Little Darlings: A Novel by Melanie Golding

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He really hadn’t seen it. Seen her, the woman from the hospital, the woman in the bushes. But Lauren had, solid and real as the trees themselves; the eyes still glared at her when she closed her own, the image burned there like she’d looked at the sun too long. She was going mad, she must be. That or the woman was some kind of witch, some kind of demon would could disappear at will.

When Lauren gives birth to beautiful, healthy twin boys, Morgan and Riley, the birthing process was less smooth than she hoped, leaving her exhausted, sore. Then, her husband leaves too fast for her liking leaving her, a new mother, alone with the boys in the hospital. When she finds time to rest, sleeping when not feeding her boys, the strange dreams overtake her, terrifying and lingering upon her waking. She is sure in between a state of wakefulness and sleep that she heard another mother with infant twins too, just like her. The next day, the nurses are perplexed, what other patient? What other babies? Trapped in the hospital for yet another night, things take an eerie turn. Is it just a bad reaction from the difficult birth that makes her imagine a filthy, ragged woman is trying to trade her babies for her own vile mewing creatures, or is Lauren’s world becoming a dark fairytale? The police aren’t taking it seriously, the doctors and her own husband are convinced it’s all in Lauren’s head. No one could possibly get in without being seen, not with the secure settings in the hospital. Detective Harper is determined to check on the new mother, despite the assumption it’s just ‘bad trip’. What she sees is a woman who is terrified, and unsure of her own mind. Something about her story pulls DS Harper in, and the hospital visit won’t be the last of it.

Once home with her husband and baby boys, everything feels like a threat, especially the strange gift she receives. Then her husband tells her he plans to head back to work sooner than he promised, leaving her to cope with no support. Wanting nothing more than to get away, a fresh breath, to escape her husband droning on about how good she is at this baby stuff, trying to convince her that she can do it when she knows she needs help, she bolts for the door ready to leave it all behind. Then she sees the frightful woman again, lurking! Patrick doesn’t though, and it feels like her mind is cracking. If no one is there, why is she so frightened? How to explain the strange gift that her friend swears isn’t from her? Before long, Lauren seems the woman’s filthy face peering in the windows of her home, creeping, waiting until the time is right to swap the babies. She holes herself up in the home, locked up, curtains drawn but Patrick won’t hear of it. All she needs is to get out, be in the world again, just get outside. Heeding her husband’s advice, she ventures upriver with the boys and meets her friends Rosa and Cindy, after commiserating over birth stories and mothering, sharing cake and coffee they part ways. Lauren walks to a clearing, upriver where the secluded bench sits. “Sinking down gratefully” Lauren closes her eyes and falls asleep, knowing only of her careless, unintended slumber when she startles awake and sees the baby stroller gone.

So begins the terror that her children must have been taken by the witch even when they are found not far away with another strange woman. Though they are returned to her, Lauren is convinced these are not her babies! That monstrous woman must have taken them,  and replaced them with these stand ins for these ‘others’ are not her own! To the raging river, she and the stroller must go if ever her real, flesh and blood human babies will return to her. This mad turn in her behavior has her locked up, but she will know the truth! She will do anything it takes to get her real children back. “They strapped her down. Like a madwoman.” The doctors know it is true that ‘someone took my babies’, for it is a fact and she is simply confused,  embellishing on a real incident because they are back now, safe, unharmed! She must play along if she is to be released, despite the constant truth that circles in her head “they are not my boys”.  Pretend, pretend they are yours.

Is it in the pretending that she becomes a threat to her children or is something far more sinister truly at work?

This is a nightmare seethed in folklore, quietly believable enough that you don’t have to suspend your disbelief. Lauren is flawed to begin with, surely someone who could create a fantasy through some sort of mental break, but there are things that lend her outrageous imaginings some credibility, and DS Harper is tied to the strange mystery because of her own past. Why does she feel so close to the case? Looking to study the evidence with an open mind when colleagues are quick to dismiss Lauren as a deluded new mother? This was a creepy gem of a novel, add it to your 2019 TBR list!

Publication date: April 30, 2019

Crooked Lane Books

 

 

 

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Dracul:A Novel by Dacre Stoker, J.D. Barker

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“Why are you hiding, Nanna Ellen? You’re frightening me!”

