Her Dark Heart by Carla Kovach ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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SYNOPSIS:

Rory is waiting at the door of the pre-school – a painted picture of his mother Susan in his small hand. But Susan isn’t going to see the picture, because she has vanished.

Susan Wheeler is a devoted mother. She would do anything for her three children. She drops them off and picks them up every single day. Until one day when Susan kisses them goodbye and then never comes to pick them up.

Susan’s mother Mary is worried. Susan is recently divorced and has been finding things hard recently, but she loves her kids – she’d never leave them.

Susan’s sister Clare is furious. It’s just like her to go missing. It’s not the first time either. Susan has always been a troublemaker. Always seeking attention. She knows Susan has been lying to the family for years. And she knows that Susan has been sneaking out of her family home for weeks…

As the hours turn into days, even Clare becomes fearful for Susan. And when Mary discovers Susan’s diary, she begins to uncover a dark secret from her childhood. Something no one in the family knew. When the  final diary entry leads the police to a man who is discovered dead in a local park, they’re left wondering if Susan vanished because she is a victim. Or because she is a suspect.

MY REVIEW:

She’s done it again. This is another winning installment in the Detective Gina Harte series. Gripping, tense, thrilling and unputdownable, I flew through it in under a day. 

Susan Wheeler is a devoted mum to her three children. She’s going through an acrimonious divorce but it is out of character when she not only doesn’t turn up to collect her youngest child, two-year-old Rory from pre-school, but also doesn’t come home that night or the next day. Her mother Mary is worried but her sister, Clare, and ex-husband, Ryan, think it’s a bid for attention. Finally, Mary calls the police and Gina and her team are assigned to the case. 

There are few clues but Susan’s diary leads them to a man who was possibly the last person to see her before she disappeared. But he’s found dead, having been brutally beaten and tortured before he was strangled to death. Is Susan a victim or did she have some part in this man’s death? The team keep digging but the missing pieces of the puzzle seem to elude them and Gina gets the sense there’s things the family aren’t telling her. It’s a race against the clock to put the pieces together, get to the truth and find Susan before she or someone else turns up dead. 

Her Dark Heart is the fifth book in this series and it lives up to the high bar that’s been set in the others. While knowledge from the other book does help with things like Gina’s backstory and character relationships it is still possible to read this as a standalone. The author is skilled in writing twisty crime fiction full of relatable characters and bad guys that make your skin crawl. 

Some of my favourite parts were from the chapters narrated by our mystery perpetrator. He was sinister, repulsive, delusional, and is determined to inflict his wrath and revenge for what happened all those years ago; though we don’t yet know what occurred. These chapters revved up the tension and had me on the edge of my seat as I tried to figure things out. There were a plethora of suspects but I couldn’t predict who he was or exactly why he was doing this. I did manage to guess part of it correctly but I was still blindsided by the revelations that came as we reached the jaw-dropping finale.

As with the author’s other books there are deeper themes running through this book than what appears on the surface. This time it’s secrets. Susan and her family are all harbouring various secrets and Gina is facing the emotional consequences of secrets she has kept for decades. While the Collins family’s secrets have led to Susan’s abduction and threaten to tear their family apart, Gina is missing her mother and feeling she has no right to grieve for not being there when she died because of the invisible chains her abusive late husband kept her in and how keeping the abuse secret led to their estrangement. It shows us how secrets can snowball, with devastating and catastrophic results.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys crime fiction and police procedurals. If you haven’t read the previous books in the series then check those out too. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Bookouture for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Out today.

June Wrap Up

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Another month has passed and it’s wrap up time again. Though it’s crazy to realise that half the year has already gone. I’m seeing loads of posts on Instagram of people’s halfway top ten but haven’t got around to doing mine yet as I’m still trying to whittle it down!

June has been a great month of reading for me. I’ve finished fourteen books and got part way into Notes On A Nervous Planet, which I’m sure I’ll finish in July.  All but one book were between four and five stars and all but one were ones I enjoyed. Thirteen of the books were from NetGalley and one was a completely unplanned mood read, which was exactly what I needed.

So here’s what I read in June…

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1. ‘A Nearly Normal Family’ by M. T. Edvardsson ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Told in three parts, each from the perspective of a different family member, each of our narrators are unreliable and leave us wondering which parts of their versions are true. Part two, narrated by the daughter, Stella, was where this book became impossible to put down. A captivating, ambiguous and twisting story about family, secrets, and the lengths we’ll go to for those we love. As we head towards the end of the book the bombshells are dropped in spectacular style and left me reeling. The author pulled off an amazing coupe de grâce with the way he ended this book. I loved how he pulled everything together and kept the reader on tenterhooks until the very end.

