Monday, 15 January 2018

Isabella's Reading Corner: Stillhouse Lake

Stillhouse Lake (Stillhouse Lake, #1)
Author: Rachel Caine
Publication Date: July 1st 2017
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Gina lives a somewhat satisfying existence as a wife and mom until an accident uncovers her husband Mel's secret penchant for killing women. Desperate to give her children some semblance of a normal life, she finds a haven for them in a peaceful community under assumed names. Reinventing herself as Gwen Proctor, she learns how to physically and emotionally defend herself to regain some control and power over her future. It is also to better shield her kids from the repercussions of Mel's crimes.

Gwen and her children's security in their new home is short lived however when a body is found in nearby Stillhouse Lake. With new threats against her, she must find the strength to protect them all from an even more sinister danger.

A unique aspect of this novel is that the story is told not from the perspective of the killer's victims, but from that of his family. Gwen looks back on her past, horrified that she had no knowledge or suspicion about what her husband was really like and capable of. This creates an overwhelming urge in her to become a different person and her transformation into a fighter is convincing.

Stillhouse Lake is a fast-paced thriller with well developed, dynamic characters and an exciting storyline. Gwen is an intriguing protagonist and one I'm looking forward to getting to know more of in the sequel, Killman Creek.

From the publisher:
An Amazon Charts and USA Today bestseller.

Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Stillhouse Lake here.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Isabella's Reading Corner: The Chalk Man

The Chalk Man
Author: C.J. Tudor
Publication Date: January 9th 2018
Publisher: Crown

From the opening lines of The Chalk Man I was transfixed. This book took hold of me and refused to let go. I still have the shivers after finishing it!

As pre-teens Eddie Adams and his friends, Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky live a fairly idyllic life in a small English village. One Saturday afternoon they meet at the local fairground and a startling incident that occurs there creates a foreshadowing of the events to come. Soon after they are inspired to begin leaving coded messages to each other in the form of a stick man. Each member of the group is assigned a specific colour of chalk, so it's clear who left the code. However, their simple game has far reaching consequences and one of the messages leads them down a path of horror none of them expected.

Eddie narrates this fantastic story, which alternates between two time periods, 1986 and 2016. The characters are all extremely well-developed and exceptionally portrayed with intensely believable actions and interactions. I felt that I was able to clearly understand their motivations, especially the narrator.

This is a novel to immerse yourself in, know as little as possible before starting and read without interruption. Just when I found myself seduced by the nostalgic, dreamy atmosphere, I was jolted straight out of my lull with another surprise. Tudor doesn't hold back with the shocks. She supplies enough twists to keep even the most astute suspense thriller reader satisfied. The Chalk Man is beautiful, haunting and engrossing.  An absolutely stunning debut.

Thank you to Nick at Penguin Random House Canada for the ARC provided for review.

From the publisher:
A riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut that weaves a mystery about a childhood game gone dangerously awry, and will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.
     In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he's put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead.
     That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.
Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on The Chalk Man here.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Review: Pretty Dead Girls

Pretty Dead Girls
Author: Monica Murphy
Publication Date: January 2nd 2018
Publisher: Entangled TEEN

Someone is killing the mean girls of Cape Bonita Prep. 
Gretchen Nelson is one of the most popular girls at school. She is also a member of the Larks, ten girls who are considered to be the 'best of the best' on campus. When Gretchen is found murdered, it sends shockwaves through the privileged community. But Gretchen was not so beloved as she appeared to be. It's not long before the police are scouring attendance records for potential suspects. Soon a second female student is found murdered, also a senior member of the Larks. Penelope Malone, president of the group, begins to fear for her life. Could she be next on the killer's list?

Penelope traverses a course through her friends, attempting to uncover their secrets and see through possible deceptions before she herself is targeted by the murderer. Along the way she teams up with the mysteriously intriguing Cass Vincenti, who may know more than he's telling her. Penelope and Cass have differing personalities, which heightens the chemistry between them.

There is a large cast of characters who are unpredictable and quite a few that are intentionally unlikable. They all seem capable of lying and I didn't know who to trust, which made for some great suspense. With all the possible suspects I had a fun time trying to guess who the killer was. Much of the story takes place on campus and there's a constant undercurrent of real danger nearby. In Pretty Dead Girls, Murphy creates a tension in the air reminiscent of a teen slasher film. It's a fast paced and entertaining YA murder mystery I thoroughly enjoyed.

Thank you to Entangled: Teen for the eBook copy to review.

From the publisher:
Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.

In the peaceful seaside town of Cape Bonita, wicked secrets and lies are hidden just beneath the surface. But all it takes is one tragedy for them to be exposed.

The most popular girls in school are turning up dead, and Penelope Malone is terrified she's next. All the victims so far have been linked to Penelope―and to a boy from her physics class. The one she's never really noticed before, with the rumored dark past and a brooding stare that cuts right through her.

There's something he isn't telling her. But there's something she's not telling him, either.

Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: Everless

Author: Sara Holland
Publication Date: January 2nd 2018
Publisher: HarperTeen

Everless, a debut fantasy novel by Sara Holland, is set in the kingdom of Sempera where time has been bound to blood and iron and its inhabitants must sell it to survive. Jules Ember and her father have been expelled from Everless, the estate owned by the powerful Gerling family and now live in poverty in the village of Crofton. When Jules suspects her father is dying, she must do whatever she can to buy him more time, even if it means returning to the home of the Gerlings whom she holds intense hatred for. 

Jules is fiercely loyal and brave. She loves her father and is concerned for him as she soon discovers he is selling his blood iron to support them. She is willing to take enormous risks to save him and anyone else she cares about. Danger and intrigue await her at every turn, as not everyone she meets is who they appear or claim to be. 

The story has a unique and unusual premise – a world where time is taken away or added to through the blood. There is a description of villagers waiting in line to have their time extracted from them which made me shudder, as being bled brings them closer to death. The rich live for centuries in opulence, while the poor, having to sell their time to survive, live in squalor and fear.

Everless is a compulsively readable, beautifully written novel with gorgeous imagery, lush settings and strong characters that kept me mesmerised. The details revealed of the history of the Semperans and their Queen are fascinating. I highly recommend this book and am anxiously awaiting the sequel!

Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for the ARC provided to review.

From the publisher:
In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

Fans of Victoria Aveyard, Kendare Blake, and Stephanie Garber will devour this lush novel's breathtaking action, incredible romance, and dangerous secrets.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Everless here.

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: Bonfire

Author: Krysten Ritter
Publication Date: November 7th 2017
Publisher: Crown Archetype

Abby Williams is an environmental lawyer living in Chicago. She returns to her hometown of Barrens to investigate concerns of unsafe water with potential ties to a large company called Optimal. Deep into her investigation, Abby becomes obsessed with finding the truth behind the complaints. Memories slowly resurface and buried feelings reignite as she makes her way through the town, interacting with old classmates and the other residents of Barrens. 

Abby is complex and sympathetic. She has unresolved issues with her past and is slightly elusive with her memories. When she moved to Chicago she transformed into a new persona by reinventing herself and washing away any remnants of her small town life. While growing up in Barrens, she was viciously bullied by a group of girls – led by the popular Kaycee Mitchell, bringing Abby to the verge of suicide. Kaycee had once been her best friend. In their senior year of high school, her tormenters showed signs of strange ailments. Accusations were made against Optimal, but a civil suit was quickly dropped when the girls admitted it was a hoax. Abby, however, never stopped believing it was true. She had seen the look of terror on Kaycee’s face during one of her spells and was convinced she couldn’t be feigning her sickness. 

Leading a research team investigating the rash of current complaints, Abby finds reports of old grievances and issues linked to the town’s water supply and Optimal. She is desperate to find a connection between the latest sickness claims and what had happened to Kaycee in high school, refusing to believe her allegations were false.

Ritter's storytelling is rich in detail. Its dark and brooding suspense had me eagerly turning the pages to unravel layers of the mystery. The threat of danger, whether real or imagined, was exciting and I was anxious to find out what would happen. Above all, this is a character-driven novel. The development of Abby and her relationships, with past events affecting the present, is what made this such a compelling read for me. If you are a fan of psychological thrillers with flawed, intense female protagonists, I would definitely recommend Bonfire.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for the copy provided to review.

From the publisher:
Can you ever outrun your past?

From actress, producer, and writer Krysten Ritter, a gripping, tightly wound suspense novel about a woman forced to confront her past in the wake of small-town corruption

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small-town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’s biggest scandal from more than a decade ago, involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as she tries desperately to find out what really happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game”—it will threaten reputations, and lives, in the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote rural town of just five claustrophobic square miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of what happens when your past and present collide.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Bonfire here.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: The Nowhere Girls

The Nowhere Girls
Author: Amy Reed
Publication Date: October 10th 2017
Publisher: Simon Pulse

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed is about three young women who decide to fight the rape culture that exists within their small town. 

Grace Salter moves with her parents to Prescott, Oregon from Kentucky. On her first day at her new high school, she makes what becomes a significant decision to sit with Erin DeLillo and Rosina Suarez in the school cafeteria at lunch time and quickly bonds with them. Erin DeLillo is an outsider who is sensitive, has trouble understanding human behaviour and hates unpredictability. Rosina Suarez comes from a large extended family and looks after her grandmother and younger cousins. She holds down a job at her uncle's Mexican restaurant to help make ends meet, but would much rather spend her time performing and playing in a band.

Grace hears about Lucy Moynihan, the former tenant of her new home, who was raped by boys from her school and then ostracized by most of the town. The boys who raped Lucy got away with it, while their friends, family, teammates, school and authorities all looked the other way. It was easier to ignore Lucy's claims than give her justice. Grace is horrified that no one defended Lucy and is concerned because it could have been any of them this could have happened to. After a discussion with Erin and Rosina, the three decide to form an anonymous group called the Nowhere Girls. They organise a meeting and send emails to all the girls at school offering a safe place to share their own experiences, not just in regards to Lucy, but how they feel they are treated as women. 

