ARC REVIEW: The Marriage Betrayal – by Shalini Boland @bookouture

Title: The Marriage Betrayal
Author: Shalini Boland
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: July 8th 2019
Publisher: Bookouture
Finished reading: June 8th 2019
Pages: 273

“Anyone looking would see two young families having a relaxed evening out. They wouldn’t see the discomfort, the anxiety, the resentment. They might even be envious.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Bookouture in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***


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It’s true I’m a bit biased when it comes to Shalini Boland‘s work, as I’ve been a fan ever since I had the chance to read The Girl From The Sea back in 2016. Every time I hear a new psychological thriller is about to come out, I immediately add it to my wishlist even before reading the blurb… Shalini Boland‘s psychological thrillers have yet to fail me, and The Marriage Betrayal once again confirmed my love for her writing. Why was this another winner for me?

Well, first of all it’s the writing that draws you right in, sets the tone and won’t let you go until the very end. Every time I pick up a Shalini Boland story, I know I have to clear out my schedule beforehand and make sure nothing will disturb me while I read… Because it’s a garantuee I won’t be wanting to stop reading before I reach the final page if it can be helped. The Marriage Betrayal turned out to be another one of those reads. While it’s true the pace is a tad slow in the beginning, with the first quarter of the story being what seems like a mosty ordinary family vacation in Swanage. There is always a hint of unrest and suspense lying just beneath the surface though; the run down gothic house they rented for the week setting the tone for the atmosphere. Tension is slowly building up as we start getting glimpses of Jake and his sister Lainy’s past, with things escalating as Faye realizes that her husband Jake and their son Dylan are missing. Did something happen to them? Is there something more menacing at play? Secrets and lies are hinted at, but not revealed for a long long time; leaving you guessing what happened with Jake and Lainy in the past and what it has to do with the present. And what other secrets are they all hiding?

Like I said before, the building up is a bit slow and fans of faster psychological thrillers might struggle a bit with the first part of The Marriage Betrayal as there is more focus on the characters and mundane daily activities. I can promise you things WILL escalate and this story has quite a few shocking surprises for you lined up. The Marriage Betrayal will try to mislead you multiple times and try to make you look in the wrong direction… And even though I did start to guess some details of what was coming, there is no way to brace yourself for the end that Shalini Boland has for us in store. WHAT A TWIST!! It’s not often a psychological thriller manages to surprise me, but this twist left me with my mouth hanging wide open and consequently saying ‘NO WAY!’ over and over again. And while I thought that The Marriage Betrayal was a solid 4 star read during most of the story, it deserves an extra half start for the explosive ending alone. Fans of the genre will without doubt have a great time reading this story.


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ARC REVIEW: The Woman In Our House – by Andrew Hart

Title: The Woman In Our House
Author: Andrew Hart
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: June 18th 2019
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Finished reading: June 7th 2019
Pages: 352

“That was the real thrill: not the commission, not having clients hitting bestseller lists or coming home from awards shows with little statuettes. It was the electricity of finding magical, compelling words, stories, and ideas, all entrusted to me to put them where they could be seen.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Lake Union Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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There was just something about the premise of this story that immediately left me intrigued and with no other option but to add it to my reading pile. It’s true that a potentially dodgy nanny or babysitter doesn’t exactly make for an all that original plot base on its own, but the literary agent angle, the promise of dark secrets involved and the menacing cover were enough to convince me to read The Woman In The House. I’m definitely happy with what I found. While I can’t deny that this story is what you call a slowburner and it took me some time to warm up to both the characters and the plot itself, things speed up as we get closer to the final reveals and the ending is without doubt intense. The Woman In The House has multiple characters and point of views incorporated into the story, which can be a bit confusing in the beginning as it’s kind of difficult to get a proper idea where everybody stands. In fact, the involvement of some of the characters only get explained near the ending, which can get a tad frustrating as you are kept juggling with lose ends and information that doesn’t seem to fit the puzzle. As for the characters themselves… I’m not sure up to what point they are likeable, but I loved the parts with the focus on Anna’s job as a literary agent, her interaction with upcoming author Ben and the novel fragments of his upcoming work. Those elements are very cleverly incorporated!

