‘The Girl From Widow Hills’ – Megan Miranda

A thriller that actually gets better as it progresses, with a finale that leaves us in no doubt more than one person knows the truth of events but that – sometimes – not being completely honest can be the better option.

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Megan Miranda before now, and the way this is described really hooks the reader.

When we first meet Olivia Maynor she is working in a local hospital, and we know that she has changed her name after press interest in the events that took place when she was a child. Everyone has heard of little Arden, the six year old from Widow Hills who was missing for three days after sleepwalking and being washed away by rising storm water. When she was eventually found her rescue was praised, and people were invested in her story.

Over time Arden had to face some criticism, and not everyone believed her account. For this reason she changed her name and tried to bury her mother’s requests for press interviews.

Catching up with Olivia we learn more of her past as she comes to fear for her present. Her neighbour, Rick, is keeping his own secrets but when Olivia discovers a dead body outside her property she wonders whether her past is catching up with her.

The events taking place in the present have a very close link to the past. As we start to unpick these links I was quite certain I’d established what was happening. Throughout, at the back of my mind, there was a niggling unease that something was missing. There are clues that things aren’t quite as straightforward as we believe, and the revelations when they come thick and fast do take us somewhat by surprise.

Much as I enjoyed the story, the ending left me with so many questions. I can’t wait to see what is made of this once it’s released, but I’m hugely grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

‘Good Girl, Bad Blood’ – Holly Jackson

Though I’d enjoyed book one a lot, it had a rather earnest quality to it that felt (on occasion) jarring. This one took a decidedly darker shift and it really had me hooked from the beginning.

I loved the fact that Pip summarised some of the events of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder right at the start because it gave me the requisite reminder without me having to reread the book. We can see from the outset the havoc that her investigations have wreaked on Pip, and how determined she is not to get caught up in something like this again.

You have to admire the reluctant hero figure who, against their better judgement, does what they know is the right thing. Having fought against her instincts, when Pip learns that her best friend’s brother has gone missing she tries to advise the family to go through the appropriate channels. Unfortunately, because Jamie is twenty-four the police don’t feel investigating his disappearance is a priority. As a result, Pip finds herself taking up the hunt.

What follows certainly boosts the ratings for series two of her podcast, but it leads Pip into dangerous territory.

We can see people aren’t always truthful. Sometimes adults get things wrong and, more often than not, the truth can be elusive.

Pip and Ravi’s dedication is commendable. As we move closer to learning what happened to Jamie we realise that Pip has got herself mixed up in a much bigger story. It wasn’t at all what I expected, and once all the pieces came together it was obvious just how well-planned this had been.

‘Love on the Main Stage’ – S.A. Domingo

Five music festivals . . . One unforgettable summer! A new clean teen romance from the author of Love, Secret Santa.

First things first, the main character in this would have to get an award for missing what is blindingly obvious to everyone reading (though seemingly no one else, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh). That gripe aside, this was a sweet wish-fulfilment romance with a summer of festivals, wonderful sounding food, great family and friends…

Entertaining read, which will definitely put a smile on your face and have you chuckling at the antics of best friend Gemma.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this prior to publication. A great summer pick-me-up that will go down a treat (the only thing that I’d love to see is recipes of some of those dishes!)

‘The Phonebox at the Edge of the World’ – Laura Imai Messina

Scheduled for release in late June 2020, I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this beautifully written, evocative story exploring loss and how we come to accept it before publication.

One of our characters is Yui, a radio broadcaster who lost her mother and daughter in the recent tsunami. She seems emotionally stuck in the aftermath, not sure how to move on from such a loss. Like so many dealing with such unexpected loss, the emotions are complex.

Alongside Yui we have other characters. They are brought together by the existence of Bella Gardia, a remote garden curated by an elderly man, in which there is a disused telephone box. When people speak into the phone they are given the opportunity to talk to their loved ones, to have another moment with those no longer there. Through this opportunity, they begin to come to terms with their grief.

When Yui travels there she finds she does not need to speak into the receiver. For her, the process of visiting the garden and hearing the stories of others is enough. One of the people she meets is Takeshi, a man mourning the death of his wife and trying to work out how to help his daughter who has stopped speaking.

What follows is the tentative blossoming of a new relationship. It ends on a beautifully hopeful note, yet there’s a wistful tone to this that I think will remain with readers. I loved the fact that after reading the story I learned it is based on a real place, and right now that seems a lovely thing to be able to hold onto.


