Blog Tour Review: A Shadow on the Lens by Sam Hurcom ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Today is my stop on the blog tour for this debut novel. Thank you to Compulsive Readers for the invitation to take part and to Orion Publishing Group and NetGalley for my ARC copies of this book.

SYNOPSIS:

The Postmaster looked over my shoulder. As I turned to look I saw a flicker of movement from across the street. I felt unseen eyes peer at me. He walked away without another word. I watched as he climbed on his bicycle and sped away down the street. I turned back and looked over my shoulder.

Someone had been watching us.

1904 . Thomas Bexley, one of the first forensic photographers, is called to the sleepy and remote Welsh village of Dinas Powys, several miles down the coast from the thriving port of Cardiff. A young girl by the name of Betsan Tilny has been found murdered in the woodland – her body bound and horribly burnt. But the crime scene appears to have been staged, and worst still, the locals are reluctant to help.

As the strange case unfolds, Thomas senses a growing presence watching him, and try as he may, the villagers seem intent on keeping their secret. Then one night, in the grip of a fever, he develops the photographic plates from the crime scene in a makeshift darkroom in the cellar of his lodgings. There, he finds a face dimly visible in the photographs,  a face hovering around the body of the dead girl – the face of Betsan Tilny.

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MY REVIEW:

“He never left, he still remains. The demon of this village.”

Murder mystery meets supernatural thriller and gothic fiction in this chilling tale. Thomas Bexley is writing his story a decade after the events take place, using his diary entries for reference and we see extracts at various points in the book. He begins with a note addressing the reader directly and I loved the promises of the chilling, dark and sinister things to come. This is the first time he’s really spoken about what happened during that strange case and he admits to feeling concerned about how he will be viewed once he reveals the truth of all that transpired. 

Forensic photography is still in its infancy and Bexley, known in the field for his eye for detail and his gift for putting the evidence together, is a specialised investigator who is sent to assist with serious crime cases across the country. When Betsan Tilny is brutally murdered in the isolated Welsh village of Dinas Powys, Bexley is called to help solve the crime. But on his arrival he’s dismayed to find that those in charge seem to resent his presence. They’ve made up their mind who committed the crime and see Thomas as an unnecessary complication stirring up trouble and not understanding how they do things. 

Soon after his arrival Bexley has a sense of being watched, which only increases over time. He also comes down with a fever that inhibits his ability to work and forces him to take to his bed. And is it this fever that is making him imagine seeing the ghost of Betsan Tilny? He’s a man of science and doesn’t believe in such nonsense and decides that it is a manifestation of his fever.  But he can’t shake the fear that what he’s seeing is all too real and the victim trying to tell him something. Impeding his investigation is the unwillingness of the villagers to assist in the investigation. They’re hiding something, maybe even harbouring a killer, and Bexley is determined to get to the bottom of it.

Bexley is a serious, focused man who has no time to make friends or laze about. He’s there to do an important job in a thorough manner and will not let anything get in his way, not even being so sick he can barely stand. He was a great protagonist and I liked that unlike most others he saw no correlation between Betsan’s rumoured promiscuity and her death, reminding people repeatedly that nothing gives anyone the right to rape or kill another and nothing someone does mean they deserve such things happening to them. I was glad she had Thomas in her corner, fighting to find the truth and bring her killer to justice when others were glad of an easy way out and eager to brush the whole thing under the carpet. 

Councilman Robert Cummings is a loathsome character. He is the polar opposite of Thomas and seems completely uninterested in solving the crime. He makes no secret of the fact that he doesn’t want Thomas there, his repulsion of the victim, or that he’s made up his mind about who killed Betsan no matter what the evidence shows. He goes out of his way to prevent a real investigation and Thomas wonders if Cummings is the reason everyone is reluctant to talk to him. Like Thomas I was suspicious of what he really knew and what he didn’t want him to unearth. 

As truths were slowly revealed and the secrets of the village begin to be brought to light, the book became increasingly hard to put down. I was gripped and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. A brilliant debut that is a superb mix of some of my favourite genres and one I would recommend. The atmospheric prose made me feel fully immersed in the story and there was an eeriness throughout. This is one of those books you need to read with the lights on. 

