Friday, October 30, 2020

To help me not to wonder how I ended up like this: GIRLS OF BRACKENHILL.

Girls of BrackenhillGirls of Brackenhill by Kate Moretti
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spooky, eerie & captivating thriller

As a kid, Hannah spent several summers at Brackenhill, her aunt and uncle's beautiful mansion in the Catskills. Joined by her older sister, Julia, they enjoyed a peaceful time away from their troubled mother and her boyfriend. But that final summer, Hannah made the journey home alone after Julia disappeared. Now, seventeen years later, Hannah is back at Brackenhill, accompanied by her calm and steady fiance Huck, to deal with the aftermath of her Aunt Fae's death. Her uncle Stuart is quite ill and Hannah must handle the necessary affairs. But once at Brackenhill, long buried memories flood to the surface, along with some undiscovered family secrets.

"She'd escaped Brackenhill once. She could do it again."

I read this completely captivating thriller in one breathless day. It's such a wonderfully eerie and ghostly mystery that excellently captures the spooky atmosphere of Brackenhill. I'm all for a read with a creepy castle, ghostly happenings, and a history of missing girls. Told in a then (Hannah and Julia's summers at Brackenhill) and now format, Moretti sucks you in from the beginning, making the reader feel as if they are a part of the haunted happenings at Brackenhill.

"The Ghost Girls of Brackenhill are an urban legend."

The result is a twisted and dark story--a true Gothic ghost tale. I figured out a few pieces, but still found this impossible to put down. Moretti excels at weaving in the devastation of family secrets and small town mystery. As Hannah unravels the mystery of her family history and her sister's disappearance, we do as well, and you'll share her sense of dread and the overall foreboding that sweeps across the pages.

I wished the ending offered a bit more resolution, but this is an excellent, haunting, and spooky supernatural read. You'll be madly flipping the pages (with the lights on)! 4+ stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and Thomas & Mercer in return for an unbiased review.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Stubbornness and pride: WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS.

When the Game Was OursWhen the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a huge NBA basketball fan, with a special love of the game from the 80s--00s. I also really love journalist Jackie MacMullan, so when I received this book through a bookswap, I was quite excited. Obviously it probably appeals to a particular set of people, but if you love NBA basketball and detailed retellings of events that already occurred, then this book is for you. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson recount events to MacMullan, starting from childhood and going through their multiple NBA championships (and a bit beyond). The focus is on their similarities--and the fact that they rose up in basketball at the same time, became fierce rivals, but also friends.

I'll confess that the bulk of the Magic and Bird rivalry was just a little ahead of my time. I fell hard for the NBA with the Chicago Bulls and MJ (both parents being from the Chicago suburbs), so, of course, I knew Bird and Magic, and saw them play a bit, but I missed most of their true heyday.

Still, I found this book absolutely fascinating. I learned so much I didn't know--especially about Magic and the racism he faced, about Magic and Kareem, and about Larry's background. It was intensely detailed. I loved how similar the two were in some ways--both so basketball-minded--yet so different in their personalities (Magic so open and brash, Larry so private and shy).

I also loved how much the late David Stern appeared in this book. I hadn't realized the depth of how much David came up with Bird and Magic in the league--combining their success with his amazing acumen to build the league into what it is today. MacMullan and Magic's discussion of Magic's HIV diagnosis is amazing (and heartbreaking) and the way Stern reacted is honestly visionary.

Overall, if you don't like basketball, you probably wouldn't gravitate to this book, yet it's so informative and factual, that if you love learning new things, I would still recommend it. It's not a fast read--I usually read one or two chapters a night after finishing whatever fiction read I was reading that evening--but it made up for it in how compelling and factual it was. Certainly worth a read and a huge find for any basketball fan. 4+ stars.

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Monday, October 26, 2020

When the world knocked me to my knees: INVISIBLE GIRL.