‘If It Bleeds’ – Stephen King

A collection of stories that have echoes of other of King’s works, showing an obvious fascination with the supernatural and unexplained. Each has its charm, though I have my definite favourite.

In Mr Harrigan’s phone we focus on good guy Craig, a young lad who earns pocket money by reading to the elderly Mr Harrigan. Over time they became almost friends, and Mr Harrigan definitely plays a part in the developing personality of this young man. Four times a year Craig is sent a scratch card and one of them ends up earning him three thousand dollars. He is grateful to Mr Harrigan (who brushes of this event) and buys him an iPhone. Mr Harrigan was dismissive of the gift, but then comes to see how useful it could be. Entertaining to see a character at such an early stage in media use, but when Mr Harrigan dies and still seems able to help Craig out we wonder just how much power these objects actually have.

The second story, the Life of Chuck, was one of the least engaging for me. The story begins with what looks like the end of the world (though we never know what’s going on) and then works backwards in time to explore the character of Charles Krantz and his life. The latter parts of the story were more interesting, so it ended more strongly than it began (with the opening of the narrative).

Though I enjoyed the second story it was always going to be hard to stand up against If It Bleeds, a longer story focusing on the lovely Holly Gibney and a very unusual case. The story begins with an awful attack on a middle school and then we go into what I think of as typical King territory. Holly becomes aware that there is another outsider, passing through time and feeding off the misery of mankind. This time round, it’s actually engineering the horror and a Holly is determined that it will not succeed.

The final story I confess to almost leaving out – anything called Rat immediately puts the proverbial fear of god into me. The story had echoes of The Shining, focusing on a writer who has never managed to complete more than short stories. A failed attempt at a novel had him almost burning down his house, so his wife’s concern when he plans to visit his remote family cabin to write his novel is understandable. Tucked away, things are going okay. Then he comes down with a serious flu, and is cut off by a serious storm. Thinking he’s going mad, our writer ends up making a deal with a rat. The extent to which this was imagined is never clear, and yet it works.


‘Five Total Strangers’ – Natalie D. Richards


A solid scare that ratchets up the tension, has some terrific jump moments but doesn’t go all-out with gore.

Our main character in this YA thriller is Mira, a girl travelling home for the Christmas holidays. Bad weather causes problems, and Mira needs to get home to be with her mother as it’s a year since a close relative died of cancer. So, even though the safest thing would be to wait it out, we have a plausible reason to explain what comes next.

Mira makes a plan to get a lift with Harper, the young woman she sat next to on the plane, and her friends. The journey begins smoothly enough, but the weather quickly becomes more threatening and as the journey progresses Mira realises that every single one in the car is a stranger to the others. Objects start going missing and before we know it every one of those in the car – and even some of those they encounter along the way – is a potential threat.

As we follow the journey we see the increase in tension. Fascinating to watch how they turn on each other as they gradually realise that someone is lying.

Interspersed with the narrative are excerpts from another voice – someone who has been watching Mira and who is determined that she’ll notice them. Naturally, this means we know Mira has good reason to feel uneasy, and we get caught up in the game of trying to work out just who is responsible before they get too close.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts. It might not stick with you, but in the moments you’re reading it’ll definitely get under your skin. Scheduled for release in October 2020, it’s a perfect read for those darker nights.

‘The Vanishing Half’ – Brit Bennett

This was a story that I’m so pleased I had the opportunity to read thanks to the publishers and NetGalley, and I can’t wait to see what others make of what I genuinely feel is a must-read story.

Desiree and Stella Vignes are twins, and the main focus of our story. When they were little they witnessed their father dragged from his home by white men and killed. They live in a small town called Mallard that cannot be found on any map, where anyone with dark skin is looked down upon. Is it any wonder that after such a beginning they might not feel comfortable here?

The girls leave Mallard for a new life. Together, they feel they can take on anything, no matter how difficult it gets. Illegal work in a laundry and sleeping on a friend’s floor is not ideal, but they’re managing. Then one day Desiree comes home to discover Stella has gone.

Our story is told through the viewpoints of a number of characters (Desiree, Stella, and their respective daughters) and piece by piece we establish what each has done and how their early life has set up their present. From Desiree escaping an abusive marriage to return home with her dark-skinned daughter, to Stella living in constant fear that she will be found out for passing as white for so long. We watch Jude leave the racist taunts for a new life in California where she finds love with Reese, a man facing his own battles, and we follow Kennedy as she tries to find herself and come to terms with the truths she learns about her mother.