Publication Date: September 5th.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sam Hurcom was born in Dinas Powys, South Wales in 1991. He studied Philosophy at Cardiff University, attaining both an undergraduate and master’s degree. He has since had several short stories published and has written and illustrated a number of children’s books. Sam currently lives in the village he was raised in, close to the woodlands that have always inspired his writing.

A Shadow on the Lens is Sam’s debut novel.

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Review: ‘Mother Knows Best’ by Kira Piekoff ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

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SYNOPSIS:

A mother’s worst nightmare, a chance at redemption, and a deadly secret that haunts a family across the generations.

There’s only room for one mother in this family.

Claire Abram’s dreams become a nightmare when she passed on a genetic mutation that killed her little boy. Now she wants a second chance to be a mother, and finds it in Robert Nash, a maverick fertility doctor who works under the radar with Jillian Hendricks, a cunning young scientist bent on making her mark – and seducing her boss.

Claire, Robert and Jillian work together on the world’s first baby with three genetic parents–an unprecedented feat that could eliminate inherited disease. But when word of their illegal experiment leaks to the wrong person, Robert escapes into hiding with the now-pregnant Claire leaving Jillian to serve out a prison sentence that destroys her future.

Ten years later, a spunky girl named Abigail begins to understand that all is not right with the reclusive man and woman she knows as her parents. But the family’s problems are only just beginning. Jillian, hardened by a decade of jealousy and loss, has returned–and nothing will stop her from reuniting with the man and daughter who should have been hers.

Past, present and future converge in this mesmerising psychological thriller from the critically acclaimed author Kira Peikoff.

REVIEW:

This compelling page-turner jumps straight in with the action and tension not missing a beat before the reader is drawn into the strange, mysterious and reclusive world of Claire, Michael and Abigail Burke. Today is their annual outing into the city to commemorate Claire’s late son Colton’s birthday. It’s the only time they venture into the city, and one of the few times Claire will leave the house, for fear of being recognised after a decade-old scandal saw Claire thrust into the spotlight. All she cares about is protecting her daughter, even though ten-year-old Abby has no idea about the true circumstances surrounding her birth, or that her parents are in hiding and in fear of discovery from not only the law, but a woman who is determined to have her revenge.

But they weren’t counting on a school project that would lead to Abby asking questions they aren’t prepared to answer, or her secretly looking for answers when she is sure her parents are lying to her about something. She has no idea that she’s the world’s first child of three parents, illegally created to avoid inheriting Claire’s mitochondrial DNA that carries the disease that killed her first child. What will happen if she learns the truth? And can her parents keep her safe from the third parent out for vengeance?

What a spectacular book! Full of tension it had me reading with bated breath in anticipation of what would happen next. I loved the use of dual timelines told in parallel and the choice to have the story narrated by Claire, Jillian and Abigail. Giving a voice to three very different characters increased the atmosphere and helped the reader bond to what each of them is going through and their motivations for actions that otherwise might have seemed to not make any sense.

Claire is a Mama Bear. She’ll do anything to protect her child. She’s been through the agony of losing a child after watching them suffer from illness and went to extraordinary lengths to protect her next child suffering the same fate. She then commits to a life in hiding so that her daughter doesn’t become a freak show and can live a normal life. As a mother I always understood her motivations, even if I didn’t agree with them.

Abby doesn’t know how she was created so all she sees is an agoraphobic, anxious, panicky, over-protective mum who won’t go to her games or let her have a smartphone. She can tell she’s being lied to but understandably wants to know what they’re hiding from her. I worried for Abby, for how she’d handle the truth, especially as it was possible she’d not find out in a calm way with her parents explaining things to her. She’s only ten so I didn’t blame Claire and Michael for not having told her yet, although I did think it might have been wise to do so when they learned of the school project.

Jillian was a great villain and was so much fun to read. She’s highly intelligent, ambitious, manipulative, delusional and certifiably insane. She is one of those people you’re very glad are a work of fiction and that you love to hate. Her obsession with Dr Nash and venom towards Claire were both scary and it was no wonder Claire was terrified of her tracking them down. I loved the scenes with Jillian in part three and four most of all as it’s when we see her at her most crazy.

