Book Review: Real Bad Things by Kelly J. Ford

Slow burning suspense and dark reveals

Kelly J. Ford is the author of Real Bad Things (summer 2022) and the award-winning Cottonmouths, a novel of “impressive depths of character and setting” according to the Los Angeles Review, which named it one of their Best Books of 2017. An Arkansas native, Kelly writes about the power and pitfalls of friendship, the danger of long-held secrets, and the transcendent grittiness of the Ozarks and their surroundings. She lives in Vermont with her wife and cat.

All that was left to do was wait for someone to find the body. Or, if they got lucky, wait until everyone forgot about Warren and turned their attention to the next man who went missing.

Real Bad Things by Kelly J. Ford

I’m always drawn to stories set in the small southern towns in the US. There’s something curious about the culture and history; from the Missouri River to the Ozarks that stretch across five states. It’s an area of the country I’d love to spend time exploring someday. This novel does an amazing job setting the scene, and I often found myself completely absorbed in the story, turning pages into the early morning hours. The use of dual narrative and timelines provided in-depth characters with intriguing histories I enjoyed learning about, especially the relationship between Georgia Lee and Jane. The small town vibes felt claustrophobic when Jane returned to Maud, and was faced with the same gossip and judgment she’d escaped years ago. The family dynamics and history kept my attention, and Ford did an amazing job interweaving slow character reveals throughout the present timeline. The structure was clear to follow and I thoroughly enjoyed the slow-burn mystery at the heart of this novel. Although I found the relationship between Jane and her mother difficult to read at times, it was incredibly addictive. I’m always drawn to novels with dark family secrets set in small southern towns and this one definitely delivered. I’m so glad I discovered this author and can’t wait to read more of her work.

4/5 ⭐️

I recommend to readers who love slow-burning mysteries set in small towns, and families with dark secrets.

PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 1ST, 2022

Synopsis:

Beneath the roiling waters of the Arkansas River lie dead men and buried secrets.

When Jane Mooney’s violent stepfather, Warren, disappeared, most folks in Maud Bottoms, Arkansas, assumed he got drunk and drowned. After all, the river had claimed its share over the years.

When Jane confessed to his murder, she should have gone to jail. That’s what she wanted. But without a body, the police didn’t charge her with the crime. So Jane left for Boston—and took her secrets with her.

Twenty-five years later, the river floods and a body surfaces. Talk of Warren’s murder grips the town. Now in her forties, Jane returns to Maud Bottoms to reckon with her past: to do jail time, to face her revenge-bent mother, to make things right.

But though Jane’s homecoming may enlighten some, it could threaten others. Because in this desolate river valley, some secrets are better left undisturbed.

Book Review: All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers

Suspenseful, twisted, and incredibly dark.

Ashley is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of audiochuck, the award-winning, independent media and podcast production company known for its standout content and storytelling across different genres, including true crime, fiction, comedy, and more. As CEO, she works with her team to create an overarching content strategy and vision for the network of shows and company growth. She also hosts several audiochuck shows, including top-rated podcasts like Crime Junkie, Red Ball, Full Body Chills, and The Deck. Ashley was born and raised in Indiana, where she continues to live with her husband, daughter, and their beloved dog, Chuck. She received a Bachelor of Science in Biological Services from Arizona State University. All Good People Here is her debut novel

Once I learned Ashley Flowers was the founder of true crime podcast, Crime Junkie, I was even more compelled to read her debut novel, All Good People Here, and curious as to how her professional background would influence her writing. I’m pleased to report I was very impressed with this novel! Not only are the characters relatable and well fleshed out, but the use of dual timelines is extremely effective at creating suspense and revealing their backgrounds and relationships. I enjoyed the steady pace, multiple twists, and shifting narratives, but the second to last scene was definitely the most exciting. Flowers has a natural gift for storytelling and I can’t wait to read what she publishes next.