The peculiarities of Ellen Crone, oh yes, is the perfect place to start this creepy novel. Written from the notes, missing pages, remnants of Bram Stoker’s classic novel, there is an eerie intimacy in this prequel, sharing the inspiration behind his dark creation. It seems fitting that Stoker’s great grand-nephew carries on his legacy, co-authored by J.D. Barker (a horror and thriller fiction writer himself). That is turned out so good  is simply an early Halloween treat for your bucket.

We begin with Bram, a sickly ill-fated child (how gothic) until a peculiar Nanny ‘monster, wraith, friend’ (sounds about right if you think about Nannies of bygone days) cures him. Spending miserably sad, mounting days from his attic room wondering if it’s to be his last, with his older sister Matilda for company, watching life outside his window. There from the time of his birth, lending her strength to his being and disappearing for days at a time always returning restored again (cheeks flush with color, life) his nanny (Nana Ellen) is a force.  Ellen of the changing eye color and strange mysteries is it imagination that brother and sister let run wild, or is she something ‘other’? Is it just his illness, playing games with his mind? Feeling her, but not seeing her when at his worst? Curing him when leaches fail him? The cure, that strange beastly overpowering… did she truly save or change him?

interrupting these journal entries, Bram of the present is being stalked by a presence on the other side of the door, trapped in a room, engulfed by the awful stench of this monster, wondering if he’ll ever leave alive. Back to the past, brother and sister snooping through Ellen’s room, when they aren’t watching her strange nightly encounters, looking for evidence of something. Being children, they know not what but why is there a box of dirt, with a body impression, as if someone sleeps there in her room? Why isn’t her bed as clean as their own? Well, the ‘help’ is often busy and exhausted, is it so bizarre to be a messy nanny? Shoo, children, what does your Ma care so long as Ellen watches out for you and the house is clean?

Naturally they don’t give in, they continue to hunt, stalk their Nanny who disappears into mist. Maybe their feet just aren’t as fast? Are they really chasing her? Is he dreaming? Bram wakes with an itch. Could siblings share the same dream, or is it the sinister games of Ellen? If there was nothing unholy about her, nothing monstrous, why has she left in the night, without a word, leaving nothing of herself behind?

The monster means to seduce him into opening the door. After all, he owes it his very life, he wouldn’t have reached adulthood without it. Come on, open the door! Let’s get to the bottom of this!

They will find Ellen again, and discover the origins of her monstrous heart. What is great about this prequel is the knowledge shared about Stoker’s childhood, life. There is folklore and I love folklore but I wish there was more heart pounding terror. What you will find is the undead, plagues, murders and a strange love for the very thing he fears.  It  is a solid read and perfect for fans of Dracula, and old horror stories. We’re to believe that Stoker encountered the very sort of ‘evil’ he wrote about. It is part horror, thriller, mystery and Stoker family history, fictionalized (or is it) mwwwwaaaaa…

Available Now

Penguin Group

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

 

The Nightmarchers by J. Lincoln Fenn

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The jungle can do tricky things to the Western mind that lacks spiritual protection.

Julia Greer’s life has crumbled, formerly living in an enormous Victorian in Palto Alto with her now ex-husband Ethan and their daughter Evie, she is now trapped in a bleak apartment off the freeway longing for her child, whom Ethan has fully custody of. Money is power,  and Ethan has it all, why did she sign the prenuptial agreement? Why did she ever give up her work as an investigative journalist to be the sort of wife that reflected beautifully on the very man who has taken everything she loved from her? Is he really the great cold manipulator she tells us?

Then comes a letter from her estranged and very wealthy great-aunt , Dr. Lydia Greer. Julia’s memories aren’t fond ones of the old woman, whom surely must be ancient now. Too young at their last meeting, she hasn’t spent much time ruminating over why her mother left so abruptly, ending the visit. Certainly there hasn’t been any communication from her great aunt since, but if she’s learned anything lately, its that money is the only chance she has to tackle her mounting debts, and more importantly, have a chance at getting her daughter back. Money matters, her Aunt is asking her to tea, what could it hurt? This may well be the means to hire a good lawyer to help set things right for she and Evie.