Grace, Erin and Rosina are surprised, but pleased when a variety of their classmates turn up at the first meeting. Initially the hurdle they must overcome is a lack of understanding from the new Nowhere Girls to each other's situations and feelings. Some girls come out of curiosity. One girl felt she didn't have anyone to support her after approaching the school principal and being told it was her own fault for being groped – that she had put herself in a 'compromising position'. All the girls have a different reason for being there. 

The author gets inside the minds of all the girls, each with their own set of circumstances and pressures to look and behave a certain way, as well as to expect and accept the behaviour that follows. They show overwhelming concern for others’ opinions, to be noticed or not noticed. The boys proudly compare how many girls they slept with as a form of competition. The ones who don't participate say nothing. The enabling from parents, teachers, coach and principal allows the boys to feel braver. Many in the town felt guilty for their treatment of Lucy, but refused to acknowledge what really happened or accept their complicity. I found it fascinating to see how the community dealt with the Nowhere Girls, their thoughts and reactions. Even more interesting to me was how the girls themselves address and adjust to their own relationships in the aftermath. 

The story is not solely about the main protagonists – Grace, Erin and Rosina, or even what happened to Lucy. The Nowhere Girls are every girl and the book features widely diverse, realistic characters.  It is about all the girls who have their own stories and voices waiting to be heard. The victim shaming, blaming and sexism represented is authentic and plausible. This is an intensely powerful and timely novel that I recommend.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster Canada for the ARC provided for review.

From the publisher:
Three misfits come together to avenge the rape of a fellow classmate and in the process trigger a change in the misogynist culture at their high school transforming the lives of everyone around them in this searing and timely story.

Who are the Nowhere Girls?

They’re everygirl. But they start with just three:

Grace Salter is the new girl in town, whose family was run out of their former community after her southern Baptist preacher mom turned into a radical liberal after falling off a horse and bumping her head.

Rosina Suarez is the queer punk girl in a conservative Mexican immigrant family, who dreams of a life playing music instead of babysitting her gaggle of cousins and waitressing at her uncle’s restaurant.

Erin Delillo is obsessed with two things: marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation, but they aren’t enough to distract her from her suspicion that she may in fact be an android.

When Grace learns that Lucy Moynihan, the former occupant of her new home, was run out of town for having accused the popular guys at school of gang rape, she’s incensed that Lucy never had justice. For their own personal reasons, Rosina and Erin feel equally deeply about Lucy’s tragedy, so they form an anonymous group of girls at Prescott High to resist the sexist culture at their school, which includes boycotting sex of any kind with the male students.

Told in alternating perspectives, this groundbreaking novel is an indictment of rape culture and explores with bold honesty the deepest questions about teen girls and sexuality.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on The Nowhere Girls here.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Isabella's Reading Corner: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress, #1)
Author: Julie C. Dao
Publication Date: October 10th 2017
Publisher: Philomel Books

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a gorgeously written debut novel inspired by the Evil Queen legend from Snow White. 

Xifeng lives a frugal and unhappy life in her dilapidated family home, along with her aunt Guma who raised her. By reading cards and practicing magic, Guma sees greatness in her niece's future, but this rise to power will come at a price. Xifeng will have to give up something or someone important to her to achieve it. 

Xifeng is beautiful, ambitious and intelligent. She has a difficult and complicated relationship with her aunt. Although Guma treats her harshly with her words and physically beats her, she expresses that she has high expectations for her niece. Xifeng lives for the rare moments of kindness and occasional approval she receives from her aunt, hoping for genuine love and affection from her. Deciding to take her fate into her own hands, she leaves Guma and her village behind. She travels with her lover Wei to the Imperial City in the hopes of becoming the one destined to unite the five kingdoms and bring peace to the continent. However, it is foretold there is another whose destiny may be greater than her own.

Xifeng has an inner malevolence that she desperately strives to suppress. She is quick to anger and has extremely violent thoughts about others who she feels have slighted her, no matter how insignificant the circumstance. She constantly struggles to fight this creature within her and not embrace the darkness which will destroy her soul. Her transformation through her choices is plausible and authentic. She is resourceful as she faces adversity and rivals on her path to becoming the Empress.

There is remarkable attention to detail in every aspect of the story. The village, the Emperor’s palace, Imperial City and the forest where the tengaru reside, are all magnificently described.  The characters are extremely well-developed, unique and believable. The connections and interactions between the women are more potent and fascinating than the romances, which makes for a more thought-provoking narrative.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is a powerful and compelling fantasy tale, filled with mystery, dark magic and secrets. Julie C. Dao has created a kingdom that is beautifully imagined. With East Asian mythology, colourful demons, political intrigue, complex relationships and an ambitious, yet tortured anti-heroine, I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for the ARC provided for review.

From the publisher:
The Wrath and the Dawn meets Snow White and the Huntsman in this dark and mystical East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl's quest to become Empress.

Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her.

Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng's majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high? Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and  exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins--sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute. 

Set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world filled with both breathtaking pain and beauty, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns possesses all the hallmarks of masterful fantasy: dazzling magic, heartbreaking romance, and a world that hangs in the balance. Fans of Heartless, Stealing Snow, and Red Queen will devour this stunning debut.

You can read my original Isabella's Reading Corner post on Forest of a Thousand Lanterns here.