I did feel the story tried to incorporate too many different elements into the plot, with Oaklynn’s secrets and past, Josh’s secrets, Anna’s job and novel fragments and the home life of the Klein family among other elements fighting for the spotlight. Having to juggle all those different elements slowed down the pace and made it harder to keep track of everything, although all secrets and connections will be revealed before you reach the final page. The last part of The Woman In The House was without doubt intense, although I do wonder if it was over a bit too soon and quickly after such a slow building up of intensity… Most people will be both shocked albeit still quite satisfied by the final reveals though. If you love surprises, this story will definitely have a few in store for you! In short, The Woman In The House is a psychological thriller with a slow start and an explosive twist that will leave you rattled.


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ARC REVIEW: The Paper Wasp – by Lauren Acampora

Title: The Paper Wasp
Author: Lauren Acampora
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
First published: June 11th 2019
Publisher: Grove Press
Finished reading: May 24th 2019
Pages: 240

“No one wants the truth. We don’t want to live with it; we don’t want to bathe in it. We want to supplant it. We want the dream, not the real. We long for fabrication, hallucination, false catastrophe.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Grove Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I admit I have been curious about this story as soon as I first saw the cover of The Paper Wasp, and I’ve been looking forward to pick it up ever since. I know it sounds like a cliche, but the phrase ‘it’s not you, it’s me‘ is actually quite a good representation of my feelings about this story. Even though the blurb itself sounded intriguing enough to have my interest piqued immediately, I’m afraid the actual story ended up being not exactly my cup of tea. Of course these feelings are subjective and The Paper Wasp is by no means a bad read, but I’ll try to explain why it wasn’t a right fit for me. It’s hard to put my finger exactly on the why, but I think a lot of my lack of connection to the story had to do with the writing style. The writing and tone of The Paper Wasp was too aloof and cumbersome to my taste and it almost felt as if it was trying to hard to be overly complicated and ‘literary fiction worthy’. I can appreciate lush writing and wonderful phrasing, but in this case I don’t think this particular writing style matched the premise of the story.

The Paper Wasp basically focuses on toxic relationships and the interaction between Abby and Elise. Other characters are in play, but these two women are in the spotlight and the focus is on their relationship and character development. The thing is, I really didn’t like either of them and for a character-driven story this makes it a lot harder to stay invested. The whole Perren angle is used to give the story a surreal air and it can be said that makes the story more unique, but I personally found it to be mostly confusing instead. Abby is a strange strange character, and while I love my quirky and unique characters, she is particularly hard to like. The superficial Hollywood cliche character in Elise is equally difficult to connect with… And these feelings didn’t change as I got to know them better. The ending definitely came as a surprise, but I’m not sure if it was a good surprise this time around. In fact, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around the facts and how the plot was developed… Between the overly cumbersome writing style, unlikeable characters and an unconvincing plot development, sadly The Paper Wasp wasn’t my cup of tea. But I also know that the right person will love spending time with this story.


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ARC REVIEW: Your Life Is Mine – by Nathan Ripley

Title: Your Life Is Mine
Author: Nathan Ripley
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
First published: June 4th 2019
Publisher: Atria Books
Finished reading: May 20th 2019
Pages: 336

“Before a shooter is a shooter, he’s just a man in a room.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Atria Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I really enjoyed my time with Find You In The Dark last year so when I saw a new title by Nathan Ripley I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to read it. I’ve been looking forward to pick it up ever since, especially with such an intriguing premise. I mean, the idea of having a cult in the spotlight and the main character being the daughter of the cult leader and mass shooter sounds both disturbing, twisted and absolutely fascinating! Now I’ve read it, I still think there is a lot to love in Your Life Is Mine, but in the end the story failed to convince me completely. A big part of this feeling had to do with the very slow pace during most of the story. The slow pace came as a surprise especially considering just how twisted things get at points… Especially in the second half you will find a lot of action as things are spinning out of control, but somehow the overall plot still feels slow? It sounds contradicting, but sadly it was how I felt about the story as a whole. The main characters of Your Life Is Mine are not easy to like, but I do admit they are all very intriguing. It was interesting to see Blanche react to such a messed up childhood and learn more about Chuck, Crissy and their cult ideas. The cult plays a role throughout the story even though we only see Chuck actively in the beginning, as followers keep his memory alive after the mass shooting in 1996. It’s scary to think that the ideas of a man long dead can still have such an influence… There are quite a few twists and turns involved in Your Life Is Mine, but most are very easy to guess for those who regularly read (psychological) thrillers. And this fact kind of took the thrill out of the story for me. The end was also a bit too abrupt for me and I remember thinking: ‘is this all?’. It wasn’t particularly a satisfying ending for me, although I do get why the author decided to go down that road. Your Life Is Mine is by no means a bad read and it has some very interesting and twisted elements, but sadly it failed to stand out above other recent thrillers I’ve read. If you like the genre and don’t mind a slow pace and easy to guess plot twists, you will probably enjoy your time with Your Life Is Mine.


