‘The Passengers’ by John Marrs ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and a wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles, and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem?

Thank you to Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing, NetGalley and John Marrs for the chance to read and review this book,

With any John Marrs book you know you’re about to read something not only great, but different. One of the things I love about this author is no two books are the same. This latest novel was no different in that regard. I was excited by the premise of the book and I’ve always thought the idea of a driverless vehicle was cool and something that would be handy, especially as I’ve never learned to drive. After reading this book I’m no longer so sure….

The book is set in the not too distant future where driverless cars, the kind where all you do is speak commands, sit back and relax, are not only possible, but just a few years away from being mandatory. As always there are some who don’t like the idea of self-drive cars, but most people are embracing this new technology, a technology they’ve been assured is completely safe and impossible to hack. But all that is believed to be true about driverless cars is about to come crashing down. Eight vehicles on their way to various destinations are taken oven by a mysterious Hacker who tells them that he has rerouted their destinations, and in two hours and thirty minutes it is highly likely they’ll be dead. The Hacker transmits the live feeds from the vehicles on social media and the news channels soon pick up the  terrifying story.

In a secret location five people are meeting to view footage of deaths by driverless vehicles and decide whether or not they were lawful. The Vehicle Inquest Jury, as it’s known, meets for one week each month and is made up of four Government appointed officials and one randomly selected member of the public, the latter of which changes each time. This week Libby Dixon, an opponent of driverless cars, is reluctantly the fifth juror. She is in the room when proceedings are suddenly suspended after the foreman, Jack Larsson, receives a call telling him about the news footage of the hijacked vehicles. The Hijacker’s voice is suddenly heard in the room. He has rules that they and the passengers must follow or there will be consequences.

The Hijacker tells the jury that he chose six of the passengers and the other two were in the wrong place at the wrong time when they happened to get in one of the two taxis he hijacked. We get to know the eight passengers and some details of their lives: the chosen six were introduced in the first part of the book and The Hacker tells us about the random passengers in part two.  The jury is then informed that they, along with an eager public via social media, are to chose the first to die and then which single passenger should be saved using the information they’ve been given and interviews with the passengers themselves. But do they really know the truth about the eight people hoping to be saved? And how should they and the public decide which life is most worthy of being spared?

This fast paced book had me gripped from the start. From the moment the first passenger was told they might be dead in just hours I was on tenterhooks and couldn’t put the book down. I liked that it opened with chapters about the passengers, detailing their own unique stories. It gave us a connection to them as human beings so that when their lives were in danger we felt the terror along with them and were fraught with the same dilemma as the jurors in wondering who should be the one to live. From the moment the live transmissions started we were in the same position as the jurors so we agonised alongside them as they tried to make the right decisions and came to terms with the fact they were powerless to save all eight people.

Behind the drama, tension and mystery of this novel lays a deeper social commentary on many issues: how lives and news events are played out online, that people say things on social media that they’d never say in real life from behind the safety of a keyboard, mob mentality both on the streets and online, our readiness to judge others on surface information that can often give a false image of someone or something, how much we are monitored in today’s society and the potential consequences of that, and the us versus them mentality that many have towards asylum seekers and immigrants.

John Marrs is one of my favourite authors and this book has again shown just how talented he is. No matter the topic he will enthrall you. I loved that this book had references to The One, which was the first of his books I read and one of my all time favourites. This novel had all you want in a thriller: it was exciting, full of suspense, intriguing and you didn’t know what was coming next right to the end. I would recommend this book to anyone, especially if you love thrillers. Just make sure you’ve got a clear space in your schedule as you won’t want to put it down.

Out April 1st on Kindle

Out May 30th in Paperback

‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart – he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone – but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts  with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped off the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place, things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.

“We are allowed to do that are we not Mabel? To invent our own endings and choose joy over sorrow.”

I was instantly drawn in by this beautiful, magical and haunting book. From the start it felt like I was reading an old story, a fairytale, which added to the enchanting atmosphere of the book.

