‘The Best Lies’ – Sarah Lyu

Sometimes the hardest person to tell the truth to is yourself. In this tale of obsessive destructive friendship, Remy learns this lesson the hard way.

When we first meet Remy she’s struggling to feel she has a place in her family. Her parents argue all the time, and are clearly unhappy in their relationship but neither wants to break the mould and actually separate. Her older brother, Christian, is academically talented and part of the popular crowd at school. Remy has talked herself into believing there’s no point trying to challenge the way she’s seen at home. She is living in a fairly toxic environment, but also seems unwilling to take any steps to challenge this.

Into this potentially damaging relationship comes Elise. Something of a mysterious character she has spark and takes Remy under her wing. There’s only ever talk of friendship, but there’s a clear sense of dependency between the two girls. They start to ostracise other members of their peer group, and the pranks Elise plays quickly escalate in seriousness.

The book focuses on the fact that Remy is being asked to talk to the police. Her boyfriend, Jack, has been shot and it appears that her best friend, Elise, was the one who did it. Someone knows more than they’re letting on, and we – just like the police – want to know exactly what.

A lot of the details about the friendship between Elise and Remy are told in flashbacks. This is necessary, but it does mean we always feel like we’re playing catch-up. It takes time to show their dependency on each other and to plant suspicion as to what might have brought about this situation.

As we come to see more of the events in their friendship, we can see that not everything is straightforward. Each is hiding things, and the way they interact seems like it’s only a matter of time before we get something big.

Though not quite what I was expecting, this was an intriguing read. So often I wanted to shake Remy and it was evident this scenario need not have happened. However, as an exploration of friendship and the damage we can do – to ourselves and others – it was an unusual take on things.

‘The Chain’ – Adrian McKinty

Well, that was a rollercoaster read.

We begin with Kylie on her way to school. She’s kidnapped at gunpoint, and chained in a basement. Horrific stuff, but even worse when we learn that her kidnappers are doing this because it is part of the condition of getting their own kidnapped son released.

The family have become part of The Chain, a terrifying concept that threatens your very existence unless you follow the rules.

Kylie’s mum is desperate to get her daughter back. She gathers the ransom then plans to carry out her own kidnap. The key rule is that she must not involve the police and must do as she is told.

I recall chain letters being a thing (a bit like those ‘share this post’ stuff) when I was younger, and the advice you were given was to ignore them because the senders couldn’t do anything. While you know this behaviour is morally unacceptable, how far would you be prepared to go to protect your children?

Horrific subject though it is, this was a story that really had you from the off.

The only thing that marred it for me was the shift to the viewpoint of the perpetrators. It seemed to move the focus of the book in a way that lost my interest a little, and I still find it hard to believe that someone who’d set this up for so long – and clearly been very successful – would make such careless errors.
Still, I can see why this is being touted as a thriller to read.

‘Swipe Right for Murder’ – Derek Milman

Aidan, our main character, is a bit of a pampered young man. He’s friends with some wealthy people, and this explains why we find him at the start of the book in an exclusive hotel. At this point I didn’t find myself that keen on him – he was very focused on the impression he gives and too bothered about himself to really take note of those around him.

Finding himself alone in this lovely hotel in New York City, Aidan gets himself logged onto a dating app and tries to find himself a no-strings hook-up for the evening. Effort one is someone he knows from school, and things don’t go well. Rather than lock himself away, Aidan tries again.

Second time round he’s met by a rather older man called Benoit who keeps asking him about an item he’s meant to deliver. Aidan (naturally) has no idea what he’s talking about. When he wakes up and finds his one-night stand dead beside him Aidan realises he’s got himself into something very very dangerous.
What follows is high-adrenaline action-packed stuff, the likes of which I love reading about but if there was the slightest hint of it happening in real life I’d curl under the nearest table before running away.

Aidan manages to drag himself through a range of incredibly bizarre scenarios. He’s being used by the FBI to bait a highly-organised terrorist organisation and his picture is plastered all over the news. Given the profile of this group/scenario what happens seems quite unbelievable, but it doesn’t stop it being good fun to read.

