The Sister-in-Law by Pamela Crane

Thanks to Avon Books UK for an advance copy of this book. All views are my own.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Note: Initially I had given this book a 4 star rating but as I wrote my thoughts on digital paper I realized that I was wrong to give it a 4 star rating and have upgraded it to a 4.5 star.

Nothing beats a book that start guns-blazing. Throwing its reader in the middle of what other books aim to have as the climax. But the question I kept asking myself as I started reading this book was: Where does this book go from here?

The Sister-in-Law by Pamela Crane is a domestic thriller novel that brings to the forefront the dynamics of families and especially the dynamics between siblings. But what happens when the person you thought you knew best does something out of the ordinary? What do you do to maintain your relationship? Do you try to make the person see that they are going in a direction you don’t want them to go? Or do you allow them to go on their path as you stand on the sidelines and watch?

Pamela Crane crafts tension out of the triviality of every day life, positioning her characters at opposites sides of the spectrum.

Captivated by the premise of this book, I stepped into the world that Crane created for her readers. I was skeptical after reading the heart pounding first chapter of this book because I didn’t know if the set up was going to work. I’m happy to say that I was both wrong and right at the same time.

The biggest issues I had with the story wasn’t actually with the story itself. I know, it sounds confusing, but please bear with me. I think that every single scene that Crane has penned needed to be in the book. However there was such a strong pacing split between the chapters that were character driven and the ones that were plot driven that at times the scenes that I wanted to focus on the character, to make me understand why the characters were doing things the way they did, came up short, making me feel that some decisions or reactions were uncharacteristic to the persona I was reading about.

Nonetheless, The Sister-in-Law still managed to grip my attention, simply through the tension created between Harper and Candace. Cane manages to create stellar intrigue between her characters by positioning them on the opposite sides of the spectrum. On one hand you have Harper who wants to protect her brother and ensure she maintains her relationship dynamic as it was whilst Candace wants to make a life for herself and ensure that she retains the comfort of home life at all costs.

In the end Harper and Candace have the same goal. They both want to retain what they have with Lane. And there’s nothing that builds tension better than two characters having the same goal that sit on opposite side of the spectrum. Crane strategically starts the novel with a bang to ensure that it builds conflict in the readers at least on a moral level, having them rooting for someone who looks and acts despicably. And it worked with me.

The Sister-in-Law is a great read that suits fans of domestic thrillers but also is a great light read for people who are looking to make a start in the domestic thriller genre. Avon Books has been and will be a perfect place for readers looking for chilling crime novels and heart racing thrillers and Pamela Crane‘s The Sister-in-Law fits their portfolio like a glove.

The Others by Sarah Blau

Thank you to Pushkin Vertigo for an advance readers copy in exchange to an honest review. All views are my own.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Others, translated by Daniella Zamir, is a compelling read that establishes itself from the beginning as a strong contender as one of the best books I’ve read in the month of March. Although I’m writing this review a week after I’ve read this book, Sheila’s character has not left me. She’s still in my heart as one of the most relatable and robust female characters I’ve read in a while. 

From the very first page, I got a very the strong sense of place. Although having never been to Tel Aviv, the city where this story takes place, I found that I knew the place. I don’t know if it’s because I am originally from eastern Europe, and this book is set in the east, that I related so much with the trivialities of the daily life in Tel Aviv. I could imagine myself through out the novel walking the streets, feeling the heat breathing down my neck, seeing my skin developing a tan the more pages I turned.

When I first picked up this book on Netgalley, I was sceptical due to the themes sitting at the heart of the story. Motherhood is a sensitive subject for many but what Blau manages to do in The Others is bring to life the societal pressure that many people who have, or are still living, in the East have to deal with.

Sarah Blau brings what are considered by many taboo subjects to the forefront of a crime novel that reads like an instant bestseller.

The book is mainly told Sheila’s point of view, a former member of The Others, a group created by herself whilst still in college. The Others are, for a better term, a rebellious group of four girls who want to oppose the pressures instilled by society on young girls to become mothers.

The way Blau has structurally developed the story is terrifying. Short and quick chapters snap past you as you try to assemble the puzzle while at the same time feeling the dread of the main character bleeding through the pages. This helps instil in the readers the urgency of the story and the urgency through which Sheila goes through, second-guessing her life decisions and realizing that the motherhood clock ticks inside her. And when Sheila finds herself at the heart of the investigation of the murder of a former member of The Others, she is forced to hold up a mirror to herself only to realise that a serial killer targets the members of her college group. But for what reason? And more importantly who is next?

