Book Review: Truth Hurts by Rebecca Reid

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers, of Penguin Books.

Which is more dangerous, a secret or a lie?

Truth Hurts is a women’s fiction / thriller novel by Rebecca Reid. It is about Poppy and Drew, a lovestruck couple who marry after a whirlwind holiday romance. However, they agree to marry on the condition that neither of them reveals anything about their pasts. The decision to avoid dredging up memories of past boyfriends and bad breakups sounds great – in theory – but Poppy soon learns her new husband is keeping dark secrets from her and, little does he know, she’s keeping secrets from him too.

I was so engrossed by Truth Hurts that I finished it in just a few hours – I suppose that’s one of the benefits of writing a book about keeping secrets! I was desperately keen to find out more about the characters’ backgrounds and secret pasts.

The main characters were well-developed; Drew came across as an incredibly rich and doting husband yet also an unnervingly private man, akin to Bluebeard. Poppy is “forbidden” from asking questions about his past, and I kept wondering what Drew was really hiding. Poppy is endearing, innocent and vulnerable. I really felt for her because, as she hasn’t received much genuine affection before, she feels to afraid to question whether her new life with Drew is too good to be true, just in case it is ruined.

However, I did think some of the minor characters were a little stereotyped and trivial. For example, Poppy is introduced to Drew’s schoolfriends, all of whom are rich and privileged with similar personalities and views. Their involvement in the plot could be boiled down to accidentally letting a few secrets slip about Drew’s background. On the one hand, this wasn’t a huge issue, as they gave away secrets about Drew that I wanted to know about. Fair enough. On the other hand, it was a shame these characters weren’t as developed as Poppy and Drew themselves and only seemed to exist to drive the plot forward.

I also wish there had been more dramatic conflict towards the end of the book – such as shouting, screaming, imprisonment, violence, madness, for example – because, whilst many secrets and lies come tumbling out, the book then ends not long after Poppy learns the truth about Drew, and this feels slightly underwhelming. Basically, I would have liked a crazier ending.

Nonetheless, I was hooked from start to finish reading Truth Hurts and I really, really enjoyed it. I would recommend.

Truth Hurts was published as an e-book just a few days ago! It is available to buy from Amazon, and it will be available to buy as a paperback from February 2020.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Judith

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Book Review: Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and HQ.

Elevator Pitch is a new crime novel by Linwood Barclay, due to be released later this week.

From Amazon:

It all begins on a Monday, when four people board an elevator in a Manhattan office tower. Each presses a button for their floor, but the elevator proceeds, non-stop, to the top. Once there, it stops for a few seconds, and then plummets.

Right to the bottom of the shaft.

It appears to be a horrific, random tragedy. But then, on Tuesday, it happens again, in a different Manhattan skyscraper. And when Wednesday brings yet another high-rise catastrophe, one of the most vertical cities in the world – and the nation’s capital of media, finance, and entertainment – is plunged into chaos.’

I was immediately intrigued by this blurb and I also loved the cover design, so I was keen to request Elevator Pitch on NetGalley.

The book has an exciting opening; an ordinary day at work for many suddenly becomes a tragedy as an elevator crashes to the floor, killing the passengers inside.

However, the first half of the book doesn’t focus much on these terrifying, unexplained deaths and the subsequent crime investigation. Rather, it focuses largely on the political tensions between the mayor and the media, as both have conflicting motivations yet both are attempting to offer reassurance and insight to the public. I didn’t really care much for this ongoing “spat” – I would have preferred if more attention had been given to the murders themselves and the crime scenes. As a result, I found myself getting slightly bored.

Nevertheless, I persevered, and I’m glad I did.

About halfway through, Elevator Pitch gets much more interesting, as more and more “accidents” happen. Widespread panic breaks out across the city, and the increased frequency of elevator crashes prompts people to fear the worst: terrorism.

Barclay uses unsettling and imaginative details to describe a number of terrifying ways to die in an elevator* – you may want to think twice before you get in one ever again!

*Or, as we call them in the UK, lifts.

