Brand new review: Who Did You Tell? by Lesley Kara

By Ekta R. Garg

June 24, 2020

Genre: Psychological thriller

Release date: June 16, 2020

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A woman struggling with addiction is stalked by someone from her past. As she fights to stay clean, she must also deal with the fallout from the wrongs she’s committed even as she tries to start building a new life for herself. Author Lesley Kara’s newest novel starts slow but picks up steam in her newest novel Who Did You Tell?

Astrid Phelps has hit bottom, and she knows it when she moves from London to the small town of Flinstead. She’s left behind the charms—and temptations—of big city life. As dull as Flinstead is right now, it’s exactly what she needs as a newly-sober alcoholic.

After some apprehension, her mother’s agreed to let her move back home. At first Astrid doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. She’s going to AA meetings, yes, but it’s depressing and disheartening to be surrounded by the sad people who show up. One person in particular, Rosie, has taken a shine to Astrid and keeps trying to convince her that God is the solution to all of her problems. But Rosie’s been sober for eight years, and Astrid doesn’t think she would understand her kinds of problems.

Every day Astrid carries the weight of a secret. That secret makes her think of her ex-boyfriend, Simon, a fellow drunk who used to party it up with Astrid. They loved each other. They were also terrible for each other when it came to their addictions. Until the day Simon decided once and for all to get sober.

Now Astrid is trying to focus on her own future. She’s constantly fighting the urge to drink, and meeting a nice guy helps. Josh is sweet and funny and caring. He even helps Astrid get a job in art, something she thought she’d lost forever.

Everything seems to be turning around…until the messages start. Someone from Astrid’s past is sending her signals, pictures, and menacing messages that tell her they won’t let her forget the horrible mistakes she’s made. Because Astrid has made mistakes that have changed—and ended—lives. She’s determined to free herself from her past, but someone thinks she should be held prisoner to what has gone on before.

Author Lesley Kara takes time in leading readers through the opening chapters of the book, which is where the novel’s one main weakness lies. For the first third, readers follow Astrid as she attends meetings and spends a lot of time taking long walks and pondering her life. It might be tempting to let the book go, yet Kara includes just enough to keep readers engaged.

After that first third, however, with a startling reveal of a key piece of information, the pace picks up. As the stalker comes closer, Astrid’s compulsion to drink grows. Kara doesn’t give Astrid an easy way out, and readers will hold their breaths every time Astrid finds herself within the vicinity of alcohol. The author details with authenticity the immense struggle recovering alcoholics most likely experience every time they face a pressure point that would previously induce them to drink.

Astrid has made errors grave enough to make readers pause, yet her flaws are exactly why the audience will cheer her on. She takes full responsibility for her actions and agonizes over them day and night. She also understands that giving in to the longing to drink won’t erase the past, and as she fights those urges readers will hope for her to win.

The end comes with a satisfying number of twists and turns, and readers will find themselves guessing with glee at the answers to the questions that arise. This is a fun summer book worth the time. I recommend readers Bookmark Who Did You Tell?.

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Newest review: The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith

By Ekta R. Garg

May 20, 2020

Genre: Speculative fiction

Release date: April 14, 2020

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

In the near future, a nurse who helps people die discovers the truth about her birth mother. When she embarks on a mission to find the woman, she learns why she was given up for adoption in the first place. Debut author Eve Smith’s novel feels exceptionally prescient in our current times while balancing compassionate opinions in The Waiting Rooms.

In England Kate Connelly works in the Waiting Rooms—hospitals reserved for people over the age of 70. Decades into a worldwide outbreak of tuberculosis that is resistant to all antibiotics, and other health issues that leave the public at risk, senior citizens no longer receive medicines when they get ill. They’re simply taken to the Waiting Rooms where they wait to die.

Kate works to make the entire experience humane, but she still struggles with the emotional and psychological ramifications of what she does. Years earlier, before the TB pandemic, she took an oath to save lives. Now she does everything she can to help them end with as much dignity as possible.

These days her thoughts are turning more to her own situation: her adoptive mother, Pen, has recently died, leaving Kate, her husband, Mark, and her daughter, Sasha, in a wake of grief. While Kate has known for years that she was adopted, she never had an interest in finding out who her birth parents were. Until Pen leaves her a letter urging her to do just that. Curiosity overcomes her reluctance, and Kate begins the investigation process. It leaves her with more questions than answers, however.

In a home for the elderly, Lily Taylor is fearing her upcoming birthday: her 70th. She wonders if she’ll live as long as the home’s oldest resident who has managed to escape the Waiting Rooms by staying in relatively good health more than a decade past the milestone. She also wants to know who is sending her cryptic messages and why. Yes, Lily has made terrible mistakes, but most of that was long ago.

Clearly someone has other plans. Unsigned notes begin to appear, and they drive straight to those mistakes. Lily has paid her debt to society, and now she’s an old woman. She wants to stay healthy and live out her life in peace, a tricky prospect when even a simple cut can turn into a deadly infection. What could the mystery person possibly want from her?