‘All Eyes on Us’ – Kit Frick

All Eyes On Us focuses on two girls – Amanda and Rosalie – who seem very different, but who have a lot more in common than they realise…Carter Shaw, son of a local businessman.

Amanda is part of his social circle and their families have been pushing for them to be a couple since they were little. Amanda’s life is mapped out for her. College with Carter, a long engagement and then children, turning a blind eye to Carter’s indiscretions because that’s what’s expected of her. For years, she’s gone along with this but when Amanda starts to receive anonymous text messages she begins to question the wisdom of her life choices.

Amanda knows Carter has not always been faithful to her. She knows he is currently seeing Rosalie on the side. But what neither she nor Carter knows is that Rosalie is actually using Carter as a cover for the fact that she is a lesbian and her fundamentalist Christian parents can’t accept her choices. Forced to hide who she is, Rosalie decides to use Carter as her cover, while seeing her girlfriend in secret.

The messages that both girls receive are meant to be vaguely threatening, but there’s a limit to what people can do if you don’t succumb to their threats. Unfortunately, in the vein of the Pretty Little Liars characters, the girls in this respond to the messages and threats and start to let them rule what decisions they make. This is frustrating and leads them into quite unrealistic scenarios.

The book is a bit slow to get going as we establish the characters of Amanda and Rosalie. There’s a lot of focus on the parents of Amanda and Carter which makes little sense at first, but we do realise its significance eventually. My biggest gripe was with the character of Carter who was, in essence, a serial cheater and not a particularly appealing character.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my thoughts. This is a definite must-read for fans of the Pretty Little Liars books.

‘Take it Back’ – Kia Abdullah

Take It Back is a gripping courtroom drama, perfect for fans of Apple Tree Yard, He Said/She Said and Anatomy of a Scandal.

A compelling read, and I’m grateful to NetGalley for allowing me the chance to read this prior to publication.

When we first meet Jodie Wolfe, she’s walking into a Rape Crisis centre asking for help. At sixteen, and with extreme facial deformities, Jodie has become accustomed to abuse. As she relays her experience, the reader cannot help but feel sympathy for her. Her physical appearance is not the issue here, but when she starts to blame herself for what happened because she thought someone was physically interested in her you can’t help but wince.

The details of her attack by four of her classmates are – understandably – difficult to read. The courage someone in her position shows cannot be underestimated.
The way this story is told focuses most of our attention on ex-barrister, Zara, who is determined to support this young girl because she believes her. We follow Zara as she supports Jodie in preparing to go to trial, and the inevitable fallout this causes as the boys Jodie accuses are ‘good Muslim boys’, well-respected in their community, and Zara’s involvement is quickly seen as evidence of her turning against her faith.

The nature of the case means so much depends on the reliability of witnesses. Four against one. No matter how strong the case seems to be, these are hard odds to beat.

Our narrative swiftly turns to the trial and the various attempts to undermine credibility of witnesses. We also deal with growing unrest in the community, and some awful behaviours as so many people try to appropriate events to suit their own ends.

It’s crucial that you go into this not knowing where this is going. Nothing is what it seems. We get to learn the truth, but talk about a Pyrrhic victory. Few come out of this story well, but it’s a must-read in my opinion.

‘The Perfect Mother’ – Aimee Molloy

Mothers’ groups can be a great source of companionship, but they also result often in a strange form of one-up man-ship as those involved strive to maintain the facade of ‘perfect mother’. This book takes what’s become quite a common thing and plays up to every fear you might have about the people you’re suddenly sharing intimate details with.

The May Mothers…a group of women (and a token male) who bond over the fact they each gave birth in May. Keen to support, but it’s very easy to see that these people know very little about each other.

On a night out when their children are young, the unthinkable happens and one of the children is abducted. What follows is a curious mix of establishing what happened to Baby Midas and unearthing the many secrets held by each of the group members.

We get multiple POVs which made it seem quite slow. Everyone had a secret and we just had to wait and see how these linked to the story.

