story is also one of breathtaking survival and ingenuity. Beth, in the end, is much smarter than anyone may have given her credit for, and (without giving too much away), watching her become the cat instead of the mouse is deeply satisfying in a visceral sense.

With the search for Sabine intensifying, Marcus’ unraveling temper and Jeffrey’s deception, nothing is quite as it seems. After all, who is Beth?

And who is she running from?

While I did guess the twist, I didn’t guess all of it, and Kimberly Belle had me on the edge of my seat, reading straight through the evening to get to the end. This isn’t the kind of thriller that rests solely on the denouement – the journey there is equally as good, and worth the time it takes to get there.

Treat yourself! Buy Dear Wife here, and help to support imagination, literacy and authors.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A note to all lovely readers that if you click the Amazon link above and purchase, I will receive a small fee for referring. Thank you for supporting this blog and in turn, supporting authors!

book review: An Anonymous Girl by Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. I always appreciate the opportunity!

While I don’t believe that An Anonymous Girl is the “tour de force” that so many are touting it to be, it’s certainly entertaining. While I didn’t find it ‘unputdownable’, I did think the premise was intriguing, and I wanted to know what would happen. 

An Anonymous Girl (written by the writing team of Sarah Pekkanen and Greer Hendricks), takes us into two worlds. One: the world of Jessica, a struggling makeup artist in New York City, who works to help support her family and specifically, her sister, who is differently abled and requires additional care. When Jessica inadvertently hears about a psychological study being performed by a renowned New York psychologist, she sneaks her way in, attracted by the money on offer. Labeled as “Subject 52”, Jessica finds herself in a barren room, answering questions on a single laptop. Questions about morality, about judgment, about the tough choices we make, day in and day out.

The second world belongs to Dr. Shields, who is running the study, and who becomes singularly focused on Jessica and invites her for further “examination”. Dr. Shields is ostensibly fascinating, but Pekkanen and Hendricks lay this on way too thick – her “spicy” perfume and the fact that she likes shawls are presented as intricate layers of character development. 

As their two worlds intersect and collide, it becomes clear that the study isn’t quite what it seems, and that Jessica may be in over her head…

Saying any more would spoil the unveilings that occur, and I do think this tale is worth reading till the end. A few personal quibbles – I didn’t find Jessica all that sympathetic, and I thought she was idiotic for trusting such a creepy doctor and such an invasive “study” – every instinct would be telling her to run in the other direction since it was so odd from the get-go. Hendricks and Pekkanen would have been better served to dial down the creep factor until Jessica was already fully embroiled. I also hated how much she ignored her dog (she was NEVER home…), how she treated Noah, and how little she learned by the end. 

BUT it’s not like I have to be best friends with her. I also think the book would have benefited from tighter editing. However, the story itself is certainly engrossing, and I see why it’s popular.