Out now on kindle, July 11th in hardcover. Published by Pan Macmillan. E-book ARC via NetGalley. 

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2. ‘Favourite Daughter’ by Kaira Rouda ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Told from the perspective of Jane, a twisted and delusional Orange County housewife, this book is like going inside the mind of the epitome of a narcissist and sociopath. Controlling, manipulative, condescending, demanding and crazy Jane  is one of the most unapologetically awful people I’ve ever read and, in a strange way, I adored her as much as I despised her. A delicious delight to read, but a toxic nightmare to those around her, I loved every second inside Jane’s mind. The author has written what I think is one of the most addictive thrillers of the year. Favourite Daughter is a definite page-tuner and I couldn’t tear myself away once I began reading. I loved how the author had Jane talk directly to the reader, almost as if we’re friends. It was a great tool in showing the extent of her delusion and connecting us with her.  It is a testament to this author’s talent that she was able to create someone who encompasses such narcissistic and sociopathic traits but still manages to evoke sympathy from the reader. Ms Rouda has found herself a new fan. 

Out now. Published by HQ. E-book ARC via NetGalley.              

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3. ‘The Liar’s House’ by Carla Kovach ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Carla Kovach has done it again. DI Gina Harte and her team are back for the fourth book in this fantastic series. There are multiple suspects but the team are mostly working with hunches and circumstantial evidence as real clues to the culprit evade them. At the same time Gina’s personal life is causing problems and her past and present are entangled in her latest case, threatening the reputation she’s spent years building. Themes of domestic abuse and stalking are handled with raw honesty. We see the way these men control their partners through fear and are shown the long-lasting psychological damage of abuse. The author is skilled at writing domestic abuse, in all its forms, in a way that helps the reader understand these women, why they stay, why they take desperate courses of action and do the various things we see them do to protect their abusers. The Liar’s House is what we’ve come to expect and love from this series: complex characters, brutal, gruesome murder scenes and great writing. This novel was particularly skillfully written and ingeniously plotted. I can’t wait for book five. 

Out July 2nd.  Published by Bookoture. E-book ARC via NetGalley.

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4. ‘The Van Apfel Girl’s Are Gone’ by Felicity McLean ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A beautifully haunting mystery about childhood, adolescence, secrets and regrets, that takes place over the course of one transformative and unforgettable summer. I loved this mesmerising novel. Atmospheric, delightful, captivating, nuanced and nostalgic but also somber, sinister and dire, it had me hooked from the first page. It explores how tragedy can shape our future and how we see things differently with an adult perspective versus a child’s eye. Will we find out what happened to the Van Apfel sisters? I will leave you to find out for yourself when you read it. 

Out now. Published by Oneworld Publications. E-book ARC via NetGalley.

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5. ‘We Were Killers Once’ by Becky Masterman ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I have been fascinated with the Clutter murders ever since I read In Cold Blood over twenty years ago. So when I saw that this novel offered an alternative look at that case and one that was linked to it I couldn’t wait to read it. The author has created a perfect amalgamation of true crime and crime fiction with this gripping and believable novel. I love both genres and loved how she brought them together. I admit that part of my enjoyment of this book came from my fascination with the Clutter murders. Both main characters are connected to the infamous case in different ways and I loved the alternative version that was explored in this novel. There was one drawback which was both of the main characters aren’t likeable. Beaufort is unlikable in the right ways, we aren’t supposed to like the bad guy, but Brigid could have been likeable if not for her tiresome obsession and jealousy over his husband’s late wife which made her appear whiny. It is good for a character to be flawed but I felt this flaw went a little too far. We Were Killers Once is an intriguing, absorbing thriller. A mix of fascinating fiction with tantalising fact reimagined and woven through the pages, I would recommend this book to anyone who loves crime fiction and true crime. 

Out now. Published by Orion Publishing Group. E-book ARC via NetGalley.

