Manipulated Lives – Book Review

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Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Five fictional, compelling true-to-life stories about how people can be manipulated by others, yet eventually find the strength to move on.

Leuschel has done it again with another powerful book, filled with five very different stories with one very common theme. Manipulators are everywhere and having being a victim of one in the past, I just wish I’d read this book years ago! The author has captured every feeling and every experience so perfectly in these stories and I’m still in awe of just how much this book has stuck with me. I’m so happy to be opening the tour for Manipulated Lives – make sure you check out the reviews and posts from all these other brilliant bloggers over the next 10 days!

Five stories – Five Lives. Five fictional, compelling true-to-life stories about how people can be manipulated by others, yet eventually find the strength to move on.

Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.

In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual.

All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth yet ultimately, also send a positive message that once you understand a manipulator’s moves, you can break free from them and let go of the past.

Tess and Tattoos

The opening to the first short story in this book was filled with beautiful description, so beautiful in fact that if I hadn’t read the blurb, I would have thought the whole thing was filled with warmth and happiness. However, the key thing I took away from this story is that not everything is as it seems on the surface, which is unfortunately too true when it comes to manipulative relationships. In this story, Tess seemed such a clever and likeable character, who secretly doesn’t want to be alone. It’s rare she sees anyone during the day, and when her new found friend and nurse, Sandra, leaves after her morning check up, Tess feels at such a loss. Sandra was kindhearted and lit up a room, and I loved how the story shifted to focus on both of these characters. We really get a good idea about each of them, share their thoughts and understand what they’re both like as individual people. They were more alike than we initially thought.

“I can tell when someone is pretending to be nice and when someone is genuinely kind. If you are observant, you can see it all in their eyes.”

It was emotional reading some of Tess’ thoughts about her past, coping with a manipulator and hearing exactly how this experience left her with both physical and mental scars. I remember this raw, real description being one of the author’s many strong points in the last book I read by her. Her words are gripping and pull you in, but at the same time, they break your heart a little. Her talent is just obvious with each sentence you read! Tess finds the courage to confide in Sandra, and their relationship becomes such a beautiful one. Speaking about her past can’t have been easy, and it just goes to show what can go on behind closed doors, something Tess has managed to keep hidden away until now. Certain aspects of this story will hit home for many people, but it has been written delicately, yet powerfully. A fantastic story to start the collection with an unexpected ending, and I was struggling to think of how the author could top this!

The Spell

This story was absolutely brilliant and is one of those that really makes you think. We follow the story of Sophie who gets involved with a new man – he has a son she comes to love as much as her own, but the good parts of this relationship are soon flecked with the odd worry. There were certain qualities to David that could have be mistaken for manipulative qualities at the start, and for a while, I had different thoughts about who the manipulative one in this situation would be. However, the story builds deep layers, and David’s actions could only be described as the result of a high stress job, being a full time father, and a past which is enough to affect anyone so seriously. The mental strain from his previous partner became difficult to speak about, but knowing Sophie was eventually someone he could trust was a really nice addition to this story. The author has involved the reader in every part of this one, and the issues involved were explored in great detail.

“It was like a spell had been lifted from my eyes, revealing the landscape around me in new, more realistic colours.”

The story takes a darker turn as we learn more about little Leo’s mother. The author perfectly portrays how ignorance to what is right in front of you can have a profound effect on other aspects of someone’s life. It’s quite scary, but it does happen, and I’m so thankful the author explores this in such a real and relatable way. The way every detail was approached in this story and with just how deep it became, I thought this story would have made the best full-length novel out of all the shorter stories in this book. Sophie goes through some things no one should ever have to put up with by the end of the story and we see a different side to some characters that we didn’t expect. Again, the author has written this story in a way that captures every emotion possible to make it absolutely impossible to forget, with characters so brilliant I had to take a break before I moved onto the next part of the book! A strong story with a very powerful message.

Runaway Girl

It was Holly’s dream to get out of London as soon as possible; she’d saved up a large amount of money and planned to venture out to Scotland in search of a new life away from her recovering addict of a mother, a father who never seemed to be home and those annoying younger siblings she had. She was ambitious and strong, a wonderful character to follow in this next story, and this especially shone through when her friend was in a bit of a predicament. The author had easily changed the tone and feel of this story to match the age and persona of the main character here which I found really satisfying. With the realisation Holly left her hard earned cash in plain sight, it seems it didn’t take long for her mother to find it and use it to her own advantage, forcing her daughter to believe all would be used for good. I found myself wondering what sort of a mother would steal from their daughter. In a way, it felt as though the pair had swapped roles.

“‘Please,’ she pleaded, ‘Trust me, I’ll make sure you see every single penny again’, and then Holly’s knees went weak with exhaustion and she slumped down on the sofa, shrugging, giving in.”

