Confess to Me – Sharon Doering

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Synopsis: Heather and her family (husband Trevor, daughter Emily, and stepson Sawyer) move back to Hunther, Wisconsin to be closer to Trevor’s ill mother. Both Trevor and Heather grew up in this small town and yet Heather has spent twenty years trying to escape it. Being in this town brings up a lot of bad memories for Heather and causes her to look more closely at things that happened in the past.

Small towns have secrets and Heather is determined to uncover Hunther’s. But with threats, lies and unreliable memories, it would be easier for Heather to leave the past behind her. Except everyone seems to know more about Heather and her family that she does. And with accusations flying around, Heather has to find out the truth about her upbringing and the death that surrounded her family.  

It’s not often that I struggle to get through a book, but unfortunately that was the case with this one. I didn’t think the mystery was very compelling and struggled to get excited as I was reading. I don’t know if that’s because of the family aspect which I cannot relate to, the fact that I didn’t have very strong feelings about any of the characters, or because of some overly graphic descriptions which brought me out of the story.

However, I did feel that the author did an excellent job portraying the claustrophobic nature of small-town communities. Everyone is involved in other people’s business with the characters being the perfect balance of nosy yet secretive.

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The Beresford – Will Carver

Just outside the city – any city, every city – is a grand, spacious but affordable apartment building called The Beresford.

There’s a routine at The Beresford.

For Mrs May, every day’s the same: a cup of cold, black coffee in the morning, pruning roses, checking on her tenants, wine, prayer and an afternoon nap. She never leaves the building. Abe Schwartz also lives at The Beresford. His housemate Smythe no longer does. Because Abe just killed him. In exactly sixty seconds, Blair Conroy will ring the doorbell to her new home and Abe will answer the door. They will become friends. Perhaps lovers.

And, when the time comes for one of them to die, as is always the case at The Beresford, there will be sixty seconds to move the body before the next unknowing soul arrives at the door. Because nothing changes at The Beresford, until the doorbell rings…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review: This is a very weird book, unlike anything I have read before. It completely subverts expectations and looks at human nature in a really twisted way.

I did at times find it confusing. A lot happens in a short space of time and things at The Beresford change so quickly that you don’t really get the chance to know the different characters. But this allows them instead to become symbolic.  The short chapters help maintain a fast pace which, along with the continuous changes, makes this an exciting read.

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The Family Tree – Steph Mullin & Nicole Mabry

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis: After taking a DNA test, Liz learns two things: 1) she’s adopted, 2) there is someone in her family that is connected to a serial killer investigation. Despite warnings from the FBI, Liz is determined to meet her blood relatives. But can she stop her own personal feelings from clouding her judgement when there’s a killer on the loose?

Alongside Liz’s narrative, the story follows what happens to the women who are abducted by the Tri-State Killer. Bringing together past and present as Liz’s desire for a family risks placing her in the path of a murderer.

Review: I loved the premise of this story. With the growing use of technology it is so interesting to consider the pitfalls of sharing your DNA online, and how this technology can be used to help solve crimes. I especially enjoyed the chapters focusing on the kidnapped girls. It was interesting getting their perspective and learning more about the Tri-State Killer from that angle. With a lot of similarities, these chapters could have been too repetitive, but I found that they each helped uncover a little more about the situation and created a sense of solidarity between the different women.

However, my biggest issue with this book was its unrealistic nature. I doubt the FBI would share case details, especially when the person was blatantly lying to them. Liz was also quite irritating and immature. Although the motivations for her actions were made clear, I struggled to understand why she did what she did. Her determination to meet with her ‘new’ family seemed reckless considering the link to the serial killer which she didn’t seem to really care about. I struggle to believe that that is how anyone in that situation would actually act.

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Widowland – C.J. Carey

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis: What would society be like if Britain had signed an alliance with Germany during WWII? This question is what Widowland explores, detailing a version of Britain where most of the young men have been sent to Germany and women are separated into castes based on factors such as appearance and family background, implementing a strong level of control over their lives.

