Great start, but fizzles out: Review of Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci

David Baldacci introduces a new lead character – FBI Agent Atlee Pine – in the first of a series dedicated to her. A well-developed, likable heroine, Atlee Pine leaves an impression in Long Road to Mercy. The book had some great parts and some not-so-great parts. Keep going to read the entire review!

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Source: Goodreads

Genre:

Thriller

Length:

404 Pages

Blurb:

Atlee Pine was six years old when a kidnapper snuck into the room she shared with her twin sister, used a random nursery rhyme to select his victim, and left with Mercy. Atlee never saw her sister again. But the event drove her to become the justice-keeper she is. Thirty years later, the only agent assigned to the FBI’s Arizona Resident Agency at Shattered Rock, she is responsible for the protection of the Grand Canyon. But even with her experience and outlook, Atlee could not pre-empt the convoluted web she finds herself in when she begins to investigate a stabbed Grand Canyon mule and its missing rider. Soon, Atlee realizes that those she considered her allies may not be so, and enemies – known and unknown – are waiting at every turn. Will Atlee win the fight for the democracy of the country she swore to protect, or will her battle end with her life?

Overall Rating:

6 out of 10

Plot:

8 out of 10

Characterization:

8 out of 10

Primary Element:

7 out of 10 for its suspense-filled storyline, and 6 out of 10 for its thrill.

Writing Style:

7 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is the first of the Atlee Pine series. The second book, A Minute to Midnight, comes out in November 2019 (and looks pretty kick-ass).

Highlighted Takeaway:

Atlee Pine, as created by Baldacci. Admitting that it’s his first time attempting a female lead, Baldacci does a good job of creating a character that is easy to associate with, and complex enough to be realistic.

What I Liked:

The plot: It was really well-woven, introducing the reader to unknown ideas that could very well be real (some aspects may or may not be based in reality, in fact – I didn’t check).

What I Didn’t Like:

The depth of the Grand Canyon’s geography: While it was meant as an immersive narrative, it got a bit too mundane and made me zone out a bit when there was little but details of the Canyon for pages on end.

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoys political thrillers and other Baldacci books. Or anyone who likes crime fiction.

Who Should Avoid:

The book has nothing that would specifically turn someone off.

Read It For:

The beginning of a new character series that shows a lot of promise and sets the stage for a story arc that you would want to follow, if you enjoy crime fiction.

Got something to share about Long Road to Mercy or David Baldacci or Atlee Pine? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

And, as always, thanks for stopping by and reading my review!

– Rishika

Unputdownable: A Review of Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

A big thanks to NetGalley for an ARC of this book, and for introducing me to an author and character that I will surely be following. This is the fourth book in the Eddie Flynn series, based on the character of the same name who is a con artist turned defense lawyer. It’s completely readable as a standalone and although it does mention a bit about Eddie’s life and character journey, nothing leaves you feeling lost.

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Source: Goodreads

Genre: 

Thriller, Suspense

Length: 

368 pages

Blurb:

Eddie Flynn protects the innocent. When a high profile case involving an incredibly popular actor comes his way through one of the biggest law firms in the city, Eddie refuses. The actor is on trial for the murder of his actress wife and bodyguard. Eddie has no reason to believe his innocence, nor does he know why the reputed firm wants him on the case. Until Eddie meets the accused. Willing to go to any length to protect an innocent man, Eddie takes the case up under overwhelming evidence against his client. Eddie is confident that the real killer is out there – he just has to convince the jury of that. But the killer is closer than even Eddie can imagine. And convincing a jury may not be so easy when the killer is part of it.

Overall Rating: 

8 out of 10

Plot: 

9 out of 10

Characterization: 

9 out of 10

Primary Element: 

9 out of 10 for its suspense

Writing Style: 

8 out of 10

Part of a Series: 

Yes. This is #4, but can be read as a standalone without any problem.

Highlighted Takeaway:

The plot twist. It’s very rare that the killer-reveal takes you by real surprise, but Steve Cavanagh manages to do just that.