My favorite scene was when Margot notices a photograph revealing a subtle clue she recalls from a previous conversation. The intensity immediately ramps up to an unexpected climax leaving me stunned and partly satisfied after learning who the true killer was. A shocking cliffhanger that left me wanting more.

4/5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy dual timelines and small-town suspense.

PUBLISHED AUGUST 16TH, 2022

Synopsis:

You can’t ever know for sure what happens behind closed doors.

Everyone from Wakarusa, Indiana, remembers the infamous case of January Jacobs, who was discovered in a ditch hours after her family awoke to find her gone. Margot Davies was six at the time, the same age as January—and they were next-door neighbors. In the twenty years since, Margot has grown up, moved away, and become a big-city journalist. But she’s always been haunted by the feeling that it could’ve been her. And the worst part is, January’s killer has never been brought to justice.

When Margot returns home to help care for her uncle after he is diagnosed with early-onset dementia, she feels like she’s walked into a time capsule. Wakarusa is exactly how she remembers—genial, stifled, secretive. Then news breaks about five-year-old Natalie Clark from the next town over, who’s gone missing under circumstances eerily similar to January’s. With all the old feelings rushing back, Margot vows to find Natalie and to solve January’s murder once and for all.

But the police, Natalie’s family, the townspeople—they all seem to be hiding something. And the deeper Margot digs into Natalie’s disappearance, the more resistance she encounters, and the colder January’s case feels. Could January’s killer still be out there? Is it the same person who took Natalie? And what will it cost to finally discover what truly happened that night twenty years ago?

Twisty, chilling, and intense, All Good People Here is a searing tale that asks: What are your neighbors capable of when they think no one is watching?

Book Review: Deep Water by Emma Bamford

Slow-burning suspense, and a cautionary tale of trouble in paradise.

Emma Bamford is an author and journalist who has worked for The Independent, the Daily Express, the Daily MirrorSailing Today, and Boat International. She spent several years sailing among some of the world’s most beautiful islands and wrote two travel memoirs about her experiences, Casting Off and Untie the Lines. A graduate of the University of East Anglia’s Prose Fiction MA, she lives in the United Kingdom. Deep Water is her first novel.

When I started reading Deep Water earlier this year I had not long returned from my first sailing experience, so I was excited to dive into a thriller set in such a remote, tropical location. Having said that, you don’t have to have spent time on a boat in order to follow along and enjoy Bamford’s novel. I found the cast of characters unique, and their descriptions realistic. She did an amazing job getting into the mind of the protagonist, and I felt myself getting pulled into the dynamics of the central relationship between Virginie and Jake-which was quickly put to the test. I’ve always been curious about the types of people who quit their jobs and leave everything behind to set off on an adventure in the wild. The setting projected its own sense of isolation and inherent danger, which I loved, especially in one particular scene where Virginie stumbles across the ruins of a settlement set on shore Amarante. The pace of the novel is definitely on the slower side, not for readers who seek pulse-pounding action, or edge-of-your-seat suspense.

The scene I keep going back to is the opening which reveals Jake, Virginie’s boyfriend, unconscious from a head trauma, while Virginie is too shocked to explain what happened. That initial incident kept me turning the pages, curious to find out what happened and why. When it was finally revealed, the change in POV made an interesting twist. Overall this was a successful debut and I’m excited to see what she publishes next.

3/5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a slow-burn, tropical setting and have an interest in sailing/boat life. It’s the perfect beach read!

Published May 31st, 2022

Synopsis:

When a Navy vessel comes across a yacht in distress in the middle of the vast Indian Ocean, Captain Danial Tengku orders his ship to rush to its aid. On board the yacht is a British couple: a horribly injured man, Jake, and his traumatized wife, Virginie, who breathlessly confesses, “It’s all my fault. I killed them.”

Trembling with fear, she reveals their shocking story to Danial. Months earlier, the couple had spent all their savings on a yacht, full of excitement for exploring the high seas and exotic lands together. They start at the busy harbors of Malaysia and, through word of mouth, Jake and Virginie learn about a tiny, isolated island full of unspoiled beaches. When they arrive, they discover they are not the only visitors and quickly become entangled with a motley crew of expat sailors. Soon, Jake and Virginie’s adventurous dream turns into a terrifying nightmare.

