I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the most recent of which was last week. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve previously read and am now ready to share my full thoughts about. All of today’s books also publish on Thursday!
First up, I’d like to talk about Something Certain, Maybe by Sara Barnard. Thank you so much to Camilla Leask at Willow Publicity and Macmillan Children’s for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Rosie is ready for her life to begin, because nothing says new life like going to university. After years of waiting and working hard, she’s finally on the road that will secure her future.
Except university turns out to be not what she hoped or imagined, and although she’s not exactly unhappy – really – she might be a little bit worried that she doesn’t really like her course much. Or her flatmates. Or, really . . . anything? But it’s normal to be homesick (right?) and everything will have settled in a month or two, and it’s totally fine that her friends seem so much happier than she is, and that the doctors don’t seem to know what’s wrong with her mother.
And then she meets Jade, and everything starts to look a little brighter. At least, it does if she’s only looking at Jade. But is first love enough when everything else is falling apart?
Publication Date: 7th July
TW: isolation, mentions of suicide attempt, parental illness, cheating
Sara Barnard is one of those authors that just gets it.
Her work is constantly authentic, refreshing and astonishingly beautiful. Something Certain, Maybe continues this trend in a truly wonderful fashion. I have grown up alongside her books and these characters have done too, since Beautiful Broken Things and Fierce Fragile Hearts. I have such a strong emotional connection to this trio and it’s great to get another viewpoint through the eyes of Rosie. She’s always kind of been on the sidelines, but she steps into the spotlight here.
Again, Barnard just nails the characterisation. I love how refreshingly like a teenager Rosie feels, with the difficulty of moving away and starting university. Barnard depicts how isolating and tricky this experience can be, which makes a change from the typical romanticised view of these years. While my experience of university is incredible, there is a lot of pressure to make the most of every moment and feel like it is your pinnacle. This obviously is not the reality for everyone and Barnard showcases this so well.
I also adored the relationship at the core of this book. Jade is such a caring and deeply loving person, who Rosie comes to lean on for emotional support and guidance. Their chemistry was sparkling and I was rooting for their relationship to work out. Seeing sapphic love depicted in such a heart-warming and affectionate way was brilliant to see. As someone who knows Norwich pretty well, seeing all the call-outs to local places was the cherry on top for me. That deep love for the beauty of the area and its endless possibilities is fully threaded into this book.
Something Certain, Maybe continues a story I hold deeply close to my heart with a stunning depiction of university life, coming of age, sapphic love and the friendships we value the most.
Next up, I’d like to talk about The House Across The Lake by Riley Sager. Thank you so much to Hodder & Stoughton for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Recently widowed actress Casey Fletcher has escaped to her family’s lake house for peace and quiet. She’s been happily losing herself in her thoughts and several bottles of bourbon, until the glamorous couple across the lake catch her attention. They look so perfect – just like Casey and her husband used to be.
But is anyone what they seem?
Casey has a detective sat at her kitchen table.
She has a man bound and gagged upstairs.
Casey will uncover dark truths so life-changing that nothing will ever be the same again.
International bestselling sensation Riley Sager is back with his most ambitious thriller yet. With his trademark blend of sharp characters, psychological suspense and gasp-worthy twists, The House Across the Lake will shock readers from the first page to the last.
Publication Date: 7th July
TW: alcoholism, toxic parent relationship, drugs, death of spouse, death, violence, murder, domestic abuse, child abuse, suicide
The House Across The Lake plunges you into murkier depths than Sager has delved before, concocting a unique spin on the mystery genre that you will not see coming.
Earlier this year, I reviewed the superb Survive The Night and thought that it was a well-rounded thriller that combined elements of the psychological, suspense and a good old-fashioned unreliable narrator to create a chilling new tale.
This book was such a classic thriller, playing with my expectations and tropes of the genre. As always with Sager, the twists come thick and fast and spin the story in an entirely unexpected and new direction. The psychological drama and suspense here is perfectly encapsulated in our protagonist, Casey, who is caught up in a web of grief, guilt and a world weariness spun from her legacy of fame. She is a deeply flawed and often unreliable narrator, but you still root for her anyway.
The suspense and depiction of grief is stellar, with surprising depths and levels to it. This is one of those books that will keep you constantly guessing and the twists take it to new heights. If you genuinely manage to work out the full story early on, then hat’s off to you because this is a story that kilters left field fast and only keeps diving into brave new territory at every chance it gets. Within that, there is also a really interesting rumination on death, legacy and particularly fame. It digs beneath the veneer of perfection and examines the false show of happiness performed by these characters.
The House Across The Lake is a book that will keep you up at night, racing through its pages in order to discover that last devious twist Sager has in store.
Finally, I’d like to delve into The Ruins by Phoebe Wynne. Thank you so much to Quercus Books for sending me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Amidst the glamour of the French Riviera lies the crumbling facade of Chateau de Setes, a small slice of France still held by the British aristocracy. But this long since abandoned chateau is now up for sale, and two people are desperate to get their hands on it despite its terrible history.
Summer, 1985: Ruby has stayed at the chateau with her family every summer of her twelve years. It was her favourite place to be, away from the strictures of her formal childhood, but this year uninvited guests have descended, and everything is about to change…
As the intense August heat cloaks the chateau, the adults within start to lose sight of themselves. Old disputes are thrown back and forth, tempers rise, morals loosen, and darkness begins to creep around them all. Ruby and her two young friends soon discover it is best not to be seen or heard as the summer spirals down to one fateful night and an incident that can never be undone…
Summer, 2010: One of the three young girls, now grown and newly widowed, returns to the chateau, and in her fight to free herself from its grip, she uncovers what truly happened that long, dark summer.
Publication Date: 7th July
TW: child sexual abuse, attempted rape, emotional abuse, violence, graphic scenes, pedophilia, alcohol abuse, accidental murder of a child, murder, child neglect, physical abuse
The Ruins is a horrifying book that is just all too human. It is an incredibly tough read at times, but offers a haunting exploration of abuse, trauma and the way the past interrupts our present.
Wynne has a habit of writing books that just sink under my skin. I read Madam last year and thought it traded on secrets and shadows, mysterious movements in the dark that keep you utterly enthralled. Well, The Ruins does the opposite, placing the abhorrent behaviour on blatant display in the scorching sun. Every little detail is shown, yet there is still a culture of secrets and shame surrounding this. It is a claustrophobic and terrifying space, intensified by our child protagonist. Through the innocence, the monstrosity is evident and easily inferred by Wynne. Some scenes are genuinely sickening and difficult to read, but remind us of similar events all too well.
Wynne also offers up an intriguing mystery, leaving us trying to piece together the little details and establish what truly happened. The past and present narratives often collide in unexpected ways and I found myself attempting to pre-empt what would happen next, only to be thrown sideways once more by the next revelation. This is a superbly and tightly plotted little snake of a book. It hides its poison in plain sight, allowing Wynne’s strike to hit even deeper. Of course, it helps that the characterisation is vivid and hideous, with few redeeming features among the adult cast. In the present narrative, this is more complicated. Wynne mediates on legacy, trauma and family well in these sections. There are quite a few thought-provoking moral and ethical dilemmas on display, with plenty left to mull over. That ending was fantastic and I audibly gasped when I connected the final details together.
The Ruins conjures up a scorching story that leaves everyone in its vicinity burnt. This is a heavy book, but one that exposes the underbelly of society and its perfect veneers.