ARC REVIEW: Manipulated Lives – by H.A. Leuschel

Title: Manipulated Lives
Author: H.A. Leuschel

Genre: Short Stories, Realistic Fiction, Psychology
First published: June 8th 2016
Finished reading: May 14th 2017
Pages: 274

“Can there be only one truth? What if we are all creating our own truth, as we often need to, on a daily basis?”

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

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I have a weak spot for realistic fiction stories with a psychology angle, so I was immediately intrigued when I first read about Manipulated Lives. This is actually a collection of five short stories about five different characters who have had to deal with manipulators at different stages of their lives and the damage this experience has done to them. I enjoy reading short stories every once in a while and it definitely takes a whole different set of skills to write them properly. Manipulated Lives is without doubt an example of excellent short story writing. The stories were both intriguing and did an excellent job of describing the complex emotions and reactions to the manipulations. Without doubt a great read if you like the genre!

I will be doing this review slightly different than usual and both give a quick summary and my thoughts on each of the five short stories below instead of having a separate summary section.

The Narcissist
This collection starts strong with a story about a manipulator with Alzheimer not longer remembering why he is incarcelated or what he was doing to his family and others during all those years. This memory angle made the story into a truly fascinating read and it was interesting how the main character reacted to certain things and learn more about what he did in the past in the first place. Not my favorite of the bundle, but without doubt one of the better ones.

Tess And Tattoos
The second story was one of my favorites and a really accurate, intriguing and heartbreaking description of how manipulators can truly ruin someone for life… Tess is an interesting character and an older woman who now lives a lonely life and never has anyone visiting her. Her friendship with Sandra is touching and I love the symbolism of the tattoo. Interesting ending as well!

The Spell
The third story is probably one of the most detailed ones and one of my favorites. It’s impressive how many twists and how much character development is included in this short story.  It’s about Sophie meeting a little boy Leo and later his father; she is charmed by Leo right away and that connection makes her blind for the strange vibes his father David gives off. It’s true Sophie is a bit naive, but I guess manipulators always look for ‘weak/easy’ victims and it’s truly interesting how David is able to worm his way into her life that fast.

Runaway Girl
The fourth story is about a younger manipulation victim; the teenage Holly. This one is probably my least favorite of the bunch even though it is an accurate description of a situation that happens all too often at high schools (unfortunately). What I found less credible is that the main character Holly was first described as an independent and smart teenager and then seemed to be completely blind around Luke even though he’s basically a classic manipulator. But it’s definitely another eye-opener when it comes to how one manipulator can damage a lot of victims when not stopped on time…

My Perfect Child
The last story is about a woman thinking her child is perfect and overprotecting him ever since he was born; indulging him in everything and turning him in a skilled manipulator. She didn’t want to see her child as anything less than perfect and ignored all the signs for so long that it was already too late to change direction… Not one of my favorites, but without doubt a great example how love imakes someone blind and can change perception of both daily situations and their consequences.

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I have been wanting to pick up this collection of short stories about different characters dealing with the consequences of manipulators for a long time now, especially since I’ve seen various glowing reviews in the past. And I’m definitely glad I finally picked it up, because I really enjoyed reading them. Every story deals with a different angle and they are truly fascinating. My favorite story would be between the second and the third story; my least favorite probably either number four or five, but this doesn’t mean they weren’t still good. If psychology fascinates you or you enjoy realistic fiction in general, Manipulated Lives is definitely a great read.


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WWW Wednesdays #137 – May 17th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m currently reading another psychological thriller ARC and Bookouture read: Be My Killer by Richard Parker. And as things are going, I’ll probably be finishing it later today because I’m flying through this story! I’m also just about to pick up my copy of One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus; another ARC I requested after a recommendation and a title I’m really looking forward to.

  • WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

(Doing this part slightly different this week since I already had written short ramblings/reviews of four of these titles for my Bout Of Books wrap up anyway… I like the look of it though; should I keep it this way in my next WWW???)

1. Roses Of May by Dot Hutchison (3,5/5 stars) REVIEW 
While not as strong or twisted as the first book, I still very much enjoyed Roses Of May. Especially the final part had a very fast pace and the writing style is very enjoyable to read. The serial killer and plot itself are both intriguing and the chapters with the killer’s thoughts added another level of suspense. I also might or might not have squealed when I saw my name mentioned in the story (doesn’t happen often, trust me!). The plot twists are interesting as well, although I did find out the killer’s identity early on. Without doubt still recommended though!

2. Liar by K.L. Slater (4,5/5 stars) REVIEW
Liar turned out to be another excellent psychological thriller read full of surprises. I found myself literally flying through the pages as I kept wondering about the chapter the story started with… Because Liar both started and ended with a bang. This is unreliable narrating at its best, and I loved every single minute of the ride. More than recommended for fans of the genre!