Now, it’s up to Danial to determine just how much truth there is in Virginie’s alarming tale. But when his crew makes a shocking discovery, he realizes that if he doesn’t act soon, they could all fall under the dark spell of the island.

Book Review: NSFW: a novel by Isabel Kaplan

Gut-wrenching, clever, and undeniably 😉 honest.

Isabel Kaplan graduated from Harvard and holds an MFA in creative writing from NYU. She is the author of the national bestselling young adult novel Hancock Park and a co-founder of Project 100, an organization launched after the 2016 election to support progressive women running for Congress. She previously worked in TV drama development at Fox Broadcasting Company. Isabel was born and raised in Los Angeles.

I love how real this book, NSFW (Not Safe For Work) felt. Having personally experienced a somewhat similar environment as the book’s anonymous protagonist, it was easy for me to picture the day-to-day rat race—bullshit bureaucracy, toxicity, and harassment—in the office setting, which is so effortlessly described throughout. If you’ve worked in corporate America, you’ve probably experienced or at least witnessed some level of coercion and/or complicity. And for such a serious subject matter, Kaplan lifted the tension with moments of dark humor, allowing the reader to take a much-needed breath. One of the most disturbing relationships in the book was between the protagonist and her mother. A toxic bond filled with emotional manipulation, invalidation, and gaslighting—something that affected the core of the MC. Keeping her mother happy is a full-time job, one that at times, overshadows her own sense of self-awareness, and fogs her ability to advocate for what she truly wants.

I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve personally connected to over the last two years, and NSFW is now one of them. I rank it alongside two of my favorites: Luster by Raven Leilani and Animal by Lisa Taddeo—two of my auto-buy authors.

So many scenes stick out but one that touched my heart describes the MC searching through boxes in her father’s garage when she comes across old home videos. She watches one of herself as a child in which her mother teaches her how to mount a plastic blue rocking horse to show her Nana “what a great rider” she is. She stumbles around the toy, timid at first until her mother successfully coaxes her on. After which she’s rocking back and forth saying, “See! I didn’t break anything! I’m not breaking anything!” I found this scene so symbolic and indicative of a child raised in the clutches of a narcissistic parent. A child who walks on eggshells and quickly learns to sacrifice her own needs in order to keep the peace. (A theme echoed in every chapter of NSFW.) But in order to retain a sense of her own moral principles, she must decide if silence is worth success, or if speaking the truth will break recurring toxic patterns and finally set her free.

5/5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy dark subjects in a corporate setting, compelling female protagonists, electrifying prose, and psychological themes.

Published July 5th, 2022

Synopsis:

From the outside, the unnamed protagonist in NSFW appears to be the vision of success. She has landed an entry-level position at a leading TV network that thousands of college grads would kill for. And sure, she has much to learn. The daughter of a prominent feminist attorney, she grew up outside the industry. But she’s resourceful and hardworking. What could go wrong?

At first, the high adrenaline work environment motivates her. Yet as she climbs the ranks, she confronts the reality of creating change from the inside. Her points only get attention when echoed by male colleagues; she hears whispers of abuse and sexual misconduct. Her mother says to keep her head down until she’s the one in charge―a scenario that seems idealistic at best, morally questionable at worst. When her personal and professional lives collide, threatening both the network and her future, she must decide what to protect: the career she’s given everything for or the empowered woman she claims to be.

Fusing page-turning prose with dark humor and riveting commentary on the truths of starting out professionally, Isabel Kaplan’s NSFW is an unflinching exploration of the gray area between empowerment and complicity. The result is a stunning portrait of what success costs in today’s patriarchal world, asking us: Is it ever worth it?

Book Review: The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda

Suspenseful, eerie, and full of twists.