Brilliantly paced, The Others is a one-in-a-lifetime kind of novel. For someone who hasn’t visited Israel before, never mind Tel Aviv, after reading this book, I felt that Israel should be on my bucket list of places to visit. The Others by Sarah Blau is published on the 13th of April by Pushkin Vertigo. I hope that Blau becomes a regular author translated and published by Pushkin Press as The Others reads like an instant bestseller, and I am very excited to read what she has published or will be publishing in the future.

The Seven Doors by Agnes Ravatn

Thank you to Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books for sending me a copy of this novel. All views are my own

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When I opened the cover to this book, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know that I will be wrapped in a story, so beautifully written and translated. I didn’t know that it would become one of my favourite books I read this year. I simply didn’t know…

The Seven Doors by Agnes Ravatn starts from a very simple premise: the need to discover and understand the truth. The story unravels in front of the readers eyes from the perspective of Nina, who together with her daughter Ingeborg, go to inspect the house in which Ingeborg together with her daughter and her husband will move into. However what Nina doesn’t expect is that shortly after they give notice to Mari, the current tenant living in their house, she would disappear without a trace.

The need to understand what happened together with the feeling that something more hides behind this disappearance, especially when Mari left behind her son with her parents, steers Nina deeper and deeper into the story. Is Nina prepared to face the truth? Or is she just going along because she wants to alleviate the guilt that has nestled inside herself ever since she’s visited the house?

Agnes Ravatn has written probably one of the best psychological thrillers set in Norway; the ending leaving its readers wondering why they haven’t read the book sooner.

Structurally, Ravatn captures the attention of her readers by writing short snappy sentences, within short chapters. From the get-go, the urgency of the story and the sinister, dance together before the readers eyes, enticing them to read more and more.

The cast of characters are just fabulous; Nina is my favourite out of them. She’s a 40-year-old, highly educated woman who isn’t afraid to be herself. I could read an entire crime saga with Nina at the front and center of the series, because she comes off as a natural character, feeling almost life-like. Through out the novel, all decisions she takes make sense, and doesn’t strike the reader as out-of-character.

The Seven Doors is out now and can be ordered from Orenda Books. I highly recommend this read to everyone who is a fan of Nordic Noir. But I also see this book being enjoyed by people who haven’t read Nordic Noir before, because this book is a marvelous introduction to what a good, Noir novel can do.

Last Place You Look by Louisa Scarr

Thank you to Canelo Publicity Team for allowing me to read a E-ARC of this novel. All views are my own.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

While reading this book, I made a tweet, alleging that Canelo isn’t playing this year with their thrillers and crime books. It might have been a bit too cryptic but let me tell you why.

Last Place You Look starts as a police procedural crime novel and in itself, stripping aside the characters and focusing only on the narrative and the procedural crime novel aspects of this book, its already a very entertaining book. Yet when you start looking at the characters, at the structure, at how Louise Scarr is holding your hand as a reader and tells you that you should trust her cause she knows what she’s doing, that’s where this book starts to differentiate itself from other novels.

Last Place You Look by Louisa Scarr takes a very loved genre and turns it on its head, using the expectations readers have against them.

Last Place You Look is the first book in a new series and what a start it is. At the core of this novel sits a death which at first is being treated as a suicide. But nothing is as it seems in this novel. DS Robin Butler and DC Freya West are assigned on the case and here is where things get complicated. Because one of the detectives knew the dead. Well. And we’re just on page 10 of the book. Crazy right? The way Scarr writes these characters is truly mind-blowing. You don’t feel that you are reading a book about two characters. You feel like she’s telling you a story about her friends.

We learn fairly early on that both Detectives that are at the center of this investigation aren’t as righteous as they should be. DS Butler and DC West are rotten to the core and it just made me want to root for them even more. I found this to be refreshing as usually we get the protagonist and antagonist at the other sides of the spectrum. What Scarr manages to do with Last Place You Look is make the protagonist an equal antagonist, blurring the lines between good and bad.

When it comes to the death at the core of the novel, I enjoyed the way Scarr leads its reader with this confident hand through the story, telling you as the reader that you should trust her, that what she shows you is important. The end was the most surprising thing in this novel as it brought to the forefront a murder of passion. I thought that maybe it would be a boring read when I realized that there will be no other victim. Louisa Scarr however compensates with amplifying the tension to the max between her characters rather than writing action scenes that to me wouldn’t have fitted in the ending of this novel.