The main character Rose works at the Ministry of Culture rewriting literature, so it reflects the values of the Protectorate. Being a Geli, the highest caste, and having an affair with a senior SS officer offers Rose a reasonably good life but she is aware that one misstep could result in her being reclassified. One day Rose is sent on a secret mission to Widowland, the run-down areas occupied by the lowest caste women, to uncover the insurgents who have been vandalising walls with graffiti made up of lines from subversive literature. As Rose undertakes her mission, she realises that she cannot ignore ideas from the past and begins to question where her loyalties lie.

Review: Reading this book immediately draws similarities to the Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 and other dystopian/alternate realities. The concept itself I thought was really interesting, even if it is similar to other stories, and I was intrigued about the editing of literature and separation of women into castes. The world-building was done extremely well, there was so much detail, and it was clear how and why this type of society had come into existence.

If anything, at times there was too much detail. I was often confused about the names of the different castes and found the first half of the book quite slow as the society was explained, meaning that it took a while to get to the main plot. This meant elements, such as the romance and Rose’s change in character, felt rushed.

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Embers – Josephine Greenland

Two siblings, one crime. One long-buried secret.

17-year-old Ellen never wanted a holiday. What is there to do in a mining town in the northernmost corner of the country, with no one but her brother Simon – a boy with Asperger’s and obsessed with detective stories – for company?

Nothing, until they stumble upon a horrifying crime scene that brings them into a generations-long conflict between the townspeople and the native Sami. When the police dismiss Simon’s findings, he decides to track down the perpetrator himself. Ellen reluctantly helps, drawn in by a link between the crime and the siblings’ own past. What started off as a tedious holiday soon escalates into a dangerous journey through hatred, lies and self-discovery that makes Ellen question not only the relationship to her parents, but also her own identity.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review: My favourite thing about this book was Ellen and Simon’s relationship. It could have easily become gimmicky or stereotypical, especially with the representation of neurodiversity, but instead their sibling relationship was strong and caring. It was nice to see how they balanced each other out – Ellen helping Simon navigate social situations and Simon pushing Ellen out of her comfort zone with his insistence on solving the crime. Also, it was good to see teenage characters being more than simply moody and dramatic.

However, because of Ellen and Simon’s ages, some parts of the story felt unrealistic, such as them being sent on holiday on their own, which takes you out of the atmosphere.

The sense of place is so important to this story and the description of the location and culture was very well done. I could really imagine the places Ellen and Simon were and loved learned about Sami culture through their eyes. Addressing a mystery alongside discussions of aboriginal cultures and heritage added another layer to the story which made it interesting to read.

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A Public Murder – Antoinette Moses

‘My mother was a very difficult person, Inspector, and not always a very nice one. I can think of any number of people who would want her dead.’

The shocking murder of the archaeologist, Stephanie Michaels in the new Leotakis Gallery in Cambridge is clearly going to be a troublesome high-profile investigation from the outset. But to track down the killer, DI Pam Gregory has to travel to the Greek island of Crete where she finds herself on a journey she never expected, one which will change her life for ever.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review: This book is an excellent introduction to DI Pam Gregory and I am so keen to read more. Pam is the perfect main character for a story such as this – driven and highly skilled yet insecure and struggles to have a life outside of her work.  It is her deductions that help tie the story together, not because she is a genius super-sleuth but because, more realistically, she puts the work in and gets results.

The mystery aspect of this book is incredibly twisty and detailed. There are so many possible murder suspects and motives that you don’t know where to look. And, importantly, they all feel plausible rather than simply red herrings to trip up the reader. There are possibly a few too many named characters, within Pam’s team for example, who are not really relevant to the story. However, the range of personalities give the story depth and keep you guessing until the last moment.

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Deadly Obsession – OMJ Ryan

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis: DCI Jane Phillips and her Major Crimes team are called in for the murder of a retired teacher in a care home. Not long after, more bodies turn up, each one completely different with nothing linking them together except for the fact that they all resemble murders by notorious serial killers. As the body count rises, the murders get progressively more violent but Jane and her team struggle to identify any suspects. Their opponent seems to always be one step ahead.

Review: I raced through this book, finding it extremely enjoyable and exciting. I was desperate to get to the ending to learn who the killer was and how everything was going to be resolved.