Megan Miranda is the New York Times bestselling author of ALL THE MISSING GIRLS, THE PERFECT STRANGER, and THE LAST HOUSE GUEST, a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick. She has also written several books for young adults, including COME FIND ME, FRAGMENTS OF THE LOST, and THE SAFEST LIES. She grew up in New Jersey, graduated from MIT, and lives in North Carolina with her husband and two children.

I loved the atmospheric setting in this novel. It was so isolated and creepy. But when coupled with the mysterious history—labeled by the national press as “the most dangerous town in North Carolina”—it definitely gave it a darker edge. The descriptions were rich throughout and I could clearly picture the Passage Inn and the mountains surrounding Cutter’s Pass. The same detail applied to the cast of characters who were easy to read and tell apart. Although I enjoy a faster pace, given the amount of detail in this novel, it definitely needed time to build. The misdirection and plot twists were well executed, including the end reveal which I did not see coming.

This was the first Megan Miranda book I’ve read and I loved it! I’m always excited to discover new authors and in this case, I can’t wait to read everything else she’s published so far, including her YA novels. She’s definitely on my radar and I’m so excited to see what she publishes next!

4/5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy a deeply atmospheric setting with a creepy history, twisty plots, and a fearless female protagonist.

Published July 26th, 2022

Synopsis:

Ten years ago, Abigail Lovett fell into a job she loves, managing The Passage Inn, a cozy, upscale resort nestled in the North Carolina mountain town of Cutter’s Pass. Cutter’s Pass is best known for its outdoor offerings—rafting and hiking, with access to the Appalachian trail by way of a gorgeous waterfall—and its mysterious history. As the book begins, the string of unsolved disappearances that has haunted the town is once again thrust into the spotlight when journalist Landon West, who was staying at the inn to investigate the story of the vanishing trail, then disappears himself.

Abby has sometimes felt like an outsider within the community, but she’s come to view Cutter’s Pass as her home. When Landon’s brother Trey shows up looking for answers, Abby can’t help but feel the town closing ranks. And she’s still on the outside. When she finds incriminating evidence that may bring them closer to the truth, Abby soon discovers how little she knows about her coworkers, neighbors, and even those closest to her.

Book Review: Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier

Twisted, clever, and utterly satisfying!

Paris Peralta is suspected of killing her celebrity husband, and her long-hidden past now threatens to destroy her future.

I was lucky to receive early access to Jennifer Hillier’s latest psychological thriller, THINGS WE DO IN THE DARK, published July 19th, 2022. After catching numerous rave reviews online I started reading and couldn’t put it down. The novel is skilled at covering extremely dark themes and managed to keep me satisfied with an in-depth backstory and intriguing plot.

JENNIFER HILLIER is the author of the bestselling Little Secrets (finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize and Anthony Award), and Jar of Hearts (winner, ITW Thriller Award, and finalist for the Anthony and Macavity Awards). A Filipino-Canadian born and raised in Toronto, she spent several years in Seattle before returning home to Canada. She currently lives in Oakville, Ontario with her family.

There are so many scenes that still haunt me but one, in particular, is when Joey is sent to live with her aunt and uncle after her mother is incarcerated. The image of her lying in bed as the shadow of a figure looms in the doorway watching her sleep is so beyond creepy. And when the truth is revealed behind this encounter, and she finally gets revenge it had me racing through the chapters to the end.

I loved the skilled use of dual timelines to create depth of character and suspense. When the main reveal happened midway, everything leading up to that point felt worth it, and the pieces fell into place for me. I love clever use of structure in suspense novels, and when done correctly, it gives a novel so much more than just a story—TWDITD accomplished that and I felt like I was piecing together a puzzle. The cast of characters is diverse in this story and each one is so unique, that I was invested in every single outcome. The way Hillier shifted my feelings for Paris with each twist and turn was masterful, eventually leading me to a satisfying ending I was definitely ready for. I loved that there was more than one mystery to this story too. It kept my attention and the pages turning.

