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Reviews: Circle of Doubt & The Wrong Family

 

Hi everyone!  It’s Sharon, so you know what that means… Thriller Thursday!  This week I have the psychological thriller, Circle of Doubt, and the domestic thriller, The Wrong Family.   Both of these books kept me fully engrossed and had twists I did not see coming.

 

Reviews: Circle of Doubt & The Wrong FamilyCircle of Doubt Goodreads

Author: Tracy Buchanan

Publication Date: January 5, 2021

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Emma and Dele adopted Isla 9 years ago when she was almost 2 years old.  Emma, Dele and Isla live in a small town called Forest Grove, just outside of London.  Emma has always been shy, so she really has no friends in their community. The one person she can turn to when she needs support or advice is her sister, Harriet. And Harriet is the only person (aside from their father) who knows the terrible secret that Emma has been hiding for years.

One day while dropping Isla off at school Emma runs into her new neighbors, Tatjana and Lawrence. Emma cannot believe how much Tatjana looks just like Jade, Isla’s birth mother. Emma tries to tell herself there is no way she can be Jade.  Jade was a 17-year-old drug addict, and this woman is beautiful and sophisticated and nothing like the troubled teen Emma remembers.  But when Tatjana takes too much of an interest in Isla, Emma’s suspicions start to grow. Then strange things start happening to Emma that make her look and feel like a bad parent.  She receives an email saying the deadline to pay for a school trip was pushed out when it wasn’t. Then she starts missing school notices (including one saying it was dress down day, so Isla went to school in her uniform). Someone also starts rumors about Emma and the husband of her only friend, and a dead crow is placed in the front grill of Emma’s car.  Who is behind all of this? Could Jade really be back to try and take Isla away? And will the awful secret that Emma has been hiding come back to haunt her?  Emma is not going to give up her daughter without a fight, so with the help of her sister Harriet, Emma tries to find out if Jade and Tatjana are one in the same and if she is behind everything that has been happening.

The book is told through the POV of Emma and also through chapters that are letters “written” to Isla from an unknown source. The letters explain the plan to unravel Emma and why this person is doing what they are doing. I liked how the story was presented this way. Even though we find out about halfway through the book who is behind everything, the tension and suspense still ramped up as we are reading everything that is happening to Emma and what she was going though. And knowing who was writing the letters just added to the tension.

I really liked how Emma faced everything that was happening head on. And even though at times she thought she was not being a good mother, she really was. When things got tough, she would not let it show to her daughter. She put on a brave face for Isla no matter what she was feeling. And when push finally came to shove, her momma bear claws came out.

I will say the book started off a bit slow for me, but the tension and suspense took off the more I got into it.  And there was one twist near the end that totally got me and made my mouth drop open.   3 ½ stars

 

Reviews: Circle of Doubt & The Wrong FamilyThe Wrong Family Goodreads

Author: Tarryn Fisher

Publication Date: December 29, 2020

Publisher: Graydon House

Tarryn Fisher’s mystery thriller The Wrong Family is full of flawed characters that kept me turning the pages and made me realize not everything is as it seems. What you see on the outside is not necessarily what is on the inside.

Juno is a sixty-seven former therapist who is originally from New Mexico. After a 2-year stint in prison due to unethical misconduct, which cost Winnie her family and practice, she moved to Seattle and is living with the Crouch family (Winnie, Nigel, and their son Sam). Juno has been diagnosed with lupus and is dying. One night she overhears a fight between Winnie and Nigel and she discovers that they are hiding a dark secret. Winnie doesn’t want to get involved; she just wants to live out her final days in peace. But the therapist in her just won’t let her sit back and let this secret destroy Sam, whom she has become close to. So she sets out to expose Winnie and Nigel’s secret and right the wrongs she believes they have done.

