‘Follow Me, Like Me’ – Charlotte Seager

 

A timely reminder that what we do online has consequences in the real world, and a rather terrifying warning to watch what you post and who you ‘friend’ as an online profile might not tell you the full story.

Our story focuses on two perspectives. First, there’s popular teen, Chloe, who accepts a message from someone online and then finds herself with a ‘friend’ she’s never met whose behaviour causes a lot of discomfort. Second, there’s social misfit Amber who yearns for popularity and whose obsession with a personal trainer at her gym soon gets her into a situation that she wasn’t expecting.

The story is quite straightforward, and both girls are involved (to some degree) with the same character.

If I’m being honest, I felt the attitude of the friends, school and police were not wholly accurately presented. Given the concerns about this topic, the attitudes felt a little behind the times.

The story itself was quite obvious, but it did offer some opportunity to get under the skin of some characters you may or may not empathise with.

Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me the opportunity to read this in exchange for my review.

‘The Woods’ – Vanessa Savage

This was one of those strangely compelling reads that unsettled from the off.

Tess is haunted by memories of her sister. She was the only witness to her sister’s death, but has no recollection of it. Tess is convinced the death was no accident, but has been trying to put events behind her. Unfortunately, her fear of the woods surrounding her old family home prevents her from visiting and it is not until her father calls desperate for help that she feels she can put it off no longer.

Details are slow to come by. Tess is shown to be struggling with her mental health from the outset, and we’re never quite sure what she recalls accurately and what is deliberately being concealed.

When she is given the news that her stepmother is close to death Tess knows she should visit. But her fear of what she remembers is a huge barrier. What we do know is her family is not a cohesive unit. She has had a problematic relationship with her stepbrothers for years, and her reluctance to look into what happened definitely makes us wonder what she’s hiding.

At its heart this was a story of complex relationships. There are numerous secrets and it’s only as we unravel them all that we can establish exactly what happened all those years ago when two girls went into the woods and only one came out.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this in exchange for my thoughts, and I look forward to seeing what is made of this when it come out in January 2020.

 

‘Woman in the Water’ – Katerina Diamond

Detectives Adrian Miles and Imogen Grey are now in a relationship, though that’s not common knowledge at work. However, on this case things come too close to home and it has serious repercussions for both.

On his way into work Miles stops as some women think their children saw a body in the water. Upon investigation, it is a woman…and she’s alive. Someone wanted her dead, but there’s no signs of robbery or sexual assault. It becomes a matter of some urgency to work out what on earth happened when the beaten body of a young man is also found nearby.

Before we know it we’ve been pulled into a very dark place. This isn’t a ‘whodunnit’, but a trying to pull it together to prove they did it kind of story.
We focus on Angela Corrigan, the much younger wife of local businessman Reece. Nobody will speak out against him, and though we’ve strong reason to believe he’s been up to all sorts of things nobody will talk, and there’s no evidence.

It’s testimony to the bullishness of these two Detectives that we get anywhere. However, it comes at awful personal expense.

Adrian Miles suffers in the course of this investigation in a way that you cannot begin to imagine. It’s brutal, totally demeaning and the disgust I felt as we learn the extent of the wrongdoings against not just him but so many others was upsetting.

While it was a dark story that was not, in any way, enjoyable to read, I am intrigued at the potential for where this might go next.

Thanks to Diamond and NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts, prior to its publication in November 2019.

 

‘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.

 

‘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.

 

‘The Institute’ – Stephen King

I’ve always had a mixed response to the Stephen King books I’ve read. The sense of horror and unease always creeps me out, and yet there’s usually a point in the book where things cross into implausible or are exaggerated to the degree that I find it irritating. There’s so much about his writing that sucks you in, but I always have a moment where something jars and it doesn’t quite seem to work. With The Institute this didn’t quite happen.

The concept to this immediately intrigued me, so I was rather surprised when the opening focused on Tim Jamieson and his decision to get off an overcrowded plane before ending up in the small town of Du Pray where he became a night knocker. It didn’t seem to make sense, so I was immediately intrigued to see how this element would be incorporated.

Our main character is Luke, an exceptionally talented kid who, at twelve, is being touted to attend two colleges. Unfortunately, before this can happen Luke’s parents are killed, he is drugged and taken across country to The Institute. What we then experience through Luke is an experiment of unimaginable horror.
Perhaps because this is told through Luke’s perspective, there’s a lot about The Institute that we don’t get told. There are hints of some of the things taking place, but even the small glimpses we did get were enough to have me scared. The group of teens/kids that are at this place though were all fascinating. The suggestion of what was being undertaken there was just plausible enough to have you wondering ‘what if’. It also raised some very interesting questions about the extent to which the mind could be manipulated.

While I can’t help but feel the whole thing was quite unlikely, my heart was definitely rooting for Luke as he undertook his dangerous game. As things drew together, Tim’s role became clearer. As things drew to a close the action was ramped up, and yet it didn’t seem off-putting. The final hints of a much bigger picture suggest King is happy for us to fear establishment and question the extent to which we are controlled. It certainly wasn’t neatly packed-up but it was enough.

 

‘Lullaby’ – Leila Slimani

I’ve had Lullaby on my bookcase for ages, but never really felt I could face reading it because of the subject. After reading the opening, which is pretty graphic, describing the violent way in which the nanny has attacked her two young charges I felt vindicated in not having picked it up earlier. What on earth would possess someone paid to care for children to attack them?

Having opened in this way it was inevitable that time would then have to be spent plotting the lead to this event. We get to see Myriam and Paul adjusting to life as parents, and Myriam’s resentment of her husband which leads to the decision to find a nanny. I felt the attitude of these parents was quite disturbing. They wanted cheap childcare but felt a sense of superiority over the women they were interviewing.

When they meet Louise she’s given glowing referrals, immediately bonds with the children and – before we know it – she’s hired. There’s then a slow creeping sense of unease as we watch Louise insidiously work her way into the very heart of the family. She cleans, cooks, keeps the children entertained and seems a regular Mary Poppins.

Having seen how this turns out, we’re acutely conscious of any signs of a problem. Initially it seemed as if Louise might end up having an affair with Paul, but the reality was much more scary. The family need her, but not as much as Louise seems to need them. Her declining mental health was hinted at, but each character was exhibiting signs that they could cause a problem.

As I neared the end of the book I was struck by the ambiguity of the situation. There’s no evident resolution, and yet this felt more appropriate than tying things up neatly. I feel this will sit with me for some time.

‘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.