Book Review: Mothered by Zoje Stage

Intense, dark, and claustrophobic!

Zoje Stage is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of BABY TEETH, WONDERLAND, GETAWAY, and MOTHERED. A former filmmaker with a penchant for the dark and suspenseful, she lives in Pittsburgh. Zoje Stage’s debut novel, BABY TEETH was a USA Today and international bestseller. It was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award and named one of the best books of the year by Forbes MagazineLibrary JournalPopSugar, Barnes & Noble, Bloody Disgusting, and BookBub. Her follow-up novel, WONDERLAND, was described in a starred review from Booklist as a “beautifully choreographed and astonishing second novel.” And with her third book, GETAWAY, the New York Times declared her “a writer with a gift for the lyrical and the frightening.”

Grace agrees to let her newly-widowed mother stay with her as Covid cripples the world, but past wounds come back to haunt her nightmares, raising questions about the past and causing tensions to rise.

The prologue blew me away. As the story developed, the line between Grace’s dream state and her childhood memories blurred, and it was unclear what was actually going on. I found those scenes the most disturbing, and could relate to having nightmares early on in the pandemic, which made the book all the more dark for me. Grace’s relationship with Jackie, her mother, was very uncomfortable and I often found myself jumping back and forth between feeling sorry for them while also suspecting each of them of the younger sibling’s murder. The flashbacks of psychological abuse and emotional neglect Grace endured at the hands of her mother were awful however, the fact that Grace was so unreliable threw her recollection of the past into question, right up to the last chapter. The pace of the story was steady, the suspense slower than I usually read, but the characters were fleshed out and flawed making it interesting to delve into. I particularly enjoyed the friendship between Grace and her friend, Miguel. The action in the prologue kept me turning the pages until the end, determined to find out how it all played out.

There are a few scenes that stick out to me but one of the worst was of Grace’s dream/flashback (I still don’t know) in which she returns home with her sister, Hope, after being injured playing on the street with the neighborhood kids. Jackie comes out to greet them, sees Grace bleeding, and completely ignores her needs focusing on Hope instead. After which she leads Hope inside, closing the door on Grace in her time of need. This is one of the more subtle examples of abuse that really got under my skin and I felt terrible for the main character.

3/5⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy slow-burning suspense, family secrets, and dark psychological vibes.

Published March 1st, 2023.

Synopsis:

Grace isn’t exactly thrilled when her newly widowed mother, Jackie, asks to move in with her. They’ve never had a great relationship, and Grace likes her space—especially now that she’s stuck at home during a pandemic. Then again, she needs help with the mortgage after losing her job. And maybe it’ll be a chance for them to bond—or at least give each other a hand.

But living with Mother isn’t for everyone. Good intentions turn bad soon after Jackie moves in. Old wounds fester; new ones open. Grace starts having nightmares about her disabled twin sister, who died when they were kids. And Jackie discovers that Grace secretly catfishes people online—a hobby Jackie thinks is unforgivable.

When Jackie makes an earth-shattering accusation against her, Grace sees it as an act of revenge, and it sends her spiraling into a sleep-deprived madness. As the walls close in, the ghosts of Grace’s past collide with a new but familiar threat: Mom.

Book Review: Scorched Grace by Margot Douaihy

A fun mystery with a flawed protagonist!

Margot Douaihy (b. Scranton, PA) lives and works in Northampton, MA. She earned a BA in Writing from the University of Pittsburgh, an MA in Creative & Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from Lancaster University.

Douaihy is the author of the lyrical crime novel SCORCHED GRACE (Gillian Flynn Books, 2023), named one of the “most anticipated crime books” by Crime Reads and LGBTQ Reads. She is also the author of the poetry collections Bandit/Queen: The Runaway Story of Belle Starr, Scranton Lace, Girls Like You (Clemson University Press) and I Would Ruby If I Could (Factory Hollow Press).

I haven’t read a good mystery in a long time so I was excited to jump right into Margot Douaihy’s debut novel, Scorched Grace. I loved the amateur-sleuth, chain-smoking, tattooed, queer nun protagonist, Sister Holiday. This is a character who drew me in immediately, kept me hooked, and was curious about her own background and the reason behind joining the orderThe Sisters of the Sublime Blood. The more I learned about her past, the more interested I was in the story. My favorite scenes in the book were flashbacks of her life before joining the order. These are the types of characters I want to read more about. The pace was steady, the plot propulsive, and the clues were expertly placed. I loved the setting of New Orleans and could feel the sticky air in Douaihy’s vivid descriptions. The scene that sticks with me the most is the traumatic flashback image of the burning car left parked outside the bar, and who is revealed sleeping inside it. Such a shocking reveal!