What I Liked:

Eddie Flynn’s character is one of the most rounded, yet realistic, I’ve read. There are a few fictional characters who I absolutely love because of their complexity and human-ness, with David Baldacci’s Amos Decker being one such character. Eddie Flynn makes it to that list and as one of the top ones for sure. Cavanagh has created a very relatable character in Flynn, one who keeps you hooked from the first page.

What I Didn’t Like:

Not a thing!

Who Should Read It:

Anyone who enjoyed watching The Mentalist, and anyone who enjoys reading fast-paced courtroom-action-suspense novels. Also anyone who enjoys a good serial killer mystery and legal thrillers.

Who Should Avoid:

Anyone who is put off very quickly by violence. There isn’t too much gore in this book, but there is some violence which may not sit too well with those not too used to it.

Read It For:

The suspense, the intricate storyline, and Eddie Flynn.

Got recommendations for other books like Thirteen or any other good legal thrillers? Drop a line in the comments below. And thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Review: The Sleeping Beauty Killer (By Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 302 pages

My rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Casey Carter was on the verge of her happily-ever-after when she got engaged to Hunter Raleigh III, a renowned businessman, beloved philanthropist, and potential political candidate whose family was nothing less than political royalty. But then Hunter was found murdered, two gunshots ending his life, and Casey left with blood and gunpowder residue on her hands. In spite of her claims that she’d been drugged and unconscious during the murder, Casey is convicted for manslaughter.

Fifteen years later, Casey returns to society, but feels like a pariah. Although everywhere she goes, people look at her like she’s guilty, she is determined to prove that she hadn’t murdered the man she loved. She approaches Laurie Moran, host of Under Suspicion, a show that opens cold cases, in the hope that Laurie could help her tell her side of the story, and find Hunter’s real killer. As Laurie and her team begin investigating the events that took place on the night of the murder and the people who had made up Casey’s past, Laurie finds herself close to believing that Casey is truly innocent. In her search for the truth, Laurie finds herself facing a new, egotistical co-host, a skeptical boss, protective family members, and a host of questions whose answers are not even remotely as simple as they should be. But the largest question that continues to plague her at every step is whether Casey is really innocent or did the woman that society named The Sleeping Beauty Killer actually murder Hunter?

The Bottom Line:

An extremely basic mystery that does not do justice to its apparent genre of thriller or suspense.

My take:

Let Me Call You Sweetheart was the first Mary Higgins Clark book I’d read, and I’d absolutely fallen in love with the author. I read most of her books over the years. While not all of them have been great, I think it’s safe to say that The Sleeping Beauty Killer was downright disappointing.

Essentially, the book is a simple mystery. The version I read had a quote on the cover from the Guardian saying, “Scared the hell out of me.” The claim is consistent with the reaction that people have when reading Clark’s work; her books are eerie, suspenseful, and unpredictable. So I obviously went in expecting that. But there was absolutely nothing of that sort in the book.

It’s got an interesting enough story with the kind of characters you’d expect from Clark. There are some twists and turns that, although not unpredictable, are interesting enough to keep you turning the pages. That is actually the only reason the book is good enough for a 1.5-star rating. Other than a mildly interesting presentation of a mildly interesting story, the book doesn’t have much to offer, especially for fans of Clark’s older works.

A few things that were really disappointing was the absolute lack of a thrill factor. I don’t need people jumping out from dark corners at me, but I do expect some element of thrill or even suspense, which I didn’t see in The Sleeping Beauty Killer. What was even worse was that the book was so unbelievably predictable – I’m not talking about the who, but also the why and how. There’s little point in reading a book when you already know the end (that too so early on in the book), other than to just find out if you were right.

My biggest problem with the book, though, was the characterization. This is the first book I’ve read in the Under Suspicion series, but the first few pages are enough to get the idea that Laurie Moran is an accomplished woman who’s seen hard times and come through them gracefully. Which is why I couldn’t understand why she chose to randomly titter like a sixteen-year-old. I’m not saying older women are expected to be serious or boring all the time, but there were these parts that were downright cringy, mainly because they seemed so out of character for the personality that Laurie is shown to be. The times where she was a normal adult but still having fun didn’t come across like that, which is what made the contradiction even worse.