Jack and Mabel are facing their second winter on their farm in Alaska. Things haven’t been what they imagined when they made the move from Pennsylvania and they’re slowly drifting apart. The childless couple are still struggling to deal with the loss of their stillborn child a decade ago, and with never having had the family they longed for.  Mabel hoped the move would help with their heartbreak and bring them closer together, instead she’s lonelier than ever and the two hardly speak. One evening, Mabel is taken with an rare urge to be playful and starts a snowball fight. The couple laugh and chase each other around the cabin until they’re out of breath. That’s when she suggests they make a snowman. As they start to build it is decided they’ll make it a snow girl, and Jack carves the delicate facial features and uses yellow grass for her hair, while Mabel shapes the snow into a skirt and adorns the girl with her scarf and mittens. There is such bittersweet joy in this rare moment as you see the love between them, the happiness they once had and the dreams for a child that never came.

The next day the snow child is gone, the hat and mittens missing, and there are tracks into the woods. Jack think he sees a flicker of blue and red with long white hair, a girl running between the trees. But there is no one near them for miles, and certainly no one living in the woods, so he decides he is imagining the girl and the tracks must be from a fox. But then Mabel sees her the next day and they know she’s real. The child is ethereal and mysterious, yet also feral and wild. You aren’t quite sure if she is real or a manifestation of their imagination born of years of desperation.  From then on the girl, who says her name is Faina, comes and goes as she wishes and becomes a surrogate daughter to the couple, who delight in their new-found family. But no one else has seen this curious child that lives in the woods as she only appears when Jack and Mabel are alone and their friends think they’ve gone mad with cabin fever. Whatever the truth, Faina is a light in the darkness of the long Alaskan winter for Mabel and Jack and helps bring them closer together again.

This timeless book was mesmerising, heartwarming,and simply breathtaking. It is written with such charm that I can’t imagine anyone not falling in love with this story.  Whether or not Faina is real remains ambiguous for the most part, a detail that I loved. I would have preferred it if the last part of the book remained that way too instead of taking away some of the fairytale aspect, but it didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the book. The Snow Child has captured my heart and soul and is one of my top reads of 2018.

‘The Pupil’ by Dawn Goodwin ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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One moment of carelessness. Four shattered lives.  Psychological suspense that explores a labyrinth of lies, manipulation and revenge. Perfect for fans of Louise Jenson and Katerina Diamond.

Literary agent Viola Matthews is sure she’s met Katherine Baxter before. So when her husband and bestselling novelist Samuel Morton introduces her to the quiet, unassuming woman he has offered to mentor, she knows their paths have crossed before. The question is where?

As their worlds collide and the bond between Samuel and Katherine deepens, Viola realises she must take control. If Viola is right, then Katherine needs to pay for something that happened twelve years ago.

Thank you to Aria, Netgalley and Dawn Goodwin for the chance to read and review this book.

Katherine Baxter feels like she’s lost herself being a stay at home wife and mother and craves something more that folding laundry and cooking whatever her husband Paul wants for dinner that night. She’s always dreamed of being a writer, so she signs up for a week-long course taken by bestselling novelist Samuel Morton. At the end of the week she is thrilled when Samuel says he sees potential in her story and offers to mentor her. But her husband Paul isn’t so happy and is insistent she stop writing to concentrate on him and the children. Determined to pursue her dream, Katherine has clandestine meetings with Samuel and hides the laptop from Paul. But while she is excited at the thought of finally publishing her own novel, Katherine is also nervous as she’s harbouring a secret. A mistake she made that changed her life and still haunts her.

When Samuel invites Katherine to an Author Event so she can get her face out there and start garnering interest in her novel, he introduces her to his wife and agent, Viola Matthews. The two women hit it off but Viola is sure she recognises Katherine. Unable to let it lie she researches her husband’s pupil and finds a connection to her she didn’t expect. A connection linked to the mistake Katherine is desperate to keep secret and Viola vows to expose.

This book had been on my Netgalley shelf for a while before I read it. Once I started reading I regretted that it had taken me so long. The storyline was simple and offered this book lover a small glimpse into the Literary world, something I found fascinating. But as you read there were numerous sub-plots expertly interlaced within the main story that increased the suspense and made the book impossible to put down.

