Friday, 3 March 2017

Mini Reviews: The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel || Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman || The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney.

“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”

Following her mother’s suicide, fifteen year old Lane Roanoke goes to live with her Grandparents and cousin, Allegra, on the family estate in rural Kansas.  Quickly bonding with her cousin, Lane enjoys a carefree summer of swimming, sunbathing and swoon, when she falls for local boy, Cooper. For Lane, who has grown up in the care of a mother who never showed her any affection at all, this new life of hers seems too good to be true. And it is.  The truth is that every Roanoke girl has a secret, and when Lane eventually stumbles upon the truth of who she is, she runs. She doesn’t look back. She leaves Allegra behind.

Ten years later, Allegra is missing and Lane, the last of the Roanoke girls, is back on the family estate, hoping to solve the mystery of her cousins’ disappearance. Did Allegra run? Or has yet another Roanoke girl gone to her death too soon?

An unsettling depiction of life in a road-to-nowhere rural town, Engel’s adult debut will appeal to readers who love the darkness that permeates the novels of Gillian Flynn. This one, though, lacks those killer twists that make Flynn’s novels so compelling. If you don’t guess the Roanoke secret before reading this book, then you won’t have too long a wait before finding out: the reveal comes early, and though it is disturbing, it is not at all unexpected. Meanwhile, the mystery of what happened to Allegra is, in the end, much less of a mystery than I was hoping for.

In short: dark and compelling, but lacks a knockout punch. 

Rating: 3.5/5.
Published March 7th 2017 by Hodder & Stoughton.
Received for review. 


Like a lot of places, the town of Battle Creek, Pennsylvania is a town where nothing much ever happens – until it does.  The year is 1991, and Hannah Dexter is trying her very best to survive high school by not drawing attention to herself.    It doesn’t work. No matter how she tries to blend into the background, Hannah remains Nikki Drummond’s number one target.  Even fact that Nikki’s boyfriend Craig has just committed suicide doesn’t make this mean girl change her ways. Enter Lacey Champlain.

Confident and feisty, Kurt Cobain worshipping Lacey is everything that Hannah is not.  Hannah can’t figure out why someone like Lacey wants to be friends with someone like her, but she doesn’t question it. Truth is, Hannah is just happy to have a friend. Soon Hannah, now known as ‘Dex’ since Lacey decided that Hannah wasn’t really working as a name, is sneaking out, fooling around and rocking out to Nirvana. She’s also determined, with Lacey’s help, to get her revenge on Nikki Drummond.

Girls on Fire, the first adult offering from prolific YA author Robin Wasserman (The Book of Blood and Shadow, The Waking Dark), is a twisted and violent, yet ultimately underwhelming affair. Like Emma Cline in her novel The Girls, Wasserman’s prose here is often vividly purple in colour, while the storyline, though shocking in its final act, is repetitive and even mundane at times.
Read this if you like:  Pretty Little Dirty by Amanda Boyden; Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten; 90’s nostalgia.

Rating: 3/5
Published May 5th 2016 by Little, Brown.


Who in their right mind would want to live in a house like this?

That’s the question I kept asking myself as I was reading The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney.  Though lured by a strong synopsis that promised a solid mystery, I knew I was in trouble with this book early on, simply because I didn’t buy the main premise of the story. Even bearing in mind the crazy cost of London rentals, I just don’t believe that anyone would want to live at cut-price One Folgate Street, no matter how futuristically ground-breaking its design might be. Why? Because to live here pretty much means signing your whole life, including all of your possessions, away. It also means signing a contract that contains more than two-hundred clauses (I’m not exaggerating), thanks to a landlord who is, to put it mildly, a complete control freak.

The landlord in question is Edward Monkford, the renowned architect who designed One Folgate Street, and now rents it out to a very select few tenants. Jane is one of these tenants, as was Emma, the ‘girl before’ of the title.  The Girl Before employs a dual timeline, and it soon becomes clear that both Jane and Emma’s time at One Folgate Street follows eerily similar patterns, including the fact that both women inexplicably start to fall for the utterly charmless Monkford. The catch? Monkford has a dark side. He also has a past. The other catch? Emma didn’t leave One Folgate Street alive – she left in a body bag.  Will Jane escape the clutches of One Folgate Street before it’s too late?  Will she say ‘screw it’ to all those clauses in her contract, and run? She really should.

An instant bestseller with a movie in the works, The Girl Before was also recently named ‘Thriller of the Month’ by The Sunday Times. Alas, this cliché-ridden thriller simply did not work for me. A miss.

Rating: 3/5.
Published January 26th 2017 by Quercus.
Received for review.


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