We are set in a changing world where race and attitudes to it remain something to examine. There were so many painful stories, and though I understood the choices Stella made it still felt unbearably hard that she should feel that was necessary.

The main characters of the twins had a complex relationship, but it was their daughters who I found fascinating. In these two girls there were signs of shifting attitudes on a number of subjects, and their stubborn refusal to ignore each other gave an indication that family connections run deeper than we might think.


From the Shadows (Monica Kennedy 1) – G.R. Halliday

From the Shadows is one of those books that throws a lot at you, and you can’t help but become immersed in the world described. It’s not pleasant reading, but it’s a tense experience.

Our story really begins with the discovery of a body of a young man. A serious attack, and the autopsy reveals the boy has had a stone lodged in his throat. DI Kennedy (as the main investigator) is our focus, and we get enough snippets to know her back-story is an intriguing one. Perhaps as the first in the series we’re not told everything, but certainly enough to know that Monica Kennedy has a little more to her than meets the eye.

Set in and around the Scottish Highlands, this beautiful setting forms a macabre backdrop.

Nobody is sure what they’re dealing with. The boy who was found was at home, fine, and had then disappeared by the morning. Before long, we’re starting to see links with other disappearances.

There’s a lot of characters involved, and some suspects are set up as quite deliberate red herrings. We get the voice of the killer but very little to identify them until late on. There’s evidence of police corruption, and Kennedy has to rely on some rather unconventional methods to get results.

Suffice to say there’s some parts that could have been refined but this was a solid introduction to a new character, and definitely had me keen to read more. Thanks to NetGalley I have a copy of Dark Waters (the second in the series) to read before its scheduled July 2020 publication.


‘Just My Luck’ – Adele Parks

Reading stories in the press about huge lottery wins always concerns me. I know it makes good news, but you never hear of someone winning a life-changing amount of money and enjoying it. You only hear of those who squander the winnings or how people become a target for all manner of scams. Though we know this, and how low the chances of winning actually are, there’s probably a good number of people who think about what they’d do if they had such a win.

In Just My Luck we follow a regular couple who suddenly find themselves nearly £18 million better off. Lexi is fairly cautious, wanting to invest wisely and use the money to make a difference. Her big indulgence is to buy some Teapigs tea! Her husband, Jake, is the ultimate stereotype. His first act – even before they have the money – is to buy a top Ferrari and to buy his way out of whatever comes up. It’s not hard to take quite a dislike to him, and as the story progresses he was increasingly infuriating.

One of the first issues this seemingly normal couple has is the insistence from some friends that they were a syndicate and, as such, should be sharing the money. From this point on we see the money drives a wedge between the family.

Most of the family has secrets, some of which have more of an impact than others. The story took something of a detour with the character of Toma, but the links are outlined eventually. Things got awfully dark, and a substantial part of this book had me wondering whether people really could be so awful in reality. Even the characters we were meant to root for were secretive, and some of them were so horrendous that it made me want to ban the lottery forever.

Thanks to NetGalley for granting me access to this before publication, and I’d definitely recommend this read – even as a salutary lesson to readers.

‘Harrow Lake’ – Kat Ellis

Lola Nox has always found it difficult to live her own life. Daughter of celebrated film director Nolan Nox, she has got used to someone watching her every move and not getting completely free choice over her actions. She knows there are secrets in her family, but when we first meet her it’s evident that Lola has secrets of her own.

The opening was not immediately engaging. Lola appeared to have had some kind of falling out with her father, her behaviour indicates daddy issues and she really was not very likeable. However, when she is taken home and finds her father bleeding in his study we can’t help but feel some sympathy for her.
Suddenly Lola is sent to Harrow Lake, her mother’s hometown and the setting for her father’s seminal movie. It’s a weird place, and the strange behaviour of certain characters does little to make Lola comfortable.

Before we know it there’s a creepy movie festival taking place, weird goings on and Lola is having all manner of odd occurrences. She knows that someone in the town may hold the key to what happened to her mother, but few are willing to divulge their secrets.

During the story, as Lola becomes more and more akin to one of the characters in one of her father’s slasher movies, we begin to piece together fragments of the stories being told. We learn about the darkness of Harrow Lake, the secrets Lola has and the events that have led her to this moment.

There’s a dark undercurrent to this, and though elements were undeveloped it was – on the whole – a creepy tale that will entrance horror fans.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication, scheduled for August 2020.