Winnie seems to have the perfect life on the outside, but on the inside it is falling apart. She used to be a counselor to the homeless but quit her job thirteen years ago. It was also thirteen years ago that

the dark secret that Juno overheard happened.  Without giving anything away, Winnie committed a horrible act that Nigel helped her cover up. Now, thanks to Juno, the details are starting to come to light and the cracks in Winnie and Nigel’s marriage are getting larger. Winnie is trying to hold things together for the sake of their son. But when her twin brother Dakota, who is an unhinged alcoholic and drug addict, comes to stay with them after his wife threw him out and then a stranger shows up on their doorstep claiming to know Winnie’s secret, all hell breaks loose.

I really cannot say too much more about this book, because anything I say would be a spoiler and I think it is best to go into this book blind.  What I can say is that this book is told in alternative POV’s from Winnie and Juno. They were both very complex and flawed characters. I flipped back and forth between liking and not liking them as different things were revealed as the story progressed.

I liked Juno as I was reading her chapters. While I may not have agreed with everything she did, I liked how she came across as the grandmotherly type with Sam. But then when I was reading Winnie’s views and what she was going though, I found myself having sympathy for her and I would get aggravated at Juno for what she was doing.  I like how Tarryn Fisher could make my views on these women change so much.

While this was not an edge of my seat thriller, the tension did ramp up at the end of the book and then I couldn’t read fast enough to find out how it was all going to play out. I also loved how the author wrapped up the story, nothing felt rushed.    3 ½ stars

Book Review: No Turning Back

Book Review:  No Turning BackNo Turning Back by Tracy Buchanan
three-half-stars
Published by Crooked Lane Books on June 13th 2017
Genres: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Anna Graves’s whole life has recently been turned upside down. A new mother, she’s just gone back to her job as a radio presenter and is busy navigating a new schedule of late night feeding and early morning wake ups while also dealing with her newly separated husband. Then the worst happens. While Anna is walking on the beach with her daughter, she’s attacked by a crazed teenager. Terrified, Anna reacts instinctively to protect her baby.

But her life falls apart when the schoolboy dies from his injuries. The police believe Anna’s story, until the autopsy results reveal something more sinister. A frenzied media attack sends Anna into a spiral of self-doubt. Her precarious mental state is further threatened when she receives a chilling message from someone claiming to be the “Ophelia Killer,” a serial killer who preyed on the town twenty years ago—and who abruptly stopped when Anna’s father committed suicide.

Is Anna as innocent as she claims? And is murder forgivable, if committed to save your child’s life? Internationally bestselling author Tracy Buchanan takes readers on an emotional roller coaster ride filled with heart-stopping secrets and hairpin turns in No Turning Back, her U.S. debut.

 

MY REVIEW

Tracy Buchanan’s No Turning Back is aptly named because once you get started reading this heart-pounding roller coaster ride of a novel, there’s no turning back and no putting this book down until you’ve made it through all the twists and turns that this story throws at you.  If you like a mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, this book is for you.

Anna Graves is a popular local radio host who is just returning to work after maternity leave.  She is also going through a divorce and so has a lot on her plate living the single mom life.  As if she didn’t have enough drama in her life, one day while strolling along the beach with her infant daughter, Joni, she is accosted by a teenage boy with a knife.  With no one around to help her, Anna desperately searches for something to protect herself and her child with.  She finds a comb with a long, pointed handle and points it at the boy to fend off his attacks. He slices her face with his knife but then loses his footing and falls on the handle of the comb Anna is holding.  It punctures his neck and he ultimately dies from the wound.  Anna is of course horrified by what has happened since she was only trying to protect herself and Joni and didn’t mean to harm the boy.

