Crooked Lane Books | 7 September 2021 | 288 pgs
Source: Publisher via NetGalley 

I enjoyed Christopher Swann's previous novel (Never Turn Back) so much so that I requested this book after seeing that it's his latest release. 

Part suspense and part spy thriller, this story revolves around a retired history professor finding retreat in an isolated North Carolina mountains after the death of his wife and how his quiet life is turned upside down when a teenage girl barges into his life one day and claims that she is his niece. 

Nick Anthony has not been in contact with his younger brother for years and their relationship is gradually explained as the story progresses. Despite the distance, he is still shocked when he learns that his estranged brother and sister-in-law died in a house fire and that he has a niece who's managed to find him amid everything else. Annalise couldn't trust anyone, but she knew that she should seek her uncle's help especially learning that her parents' death wasn't an accident and the mysterious information she was told to pass on to her uncle before their death. And on top of it, she's being pursued by a bunch of hired private military contractors for the piece of information she's carrying. Nick doesn't know what kind of business and who his late brother had been dealing with, but he's adamant to find out about his hidden past as well as to protect Annalise from any harm. But what the reader didn't know is, Nick has his own hidden past, too. 

While the plot isn't new, I've to say I enjoyed reading about Nick as the main character and his relationship with Annalise. There are, of course, some intense moments and the cat-and-mouse chase but surprisingly, I was more focused on the interactions between uncle and niece; and Annalise for her courage and her fighting spirit. I liked this book but not as much as Never Turn Back but overall it was still a satisfying read.

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Michael Joseph | 7 January 2021 | 320 pgs
Source: Purchased 

For starters, it's hard to read this book, let alone writing my thoughts. The story is dark and unsettling; yet one couldn't avoid looking at some of the issues raised.

As a girl, Blythe Connor is raised lacking warmth and attention from her mother, Cecilia. Now that she'd grown up and married, she's aiming to be a woman unlike her mother and most importantly, she doesn't want sad history to repeat itself. After Violet is born, she makes sure she gives enough love and attention to Violet. She's sure nothing would go wrong if she's doing all the right things to her first child and hopefully, Violet would grow up to be a happy and healthy girl unlike her unhappy past. 

As the days go by, Blythe soon notices that there's something about Violet that she can't put her finger on it. Her husband, Fox, thinks otherwise and believes that Blythe is either imagining things or motherhood is tiring her out. As Blythe thinks about Violet's characteristics, she also couldn't help wondering about her childhood life as well as the mental wellness and upbringing of the women in her family heritage. Her grandmother, Etta, suffered from mental illness and as a result, Cecilia was raised without much mother's love and this in turn, affects Blythe’s life growing up. Blythe begins questioning herself if she's following the path of the women of her family generations - that they couldn't and didn't have the capacity of filling the role of a mother. Or perhaps as what she fears, there's really something wrong with Violet? 

Unreliable narrator. Motherhood. Nature versus nurture. These are the few elements that nudged at my mind as I read the book and the more I read, I felt a sense of dread, unease and sorrow as well. Blythe was a complex character; and of course this extends to Violet as well as I didn't know what's really in that little mind of hers. Is she capable of doing bad things, or if genes and characteristics could pass down from generations, affecting one's role of being a mother? And then, there's the issues of expectations and stereotypical role as a mother. How do one look at motherhood and is there even a right or wrong way of bringing up a child? 

There's so much to talk about this book and I could see why there's so much hype surrounding it when it was released. Perhaps it's just me, but I didn't quite like the storytelling style which was written in second person narrative. Although there's some interpretations of Cecilia's life in between chapters, there's no indication of what's past and present though to the author's credit, it wasn't hard to figure so it's simply a personal view/preference. Overall it was a thought-provoking read and I could see this as a good fit for discussions. 
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