I can’t wait to see in which direction Louisa Scarr takes this series and can’t wait to read more about DS Butler and DC West. Last Place You Look comes out in eBook on 8th of April and in paperback on the 6th of May from Canelo and will be definitely appreciated by the lovers of the crime procedural genre but also will be enjoyed by lovers of the psychological thriller genre.

Why I read.

It’s not a question. It’s a statement. A statement that I have to remind myself of on bad days. It’s a goal. A mindset that I’m still re-configuring my brain to accept. Sure, reading brings me joy. Of course, I love to be immersed in a story about characters that don’t feel like characters but actual people. But… reading means so much more to me than just reading.

Reading to me is a journey on which I decided this year to take serious. Reviewing the books I read is my own way to hold myself accountable. The journey I decided to embark on isn’t an easy one. Especially for someone to whom English isn’t the first language. It’s a winding road, filled with ups and downs. I find myself more often wanting to stop, to not pursue the path I set myself on. But then every time I open the cover of a book or power up my kindle or kobo, I wonder.

What if…?

What if I can actually write a story that people will want to read? What if the story that lives inside my head would be the story that will get me published? What if all I’m missing is doing this, and keep doing this?

Reading to me is learning. Learning and understanding how authors that have gotten published manage to get their ideas to paper. Many would think that reading is just about keeping up with what the current market is requesting. But that’s not the case. It is so much more than that. It’s about reading between the lines. It’s about finding the small text, that secret code that every author leaves behind written in invisible ink, to make it their own. That secret code, that buried treasure that tells aspiring authors “here’s how I thought of doing this.”.

That is why I’m reading. I’m reading because regardless what the road ahead has for me, I want to try. I want to keep on doing what brings me joy regardless of the outcome. I like finding the encoded message and cracking it. Because if I don’t do it then I need to live with the question that echoes in my mind every morning I wake up, every night I go to sleep and during the day whether I am at my day job or lazily watching a TV show on the couch.

What if…?

But until that day comes when I can say that my words will go into the world in the form of a digital or even printed book, I will continue on down the road, kicking pebbles and enjoying the ride. I’m excited for everyone I will meet down the road. I’m excited for the stories that I have yet to discover. And I’m excited to see my own growth in the stories which for now I keep for myself.

Mihai from BooksTechnica

The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

Thank you to HQ Publicity Team for the ARC. All views are my own.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here tells the story of Ambrosia Wellington, who is now a very different person than to who she was at University. Or is she? Her time at University wasn’t a pleasant one to say the least. Sure, she had good memories, but, overall? Not really the experience one wants to have in more ways than you can imagine.

This fast paced, gripping story about what drives our ambition, what fuels our resentment pool and what we consider a friendship by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn is a kind reminder to everyone that we should be treating people with more kindness. The setting also fuels my sentiment of needing to do random acts of kindness. University settings are really difficult to do successfully mainly because different people have different experiences. However I think that Flynn has very tactfully handled this. Although I used to be bullied in school and Uni, I didn’t feel triggered by this book however fair warning to everyone wanting to pick this up.

Ambrosia, who wants to be called Amb is the protagonist and the POV character for the entire book. Amb came across as a very insecure person who has been running from her past for far too long. And when an invitation to her ten year reunion arrives, Amb initially doesn’t want to go. Flynn manages from the get go to create a sense of ‘omg-what-will-happen-next’ by spoon feeding the reader with glances in the past but also retaining a lot of the major points until the very end.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here became an instant guilty pleasure! Perfect for the fans of the movies Mean Girls and Heathers.

There were so many events and turns in the story that I didn’t want it to end. But when it comes to the end it was definitely not what I expected which only adds to the overall genius of Flynn, managing to create and exert some sort of justice. Do I agree with the ending? Not really but that only goes to show how much I enjoyed Amb’s story.

After finishing the book, I had to take a moment to really consider the whirlwind I went through, reading this book in less than two days. One thing that did pop up in my mind was that I didn’t feel a difference between the Then Amb and Now Amb once she arrives at the reunion. The whole story is centred around this traumatic event that happens in the past, that fuels Amb with guilt however this doesn’t seem to change her, or at least very little. The character growth there would have had potential however I don’t know how this would have been able to fit in the overall story ARC.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here is now out and available to be ordered from your local indie bookshop (Support them, please! 😊) . This book is perfect for the fans of the movie Mean Girls or even the Heathers as it goes to show how cliques can be a very toxic and difficult environment to navigate playing on codependency of people on other people. This became an instant guilty pleasure for me and I can’t wait to hear what others think of it.