This was the first Jennifer Hillier book I’ve read and did not disappoint. I’m so excited to have discovered a new author who’s not afraid to write about the disturbing things that keep us awake at night. She’s definitely one to watch going forward and I can’t wait to read what she publishes next!

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy complex psychological suspense, family drama, and compelling female characters.

PUBLISHED JULY 19TH, 2022

Synopsis:

When Paris Peralta is arrested in her own bathroom—covered in blood, holding a straight razor, her celebrity husband dead in the bathtub behind her—she knows she’ll be charged with murder. But as bad as this looks, it’s not what worries her the most. With the unwanted media attention now surrounding her, it’s only a matter of time before someone from her long-hidden past recognizes her and destroys the new life she’s worked so hard to build, along with any chance of a future.

Twenty-five years earlier, Ruby Reyes, known as the Ice Queen, was convicted of a similar murder in a trial that riveted Canada in the early nineties. Reyes knows who Paris really is, and when she’s unexpectedly released from prison, she threatens to expose all of Paris’s secrets. Left with no other choice, Paris must finally confront the dark past she escaped, once and for all.

Because the only thing worse than a murder charge are two murder charges.

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

A compelling read that sent shivers down my spine.

This book was on my TBR for so long and I don’t know why. I’d heard mixed reviews—overall great—but most included trigger warnings. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed it and found specific parts interesting, particularly the protagonist’s struggle to recognize and categorize the abuse she endured, and how she continues to carry around the trauma from her past. “In someone else’s mouth the word turns ugly and absolute,” she argues. “It swallows up everything that happened.” I rated it a five-star read due to the originality and depth of the characters, and for the beautiful execution of such a dark subject matter. To those interested in the bottom line, this book isn’t a light read and it won’t make you feel good. It’s dark, complex, and thought-provoking. So be warned.

Kate Elizabeth Russell is an American author. Her debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, was published in 2020 and became a national bestseller.

The story is split between two alternating timelines from the protagonist’s perspective. The current timeline establishes her routine, working a desk job at a hotel in the city and drinking and/or getting stoned in her spare time. The past timeline conveys adolescence and her budding relationship with a forty-two-year-old English professor. The chapters, although on the longer side, flow effortlessly, and I didn’t once find the pace slow, or catch myself wanting to stop reading.

From the very beginning of the book, themes of consent, complicity, and trauma vs memory are clearly depicted. We are first introduced to Vanessa as she’s getting ready for work while monitoring comments on a Facebook post from a former student accusing Jacob Strane—her old English professor—of sexual assault. We know Vanessa still keeps in touch with him. We also know her memories of what transpired between them all those years ago are foggy at best, recategorized as something other than abuse. More of a romantic retelling of a pedophile and his victim. Not only was she abused at the hands of someone who should have protected her, but now she’s suffering because of that abuse, caught in a trauma cycle, finding other ways to cope including excessive drinking, smoking marijuana, and engaging in degrading sexual acts. When Taylor, another victim, speaks out on Facebook against Strane, it triggers Vanessa to reach out to her abuser. And as the timelines unfold, her past becomes shockingly clear, and Vanessa is forced to choose between complicit silence and finally facing the ugly truth.

The cast of characters are so different I had no issues following along with the story. Each one well fleshed out and different from the last. Jacob Strane’s character was the most disturbing, especially reading of the manipulative ways he minimized his actions, groomed and gaslit Vanessa, making her believe she was the one responsible for allowing their ‘relationship’ to transpire. “I never would have done it if you weren’t so willing,” he’s noted saying. The most painful thing about reading this book is how the author makes it inevitably clear to the reader how much of a predator Strane is, and yet, Vanessa (past and present) cannot recognize it. She often sides with him and feels complicit, as a subconscious way of deflecting the truth. She was a victim of abuse. This is perfectly executed through the use of first person point of view, pulling the reader into Vanessa’s twisted psyche.

