Mini-Reviews of Fall 2020 Releases: When No One is Watching, Burning Roses & Zikora

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Categories: Romantic suspense, Thriller

First Publication Date: 1st September 2020


When No One is Watching is Alyssa Cole’s first thriller, telling the story of Sydney, a young woman who grew up in Brooklyn and now watches her neighborhood change at an unsettling pace and Theo, her new neighbor who is having relationship problems. Both are keeping secrets from others, and when Sydney starts suspecting something darker is at play when her neighbors keep disappearing, she and Theo will try to uncover the truth. This is more a romantic suspense plus contemporary than a thriller in my opinion, even though the story flows quickly and the level of tension goes through the roof by the second half, it does spend a long time developing Sydney and Theo’s relationship and explaining gentrification, its history and effects on Black neighborhoods. This was a fascinating read, and it definitely delivers on the Get Out vibes. I am not a fan of romantic suspenses/thrillers, but this really worked! It goes into very dark territory (that I will not list so as not to spoil the story) but also mundane, daily horror and violence which adds an eerie quality to the story. This is an illuminating, dark and unflinching book but also hopeful and full of love. You can feel on the pages how much love was poured into this story, which is ultimately about community and taking care of each other, and also preserving history while maintaining a critical eye. I’m impressed!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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eARC Review: Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Category: Thriller

First Publication Date: 30th June 2020


I received an advance copy via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.


Synopsis: Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

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eARC Review: They Never Learn by Layne Fargo

They Never Learn by Layne Fargo

Categories: Thriller

First Publication Date: 13th October 2020


I received an advance copy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.


Synopsis: Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor. But she’s even better at getting away with murder.

Every year, she searches for the worst man at Gorman University and plots his well-deserved demise. Thanks to her meticulous planning, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself—but as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to her master plan…until she loses control with her latest victim, putting her secret life at risk of exposure.

Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Finally free of her emotionally abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies and fade into the background. Her new roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay…and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality.

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Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

the guest list lucy foley

Rating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Mystery, Thriller

The Guest List was among my most anticipated reads for this year, after falling in love with Lucy Foley’s writing in The Hunting Party. The Guest List follows two days in a small, beautiful but haunted island in Ireland where the biggest wedding of the year will take place: Jules Keegan, successful founder of The Download magazine, and Will Slater, a TV celebrity. On the wedding day, just after the cake was cut, a body is found, and everyone is a suspect.

This was a very engaging read, and I love that Lucy Foley keeps you guessing who’s victim and who’s the murderer until the end, it’s just such fun (I got both wrong). Her writing is so beautiful, not too flowery but just enough to give the perfect creepy atmosphere. I wanted to savor this for several days but could only manage to do that for 2-3 days, and devoured the rest in one sitting. I also loved the setting in a mysterious, haunted island during a storm, it was an incredible atmosphere.

It is difficult to tell if I would have given this 5 stars if I hadn’t read The Hunting Party first, but I think not, since my 5-stars are for books which leave me in awe, and this was a great read but it lacked a sense of more urgency – I just did not quite believe a lot of the characters could be the murderer at all, and only in the later part of the book do tensions actually go high enough for me to consider that one of them could actually murder the other. The Hunting Party was more gripping, the stakes felt higher and the sense of danger more concrete. I actually felt that anyone could murder or be murdered, and it was fun trying to guess, whereas in The Guest List I felt that the potential victim was pretty much narrowed down to just a few characters. I think The Guest List does some things better though, namely the writing and who the murdered person was (which I found a bit frustrating in The Hunting Party), and all in all it’s an intense, enjoyable read which made me feel the same “oh my god this is great I have to know what happens next!!” feeling that I did as a child and teen reading Agatha Christie.

eARC Review: Throwaway Girls by Andrea Contos

throwaway girls andrea contos

Rating: ★★★★☆

Categories: YA Thriller, F/F

I received advance copies via Edelweiss and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

In Throwaway Girls, Caroline’s best friend has gone missing. The day she disappeared, Caroline was supposed to meet her, and the guilt is suffocating. As she tries to get over a painful breakup and the loss of the one person who made life worth living, Caroline now must find her best friend – she knows the police isn’t looking in the right places, and as they try to frame a teacher, Caroline knows he’s not guilty. It’s someone else – someone who’s been taking girls no one cares to look for.

