Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“You haven’t forgotten. They haven’t forgiven…”
Ahh, Paper Dolls. In my top three reads of this year, hands down! I’ve loved this book so much, but I knew I would as soon as I read the blurb. Definitely my cup of tea! If you love the feeling of good-book-goosebumps, or whether you’re a fan of reading late into the night because you simply can’t tear yourself away from the pages, get your hands on this – an experience like no other, I guarantee. I’m so happy to share my review for this AMAZING book, and I’m so honoured to be on this little gem’s blog tour!
When Leah was editor of her local paper, two teenage girls went missing. One, Hope, was middle-class and white, from a perfect nuclear family. The other, Tilly, was a black girl from a council estate – and a habitual runaway. Leah made the decision to put Hope on the front page, and she was found the next day. Tilly got a small mention on page 18, and was never seen again.
Sixteen years on Leah still blames herself for the consequences of her decision. And now strange things are happening to her. She finds herself being stalked by an unknown stranger who starts leaving paper dolls for her, cut from the newspapers she used to edit, and lit candles in her house and garden. These are the same candles Leah lights for Tilly in church every year as way of seeking some kind of redemption.
Her husband, son and friend, Bunty, believe the struggle of no longer working and the ongoing guilt over Tilly’s murder are making her delusional. They think Leah is making the dolls and lighting the candles herself. Is is all in Leah’s head? Or is there a far more real danger lurking nearby…
I squealed when I read the prologue to this book! It had everything I love – the exciting foundations for a great thriller, captivating paragraphs and description which not only made me nod in approval, but which truly drew me in to the story completely. What more could you possibly ask for?! The chapters that followed the prologue were incredibly strong and detailed, and it set the scene perfectly for what we were to experience later down the line. Leah is such a wonderful, relatable character, and from the flawless storytelling and description from the author, we can really feel exactly what she’s feeling inside. She made a mistake. A mistake she’s still thinking about years later. And now, it’s coming back to haunt her – in ways she really did not expect. As readers, we know something is off with this character for a while, but the story is unraveled slowly and carefully, and at such a great pace. I can’t praise the opening to the book enough!
Being from Yorkshire myself, I loved the language and humour used in the beginning of the book, and even though I had serious mystery/thriller expectations for this book in my head, Leah and her family had the greatest sense of humour too! I loved how ‘normal’ they seemed as a household, and the banter between them was pure comedy gold. The balance was utterly perfect and in a way, this made what was about to happen so much more unexpected, which gave it more of a punch! The first part of the book that succeeded in creeping me out was a single lit candle in Leah’s garden, with two paper dolls attached for added creepiness. Who had put them there? Was someone stalking Leah and her family? With panic and worry mounting in her mind, could she really count on her family and friends? Do they even believe her?
The story doesn’t just focus on the present day; the author has also turned back time so the reader can understand more about Leah’s past, and the decision she made that changed things for her. I absolutely loved this, and it created some next-level depth in the story that might not have been achievable otherwise. It was almost as if the author was building us up, brick by brick, until we reached that crucial moment where everything falls into place. As desperate as I was to get more answers, and find out why Leah was experiencing these unfathomable scenarios, I was more than happy to take each page as it came and create a solid bank of information in my mind for when that time came. The style of writing and just how other areas of Leah’s life were developing made the book so pleasant to experience. I think I’d be happy to continue reading this book if it was three times as long for those reasons alone!
“She took another step, heart beating in time to the bass line still pounding from her earbuds.”
Strange things continue to happen; more candles and paper dolls spark panic, Leah’s son, Luke, begins to get a growing fear of her creepy discoveries, there’s Ouija board shenanigans that Leah is sure is just a load of tosh, and a growing friendship between someone that Leah can confide in, someone who doesn’t think she’s making everything up. The whole presentation of the book and just how the author has explored so many areas fills the reader with hope, curiosity and intrigue, something I thought made the book so special. Leah also confides in her friend Bunty, but she is convinced there’s nothing to worry about. This particular character had me in stitches a few times and is a magnificent addition to the book! Her whole character and personality was so unique and in every Bunty scene, I couldn’t help but feel a little at ease myself. However, this feeling of calm doesn’t last long. Things were about to get a whole lot worse for Leah – would her family and friends believe her this time around?
As we get deeper into the book, the author continues to surprise her readers with impeccable description, especially during those scenes of discovery and horror for Leah. She returns to one specific location with her neighbour, Sam, and this scene in particular stuck with me. From the detail of their findings at an old caravan, to the horror and confirmation of her fears, the goosebumps began and just reading the words gave me quite the shiver! I found myself becoming very protective over this character, worried for how bad things could get and how she’d react if things got even worse for her mental health. I loved that we’d experienced so much in the book already, and was so excited for how much we still had to learn. I had more burning questions, not only for where the main story was heading, but to also see if Leah manages to build up her strength, or allows her fear to consume her completely.