4/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy fun mysteries with a morally grey protagonist, interesting settings, and a diverse cast of characters.

Published February 21st, 2023

Synopsis:

When Saint Sebastian’s School becomes the target of a shocking arson spree, the Sisters of the Sublime Blood and their surrounding New Orleans community are thrust into chaos.

Patience is a virtue, but punk rocker turned nun Sister Holiday isn’t satisfied to just wait around for officials to return her home and sanctuary to its former peace, instead deciding to unveil the mysterious attacker herself. Her investigation leads her down a twisty path of suspicion and secrets, turning her against colleagues, students, and even fellow Sisters along the way. And to piece together the clues of this high-stakes mystery, she must at last reckon with the sins of her own past.

Book Review: All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham

Slow-burning suspense with dark twists!

Stacy Willingham is the New York Times, USA Today, and internationally bestselling author of A Flicker in the Dark and All The Dangerous Things. She earned her BA in magazine journalism from the University of Georgia and her MFA in writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Before turning to fiction, she was a copywriter and brand strategist for various marketing agencies. Her books are being translated into over 30 languages. She lives in Charleston, South Carolina, with her husband, Britt, and Labradoodle, Mako, where she is always working on her next book.

Told in a dual narrative, when we first meet Isabelle Drake, she’s a mother on the edge of sanity. It’s been one full year of insomnia since her son, Mason, was taken from his bed in the middle of the night, and police have no leads. But Isabelle’s childhood is shaded by a similar tragic event—the ‘accidental’ death of her little sister—and no matter how hard she tries, she can’t shake her past or the secret her parents’ made her promise to keep. The past timeline adds a nice layer of complex detail to her character adding the possibility of mental illness as a hereditary condition.

This book tapped into one of my worst fears, hooking me on page one and slowly leading tying up every single loose end. I felt like there were so many layers to this story, and as each piece unraveled, I was pulled deeper into the mysterious world of motherhood and mental health—two topics that fascinate me. I enjoyed the author’s ability to immerse the reader into the dark southern vibes and eerie setting of Savannah, Georgia. The memory flashbacks were vivid and dreamlike, leading me to believe that Isabelle might be capable of something very dark, making the twist at the end even more satisfying. Her characters were fleshed out and real—all messy and conflicted—and I had no issues distinguishing between them. This novel is definitely slower-paced than I’m used to, but there was enough tension to keep me turning pages. However, there were so many details to unravel, that if the pace had been faster then the story probably would have been harder to follow.

3.5/5⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

I recommend to readers who enjoy domestic thrillers with unreliable narrators, and slow-burning suspense.

PUBLISHED JANUARY 10TH, 2023

Synopsis:

One year ago, Isabelle Drake’s life changed forever: her toddler son, Mason, was taken out of his crib in the middle of the night while she and her husband were asleep in the next room. With little evidence and few leads for the police to chase, the case quickly went cold. However, Isabelle cannot rest until Mason is returned to her―literally.

Except for the occasional catnap or small blackout where she loses track of time, she hasn’t slept in a year.

Isabelle’s entire existence now revolves around finding him, but she knows she can’t go on this way forever. In hopes of jarring loose a new witness or buried clue, she agrees to be interviewed by a true-crime podcaster―but his interest in Isabelle’s past makes her nervous. His incessant questioning paired with her severe insomnia has brought up uncomfortable memories from her own childhood, making Isabelle start to doubt her recollection of the night of Mason’s disappearance, as well as second-guessing who she can trust… including herself. But she is determined to figure out the truth, no matter where it leads.

Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

Captivating and original. An interesting reimagining of an infamous crime.

Emma Cline is an American writer and novelist, originally from California. She published her first novel, The Girls, in 2016, to positive reviews. The book was shortlisted for the John Leonard Award from the National Book Critics Circle and the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize.