3. Aurabel by Laura Dockrill (1,5/5 stars)  REVIEW
I really wanted to enjoy this one and I still love the cover, but unfortunately I just couldn’t. I felt like it was as if I were reading in a foreign language I could only barely understand for most of the ride and I had a REALLY hard time finishing this one. In fact, I would probably have DNFed it if it wouldn’t have been an ARC. A little note: after some investigation, I found out this is actually a sequel and it becomes clear as you are reading Aurabel that a lot of both background AND essential information is missing if you don’t read the first book. That said, I don’t think this story has convinced me enough to actually try and read the first book. Unfortunately it ended up being a quite painful experience reading Aurabel.

4. Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel (4/5 stars)
I have been wanting to pick up this collection of short stories about different characters dealing with the consequences of manipulators for a long time now, especially since I’ve seen various glowing reviews in the past. And I’m definitely glad I finally picked it up, because I really enjoyed reading them. Every story deals with a different angle and the stories are truly fascinating. My favorite story would be between the second and the third story; my least favorite probably either number four or five, but this doesn’t mean they were still good. If psychology fascinated you or you enjoy realistic fiction in general, Manipulated Lives is definitely a great read.

5. Stardust by Neil Gaiman (3,5/5 stars)
It’s basically a miracle I could even see the cover of this one with all the dust it has collected for years… I’m glad I finally picked it up! Stardust is one of those exceptions where I have actually seen the movie first, something I prefer not happening because it alters the reading experience. It’s probably what happened here as well, because I kept thinking of the movie as I were reading Stardust… And I think this is one of the rare cases where I actually enjoyed the movie better than the book. It’s an entertaining and well written fantasy read, but it reads a bit slow and not as good as my Neil Gaiman favorites.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

After my recent Bookouture thriller request binge (five in one week and I’m not even sorry!), I urgently need to read more NG ARCs to keep my ratio above 80% (yes, somehow I never actually dived below that mark; don’t ask me how that miracle happened xD)… First up is another thriller and sequel I’ve been looking forward to: Secrets Of The Dead by Carol Wyer. I also need to read Feel Me Fall by James Morris; I’ve read two of his previous stories in the past and enjoyed both, so I’m looking forward to it. The fantasy ARC Heartborn by Terry Maggert is also on my list… And I want to read And I Darken by Kiersten White ASAP so I can dive into my sequel ARC with time to spare. I can’t wait to finally read this series!


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WWW Wednesdays #136 – May 10th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m about to start Roses Of May by Dot Hutchison; another Netgalley ARC and a title I’ve been looking forward to. I read and loved The Butterfly Garden last year and I didn’t realize it was a series until I saw this sequel on NG… Can’t wait to dive into this disturbing story again! I also started reading Aurabel by Laura Dockrill, a NG fantasy ARC with mermaids, but I had to put it on hold after 5%. Why? I felt like I was reading a story written in a foreign language I could just barely understand. Things just didn’t make sense at all… And after investigating, this story apparently takes place in the same world as a previous book which I didn’t know about. That could probably explain the lack of worldbuilding, but does make it extremely difficult to properly enjoy it without reading that one first (which I don’t have time for xD ).

  • WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

* The first book I finished since last week is Anything For Her by Jack Jordan, which turned out to be an excellent psychological thriller and even better than his other title My Girl. It’s fast, it’s entertaining and it manages to catch your attention right from the first page… And the whole mystery around ‘that night’ is intriguing and definitely makes you want to keep on reading. More in my review.
* I then read All The Good Things by Clare Fisher, another ARC I was really looking forward to. Unfortunately I ended up having mixed thoughts about it, mostly because I couldn’t connect to the main character Beth. Which is shame, because she’s a truly fascinating character and I really wanted to love this story. More about my mixed thoughts in my review.
* I actually wasn’t going to continue this series after my experience with book three, but I gave in since already had a copy on my kindle and it would mean I could cross off another series. Unfortunately, The Murder Of An Angel by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro continued down the same road as book three, and the only reason I made it to the end is that the prose at least reads superfast. Want to know why I didn’t like it? Here‘s why.
* After two mediocre reads, I decided to play it safe and pick up another Bookouture thriller. And I wasn’t wrong, because I’ve now added The Darkest Lies by Barbara Copperthwaite to the growing list of Bookouture winners. This story started out strong and stayed that way until the very end. Not every character is all that likeable, but you will forget all about that as you find yourself trapped in the same web of lies and secrets as the rest of the town. Many many plot twists and a surprising ending! Find out more in my review which will be posted later today.
* I then continued Enchanters by K.F. Bradshaw, a high fantasy read I had been posponing during the last few weeks due to its length and wordbuilding. I’m glad I finally continued it and I really like the idea behind this story. That said, I do think the story itself is overlong and would have been more enjoyable with more focus on the action and less on ‘insignificant’ details and dialogue. In fact, some of the main characters were starting to become really annoying; especially the bantering between Cassie and Andrea. I love that it’s a YA fantasy read with a glbt angle though; you don’t see that too often (or at least in the stories I’ve read so far…)
* The last book I was able to finish is Room by Emma Donoghue, which has been on my TBR for way too long. The worst part is that I kept hearing great things about it, but somehow I never actually picked it up… I’m regretting this now, because it was such an excellent read! I literally flew through the pages and finished it in less than a day. I love that it’s told from the POV of a 5-year-old; it makes the story that much more powerful (Think The Boy With The Striped Pajamas, which has a similar effect.)

