Friday, August 31, 2018

When the darkness still won’t turn to dawn: HER SISTER'S LIE.

Her Sister's LieHer Sister's Lie by Debbie Howells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hannah Roscoe hasn't seen or spoken to her sister, Nina, in ten years when she receives the call that Nina is dead. The sisters have no other family, so Hannah is now guardian to her fifteen-year-old nephew, Abe, a sullen and angry boy whom she barely knows. Abe comes to live with Hannah, and soon they learn that the police are investigating Nina's death as suspicious. Simultaneously, Hannah begins experiencing strange, unexplained events that quickly have her questioning both her safety and her sanity. Nina's death seems to be close to exposing secrets she thought were buried forever. Is Hannah safe? And her secretive past?

"I... then stopped myself, pulled by the invisible thread that runs through all of us, that however much we might want to, none of us can ever truly disown. Family."

Well, this was an interesting, albeit frustrating one. I really love Debbie Howells' work and the fascinating stories she weaves. Her characters are always complex and often flawed, and there's no exception here. Hannah is a mess, honestly, and I won't lie, she's not the easiest to like. Truly, there aren't really any likeable characters here. Hannah is an unreliable narrator, which sometimes drives me a bit insane. However, the book does a strong job of making you wonder who to trust or believe and what exactly is going on. I was confused a good portion of the time. The weird, creepy things that happen to Hannah are interesting and crazy, though they sort of stressed me out. (Maybe I get too involved?)

The novel is filled with references of Hannah and Nina sticking to the script and keeping each other's secrets. At first, it's intriguing and you're curious as to what they are hiding. After a while, when Hannah makes yet *another* reference to the script and secrets--without any details being revealed--you sort of want to scream. I get a little frustrated at the lack of any reveal throughout the entire book. Eventually, I basically guessed all the major twists anyway, though I still found them clever.

So, overall, this one is a mixed bag. Unlikable characters, some frustrating plot pieces. Some clever plot twists, though I managed to predict most of them. It's a very quick read, however. 3 stars here, though that rating may be slightly affected by my overall love of Howells. If you've never read anything by her, I would definitely head to THE BONES OF YOU first.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

But lately all I do seems to wreck you: AN UNWANTED GUEST.

An Unwanted GuestAn Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Mitchell's Inn is a lovely lodge far away from the hustle and bustle of it all--there's no wifi, just a relaxing setting, good food, and comfortable rooms. But this particular weekend, things go awry when a bad storm hits, covering the Inn in ice and knocking out the power: there's no phone service or the ability for anyone to leave the premises. Then, by morning, one of the guests is dead. It could be an accident, but no one can say for sure. And when the second guest dies, it's certain: they are trapped with a murderer. There's no power, no contact with the world, and someone is slowly killing them off. Is someone else next and how do the remaining guests stay safe?

"It feels like they're playing at something, some sort of parlor game, or murder mystery evening, with the lights out. Only no one's having fun."

Believe it or not, I've never read a book by Shari Lapena, but I was drawn to this one due to the Agatha Christie comparisons, as I'm a sucker for anything similar to Christie. And this one definitely had some likenesses, with the guests trapped in the Inn, limiting our pool of suspects (and victims). Weirdly enough, my brain kept occasionally going to the movie Clue too - silly, I know, but something about the setting!

This book draws you in from the beginning; the first death happens fairly quickly. There are a lot of characters to keep track of: most are in pairs, and I found myself flipping back a page or two trying to remember who was attached to whom for a while. The narration style is in very short paragraphs, each from the perspective of a different guest. This gives you a bit of whiplash feel at times, as you never really get to fully immerse yourself in anyone's point of view. Still, while I did feel things slowed slightly after the first death, for the most part it keeps things moving fairly quickly and lets you see things from a variety of sides.

Lapena is also very descriptive and sets the scene well. It's easy to picture this lovely Inn--which quickly turns dark and disastrous. The book is actually creepy and eerie at times; I won't go into detail as to why, to avoid spoilers, but I definitely found myself a little spooked. In fact, I was surprised the guests were so calm in the beginning, what with a dead woman and no power! (Don't worry, it won't last.) The novel allows you to think how you'd feel in that particular situation. It certainly doesn't encourage you to go vacation at a remote Inn anytime soon.