We explore Leah’s relationships with others in such crisp detail, from her husband, son, neighbour and best friend, who each have their own take on what’s happening to Leah. Some think she needs medical help, others believe every word she says. We see how things have taken their toll on everyone, especially Leah. The intense feelings of loneliness, helplessness and anxiety, to name a few, were so well portrayed, so powerful that many chapters left me in complete awe. It felt so raw and real, almost as if Leah wasn’t even fictional. We see problems with alcohol and messy nights out which further confirm that she isn’t okay. I hoped things changed for her as time went by; Leah had become such a great character that I really connected with. She was so easy to visualise, but then again, so were the rest of the characters! I simply cannot fault the author’s character creation, something I know many writers will be envious of.
There were a couple of characters that got me thinking, and I found myself keeping an eye on them throughout the middle of the book, watching their every move, their actions and how they spoke to other characters. Some began to act strangely, others had the same distant personalities throughout the story, which made me think some of these characters knew more than they were letting on. It was at this point where I began to create my own theories ready in my mind for when that crucial point in the book came – the part where everything slotted into place. With more candle/paper doll encounters in unexpected places, it was clear both Leah and myself were about to get a big shock. This is what I love about thrillers! The good ones constantly keep you on your toes, but this book has been a step above the rest… even before the big secrets were revealed. It became more and more difficult to put the book down and I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve had a good few late nights because of it!
“We’re human, Leah. People think we’re not. But we are.”
With Leah’s feelings all over the place, she begins to make irrational decisions, some of which she comes to regret very soon after. A few times, I nearly spoke to my book, (which I’m glad I didn’t do in case anyone thought I was cracking up) just to tell Leah to slow down and think of the consequences of her actions! She needed answers just as much as the reader did, and I felt so involved in Leah’s life throughout the whole book. The middle of the story provided some of the most thrilling and heart-wrenching scenes I’ve ever read, and my emotions were all over the place! The author has successfully captured her readers’ attention and kept this consistent all the way through the book, which is an achievement in itself. There aren’t many books that can keep you switched on through almost 400 pages, but it seems almost effortless for this author!
Oh my word, the cliffhangers!! Absolutely terrifying, and each as creepy and as shocking as the last. Excitement was building in such a horrific way, but also in a way that made me read chapters upon chapters in one evening. Things were beginning to get too much for Leah, like someone had turned things up a notch, almost as if they wanted her to reach breaking point. Just when we think we’re about to get the one crucial piece of information we’ve been waiting for to solve the puzzle, something else comes into the mix making us re-evaluate everything we’d learned. I was absolutely hooked on the final few chapters, I needed more, wanted answers, and never wanted the book to end all at the same time! One particular dark scene made my eyes open in horror and made me want to wrap Leah up in cotton wool, just like Leah wants to do with her own son. Would Leah’s life ever be the same again?
The further I read, the more I had the urge to keep the lights on and listen out for any strange noises and creaks within the house, and I knew Leah would have been feeling a hundred times worse than that with the things she was experiencing, even in her own home. One of my favourite scenes towards the very end of the book involved a character I had been keen to learn more about for some time, and this meeting did not disappoint! We find out some crucial information to aid the solving of the whole mystery, and things took a very different turn from what I expected. The author continued to surprise me, even when I was confident I had the plot figured out. My love for this author’s work was cemented at this stage – definitely a new favourite author of mine and I’m keen to read more from her!
This book taught me that nothing is how it seems on the surface. As the secrets unfolded, my mind was completely and utterly blown and I was continually impressed by how everything linked together. The prologue is briefly revisited which was so clever, and there was so many smaller details linked that I didn’t even catch on to as the story unfolded. No matter how much you think you’ve solved the plot in this one, believe me, you haven’t! Even though a very small amount of my theories did amount to something, they weren’t exactly how the story played out, and I loved how the author had thought up fresh new ways to surprise the reader that were so unexpected. I could cry with happiness right now! The author has made me so envious of her writing ability, but I also feel so proud and happy that this story is now out into the world.
“I smiled back and it felt like the moment lightning cracks before the thunder.”
As secrets are revealed and we get the answers we’ve been craving since the start, the author doesn’t just stop there. We hear more from some important characters, and the book is left on a note which filled my mind yet again with new questions! The book was ended in the best possible way in my opinion, with the right amount of answers and opportunities for the imagination to go wild. I feel there wouldn’t be a need for a sequel and I loved the idea of mulling over the book and thinking about the “what ifs”. This book has been truly remarkable and I wouldn’t change anything about it! The author has completely nailed this thriller and it’s perfect for fans of anything a little bit creepy or a good mystery, with the most perfectly developed characters!
This book has seriously set a new standard for the thriller genre. My god, I don’t think I’ve ever read through a thriller as quickly as I have with this one before! It’s one of those books where you want to read it through again as soon as you finish to see if you can spot the things you missed out on before! Superb, relatable characters and such a mysterious backstory make this book one of the best of its kind. As a big fan of thrillers, new books have to be something pretty special to get up in my top three, but this one has wormed its way up there effortlessly. Be prepared to unhinge your jaw with shock, fill up your heart with emotion and feel that chill you only get with such a frightening, captivating read. This book deserves a hell of a lot more than five stars – Lisa, you are the Queen of Thriller! 🙌
The BIGGEST thank you to the author, Lisa Bradley, and Quercus Books for my beautiful copy of Paper Dolls! You can purchase your own copy of the book over on Amazon, available in paperback and on Kindle. Follow the author on Twitter and Instagram for more updates!