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ARC REVIEW: Dead Inside – by Noelle Holten @nholten40 @HarperImpulse

Title: Dead Inside
(DC Maggie Jamieson #1)
Author: Noelle Holten
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime
First published: May 31st 2019
Publisher: Killer Reads
Finished reading: May 17th 2019
Pages: 352

“He turned her from a confident, carefree, intelligent woman, into a shell. She felt like nothing. Like she was in someone else’s body, skin, mindset.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Killer Reads in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Holy bat in hell, what a read! Now excuse me while I go pick my jaw off the floor… I already had a feeling I was going to enjoy this crime thriller by fellow book blogger and now debut author Noelle Holten, and my expectations were more than met. I literally cancelled all plans, settled down in my favorite reading chair and flew through Dead Inside in one sitting. It was simply brilliant! I loved that we not only have the typical detective (Maggie) to follow, but that we also have a probation officer (Lucy) in the spotlight. It definitely shows in the little details that Noelle worked as a senior probation officer herself for eighteen years, and it was fascinating to see a lesser explored angle being used in a crime thriller. The same goes for criminal psychologist Kate, who brings another refreshing angle to the investigation and it’s these three women together that makes this story work so well. It’s true we don’t get to see all that much of Maggie yet, but I’m having a feeling we will be getting plenty of her in the sequel.

Dead Inside is all about domestic abuse and what effects it has on the victimis and those around them. Signs of abuse are often not easy to see and the victims often feel that the situation they are in is impossible to escape. Psychological abuse is still abuse and harder to discover for outsiders… As someone who has been in a toxic relationship in the past, I know how hard it can be to let go. Trigger warnings are in place for the mentioned abuse, rape, violence and alcoholism. Dead Inside shines a light on domestic abuse from the point of view of both victims and (in a less direct way) abusers. At the same time, we also have an active murder investigation going on with ‘victims’ who don’t exactly arise sympathy. This angle alone is a very intriguing as it makes you wonder about right and wrong and if certain people just had it coming and karma came looking for them, or if even those dirtbags have rights… This story is lightning fast and isn’t afraid to go dark and messy. There are various twists and turns involved in Dead Inside, and while I did see part of it coming, I definitely didn’t guess the final reveal. And what a way to end the story! The whole Bill Raven case sounds fascinatingly disturbing… I already can’t wait to read the sequel and Dead Inside hasn’t even officially been published yet. Crime thriller fans, you have found a new title for your wishlist! Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on this outstanding crime thriller debut.


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ARC REVIEW: The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes – by Ruth Hogan

Title: The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes
Author: Ruth Hogan
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 3rd 2018
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books
Finished reading: May 16th 2019
Pages: 320