What Julia learns is that her Aunt will give her a lot of money to travel to a remote island, her task simply to smuggle samples of a mysterious flower that her sister Irene had written about decades ago before her suspicious death. The leader of the Church of Eternal Light, according to her aunt, must be hiding not just the real reason for her sister’s demise, but the true properties of the plant. It is risky, but she will have tools to communicate, unlike the others that go for escape from the modern world. Lydia has the means to help her get Evie back. What choice does Julia have? Others would agree to more for far less, and she is desperate!

1939 Irene Greer has set up camp in Kapu and is forging ahead collecting specimens for her sister back home, while tolerating the occasional visits from the Reverend.  She is nursing her wounds, after the horrible touch of tragedy. As time stretches, her ‘ignorant foreign ways’ wears off, and she befriends a young orphan Agnes, who shares her knowledge of Kapu with Irene. Letters home are filled with the thrill of discoveries until she writes of illness, and her musings turn dark, strange. Is it madness that led her to believe she saw a line of warriors marching with her dead husband Charles and daughter Lila?  Are the locals supersitions eating into her common sense? Was it simply illness that caused her to jump to her death into the falls, following them into some other world? There couldn’t possible be truth in her mad writings, could there? After all this time, as much as then, Lydia isn’t convinced by the Reverend’s assurance that it was all just a tragedy, possibly a plant that caused delusions. Irene’s body was never returned home. It is the perfect cover for Julia’s visit, there only to solve the mystery with disinternment- while in truth she searches for the plant.

Present day, deep into the challenge set forth by her aunt, Julia is beginning to think there is far more to the tale than her aunt let on. The religious cult is odd, it’s leader menacing, treating outsiders like her as if they are a disease. He is special, born of the island, a survivor. There are strange rules, dangerous insects and Noah. Noah, who seems to have his own motives for being on the island, can she trust him? Can she trust herself? The place begins to play with her mind, both she and her deceased aunt Irene had lost their child and spouse (to death or abandonment). Maybe with their family history,  losing her grip on reality like Irene did all those years ago, is the product of stress, sadness? Who is this child now helping her? Why always a child?

The island itself is an important character, not just for the atmosphere. It is rooted in superstition, true, but nature itself is deadly, mysterious particularly to an outsider. It can be friend or foe. At every turn she is forced to face off with the elements, more alive than the visitors, more dangerous even. Still it remains the nature of human beings that are the real scary part of this novel. I enjoyed Irene’s letters, and Aunt Lydia is a tough bird, a perfect character for this story (though I won’t go into why), someone whose intelligence is still sharp and can pierce you even in her years of decline.

The motives of some are downright chilling. The advance of science can sometimes be monstrous too. We are all ‘hungry’, we want the answers, we want to play God. Sometimes Science can make convincing excuses for it’s horrors, but nature can be just as brutal.

I liked the beginning with Irene, I have a thing for the past. I didn’t necessarily feel invested in Julia’s plight, I began to think – maybe you just offer yourself to be a victim.  The ending, I get it… I think… but it is weird. Will she take Kapu with her, or will Kapu take her? Maybe even her ‘clever’ aunt is out of her element too, doesn’t truly know just how powerful this thing is. Is the Reverend just a creepy cult leader, high on the mysteries of the island or is he on the verge of Eternal Light? I still don’t know for sure. I am not sure the ending resolved all my questions.

Publication Date: October 1, 2018

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

 

When Your Eyes Close by Tanya Farrelly

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The images shift between his life and the unknown.

Nick Drake has always had a taste for alcohol, but now he is so far gone that if he can’t get it under control, the doctors will refuse to put him on a transplant list and this is do or die! With a divorce behind him, life has had its difficulties, and with AA failing to help maybe hypnosis is the key. As he closes his eyes during a session, his life is swallowed by memories of someone else. Soon the visions playing in his head turn into to a blood filled nightmare about another man and his family, a man who may well have been a murderer. Surely this is some confabulation in his mind, this can’t be real! But what if it is? What if these are someone else’s memories, or his own from another life? They feel as real to him as his own.