At first, the police believe Anna’s story and deem the boy’s death an act of self-defense.  But when the autopsy results reveal that he was poisoned shortly before his death, questions start to arise and the police start to question whether this was a straight case of self-defense or not.  Public reaction is also mixed with some hailing Anna as a heroic mother, while others proclaim her to be a murderer.  The media doesn’t help matters either, as they try to sensationalize the story from every angle, first seeming like they are on Anna’s side but then turning on her and trying to dig up anything they can to tarnish her reputation. Then Anna starts receiving taunting email messages from someone claiming to be The Ophelia Killer, a serial killer from 20 years ago who was never caught.  The Ophelia Killer targeted teenage boys who looked like the boy Anna killed and used the same poison that was in Anna’s victim’s system. When another teenage boy goes missing, the story takes on a whole new level of creepy suspense.  Is the original killer back? Or is it a copycat? Or is it just some sicko playing mind games with Anna?

 

LIKES

Anna Graves.  I really liked Anna.  I think being a mom myself, I found it very easy to put myself in her shoes while she was standing on that beach trying to do whatever it took to protect her infant daughter.  I could also empathize with the challenges of being a new mom and trying to juggle that with a career.  In all of these ways, she was a very relatable character.  I also tend to root for the underdog in stories so when the media, the community, the police, her soon-to-be ex-husband, and even her so-called friends started turning on her and questioning her actions and her mental state, I found myself in her corner that much more.

The Suspense and the Plot Twists.  Buchanan does a phenomenal job of weaving together an intricate mystery that will keep you guessing who the real killer is all the way to the end. Lots of dirty little secrets come to light throughout the course of the story, each of which seemed to lead either directly to Anna, much to her dismay, or else toward a suspect who could plausibly be The Ophelia Killer. I lost track of how many times I was sure I knew who was behind the murders only to end up being completely wrong.

The Portrayal of the Media.  Even though I was not at all a fan of the media in this story, I thought Buchanan portrayed them in a very realistic manner, especially in terms of the power the media wields.  With one positive or negative story, they can make or break a person’s reputation.  And when tabloid style journalism gets in the mix, all bets are off as to how they’ll choose to cover a story. Any shocking headline that is guaranteed to get the public’s attention seems to be fair game.  As we were given glimpses of some of the stories that were being written about Anna, all I could think of was a certain President running around yelling “Fake news! Fake news!”

The Big Question.  What I really enjoyed about No Turning Back was that in addition to being a wildly entertaining mystery, it’s also a book that made me think.  That big question that was out there from the early moments of the book – How far would you go to keep your children safe? Could you take a life? I bet it’s a question that stays on every reader’s mind, whether they have kids or not, long after they finish reading this story.

The Jaw Dropping Ending.  I can’t say anything else about it without giving away the story, but just WOW! I didn’t see it coming at all and it blew my mind!

 

DISLIKES

Overall, I loved the novel but I did still have a couple of issues with it.  The main one was that I didn’t like how the police were portrayed.  While it made Anna’s journey that much more of a roller coaster ride to have it seem like even the police were out to get her, I just couldn’t imagine a police force conducting itself like the one in this book did.  They didn’t really seem to care much about evidence or about Anna’s safety when she was receiving threats from the dead boy’s family.  They had little to no interest in finding evidence that would exonerate Anna.  Instead, they seemed to look at everything only insofar as to see how they could use it to prove Anna was guilty.

The other aspect of the novel that bothered me was that some events just didn’t seem plausible, the biggest one being right at the beginning of the novel when the boy falls on Anna’s comb and gets fatally stabbed in the neck. What are the odds of that actually happening?  I think it would have made for an even more compelling story than it already was to have Anna make a conscious choice to stab him in self-defense rather than having it be more like a freak accident.

 

 

FINAL THOUGHTS?

If you like a good mystery that will keep you guessing up until the final pages, I’d highly recommend No Turning Back.  With all of the twists and turns this plot has to offer, there’s never a dull moment!

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

three-half-stars

About Tracy Buchanan

Tracy Buchanan is a full-time author who lives in Buckinghamshire in the UK with her husband, their little girl and their puppy, Bronte. Tracy travelled extensively while working as a travel magazine editor, sating the wanderlust she developed while listening to her Sri Lankan grandparents’ childhood stories – the same wanderlust that now inspires her writing.