There is also plenty of excitement in the latter half of the book, and I was engrossed in finishing it! I particularly liked the climax, as the mystery behind the deathly “accidents” becomes clear, the culprit is revealed, and there is some enjoyable tension.

By the end of Elevator Pitch, parts of the narrative I had previously thought boring or confusing were explained to make a lot more sense, and the loose ends were tied up in a satisfying way.

Despite my first impression, I ended up enjoying Elevator Pitch and thought it was an interesting and thrilling read.

Elevator Pitch will be published in a few days time! It will be available to buy as a paperback from Amazon.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

– Judith

Book Review: Chills & Creeps Volume 1: Eight Scary Stories by Nick Clausen

This is a book review for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

Chills & Creeps is a short anthology of horror and fantasy stories, originally published in Danish, but now available to read in English.

It seems to me most logical to discuss each story in turn, allowing the chance to share my opinions whilst (hopefully) not giving too much away.

1. Under the Skin

This was a good horror story to begin with, about an upholsterer with a liking for human skin, and it was certainly chilling. Whilst I could predict what was going to happen, it was still horrifying to see this unfold. However, although the story was tense, I thought the ending was a little lacklustre.

2. Snapper the Fish

This was a horror story about a pet fish which only eats human flesh. I found it truly gripping and scary – I almost didn’t want to keep reading because of the horror, yet I found myself reading on regardless.

3. Deadly Dreams

This was a fantasy / science fiction short story about a video game that comes to life and has dangerous consequences for its players. It was a reasonable story, but I don’t have anything majorly positive or negative to say about it.

4. All Birds Hate Me

I thought this was the weirdest story in the anthology. The main character, Eagle, is a boy with an illness which causes all birds to attack him. The idea was scary enough – and Hitchcock-inspired, I’m sure – but as all the characters happen to be named after birds, the premise came across as odd and a little silly.

5. Ghost Tennis

This was a reasonable ghost story; a family move into a new home, only for their son Joe to discover the tennis court is haunted and the only way of placating the ghost is by playing tennis matches with it – as long as Joe always loses, of course.

6. Drip-Drip-Drip

This was another horror story I found genuinely unsettling. Nadia, a young girl, becomes entrapped in her own home as it slowly fills with water…

I am not the biggest fan of deep water, and the thought of drowning is terrifying to me. I also happen to enjoy stories in which the home is transformed into a place of horror and danger.*

*In fact, I wrote an entire dissertation on this subject.

7. When I Snap My Fingers…

This is another entertaining and thrilling horror story about two siblings; Curtis takes his little sister Rachel to a hypnotist’s tent at the fair. However, once hypnotised, Rachel no longer seems herself. In fact, it’s almost like she’s become someone else entirely. And now “Rachel” is determined to destroy her family’s life.

8. Lights Out

This was the last story in the anthology, a fantasy story about a boy who can control lights with his mind. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others, and I thought it lacked any real ‘chills or creeps’. I thought it was a shame to end on a story that wasn’t scary, when so many of the other stories heavily featured horrifying elements. In future anthologies, it might be sensible to organise the stories differently – perhaps by beginning with the least scary story, to build fear and suspense as the anthology progresses towards the most scary story.


Following each story, Clausen added an author’s note, explaining where his inspiration for the story came from. I appreciated this and found it very interesting; I like seeing where authors get their ideas from!

On the whole, whilst every story was not necessarily my cup of tea, Chills & Creeps Volume 1 was an enjoyable and well-executed collection of short stories. They reminded me of the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine, and I think Clausen has a talent for transforming the ordinary and everyday into the terrifying and repulsive, playing on childhood (or adulthood) fears we’ve faced at one point or another in our lives.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars  

Chills & Creeps Volume 1: Eight Scary Stories is available to buy as an e-book or paperback from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.

– Judith

Book Review: The Bedwetter: Journal of a Budding Psychopath by Lee Allen Howard

The Bedwetter: Journal of a Budding Psychopath by Lee Allen Howard is a fictional journal written from the perspective of Russell Pisarek, a man who fantasises about horrific, violent, and abnormal sexual encounters with women – dreams which always result in him wetting the bed. When Russell begins to desire these encounters in real life however, all the women in Russell’s life are in immediate danger of being targeted.