While this is at its heart a story about family it is also a story about a controversial topic. While I can say that I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with the idea of three parents, I do understand the desire to remove the chance of a child possibly inheriting a disease that causes immense suffering and death. As explored in the book this isn’t a simple issue, but as someone with a non-fatal illness that causes pain daily that is now thought to be hereditary, I don’t know if I’d have chosen to have a child if I had known. I would certainly have jumped at the chance to remove that risk if it had been available. Taking into account how Claire’s first child suffered before succumbing to his illness makes me completely understand everything she did, even if I am uncomfortable with the idea of three parents.

This fast-paced book was full of twists, some I predicted, others that took me by surprise. But all of them were revealed in a way that brought the storylines together perfectly as the tension built to a crescendo. And that conclusion! Wow! My jaw was on the floor and I couldn’t read fast enough. Mother Knows Best is a thought-provoking, compelling, sharp and electrifying thriller that I highly recommend.

Thank you to NetGalley, Crooked Lane Books and Kira Peikoff for a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Publication Date: September 10th

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kira Peikoff is a graduate of New York University with a degree in journalism. She also holds a Master of Science degree in bioethics from Columbia University. Her articles have been published in a variety of major media outlets, including The New York Times.

Since 2017 she has been the Editor-in-Chief of leapsmag, a digital publication that cover innovation and ethics in the life sciences for a mainstream audience. Peikoff lives in New Jersey with her husband, son and the world’s cutest dog.

 

Review: ‘The Retreat’ by Sherri Smith ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Happy Publication Day Sherri Smith and her gripping thriller The Retreat. Thank you to Titan books for my gifted copy in exchange for an honest review.7

SYNOPSIS:

Sherri Smith illuminates the dark side of the self-care and wellness industry in a thrilling ride of revenge perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers. The Retreat is a twisting, bone-chilling suspense that asks: how well do you really know your friends?

Four women.

Four secrets.

A weekend that will change them forever..if they survive.

Katie Manning was a beloved child star until her mid-teens when her manager attacked and permanently scarred her face, effectively ending her career and sending her on a path of all-too-familiar-post-Hollywood  self-destruction.

Now twenty-seven, Katie wants a better answer to those clickbait “Where Are They Now?” articles that float around online. An answer she hopes to find when her brother’s too-good-to-be-true fiancee invites her to a wellness retreat upstate. Together with Katie’s two best friends – one struggling with crippling debt and family obligations, one running away from a failed job and relationship – Katie will try to find the inner peace promised at the tranquil retreat. But finding oneself just might drudge up more memories than Katie is prepared to deal with.

Each woman has come to the retreat for very different reasons. Each has her secrets to hide. And at the end of this weekend, only one will be left standing. 

“This place made a killer out of me.”

The Retreat is a dark and twisted tale of secrets, lies, hate, revenge and murder. It starts with a chilling prologue that had me immediately hooked. 

Former child star Katie Manning has been wandering aimlessly through life ever since her T.V show ended over a decade ago. Her recent planned comeback has been scrapped afTer she drunkenly wrote a homophobic tweet, leaving her with no idea what to do next. Her brother Nate encourages her to go on a wellness retreat with  his fiancee Ellie to see if she can find focus in life and heal her demons. It’s the last thing she wants to do, particularly with someone she can’t stand, but she agrees for her brother and secretly invites her two best friends, Ariel and Carmen, along with them. We soon discover that each of them have things they’re hiding from the others and things that they’re running from. 

When they arrive at the retreat they’re greeted by the owners, Naomi and Dr. Dave. The couple look like strange cult members, insist everyone give up their phones and declare that everyone can become a new person in one weekend if they follow their instructions. Ellie seems excited, while the other girls are skeptical and disappointed; this isn’t the spa like sanctuary they thought they signed up for. As the weekend progresses it’s clear that none of them will leave the retreat the same person. If they leave at all…

I really enjoyed this novel. It was atmospheric and the opening chapter gave the book as sense of foreboding that made me excited for what was coming. 