Michelle is Nick’s girlfriend, she has known something is terribly wrong, that he was keeping things from her, but she never could have imagined the wild truth. There is another woman, but one that may have been Nick’s child, when he was someone else, in another time. This person is real, Caitlin is a solid, living breathing reality, not just some fantasy he conjured while under hypnosis. She will find a way to help dig into Caitlin’s life, because if Nick’s ‘memories’ under hypnosis are make believe, how come the people in them existed, the child now fully grown, a violinist, very much alive and real. Getting to know Caitlin seems all too easy at first, even if at times a wall comes up, or things don’t pan out, she refuses to give up, she’ll do anything to help Nick pull through because if he has a chance to get better, Caitlin is the key.

Caitlin’s husband disappeared a year ago, she has received a call from man saying only that he is still alive and not to try to find him. She has built a life for herself, despite the mystery surrounding David’s disappearance. Stranger still are the odd messages on social media. Her friend Andy has been an oak through the long days of not knowing what happened to David, but can she really trust him? Is he just trying to take David’s place? Now there is a strange new couple, Michelle and Nick in her life and some things about them seem a little too coincidental. She likes Michelle, wants to trust in her new friend, surely they couldn’t have nefarious plans, they couldn’t be the ones sending her messages, though they happened at the same time as she bumped into  Nick for the first time, which he claims not to remember, says didn’t happen. Caitlin is schooled in controlling her emotions since her traumatic childhood, and doesn’t trust anyone nor take what they say at face value. As Michelle tries to ease into Caitlin’s life, to help Nick get answers, Caitlin isn’t so honest and forthcoming and is fishing for her own clues about Nick and Michelle.

With Nick wanting nothing more than to make right by Catilin this time around, they begin to dig into her husband David’s disapparance, never imagining it could endanger Caitlin, that maybe she has her own secrets. Reaching into Caitlin’s childhood past, Michelle finds an aunt who knows more than she ever told about Caitlin’s youth.  Then there were David’s secrets before he vanished, that begs more questions. What Caitlin remembers and confides to her new ‘friend’ Michelle doesn’t quite add up to what they know for fact, nor the memories haunting Nick’s mind. It could be a defense mechanism, but what if there is more?

Are some things better left alone? If Nick wasn’t meant to act on these memories, why is he having them at all? Someone has secrets, what began in blood could very well end in it.

Told in shifting perspectives, it’s easy to know that nothing is simple. It has a supernatural bend with Nick channeling a murderer that may have been him, in another life. But it’s also a psychological thriller with damaged characters, the past definitely catches up with people here. It is a story with a decent twist, though it crawled in places. I would have enjoyed it more if I was only in one character’s head, being in all three underwhelmed me because I never felt close enough to anyone but the very idea is enough to sell the story. It is a unique twist on what could have been a bittersweet story of past life, which we’ve read before, here we have a fresh, sinister spin on things.

Available Now!

HarperCollins UK

HarperImpulse

 

 

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo

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It was in early summer of my eighteenth year that my destiny arrived, and despite my fancy for premonitions he took me quite by surprise.

This is the story of Katrina Van Tassel, who falls in love with the Sleepy Hollow’s new school master Ichabod Crane. Katrina is delighted when she learns of Mr. Crane’s love for music, and that her father has engaged his services of singing lessons, for her. So begins a love affair that can only lead to doom and gloom with a legendary headless horseman running amok.

Then there is Brom Van Brunt (oh how I love these old names)  nicknamed ‘Brom Bones’ for his large frame,  the town’s beloved favored son,  and bully (when he isn’t leaving sighing women in his wake) who is sure Katrina is his destiny. They are all hung up on their destiny here! Brom is adamant Katrina will be his, has known this since childhood as they were once a tight trio including her best friend Charlotte (of strange gifts). They spent their youth inventing their own mischief until he turned sour, cruel to Charlotte for something she did (which is his fault, really). Now he seems to spend most of his time sniffing around Katrina and informing her that she will ‘come around’ to loving him, to being his wife. It’s only a matter of time, and a lot of harassment. He may have been her first kiss, but she’ll be damned if he’s her last.