Even though I haven’t read the other books in the series this wasn’t off-putting, this book can easily be read as a standalone. If anything, I will now probably go back to read the other 4 books as this one was such a good read. I really liked DCI Phillips as a strong female lead and enjoyed the workplace dynamics with the other police officers and her boss. I felt that there was a good balance struck between getting to know the characters and the fast-paced murder investigation.

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Ariadne – Jennifer Saint

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis: In the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur the character of Ariadne often gets overlooked, even though she is the one who betrays her family to help Theseus slay the Minotaur. This story however places Ariadne and her sister Phaedra at the centre, focusing on them as they deal with the horror of their family and the subsequent fallout. In Ancient Greece, the women are inconsequential, voiceless, and traded like commodities. But the story of Ariadne shows they are much more than that – her complicated feelings towards her mother, the Minotaur (her brother), and her duty are explored as she learns the power she holds and attempts to discover where she belongs.

With romance, betrayal and tragedy, this story breathes life into the women that are often forgotten. Travelling from the labyrinth of the Minotaur, to the shores of Naxos, and the city of Athens, it explores the relationship between women, men, and the ever vengeful gods, and uses women’s voices to take familiar stories in a new direction.

Review: I was really excited to read this book. I grew up reading Greek mythology and was so interested to see how this book retold a familiar story but from a female perspective. And I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. Although it did take me a while to connect to Ariadne as a character, her feelings for Theseus in particular could have been explored in more depth to feel less superficial, I was drawn in by the beautiful descriptions and strength of emotions that drive the story.

The various tales of Greek heroes and Gods were well woven in, helping to create a rich atmosphere and a clear sense of the mythological world this story takes place in. As someone quite familiar with the different myths, it was nice to hear them told as stories by the different characters as it reminds you how interconnected the different stories are.

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Black Widows – Cate Quinn

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis: Black Widows follows the perspectives of three wives, all married to Blake who is found murdered on their land far from anywhere else. Being in a plural marriage means these women are on the edge of society, even within the Mormon community. They do not trust the police and certainly do not trust each other as it seems clear that one of them must have killed him.

Review: This was such an interesting and intriguing book, partly because of the murder but also because of the relationships that are created. I found the plural marriage dynamic extremely interesting. I was so curious about the relationship between the three wives, especially considering how different they all are, and enjoyed how this developed across the book. I did feel that the character of Emily was not as fully developed as the others, but overall, there was a good sense of each character’s distinct personality.

The mystery aspect of the plot was very well-done, helping to draw the story to a satisfying conclusion. There were so many twists and turns that constantly makes you second-guess who the murderer is. I think having the three perspectives of the three wives really beneficial in this aspect as you get to hear each of their suspicions about each other, thereby influencing your own opinion.

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Death by Arrangement – Kathleen Torian Taylor

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Sarah’s structured life as an accountant in downtown San Francisco is about to take a hard left. She knows all about deceit but not about how to trust again. For three years her love life revolved around a liar and a cheat. But now she yearns to become a torch singer. Sarah’s attracted to Jerard from Los Angeles. His strange scar and mysterious ways both entice and discourage her. A serial killer haunts the 24-hour news cycle, and when she comes face to face with his latest victim, fear and self-doubt creep in like uninvited guests. Once again, she questions her trust. Is Jerard “the one” or another mistake? An unexpected encounter thrusts her into darkness, and Sarah must use every ounce of strength in a battle for her life and dream of singing her song.

Review: From the very first page I was totally hooked. The tension builds steadily throughout making it so exciting to read. Getting the perspective of the murderer in the first chapter was really effective as it meant I was trying to figure out who the murderer could be as we met each of the different characters. I was so on edge, second-guessing everything that people were saying and doing, trying to figure out if they had a hidden agenda. And this really helps you feel some of the paranoia that Sarah has knowing there is a serial killer on the loose.

The book has such good detail and description, it really draws you in to Sarah’s life and her surroundings. I loved the humorous elements as they help lighten the feel of the book and, alongside the aspects of romance and friendship, help to make this book feel more than simply a murder mystery. Sarah felt so real and relatable, making her a great main character.

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