This novel is a web of dreams, secrets, lies, heartbreak, control and vengeance. Both the couples are in unhappy marriages where one partner is exerting control over the other and keeps breaking them down until they did what they wanted them to do. It seems that the control from their spouses, along with their love of writing, is what pushed Samuel and Katherine closer as they found an escape in their writing sessions; free of the watchful and critical eyes that usually hang over them.

I liked that there were short diary entries written by Katherine over the course of her life sporadically used as chapters. It not only showed that she’d always written in one form or another, but helped us understand who she was and how her past shaped the woman she was today. They also helped endear her to the reader and we could understand how she ended up in an abusive marriage that she thought was normal. I loved how the author would describe things such as the character’s voices. It was so vivid. An example,that comes to mind is when she wrote “Viola’s asked, her voice like a scalpel” I pictured her words literally slicing the other character as she said them.

The one issue I had with the book was that the synopsis is written as if Viola is the main character but from the start this is Katherine’s story and Viola was a secondary character who shared less than half the narration. I found this a little confusing at first but loved the story and quickly forgot I’d expected a different one. As I had figured out some of the secrets and guessed Viola’s plan I thought that parts of the ending were predictable, but there were some surprising twists that kept me on the edge of my seat. The author again lured the reader into a false sense of security before pulling the rug from under them with a shocking revelation. The Pupil is an unputdownable and exciting read that is perfect for anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers.

Out now.

‘Let Me Lie’ by Clare Mackintosh ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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The police say it was suicide, Anna says it was murder. They’re both wrong.

One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to comes to terms with their loss ever since.

Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to ask questions about her parents’ deaths. But by digging up the past, is she putting her future in danger?  Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…

Thank you to Little, Brown Book Group UK, Netgalley and Clare Mackintosh for the chance to read and review this book.

Wow! Clare Mackintosh blew me away with this sensational novel. I had never read one of her books but a number of people had recommended them to me saying I would love them. They weren’t wrong. This book got it’s hooks into me from the mysterious opening chapter which left me with a thrilling sense of foreboding. I couldn’t put it down as I needed questions answered and the truth revealed.

Anna Johnson is slowly coming to terms with her parents’ deaths the year before after they committed suicide within a few months of each other. Although initially reluctant to believe they took their own lives, she is learning to accept it and to enjoy life thanks to her partner, Mark, and their new baby, Ella. Or at least she was until the card came containing the words “Suicide? Think again.” Now Anna is convinced they were murdered and takes the card to the police asking them to investigate. What she doesn’t know is that doing so has put her on a course that puts the lives of her and her family in danger.

Reading this book was like putting together a complicated but fun jigsaw puzzle: I could see the pieces being laid out to fit together but I had no idea where they went as some were missing and others kept changing. As we discovered more about the well hidden truths of Caroline and Tom’s marriage and people that seemed to have a motivation for wanting them gone revealed themselves, I began putting the puzzle together. But I was being mislead: some things were not at all what they appeared and the truth changed the final picture. Each time I thought I knew what had happened or who was behind something I was wrong. There were so many incredible twists, turns and illusions in this book that I’m in awe of how the author was able to disguise them in such magnificent ways and keep the shocks coming right until the final sentence.

This multi-faceted and exciting story is also interlaced with emotional moments that deal with the pain of grief, the complexities of grief when someone dies by suicide, and the heartbreaking truth of what life with a mental illness can be like for both the person with the illness and their partner. The latter two things were dealt with in a sensitive manner that would help anyone who hasn’t experienced them have a better understanding and empathy for what it is like to go through them. I lost one of my best friends to suicide and she had the same mental illness as Sara. Reading the passages that Sara was in was painful, but I was thankful that she was a well rounded and likeable character; someone who you were reminded was very sick but not just a sick person. I also found it very emotional reading how Murray felt and went through living with and caring for his mentally ill wife. His narrative brought me close to tears at times and he was my favourite character because of his love and devotion to Sara no matter what she was going through, and because of his dedication to helping Anna find out the truth about her parents.

Let Me Lie is an easy to read thriller that I couldn’t put down. It had me saying “just one more chapter” both nights I read it and was so captivating that the second night I read the final three quarters of the book. As I said earlier this was my first book by this author but it certainly won’t be my last. I’ve never seen so many different twists in a story that are truly a surprise when revealed. This book more than earned it’s five star rating and I recommend it whatever your favourite genre may be.