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6. ‘Stone Cold Heart’ by Caz Frear ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jaw-dropping and addictive, I absolutely loved this book and knew I was in for a great read as soon as I read the prologue. Ms Frear has a new fan in this reader after this tantilising thriller. I loved her writing style, particularly the banter between Cat and her colleagues and the wit that had me laughing out loud on many occasions. Cat Kinsella is a unique, flawed and complex protagonist. She breaks the rules, keeps secrets, has told many lies, has a shady family, is dating someone she shouldn’t, and yet she is someone we root for. One of the things I enjoyed about this novel was the array of unreliable and morally ambiguous characters, including almost every witness. Information trickles slowly, frustrating the police but making for an electrifying read. Is Joseph their man? The final part of this twisty thriller had me on tenterhooks and reeling from each bombshell. After the shocking concluding sentences I am now impatiently waiting for book 3. 

Out now. Published by Bonnier Zaffre. E-book ARC via NetGalley.

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7. ‘Here To Stay’ by Mark Edwards ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Another nail-biting, chilling tale of domestic noir from the man that Jennifer Hillier has rightly crowned “The King of domestic horror”.  This book is AMAZING! It started off slowly and while I was enjoying it, I didn’t foresee just how horrifying, mind-blowing and simply incredible it would become. Though this being Mark Edwards I am also not surprised. Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of this author. Ever since I first read The Retreat last summer , which I loved the nod to in this novel, I haven’t been able to get enough of his books. The Magpies trilogy is considered his greatest work, and it’s antagonist, Lucy Newton, is one of the greatest villains I’ve read. But this story and it’s villains give them both a run for their money.  I don’t want to give any details away as the shocks add to the escalating horror and brilliance of this book. I was extremely lucky to get an early ARC of this book from the author himself. and highly recommend this edge-of-your-seat thriller; just be warned that it’s a turbulent ride. And another thing…be careful who you invite to stay in your house. They just might never leave…              

Out September 1st. Published by Amazon Publishing UK. E-book ARC via Mark Edwards and NetGalley.

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8. ‘Evvie Drake Starts Over’ by Linda Holmes ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

When I started this book I felt like I needed something lighter and a bit different. I couldn’t have chosen more perfectly. Reminiscent of Eleanor Oliphant Is Just Fine, I fell in love with this quirky, warm, lighthearted and witty book and it’s delightful protagonist. This is one of those books you find yourself reading with a smile on your face. Evvie, oh wonderful Evvie. I love this character so much! She is sympathetic, relatable, timid, kind, quirky, amiable, lacks confidence and is stronger than she realises. Surviving and walking away from an abusive relationship takes strength. She always wants to do the right thing but like everyone she makes mistakes and can be unlikeable. These flaws added to the realism and I enjoyed seeing her learn and grow from them. I hadn’t seen any reviews for this novel or read anything by the author before so I was unprepared for how much I’d love this enchanting story. Evvie Drake Starts Over is like a breath of fresh air on a warm day and is the perfect summer read.                                                         

Out now. Published by Hodder & Stoughton. E-book ARC via NetGalley.

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9. ‘Someone We Know’ by Shari Lapena ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Everybody has their secrets. And in the wealthy New York suburb of Aylesford the secrets of some neighbours are about to collide when one of them is found dead in her car in the lake. Was it her husband who was sleeping with one of the neighbours? Was it her own secret lover? And did the teenage boy who’s been breaking into neighbours homes see something that could be the key to solving the crime? Once again Shari Lapena takes you on a roller-coaster ride of twists and turns in this surprising thriller. The author masterfully weaves the puzzle pieces together, the secrets began to escalate, and there is one twist after another until we reach the dramatic final reveal showing that she knows how to grip and entertain her audience, building the tension slowly before ramping it up to a point where I was so hooked that I stayed up until ridiculous o’clock to finish it. 

Out July 25th. Published by Random House UK, Transworld Publishers. E-book ARC via NetGalley.

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10. ‘Sister of Mine’ by Laurie Petrou ⭐⭐⭐⭐

“Two girls and a match, but a world of differences in what it looked like after that. A forest fire of debt”

Secrets. Lies. Violence. Desperation. Fire. Smoke. Murder.  This is a claustrophobic story of two sisters both held together and torn apart by a terrible secret and explores how the ripple effect of one decision lasts for decades, impacting both sister’s lives in ways they never imagined. I was quickly drawn into the dark world of sisters Penny and Hattie Grayson, two very different sister’s who’s lives have been far from easy.  It was shocking to me how much they had been through by the time they were 18 and 21, which is their ages at the time of the fire. This compelling, sinister, raw and heartwrenching story is a skillfully written and gripping from the first page. It is full of twists and turns and will surprise you right until the end. It is a magnificent psychological thriller that I highly recommend. 

Out now. Published by Oldcastle Books, NoExit Press. E-book ARC via NetGalley.