Invisible GirlInvisible Girl by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark, creepy read full of surprises

Owen Pick, a teacher in his thirties, has never had a relationship with a women. He's barely even had a successful date. He's teased by the young female students at the college where he works. He lives in a flat owned by his elderly aunt and recently has found solace on incel forums. Across the street from Owen lives the Fours family. They, frankly, find Owen creepy, especially mom Cate and her teenage daughter. Dad, Roan, a child psychologist, is too busy with work to care that much, while their teenage son is basically the only one Cate doesn't need to worry about. And then there's Saffyre Maddox. Now seventeen, Saffyre, was once a patient of Roan's. She misses their connection and seeks to maintain it by following him. Then, one night, Saffyre disappears, and it seems like Owen was the last person to see her. What truly happened to Saffyre?

After a bit of a slump with thrillers, I'm on a roll (though what's with ambiguous endings lately?). This was a creepy and ominous read! There is a lot going on here--Saffyre and her childhood issues; Owen and his many problems with women; and the complete dysfunction of the Fours family--but Jewell does a good job weaving them all together. The result is a tense and dark novel that keeps you guessing the entire time.

"I have a dark past, and I have dark thoughts." ~Saffyre

This is an engaging read, with Saffyre, Cate, and Owen turning into dynamic and unique voices. It's also ominous, with the overriding sense that something bad is going to happen. Secrets are the name of the game here, and Jewell turns the sexual predator theme on its head a bit. There's also plenty of revenge and strong women, which is great.

I wasn't a fan of the ending, which leaves things up in the end, but this is still a twisty ride with interesting characters and a different plot. 4 stars.

I received a copy of this novel from Netgalley and Atria Books in return for an unbiased review.

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Friday, October 23, 2020

G, A to Z Challenge: George and Lizzie.

George and LizzieGeorge and Lizzie by Nancy Pearl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the seventh book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet.

In high school, Lizzie made a choice--one she soon regrets--participating in something called the Great Game. The event alters the course of her life forever, along with a passionate relationship that ends in college. These moments, plus the influence of Lizzie's psychologist parents, who offer her little support as a kid, turn her into a melancholy and unfulfilled adult. Her husband, George, however, comes from a happy childhood with loving parents. He adores his family and they him. He also worships Lizzie, giving the two an unbalanced marriage. Can George and Lizzie survive an union on such unequal ground?

I'll confess that this book was not what I was expecting--I thought it was going to be a cheerful love story and a pick-me-up. It is a love story, though, all the same. George loves Lizzie. Lizzie, though, is lost in a love from the past. I'm not going to lie: Lizzie is a very frustrating character and a hard one for whom to care. She doesn't appreciate George, nor, really, much of her life. Now, she was truly saddled with terrible parents, so you have to grant her that. Her fixation on her past relationship makes you want to shake her, though.

"And because for years and years the voices in her head never let Lizzie forget that the Great Game had been a stupid idea right from the beginning and that she'd been an idiot for participating in it, her past was always there, a living thing. It shaped her present and future."

And of, of course, there is the Great Game--the event from high school which alters Lizzie's future. We can understand why Lizzie is Lizzie, but we can't always forgive her for her Lizzie type ways. Also, please note, there are a lot of football references in this book. A lot. I like football, but I'm not sure everyone who picks up a book like this will feel the same.

The story of George and Lizzie is told in very short vignettes (each with a title) that slowly move forward in time and alternate with Lizzie's past, mainly focusing on the Great Game, which so defined her life. This format takes much getting used to. There is no linear story here, but tiny bits and pieces of narrative from George and Lizzie. I almost abandoned the book when I first started--I couldn't get in the groove (and honestly, it's depressing). When I reluctantly returned to it a few days later, more prepared for the format, I could read it more easily.

In the end, I can't say I enjoyed this story. If I rated it purely on "like" factor, it would probably be a two-star read. Incorporating in Lizzie's life experiences and how a few things slowly grew on me, I'm giving this three stars, but only barely. (Also, I have real issues with how many kids from Lizzie's high school football team went on to the NFL. Maybe it's possible, but it seems insane.) 3 stars, but only eked out when they brought the chains out on the field to measure (too much?).

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

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Monday, October 19, 2020

I'll look around for another try and fade away: DEAR CHILD.

