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: 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 Things We Do to Our Friends by Heather Darwent

Dark and clever, this book will leave you feeling creeped out…👀

Heather Darwent is an author based just outside of Edinburgh near the sea. Her debut novel, The Things We Do to Our Friends, will be published by Penguin in January 2023.

Since I was born and grew up in Edinburgh, this story personally appealed to me. The author’s descriptions were accurate and immersive. I loved reading about the places I frequent often when I’m home and thought it was clever how the setting was used to create an eerie suspense throughout. The Things We Do to Our Friends follows Clare who, after moving to Edinburgh for school (and to reinvent herself), juggles student life, a part-time job, a boyfriend, and most importantly, finding a new group of friends. An unusual bunch from the University befriends her, quickly inviting her into their inner circle where they enjoy lavish dinner parties and trips to the French countryside. She wants nothing more than to be accepted, to finally belong. But at what cost? When Tabitha, the leader of the group, invites Clare to be part of a secret business venture called, ‘Perfect Pieces’—a honeytrap service for cheating spouses—she accepts, no questions asked. But things quickly take a sinister turn, and Clare is left with no choice but to distance herself from the group.

The cast of supporting characters is unique, and I enjoyed trying to figure out who the real enemy was. It was obvious to me that Clare had an inner strength that was unshakable, I just didn’t expect it to be so dark. I found the scenarios in which the girls found themselves very tense, especially one particular scene set in a remote house in the highlands. A risk they took and one Clare unknowingly agreed to take part in. Afterward, the confrontation between the girls left me shocked and ultimately left the book on a very dark note—something I loved. This book is definitely more of a slow burn but I enjoyed it and was gripped throughout.

4/5⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

Published January 10th, 2023

Synopsis:

Edinburgh, Scotland: a moody city of labyrinthine alleyways, oppressive fog, and buried history; the ultimate destination for someone with something to hide. Perfect for Clare, then, who arrives utterly alone and yearning to reinvent herself. And what better place to conceal the secrets of her past than at the university in the heart of the fabled, cobblestoned Old Town?

When Clare meets Tabitha, a charismatic, beautiful, and intimidatingly rich girl from her art history class, she knows she’s destined to become friends with her and her exclusive circle: raffish Samuel, shrewd Ava, and pragmatic Imogen. Clare is immediately drawn into their libertine world of sophisticated dinner parties and summers in France. The new life she always envisioned for herself has seemingly begun.

Then Tabitha reveals a little project she’s been working on, one that she needs Clare’s help with. Even though it goes against everything Clare has tried to repent for. Even though their intimacy begins to darken into codependence. But as Clare starts to realize just what her friends are capable of, it’s already too late. Because they’ve taken the plunge. They’re so close to attaining everything they want. And there’s no going back.

Reimagining the classic themes of obsession and ambition with an original and sinister edge, The Things We Do to Our Friends is a seductive thriller about the toxic battle between those who have and those who covet—between the desire to truly belong and the danger of being truly known.

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: 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: 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?