I was certainly completely perplexed at whodunnit, so kudos to Lapena for that. With such a limited cast of characters (and getting slimmer every moment), that's quite a feat. I thought the ending was a bit tidy and I was left feeling oddly letdown; I'm not sure I can even explain why.

Overall, I enjoyed this one even I didn't wildly love it. It does have a bit of a Christie feel to it, and it kept me guessing. The scene setting is excellent, and I liked the eerie, trapped sense I felt while reading. It wraps up a tad neatly, but I'd still recommend it. 3.5+ stars.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I thought of you and where you'd gone: THE CHEERLEADERS.

The CheerleadersThe Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are no longer cheerleaders allowed at Sunnybrook High School. It's been that way for five years, ever since five members of the team died within a short span of each other. One of those girls was Monica's sister, Jen. Jen committed suicide after four of her fellow cheerleaders died--two in a car accident and two in a brutal murder at the hands of a fellow Sunnybrook resident. That man is dead, killed by the police. Still, Monica doesn't understand why her confident, beautiful sister killed herself. And now she's finding strange things about Jen's death that don't add up: her phone, left behind in her stepfather's desk, weird letters in his drawer, and more. What really happened five years ago? And are people done dying?

This was my first book from Kara Thomas, but it won't be my last. While this is billed as a YA novel--and there are definitely some aspects--it's also dark and twisted. I found it to be a compelling mystery that kept me guessing the entire time. Thomas does a wonderful job of painting suspense and unease as Monica slowly unravels more and more details surrounding the cheerleaders' deaths. It's impossible to trust anyone in this novel, which makes it all the more delightful. From one page to the next, I was convinced someone else was the culprit.

There's a varied set of characters in this one, but Monica is definitely the star. She's a strong narrator, even she doesn't always make the best decisions. Again, this isn't a sweet, touchy feely YA novel and neither is our narrator. She's made some bad choices (and been through a lot), but she's also feisty and determined.

Overall, this has a Pretty Little Liars vibe at times, but it's also a captivating mystery with some heartbreaking, dark undertones. It will keep you guessing and engaged. Plus, there's that wonderful, twisty ending. 4 stars.

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Monday, August 27, 2018

There's nothing left to see here: PIECES OF HER.

Pieces of HerPieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Andrea "Andy" Cooper thinks she knows everything about her mom, Laura. Laura has taken care of Andy for Andy's entire 31 years--perhaps to Andy's detriment, at times. Laura works as a speech pathologist and lives a peaceful life in the beach town of Belle Isle. But on the morning of Andy's birthday, as Laura takes her to breakfast, everything changes. Violence erupts at the mall, Laura instinctively acts to protect her daughter, and suddenly the secrets she's been hiding are exposed for all to see. She only wants to shelter Andy, but Andy is shocked by her mother's actions and what they mean. Even more, the mall episode sets off a series of events that can't be stopped and leads Andy on a dangerous journey unlike anything she ever imagined.

I'm learning that you can always count on Slaughter for an amazing, twisted ride. I so enjoyed her novels PRETTY GIRLS and THE GOOD DAUGHTER and now PIECES OF HER joins them as another suspenseful, tense mystery.

What I love about Slaughter is that she's wonderfully descriptive in her writing. You don't just get a mystery, you receive a beautifully written novel, full of detailed characters and excellent writing. Andy and Laura are well-formed characters: you'll find yourself incredibly frustrated with Andy in the beginning, as she's so helpless for a 30+ woman. Get it together, Andy! Do something, save yourself, help your mother. Laura is closed off and reluctant to share anything with her family. Luckily, both characters grow on you as the book progresses.

The novel does a good job of showing how the U.S. reacts to public tragic events--the incident in the mall--for it is public opinion to that moment which really influences so much of Laura's future actions. I was captivated by this one from the very beginning. It's fascinating to watch the action unfold in Slaughter's deft hands. I found myself going "wow" at a variety of the twists and was frantically turning the pages, wanting to know what on earth was going on.