“When the music ends for someone you love you don’t stop dancing. You dance for them as well.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I’ve been meaning to try Ruth Hogan‘s work so I was really excited to receive a copy of The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes on my kindle. And while my reading experience turned out to be different than what I was expecting and it ended up being not exactly my cup of tea, I also understand the love for this story. The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes is by no means a bad read (quite the contrary in fact) and the three star rating reflects my personal experience with the story rather than the quality itself. Every book has its target group and while the story sadly wasn’t a right fit for me, I could also really appreciate it for what it was. Let’s make it clear from the start that The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes has a considerably slow pace and is mainly a character-driven story. The power behind this read is Ruth Hogan‘s ability to create quirky, flawed and unique characters that will most likely stay with you for quite some time. A lot of time is invested in the description and development of the different characters. While I could really appreciate that and I do love my quirky and unique characters, for me personally it slowed down the pace too much and I struggled to connect and stay invested in the story. The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes uses a dual POV and follows two ‘broken’ women each with their own past and problems. Sadly, I failed to connect fully to Alice and Masha, but what was even worse is that I guessed the mayor final plot twist right from the beginning. I kept hoping I was wrong… And it was quite a disappointment to discover I was right all along. I really liked Edward, Sally and Kitty though and I loved the hidden meaning behind Haizum’s name (and the fact a dog plays a considerable role in the story). Masha’s romance was too cliche for me, but I did enjoy seeing her character evolve over time and slowly learn how to deal with the death of her son. I’m having a feeling fans of slower and mostly character-driven contemporary dramas and those who love quirky and unique characters will have a wonderful time with The Wisdom Of Sally Red Shoes.


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BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small #blogtour

Hello and welcome to my little stop of the Bright Burning Stars blog tour! A huge thanks to Brittani Hilles for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. There was just something about the blurb of this story that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to read it. And while it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, I’m having a feeling the right reader will fall in love with it. Please join me while I share my thoughts on Bright Burning Stars!

Title: Bright Burning Stars
Author: A.K. Small
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Romance
First published: May 21st 2019
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Finished reading: May 10th 2019
Pages: 304

“Marine, notre monde, this world of ours – the stage and studios and barres – is intense and lonely. There is no space for friendship, love, or even an old and perhaps sacred bond between twins. Nothing shadows the art of dance. It’s a union of body, mind, and music. Classical dance is known for being ruthless.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Like I said before, there was just something about the blurb of Bright Burning Stars that caught my attention right away and I have been excited to finally read it. It’s true that it turned out to be not entirely my cup of tea, but I do believe the right reader will enjoy this story immensely. Fans of more gritty and slow-paced YA contemporary romance will be in a treat with this ballet-inspired story mainly set within the Paris Opera Ballet School.

Why wasn’t Bright Burning Stars a good fit for me personally? It’s hard to put my finger exactly on the why, but I think part of the reason has to do with the sheer amount of cliche drama relating to both competition, jealousy, romance and friendship. All this drama made it hard for me to stay focused and I confess it took me longer than expected to actually reach the final page. On top of this we have what you can call multiple love triangles and more jealousy and drama resulting from that… And you all know by now how I feel about those pesky love triangles in the first place. I’m sure romance fans who don’t mind a cliche or two will react different to this part of the story though. Another thing I didn’t like was the fact how they skimmed over abortion and basically make it seem like you can just go to the pharmacy, get a little something as if you were buying a cure for a headache and solve your problems that way. I’m not going into the whole abortion discussion, but I do feel this gives the wrong message to teenagers about safe sex and having to face the consequences of your actions and mistakes. Trigger warnings are also in place for other sensitive themes including eating disorders, suicide and drugs. I understand the ballet world is brutal and unrealistic (and basically unhealthy) demands are made of the bodies of the dancers, and I do think this is well portrayed in Bright Burning Stars, but it can potentially trigger more sensitive readers so you’ve been warned.

The story is told with the help of a dual POV, where we get to know Marine and Kate and learn more about how the constant competition has changed their relationship and how their final year once again puts a lot of pressure on both their bodies and their minds. I’m not sure I actually liked them, especially since their is a lot of teenage drama, boy stuff and jealousy involved, but they do help address various issues related to the ballet world. Bright Burning Stars is mostly a character-driven story where we follow the development of Marine and Kate. The pace is considerably slow at times, but shouldn’t be problem for those who enjoy this kind of story. I did wonder about the use of random French words in the text, as they didn’t seem to add anything substantial to the story… And with a Paris setting aren’t they speaking French all the time anyway in the first place? Instead of the French words, I think I would have liked to see more dancing and more descriptions of Paris and the school. But that could have been just me. Overall this was still a solid read, and while not my cup of tea, I can see how others could fall in love with Bright Burning Stars.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A.K. Small was born in Paris. At five years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer in Seattle and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

SOCIAL LINKS

aksmallwords.com
Twitter: @aksmallwords 
Instagram: @aksmallwords 


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