Dear ChildDear Child by Romy Hausmann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lena Beck disappeared fourteen years ago--a carefree student who simply vanished without a trace. Since then, her father, Matthias, and her mother have waited for any news about their daughter's whereabouts. Then, they receive a call: a woman has been found after an accident. She's in the hospital and a young girl, Hannah, presumably her daughter, is with her. From Hannah, we learn that Lena and Hannah were living in a cabin, basically unknown and cutoff from the outside world.

"He creates day and night. Like God."

This book was quite the ride! I couldn't put this one down. It was eerily reminiscent of Wendy Walker's Don't Look For Me, which I just read, and of course, Room, as everyone has mentioned. It's utterly captivating; I read it over the course of about 24 hours. The story is told from the perspective of Hannah, who has her own unique voice (that's putting it mildly); the woman known as Lena; and Matthias. Together, they tell us a creepy and often heartbreaking tale, going back in time to the cabin, as well as present day in the hospital.

I won't go too in-depth, because it's best to go in to this one blind. I will say that it's easy to get caught up in the characters, particularly Lena, and Hannah, in a sort of spellbinding way. I was mesmerized by their stories and totally enjoyed that I didn't guess the outcome. I thought this was going to be a 4.5-star read, but the ending wound up being a little crazy. It came on suddenly and just seemed a bit jarring.

Still, if you're looking for an eerie and compelling read--told by some original and haunting voices--you'll enjoy DEAR CHILD. 4 stars.

I received a free ARC of Dear Child by Romy Hausmann from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review.

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Thursday, October 15, 2020

Do you think it's one big accident: IN A HOLIDAZE.

In a HolidazeIn a Holidaze by Christina Lauren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A joyful and flirty holiday romance

Maelyn Jones spends every Christmas at her favorite place in the world: a cabin owned by her parents' friends in Utah. She joins her (divorced) parents, younger brother Miles, and two other families for a magical Christmas experience--cookie baking, snow creature making contests, holiday scavenger hunts, and more. She's been sleeping in the basement in the "kid bunk beds" with Miles and family friends Theo and Andrew for years, despite the fact that they are adults now. But this year, it's all ruined: their friends are selling the cabin and Mae is humiliated after an embarrassing encounter with Theo. As her family drives away from the cabin one last time, she makes a desperate plea for happiness. Then she sees a car headed straight toward theirs, and it all goes black. When she awakes, she's back on a plane headed to Utah, headed to the same holiday trip. As various disasters return Mae to the plane over and over, she realizes she's in a time loop--she needs to break free, and figure out to find true love and happiness, once and for all.

"So I ask the universe, simply: Can you show me what will make me happy?"

I know I must have read this synopsis when I requested this book, but I didn't reread it before starting, because hello, CLo, enough said. So I was slightly surprised by the Groundhog Day-esque story to this one, but I went with the flow. Luckily Mae is funny and charming enough to make just about anything fly, even a crazy time loop plot where you're not exactly sure how or why she's in it or quite what she's supposed to do to get out of it.

"'I think it's possible I'm in the past, repeating the same holiday, and I'm the only one who knows it.'"

It took a little while for the romance to heat up here, but once it did, the book was off and running. And boom! It's a sweet read, but flirty and romantic too. I loved Mae and her crush--they crackled and simmered. Honestly, the time loop piece was secondary to their joyful love. Seeing Mae come into her own made everything else less important, including Mae's reliving of her holiday. (And I enjoyed how she took to it so quickly--don't eat that, you're going to need this, tell me a secret so I can prove this to you next time--you go girl, embrace the loop!).

So, yes, while this book is a little crazy, it's also sweet and happy, too. It's a perfect Christmas read for a snowy day (or a fall day when you feel like the world is falling apart). 4 stars.

I received a copy of this book from Gallery Books and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

F, A to Z Challenge: FOLLOW ME BACK.

Follow Me Back (Follow Me Back, #1)Follow Me Back by A.V. Geiger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the sixth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet.