And that inconsistency was in almost every character. Even Casey herself. It almost seemed like the author(s) couldn’t determine whether to make Casey strong, weak, mean, kind, gentle, or harsh; so instead of including a little bit of all these traits in a symbiotic manner, they just gave her random extremes of them whenever they pleased.

All in all, the book seemed very… amateur (the bookish dialog didn’t help). There is no dearth of crime fiction and crime thriller in the world today. Jeffery Deaver, David Baldacci, Simon Beckett, Tim Weaver, and Mark Edwards are just some of the names that come to mind when I think of detailed, layered, thrilling, suspenseful, and eerie reads in the genre (check out the reviews to some of their books I’ve absolutely loved, linked to their names above). Authors, seasoned and new, are getting better with each book that they pen. But with each book, Mary Higgins Clark seems to be continuing her descend from the pedestal on which her work had, justifiably, placed her. I still remember books like On The Street Where You Live (which I’d found brilliant) and A Cry In The Night (check out the review for that one here) which was quite good. Then, more recently, I read As Time Goes By, and that was a good book but was still incredibly predictable and just not as enjoyable as her previous works (more detailed review available here). But I have to admit that The Sleeping Beauty Killer finds a place at the bottom in my pile of Clark’s books. I’m definitely not reading more of the Under Suspicion series unless I decide to just read something light, fast, and not overly complicated.

So, should you read The Sleeping Beauty Killer? Yes, if:

  • you’ve read the Laurie Moran Under Suspicion books before and enjoy the character and series
  • you enjoy Clark’s more recent works
  • you enjoy uncomplicated, linear mysteries

But definitely not, if:

  • you want mystery that comes with thrill and suspense
  • you love unpredictability
  • you loved Clark’s older works (that makes this book disappointing on numerous levels)

Don’t go yet! Share your thoughts on how Clark’s work has progressed over the years according to you, drop a recommendation, or simply say Hi! in the comment section below!

Thanks for stopping by!

– Rishika

Review: The Fallen (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 420 pages

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amos Decker doesn’t want to take a vacation. But when his boss forces him to take a break before he risks burning out, he takes up his partner on her offer to travel to the quiet town of Baronville. The only thing on the agenda is to spend a relaxing time with Alex Jamison’s sister and brother-in-law, and to celebrate her niece’s upcoming birthday. But when a spark in the neighboring house catches Decker’s eye on the first night there, he rushes to help. And stumbles onto two bodies. When he discovers that they weren’t the first murders in the town, Decker is compelled to investigate. Soon, he finds that the small town of Baronville is hiding a large secret. As Jamison and Decker take on the case of six bizarre murders, their relaxing vacation turns into a fight for their lives. Someone does not want them finding out the truth, and they’re willing to kill anyone who gets too close. And this time, the Memory Man’s skills may not be enough to overcome the unseen forces that are threatening him, his partner, and everyone close to them, before it’s too late.

The Bottom Line:

Another thrilling ride in the Amos Decker series, The Fallen is packed with an odd but complimentary mix of violence, emotion, and a whole lot of character development.

My take:

The most notable thing about The Fallen is that it has the largest character arc development in the entire series. While this is true for all the characters of this particular franchise, it is especially so for Amos Decker.

The memory man is not the same person we met in the Memory Man. While the next two books in the series show us more about him, and his inability and desire to be more social, The Fallen is where that journey culminates. And, more importantly, where we see what Decker could be like should he actually develop the social niceties that are missing from his personality. It sort of makes you think about what will happen if what you’ve wanted from Decker’s personality would actually come true – and whether you’d be happy about it at all.

Story-wise, The Fallen is one of Baldacci’s most layered works. I’ve read a lot of Baldacci’s books and have come to expect some things from them, which leaves little room for being caught off-guard. But The Fallen still manages to surprise.

It’s a multi-faceted story that is complicated enough to keep you guessing, but not so complicated that it becomes tough to follow. It also moves really fast, jumping from one angle to another to keep you turning the pages. It’s an action-packed read that hits the ground running.

The Fallen is also surprisingly emotional at times. And although you’d expect this to conflict heavily with the fact that it has much more violence and gore than you’d have assumed, the contrasting approaches come together really well.