#TheGirlsAreAllSoNiceHere 💅

The Friend by Charlie Gallagher

Thanks to Avon UK Publicity Team for sending me an E-ARC in exchange of a honest review. All views are my own.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What would you do if a stranger would present you with the opportunity to get revenge on the one person that ruined your life with no repercussion? Would you take the opportunity or would you question, why a stranger would give you this opportunity?

The Friend is a thrilling read, the start of a new series, in which themes of trust and the extent a person would go to obtain justice for their family collide. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but honestly the cover is something that let me down when I first saw it. Usually the cover is the first thing that captures the attention of a reader. This cover didn’t capture my attention at all. It felt generic and found myself wondering after reading the book why wouldn’t something more pragmatic from the story wouldn’t be featured on the cover. I know that cover design isn’t in the control of the author but I think that the cover would have fitted the genre and the story more if something more simplistic (a good example would be the black folder that is prominent at each scene) would have been incorporated on the cover. I can’t help but feel that the cover was a miss.

Charlie Gallagher is a name everyone should remember; The Friend is an exciting start to a new series that feels both fresh and already well established.

The story line is linear in the story, which can very easily slip into the boring side especially in this day and age when everyone is looking for something new. However what Gallagher managed to do is hide the linear story line behind strong characters which step to the forefront of the story. The multiple POV’s which weren’t usually the standard protagonist POV’s allows the readers to experience the events of a twisted game played by a stranger through a new lens.

I mentioned that the characterization is strong in The Friend. And I stand by that. Gallagher manages to breathe a breath of fresh air into them by making them unexpected. DI Joel Norris is the perfect example for this. As a crime series reader, I got so used of seeing ‘the-broken-detective’ trope that when Gallagher actually brings to the forefront a DI that is married and has a somewhat functional relationship with his wife, it feels totally unexpected and enjoyable, giving room for the flawed characters to sit into the normal people that actually go through the horrendous experience of meeting and playing the revenge game.

What is the revenge game you ask? Well it’s actually such a simple idea but so effective. You get yourself a stranger that promises you justice with no repercussion what-so-ever. Then you get a choice. Will you take justice into your own two hands or will you let justice take it’s own course? I don’t want to give away to much of the plot in this review because the excellence of this novel sits in the plot.

Charlie Gallagher is a name everyone should remember; The Friend is an exciting start to a new start to a series that feels both fresh but also already well established. I haven’t gotten yet the chance to read the Maddie Ives series or the Langthorne series but if they are anything close to The Friend then I can’t wait to dive into them when I start to feel my Gallagher withdrawal kick in.

The Assistant by Kjell Ola Dahl

Thank you to Karen Sullivan and Orenda Books Publicity Team for sending me a review copy of this book. All views are my own.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When I received this novel to review from Orenda Books, I can’t lie, I felt overwhelmed. Kjell Ola Dahl is one of the most prominent authors in Norway; his prose is one of the most engrossing and captivating. I was overwhelmed because on one hand big expectations and didn’t want that to deter my view of this author but on the other hand I knew that if I didn’t try I wouldn’t ever find out.

I am a huge fan of Nordic Noir and Dahl is considered the King, the Godfather, the OG. The Assistant is a reminder to those who have had any doubts of why Dahl holds that title. Intricately plotted, with characters that jump of the page and a very strong sense of place. Norway during the prohibition era and the period leading up to the second world war has never looked, smelled and tasted better.

Kjell Ola Dahl doesn’t write novels; he creates experiences by executing a strong sense of place of a spellbinding period that leaves its readers crave more.

The premise of the novel is what caught my attention from the get go. The idea of having former nemesis working together and seeing how their relationship evolved through the years was really thrilling. Structurally the novel jumps between two timelines which in itself at the moment seems to be an attractive tool to build up tension and revelations in crime and thriller novels. But what Dahl manages to create with the timeline is an immersive experience in two unique worlds that readers don’t often get time to enjoy. The historical elements seem conjured flawlessly and that is where Dahl shines. The immersive narrative and descriptions presented in a matter-of-factly way allows readers to create their own opinions on the action and characters. Due to this I found myself wishing that I wouldn’t ever finish this book, wanting to stay in the world that Dahl created and even explore it even more.

The two main characters of the book, Jack Rivers and Ludvig Paaske will be the main attraction to this novel. Being a more character driven novel, Rivers and Paaske are the backbone of this novel. I see Jack Rivers being an instant fan favourite but my heart belongs to Paaske. The way things end for Paaske really hurt me in my feelings.