Tessa Hart spends most (okay all) of her days in her bedroom. After an incident that causes her intense anxiety and agoraphobia, her one outlet and escape is the online world of pop star Eric Thorn. She can lose herself in his music, as well as the digital chatter of Twitter. For Eric, though, online is a scary place, where he fears his fans' obsessive behavior. He's even more scared in real life, especially after one of his fellow stars is murdered by a crazed fan. But online media is key to his success, according to his PR team. So Eric decides to ruin his image via a trolling Twitter account--of his own making. But his plan derails quickly and he finds himself involved in his deepest and most meaningful relationship to date, albeit a virtual one. But when he and his Twitter friend agree to meet, everything goes wrong.

This is one of those books that you know will probably be incredibly silly and cheesy, and it was definitely both of those things. But I still read it in one day, because, well, sometimes you just need silly and cheesy in your life. I was all for something related to Twitter that didn't involve politics and the world ending.

Honestly, Follow Me Back was quite addictive and easy-to-read, even if I wanted to shake Tessa and Eric sometimes for their bad decisions. Some early honesty would have avoided a lot of angst. It's told via the point-of-view of both characters, along with excerpts from police interrogations. Through the police pieces, we know something bad has happened--then we back up to the events that lead up to it. The book delves into the pressures of stardom, along with anxiety, assault, and mental illness. It's a little all over the place, at times--perhaps trying to throw us off course, but I appreciated that it did try to cover Tessa's issues respectfully. There's Eric and Tessa's relationship, as well as a bit of a mystery element.

Overall, this was just an escapist novel for me, and it did its job fairly well. My only problem was that it ended with a cliffhanger ending, so while I did move this book off my shelf, I am going to have to track down book #2 to see how it all ends. Darn it! Still, 3 stars for a fun and crazy ride.

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

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Friday, October 09, 2020

But I keep hoping someday, that you'll see the light: THE BOOK OF TWO WAYS.

The Book of Two WaysThe Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting premise whose story is somewhat lost in the (many) details

When Dawn Edelstein survives a horrifying plane crash, it causes her to rethink her life and her marriage. She sees two paths she could have taken: her current one, married to her scientist husband, Brian, and mother to their daughter, Meret. In this life, she is a death doula, helping her clients at the end of their lives. She and Brian are also struggling, dealing with the unhappiness and infidelity in their marriage. In the other path, she's back in Egypt, picking up on a life she could have led, if her mother had not fallen ill when she was in graduate school: working as an Egyptologist and uncovering artifacts with Wyatt, an archaeologist, and the first love of her life. As the two paths unfold, Dawn's various choices and long-buried secrets do as well.

"For someone who makes a living through death, I haven't given a lot of thought to my own."

I love Jodi Picoult and her books, and I count many of them among my favorites. I was intrigued by this story, but overall, this book wasn't for me. I always appreciate when an author does their research for a book, but there was so very much Egypt (from Dawn) and various scientific concepts (via Brian) in this book. Some will really enjoy this and if these were topics I was more interested in, I probably would have too. But I read this book while was I was working endless days, and I just wanted to lose myself in a story and not read pages upon pages about ancient Egypt or so much scientific theory about multiverses. It was a lot.

When the novel focused on the characters, I was more in. Dawn is an intriguing protagonist--she's not always going to make choices that the rest of us might agree with. She takes a long hard long at her life--her regrets, her past love, her marriage, and more. I don't want to give too much away, but the various paths concept is an interesting one, for sure. I enjoyed both of them--especially Dawn's work as a death doula in her Boston life and then her relationship with Wyatt (who seemed very enigmatic--I could see why she was drawn to him) in Egypt.

No matter what, Picoult does what she does best--give us a fascinating look at love, marriage, and loss. She makes us think and question what we might do in Dawn's position. There are some twists and surprises thrown in along the way. I skimmed some of the Egypt stuff (I'm sorry!) and might have forgiven it all together, except then she gave me an up-in-the-air ending. After all that reading and reading! Sigh. No resolution endings seem to be a theme lately. And not one I'm a fan of, either. So, with that, a 3-star read for me. But I'll read Picoult's next book eagerly, as always.