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Mini-Review: The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

the hunting party lucy foleyRating: ★★★★★

Categories: Thriller, Mystery

Goodreads

In The Hunting Party, a group of old friends gets together in an isolated hunting lodge in Scotland to celebrate the New Year, as they do every year. Although they seem to be excited and happy to see each other, old and new grudges escalate the tensions between them, and on January 2nd, a body is found.

This is one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read! I fell in love with the writing from the first chapter, so atmospheric and engrossing. This book came highly recommended from my sister, who is the best source of thriller recommendations, honestly. Each of the characters has secrets, the guests who claim to be friends but seem sometimes to actually hate each other, and also the people working in the lodge. Every story line, every secret, every character was so interesting, I could not stop reading this! It was also super intriguing to not really know who died until quite far into the book, keeping the reader guessing who killed whom and why, suspiciously analyzing the actions of everyone. It was so fun to read and reminded me a lot of the way I devoured Agatha Christie books when I was younger. This was absolutely brilliant and I can’t wait to read Lucy Foley’s The Guest List!

eARC Review: You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

you are not alone greer hendricks sarah pekkanenRating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Mystery, Thriller

Goodreads

I received an advance copy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

In You Are Not Alone, Shay Miller is a 30-something year old whose life isn’t going how she wished. She’s living with her roommate, who’s she’s secretly been in love with but is dating someone else; her job is getting her nowhere; she feels just so alone. One day, when she witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks eerily like herself, she cannot help but get obsessed: who was she? Why did she do this? Who are her friends, what was her life like? When she crashes the memorial of the woman and meets her friends… she just wants to be a part of them. Those women are so glamorous, so beautiful, so successful. And they seem to like her. Continue reading

Review: The Body Lies by Jo Baker

the body lies jo baker

Rating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Literary Thriller

Goodreads

In The Body Lies, our unnamed narrator takes up a job at a University to teach Creative Writing, she is excited about moving to the countryside and being far away from London, where she suffered a violent assault years earlier and could not feel safe again. But when one of her students disappears from class and starts sending her his work, she realizes he’s writing about her, that he’s been watching her in her own home, all alone with her three-year-old.

The Body Lies is a perfect mixture of Literary Fiction and Thriller, the pacing too slow and too character-focused to be called purely a thriller, and still, it kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. Sharp, intense and an eerie commentary on the violence against women in real life and as depicted in books, it’s completely incomprehensible to me how this has a 3.5 star rating in Goodreads as of now – this is brilliant! Continue reading

eARC Review: He Started It, by Samantha Downing

he started it samantha downingRating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Mystery, Thriller

Goodreads

I received an advance copy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

He Started It is Samantha Downing’s second book, telling the story of three siblings who must take a road trip together if they want to receive the inheritance their grandfather left them. Each has their own agenda and secrets. If only they can complete two weeks of travelling like they did twenty years before, they’ll all live millionaires.

I don’t think there’s anyone out there writing unlikable women in thrillers quite like Samantha Downing – our narrator Beth is cold, with quite a lot of uncharitable thoughts about everyone, manipulative and lies all the time, but I loved her so much. You don’t necessarily root for her all the time, and I think a lot of readers might side with one of the other siblings in this story. From the beginning, Beth tells you she isn’t your heroine in this story, but that is for the reader to tell, anyway. Continue reading

Mini-Review: Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

snare lilja sigurdardottirRating: ★★★★☆

Categories: Noir Thriller, F/F, translated fiction

Goodreads

Snare is the story of Sonja, a mother who finds herself in a nasty divorce settlement after her husband catches her in bed with another woman. To be able to pay her lawyer’s fees, she starts to smuggle drugs into the country, and finds out she is actually very good at that. She needs only a few more jobs before she has enough money saved to try to get custody of her son again – if she can survive and escape the Snare.

I did not expect to like this as much as I did, in fact – I’ve picked up so many books that ended up disappointing lately and felt like a cold, noir mystery. The writing is spare and to the point, which I really enjoyed. This is the kind of noir that I think of when I want to read noir, and although I’d have preferred it to be a standalone, I think it’s very encouraging that the books are slim. I loved the complicated relationship between Agla and Sonja, and the complexity of the situations they found themselves in both by their own doing and  by circumstance – and the scheming of others. This is a quite intense read!