The narration switches between Andy in the present-day and another narrator in 1986. This is incredibly effective in creating suspense and slowly unraveling our story. The novel is stressful and tense as the pieces come together, and--per typical Slaughter--brutal and dark in many places.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It keep me glued to my seat the entire time, wondering what was happening and what would happen. I loved all the details and little twists. I am always captivated by the dark aspects of Slaughter's novels and her twisted characters and plot plots. While this one could be a little unbelievable perhaps, in places, it was a wonderful wild ride of a book and just a great read. Highly recommend - 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

To give me all your love is all I ever ask: TEAR ME APART.

Tear Me ApartTear Me Apart by J.T. Ellison

My rating: 4+ of 5 stars

Mindy Wright--an up and coming competitive teenage skier-- breaks her leg in competition. During surgery, doctors discover that Mindy is sick: she has an aggressive form of leukemia and needs a stem cell transplant. But when her family is tested, it is discovered that Mindy's parents are not her biological parents. What does this mean? Was she switched at birth, or did something more dark and dramatic happen? At the core, Mindy needs to live. But beyond that, what are the ramifications for the Wright family? What secrets will be revealed and uncovered while trying to save their precious daughter?

This was a dramatic and interesting story that grabbed me from the beginning. The first portion is told from the perspective of three women: Mindy, age 17; her mother, Lauren; and Lauren's sister, Juliet, who actually works as a scientist in a DNA crime lab. This gives Juliet early and easy access to DNA samples relating to Mindy and the "case" as it progresses on. We also get excerpts of letters that appear to be from or relating to a psychiatric hospital in the early 1990s. All of this makes for an interesting and compelling format to our story, with a slow and steady reveal of strange information that you know does not add up: a twisted web of secrets and lies. We are immediately left wondering what happened with Mindy--how is she not Lauren's daughter? What is going on?

I do not want to go into too much detail and ruin much of the plot, but I found this one very intriguing, as I was wondering where the story would go. I might have been a little slow on the uptake as to who was Mindy's real mother, but I did find it exciting to put all the pieces together. I really liked the characters of Mindy and Juliet and a few others who were introduced later on (the story is told in various parts, so you get some different narrators, too).

In true Ellison fashion, there's some great drama and a few good "whoa" moments, as well. When I first started the book, I hadn't refreshed myself on the description, and I was a little worried that this would be more of a family drama than a mystery, but have no fear--while this family has more than their share of drama, there's a great mystery/thriller aspect as well. In fact, the novel can get downright creepy at times, with a villain who can give you the chills.

Overall, I thought this was another winner from Ms. Ellison. It's a quick, engaging read with interesting characters and a plot that encourages you to put the pieces together. She's quickly becoming a go-to author of mine. I'm actually chasing down her Taylor Jackson series on Paperbackswap, because I want to read more of her books! If you enjoy a dramatic, quick-moving thriller, I highly recommend this one! 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!); it as available everywhere as of 08/28/2018.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

And miles take time but the time is mine: THE COLLIDE.

The Collide (The Outliers #3)The Collide by Kimberly McCreight

[Note: there may be spoilers if you haven't read the two previous books in the series.]

The third book in McCreight's Outliers series picks up with Wylie finally out of the detention center, but in no way safe and sound. She still hasn't found her Dad and she's jolted by the appearance of the surprise visitor from the end of book two. With the help of her twin brother, Gideon, and a few other trusted friends, Wylie tries to figure out exactly what is going on with the Outliers. Who is hunting them? Where is her dad? But the more she digs, the more secrets she uncovers--and the more trouble she finds herself in.

I was excited to read this book and finally figure out the conclusion of the Outlier story. I've enjoyed this series; it's something a little different from what I usually read. I must admit, I find it hard sometimes to remember all the intricate details from the previous books, but that's just my own fault. If you're lucky to be picking up this series from the beginning, enjoy. It's a really engaging read. At some point, I look forward to re-reading it from the beginning. By now, I'm too caught up in the characters and their lives not to finish. It's very to easy to get attached to McCreight's scrappy band of fighters. Trying to figure things out along the way is almost a bonus.