Granted, this is a strange premise for a book.

I thought that Howard’s decision to write a book from the perspective of a psychopath was a good idea. Unlike other psychological thrillers or crime novels which may focus on either the family members of the victim or the police officers desperately trying to solve the case before the killer strikes again, a journal from the perspective of a psychopath would surely allow the reader to watch their normal life unfold before they unravel and spiral into madness and violence.

Unfortunately, the journal format of The Bedwetter didn’t work in this way. Russell Pisarek frequently writes his journal in coarse, informal language. This was fairly distracting and unpleasant to read, and, to me, it only established early on that Russell was an angry and horrible person – yet not necessarily psychopathic. Consequently, it didn’t feel as if The Bedwetter was a psychopath’s journal for most of the book; I think I at least halfway through before Russell even thought about hurting his female co-workers and acquaintances.

The last third of The Bedwetter is probably the only section where I’d describe Russell as a psychopath because there was lots of shocking violence and plenty of gory details; this was certainly the most tense part of the book.

By the end of the book, Russell hasn’t really changed (for better or for worse). He hasn’t grown more cunning, more deceptive, or more manipulative. He’s as angry, horrible, and violent as he was at the start of the book. I thought this disappointing as it meant Russell didn’t feel like a particularly complex character.

Whilst I feel a little let down by this book, The Bedwetter has some original ideas and an intriguing and dramatic plot. If you want a shocking, fast-paced book full of violence, The Bedwetter would probably suit you.

The Bedwetter: Journal of a Budding Psychopath is available to buy as an e-book or a paperback from Amazon.

Star Rating: 2.5/5

– Judith

Book Review: One by One by D.W. Gillespie

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Flame Tree Press, an imprint of Flame Tree Publishing.

One by One by  is an upcoming horror novel about the Easton family, who move into a fixer-upper house with a dark history, determined to make it their own. Alice, the youngest of the family, is initially excited about their new family home. However, whilst exploring, Alice discovers a child’s drawing of a family hidden beneath the wallpaper. A family that looks like hers. Over time, is family drawing is crossed out. At the same time, members of Alice’s own family begin to disappear. One by one.

I liked the choice of front cover; children’s drawings always scream horror fiction.

The opening of One by One was very good, as it gave detailed descriptions of both the house and the characters and set the scene well. As the book continued, I thought it was well-written, engrossing, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

To me, One by One felt similar in style and tone to a horror film, meaning I could imagine the setting and events easily and vividly. Albeit, this meant there were quite a few horror film “tropes” included within the plot. This could prove to be an annoyance to some but, as I happen to enjoy haunted house film and books anyway, I didn’t mind.

I enjoyed the unfolding mystery behind the house, and discovering what caused the family’s disappearance.

I don’t have many negative things to say.

My only point of (constructive) criticism is that the climax could have been much more dramatic, and much longer! I thought the tension which built up to the the climax was great, but then it ended rather quickly, which disappointed me. This ending is then followed by an epilogue that, to me, had the opposite problem – it was too long! Whilst this epilogue admittedly tied up some loose ends, I couldn’t help but feel the epilogue could have been omitted entirely (and thus leave the ending in more mystery and suspense) or incorporated with the final scenes to make a more satisfying conclusion.

Nonetheless, I was still very happy with One by One and would recommend if you’re looking for a new spooky haunted house novel to read.

One by One will be published in September 2019. It will be available to buy as a paperback from Amazon.

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Judith

Book Review: A Kiss Before Dying

A Kiss Before Dying is crime thriller novel by Ira Levin, published in 1953, about a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants – not even murder.

By now, after reading The Stepford Wives, Rosemary’s Baby, and Son of Rosemary, I have realised that I just love Ira Levin’s writing.

This review will be a little on the short side, as it’s very hard to say anything about this book without giving way huge spoilers.

In a nutshell, A Kiss Before Dying was excellent.

It was incredibly tense, and full of unexpected moments – there were plenty of moments where I wish I had been paying more attention to the details.

It was so good! The characters felt realistic and the plot was enthralling.