As Kate and Lily try to unravel their respective mysteries, the world fights with the reality of illness everywhere. People remain in a state of constant vigilance: masks everywhere and disinfectant at every turn. The streets still teem with the sick, and protests outside the hospital remind people that the situation is both out of hand and could have been avoided.

Debut author Eve Smith describes a world that feels even more possible than ever before. In the novel, tuberculosis has advanced to the point of total drug resistance and other illnesses are on the same track. The fear, the paranoia, and, yes, the complacency of some will make some readers want to stay away. Others might find this exactly the kind of book they’d like to read during our strange current times.

Smith builds a likable, sympathetic main character in Kate. She grapples with her role as healer-turned-killer; even if she’s using medicines to help ease the suffering of the elderly, Kate has no compunctions about what she’s actually doing and how it could all have been different. Smith makes Kate a proactive protagonist, and readers will find themselves rooting for her and worrying about her all the way to the end.

Lily’s involvement in the plot is slightly more problematic, both from a story standpoint as well as a writing one. Readers might get the feeling they’re coming to Lily’s story too late in the day. All of the sins she’s committed have happened long ago, and while they had far-reaching effects she’s too old to change anything now. She’s been swept away by events and doesn’t have the means or the strength to fight the tide. The complications are fascinating and frustrating by turns.

The book overall possesses a more literary feel—the events described are supposed to have global implications, but readers only really get to see how they change Kate and Lily’s lives as well as the people around them. It would have been helpful if the narrative pulled back once or twice to show a broader worldview, but perhaps such a view would have compromised the emotional connection readers will feel.

Anyone brave enough to read a book about pandemics while enduring one will enjoy this. I recommend readers Bookmark The Waiting Rooms.

Newest review: The Apartment by K.L. Slater

By Ekta R. Garg

May 6, 2020

Genre: Psychological thriller

Release date: April 28, 2020

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A single mother desperate to find a new home jumps at the chance to live in a high-end apartment. Afterward, however, unexplained circumstances make her second-guess her decision. Author K.L. Slater tries to dial up the mystery but misses the mark in The Apartment.

Freya Miller needs a new house. Her husband’s infidelity and then sudden death leave her on a tight budget, and she knows she’ll have to move out of the only home her five-year-old daughter, Skye, has ever known. It seems like the worst position to be in: not being able to afford a new place within a reasonable distance to Skye’s school but also not being able to stay.

When she meets the charming Dr. Michael Marsden in a coffee shop holding fliers for a flat for rent, she thinks it might be a solution. Dr. Marsden insists she and Skye will be the perfect fit for Adder House, but Freya’s worried about the cost. The building sits in one of London’s swanky neighborhoods, the kind of place she doesn’t even see on her daily commute.

When Dr. Marsden tells her how much she’ll actually pay, she knows she can’t let go of the opportunity. After all, as Dr. Marsden explains in an apologetic tone, no telling how many people will vie for the place. Better to sign the lease immediately.

Freya visits the flat and agrees. Within a week, she and Skye are set to move across town. Skye is skeptical, but Freya believes this is the fresh start she’s needed since her husband’s betrayal. Once they arrive at Adder House, though, Freya begins to understand Skye’s skepticism.

Her moving expenses are paid for, Skye is showered with expensive gifts, and the tedious commute to Skye’s old school means moving to the new one in the neighborhood. It’s one of the best in the city, and before Freya can blink the Marsdens get Skye admitted. It’s one thing to be showered with so much unexpected kindness, but Freya is having a hard time understanding why the Marsdens would go out of their way for her.

Then there are the other happenings. Skye insists she heard a child crying, even though Dr. Marsden says Skye is the only child in the building. Freya walks into the flat to discover that a security camera has been installed without her consent. And the other tenants either aren’t around or give Freya goosebumps.

Freya begins to wonder whether the stress of her life is making her go mad. At the same time, Skye’s spirit is waning and the Marsdens are acting even weirder. Now, the dream apartment that Freya couldn’t turn down looks like the place she can’t escape.

Author K.L. Slater does an admirable job of building the mood of the book. Adder House sounds elegant and well built—just the kind of place that forebodes disaster. Within the genre, an upscale London neighborhood is practically begging for creepy affairs.

Slater gives Freya some agency, a welcome change. When asked about allowing a security camera in her apartment, Freya declines. When it shows up anyway, she doesn’t hesitate to take it down and complain about it. Unlike other books where the protagonist just shrugs and accepts strange twists in his/her life, Freya fights back when circumstances don’t make sense.

Unfortunately her disturbed emotional state clouds her judgment. While it’s understandable, the bad choices Freya makes allow for the book to tread predictable paths. If readers can’t guess some plot points, they won’t necessarily be surprised either.

Slater tries to give readers clues through the diary of a secondary character, but the introduction of the diary and that character’s back story come so late in the book that they don’t have the intended impact. The climax and resolution, then, just sound a little off-the-wall. Two characters who seem to have been plotting against Freya suddenly fawn all over her, and readers will find it hard to buy their about-face.

Still, the book is entertaining. Anyone looking for a fast read might like this one. I recommend readers Borrow The Apartment.