Even the most progressive parents weren’t likely to welcome a terrible match for their child. Her father certainly isn’t going to support his daughter’s love for someone like Ichabod, well read and musical talents aside, wealth speaks louder than character when it comes to your precious, privileged child. Is Brom so awful? I mean, really Katrina, the whole town loves him, he is popular and handsome, full of brawn and… well he looks good on paper and that’s what mattered then. Alliances aren’t often made between the pillars of society and the penniless, better the promise of Brom or someone of his ilk. Maybe Charlotte can use her ‘magical talents’, reading tarot cards to see if there is even a slim chance of happiness and a future as Mrs. Crane. Charlotte does seem to have her uses.

Charlotte spends much of the novel giving warnings, or herbs to solve other inconveniences for Katrina. She has ‘feelings’, some of us may just call this intuition, others a wild imagination, depends on who you ask. Katrina isn’t immune to visions herself, in her nightmares of the headless horseman she keeps seeing ominous warnings but he isn’t real!!!! Something is brewing, but is her love for Ichabod truly doomed? Not even the terror of a legend can keep the lusty lovers out of the woods, and each other’s arms.

Circumstances push her to conform to society and it’s demands when Ichabod seems to have disappeared on All Hallows Eve, life becomes its own special hell. Will she ever be reunited with her lover? Or will she have to go to extreme measures to keep herself, and maybe someone else, safe?

It does have a pinch of feminism with Katrina, whose spirit won’t be tamed, who wants to love where she will and thwarts society, maybe even has to resort to manipulations here and there. Herbs as a safeguard against unwanted pregnancy isn’t something new, though it was forbidden (such witchery), even when she is reduced to accepting the turn her life takes, she still tries to hold some sway over her own destiny. My only beef was, I expected more terror beyond the occasional nightmare. Though to be fair, human beings are ugly enough themselves without a headless horseman lurking about and they don’t fail to be so here. I wished for more magic and spells, I mean love can be a spell I suppose or a curse. No? With Spellbook is in the title, I admit I was holding out for witches and spells, all sorts of spooky but I have high demands.

It was fun to visit Spooky Hollow again but came off more as a romance. More seduction than nightmare. Charlotte’s reputation is dangerously ruined by Brom early on, no one takes kindly to any whispers of evil, dangerous accusations, couldn’t the novel have backed up these threats with more than her seeing into the future? Too bad she couldn’t conjure some spell against Brom, but take heart, he seems hellbent on defeating himself half the time.  If you like romance with an old spooky legend thrown in, this will be perfect for you. Just in time for pumpkin patches, and headless men, out in October.

Publication Date: October 2, 2018

St. Martin’s Press

St. Griffin

The Impossible Girl by Lydia Kang

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So, thirteen-year old Cora had shivered and cried, wondering if her numbed left arm and leg would work again, or her garbled speech would right itself. And they did- only a few hours later. It never happened again, but the incident reminded Cora that her body held dark sway over her existence.

Cora, birthed three weeks too early in shame to Elizabeth, an unmarried socialite is born with an anomaly, two hearts. When her mother dies giving birth to her, a doctor discovers her extra heartbeat, assured having a chinese father follows all the other pecularities brought to the docks by those ‘foreigners’. Being of mixed blood certainly causes these oddities! Immediately the doctor is hungry to have her for dissection, when she dies of course, because he has no doubt her death will come soon. With the baby, this anatomic jewel,  she would be a great gift to medicine, something to dissect and study! He will pay them, it’s obvious they live in poverty and sorely need the funds.

Charlotte herself knows all too well what life is like as a family outcast, cut out of the family for her own ‘sins’. With her cousin Elizabeth passing and the threat of the doctor looming over their heads, she devises a plan to hide the child. One baby girl takes on two lives, as Jacob and Cora Lee, twins. So begins the adventures of Cora, Queen of Resurrectionists, employed by anatomists! Instead of gowns and all that glitters she chases down the dead from funerals to cemeteries to make a pretty penny. Even the poor that often “died in such dreadfully ordinary ways” can line her pockets, but competition can be fierce! It’s the unique bodies with oddities that are in high demand, people like Cora herself. She watches her marks, waiting until death takes them, keeping always to propriety as a lady should, even when dealing with the stink of death.

