‘Someone Else’s House’ – Jessica Vallance

Sometimes you don’t see how you’re being manipulated, and sometimes the most abusive relationships are those that start so positively.

Our main character in this, Lauren, is introduced to us when she makes the momentous decision to dump her long-standing boyfriend because of his moodiness and emotionally abusive behaviour. She’s, naturally, not immediately at ease with the situation so jumps at the chance to go on holiday with her best friend.

Rather oddly a new friend tags along. They seem to get along okay, but there are little signs that things might not be quite what we expect. Odd things start to happen, and we can’t quite work out how things are going to go.

Without giving too much away, Lauren’s past is important.

Once we start to learn a little more of her past then we can see that certain events have a more sinister feel. The question is not just who is messing with her, but why.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts.

 

‘Out of the Easy’ – Ruta Sepetys

Immersed in 1950s New Orleans, this was a great read.

Seventeen year old Josie Moraine is the daughter of a prostitute. For years she’s looked after herself, and is desperate to make something of her life.

Helped by Willie, the local brothel madam her mother works for, and a number of other characters Josie tries to break out of the chaos brought to her life by her mother.

There was a warmth to this that really shone through. Josie was a determined character who was dealt a pretty tough time, yet she tried her best to rise above it. Her mother was not a caricature villain, but her behaviour was appalling.
The main thrust of the story is Josie trying to do the right thing by the people she interacts with, while learning about herself. She dreams of a better life, and yet at every opportunity this seems to elude her.

While the ending might not be quite the one she planned for herself, it brought things full circle and really showed the relationships she invested in to be positive and beneficial.

Sepetys is fast becoming a go-to author for me.

 

‘The Third Twin’ – C.J. Omololu

This took a little while to get going then went haywire.

Lexi has always thought of herself as serious, focused and rather dull. She’s set on studying business at Stanford. So, when we learn that she and her twin sister, Ava, have an alter-ego they use when they want to cut loose it comes as a bit of a surprise. Alicia is someone who likes to party, and who does crazy things just for fun.

Though Lexi dislikes the way this often ends up, she recognises that playing at being someone else can free her to be a little more adventurous than normal. However, when a boy she meets up with one night is then killed things start to seem less fun.

Somehow, without really quite knowing how we got to this point, two more boys end up dead. The only link being their dates with Alicia. Lexi doesn’t want to believe it, but could her sister really be a killer?

From the moment of the third murder we are plunged into crazy territory. The sisters are on the run from the police, wanted for murder and nobody trusts the other. Then we get a true humdinger of a revelation that makes little sense, but definitely ties up a few loose ends.

A bit like Pretty Little Liars it’s implausible, highly exaggerated and yet quite good fun.

 

‘The Understudy’ – Sophie Hannah, Claire Mackintosh, B.A. Paris and Holly Brown

On paper this sounds like an idea that might work…four very different writers (all very good at what they do) each take a section of story and work it into a whole novel.

Our story focuses on a group of girls at the Orla Flynn Academy, a stage school where there are some definite divas…and not just among the students. A fairly tight-knit group of four friends. We’re given some backstory about one of them bullying another last year, but things are better. At least, until odd things start to happen to the girl who should have been expelled for bullying. Coinciding with this is the Head’s attempt to smooth things over, the arrival of a new student who might act as the gel the group needs to bond them.

From the outset we’re never quite sure of the truth. We get shifting views from the mothers, and as the weird events get progressively more dangerous we can see there’s something we’re not being told.

Though the style of telling worked well (with each chapter adding something else to the mix) the book just fell a little flat for me at times. The characters were all fairly unlikeable, and I didn’t feel we had enough invested in any of them to really care one way or another what happened.

 

‘The Truth Commission’ – Susan Juby

Quirky is definitely the best word I can use about this.

Normandy Pale is our narrator, and she is the younger sister of a celebrated graphic novelist. Her whole life has been laid bare in print, and Normandy doesn’t challenge this.

We meet Normandy as she’s starting a creative project – a piece of non-fiction exploring the outcomes of something she and her best friends set up. Finding out truths starts small, but very quickly Normandy is having to deal with truths that were previously hidden.

The style (with its endless footnotes) could have been irritating, but I found Normandy’s attempts to make sense of the things she learns quite entertaining. I liked her friendship group and the way they interacted.

Ultimately, I was quite appalled by her family. Her sister was, to put it bluntly, unscrupulous and her parents were bordering on negligent in their handling of this scenario. Part of me wants to say I was surprised by this, but I’m also wondering how much was set-up for an artistic attempt to manipulate the truth.

 

‘Believe Me’ – J.P. Delaney

The title of this immediately brought to mind the Simon Armitage poem ‘I am very bothered’ since we’re never 100% certain of the narrator’s honest thoughts.
Our story focuses on a young English actress, Claire Wright, who’s trying to earn her living in America by trying to entrap men whose wives think they’re being unfaithful. She cannot ever proposition them, and she doesn’t have sex with them but she promises it and films the men so that their wives have evidence of infidelity. She has a great success rate, until she’s asked to proposition Patrick Fogler.

Later that evening we learn that Patrick’s wife, Stella, has been found murdered. There’s a definite suspicion that a serial killer is on the loose, but Claire is also under suspicion. And so begins a very strange sequence of events.

Claire is asked to work with the police to try and gather evidence to ascertain the likelihood of Fogler being their killer. She enters a dark and potentially dangerous place as she throws herself into her latest role.

While I enjoyed this thoroughly, the artifice surrounding Claire made it hard for me to really engage with her situation. I wasn’t sure how reliable her interactions were, so I felt quite removed from things as I looked for loopholes or things that cropped up unexpectedly.