The four girls each narrate the story offering a great insight into their experience and different perspectives on the retreat. I liked that each of them were multilayered and had depth. Katie and Ellie were the hardest to like but were fun to read. Katie was the perfect spoiled, out of touch Hollywood brat but I did feel for her being made to be the family breadwinner at such a young age and how she didn’t have parents who cared past the money she made. Her only parental figure was her manager who betrayed her and disfigured her in an attack that essentially ended her career at just 15. She’s a lost soul and I really wanted her to find meaning in life beyond money and her former career and feel able to just be herself instead of the former child star. My heart broke for her as she started to remember things she’d long repressed and I understood why she was so messed up. It was a great reminder of that money and fame are far from a guarantee of a good and happy life. With Ellie I had a radar go off about what her real motivations were in her relationship with Nate from early on. She seemed to be harbouring the biggest secrets and have secret motivations for everything she did. She was also very controlling but battled to contain it in order to keep up her perfect facade. 

The girl I probably liked most was Carmen. She was intelligent, level headed and caring, though I felt for what she was going through in having to be the provider and carer for her father and siblings. It’s clear she had a bright career ahead of her until life got in the way and the parallels with Katie as the family breadwinner, albeit in a completely different capacity and wage bracket, were interesting. Especially in how it affected their relationship. Lastly there was Ariel. I had a lot of sympathy for her lack of confidence and need to be loved, even if the choices she makes are questionable and she came off desperate a lot of the time. She seemed like a lovely girl underneath it all if only she could finally feel loved and accepted for who she is. 

At varying times I suspected three of the four might be the mysterious person in the prologue before settling on who I thought was the one. In the end the identity of the survivor involved many twists and was far more complex than I imagined and I was on tenterhooks as we reached the story’s shocking, macabre and gruesome climax and finally learned the answers to our questions and the identity of the final girl.

Out today. 

Review: ‘Never Have I Ever’ by Joshilyn Jackson ⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

Happy Kindle Publication Day to Joshilyn Jackson and her electrifying new novel.

SYNOPSIS:

It starts as a game at book group one night. Never Have I Ever..done something I shouldn’t.

But Amy Whey has done something she shouldn’t. And Roux, the glamorous newcomer to Amy’s suburban neighbourhood, knows exactly what that is.

Roux promises she’ll go away. She will take herself and her son, who is already growing dangerously close to Amy’s teenage stepdaughter, and she will go. If Amy plays by her rules. 

But Amy isn’t prepared to lose everything she’s built. She’s going to fight back, and in this escalating game of cat and mouse, there can be only one winner. 

REVIEW:

In Pensacola, Florida, a group of ordinary suburban housewives are holding at their monthly book group when a mysterious stranger knocks on the door. She wants to join their group. Before the end of the night she’s charmed almost everyone and overtaken the group, declaring the book talk boring and instead plies them with alcohol and gets them to play her own version of Never Have I Ever. But these embarrassing, salacious secrets aren’t just a bit of fun. They’re the mystery woman’s ammunition for a much more dangerous game. And now she has secrets that could explode many people’s lives into a million pieces…

“She smiled, and I had no premonition as I smiled back. She didn’t look like my own destruction to me.” 

Amy Whey loves her life. It’s uncomplicated and unremarkable, which is just how she wants it. She knows how damaging and dangerous the extraordinary can be and she’s spent too long burying her painful past to allow anything to threaten what she has. She’s married to Davis and they live with his daughter Maddy and their baby boy, Oliver. Amy is a loyal friend and is fiercely protective of those she loves. But underneath the calm exterior is layers of guilt and a woman teetering on the edge, scared that her darkest secrets will be exposed. 

Angelica Roux is glamorous, sexy, bewitching, hypnotic, wild and charming. This wolf in sheep’s clothing soon takes over the book group with copious amounts of alcohol and a seemingly innocent game of Never Have I Ever. But underneath the shiny and chipper exterior is a cold, calculating, manipulative, and greedy woman who will stop at nothing to get what she wants.  

And so begins a deadly game of cat and mouse that can have only one winner and could cost the loser everything, maybe even their life…

“Roux had begun this as a game. She’d told me not to play. But I already was. I had tol. More than that. I had to win.”

Wow! This book was utterly compelling. Steeped in layer upon layer of drama, intrigue and suspense, this book had me on the edge of the seat.. Past narratives are used to tease us with the events that Amy is so terrified of being revealed as she races against the clock to beat Roux at her game and they hyped up the mystery and tension, leaving more questions I was desperate to know the answer to while also helping to slowly untangle the clues. 