So many scenes in the book haunt me, but probably none more than the first night Vanessa goes to stay at Strane’s house. All the details clearly signal to the reader actions of a sexual predator, but which Vanessa finds romantic and thoughtful. It’s terrifying. The food he bought for her: ice cream, chips, soda. She packs black silky negligee of her mother’s to wear, while he prefers her to wear a childlike pijama set with a pink strawberry print. What kept me reading was hope. Hope that Vanessa would see the light, look inward, and realize what happened to her wasn’t right. Hope that she would find solace in knowing she wasn’t alone. The ending was sad and yet satisfying.

5/5 ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy dark academia, dual timelines, compelling female narrators, and dark, complex psychological themes.

Published January 23rd, 2020

Synopsis:

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Book Review: When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain

Vivid, clever, and steady-paced.

Hauntingly descriptive with pulse-pounding twists and a vulnerable yet highly intuitive protagonist. Paula McLain writes about a very chilling topic with the elegance and ease of a pro.

Paula McLain is an American author best known for her novel, The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage which became a long-time New York Times bestseller. She has published two collections of poetry, a memoir about growing up in the foster system, and the novel A Ticket to Ride.

When the Stars Go Dark is the first of McLain’s novels I’ve read but it definitely won’t be the last. The book combines psychological suspense with a little mysticism, creating an intriguing angle for the overall story which pulled me in immediately. I loved the setting, based in northern California, and enjoyed following Anna and the wide cast of characters around the small town of Mendocino.

The story follows Anna Hart, orphaned as a child and passed through the foster system, which only better prepared her for a career as a detective, committed to finding murdered and missing children.

I’m always intrigued by female detectives and especially love when they’re painted in a relatable light. I found the characters believable, and their arcs very satisfying. The plot was compelling albeit slow-burning at times; different from what I usually read. But it was a fresh change and I was immediately drawn in by the narrator and her back story.

“For as long as I could remember, I’d had reasons to disappear, I was an expert at making myself invisible.”

Anna Hart – When The Stars Go Dark

I particularly loved the setting and picturing the west coast was a nice backdrop compared to the usual grungy cities a lot of detective novels take place in. A scene that sticks in my mind sees Anna visit a psychic who tells her: “This is your life’s work for a reason. The things you’ve lost have drawn you to help these children and young women,” the psychic says to Anna then goes on to hit the bull’s eye, “The ghosts of the kids you’ve helped, they hang on you like stars.” I loved the added layer of mysticism that scene brought to the story.

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is an atmospheric suspense novel that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend to readers who love a relatable protagonist, realistic twists, beautiful settings, and a steady pace with a slow-burning end. Think of pragmatic characters like Mare Sheehan in HBO’s Mare of Eastown and AMC’s Sarah Lindon from The Killing, placed against a beautiful California backdrop.

Synopsis:

Anna Hart, orphaned as a child and passed through the foster system, only better prepared her for a career as a detective, committed to finding murdered and missing children. When unspeakable tragedy strikes, she turns to the Californian village of Mendocino to grieve. Seeking comfort in the chocolate-box village she grew up in, Anna instead arrives to the news that a local girl has gone missing. The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of a crucial time in Anna’s childhood when an unsolved murder changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna is forced to confront the darkest side of human nature.

After reading her author’s note, I learned that McLain, along with her two sisters, grew up in a series of foster homes. McLain’s biological mother disappeared when she was 4, and her father spent time in and out of prison. During the 14 years she spent in foster care, McLain endured sexual abuse. Detective Anna Hart, the protagonist in “When the Stars Go Dark,” is also a survivor of abandonment, and mirror’s the author’s own personal experience in the system. Anna, the story’s protagonist, uses her trauma as a tool to help in her police work of tracking down the predators who brutalize children.

Book Review: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Twisted, gripping, and insane. I raced to the end!

I was late reading Alice Feeney’s debut novel but after hearing so many amazing reviews, I’m so happy it lived up to the hype. This book was an emotional whirlwind and after finishing, I needed some time to digest it. I don’t give many five-star reviews because there are so many incredible books I enjoy but feel they lack that extra something—whatever ‘that’ is. Originality is a quality I always find compelling, and in a genre that is so over-saturated with murder and unreliable female narrators, it’s hard to find a book that stands out from the crowd. Well, this book accomplishes just that, and then some.