I can see why this has been optioned for a movie, and I imagine it will be a book on many group lists. Unfortunately, the ending fell a little flat for me and I felt things were increasingly rushed in an attempt to resolve the many strands.

‘Nerve’ – Jeanne Ryan

Whatever your personal views of the characters, there’s no denying this is a tense read.

NERVE is a game that seems perfect for these media-obsessed times. People can pay to watch, or you can dare to play – taking part in challenges that test your resolve in the hope of winning big.

Vee is one of those characters used to hiding in the background. She does, however, have a steeliness to her character that stands her in good stead for what’s coming. Fed up with being on the sidelines she decides to try something different. Unfortunately, this gets her caught up in a very dangerous game.

I’m curious to see how this transferred to screen, but I’m uneasy about what it reveals of human nature. While Vee and Ian come out of this pretty well, others don’t.

‘Lock Every Door’ – Riley Sagar

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Those words, spoken by Jules’s best friend, come back to haunt us as we work out exactly what’s going on.
There’s an interesting time frame to this story that allows us glimpses of the key events, while also showing the build-up to them. Jules has, by any standards, had a tough life. Her sister went missing years ago and her parents died in a house fire. When she loses her job she returns home to find her boyfriend having sex with someone else. So, putting all those things together it’s hardly surprising that she’s keen to respond to the advert she sees.

When Jules sees the advert requesting a house sitter for an apartment she thinks it’s the answer to her prayers. When she hears how much she’ll be paid, she is determined to see it out although the rules that are in place seem draconian.
From the moment Jules moves into The Bartholomew she’s fed crazy stories from her concerned friends, and her own paranoia starts to prey on her mind. She tries to avoid thinking too much about her concerns but as another of the house-sitters disappears, Jules can’t help but try to work out what’s going on.

The truth is far more terrifying than anything she could have imagined.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the other novels by Riley Sager, I am – again – grateful to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘The Reunion’ – Guillaume Musso

25 years after leaving, our narrator – a celebrated writer – is called back to his school for a reunion. This could be an invite to ignore, but for the fact that Thomas knows this event could change his life because of something that happened years earlier.

The story is told in a rather chaotic fashion, jumping from time and narrative focus, but this actually allows us to pick up (albeit unwittingly) all manner of details to help piece together what may or may not have happened.

At its heart this is a story of flawed characters doing pretty awful things and trying to do just enough to survive. Not all of them do.

Without giving too much away, the narrative focuses on the beautiful Vinca, the girl Thomas adored at school. She disappeared one night and rumours have circulated since. Many believe Vinca ran away with one of her professors, but certain characters know this not to be the case because of their actions on that night.

Thomas spends the novel with the ground shifting underneath him as he expects to be charged with murder at any moment. What we come to realise is there’s bigger game-players than Thomas who, from the off, have been firmly in charge of proceedings and taking whatever steps are necessary to protect their children.

I ended this still not entirely sure of what happened on that night (and the vagueness is deliberate), but recognising the strength of some of those caught up in circumstances beyond their control.

‘Fragments of the Lost’ – Megan Miranda

Jessa is given the unenviable task of sorting through her boyfriend’s room when he dies. His mum doesn’t know that Caleb and Jessa were no longer an item, but when Jessa is asked to do this final thing, she feels she has to help out. Even though she feels Caleb’s mum holds her responsible.

Jessa was one of the last to see Caleb alive. He turned up to her cross-country meet then left. Rumours circulate as to why, but nobody could have predicted that Caleb would be caught in the floods that swept their town that night and that his car would be swept off the local bridge.

Jessa is everywhere in this room, and it is certainly not the kind of experience you’d wish on anyone. However, as Jessa packs up Caleb’s belongings there are clues that perhaps she didn’t know him as well as she thought.

In the opening stages of the novel it seems to focus very much on the relationship and grief element, which had limited appeal. However, very quickly we move into Jessa trying to uncover the mystery of Caleb’s last days and putting together the clues she’s been left as to exactly what happened. This soon became a tense mystery, and slowly trying to put the pieces together was great fun. Jessa was believable and though I was surprised by the ending it really was a great read.