Emma Cline tapped deep into my psyche and kept me hooked right up until the last page. The raw honesty of the protagonist, Evie Boyd, was addictive to read as she navigated puberty, close friendships, her parent’s recent divorce, and the growing awareness of her own sexuality. Evie is a bored, aimless teenager who joins a Manson-like cult in the summer of 1969 before being shipped off to boarding school. Anchored in the present day and reflecting on past memories, Cline’s scintillating prose transported me into Evie’s world of naive, yet incredibly candid observations, portraying an unsure girl whose self-esteem is measured directly through the lens of society and her immediate relationships. How girls feel pressured to prove their worth while boys are given free rein to discover themselves is a theme I found interesting and was echoed throughout the novel.

“I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you – the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.”

Evie

The idea that women are expected to mask rather than reveal their true emotions in order to be accepted and approved of is evident in Evie’s musings—past and present—something she also clearly recognizes as a middle-aged woman. It’s also the driving force behind her teenage motivations after witnessing a group of carefree hippie girls in Petaluma Park dumpster diving for food. Their reckless, carefree attitudes appeal to her insecure, isolated existence. The leader of the group, Suzanne, quickly becomes the primary focus of a curious young Evie, who soon embarks on a slippery spiral to impress—stealing money from her mother to give to the cult; breaking into a childhood friend’s home—on her intense quest for a sense of belonging.

“If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into. Implicated yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you”.

Evie

I enjoyed Cline’s detail-focused writing style, although described as “overwritten, flashing rather than lighting” (The New Yorker), I strongly disagree. I found her voice unique, her descriptions vivid, and I couldn’t tear myself away from Evie, curious as to how central a role she’d play in one of the most brutal murders in recent history. Overall, I loved the book from the cast of morally ambiguous characters and romantic descriptions of late-60s California to the curious coming-of-age story and manipulability of human nature. I cannot wait to read Cline’s next novel—The Guest—soon to be published in June 2023.

5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy books about cults, coming-of-age stories, compelling female protagonists, electrifying prose, and dark psychological themes.

Published June 14th, 2016

Synopsis:

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, and their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.

Book Review: One of Those Faces by Elle Grawl

Vivid, suspenseful, with surprising twists!

Elle Grawl is a lawyer by day and writer by night. After obtaining her B.A. in English Literature, she took a detour into law before returning to her love of writing. Her lifelong interest in true crime and experiences as an attorney have provided her with plenty of writing material. Elle enjoys traveling and spending time with her husband and their two dogs. 

Her debut psychological thriller, ONE OF THOSE FACES, is coming December 1st, 2022 with Thomas & Mercer.

An insomniac artist discovers a shocking truth about a recent spate of murders in her city: the victims all look just like her.

I love psychological thrillers and this one definitely kept me guessing right up until the very end. Harper, a fragile survivor, and the book’s protagonist tries to uncover the killer behind a series of gruesome murders after one of the victims is found in the alleyway across the street from her apartment. The worst part is, they all look like her. Grawl did an awesome job at keeping the stakes and tension high throughout. There were so many scenes that forced me to keep turning the pages and reading into the late hours of the night. All I wanted was for Harper to succeed. But after a brutal upbringing, it was clear her unhealthy patterns were carried from childhood into her present relationships. There was so much going on in this book between each character and yet, it was easy to keep up with every single twist and turn Grawl introduced. The world she built was immersive, her characters realistic. The pace was quick and the subject matter dark, perfect for a fall read.

One of the most disturbing scenes for me saw Harper enter Jenny’s apartment only to be caught by a man who mistook her for Jenny. He proceeded to kiss her inside the closet, pinning her against the wall. The only option she had to escape was to play along until she could figure out a way to leave without alerting him of her true identity.

I would have liked more clarity around some of the deaths in the book. More specifically, Jenny’s, and if Harper had anything to do with it. That always had me on edge given her history and problematic memory.

3.5/5⭐️⭐️⭐️💫

For readers who enjoy unreliable narrators, psychological suspense, and compelling female characters.

Published December 1st, 2022

Synopsis:

Years after escaping her abusive childhood, Harper Mallen has only ever known sleepless nights—or terrifying nightmares. She’s struggling to survive as an artist in a trendy Chicago neighborhood, getting by on freelance gigs, when she’s suddenly confronted with the worst fears from her past.