The book meets (and also exceeds) expectations of readers following the Amos Decker series. It is slightly better than its predecessor, and sets the tone really well for the next installment (I’m assuming and hoping that this isn’t the last one). I would rate the books in the entire series, thus far, as follows:

  1. The Memory Man (you can check out my review here)
  2. The Fallen
  3. The Last Mile (you can check out my review here)
  4. The Fix (you can check out my review here)

So, should you read The Fallen? Yes, if:

  • you like crime fiction
  • you want to continue on Decker’s journey or even try him out as a new series hero (this book can be read as a standalone but I would strongly recommend starting from the Memory Man)
  • you like David Baldacci’s work
  • you like multi-plot stories

Drop a comment below to share your thoughts on Baldacci’s work, The Fallen, or even just to say Hi!

– Rishika

Review: The Innocent (By David Baldacci)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 422 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Government assassin, Will Robie, returns from two successful assignments in Tangier and Edinburgh to find that his next target is right in his home city – a government employee who needs to be eliminated for an unknown reason. But on the day, faced by the young woman he’s meant to kill and the child that’s holding on to her, Robie, for the first time in his life, hesitates. Before he realizes his mistake, a secondary shooter kills both mother and child. Robie manages to escape in spite of his handler leading him to the second shooter, and imminent death. Putting his personal escape plan into action, he heads to the bus station to get on the next bus to New York with a ticket booked earlier under an alias.

Fourteen-year-old Julie Getty has been forced into the foster care system due to a recurring drug problem faced by parents who have made numerous attempts to turn clean. When she receives a note from her mother stating that they want to make a new start as a family, Julie runs away from her foster home. Returning to her own house, she sees her parents being murdered by a lone killer. She manages to escape and heads to the bus station, coincidentally getting on the same bus as Robie in an attempt to leave town.

But the killer follows her on board. Robie stops him before he finishes his mission. Moments later, Robie and Julie get off the bus. And the bus is blown to smithereens. Unsure of who between them the target was, Robie feels compelled to protect Julie. But his plans to help Julie and save himself are brought to an abrupt halt when he’s called back in by his department to liaise with the FBI on the assassination-gone-wrong, and discover who had set him up. Now, Robie is working with FBI Special Agent Nicole Vance on a crime at which he’d been present. He knows that, somehow, everything is connected. Only by discovering how can Robie prove his innocence and save lives… including Vance’s, Julie’s, and his own. But, to do that, Robie needs to identify who he can really trust. Struggling to get to the truth in a web lies, Robie is running out of time. He needs to get to the bottom of things before Vance uncovers his real profession and the role he really played in the events of the night, and before more people around him are killed.

The Bottom Line:

A typical Baldacci political-crime-conspiracy-thriller that takes an oddly analytic look at assassinations and murder, and that introduces a hero with lots of potential.

My take:

The Innocent is a typical Baldacci book – it’s got the political angle, it’s got a hero who has a unique moral compass, and it’s got the crime thriller angle that keeps the pages turning. The story is complicated enough to be interesting and stops just short of becoming down-right confusing.

As expected from Baldacci’s work, the most intriguing aspect of The Innocent is the new hero it introduces. Will Robie is intrinsically a good guy with exceptional skills, and he’s an assassin for his government. He is a man trained to kill, he’s good at it, and he feels no remorse about his profession. The book often touches upon the concept of good vs. evil, and the reality that humans (even those like Robie) are essentially not one or the other. As a character, he is definitely interesting and, although I didn’t find the book as good as others by Baldacci, I definitely want to follow Robie’s development.

One thing that really stands out is the bluntness of the violence. It isn’t gory nor exaggerated in any way. It is oddly calculated. When Robie eliminates a target or sees someone dead, he perceives and analyses it with the strangest simplicity, practicality, and mundaneness. He does not think of life as cheap, as is made very evident. But the coldness with which he looks at death definitely adds a lot to his characterization.

The only downside, if I had to choose, is that the story was good, but could have been much better. It has a lot of build-up but ends up being slightly anticlimactic – not in delivery, but in the story itself. Maybe a couple of pages more about how the many different angles came together, and why, would have made the story more compelling, and consequently more fulfilling.

