The Holdout by Graham Moore

This book had a brilliant concept, strong characters and a very engaging way of writing.

One juror changed the verdict. What if she was wrong?
‘Ten years ago we made a decision together…’
Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher, Bobby Nock, is the prime suspect. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed.
Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, persuades the rest of the jurors to vote not guilty: a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.
Ten years later, one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the prime suspect.
The real killer could be any of the other ten jurors. Is Maya being forced to pay the price for her decision all those years ago?

What I loved about this was the way the chapters focused on Maya, but divided it up by going back ten years ago with each divide focusing on a different juror. Gradually throughout the book we got to see the thoughts of each juror and why they voted ‘Not Guilty’. It was so fascinating to see and I really liked this view into the minds of each juror.

This was a very fast-paced book, with the plot moving quickly and the writing easy to follow. I love it when a book is easy to read, it makes it easier for me to engage with the story and stayed hooked on the book. This was one of those books, it was clear and concise, descriptive when needed and really kept me gripped. The chapters are also clearly titled so I always knew who was at the centre of which chapter and which year we were in, so it was just excellently written.

The plot itself was also fantastic. It really investigated the moral roles of the jurors involved and how they had been affected by their decision to rule ‘Not Guilty’. Maya, the main character, was very self aware throughout and able to dissect her feelings so the reader can easily feel connected to her. I was with Maya the whole way through, urging her to find out the truth and discover what happened, frustrated when she struggled and elated when she uncovered more and more. It was up and down throughout and I was kept guessing right until the end.

The ending was a surprise but I think it was always going to be because of how the plot worked. The constant back and forth meant that it was easy to follow but hard to get close to any character other than Maya so I wasn’t able to guess who was at fault. The moral side of this book was excellently written, with no black and white answer available. Every person has their own moral limit and this book highlighted this very clearly.

I loved this, it was such a great book and so brilliantly written. The characters were all excellent, the plot different and unique and the pace was perfect.

The Holdout
Graham Moore
Orion, 18th Feb 2020

BLOG TOUR: Conviction by Denise Mina

This is unique, chilling and fascinating thriller, with a strong and independent female lead who I absolutely loved.

It’s just a normal morning when Anna’s husband announces that he’s leaving her for her best friend and taking their two daughters with him.
With her safe, comfortable world shattered, Anna distracts herself with someone else’s story: a true-crime podcast. That is until she recognises the name of one of the victims and becomes convinced that only she knows what really happened.
With nothing left to lose, she throws herself into investigating the case. But little does she know, Anna’s past and present lives are about to collide, sending everything she has worked so hard to achieve into freefall.

The style of writing in this book is so unique, it drew me in right from the start. It’s blunt, bizarrely honest and at times feels fragmented when it follows Anna’s real-time thoughts, but I loved it. It was different, but the slightly jarring effect was actually very captivating. It was this that hooked me in to this book before the plot even got going.

What drew me to this book in the first place was the concept of the podcast being the catalyst. The way this was executed within the book was excellent, as the plot didn’t rely too heavily on the podcast but used it as very gripping starting point. Mina gave just enough of a link between the podcast and Anna to keep me curious throughout, without giving away too many of the precise details as to why they were linked. The tension just kept building, and even though the story was a little bit out there, it was just fantastic. The way it was written from Anna’s blunt and unapologetic perspective made it so believable that I never stopped to question what was happening, I just enjoyed reading it.

As we got nearer to the end I was honestly starting to wonder if we were ever going to find out the truth – Mina kept it going right up until the very end. Surprisingly it didn’t drag at all, and instead I found myself desperately turning the pages as I had to find out what happened. I was genuinely shocked, and although I don’t want to give too much away, I will say that this was one of those endings where it just crept up on me and I was left totally shocked. The way that Mina writes keeps the reader totally focused on the main thread of the story, leaving you blind-sided when she reveals something that should have been obvious.

I honestly absolutely loved this. It was deliciously creepy, twisty throughout and full of suspense with a very strong female lead character. If this isn’t on your list to read, it should be now.

Conviction
Denise Mina
Vintage, 20th February 2020

BLOG TOUR: All The Wrong Places by Joy Fielding

This was fast-paced, full of suspense and with a chilling mystery character.

You always know who you’re meeting online . . . don’t you?
Four women decide to explore online dating, downloading an app that promises they will swipe their way to love and happiness.
But not everyone is who they seem online. Hidden behind a perfect smile and charming humour, one man appears to be the perfect date. But the night he has planned is unlike any other.
The clock is ticking, and for one woman, this date might just be her last . .
.

I really liked the characters in this, I felt that Paige was definitely likeable to the reader, even if she was a little bit perfect! I think she was written excellently, because it meant when she did break out of her perfect little bubble, her emotions and choices were all the more impactful because it was so different for her. Chloe’s story was again particularly emotional to read – it hit quite deep for the reader to see her going through a difficult marriage, and the ending definitely took me by surprise.

