The Dying Game by Åsa Avdic

In the not too distant future, seven people have been selected to participate in a 48 hour competition. Placed together on a tiny isolated island, the winner of this competition will receive a coveted position in the top secret Union of Friendship. Among those being tested are a top ranked CEO, a well known TV personality, and Anna Francis; a workaholic bureaucrat with a young daughter she hardly sees and a haunting secret.

Unbeknownst to the other competitors, Anna is not taking part in the test – she is the test. After staging her own death, she must watch the other competitors and judge their reactions as they learn a murderer walks among them. Who will lead? Who will take control? Who will crack under the pressure?

At first, all goes according to plan until a storm rolls in and the power goes out. Then the real game begins…

I’m not sure what I was expecting, dear reader, when I started The Dying Game. Going by the blurb on the back of the book, I was led to believe this was a kind of locked room mystery. Where the protagonist is led to believe they are the one in control but at the narrative goes on, they learn there is someone else pulling the strings.

And while that last bit is somewhat true, it is how we (and Anna) get to that realization that is somewhat of a let down.

The set up to the actual “game” itself takes far too long, in my opinion. Then once everything begins, it becomes less a study of the other characters and more a study of Anna herself. While she is the only one who “dies”, the other characters also begin to disappear one by one, leading Anne to wonder if perhaps she isn’t going mad.

It is only with the resolution of the story – that it was Anna herself being tested – that we are given some kind of closure. Yet it isn’t terribly satisfactory. It left me questioning who was the real protagonist here and who was the real antagonist? Just as I am sure the characters were questioning the events that transpired.

I can’t really recommend The Dying Game because what I thought I was going to read and what I read in actuality were two different things. With writing that could be a bit blocky and staid at times and a confusing resolution, I have to say – skip this one.

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Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) by Seanan McGuire

For years, children have always disappeared under the right conditions. By slipping through shadows beneath the bed, or perhaps tumbling down a random rabbit hole, they end up somewhere…else.

And sometimes…just sometimes…they make their way back.

That is where Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children comes in.

Nancy was one such girl. The things she saw and experience can change a person. The other children at Ms. West’s understand what Nancy is going through all too well. Like her, they each tumbled in to a magical world and they are all trying to find their way back.

Yet with Nancy’s arrival, another change occurs. A darkness has settled in at Ms. West’s, a darkness that brings tragedy to the young people who call the place home.

Every Heart a Doorway was yet another of the books that Goodreads recommended to me. That site is definitely getting better at recommending books for me to read and review here, for while I am somewhat familiar with Seanan McGuire and her work I was surprised to see she is also the author Mira Grant whose work I have written about in a past review.

In this particular novel, we are taken to Ms. West’s Home for Wayward Children. On the outside it looks like most any home for “troubled youths” but like most things it is more than meets the eye. This home is for young women (and a few young men) who have gone off on strange adventures and come back again.

Reading Every Heart a Doorway put me in mind of the novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Pecular Children. It too featured a home for young people and a head mistress who had her own set of secrets. Both introduce an individual encountering the house for the first time, though in the former they are coming to live there and in the latter they stumble upon the place by accident.

While Every Heart a Doorway is certainly well written and the characters are intriguing, it is far far too short. At barely over 160 pages, there just isn’t enough time to properly introduce the different characters and situations. Especially before getting to the meat of the story and its resolution. We barely get to know these people before tragedy begins to befall some of them. While I am sure we are meant to be saddened, it is difficult to feel such an emotion over a person we have only just met.

Originally, dear reader, I was going to lament that so far there was only one book in this series. However, Goodreads has once again shown me my error and I am pleased to see that there is already a second book with a third soon on the way. Should you decide to read this book – and I truly recommend you do – try and get the second book when you pick up the first. Like me, the moment you finish the first one you will be looking for the second.

 

The Girl Before by J.P. Delaney

One Folgate Street is a very unique property. Built to be almost an exploration of the human psyche, to even be considered to rent it one must go through a long series of questions and interviews.

For Jane, this offers the perfect opportunity to start new. Moving in to One Folgate Street means leaving almost all of her old personal effects behind. It means living with a clean slate, both literally and figuratively.

Yet as soon as she has moved in, Jane learns of the apartment’s previous tenant; a young woman named Emma. Emma, who like Jane, was hoping to start anew but was instead met with tragedy.

The Girl Before is yet another of the psychological thrillers featuring women that seems the be popular recently. Playing with the trope of ‘walking in another’s footsteps’, it takes us through the lives of both Emma and Jane; two different women who have come to live at One Folgate Street.

On the surface, both Emma and Jane are alike. Both have had personal tragedies that they are trying to get through and are hoping by moving they have the ability to start over. And while there are several similarities, there are also a number of differences.

At first, I found myself sympathizing with both Emma and Jane. Both women had gone through a very trying event and were trying to return back to what they thought was normal. Yet, as the story went on, I found myself sympathizing less and less with Emma. She was no longer a sympathetic character and while what happened to her was unfortunate, I can’t say it wasn’t exactly unwarranted either.

To go much further would be to give spoilers about what happens and I have tried my best to not give those in my reviews.

With all that said, I found The Girl Before to be enjoyable. There is subject matter that some readers might find triggering, so more sensitive readers might want to skip this one. Otherwise, Delaney has given us a well written thriller. Decent pacing and interesting characters kept me entertained up to the last page. For those who are in to this kind of story, I recommend it.