As for figuring things out, I found parts of this last book to be a little predictable--there was one or two parts I saw coming from a mile away, and it seemed amazing that the characters didn't either. Other pieces were more of a surprise. While some of the predictability was a bit frustrating, overall, I felt this was a good end to the series. There's a good balance of Wylie and other characters, and I was pleasantly surprised to see Gideon showing up (and not being annoying). The book ties things up fairly well, without resolving every loose end. As part of that ending, the books feel timely and apt to our current times. The running thread throughout of the Government trying to manage its citizen's lives is spot-on and one of my favorite aspects of the novels.

Overall, I enjoyed this one. I have a soft spot for this series--I don't think it always gets the attention it deserves. I've come to care for these characters over the years, and I find these books oddly compelling. While I definitely found pieces of this book and the ending to be a bit predictable as things unfolded, I still found it to be timely and fascinating. If you haven't read this series, I do think it's worth picking up. 3.5 stars for the ending of this trilogy.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A requiem played as you begged for forgiveness: SHE WAS THE QUIET ONE.

She Was the Quiet OneShe Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell

My rating: 3+ of 5 stars

After the death of their mother, twins Rose and Bel Enright wind up at Odell Academy in New Hampshire. They are sent by their wealthy grandmother, who has no idea what to do with the teenagers now foisted upon her. Rose is the good twin--good grades, good friends, good behavior. Bel, on the other hand, is known for going a bit wild. But it was Bel their mother favored--much to Rose's consternation. Floundering after the loss of their mother, Bel winds up with the wrong crowd at school and then turns on Rose when she calls her out on it. Meanwhile, Heath and Sarah Donovan have been brought in to clean up Moreland Hall, the dormitory where the twins are staying. It has developed a reputation for trouble. It's a daunting task, especially since so many of the girls come from storied, rich Odell families. Both Sarah and Heath are Moreland alums--they met at the school--and not all of their memories are pleasant. As for Heath, his dreams extend far beyond teaching high school English. But something in his past holds him back; he's hoping to parlay their time at Moreland into something more. But soon things at Moreland--and Odell--are out of control, with the Enright twins and the Donovans right in the middle of all the trouble.

From the beginning of the novel, we immediately know that an Enright sister is dead, but not which one. The narration from Bel, Rose, and Sarah is interspersed with snippets from police interviews, as we try to piece together exactly what happened to lead to murder. This was perhaps my favorite part of the story--trying to figure out who had been killed--and why the other sister is the prime suspect. The format of the novel is very well-done and extremely compelling.

In the beginning, some of the dialogue seemed stilted: I couldn't imagine the sisters really talking to each other in particular ways, for instance. Rose and Bel's instant fighting seemed rash, and it was hard to take. In fact, the entire boarding school drama seemed a little too much, at times. I understand the fact that girls can quickly turn on each other--especially when they all live together--but the twins threatening to kill each other over a sweater? It was tough and it was a lot of drama, so fast, so often. Rose was incredibly prissy and tough to like for a lot of the novel. And then poor Sarah, who was such a doormat, with an incredible lack of judgement--she was a hard character to find sympathy for as well.

The novel also seemed to march toward a fairly inevitable conclusion. I kept waiting for a big twist or surprise to throw me off and while the epilogue offered a little bit of that, there really wasn't much. The book focuses more on the unraveling of the families than twists and turns, and that was a little disappointing for me. I like to be thrown off the trail a few times.

Still, I really enjoyed the format of this one: wondering and waiting to find out who was dead, along with the pieces from the interviews. I liked the boarding school setting and how it added to the story. While I didn't always enjoy all the characters, I really came to feel for for Bel Enright, and I did sympathize with Rose, as well. Even if things were fairly predictable, Campbell kept me reading and interested the entire time. 3+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Monday, August 06, 2018

All I know is how to wreck you: BABY TEETH.