I received a copy of this book from Random House/Ballantine and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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Wednesday, October 07, 2020


Emergency ContactEmergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

This is the fifth book in my #atozchallenge! I'm challenging myself to read a book from my shelves that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Let's clear those shelves and delve into that backlist!

Penny Lee is heading to college in Austin, Texas to finally start her life. She's leaving behind her needy Mom, her annoying boyfriend, and everything else. She wants to become a writer and now, she thinks, is when her life will truly begin. For Sam, his life in Austin is at a standstill. He's broken up with his girlfriend and is living above the coffee shop where he works. He has a mattress on the floor, a dying laptop, and a dream of becoming a movie director. When Sam and Penny meet, it's not glamorous or romantic. They know each other, vaguely, via Penny's roommate, Jude. But they soon are texting each other--a lot. Sharing everything about their lives, all the time. But can the two maintain this intimate friendship if they meet again in real life?

I absolutely loved this book. There was just something about it that spoke to me, and I was lost in Sam and Penny's world from practically the first page. I had to laugh, because I read some other reviews that maligned Penny, calling her an unlikable character. However, I felt like Penny was ME--I empathized with her character so much, and found so many good lines in the books that I could relate with. (What that says about me, we won't go into, ha.)

This was such a funny, sweet, and real story. I didn't find Sam and Penny's relationship to be insta-love whatsoever as they bonded over text. As anyone who has met someone and shared things online knows, it can become something so deep and private--offering something about yourself with someone you don't see. I loved the wit and sarcasm in their texts. These are my kind of people--funny, wounded, and just so them.

There's definitely seriousness to this book, and the theme of family runs across the entire novel. Sam and Jude are oddly related in a way I won't unpack here. Sam and Penny both have complicated and difficult relationships with their mothers. Penny's mom is a character unto herself. And we see friendship presented in various ways, including Penny's relationship with Jude, and Jude's best friend, Mallory. I loved all the characters, who are each so individualistic.

Overall, this was just a great book for me. It's funny yet dark at times and the humor was right up my alley. I fell hard for the characters, so everything hit me right in the gut. I can see how it might not be for everyone, but I think it's definitely worth a read. I'm glad my challenge made me finally pick this one up. 4.5 stars.

You can read more about the #atozchallenge here.

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Monday, October 05, 2020

Came running back to you, time after time: TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH.

To Tell You the TruthTo Tell You the Truth by Gilly Macmillan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

A twisty thriller with a disappointing ending

Lucy Harper is a famous writer, known for her crime fiction stories featuring her beloved character, Eliza. Her work has made her wealthy, something that particularly pleases her husband, Dan, a once aspiring writer who now "manages" Lucy's career and money. Lucy and Dan's life and marriage look perfect from the outside, but they are anything but. Then Dan suddenly goes missing. His disappearance reminds Lucy of another time someone vanished from her life: her younger brother, Teddy, who was lost in the woods very near the house Lucy and Dan now live in. Soon Lucy finds herself reminded more and more of her past, which seems to be quickly and dangerously colliding with her present.

"After all, what kind of person creates a character who walks right out of their books and into their life? He would think I'd lost my mind."

I absolutely adore Gilly Macmillan and her books, but this was not one of my all-time favorites. It's still good, though, and twisty, and I will admit that I didn't guess the (rather bizarre) outcome. However, the ending leaves much to be desired and does not wrap everything up, which left me frustrated. (And seemed to kick off a trend in my recent thrillers, where things end with plot pieces left hanging--I'm not okay with this.)

Lucy is an unreliable narrator extraordinaire--ever since she was small, she's had a best friend named Eliza. Why yes, Eliza happens to be the name of her fictional character, as well. Lucy talks to her imaginary friend, who seems to have untold power over her. If this sounds weird and creepy, it is, and Macmillan does a good job with the eerie oddity of it all and allowing us to wonder if we can trust anything that Lucy--or Eliza--say. Knowing who and what to believe is certainly a central theme here.

