‘I Killed Zoe Spanos’ – Kit Frick

From the moment I saw this cover I couldn’t wait to read I Killed Zoe Spanos. With the focus being on a young woman who has confessed to a murder, and another who is determined to uncover the truth it promised lots.

When we first meet Anna Cicconi she is not in the best of places. We get told about excessive drinking, potentially dangerous hook-ups and blacking out with no recollection of events. As part of her attempts to get her life back on track she takes a summer job for a wealthy family in the Hamptons, acting as an au pair. Upon arrival she is somewhat taken aback by people commenting on her similarity in appearance to local girl, Zoe Spanos. This isn’t too strange, until we learn Zoe has been missing for months and nobody knows what has happened to her.

As the summer progresses, Anna meets a number of characters linked to Zoe, and she starts to have recollections that – by rights – she shouldn’t be having. She knows things about Zoe and her life that suggest she knew her. It becomes a case not of is Anna hiding something, but a case of will Anna work out what on earth is going on?

The timescale of this book lends to the air of confusion perfectly. As we learn more of the events of the summer, we also learn that Anna is being held having confessed to the murder of Zoe. Some think it’s an open and shut case, while others are convinced Anna might be innocent. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t tell where the author was going with this as there were a number of very plausible interpretations, any of which would have worked.

Definitely one to recommend for fans of Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series.

 

‘The Extraordinaries’ – T.J. Klune

The Extraordinaries has a rather unusual take on the super-hero story and I wasn’t totally sure whether we were meant to see this as genuine fantasy, fan-fiction comedy, or some weird hybrid. Elements of this were very funny, the hints of what’s to come in the bigger picture are definitely interesting but there’s a few elements that I feel will make this problematic.
Our main character is Nick Bell, son of a local cop. Nick has ADHD and is struggling since the killing of his mother. He has a close group of friends that he claims are the school outcasts, though their bond is close enough they don’t seem to take much notice of this. His ex, Owen, still hangs around and pushes his buttons – but seems very keen to see how Nick’s best friend Seth reacts. Nick keeps himself occupied by writing fan fiction about his crush on the superhero Shadow Star.
From the outset we see how important the superhero is to Nick. He ends up rescued by him, but then there’s the small matter of Power Storm, his nemesis. We don’t know quite what’s going on (although it doesn’t take long to figure some parts out) but the rapidly escalating violence between these two starts to cause problems.
The focus on Nick means we are, naturally, kept a little in the dark about some aspects of the world-building and events taking place. As Nick learns, so do we. Watching him bounce round causing chaos was funny, but not particularly helpful at times. However, once we get further details of the role certain characters play it certainly offered more interest- don’t want to give anything away, but the revelations about Nick’s mum right at the end certainly imply there’s more to this than we’ve got here.
Unfortunately, the humour and general lighthearted focus was marred by some of the details given and the characters’ reactions. As the son of a cop, Nick gets away with a lot. In light of current affairs and concern about police behaviour, to have him joking about such affairs seems in bad taste. We find out his dad was demoted after punching someone involved in a case. Few details are given, but it adds nothing to this story and seemed a poor decision to feature when so much is being talked about with regard to the behaviour of those in charge of maintaining law and order. I’ve seen a couple of reviews where this feature was picked up on and vociferously decried, so it’ll be interesting to see whether attention is paid to these advance reviews and whether any changes are made prior to publication.
Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts.

 

‘Never Look Back’ – Mary Burton

I wish now I had read the first two books in this series as I enjoyed this, though it works perfectly well as a stand-alone read.

The focus for our story is Agent Melina Shepherd. Found abandoned by the side of the road as a young child, Melinda has earned herself a reputation as a lone wolf who’s determined to see her cases out. When she is asked to investigate the disappearance of two local prostitutes she gets herself closer to a serial killer than she bargained for.

As the case is investigated we realise there’s more to this than meets the eye. The investigation results in things getting very personal for Marina, but she remains focused and professional throughout.

The revelations deliberately throw us off the scent for a while. We find out some pretty shocking details, and one of my key thoughts was how this would impact those concerned. The focus is more on the here and now, but as part of a series maybe this gets looked at later.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to review this before publication, and I’m definitely curious to look at the first two books in the series.

 

‘Come When I Call You’ – Shayna Krishnasamy

Having just finished this I’m still not entirely sure I fully grasped every detail, but the overall impact was powerful. It’s the kind of story that happened in a blur, never really giving me the chance to pause and check details. We don’t have every little detail explained, and the end suggested certain events but I know I would struggle to tell someone with certainty what actually takes place.

The story opens with good girl Anna being asked to look after her younger cousin. There’s suggestions of something very odd going on but we never find out exactly what took place that night.

The action then shifts to a remote boarding school. We see Anna in her current setting. She has her good friend, Penelope, and crush, Ben, but things between the group are tense – not helped by the death of one of their classmates.

On the same day as this event, Anna’s mysterious cousin Lucia appears. She has run away from home and Anna promises to keep her safe.

Up to this point things were pretty easy to follow. Then we have a storm, the group set up a seance and I’ll admit to not knowing with certainty exactly what happened. Everything was described in detail, but no explanation was given so it felt like we were somewhat in the dark. There appeared to be a haunting, deaths and very odd events. The ending also hinted strongly that everything with Anna was not quite as it first appeared.

If you like your stories clear-cut, you’ll probably hate this. If you’re happy to be left somewhat in the dark you won’t be disappointed.

‘The Switch’ – Beth O’Leary

Two remarkably similar characters, a generation apart, but it takes quite a shift in circumstances for them to learn a little about themselves in this unapologetically heart-warming book.

Our focus is the Cotton family. It’s almost a year since Leena’s sister died of cancer. Since then she’s withdrawn from her family and thrown herself into her work. When we meet Leena she’s clearly experiencing extreme stress – and is horrified when her boss offers her paid leave for two months.

Many people might wallow at home for a bit then go on holiday. Leena takes herself off to Yorkshire to visit her grandmother, Eileen, and it’s at this point they come up with the madcap idea to switch lives.

What follows is highly obvious, and nothing happens very quickly, but it’s infectiously positive and I ended it feeling as if everyone involved in this large cast of characters had experienced their own personal journey. Nothing earth-shattering here, but good-humoured and it did (in a light-hearted way) try to examine some hard-to-hear issues. I defy anyone not to fall in love with Eileen!

‘Nothing Can Hurt You’ – Nicola Maye Goldberg

Nothing Can Hurt You centres on the killing of a young student, Sara, by her boyfriend, Blake, who we are told has schizophrenia and who claims to have taken LSD on the night he slit Sara’s throat. Blake comes from a wealthy family, has never been in trouble before and has the means to arrange for a good lawyer. Perhaps surprisingly, he is acquitted on the grounds of insanity and goes free.

This novel is a hard one to pin down. We’re not really finding out more about what happened to Sara, nor are we learning more about the killer. There’s little focus on questioning motive or even really seeming to come down on a certain view on how we as a society deal with such events/people. I ended this not entirely sure how I was meant to feel about things.

While this doesn’t fit the expectations of a thriller, it was cleverly constructed. Each chapter has as its focus someone involved with the murder of Sara. We begin with the woman who discovered her body, but we also have a young girl who she babysat, her half-sister and a journalist investigating the story amongst others. What they all have in common is a sense of disruption following the death of Sara.

In style and focus, this reminded me very much of Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13. I was somewhat surprised to learn this was based on a true story, as the way in which it is written makes it seem so separate from the everyday world most of us inhabit. I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication, and it does strike me as a book that will offer up new links/perspectives upon further reading.

‘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.