Baby TeethBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hanna is seven. She's a cute little thing in the eyes of her father, Alex, who thinks she can do no wrong. Hanna wants nothing more than life to be Hanna-and-Daddy forever. Her mother, Suzette, is exhausted by life with Hanna, which is nothing but endless manipulations, anger, tantrums, and now, escalating violence. Hanna doesn't speak, but she has her special ways of hurting her mother. She's been kicked out of several schools for her behavior, and Suzette is done. Even worse, Alex can't seem to acknowledge that something is off with Hanna's behavior.

"Every win for Hanna was a you-lose for Mommy."

I'd been putting off reading this book for a bit because I'd heard that it was creepy and disturbing, and I can confirm that yes, it is both of those things. Ha. I can't say I'm particularly glad that I read it, though it's an interesting read and certainly different. It mostly held my interest, but after all the hype, I found myself a little letdown: there really wasn't all that much to the story. I found myself waiting that twist, that something special that never came.

Still, Stage does an excellent job of capturing Hanna's child-like voice and telling a story from her unique perspective. The tale alternates between chapters from Hanna's perspective and then Suzette's, and I can't deny that you'll find yourself a little freaked out after reading Hanna's. The book is eerie and disturbing; it's hard to believe, yet not, as it's certainly effectively told. There are some tough moments to read and it's definitely not always for the faint of heart.

I had a tough time empathizing with our adult characters--our cast is mainly limited to the family unit, and I didn't care much for either Alex or Suzette. We are probably supposed to feel bad for Suzette, as she's struggling with both Hanna and failing health (having had Crohn's disease since childhood). And I did, at times, but she talked so much, and kept rehashing things, and I just wanted to shake her to wake up, get a grip, and deal with everything. So yeah. And her husband was just clueless and ugh.

Hanna was a much tougher one--as a parent, I found this one hard. Of course, you want to believe and care for a small child. Yet, you can also empathize with a mom who feels like they need a break from their child. I enjoyed how the book made you think about these kind of things as Hanna started to escalate. What would you do in this situation? How did things get to this point? That's where it is interesting. Some of the best parts are the oozing tension and unease that pervade the whole novel.

Unfortunately, it doesn't completely capitalize on that uneasiness, leaving you a little deflated by the end. I was actually hoping for a little more creepiness, a little less character-study. I definitely enjoyed pieces of this one, and I'd still recommend it due to how different it is: overall, 3 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Over the unclear eyes of memory: GIRLS' NIGHT OUT.

Girls' Night OutGirls' Night Out by Liz Fenton

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Natalie, Ashley, and Lauren have been friends since college, but lately their friendship has been showing a lot of strain. In fact, the trio has been estranged from Lauren for a year. So Ashley gets the idea for a girls' trip to Tulum, Mexico to help repair their friendship and mend fences. But once there, they find that fixing things isn't so easy. Each woman brings so much baggage and anger to the friendship. Natalie is angry at Ashley regarding the beauty business, BloMe, that they founded together. Lauren holds a grudge with Ashley relating to the death of her husband, Geoff. Both Natalie and Lauren are angry at themselves for letting their worlds revolve around Ashley. And their anger simmers even more when Ashley starts spending more time with Marco, a man she meets in Mexico, then with them. Suddenly, Ashley disappears. Did she run away with Marco? Was she kidnapped? Or--Natalie and Lauren fear--did they snap in anger at Ashley and harm her?

I had never read anything by the Fenton and Steinke writing team but had heard good things, so decided to try this one out. Its format takes a little getting used to: it switches in both time and narration, so you'll get Ashley, three days before the disappearance, and then the next chapter could be Lauren, two days after the disappearance. Once you get in the groove, it works pretty well, and builds suspense fairly effectively. Pieces of the story are slowly revealed, as we both don't know what happened to divide the friends in their friendship and, of course, don't know what happened to make Ashley disappear.