Basically, A Kiss Before Dying is a fantastically sinister crime novel that I would definitely read again, and you should read too.

– Judith

Book Review: The Bees

The Bees is the debut novel by Laline Paull, published in 2015.

When I first saw the cover, title, and glowing recommendations from authors such as Margaret Atwood, I thought The Bees was going to be a dystopian novel exploring human society through metaphors and language associated with bees – such as the phrase ‘hivemind’. As I started reading, however, I realised the book really is about bees.

The Bees follows the perspective of Flora 717, a sanitation bee who lives to accept, obey, and serve the hive in order to honour the Queen. Whilst sanitation bees are the lowest in society and social progression is unheard of, Flora is gifted with abilities uncharacteristic of her kin. She is a mutant. Throughout the novel, Flora is reassigned to new roles within the hive and struggles to find a place to belong and, in doing so, accidentally uncovers ominous secrets being hidden from the rest of the hive.

To be quite honest, I didn’t imagine a book about a beehive would be as engrossing as it was.

Flora’s frequent reassignments allow the reader to gradually learn more about the beehive and how it works, which was interesting.

I also enjoyed Paull’s writing, as The Bees contains lots of classic dystopian motifs: the hive is compelled to follow an extreme form of religion, fertility is strictly regulated – only the Queen is allowed to lay eggs – and there are regular police inspections to ensure no bee is stepping out of line. I could see particular references to other great dystopian novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Brave New World.

“Alpha children wear grey They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfuly glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able …”

(Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Chapter 2)

“A flora may not make Wax for she is impure, nor work with Propolis for she is clumsy, nor may she ever forage for she has no taste, but only may she clean, and all may command her labour.”

(Laline Paull, The Bees, Chapter 4)

However, there was an aspect of the plot I found puzzling.

If Flora is a mutant bee and is therefore assumed to be a rebel, why isn’t she exiled, executed, or even interrogated? Throughout the novel, numerous other bees who are merely suspected of non-conformist behaviour are immediately executed or exiled from the hive. Flora, however, is ignored, reassigned, or simply told off – for seemingly no other reason than she is the protagonist, and to execute her at the start of the novel would spoil the plot.

Despite this query, The Bees is certainly a very good and interesting debut novel; I would recommend.

– Judith

Book Review: What She Found In The Woods by Josephine Angelini

I acquired this book for free in exchange for a review via NetGalley and Pan Macmillan.

What She Found In The Woods is a thriller novel written by Josephine Angelini. It is about Magda, a teenager sent to stay with her grandparents in order to rest and recuperate from recent mental health struggles. Magda seeks solace in the beautiful woodland hiking trails near her grandparents’ home. However, this recovery is interrupted when Magda returns home one night – covered in blood. She doesn’t remember where she was or what she was doing. Then, a body is found in the woods.

What She Found In The Woods is an interesting thriller because there are lots of lies, red herrings, and dishonest characters throughout so it was difficult to know who to trust at any given moment. As a result, generally, the book was engrossing and I found it easy to keep reading.

Magda struggles with her mental health, and her personality somewhat reminded me of Camille from Gillian Flynn’s thriller novel Sharp Objects, as both feel smothered – not only by the constant surveillance they are under from the locals, but by the perfectionist and snobbish attitudes of their families too.

However, it could be argued Magda’s family has good reason to scrutinise her behaviour. Throughout the plot, the book alludes to the trouble Magda has caused in the past – the reason she was sent away.

You see, Magda is a liar.

When she was younger, Magda told lie after lie – deliberately. A lot of people were hurt, and some people even died. All because of the lies Magda told.

I thought this backstory was fascinating and made Magda an interesting and complex character, so I enjoyed these flashback moments most.

Ironically, despite a title like What She Found In The Woods, I didn’t find myself as interested in what was found in the woods. Personally, I didn’t think the murder mystery plot was particularly engaging, because the police investigation lacked detail and, to me, it felt like a minor plot point rather than a serious, ongoing investigation.

To sum up, I would say that What She Found In The Woods was an interesting read but, for me, missed the mark in a few places.