Should you read The Innocent? It doesn’t have to be the first David Baldacci you pick up, but it’s definitely one that should be on the list, even if it makes an appearance slightly later. Recommended to:

  • fans of David Baldacci
  • political-conspiracy-crim-fiction lovers looking for a new series
  • anyone who wants to read a fast-paced, slightly-complicated crime fiction

Read The Innocent or any other Baldacci books? Share your thoughts on Will Robie or whoever your favorite Baldacci character is in the comments below!

– Rishika

 

Review: The Sleeping Doll (By Jeffery Deaver)

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Source: Goodreads

Length: 530 pages

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

CBI Special Agent Kathryn Dance is the best in her field. She’s an expert in kinesics which makes her a very good agent and an exceptional interrogator. But she’s never tried to read someone like Daniel Pell. In 1999, Pell murdered an entire family, unwittingly leaving behind a young girl who was asleep, and hidden behind dolls. After eight years in prison, Pell evokes renewed interest by the CBI when new evidence connects him to another murder. The interview with Pell is meant for Dance to find the truth.

But things don’t go as planned. Within moments of the interview that leaves Dance unsettled, Pell is on the run, death and destruction in his wake. Now Dance has to rely on everything she could learn about Pell during the short interview as the CBI and local police begin an immense manhunt. But Pell behaves nothing like as escaped convict. He seems to have no interest in leaving the area. Dance struggles to identify the reason, and comes to a disturbing conclusion – she and Pell may be looking for the same person, the young girl who survived, the one called The Sleeping Doll. And as Pell outsmarts Dance and her colleagues at every step of the way, she begins to fear that her inability to read him might cost even more lives, especially those of the ones close to her.

The Bottom Line:

An interesting enough crime thriller, whose most positive factor is the technicalities of the protagonist’s profession.

My take:

I started reading Jeffery Deaver with his first novel, The Bone Collector (check out my review of that one here). What was most impressive about that book was the detail to the technicalities of forensics.

The Sleeping Doll mirrors Deaver’s skill in that regard. It goes into quite a lot of detail about kinesics, without becoming text-bookish. In fact, the theoretical angle actually paves the way for the story to move forward in many places.

The protagonist, Katheryn Dance, is… strange. For whatever reason, you don’t exactly like her right away. In retrospect, I think it’s because of her excessive ability to understand people’s actions, which makes her oddly reaction-less to a great extent (even though she isn’t emotion-less). She initially comes across as an aloof individual, but grows on you as the story proceeds and her personality unfolds.

Although the antagonist, Daniel Pell, is shown (through repetitive mentions by other characters) to be an extremely dangerous, sadistic psychopath, his character just didn’t have enough of a cringe factor to drive the point home. He falls short, seeming more like a villain who tries very hard to be coolly insane, but only manages to remain basically-negative.

As a story, The Sleeping Doll definitely has a lot of twists. As can be expected from Deaver’s work, it does a good job of maintaining the suspense until revelation time. Yet, it does seem to fall short of being an edge-of-your-seat-thriller. And I’d chalk this up to Pell’s character too. To be honest, he just wasn’t as scary as everyone in the story claimed him to be. And since most of the storyline is based on how brilliant and devious he is, the lacking in characterization greatly affects the overall feel of the book.

The supporting characters are (as expected) strong, with each person adding interesting elements to the story. You really associate with a lot of the characters, and Dance too, until you are invested enough to want to know what happens next. Which is why I would definitely continue to read the Dance series. I’d recommend this book to:

  • fans of crime fiction and crime thrillers
  • fans of Jeffery Deaver (may not be as good as the Rhyme series, but is definitely worth reading for its typical Deaver-ness)
  • fans of shows like Criminal Minds and Lie To Me (which I haven’t seen but know the premise of; I find some similarities in that and the kinesics-interrogation approach this book takes)

Let me know what you thought of The Sleeping Doll (or if I should ever actually watch Lie To Me)… share your comments below!

P.S.: I still prefer the Lincoln Rhyme series, although that may be because I’ve read more of them and there’s been significant character development. But, I’m still very keen to see where Dance’s story takes her.