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11. ‘And Then She Vanishes’ by Claire Douglas ⭐⭐⭐⭐

An exciting, twisty thriller full of suspense about secrets kept for almost two decades that merge with the shocking, and seemingly motiveless, murder of an elderly woman and her son in a sleepy seaside town. Told from multiple points of view we follow the story of  Heather, a woman accused of two seemingly motiveless and cold-blooded murders, and Jess, her best friend in school who is now a journalist and is given the task of reporting on the crime. The book also flashes back to August 1994 when Heather’s older sister, Flora, went missing and the girls’ friendship fell apart. But is Heather guilty? Both Jess and Margot, Heather’s mother, insist that the murders are out of character for the gentle, kind and loving woman they knew. But both secretly wonder and allude to there being another side to Heather. Something lurking beneath the surface that they’ve tried to ignore…  They didn’t lie when they said the final chapter was even more shocking than the first – Wow! The dramatic prologue was chilling, the whole book had me on the edge of my seat, but the final chapter was sensational and startling. The author cleverly keeps you on tenterhooks playing a guessing game right until the end and the payoff is totally worth it. You won’t be able to put this book down. 

Out now. Published by Penguin UK – Michael Joseph. E-book ARC via NetGalley. Thank you to the publisher for inviting me to read and review this book. 

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12. ‘The Missing Wife’ by Sam Carrington  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Louisa is about to turn 40 & isn’t handling it well, especially as she’s found herself unexpectedly dealing with sleepless nights and nappies again. Her husband Brian and best friend Tiff are keeping secrets and her teenage daughter Emily is sullen and distant. When she discovers that Brian and Tiff’s secret was a surprise 40th birthday party she’s far from happy. There’s one particular person there that she never wanted to see again, Oliver Dunmore, her first love who broke her heart. She wakes hungover and unable to remember the night clearly. When Oliver then turns up the saying his wife Melissa is missing and was last seen at the part, her memories become more important than ever. But she can’t retrieve them and as she searches for answers, she feels her life is spiraling out of control. I loved that this book was filled with morally ambiguous characters you couldn’t trust, including Louisa. A riveting, mesmerising and sinister tale, this story will make you question even your own memories. I devoured it within a day as I needed the answers to my questions and the tense and dramatic final twist had me on the edge of my seat.

Out now. Published by Avon Books UK. E-book ARC via NetGalley.

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13. ‘Whisper Network’ by Chandler Baker ⭐⭐⭐

I had high hopes for this book and was excited to read it so I’m disappointed to have found that it wasn’t for me.  I didn’t finish this book. I really tried. I’d considered giving up from early on but pushed through until almost 75% when I decided I had better things to read. I found it slow, lacking in depth, the characters felt shallow and I couldn’t connect with them at all. It also felt preachy about women’s issues and while I think I saw what the author was trying to achieve, it just wasn’t executed in the right way. I didn’t feel at all interested in who was dead, if anyone had killed them or what happened in any way for most of the book.  That being said, this wasn’t all bad. I did relate to and recognise the “everyday sexism” that women are often subjected to and how we can be treated if we report it. Also, as I said earlier, the book did have some tension at times and I was initially drawn into wanting to know who had died and what had happened. It just unfortunately didn’t last for the length of the book. I haven’t seen any reviews for this book and it could be a case of #blacksheepofbookstagram so I encourage you to still pick this up if the synopsis appeals to you. 

Out July 4th. Published by Little, Brown Book Group UK. E-book ARC via NetGalley.

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14. ‘The Woman Who Wanted More’ by Vicky Zimmerman  ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I started this book on a day I was feeling down, moody and in need of something lighthearted that would cheer me up. I’d heard great things about this book and the cover alone makes me feel warm, so I decided to give it a go. I am so glad that I did. It was a joy to read and was an uplifting, delightful and magical book that made me both cry and smile as it ended. I fell in love with both main characters, but particularly had a soft spot for cantankerous Cecily. I finished this book this afternoon and it was the perfect way to end my reading month and my full review will be posted in the next few days. I highly recommend this refreshing summer read, especially if you’re looking for something that will make you smile.

Out now. Published by Bonnier Zaffre.

You can find the full reviews for all of these books on this blog.

I struggled to pick a favourite this month with so many strong and entertaining books but The Woman Who Wanted More has to take the title for being so uplifting and refreshing, how it made me feel while reading and because I loved the author’s writing style.

Have you read any of the books in my list? Are they on your tbr list? Let me know below. And also tell me what you think of the new format.