Before long, such people are dying unnatural causes, disappearing! Cora knows someone is hunting them and the killer may well be on her heels. Worse, she has met a mysterious medical student, Theodore Flint, poaching her business who knows all too well about Cora Lee’s fierce reputation. Disguised as Jacob, Cora and Flint come to an arrangement and everything gets muddled as her feelings for him become more than just business. Running from passion and love is nothing compared to the killer coming to collect a most sought after oddity for his collection, Cora herself.

Containing two hearts makes it that much more fitting that Cora has led a life as two people in order to survive but Flint could unravel the only protection she has, if he discovers her brother doesn’t even exist. The timeline beginning in 1850 with Cora’s birth, was ripe with body snatching for medical studies you can research this and find out the shocking reality. Too, this is a feminist story in the split necessary for Cora to take on the role of Jacob to navigate the rougher side of life. Cora is fiercely intelligent, full of medical knowledge and yet Jacob is the one the invite to the Grand Anatomical Museum is extended to by Theo Flint. In a world where women were less, Cora has risen to legendary status. Her own aunt and mother’s removal from the well to do family because of their pregnancies out-of-wedlock was the norm of such times and yet we see amazing strength and courage in Charlotte taking on the care of her niece. These were mean times if you didn’t have money, which is why as vile as body snatching is, it’s a sink or swim existance and people did what they needed to in order to survive! Bigotry against mixed- blood children, xenophobia, the poor versus the rich, sexism, it’s all here and it’s quite an adventure.

I was engaged to the very end and genuinely feel Cora makes for a fascinating young woman! This is one to add to your TBR pile, I was still guessing how it would all come together and the ending is just right.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Lake Union Publishing

Tell Me You’re Mine: A Novel by Elisabeth Norebäck

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Her right ear looks like Daniel’s and Maria’s. Elf ears. It’s genetic. 

Stella Widstrand was on a family vacation in a secluded cabin by the sea so long ago, when her baby daughter disappeared, thought to have drowned. All that remains, her  red stroller, turned over in the sand, but could the sea have truly taken her daughter, whose body was never found? One fatal mistake, one walk and it was all over for Stella and Daniel, the blame all hers to bear.

Now Stella has Henrik and Milo, a happy life despite her terrible grief. It’s better to leave that tragedy in the past, where it belongs. Psychotherapy once saved her, pulled her out of the abyss, inspiring her to help others, studying psychology herself. She was good at it, her job, until now. A handwritten letter, a threat or warning is turning her life upside down. It could be the one hostile patient from her past or it could be Isabella, the woman whom she recommends group therapy to and believes could be her dead daughter, Alice. Her child whose body was never found, Alice who could have been taken!It isn’t just grief, making her see something familiar in the stranger, it is possible, she never believed her to be dead, she isn’t losing her mind!

Isabella is damaged, raised by an overbearing mother (Kerstin) who feels her child is slipping away, living in Stockholm, engaging in therapy that she doesn’t trust. Private thoughts should be kept private, she’s of the keep yourself to yourself generation. Her daughter is fragile and should be home where Kerstin doesn’t have to worry about her, can guide her, care for her. Her father, Hans passed away recently, and she’s had a hard time with it, she needs her mother! Why don’t people understand this? Isabella is seeing her caring mother in a different light due to the therapy sessions, questioning things in her life, even her father’s death. Things no longer make sense, therapy is opening her eyes but to what? She wants control of her life and her emotions, but why is that a threat to Kerstin.

Stella is getting too close to her patient, Henrik doesn’t like it a bit, knowing how vulernable his wife his to her past tragedy. Is this all just hysteria, is she projecting on the young patient? It’s impossible, irrational, Henrik doesn’t believe her, worries over her, could she be sick again? Stella is slipping, breaking but she is going to find out if Isabella is her Alice, at any cost.

This was engaging and strange at times, one of those stories about a mother’s worst fears coming true, though what follows seems more than a little impossible. Then again life is stranger than fiction at times too. It was good but not as thrilling as I had hoped, I think because I figured it out early on. It’s more a psychological drama about damaged people and I’ve read other novels with striking similarities but it was still enjoyable.

Publication Date: September 4, 2018

Penguin Group

G.P. Putnam’s Sons