A young woman is killed outside Harper’s apartment—a woman who chillingly resembles her. As Harper searches for information about the victim, she discovers unsettling links to two other murders. Upon discovering another doppelgänger, Harper realizes her life is not the only one hanging in the balance.

As her obsession and paranoia deepen, everyone is a suspect: the handsome stranger in the café, customers at the painting studio, and even the ghosts from her past. The closer she comes to unraveling the truth behind the murders, the more Harper realizes there is no one she can trust—not even herself.

Book Review: A Fig For All the Devils by C.S. Fritz

Terrifying, hilarious, and totally addictive! One of my favorite books this year.

As a young child, Casey’s family moved to Arizona. It was there beneath the fiery gaze of the Southwestern sun, that he spent most of his life. Graduating school, marrying the love of his life, and having two wild kids. It was also there that C.S. Fritz’s work began to take traction with local galleries and art publications. Most currently, Casey has worked with several publishing houses and editorials such as…Christianity Today, David C. Cook, Tyndale, and Navpress. A Fig For All the Devils is his debut novel.

A dark and original story about a thirteen year old boy with nothing to lose, who decides to trade places with the Grim Reaper.

There are so many things I love about this book. The nod to Stephen King when Sonny pulled on his favorite Pet Semetary t-shirt, the haphazard chapter headings, immersive world, and contrast of characters.

My favorite character, without a doubt, is the Grim Reaper. Through the eyes of the thirteen-year-old protagonist, the description of the entity is terrifying. Specifically, during their very first encounter in the woods while Sonny is mushroom picking. However, once the reaper makes a proper introduction, the tone shifts from horror to humor as his individual traits reveal the quirky personality under the dark hooded cloak. With an addiction to junk food, cigarettes, and poetry, he is far from the traditional ‘bringer of death’ depicted in modern folklore. The story kept me guessing right from the first page, and the prologue was especially disturbing and perfectly placed to set up the rest of the book a thousand years later.

There usually are one, maybe two scenes in a book I’ll remember long after finishing. But I loved so many in this one that it’s difficult to choose. My favorite scene by far is the first time the reaper is introduced and the book’s tone completely shifts once he appears to possess more human qualities. He is the most likable character in the book (in my opinion). All of the scenes in which Sonny must perform a ‘task’ to become the reaper are incredibly original and descriptive, but of the three he must face, it’s the last one I find the most satisfying. He must inhale the death rattle… Another clever scene near the beginning of the book introduces the pastor, whom Sonny befriends and eventually helps to process his own grieving process. It sees him deliver a speech to his congregation, the first time Sonny attends, mentioning that our life paths are not always what we expect them to be.

Art by C.S. Fritz
5/5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For readers who enjoy dark humor, immersive worlds, and disturbing subject matter. Those who liked Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica and/or This Thing Between Us by Gus Moreno will enjoy this book.

Published October 31st, 2021

Synopsis:

An abused, grief-stricken, and impoverished Sonny has all but given up on life. That is, until he meets death, by way of the Grim Reaper. The Reaper, a junk food-loving, poetry-reading, cigarette-addicted entity, has no time to waste as he searches for a suitable successor who would become “Death” for the next millennium. By training the boy in the ways of death and dying, Reaper grooms his young apprentice and through suspenseful and horror-laced events, he unknowingly gives Sonny something he never intended: Something to live for.

Book Review: Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari

Dark academia at its best, with a truly disturbing ending.

Katie Lattari is the author of two novels, DARK THINGS I ADORE (September 2021), her thriller debut, and AMERICAN VAUDEVILLE (2016), a small press work. Her short stories have appeared in such places as NOO Journal, The Bend, Cabildo Quarterly, and more. She lives in Maine with her husband Kevin.

A clever revenge tale with a twist you won't see coming!

I waited to read this book in the fall for the full effect and it didn’t disappoint. With a hot drink and a warm blanket, I settled in to read this dark psychological thriller. Dark Things I adore is split between two timelines, thirty years apart, three narratives (Audra, Max, and Juniper), while also using an art thesis as a structural device (something I’ve never seen before). The story follows Audra, a naturally gifted art student who extends an invitation to Max, her highly respected art professor, to view her thesis work at her private home in Maine. Max is quick to say yes, having somewhat of an obsessive attraction to her, and the two embark on a flirtatious journey to a remote location where Audra has prepared the perfect trap.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was definitely rooting for Audra, the protagonist, drawn to her fiery, vengeful personality. For having a large cast of supporting characters, the author made it easy and interesting to follow along, creating a rich history that was deeply satisfying when all the details fell into place. It was a slow burn with a deeply immersive world, one that was essential in order to fully understand the motives behind Audra’s actions. The scenes between her and Max were particularly tense, and I was gripped from beginning to end as the reasoning behind her plans was revealed, proving to be of a much darker and more personal nature.