Dan, meanwhile, is absolutely despicable, and I was not too sad when he disappeared, honestly. The story alternates between present-day, with Lucy's point of view, and the past, around the time Teddy disappeared. It's certainly compelling. All in all, I would have probably rated this 4-stars if there had been a better ending, versus one that felt rushed and forced, without tying up all the loose ends. This is still a good, atmospheric thriller, with plenty of twists. 3.5 stars. And if you want to read more from Macmillan, I highly recommend The Perfect Girl or her Jim Clemo series--all books that I adore.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and HarperCollins/William Morrow in return for an unbiased review.

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Saturday, October 03, 2020

One can only dream of a love so rare: THE HAPPY EVER AFTER PLAYLIST.

The Happy Ever After PlaylistThe Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Amazingly sexy and sweet romance

Sloan Monroe's fiance, Brandon, died two years ago, and Sloan is still hurting, a lot. Then one day she finds an adorable dog on the road--literally--and takes him home. His owner never answers her texts, and the dog, Tucker, seems to help Sloan move on. Then suddenly Tucker's owner shows up, via text, and he wants Tucker back. But Sloan's strong enough now that she's not giving up Tucker. As she starts texting with Tucker's owner, Jason, she realizes he really cares about his dog. Then Sloan also recognizes that Jason is a good guy. A really good, handsome guy. This is confirmed once they meet in person. But Jason's a musician with stardom just around the corner. Sloan needs someone here, whom she can count on. Can she really handle someone else who might leave her, again?

"I didn't cook anymore. Everyone knew that. I didn't do a lot of things anymore."

I absolutely adored this book. It was just what I needed at the time I picked it up. Jimenez gives us such a happy and sexy romance with two characters with awesome chemistry. There's the best blend of small mix-ups and humor, and you cannot help but root for Sloan and Jason from the very beginning (especially if you've read The Friend Zone). Knowing that Sloan is completely broken from Brandon's death while Jason is confident and embarking on a new career, it's completely understandable that Sloan can't risk losing herself again. Watching her find happiness--even knowing it could be gone again in a second--is beautiful, and both of these characters are so real, so true.

"I'd been lonely and attached to someone invisible for two years. I wouldn't do it again. I couldn't do it again."

While this book is emotional, it's also very sweet, and, wow, sexy at times. Jason is just a darn good guy, seemingly too good to be true, and I found myself willing him and Sloan together, desperately wanting her to get a second chance at happiness. Throw in the adorable Tucker and there's basically nothing not to love about this book. Great characters, great romance, great humor--it's all there. I loved it from beginning to end. 4.5 stars.

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Friday, October 02, 2020

There's a sort of beacon where there used to be a dull roar: DON'T LOOK FOR ME.

Don't Look for MeDon't Look for Me by Wendy Walker
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite thrillers this year

Five years ago, Molly and John Clarke's youngest daughter died. It changed their family forever, devastating Molly and John. Molly blames herself. Their son, Evan, is now at boarding school and eldest daughter Nicole, 21, has a fractured relationship with her mom. Then Molly disappears coming back from visiting Evan. Everyone says she left on purpose, backed up by the note they find. The police call it a "walk away." Molly's car was abandoned by a gas station, the note discovered at a nearby hotel. But what really happened to Molly? Nicole is convinced her mother wouldn't just walk away from them, no matter how bad things had become.

"This was her fault and now she had to make it right. She had to find her mother."

Oh my gosh. I read this book in one breathless day, despite working for 12 hours. It's an utterly and completely spellbinding thriller. I read the last half in one sitting, desperate to know what became of Molly. Walker gives us a twisty thriller that is filled with surprises. It's dramatic, beyond readable, and heartbreaking at times. Told from Molly and Nicole's point of views, it's amazing. I love a book that can shock me, and this is that book.

I'm not going to offer much more, as it's best to go into this one blind. Just know that, hands down, it's one of the best thrillers I've read this year. 4.5+ stars. Pick up this book!

I received a copy of this book from St. Martin's Press and Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.

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