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

After I finish my current reads, I’m planning to pick up the other titles on my Bout Of Books TBR. One of them is another one that has been collecting dust for way too long: Stardust by Neil Gaiman. It will be one of the exceptions were I’ve already seen the movie before reading the story, so we’ll see how that goes. The next ARC I’m picking up will be Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel, which I’ve heard great things about and can’t wait to finally pick up. Also on the ARC list is Heartborn by Terry Maggert, which is another fantasy read. Last up is One Of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus, which I requested after a recommendation and I’m really excited about. I wanted to pick up the thriller Be My Killer by Richard Parker first, but it doesn’t have a pagecount yet and I need that for it to count for the readathon. xD


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WWW Wednesdays #135 – May 3rd

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’ll probably finish Anything For Her by Jack Jordan later today, which has been a very good thriller read so far. I’m definitely glad I finally picked it up! And as soon as I’m finishing that title, I’ll be diving into another Netgalley ARC: The Darkest Lies by Barbara Copperthwaite. I’ve heard great things about that title and it has all the signs it’s going to be another Bookouture winner! I’m also still reading Enchanters by K.F. Bradshaw, although it’s still temporarily on hold until I’m in the mood for (high) fantasy again.

  • WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

* The first title I finished since last week is Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, which turned out to be a brilliant read. I’m still kicking myself for not picking it up sooner! From the writing style, character development, plot to it’s very important topic; I just couldn’t find one detail I didn’t like about this powerful story.
* I then read The Car Bomb by T.V. LoCicero, which I ended up having quite a lot of issues with. It took a long time for the chapters to connect, the plot felt chaotic and there was excessive swearing, but that was only minor compared to my biggest problem with this story: the main character. I absolutely despised him and it was really hard to enjoy a story involving such an arrogant, cheating, drunk, womanizing bastard. Definitely not for me…
* Afterwards I decided to try my hands at fantasy again, especially since I enjoyed the first book of The Hero Rebellion series last year. Riven by Belinda Crawford was without doubt an entertaining read and the best part is that it’s a YA sci-fi series that is actually 100% romance free. Yes, you read that right, there’s no romance in this series and the story focuses on the worldbuilding and action instead. It took me a bit longer to adapt to the worldbuilding and some of the unique features and the plot wasn’t as strong as the first book, but there is definitely a lot of potential for what is still to come. Action-packed and very entertaining!
* The last book I picked up is Flame In The Mist by Renee Ahdieh, one of my most anticipated releases this year. I still can’t believe my request was actually approved!! I had high expectations after reading a teaser earlier this year, and somehow this book managed to be even better than expected. I practically devoured its pages and LOVED it. The setting, the writing style, the characters (Mariko, Okami!!!), the plot… It doesn’t happen often I have two 5 star reads in a week, but I just couldn’t give this one anything lower than perfect rating. The wait for the sequel is going to be painful though…

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

Like I’ve said before, I still have a huge pile of ARCs pending so I’ve made May into another ARC month. I have the following four ARCs lined up to be read next, depending on the genre I’m in the mood for... Be My Killer by Richard Parker and The Roses Of May by Dot Hutchison are both Netgalley ARCs and titles I’m looking forward to. Heartborn by Terry Maggert is another pending fantasy ARC I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I also want to pick up the ARC Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel, which sounds like a fascinating read.


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WWW Wednesdays #134 – April 26th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m finally making good progress with Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, and I will most likely end up finishing it some time today or tomorrow. I’m still kicking myself for waiting this long to pick it up, because it’s without doubt brilliant. Well written, intriguing story and a very important focus on racial problematics and racism as well as an interesting mix of characters. I’m also about to start another ARC, The Car Bomb by T.V. LoCicero, which sounds like an action-packed read. I’m also still reading Enchanters by K.F. Bradshaw, although I have put temporarily on hold until I’m in the mood for (high) fantasy again.

  • WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

* The first title I finished is the travel memoir Among Friends: Travels In Cuba by Heather Murray. Unlike other non fiction reads about Cuba, this memoir focuses mostly on the personal experiences of the author during her various trips to Cuba and what she could see of the daily life of the Cubans rather than on the complicated political and social-cultural situation. It’s a well written and enjoyable read and the descriptions of the various locations in Cuba made me feel as if I were visiting the country myself.
* I then picked up The Millionaire’s Wife by Shalini Boland, which has turned out to be yet another winner. I’ve been a fan of her work ever since I picked up The Girl From The Sea last year… This is my third suspense thriller and my opinion hasn’t changed a bit. This story is well written, filled with many plot twists, unrealiable characters and a very intriguing plot. The POV switches between past and present and the Swedish nationality of one of the main characters is very well used. Gripping until the very last page!
* Next up was (The Original) Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig, which I had heard lots of excellent things about. Ginny is without doubt one of the most original and interesting characters I’ve came across lately, although I do have to say I was a bit confused in the beginning. It took me a while to get used to the voice of the autistic Ginny, and while I feel the author did an excellent job of describing autism and what it is like to live and interact with someone autistic (I’m not surprised since he has personal experience), I did understand why her ‘Forever’ parent got so frustrated with her. I felt the same frustation as well and it made me enjoy the story slightly less than I thought I would, although like I said before I feel the author did a brilliant job of putting autism in the spotlight it deserves.
* The last book I finished is This Is Really Happening by Erin Chack, another memoir. I was surprised my request was actually approved last Saturday, especially since the publish date was that close (yesterday). I decided to give it priority since I was in the mood for a non fiction read anyway, and I ended up really enjoying this bundle of coming to age essays. The writing style really stands out and combined with the honest and personal tone and just the right dose of humor this is a very enjoyable read.

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

I’m slowly catching up with my pending ARCs, but I will probably be making May into another ARC month just so I can deal with most of the still pending backlog. Both Anything For Her by Jack Jordan and The Darkest Lies by Barbara Copperthwaite are pending Netgalley ARCs and thrillers I’ve been looking forward to. I also want to pick up the ARC Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel, which sounds like a fascinating read. And I want to read The Woman In Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware soon as well, although I have been reading a lot of thrillers lately and I might read something of a different genre instead.


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WWW Wednesdays #133 – April 19th

WWW WEDNESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Sam @ Taking On A World Of Words and is all about answering the three questions below.

  • WHAT ARE YOU CURRENTLY READING?

I’m currently reading three books, although I’m going to finish the ARC Among Friends: Travels In Cuba by Heather Murray first. It’s a non fiction read about Cuba I’ve started last night and I’m only a few pages into the story so far… It will be interesting comparing the experiences of the author with one of my best friends who went to Cuba back in January. I’ve also finally started reading Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult, a story I have been wanting to pick up for ages now and decided to just pick up even though I have more ARCs pending. The last one is Enchanters by K.F. Bradshaw, which I’ve put temporarily on hold because I wasn’t in the mood for (high) fantasy.

  • WHAT DID YOU RECENTLY FINISH READING?

* The first title I finished is What Doesn’t Kill You by Ed James, the third book in a detective series and one that unfortunately didn’t live up to the previous two books. It took me a while to warm up to the story, the amount of swearing crossed the line to excessive and I felt that both the ending and the whole progress of Fenchurch’ personal life was a bit rushed. Not bad, but definitely not as good as the first two.
* I then picked up The Start Of Me And You by Emery Lord on a whim, trying to put an end on the list of ‘mediocre’ reads. I really enjoyed When We Collided last year, but this one was a little too sweet and cheesy for me. Probably also because of the annoying love triangle, although I did adore Max as a character.
* Afterwards I picked up what is going to be probably my last vampire story ever: Life Sentence by Lily Luchesi. It’s the third book of the Paranormal Detectives series and I enjoyed it better than the sequel. No more annoying love triangle and again I enjoyed the many flashbacks to the past. Fast-paced, entertaining and full of supernatural creatures; if you like the genre you will probably enjoy this series!
* I then decided to read Castle Of Water by Dane Huckelbridge, which has SUCH a beautiful cover! I just love that color combination. The story itself is just as wonderful; both the character development and plot are brilliant and I loved the writing style. A very interesting read about how two unlikely characters end up on an deserted island together and how they manage to survive… A modern ‘Robin Crusoe’ twist and I loved loved the characters bantering and the many French elements!
* The last book I finished is The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger, another gorgeous cover. This one started out a bit slow and it took me some time to connect the different storylines, but as soon as the pace picked up… BAM! Instant psychological thriller. Fascinating story!

  • WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’LL READ NEXT?

I’m going to make the most of April ARC month and try to read these four ARCs before the end of this month. First up is The Millionaire’s Wife by Shalini Boland, a title I have been looking forward to especially since I loved her other two thrillers. I also want to read The Original Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig, Manipulated Lives by H.A. Leuschel and The Darkest Lies by Barbara Coppertwaite, which I’ve all heard great things about.


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