Out Today. 

‘The Winter’s Child’ by Cassandra Parkin ⭐⭐⭐

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Five years ago, Susannah Harper’s son Joel went missing without a trace. Bereft of her son and then of her husband John, Susannah tries to accept she might never know for certain what happened to her lost loved ones. She has rebuilt her life around a simple selfless mission: to help others who, like her, must learn to live without hope.

But then, on the last night of the Hull Fair, a fortune-teller makes an eerie prediction. Susannah is told that this Christmas Eve, Joel will finally come back to her.

As her carefully constructed life begins to unravel, Susannah is drawn into a world of psychics and charlatans, half-truths and hauntings, friendship and betrayals, forcing her to confront the buried truths of her family’s past, where nothing and no one are quite as they seem.

Since Susannah Harper’s son Joel went missing she’s done everything she can to find him, losing her marriage in the process. She now has a blog, Life Without Hope, that aims to help others dealing with the loss of a loved one and warn of the dangers of the psychics that take your money and prey on your hope. But at the Hull Fair Susannah feels drawn to see a clairvoyant who tells her Joel will return home Christmas Eve, her long wait will finally be over. Despite her misgivings Susannah is determined to hold onto this prediction, but doing so sees her life spiral out of control and unravel piece by piece.

The story is told in present day and in flashbacks to life before Joel’s disappearance. He was a longed-for child and Susannah and her husband, John, had very different approaches to parenting, something that caused arguments and resentment between them and a difficult relationship between Joel and John. When Joel’s behaviour goes past typical teenage moods and he begins to skip school and take drugs, Susannah continues to do what she thinks best. But her approach is only making matters worse and it is her and Joel versus John until things boil over and Joel isn’t seen again. In the present day Susannah is still trying to find Joel and the clairvoyant’s prediction is never far from her mind. Her obsession with these things leads to her alienating those she’s close to and is the start of disturbing hallucinations of awful things befalling her son. Are they real?  Or is her imagination getting the better of her? And will Joel really return on Christmas Eve?

As the mother of two 14 year old boys I found reading this book difficult at times. It confronts every parent’s worst fear: the disappearance of your child without a trace. A lot of Joel’s behaviour was familiar to me: the sullen attitude, the glimpses of your little boy one minute and then the angry hormone monster the next, but thankfully I’ve not had to deal with the more troubling behaviour he displayed. While I often disagreed with her actions, my  mothers heart weeped for Susannah as I could empathise with the devastation and guilt she must feel. Also despite her mistakes you know she was only trying to do her best, which is all any of us can do when raising children.

The book keeps you guessing about Joel’s fate and what is happening to Susannah and I was shocked by the ending. I found her a hard character to like in terms of her personality, but still a sympathetic character because of what she was going through. I enjoyed this book and thought it was well written in terms of the anguish of what Susannah was going through, but it lacked the level suspense that was needed to have you dying to find out what happened.

Out now.

‘Outside’ by Sarah Ann Juckes ⭐⭐⭐

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Here’s the thing about being Inside.  Ain’t no one believes that they are.

Ele has never been Outside, but she knows it exists – she just has to prove it.

Her whole world is Inside. Trapped with her books and the Others and Him.She has never seen a tree or felt rain but all that’s about to change. Ele’s getting out for good.

Thank you to Penguin Random House UK Children’s, Netgalley and Sarah Ann Jukes for the chance to read and review this novel.

This book was a dark, twisted, heartbreaking story of abuse, yet also one of strength, resilience and triumph. The story is told by Ele, a young girl who remembers no other life than the single room she shares with her friends, the Others, who aren’t quite like her and talk in their own language. They’re all held captive by a frightening man known only as Him who sends their food down a pipe and visits once a week. She did have a brother, Zeb, but he is gone now, taken away by Him, and Ele knows she must escape before she meets the same fate. But before she can she must prove to the Others that Outside does exist and isn’t just pictures in her books so that they will go with her.