Until the next book.

– Rishika

 

Review: Into The Darkness (By Sibel Hodge)

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Source: Goodreads

Length:

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Eighteen-year-old Toni wants to study criminal psychology to be able to help people, especially children, affected by the evil deeds of which psychopaths are capable. But a week before her university course begins, she discovers something horrifying in the deepest corners of the internet. Before she is able to wrap her head around what she’s seen, she finds herself attacked, abducted, and locked in a dark cell. With no help from the police, Toni’s mother turns to an old friend for help. Ex-SAS operative, Mitchell, has seen the worst that the world and its people have to offer. He knows that evil is not a concept of fairy tales, but a very real threat that can exist in the form of anything and anyone. Uncaring about the law and only concerned with quick justice, Mitchell is a vigilante with a mission – bring Toni home safe, no matter what it costs.

DS Warren Carter has been a detective for so long that the job and the growing lack of justice are beginning to make him grow weary. He is two weeks away from retiring from the force and taking up a different job. Then, he’s called in to investigate the double murder of a simple, seemingly normal couple. Nothing is what it seems in the case. DS Carter is short on staff and has almost no support from his overbearing, bureaucratic boss. Yet, he won’t let the case go, relying on the instincts that have always had his back to try and solve the cold-hearted, heinous crime. But the case isn’t simple, and DS Carter finds himself falling into the depths of a world that is more twisted and evil than he could have ever imagined.

Time is running out for Toni as Mitchell tries desperately to find her in a world of shadows where anonymity is pivotal. And DS Carter is beginning to question everything he’s ever known. The Missing, the Vigilante, and the Detective are caught in a dangerous game, one that offers threats at every turn, and that none of them may win.

The Bottom Line:

An interestingly told thriller that does not shy away from the gory stuff, hits you in the face with the truth that you’d rather never know, and spins an intricate, well-plotted tale that is not made any less enjoyable by its predictability.

My take:

Writing in the first person isn’t always easy. Not too many people like the approach so you have to be exceptionally good at it to ensure that your audience can associate with the character they’re following. Writing from different points of view consistently isn’t easy either. It’s altogether too easy to get their personalities mixed up, and end up with one’s style seeping into the other.

Yet, Sibel Hodge does both these things with brilliant precision in Into the Darkness. 

The story follows a vigilante who believes that justice is best served instantly, a missing girl whose desire to help people takes her into the depths of unspeakable horror, and a detective who’s been worn down by the injustices he’s witnessed in his career but still, desperately, needs to trust in the legal system. All three are gray characters, and Hodge’s style allows you to follow their internal battles and really get into the story. She doesn’t break their characterization at all, which adds to the association that readers develop for the characters.

The story itself is quite interesting. It is based on a topic that has been done previously (in movies and books) – the dark web – but still manages to be fresh in its approach. It’s also painfully graphic, so those who aren’t used to too much gore may have a few cringe-worthy moments while reading. When you look beyond the near-horrific narrations though, you see that it’s less about the activity and more about the people behind it. Into the Darkness focuses a lot on what people, good and bad, are really capable of; on how far someone can go, how malleable their morals can become, if they’re motivated by greed and insane fetishes, or the desire to help people and enable justice.

The book proceeds at a good speed, taking you from one POV to another and back as you turn pages wondering just how (and even if) these three arcs meet. It’s not immensely unpredictable, but there are definitely some shock-factors. The characters within the story have apparently made appearances previously in other works, but the story is complete in itself. All in all, Into the Darkness is a well-paced, intriguing thriller; and while I wouldn’t say that this should be the next book you should read, it definitely should be on the TBR pile of anyone who enjoys the genre or wants to venture into it.

Recommended to:

  • those who enjoy thrillers
  • those who enjoy multi-POV or first-person focused books (both these aspects are done extremely well)
  • those who like crime fiction

A big thanks to NetGalley and Thomas & Mercer for an ARC of this book. It led to me discovering some very interesting characters and a new author to follow. Share your thoughts on how you liked (or are waiting for) Into the Darkness and any other books by Sibel Hodge in the comments section below.

Into the Darkness releases on 3rd June, 2018.

– Rishika