The scene that sticks with me is the climax between Audra and Max. After realizing what her thesis work represented, and how it tied into the past timeline, it was especially disturbing to picture as everything unfolded. I was definitely gripped throughout, and even though the book is on the longer side, it was necessary in order to understand the full impact of each timeline and carefully reveal how the characters related to each other.

4/5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

For readers who love revenge, dark academia, and slow-burning suspense.

Published SEPTember 14th, 2021

Synopsis:

Three campfire secrets. Two witnesses. One dead in the trees. And the woman, thirty years later, bent on making the guilty finally pay.

1988. A group of outcasts gather at a small, prestigious arts camp nestled in the Maine woods. They’re the painters: bright, hopeful, teeming with potential. But secrets and dark ambitions rise like smoke from a campfire, and the truths they tell will come back to haunt them in ways more deadly than they dreamed.

2018. Esteemed art professor Max Durant arrives at his protégé’s remote home to view her graduate thesis collection. He knows Audra is beautiful and brilliant. He knows being invited into her private world is a rare gift. But he doesn’t know that Audra has engineered every aspect of their weekend together. Every detail, every conversation. Audra has woven the perfect web.

Only Audra knows what happened that summer in 1988. Max’s secret, and the dark things that followed. And even though it won’t be easy, Audra knows someone must pay.

Book Review: The Call of Cassandra Rose by Sophia Spiers

Slow burn with a twisted ending!

A Londoner of proud Italian and Greek heritage, Sophia Spiers grew up on the Lisson Green Council Estate, which informed the depiction of her protagonist’s childhood. She studied Film at university, and in her twenties and early thirties worked in TV and post-production before turning her attention to her true passion: writing. The Call of Cassandra Rose is her debut novel.

I enjoyed this domestic thriller and its steady build of suspense throughout. It was easy to follow and the characters felt very real. It definitely kept me guessing, but more than anything, I wanted Annabelle, the protagonist, to get over her issues and function better in her life. Her back story was very sad, and I couldn’t help but also feel awful for her mother. The scenes were written well, and what shone through the hardest was Annabelle’s anxiety-something I could personally resonate with. I also liked the setting in London and could easily picture the high rise flats where she grew up.

One particular scene that pulled me in was the hypnotherapy session with Cassandra during the two week intensive. Annabelle is regressed back to her childhood when she witnessed a brutal crime against her mother by three men inside her flat. It was so shocking and I raced through it to the end, wanting to find out what happened. Cassandra’s character was a mystery to me, and something felt off from the start. Especially since she was so invested in treating Annabelle, while not really knowing her, and inviting her to stay in her home. It all felt very isolating to me. After the midpoint, I found the story gripping me more and picking up pace.

Annabelle was the only character I was rooting for, but it was also difficult to like her at times. Uncle Jack’s supportive character was a nice break to read since everyone else seemed to have an agenda of their own. The ending, being a bit of a cliffhanger, actually worked for this novel. After everything that happened to the protagonist, by the end it was very clear what she wanted, and how she was going to get there. I felt myself breathe a huge sigh of relief after turning that last page.

3/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️

For readers who enjoy slow-burning suspense, and domestic thrillers with twisty endings and dark secrets.

PUBLISHED OCTOBER 13TH, 2022

Synopsis:

Annabelle seems to have it all. The perfect house, a successful husband, a darling son. But Annabelle is troubled.

Trapped in an unhappy marriage, failing at motherhood, and at odds with her new privileged lifestyle, Annabelle begins to self-harm, a habit resurrected from her traumatic past.

When she meets the alluring and charismatic hypnotherapist Cassandra Rose, she is offered a way out.

Through hypnosis, Annabelle is encouraged to unearth her painful repressed memories and face her childhood demons. But as the boundaries between her hypnotic trance and reality begin to dissolve, Annabelle becomes increasingly vulnerable to much darker forces.

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: 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.