The Assistant is a great reminder to everyone why Kjell Ola Dahl is the King of Nordic Noir. Kjell Ola Dahl doesn’t write novels; he creates experiences by executing a strong sense of place and characters that are easy to fall in love with by taking his readers through a spellbinding journey that leaves the reader craving for more.

Don Bartlett also deserves a lot of credit as without him this book wouldn’t have come to life on the English market. The translation is impeccable and feels natural for readers that have read before translated fiction. He manages to capture the Nordic feel of the novel brilliantly without sacrificing the narrative that Dahl infused in it.

Published by Orenda Books, The Assistant is available in e-book and will be coming out in May in paperback. I would strongly recommend this novel for lovers of historical fiction, character driven thrillers and amazing tension. This is also a great novel for writers who are wanting to understand effective tools and methods used in writing for sense of place and good direct characterization.

The Dinner Guest by B. P. Walter

Thank you to One More Chapter Publicity Team for allowing me to read this book ahead of its publication in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

There are books that have a very strong sense of place…

There are books that have characters that you simply can’t stop loving them…

There are books that leave you wondering until the last page who the killer is…

Then there is The Dinner Guest by B P Walter that conveniently crosses off boxes in all the before mentioned categories. Throughout reading this book I couldn’t help to feel transported into a different world that looked and smelled and felt like a parallel universe to the Desperate Housewives universe, the characters were like-able enough for me to root for them and although I had a sneaking suspicion of who had committed the murder from the first few pages, the writing was good enough to put me off my trace.

B P Walter is a master at making his readers want more, teasing them with every piece of the brilliant puzzle he created.

Beyond the cover readers can expect a thrilling and twisted story. Walter uses two timelines through which he carries his readers. The structure of past present fits the story like a glove and doesn’t get to feel repetitive as the story evolves really quickly. Also another element that Walter is a master of, is making his readers wanting more, and then not give them to it. This is incorporated really well in the split timelines so much so that I didn’t know if I wanted necessarily to find out who the murderer was but more to find out how everything fits in together before the killer is revelead.

The story is mainly told out of the three main characters perspective. We follow Charlie, Matthew and Rachel through the events that lead up to the night were at the dinner party organised by Charlie and Matthew, Matthew ends up dead. I don’t want to spoil to much of the plot in my review however there are many twists and turns throughout the story that will keep you engaged and guessing who did it. My advice for readers going into this story? Don’t. Trust. Anyone.

Overall I think that B P Walter establishes himself as someone to look out for in the psychological thriller genre. He is a master of concocting plots then fragment them into a jigsaw puzzle and calculating where every piece should be dropped into the story.

The Dinner Guest comes out on the 1st of April and is an excellent read for anyone looking to escape the mundanity of lockdown life.

All The Little Things by Sarah Lawton

Thank you to Canelo for providing me with an advance copy in exchange of an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

All The Little Things by Sarah Lawton one of the twisted books I read this year. Filled with suspense, this book promises you to grip you from the beginning and will keep you wanting to read more and more and more until you finish it and then realise that it’s over.

There were moments in this book where I had to stop and consider for a moment just what and how Lawton came up with the idea. However I liked the fact that she didn’t shy from the possibility of a mother and a daughter sharing a love interest.

Throughout the novel we follow Rachel (the mother) and Vivian (her daughter) and how the past is always there to remind you that what is gone is not forgotten.

All The Little Things is the type of novel that will leave you shocked and starring into the distance trying to wrap your mind around what you just read.

There were moments in the book where I couldn’t predict where the story would go. I think this was due to the two timelines between present and the past and my mind wanting answers too soon. However in the end when the two timelines connected I understood the structure choice and actually agreed with it. Certain premises have to have a certain structure. And in the case of All The Little Things it made sense to have the two timelines connecting towards the end.

Character wise, Lawton executes them flawlessly. In the beginning I often found myself being annoyed by Vivian’s actions but the more I thought about it, the more I understood that it was true to her character. Also the whole idea of a popularity contest–which in itself happens a lot when you are in high school–gave me a bit of a headache but once again, it didn’t bother me too much because it was softened due to understanding the character.

In the end I did foresee a reveal however it didn’t take away from the enjoyment of the story because the ending is just… mind blowing. In a sense I suspected that it had been a choice to take away from the surprise reveal and focus on the next big thing as it wouldn’t have been guessed.

Overall, All The Little Things is a perfect read for those who enjoy domestic thrillers with a twist. I enjoyed it a lot and in the end and found myself needing a moment after reading the book to assimilate what I had just read because as I said before Sarah Lawton doesn’t shy away from putting uncomfortable subjects to the forefront of the novel.