“I did not know I could lead us to a thing so big, so mean, something we can never undo or remove, that will echo in my life, in all our lives, forever.”

While being entertaining this book also makes you think as it asks the question how far would you go to protect your secrets and the life you love? It’s also a book about how every little choice we make can have far-reaching, and sometimes disastrous, consequences, and how your whole life can change in a single moment. 

Part of the brilliance of this book is how similar the Amy and Roux are despite their different roles in the story. Both characters were well written and Roux is a fantastic antagonist. She’s easy to despise but is also fun to read and you can understand why so many people are taken in by her. While I never wavered in Roux being the bad guy, there are times when  you aren’t sure if Amy is the good guy or the bad guy as she’s complex and the more we learn about her the harder it to only see her as an innocent victim. But none of this changed my allegiance. I was team Amy all the way. 

“She’d cracked open the past. I could feel it leaking into my bloodstream, spreading like a toxin through me.”

This was my first read by this author, but it won’t be my last. There has been a lot of hype surrounding this book and with that there is always the worry it won’t live up to expectations. This one did. Spectacularly written, fast-paced, and  full of intricate twists and turns, with one in particular that I’m still trying to recover from the shock of. The author masterfully weaves the pieces of the puzzle together and delivers a nail-biting finale that I was so desperate to get to I stayed up long into the night. 

The book itself gives a great way to describe itself: a book with teeth. Ironically it is exactly the kind of book that Amy and Roux like to read. So if you love books with teeth, mysteries that keep you guessing and psychological thrillers that have you on tenterhooks, then Never Have I Ever is the book for you.

Thank you to NetGalley, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC and Joshilyn Jackson for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Kindle version out July 30th

Hardcover out August 8th.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Joshilyn Jackson lives near Decatur, Georgia with her husband and their two children. For the past six years she has taught creative writing and literature courses for Georgia’s maximum security facility for women. Through their education-in-prison and re-entry programmes, Reforming Arts fosters the development of critical and creative thinking skills, encouraging students to build liveable lives. She’s also an award winning audiobook narrator, performing most of her own work as well as other authors including Lydia Nelzer and Maybeth Mayhew Whalen.

Review: ‘The Poison Garden’ by Alex Marwood ⭐⭐⭐⭐

SYNOPSIS:

Where Romy grew up, if someone died you never spoke of them again.

Now twenty-two, she has recently escaped the toxic confines of the cult she was raised in. But Romy is young, pregnant and completely alone – and if she is to keep herself safe in this new world, she has some important lessons to learn.

Like how there are some people you can trust, and some you must fear. And about who her family really is, and why her mother ran away from them all those years ago. 

And that you can’t walk away from a dark past without expecting it to catch up with you.

REVIEW:

“None of us will be the same, by tomorrow, she thinks.”

Two police officers are called out to investigate an awful smell on a farm by a neighbour: a seemingly innocuous call that gives them no warning of the life-changing and terrible sight they’re about to discover: lifeless bodies piled one on top of each other, frozen in death as they tried to flee. All the adult members of the Ark, the cult that lived on the farm, are dead apart from Romy who was in the infirmary unable to walk, listening helplessly as her family died in agony. 

This book had me hooked from it’s chilling first chapter and kept me guessing until the final page. The story unfolded in a way I didn’t expect, but I loved.The choice to have Romy and her Aunt Sarah narrate offered us very different perspectives on events happening in the book and the world in general. Through the use of flashbacks to their childhoods we learn that these very different women actually have a lot more in common than first meets the eye. 

“How do you explain, to someone who didn’t live it?”

Romy was a baby when her teenage mother, Alison, joined the Ark. She’s known nothing else but their strange, isolated lifestyle that consisted of preparing for the Apocalypse and living off the land while following the teachings of their Father, Lucien. She’s been taught to fear the outside world and those who inhabit it, known to her as the Dead. She sees danger and disaster all around her and is too terrified to leave her flat unless absolutely necessary. We soon learn that Romy is hiding secrets bigger than her fear of life outside the Ark and that there might be more to her story than it first seemed. I really liked how her character was written, especially the fears that she’d been indoctrinated to have. A lot of these fears were of real things that can or have happened, it’s just she’s been taught to see them as a sign of the world’s doom and depravity instead of accidents or evil done by a small few. It highlights how a small change in perception can completely alter our world view and it was fascinating to see the way we live through the eyes of people that had grown up totally removed from our society.   