I personally loved Joan, Paige’s mother – what a brilliant and confident woman! She was funny, bold and not afraid to be herself, and I personally loved seeing her character development throughout. Heather was actually quite a tragic character, as in the struggles she faced were not so obvious on the outside, but as the book revealed more about her life I felt quite sad for her. For me, this focus on the four women blended the best bits of both thriller and women’s fiction.

The chapters written from the perspective of the killer were genuinely chilling… His thought process and his ability to switch personas and stories was definitely quite terrifying. As his plan becomes clearer throughout the book, the tensions rises and the pace quickens as well. It’s a real rollercoaster and I was hooked throughout.

The ending really does just happen so quickly there’s barely time to blink. I loved this, as there’s so much that happens that among all the action there is a sinister build up to something else. I only saw it coming at the last minute, and honestly I thought the ending was great. A very sinister ending to a book that gave chills throughout.

All The Wrong Places
Joy Fielding
Zaffre, 12 December 2019

BLOG TOUR: What She Saw Last Night by MJ Cross

I read this in one day, desperate to finish it, and genuinely almost missed my train stop!

Jenny Bowen is going home. Boarding the Caledonian Sleeper, all she wants to do is forget about her upcoming divorce and relax on the ten-hour journey through the night.
In her search for her cabin, Jenny helps a panicked woman with a young girl she assumes to be her daughter. Then she finds her compartment and falls straight to sleep.
Waking in the night, Jenny discovers the woman dead in her cabin … but there’s no sign of the little girl. The train company have no record of a child being booked on the train, and CCTV shows the dead woman boarding alone.
The police don’t believe Jenny, and soon she tries to put the incident out of her head and tells herself that everyone else is right: she must have imagined the little girl.
But deep down, she knows that isn’t the truth.

What a book. I was so hooked on this! I felt that the start had just the perfect pacing – it was both slow enough to make me want to carry on but fast enough to keep my attention.

This is the kind of book where you never know what’s going to happen. Every chapter held something unexpected, and there were points where I was genuinely shocked that certain things actually happened. There are lots of twists and turns, but I liked that there are different character perspectives for the same events, so the reader gets a glimpse into both sides of the story. It’s genuinely sinister at times, sometimes scary and the writing is superb. The descriptions are so vivid that I felt really engaged throughout, I could really imagine and feel what was happening in the story, which is partly why I was so gripped by it throughout.

Jenny was a great main character. Clearly inexperienced, but ultimately super determined, I was always confident that she was going to get what she wanted eventually. It was a very rocky journey, and perhaps didn’t turn out the way I expected, but it was so so good. It wasn’t always realistic, but I find the most gripping thrillers and crime novels never are, so it worked really really well I felt. The plot was always unpredictable, helping to keep the reader engaged throughout.

After such a highly charged book, the ending was really emotionally satisfying and gave me exactly what I wanted. It’s not often a book hooks me as much as this one did, so I would highly recommend it.

BLOG TOUR: The Pact by Amy Heydenrych

What an unusual, creepy and fast-paced thriller full of action.

What if a prank leads to murder?
When Freya arrives at her dream job with the city’s hottest start-up, she can’t wait to begin a new and exciting life, including dating her new colleague Jay.
However, Nicole, Jay’s ex and fellow employee, seems intent on making her life a misery. After a big deadline, where Nicole continually picks on her, Freya snaps and tells Jay about the bullying and together they concoct a revenge prank. The next morning, Nicole is found dead in her apartment . . .
Is this just a prank gone wrong? Or does Freya know someone who is capable of murder – and could she be next?

This book starts with such a positive outlook, a book that shows someone achieving her dream role and looking to the future. It feels a bit too good to be true, and this soon turns out to be right as the atmosphere quickly changes, with a sinister undertone of bullying and manipulation taking front and centre.

Freya herself seemed innocent, although my instinct was that all was not as it seems in this book. Everything seemed to be against her, apart from her relationship with Jay. She was clearly struggling and the reader is supposed to feel some sympathy for her at these points. I did feel like there was something not quite right throughout though…

The idea of the prank that Freya played on Nicole runs throughout and it’s a constant reminder that something happened and it makes the reader desperate to know what. I really liked the pace of this, it was fast and held my attention but kept enough details to keep the momentum of the story going. I was desperate to know what exactly happened, and the ending definitely didn’t disappoint.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I loved the ending. It kept the tone and style of the story going right up until the last page and I was left very satisfied. This was such a great thriller and I’d definitely recommend!

The Pact
Amy Heydenrych
Zaffre, 28th November 2019

BLOG TOUR: Hold Your Tongue by Deborah Masson

This is probably one of the most chilling and gripping detective debuts I’ve read this year.