Alice Feeney is a New York Times bestselling author and journalist. Her debut novel, Sometimes I Lie, was an international bestseller, has been translated into over twenty languages, and is being made into a TV series by Warner Bros. starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Other notable works include but are not limited to His & Hers, Rock, Paper, Scissors, and Daisy Darker (releasing August 2022).

When we first meet the protagonist she tells us three things.

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

Amber Reynolds – Sometimes I Lie

From that point on, Feeney leads the reader through a story of cat and mouse as Amber tries desperately to piece together the fragmented memories of her life before the accident. Told through dual timelines and intermittent diary entries from twenty years previous, the suspense is palpable as both character backgrounds and motives are revealed.

I found the cast of characters realistic albeit somewhat terrifying at times, their backgrounds and relationships well fleshed out and intriguing. The arcs were believable and the endings satisfying, right up until the last page when it threw a curveball and left me hanging by a thread. At certain points, it wasn’t even clear who the real enemy was, which I love. This book kept me guessing (with dread) right up until the very end.

I found it gripping, and the plot propulsive, finishing the book in two sittings. The writing style is told in first-person, gradually building suspense throughout. There was never a point in which I felt the story dragged. When first introduced to the diary entries I wondered how they would relate to the main storyline, creating more intrigue, until finally revealing one of the biggest plot twists in the book.

There are so many scenes that haunt me from this book, but if I had to pick one in particular it would be when Amber’s husband leaves her in the hospital one night after visiting, convinced she can hear him and that she’ll move somehow. He ends up setting up a secret camera and catching something he never could have imagined.

5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Recommended to readers who enjoy unreliable narrators, compelling female protagonists, secrets, and endless twists. This could easily be one of my favorite 2022 reads so far!

published march 23rd, 2017

Synopsis:

Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it’s the truth?

Book Review: Blood Will Tell by Heather Chavez

Gripping, with multiple layers of mystery.

How far would you go to protect someone you love? Even if you suspected them of murder…

From the author of the searing debut, No Bad Deed, comes a story about family bonds, and the secrets sisters keep in order to protect each other. Blood Will Tell is original, captivating, and layered with mystery. The backgrounds of the characters are unique and believable, their relationships complex and intriguing, revealing a number of possible antagonists, which kept me guessing until the very end. The past and present timelines are weaved together perfectly, allowing time to digest and reveal possible psychological motives for the crime. I loved how different Frankie and Izzy are and felt that it brought so much life to the story. The scene descriptions are vivid, and the plot steady, giving a real sense of mystery as Frankie leads us through the puzzle of what actually happened that dreaded night, five years ago. One scene that sticks in my head involves the night Frankie drove to her sister’s aid only to find her passed out in the driver’s seat of their parent’s car, a streak of blood, and a clump of human hair on the hood. So chilling!

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy compelling female characters, family secrets, and edge-of-your-seat suspense.

Synopsis:

Schoolteacher and single mom Frankie Barrera has always been fiercely protective of her younger sister Izzy—whether Izzy wants her to be or not. But over the years, Izzy’s risky choices have tested Frankie’s loyalty. Never so much as on a night five years ago, when a frantic phone call led Frankie to the scene of a car accident—and a drunk and disoriented Izzy who couldn’t remember a thing.

Though six friends partied on the outskirts of town that night, one girl was never seen again . . . 

Now, an AMBER alert puts Frankie in the sights of the local police. Her truck has been described as the one used in the abduction of a girl from a neighboring town. And the only other person with access to Frankie’s truck is Izzy.

This time around, Frankie will have to decide what lengths she’s willing to go to in order to protect Izzy—what lies she’s willing to tell, and what secrets she’s willing to keep—because of the dangerous game that six friends once played on a warm summer night isn’t over yet . . .