Honestly, I had just enough curiosity to find out what happened to Ashley that kept me reading. This was an interesting novel and certainly tense and intriguing, but I couldn't muster much interest or sympathy in these characters. Man, these women were just awful! I would not want a single one of them as my friend, that's for sure. Their friendship problems seemed petty, overblown, and childish, and I lost patience and interest with their myriad issues. There was just so much constant bickering. Bickering, drinking, more fighting, drinking, some more fighting. Ugh. They were so overly dramatic and even worse, most of the chapters would end with a sentence that had such an overblown "dramatic flair" to it that I found myself rolling my eyes at times.

A lot of the book just felt hokey, and I found myself wanting them to just go home and get their own lives (although their husbands didn't seem much better, honestly). Still, as mentioned, the reveals are interesting, and there is enough interest in what happened to Ashley to keep you reading. If you can get past the irritating characters, you'll be intrigued, albeit potentially annoyed. 2.5 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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Thursday, August 02, 2018

And a freight train running through the middle of my head: WHISTLE IN THE DARK.

Whistle in the DarkWhistle in the Dark by Emma Healey

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Jen Maddox is on holiday with her fifteen-year-old daughter, Lana, when Lana disappears. But, somehow, Lana is found four days later: confused and bloody, but in one piece. Jen and her husband, Hugh, are beyond relieved, but Jen cannot shake the fear plaguing her. Lana has struggled with depression these past few years. What happened over those four days? Why can't her daughter remember anything? Jen knows she should welcome Lana back with welcome arms, but she cannot rest until she knows what happened to her daughter.

This was a complicated read, which made me feel and think all sorts of feelings. I have to definitely point out that there are triggers for self-harm and suicide in this one. The book hit home for me, as I lost a dear cousin-who was more like a sister to me-to suicide. She was a little older than Lana when she died, but I saw a lot of similarity between the two, and I could understand some of Jen's frustration and sadness with her daughter because of it. Because, honestly, a lot of this book is just sad and depressing.

It's written in short snippets, not long chapters, each with a title, and they are all told from Jen's perspective. I would have liked to have heard from Lana sometimes. Because this is Emma Healey, many of these little pieces and insights are brilliant, truly. But, also, I won't lie, some of this book is a slog. It mirrors living with someone with depression--it's slow, painful, and tough. I wouldn't call this a fun read, even though I could definitely enjoy some of the breakthroughs and beautiful moments Lana and Jen did share.

While the premise of this book is finding out what happened to Lana, much of it is just Jen and Lana's daily life--trying to find themselves after Lana's disappearance. You see the guilt Jen feels about her daughter's mental illness and the complications of motherhood--how hard it can be. Jen's older daughter Meg and her husband, Hugh, are more supporting characters to the Jen and Lana show. There definitely are some humorous pieces among the sad parts--Jen and her husband struggling to raise a teen, Jen's interactions with her mom stand out. And Lana, as she comes across through her mom's eyes, is an interesting and dynamic character. Her grim sense of humor is enjoyable, too.

I found this novel to be very driven by emotions and to be a deep look at a family who is torn apart not only by Lana's disappearance, but by mental illness. I think, too, overall it does a very good job portraying what mental illness can do to a family. Even Lana's descriptions of what her depression feels like are quite well-done. So much of the book actually made me feel tense on Jen's behalf, and you just can't help but feel so sad and scared for both Jen and Lana. The little snippets of the book really do a good job of capturing moments--that is life, after all. A series of moments that add up.

I wish that Jen had been less obsessed with figuring out what had happened to Lana, but I think I can understand where it came from (her fear). For a little bit, I wasn't sure I could push through the book, but I was also motivated to figure out where Lana had been for those four days, and I was attached to Lana (and even Jen), I won't lie. The end of the book also redeemed it for me. There was something about it that made it all work.

This book isn't for everyone, and in some ways, I even have trouble recommending it for those who have struggled with mental illness, because it can be really triggering. Still, I think the author treated the topic very respectfully. I couldn't help but feel for Jen and I really found myself wanting to help Lana, to reach out to her. Healey really does know how to create nuanced characters. Still, if this is your first time reading her, I can't help but recommend the amazing Elizabeth Is Missing, which I just adore. Still, 3.5 stars for this one, which has its lovely moments and is certainly well-written, if not a slow read.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Edelweiss in return for an unbiased review (thank you!).

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