What She Found In The Woods will be published later this week. It will be available to buy as an e-book or a paperback from Amazon.

Star Rating: 3/5 Stars

– Judith

Book Review: Lullaby

Lullaby, published in 2016, is a short but chilling thriller by the French author Leïla Slimani.

The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.

Lullaby begins by revealing the ending. These first sentences – advertised on the front cover – tell all. The intrigue to Lullaby is not what happened but why it happened. This engrossed me and raised the tension dramatically because I was constantly aware that danger could be lurking around every corner.

The book is about Louise, a polite and charming nanny with glowing references, who comes to work for Paul and Myriam and look after their two children. Myriam is delighted by Louise’s work ethic and the bond she has with the children. However, Myriam soon finds she is jealous and resentful, becoming increasingly suspicious of Louise and overly-protective of her children. Are Myriam’s suspicions well-founded, or just paranoid fears?

Lullaby is focused on the two maternal figures, Louise and Myriam, and addresses a contested issue: should mothers stay at home, or should they work? Myriam feels drawn to her law career, yet wonders if she is missing out on key quality time with her young children. As an interesting contrast, Louise becomes part of the family and adopts the role of the children’s “mother”. Yet, whilst Louise may look like a stay-at-home mum, this is just her job – she isn’t really their mother.

The book ends when I wasn’t ready for it to end. I wanted to know more about the attack and the police investigation afterwards. I wanted to know more about Louise and Myriam’s emotional and mental states. I suppose, however, that’s why Lullaby is a suspense novel and not a crime novel – it leaves you wanting more.

I found Lullaby to be a creepy and engrossing novel. It may not be my favourite thriller ever, but it was nonetheless enjoyable.

– Judith

Book Review: Owl Manor – The Dawning by Zita Harrison

Owl Manor – The Dawning is the first in Zita Harrison’s new series of Gothic suspense novels set in 19th century America.

Owl Manor – The Dawning focuses on the protagonist, Eva, a strong-willed woman dissatisfied with her life because she is trapped in a loveless marriage and regularly downtrodden by men. 19th century society is not merely oppressive though; it is dangerous – women mysteriously vanish and are found dead in the streets. In search of financial security and safety, Eva seeks employment at Owl Manor in the Rocky Mountains, a dark place said to harbour dark secrets. However, Eva’s actions may have placed herself and her daughter in even greater danger.

The book begins with some beautifully vivid descriptions in order to set the scene, and these descriptions were a pleasure to read.

At first, I thought the characters’ sightings of owls was a just a coincidental and tenuous link to the title but, as the story developed, the supernatural and sinister reason behind the presence of owls became clear, which I liked.

I also liked the Victorian setting and style of the book, which reminded me of classic Gothic novels such as Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Whilst the dialogue was occasionally anachronistic for the 1850s, I didn’t find this to be a major problem because I enjoyed the story and the characters so much that these anachronisms didn’t “spoil” the book.

Eva is a rational and sympathetic character who is mostly well-described. However, some of her actions and thoughts didn’t seem consistent with what I’d been to lead to understand about her. For example, Eva sees and accepts ghosts and apparitions without a second glance. We are not told Eva anywhere is a particularly spiritual or superstitious person, so the fact she accepts the presence of ghosts without the slightest hesitation or disbelief seems unrealistic. Furthermore, much like Jane Eyre, Eve becomes a servant in Owl Manor, where the master takes an interest in her and demands she stay with him as his companion. When this happens, Eva suddenly becomes subservient and submissive. I found this to be an inconsistency because, until this point, Eva actively complained about, and challenged, any man who attempted to oppress or abuse women. Consequently, Eva’s behavioural change just doesn’t seem right – especially when the book foregrounds so emphatically what society was like for women in this period.

Despite my (hopefully) constructive criticism however, I still greatly enjoyed reading Owl Manor – The Dawning and finished it in just a few days. The ending was unexpected and, as Harrison is planning to write more books in this series, I am intrigued because I do not know what will happen next.

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Owl Manor – The Dawning is available to buy as a paperback or an e-book from Amazon UK or Amazon.com.

– Judith