‘The House Across the Lake’ – Riley Sager

The House Across the Lake was a story I was so excited to get my hands on, and parts of it really were exciting. However, as a whole, it felt messy and just too much to take in.

Our main character is recently widowed actress Casey Fletcher who has been banished to her lakeside home (the place where her husband died) by her mother who wants her out of the public eye after one too many drunken incidents. In what felt like a Rear Window homage, Casey takes to watching the home across the lake from her…home to supermodel Katherine Royce and her media husband Tom.

Casey’s first meeting with Katherine is when she fishes her out of the lake and saves her from drowning. The tentative steps to a new friendship are forged, but Casey is convinced that things in the Royce household are not what they seem. Obsessive, alcohol-fuelled stalking events occur and it’s hard to workout whether Casey is deluded or if there’s some truth to her fears about Tom.

In the background of this bizarre situation is a local writer, an ex-cop whose wife died and three missing women. From the moment each element is introduced my brain went into overdrive trying to work out what was a red herring, what was plausible and what was a diversion. Casey lurches from one imagined scenario to the next and things ramp up once Katherine goes missing and Tom starts acting suspiciously.

It was at this point that the book went to a whole other level and I had to check if I was reading the latest Sarah Pinborough. I have no problem with the introduction of the supernatural to a story, but in this instance it felt like a gimmick. It served merely to offer a hitherto unthought-of reason for what was happening, but it also served as a diversion to another element of the plot. It felt as if bets were being hedged here as to what type of book was the ultimate aim, and the truth is that it feels as if we don’t get a satisfactory answer.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this before its scheduled July publication, but I’d have been so gutted to have waited for release date and spent the amount I’ve had to on previous Sager books to then get this. I’m afraid this didn’t work for me.

‘Aurora Rising’ – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising is science-fiction with heart. Set in the future, the students of Aurora Academy are about to graduate and find out their assignments. Star pupil, Tyler Jones, sets out on a solo flight the night before the draft and sets in place a strange turn of events.
He brings back a human, Aurora, and yet his delay in returning means he misses the draft and gets left with a crew made up of those students nobody else wants.
At the outset I wasn’t sure what to make of this scenario. Tyler was a character I found hard to read, but he comes into his own once their first mission is underway.
This rag-tag bunch of misfits are quirky, odd, but hugely loyal. From start to finish they bicker and squabble but they have each other’s back. And boy do they need to!
The first mission is a seemingly straightforward one, but we soon see that things are not at all what we were led to believe. Aurora has something special about her, but between them this group undertake a heist, a daring mission and even end up with one of their number sacrificing themselves for the greater good. Book two bought…and I can’t wait to see what happens.

 

‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’ – Gillian McAllister

Our story opens with Jen, a lawyer, waiting for her adult son to come home after a night out. I feared there might be an accident as we watch Jen observe her son get closer to home. Another figure approaches her son, and I thought we were about to witness an awful crime that Jen would have to relive as she deals with this moment. We did…but it wasn’t at all what I expected. Todd, Jen’s son, stabs and kills the man. Watching your son get hurt would be awful, but I can’t imagine how you’d feel watching him kill someone.

The next day, the strangest thing happens. Jen wakes, and it is the day before the crime. Nothing has happened, and she believes she is going mad. Each time she goes to sleep she seems to travel back in time. There has, Jen is certain, to be a reason for this. Can she learn anything that will help her stop this crime before it happens?

Wrong Place, Wrong Time was a skilfully constructed story. From start to finish it was fascinating to observe Jen’s experiences and to try to piece together anything that could have relevance to the crime that instigated this event. McAllister weaves a rich story, where nothing is quite as it seems. We watch Jen as she is forced to relive her life, reflecting on interactions and trying to work out what might hold the key to protecting her son.

As the story unfolded I found myself quite amazed by the concept. I loved the mercurial quality to the story, and found myself wholly unsettled by the ending.
I can’t wait for someone I know to pick this up and read it. A huge thank you to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this in advance of publication.

 

‘Hollow Fires’ – Samira Ahmed

Due for release in early May, I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me access to this prior to publication. From start to finish this had me hooked, and I think it is Ahmed’s most powerful book to date.

It’s easy to feel outrage at the kind of privilege shown throughout this book. It’s easy to feel angered by the behaviour of the two young adults who plan, carry out and almost get away with their murder of a younger teen. It’s easy to feel the fire of injustice that forces Safiya into action. But it’s also easy for many readers (and I probably count myself in this) to feel that anger and yet to not be further impacted by it. This is not part of my daily experience, and I fear that my ‘fire’ as I finished this book could be seen as ‘hollow’ if I don’t do anything with it. This is something I need to digest further.

The story of Hollow Fires itself is a compelling one. It begins when Jawad, son of Iraqi refugees, is arrested when his English teacher believes the home-made Halloween costume he proudly takes into school is a suicide bomb. The absurdity of this situation stands out…but even after being cleared of all charges, Jawad is persecuted. He becomes known by the moniker BombBoy and the growing sense of unease felt by students who are not white is deftly portrayed through the character of Safiya. When Jawad goes missing, there is an appeal but the police quickly write him off as a run-away.

Safiya has always wanted to be a journalist and she has an inquisitive nature that doesn’t allow her to blindly accept some of the things she’s told by those in authority. She is determined that people should not accept this version of events. Set against a growing backdrop of racially-motivated attacks, Safiya is convinced there is more to Jawad’s disappearance. When she finds his body wedged in a culvert in a little known part of the local park, Safiya knows that there’s more to this story than people are prepared to acknowledge. She takes it upon herself to try and get justice for Jawad, determined that those responsible will be held to account.

There are issues with the way Safiya interferes with an ongoing investigation. The way certain characters behaved didn’t always seem realistic, and there’s still a part of me that feels the outcome of this case would not, in reality, have gone quite as it’s presented here. However, these were not enough of a distraction to prevent me from feeling this is a book I would highly recommend.

 

‘I Kissed Shara Wheeler’ – Casey McQuiston

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me a glimpse of this before its release. While it didn’t have quite the emotional pull of the other McQuiston books I’d read, it drew together nicely.

Our focus is Chloe Green who’s in competition with Shara Wheeler, the Principal’s daughter, for valedictorian. Both girls are fiercely competitive and they have, for the past four years, danced a strange dance of one-upmanship. When the book opens, rumours abound as Shara has disappeared.

Determined that she will not be given the top spot by default, Chloe vows to find Shara and get her back to school in time for graduation.

The main thrust of the book focused on this rather odd scavenger hunt orchestrated by Shara who has left cryptic notes for three people, all of whom kissed Shara before she left. As we only learn about Shara through the veil of someone else’s view, I found it hard to work out quite what kind of character we were looking at. I also found the setting of the book – a strong Christian homophobic setting – really off-putting. People were pigeon-holed and made to feel wholly uncomfortable, nobody seemed to do anything about it, and it appeared to have been this way since Chloe’s mum endured coming out years earlier.

While the days before Shana appeared were instrumental in helping to develop the characters, it was once everyone was back in their rightful place that I felt things started to fall into place for me as a reader. Chloe opened her eyes a little and started to look beyond herself. It had a relatively happy ending, even though there was clearly a long way to go!