This wasn’t the first time I’ve read a book by this author, but it is a number of years since I did, and I will certainly be catching up on any others I’ve missed. The writing in this novel is riveting, harrowing and heart-rending. The pace quickened as the story went on and had me on the edge of my seat, the revelations increasingly jarring as we approached the dramatic and chilling finale. The Poison Garden is a multilayered, twisty thriller full of secrets and interesting characters that will delight and surprise lovers of psychological thrillers and mysteries. 

Thank you to NetGalley, Little, Brown Book Group UK and Alex Marwood for the chance to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Out now.

 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Alex Marwood is a former journalist who worked extensively across the British press. Her first novel, The Wicked Girls, achieved widespread acclaim and international bestsellerdom. It was shortlisted for ITW, Anthony and Macavity awards, was included in Stephen King’s Ten Best Books of the Year list, and won the prestigious Edgar Award. The Killer Next Door, her second novel, won the coveted Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel, was nominated for the Anthony and Barry. The Darkest Secret, the tale of the disappearance of young Coco, met with critical and reader acclaim. The Poison Garden will be released in 2019. She has also been shortlisted for numerous other crime writing awards and her first two novels have been optioned for the screen. Marwood lives in south London and is working on her next novel.

Review: ‘Miracle Creek’ by Angie Kim ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Happy hardcover publication day to Angie Kim! This book has been out on kindle for a while so I was able to read it earlier this month. 

SYNOPSIS:

A literary courtroom thriller about an immigrant family and a young single mother accused of killing her autistic son, Miracle Creek is a powerhouse debut about how far we’ll go to protect our families, and our deepest secrets. 

In rural Miracle Creek, Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine. A pressurised oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic “dives”, it’s also a repository of hopes and dreams: the dream of a mom that her child can be like other kids; the dream of a young doctor desperate to cure his infertility and save his marriage; the dream of the Yoos themselves, Korean immigrants who have come to the United States so their teenage daughter can have a better life.

When the oxygen chamber mysteriously explodes, killing two people, all those dreams shatter with it, and the ensuing murder trial uncovers unimaginable secrets and lies. In Miracle Creek, Angie Kim takes a classic form – courtroom drama – and draws on her own experience as an immigrant, a lawyer, and a mother of a real-life “submarine” patient to turn it into something wholly original, unputdownable…real. This is a spellbinding novel by an exciting new voice.

REVIEW:

This spectacular debut is not your average thriller. Themes of immigration, special needs, family, friendship, arson, murder, secrets, and lies, all merge in this thought-provoking novel. 

“I think about that moment a lot. The deaths, the paralysis, the trial – might all that have been averted if I’d pressed the button?”

The story opens on the day that the Miracle Submarine, an experimental treatment device, explodes killing two people and injuring others. It then jumps to the trial almost exactly a year later when Elizabeth Ward, who’s son Henry was one of the people who died, is on trial accused of starting the fire to get rid of her autistic son. What follows is a first person narrative told by seven narrators that all played their part in what happened that fateful day. But who set the fire that killed two innocent people? And why? And if it wasn’t Elizabeth then why does she keep saying she should be punished?

After reading the first chapter of this book I made a note that read: “What a *expletive* brilliant first chapter. Wow! I’m going to love this book!” I wasn’t wrong. This book instantly absorbed me into the world of these characters and didn’t let me go. There has been a lot of hype around this book and it deserves every bit of it. Mesmerising and expertly written, it’s hard to believe this is Angie Kim’s first novel. I loved how she took the courtroom drama and thriller genres, two of my favourites, and did something unique and special, creating a work of fiction that will remain with me. 

“Pak Yoo was a different person in English than Korean…In Korean he was an authoritative man, educated and worthy of respect. In English, he was a deaf, mute idiot, unsure, nervous and inept.”

