I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the last of which was the other week. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.
Today, I’m focusing on three dark and complex mysteries that release in this cold and wintry night, where danger seems to lurk around every corner. They all explore the theme of obsession and the extreme lengths those will go to.
Firstly, I want to talk about Influence by Sara Shepard and Lilia Buckingham. Thank you to Frankie Banks at Atom for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Delilah is Internet-famous, in LA and at the start of something incredible. Everything is going to change . . . but not necessarily in the way she imagines.
Jasmine is a child star turned media darling. Her selfies practically break Instagram. But if the world knew who Jasmine really was? Cancelled.
Fiona is everyone’s best friend, always smiling. But on the inside? The girl’s a hot mess. If they discovered her secret, it wouldn’t just embarrass her: it would ruin her.
Scarlet isn’t just styled to perfection: she is perfection with a famous boyfriend and an online fanbase devouring her every move. But every perfect thing has a fatal flaw.
To everyone clicking, DMing, following and faving, these girls are living the dream; but are they? The sun is hot in California . . . and someone’s going to get burned.
Publication Date: 5th January
TW: murder, bullying, mentions of eating disorder, OCD, violence, forced abortion, homophobia, forced outing
When the author of PLL turns her gaze to the darker side behind the facade of social media influencing, you know you’re in for an exciting, scandalous and completely impossible to put down read. Influence gave me all that and more, offering a glimpse behind the glitzy screen of modern day celebrity and Internet culture.
Shepard has this certain touch to her writing that promises grit behind the veneer of popularity, as exhibited in her previous work. She manages to expose the hidden depths behind cliches and first appearances, leading to entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable mysteries. Here, the twists were well executed and plausible. The secrets each character is hiding are slowly uncovered and you can’t help but want to go along for the ride. The mystery itself has multiple revelations that pain this tragic picture of obsession and the price of fame, which is ever more amplified in the digital age where privacy is a scarce commodity.
Each of these characters seems like one thing on the surface but actually is far more complex and textured than their rigid social roles would allow. Jasmine in particular is struggling with her sexuality, but I really appreciated how Shepard hammers home that it is how her ‘family-friendly’ image may been seen as being tainted by her identity and openly condemns that homophobic, bigoted and utterly rubbish viewpoint is. I liked how the secrets weren’t quite what they seemed either, as everything had some other element that came into play.
Influence is an intriguing glimpse at the toxic allure of obsession and the dark side of fame, mixed with a great mystery and tantalising hints of romance.
Next up, I want to delve into the thrilling Last One To Die by Cynthia Murphy. Thank you so much to Scholastic for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Young, brunette women are being attacked in London. 16-year-old, Irish-born Niamh has just arrived for a summer of freedom, and quickly discovers that the girls being attacked look frighteningly similar to her. But Niamh is determined not to let her fear destroy her Summer. But can her new friends be trusted? Will she be able to stay ahead of the attacker? Or will she be next? Packed with voice-driven whodunit storytelling, and a retro slasher-movie feel reminiscent of cult classics Scream and Urban Legend, this dark, pacy, and irresistibly-creepy debut really has something for everybody!
Publication Date: 7th January
TW: violence, death, murder, gore, stalking
Last One To Die is a compulsively readable, genuinely chilling YA thriller with some supernatural and historical touches.
I was absolutely hooked, trying to guess what was going to happen next, but kept getting stumped by the brilliant twists and turns. Murphy constantly kept me guessing and on the edge of my seat throughout, as I genuinely wasn’t sure who was behind the attacks.
I’ve seen it compared to Point Horror and it has that same spine-chilling quality to it. There were some genuinely frightening moments and I love the sense of the occult that hangs over the entire book. Something just doesn’t add up and it leaves you glancing over your shoulder as you read. That chill in your bones just keeps growing and growing with every page you turn. I’m absolutely loving this resurgence of horror in YA and long may it continue.
This is an extremely strong debut novel that allows Murphy to weave an entrancing tale of obsession, death, the supernatural and historical legacies. That last theme was a brilliant addition to the story, as the historical elements really helped flesh out the story and reminded me of some of the other infamous unsolved murders and mysteries of history. The past is a murky place to delve into, far from the romanticised ideals we sometimes associate with it.
I really liked Niamh, who felt so easy to connect with and her passion for her art really shone through. Amidst the terror, she actively tries to resolve it and find the cause of the issues. She felt so real and driven, wanting to achieve her dreams and having the talent to prove it. The characters around her also quickly felt like friends, though some of that trust may be misplaced.
Last One To Die is the perfect chiller to snuggle up on a freezing night, though you may want to check your surroundings first. Murphy is someone I’ll be keeping my eye on and I’m excited to see what she does next.
Finally, I’d like to shout about the fascinatingly twisted The Girl Who… by Andrea Cordani. Thank you again to Atom Books for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Leah is the perfect survivor. She was seven years old when she saw her mother and sister killed by a troubled gang member. Her case hit the headlines and her bravery made her a national sweetheart: strong, courageous and forgiving.
But Leah is hiding a secret about their deaths. And now, ten years later, all she can think of is revenge.
When Leah’s dad meets a new partner, stepsister Ellie moves in. Sensing Leah isn’t quite the sweet girl she pretends to be, Ellie discovers that Leah has a plan, one she has been putting together ever since that fateful day. Now that the killer – and the only one who knows the truth – is being released from prison, time is running out for Ellie to discover how far Leah will go to silence her anger . . .
Publication Date: 14th January
TW: violence, death, murder, psychosis, child abuse, physical abuse
The Girl Who… is the kind of book you’ll struggle to stop thinking about once you’ve read it.
As you may be able to tell, I’m an avid mystery reader and this more psychological offering from Cordani was amazing. It’s a gripping, immersive and compulsively readable story, told from three distinct perspectives. I was surprised with the inclusion of one voice, but it really enriched the story, adding context and even deeper layers to that awful night.
It examines what happens to child victims of crime, the constant focus on them through the media and the long-lasting impact it has on them, taking us from the beginning of a familiar tale we see time and time again in the media and questions what happens once they grow up. So often we see these child survivors of horrific events, but then you rarely see what happens to them after. Here Cordani digs right into the trauma and tangled knot of emotions associated with it, but also indicates how life has to move. This leads to a heartfelt portrayal of the perks and pitfalls of blended families, with resentments bubbling over but ultimately it’s a story about coming together and confronting but not being overwhelmed by your past.
I thought that Ellie and Leah were really interesting narrators. Ellie felt like the girl next door, bubbly and charismatic but also struggling to adapt to her new situation. Leah was fascinating, outwardly she seems like this perfect poster girl advocating for justice but inside she is torn up with guilt and anger. The split of the narrative allows you to connect with each girl and makes it feel less like them being pitted against each other, as you get an insight into each of their perspectives.
The Girl Who is a challenging, fascinating exploration of family, trauma and obsession that, like its narrators, is a lot more complex than you may believe from first impressions.