A brutal murder.
A young woman’s body is discovered with horrifying injuries, a recent newspaper cutting pinned to her clothing, and a particular body part missing.
A detective with everything to prove.
This is her only chance to redeem herself.
A serial killer with nothing to lose.
He’s waited years, and his reign of terror has only just begun . . .
On Detective Eve Hunter’s first Monday back at work following enforced leave, she is called to the scene of this gruesome crime. Hunter and her team spend the week chasing leads, until the following Tuesday, another body is discovered in similar circumstances. Each week brings another death and battling against a team who has lost respect for her and her own personal demons, Hunter must put herself inside the mind of a depraved killer if she is to stop this. . .

This starts off, quite frankly, with a horrendous but brilliant flashback. The insight that the reader is provided with into the mind of this killer is really chilling and helps set the tone for the whole book.

For DI Eve Hunter however, this is not an easy first day back. She is thrust into this horrifying crime, which seems to have no reason or pattern and the number of victims just keeps rising. Two key things for me that I need when reading a new detective book is a gripping start and a solid detective, and this certainly has both of those! I really liked Eve, she’s so easy to connect with but there are definitely elements of her past or personality that Masson keeps hidden, allowing for more in-depth character writing for later books in the series perhaps. There are clear vulnerabilities and weak spots for Eve and watching her battle these throughout the book makes her more likeable for the reader. She isn’t perfect, but that’s why she seems so real and solid.

This book also introduces the rest of Eve’s detective team and yet again Masson has done this excellently! All of the team have their weaknesses and strengths, and I personally liked all of them… even Ferguson by the end! (You’ll need to read it to see what I mean…!) But for me, I also liked the fact that they didn’t work perfectly as a team, they weren’t immediately successful, and watching the conflicts rise within the team kept me wanting more. I wanted to know if they could solve it, if they could all get past their issues, and it was really rewarding seeing each character develop and progress in their own way.

Turning to the actual crime now… how utterly horrible! The idea of taking the tongues of the victims was pretty grim, but it also clearly had a meaning behind it that was always just within reach but not quite figured out yet. The pace of this was really good, I felt that Masson allowed just enough time of the team feeling clueless and not getting anywhere before starting to drop clues and tips and the odd red herring. Once the team started getting somewhere the pace picked up even more. I thought the ending was brilliant, all the dots joined together at just the right time to build to really disturbing final scene.

I really did love this, I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to find a new detective book to read and I do hope there are more DI Eve Hunter books to come! It’s chilling, fascinating and really gets under your skin at times… you’ll find it hard to put it down.

Hold Your Tongue
Deborah Masson
Transworld, 20th November 2019

BLOG TOUR: Perfect Stranger by Jake Cross

This was creepy, unsettling and had an epic ending.

You let her in. You’ll wish you hadn’t.
Following a whirlwind romance, Rose and Chris’s marriage has been unshakeable for twenty years. But when teenager Katie turns up on their doorstep, blonde, wide-eyed and beautiful, their perfect life threatens to crumble to pieces. Because Katie says she’s Chris’s long-lost daughter, the product of a forgotten summer fling.
The couple is still reeling from shock when Katie tells them she has nowhere to go. The couple is her only hope. Kind-hearted Rose invites Katie to stay, despite Chris’s protests. The poor girl has only just lost her mother – they can’t leave her out on the street.
But soon after Katie moves in, strange things start happening. Someone crashes into a neighbour’s fence. An unexplained fire starts in the couple’s kitchen. And a family friend coming to visit disappears on the way to the house. Chris insists Katie has to go. But it’s Chris who won’t explain where he was at the time their friend went missing…
The couple’s dream life seems to be turning into a nightmare. With dark secrets about Chris’s history with Katie’s mother coming to light, Rose no longer knows who to trust. Soon, she isn’t sure whether she’s invited a dangerous stranger into her home, or whether she’s been living with one all along…

What an epic and creepy thriller this is. Chris and his family seem settled and happy, when a shock letter and almost-mugging begins the path of something that will rock their whole life. Every event simply ups the ante, and increase the tension and questions.

Katie is a very unsettling character. To the reader it seems there really is something wrong, but it’s impossible to put your finger on what exactly. Her lies and stories simply don’t add up, but there’s no way to know what’s true or not. Chris seems naturally a bit suspicious of her, but Rose and Julia are such kind people that Katie quickly integrates herself in their family.

As the book goes on, there are a myriad of unexplainable events, such as a beating, a fire and more, and it just keeps escalating. If it’s even possible, the tension rises even further when it seems that Chris is hiding the truth as well, and halfway through the book I genuinely couldn’t put it down as I was desperate to know who was genuine and who was the real monster.

The ending to this was probably one of the busiest but most epic endings to a thriller I’ve read in a while. There was a LOT going on, but it meant that I just simply couldn’t put it down. It was chilling, tense, dark and quite frightening at points. Katie was at her best in these scenes, and the writing was magnificently creepy. The very final scene finishes the book off perfectly, it’s calm, calculated and the final truths all come to light.

This is such a satisfyingly creepy book, with brilliant characters and a tense atmosphere throughout.

Perfect Stranger
Jake Cross
Bookouture, 21st August 2019