My belief of Holly’s mother being the manipulator in this scenario didn’t last long as Holly is involved with a boy for the first time. He’s the complete opposite of her; popular, confident and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He enjoys giving orders and conveniently forgets to pay for her drink when he invites her out one day. The fact that he doesn’t want anyone to know about their relationship set those alarm bells ringing in my head. This was not someone she needed to be associated with. It was sad seeing Holly get sucked into Luke’s manipulative ways, which only gets more and more intense. It takes a while for her see what this guy is doing, but the way this story played out was so very effective – the author has done an amazing job of showing the true effects of a manipulator on someone so young, and this story also gives us many life lessons along the way. Another one of my favourites in the collection (can I say that about them all?!)

The Narcissist

I loved this story, especially how this time, we aren’t following a story of someone who is a victim of a manipulator, but rather one of the manipulator himself. He’s a father, who seems to have lost everything he ever had because of his narcissistic personality, and already, the author dives in with emotion, almost making us feel sorry for this man at first. It isn’t until we really get into this story that we understand just what impact his actions had on his family, those who loved him the most. He doesn’t remember much of what happened or what he did to them and many others, and it seems a lot of the things we learn, he is learning about himself too. I liked how we’re taken from what seems to be this character’s hospital bed, to memories in the past, seeing exactly how he conned others and led them on for his own personal gain. The author has pulled out all the stops to make this story a completely different experience to what we’ve read so far in the other stories. It’s been brilliantly written!

First encounters shape the impression we have of a person and can have an impact on how we predict and interpret them, I remember reading somewhere, a long time ago.”

This story was explored in great depth and it was shocking to hear what went through this character’s mind day in, day out. We are taken through various memories as well as flick back to the present day as he speaks with his psychiatrist, and the balance of these time frames was very effective. I also really loved how we switch perspectives in this story from The Narcissist to The Visitor which explores different points of view so well. We learn shocking truths about the narcissistic character in this scenario, and things get much darker than I expected. However, the whole story worked well and I found it to be a really gripping few pages. At the end of the story, we see the perspective of the daughter which was interesting and emotional to read. Again, this story was very powerful and succeeded in forcing the reader to think about the qualities of a manipulative person, and exactly what they can be capable of.

My Perfect Child

Lisa wanted her newborn baby to have everything she didn’t have as a child. She wanted herself and her husband to be the most perfect parents to her bundle of joy, and I enjoyed how we compare the life she had planned for them with the life she had with her own parents. However, it isn’t long before this seemingly perfect child grew up to be far from that, and those manipulative habits of Lucas are revisited from Lisa’s point of view. I couldn’t begin to imagine how it must feel to have your son hit you and speak down to you in the way Lucas did, and it was upsetting seeing this manipulation from both Lucas and Lisa’s point of view. The depth of this one is, once again, perfect and succeeds in making a reader really feel everything that is being described. We see exactly what Lisa goes through to try and make things right, as well as Lucas’ attempts to rebel. The balance between these was really well written.

“I’m startled out of my recollection by the thought that maybe my relentless need for orderliness was a way to hide the chaos that lay beneath. I must have thought that looking prim and proper would convey the idea of a woman in control of her life.”

We go through Lisa’s life and witness exactly the sort of person Lucas turns into, from a toddler, to well into adulthood. There were no boundaries for him growing up, leaving him free to act how he pleased and get what he wanted – far from the perfect child we were expecting. By the end of this story, we see exactly how Lucas ends up and just how Lisa just isn’t bothered about helping him anymore after everything he put her through. This story did hit me hard, and I thought it was sad exploring how much Lisa wanted this child, and seeing exactly how thing ended up. It felt so real and I felt like I needed to give Lisa the biggest hug. The manipulative theme in this story was probably some of the strongest in the whole book in my opinion, and it was a shame Lisa’s family life had turn out how it did. Sad, but so so well written and memorable!

Overall thoughts

If I was to choose any author to write fiction about a range of manipulators and their effects on others, I’d choose Helene any day of the week. This author has taken her knowledge of psychology and social/emotional wellbeing, and combined it with her unique way of story-telling, creating an unforgettable short story collection. Each story has lessons to be learned, traits to look out for in a manipulative person and has a way of capturing the readers interest and grabbing their emotions. The lessons in these stories are enough to make people more aware of manipulative behaviour as well as being incredibly gripping novellas. Such a brilliant collection, but then again, I wouldn’t expect anything less – this author always seems to know how to impress me! A brilliant, thought-provoking read.

A huge thanks to the author, H.A. Leuschel, and Emma at Damp Pebbles for my copy of the book and place on the blog tour! You can purchase your own copy of Manipulated Lives on Amazon, available on Kindle and in paperback. Make sure you’re following the author over on Twitter and Instagram for more updates!

Looking for book reviews?

If you’re in need of reviews for your own book, do get in touch to get on my submissions list! All the information you need is on my book reviews page.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. damppebbles says:

    Thanks so much, E xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Em says:

      You’re welcome 😊❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much Emily – I’m so touched by your thoughtful review! xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Em says:

      My pleasure, I’m so glad you like it! 😊 xx

      Liked by 1 person

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