There were so many things right with this book. So many things I loved. But one of the things I loved most about this book is the way it makes you think about a range of topics and controversial issues. One such issue is immigration. Pak and Young Yoo, the owners of the Miracle Submarine, and their teenage daughter, Mary, are Korean immigrants. Through their story we learn the sobering truth of what life is really like for a lot of immigrants to America, and it’s not exactly the American dream they’ve been sold. The intricate details all brought home just how hard things are for them and while I’ve always been sensitive to the struggles of immigrants, reading things from the perspective of the immigrants themselves, and of immigrants to America rather than the UK, gave me  a whole new level of admiration and empathy for them and see things from a different perspective. Leaving your country of birth, everything and everyone you know, is a daunting and brave thing to do whatever your circumstances, and this book highlights that while also showing them to be flawed, normal people.

“…anything was bearable when it was temporary; try doing it day after day, knowing you’d do this until you died.”

I also appreciated the way the author handled the subject of special needs. In this book we see the harsh realities these parents face, the thoughts they have that they’d never want to admit to the world, and things like the hierarchy of disabilities and how it can become a competition of suffering. I have multiple chronic illnesses and have a son with autism so I have some experience of these worlds and completely understand the willingness to try anything to cure yourself or your child. While I’ve never parented a severely disabled child, I can understand that feeling of wanting to be free of a burden while not wishing someone dead as I’ve wanted it for myself. There are days I’m in so much pain I don’t feel like I can take another second, let alone a lifetime, so I wish for release even though I don’t wish for death. This helped me relate to Teresa in particular when she was talking about how she felt about her daughter and the resentment that can come when disability isn’t something that’s been born with so it isn’t how they’re supposed to be, as it were. 

“This was what the people had come for…the drama of the tragedy.”

One of the great things about this book was how it tears apart the “good mother” myth. While it is now more acceptable to admit how hard parenting is, to talk about the fact that it can be a bloody nightmare and that there’s times you go crazy, society still looks down on those things at times. This novel delves into how Elizabeth is demonised from the outset, how she isn’t just on trial for arson and murder, but for being a bad mother too. I loved that this story showed that even in the hardest moments, the times where we say or think things we’re ashamed of, we’re still good mothers that love our children. 

The story moves between the present day and the events leading up to the explosion as shameful secrets about the characters lives and what happened that day are slowly revealed. The testimony is hard to read at times, especially Matt’s harrowing, graphic testimony about Henry’s death. I cried during these scenes as it was so vivid that it felt real and I could picture every haunting thing he described. But it isn’t a negative story. It is also one about hope, community and forgiveness. 

Miracle Creek was my 80th read of 2019 and is one of the best. Timely, twisty, fast-paced and emotional, this is a book that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you haven’t read it and it’s not on your tbr list, then you need to add it now. 

 

 

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR :

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Angie Kim moved as a preteen from Seoul, South Korea, to the suburbs of Baltimore. She attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, then practiced as a trial lawyer at Williams & Connolly. Her stories have won the Glamour Essay Contest and the Wabash Prize in Fiction, and appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times, Salon Slate, The Southern Review, Sycamore Review, The Asian American Literary Review, and PANK. Kim lives in northern Virginia with her husband and three sons.

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BLOG TOUR: ‘The Darkest Summer’ by Ella Drummond ⭐⭐⭐⭐

 

 

Today is my stop on #TheDarkestSummer blog tour.

Thank you to Sarah Hardy at BOTBS Publicity for the invitation to be part of the blog tour.

SYNOPSIS:

One hot summer, Dee disappeared. Now she’s back…but she’s not the girl you knew.

Sera and Dee were the best of friends.

Until the day that Dee and her brother Leo vanished from Sera’s life, during a long hot summer thirty years ago.

Now Sera is an adult, with her own child, five-year-old Katie, and has returned to her childhood home after her husband’s death.

While she grieves, the past haunts Sera at every turn … and then Dee and Leo return to their small Hampshire village, along with Dee’s young daughter.