I’m grateful to NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication in exchange for my thoughts.

 

‘Someone We Know’ – Shari Lapena

 

Raleigh is a fairly typical 16 year old, but when his mum reads a text sent by one of his friends she learns something pretty unpleasant about him. He’s broken into local neighbourhood homes. He confesses pretty quickly, but not to everything he was doing in the houses or the number of houses he went into.

His mum is, understandably, horrified and seeks the advice of a lawyer. His advice is to sit tight and admit to nothing. Raleigh will not be guilty of anything if nobody knows a crime has been committed. His mother is horrified by this advice and writes an anonymous letter to each of the victims.

Unfortunately, one of the homes Raleigh broke into belongs to the Pierces. Amanda was reported missing by her husband, and when her beaten body is fished out of a local lake we know there is more to this.

On one hand there’s the family trying to protect their son, and then there’s the mystery of the dead woman and who had incentive to kill her. Alongside this is new to the neighbourhood Carmine, desperate to solve the mystery of who broke into her home.

The main feeling I had as I read this was a kind of grim fascination. So many characters were hiding things, and there were a lot of secrets unearthed implicating any number of people. Nobody in their right mind would want to live in this neighbourhood!

Eventually, the net draws tighter and the truth is squeezed out. It wasn’t wholly unexpected but it certainly made me want to draw the curtains, lock the doors and keep myself well and truly isolated.

 

‘Impossible Causes’ – Julie Mayhew

This is a tricky one to review, and it is certainly a book that was difficult to really get into for some time. However, by the end I was gripped and can certainly see the parallels with something like The Crucible.

Our story takes place on the remote island of Lark. We focus on the narration by Leah, a teacher on the island, who is privy to many of the secrets of the island but who seems rather detached from everything. This sense of ‘otherness’ does become important later on, as it explains why Leah acts as she does.

The island of Lark is cut off from the mainland, physically unreachable for six months of the year. So it is of great interest when an outsider, Ben Hailey, comes to the island to teach.

He – and, as a result, we – comes to learn of the superstitions regarding what are referred to as the Eldest Girls. There are three girls aged 16 who, now, are given what seems like carte blanche to act as they like. There is talk of witchcraft and odd behaviour, but it is what has always been and people turn a blind eye. The inclusion of new girl Viola seems to act as a catalyst for the behaviour to escalate.
Before too long we get told of a dead body and people start to talk about what is happening. As things become more personal for Leah, the ‘new arrivals’ force the villagers to confront what is happening under their eyes.

Initially this seemed to be going in one direction and it was a little hard to follow. Details were vague, but as we learn the truth of Lark it seems there is a reason for this vagueness. By the end, when the true horror of Lark’s dark secret was revealed, I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. Chilling, and definitely worth a look. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read this prior to its scheduled November publication.

‘Little Darlings’ – Melanie Goulding

Little Darlings is a curious read, and I don’t know whether to describe it as a psychological thriller or a paranormal mystery. It’s ambiguity leaves the reader rather nonplussed at the end, but it’s a read that forces you to keep going to try and puzzle it out.

Lauren Tranter has just given birth to twins. Sleep deprived, without a support network and full of doubt, she is struggling. While in hospital she thinks she hears a woman singing to twins. However, her children are the only twins in the hospital. Another night she believes the same woman has tried to abduct her twins. She locks herself in a hospital toilet and calls the police. There’s no evidence of anyone else having been in the hospital.

Eventually let home Lauren retreats into herself. She stays at home, full of doubt about her capabilities. Her husband is beyond rubbish – insisting on catching up on sleep during the day as the twins have kept him awake, and begrudging Lauren asking for a drink – and complains that she’s not taking control of stuff. Concerned for her welfare, or sulking because he actually isn’t the most important thing in her life? We’re not sure.

After a week or so, Lauren decides to try and get out for a walk. Things seem to be going well. Then she sits at a bench, falls asleep and wakes to find her babies missing. After a frantic police hunt the twins are found, by a woman who seems to have been having a relationship with Lauren’s husband, and Lauren is convinced her twins have been exchanged.

Interspersed with this narrative we have Harper, a member of the police who goes above and beyond to work out what’s happening. Her approach was unlikely, and yet it offers credence to the paranormal element of this story.

By the end there were signs that there was nothing mysterious about this at all. Lauren simply had a deeply immature and unpleasant husband, and she was mentally ill. The resolution of the narrative didn’t offer much hope, and left me feeling rather short-changed.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this and offer my thoughts in exchange for an ARC.

‘Confessions’ – Kanae Minato

How far would you go to get revenge? In this, we see the depths someone is prepared to plunge to in their quest to avenge something done to them.

The opening chapter sets up a terrible situation. A teacher stands in front of her class to explain why she is retiring, to explain how the death of her daughter earlier in the school year has affected her and to make the revelation that the death was not – as found – accidental, but murder and committed by two students in the class. Having outlined what seems to be a truly horrifying scenario, the teacher calmly outlines the way she has set about getting her revenge.

At this point we move into shorter chapters, each told from a different perspective, that provide us with further information about what happened/what led to it and the after-effects. I was still reeling from the opening and yet found myself compelled to try to work out what was going on.

Throughout, I was struck by the restrained narrative style and the attempts to justify certain actions were certainly interesting. However, the final moments turned everything on their head and made me reevaluate certain characters/ their actions.

An unusual read, and one I wouldn’t have picked up were it not for a recommendation from an online group. Definitely worth reading.