I found it a little confusing to understand what was going on at first but soon things became clearer, although like Ele we don’t get to see the full picture until the end. The language in this story is very simplistic, like a young child would speak even, which feels authentic when the narrator is someone who has always lived in isolation and never attended school. She also has a juvenile and often innocent way of seeing the world that is telling of her captivity, like how she thinks Outside will be full of things such as dragons and other creatures from the fairy tales that helped her survive.

I enjoyed this book as soon as I started reading but part 2 was when I found Ele’s story even more compelling. I felt protective of her as she was so vulnerable, alone and confused. When Willow and Ezra were introduced I was glad the author chose to write these two particular characters for the unique qualities they each offered Ele. This part was also where the book became more uplifting and was a very transformative time for Ele as she learned even more truths and opened up about what she’d gone through. Though the subject matter was at times difficult, it was written in such a way that it never felt too heavy and I would say this was more a tale of courage, hope and kindness. It was a quick read for me both because of the way it was written and because I couldn’t put it down. A perfect read for anyone who enjoys Young Adult Fiction or who enjoyed the book Room.

Out January 3rd 2019.

‘The Fifth To Die’ by J.D. Barker ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Murder. It’s a family affair.

In the midst of one of the worst winters Chicago has seen in years, the body of missing teenager Ella Reynolds is discovered under the surface of a frozen lake.

She’s been missing for three weeks…the lake froze over three months ago.

Detective Sam Porter and his team are brought in to investigate but it’s not long before another girl goes missing. The press believes the serial killer, Anson Bishop, has struck again but Porter knows differently. The deaths are too different, there’s a new killer on the loose.

Porter however is distracted. He’s still haunted by Bishop and his victims, even after the FBI have removed him from the case. His only leads: a picture of a female prisoner and a note from Bishop ‘Help me find my mother. I think it’s time she and I talked.’

As more girls go missing and Porter’s team race to stop the body count rising, Porter disappears to track down Bishop’s mother and discover that the only place scarier than the mind of a serial killer is the mind of the mother from which he came.

Perfect for fans of Helen Fields, Val McDermid and Jo Nesbo this gripping and twister thriller will have you wondering how to stop a killer when he’s been trained from birth?

Thank you to Harper Collins UK, Netgalley and J.D. Barker for the chance to read and review this book.

Wow! Wow! Wow! That twist! That ending! I was screaming “It can’t end like that!” Barker how could you do that to me?  As soon as I finished this book I needed to read book three. The wait will be torture….

This book started as it meant to go on: intense and gripping. The opening few pages were dripping with horror and suspense and pulled me back in to Bishop’s twisted world. This novel is the second book in the 4MK series and when I was approved to read and review it I hadn’t read book one. I don’t like reading a series out of order and the reviews I read suggested I would get more from this book after reading book one, so I decided to buy and read that first.

Despite the book opening with the 4MK killer, when the first body is found we seem to have a new killer ready to terrorise Chicago. How did Ella Reynold’s body come to be under a river frozen months before she disappeared? And whose clothes is she wearing? As more girls disappear and the killer also targets surprising victims it is clear they’re dealing with an organised killer with particular victims in mind. But can they find the link and the killer’s identity before too many lives are taken?

Although this book does a good job on catching you up on events from the last book and the history of the 4MK killer, having read the first book gives you that extra insight that makes little details more meaningful and increased my sense of apprehension. It also helped me understand Sam’s obsession with Bishop and why he’d risk everything to disappear and track down Bishop’s mother when he receives the picture. This move solidified what you’d expect of Porter’s character. He is someone who sees things through and is determined to find Bishop and get justice for his victims. But Sam doesn’t expect to find himself embroiled in Bishop’s twisted game in ways he never imagined.

While I initially didn’t find this book quite as gripping in places as The Fourth Monkey it was still a book that had those moments where you couldn’t stop reading. The final chapters were particularly captivating and had me transfixed in horror at the nefarious actions and revelations by Bishop and his mother. Suddenly so many little things took on a whole new meaning. The writing and plotting were cunning, masterful, mesmerising and flawless. This book has solidified this author and series as a must-read for lovers of psychological fiction. I just hope we aren’t waiting long for book three.

Out December 27th.