But Dee is silent and haunted by her demons; no longer the fun-loving girl that Sera loved. And when Sera uncovers the shocking secret that Dee is hiding, it’s clear that the girl she knew is long gone – and that the adult she has grown into might put all of them in danger…

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REVIEW:

This twisty, readable book is perfect for a hot summer’s day. You can practically feel the heat sizzling from the pages as the author vividly describes the sweltering weather and fires. It is a mystery filled with dark secrets, murder and life-changing revelations.

For fifteen years Sera has wondered what became of her best friend, Dee, and her family after they disappeared suddenly one day that hot summer. When she sees Dee’s brother Leo back in town she’s hoping that she finally gets answers and the chance to rekindle her lost friendship. But it is soon apparent that Dee and Leo aren’t the people she used to know, and that there seems to be something sinister about the secrets they’re keeping. Maybe inviting them into her home wasn’t the wisest thing to do…

The Darkest Summer is set in the New Forest in the present day with flashbacks to the summers of 1990 and 2003. The scenery of the New Forest is described with breathtaking beauty and is a large part of the story. I spent my formative years near that area and as I read it conjured up images of my youth spending time in places like the ones Sera describes. It is an almost idyllic place to be and I was so fully immersed in the book that I really felt like I was back there.

As well as our main storyline there are numerous subplots that run parallel in the flashbacks and ultimately merge together, though I couldn’t see how some of them would. I loved the clever twists and turns the author wrote that made seemingly mismatched the pieces fit together. 

One subplot was Henri, the Sera’s new neighbour. I had a soft spot for Henri from the start and had a gut feeling he was a good guy, so I was hoping I’d be proven right. I loved the blossoming friendship between him and Sera and the mystery surrounding his past. I had no predictions about his past so I thoroughly enjoyed she surprises in his storyline. The subplot concerning Mimi and Hazel was also fascinating and I enjoyed learning more about both mothers and how they came to be the women their daughters now know, particularly Mimi as she’s not the warmest character in the book. 

This book was filled with a host of colourful characters, each of which I loved for different reasons. Sera, our main narrator and our protagonist, was a great character. She and her daughter Katie moved back to her hometown to live with her mother three years ago after her husband died suddenly. She’s still working through her grief and feels suffocated at times by her mother, who she’s always had a difficult relationship with. When she was a child her single mother was mostly learning lines or away working, so she got little of the attention she craved. Instead, she found maternal attention from Hazel, her best friend Dee’s mother, who was the cool, vivacious, affectionate mother she dreamed of. She and Dee were inseparable, had many things in common, and Sera spent most of her time on their farm and felt a part of their family so their sudden disappearance cut her deeply. She’s never recovered from that loss so rekindling those relationships is a dream come true when Dee and her brother Leo first come back into her life and, as a reader I was rooting for that, and for the potential relationship between Sera and Leo. 

Dee was so well written that despite the massive change in her personality and how moody and dismissive she is as an adult, I had a lot of sympathy for her. It seemed like she must have been through something extremely traumatic as she was showing signs of mental health issues and possibly PTSD. Her refusal to talk about anything that had happened was suspicious, especially as Leo was cagey too, but I hoped it was just that she was too traumatised to discuss it yet and he was respecting her wishes. The author made the many facets of her personality completely believable but like Sera I too got tired of her outbursts, how she controlled the entire household with them, her taking advantage of people, and with her strange behaviour towards her daughter. By the end I couldn’t stand her and wanted Sera to get as far away from her as possible. 

This intriguing story started slowly and built the tension steadily until it became a crescendo in the last third of the book. It didn’t feel like a tense thriller but was full of mystery and had me guessing throughout. The many twists and turns were mostly unpredictable, with one in particular completely blindsiding me and turning so much of what I had predicted on its head. 

I hadn’t read any of the author’s books before this one but when I read the description I was sold and I will definitely read more of her work. A compelling, character-driven summer read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys mysteries and literary fiction.

Thank you to Sarah Hardy, Hera Books, Ella Drummond and NetGalley the E-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Out Now.

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AUTHOR BIO:

Ella Drummond recently signed a two-book deal with Hera Books. Her first psychological thriller, My Last Lie is out now and The Darkest Summer will be out on 18 July 2019 and is available for pre-order.

She lives with her husband on the island of Jersey and you can follow her on Twitter @drummondella1 and Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/EllaDrummondWrites/  

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