You know the drill! Below are some ‘mini reviews’ of some of my recent reads. As I haven’t reviewed in a while, there are lots of books, so I’ll probably split the reviews across one or two posts. Let me know what you think!
Lies She Told by Cate Holahan – 5*
Lies She Told centres around the life of author Liza Cole, as she attempts to write a novel – which she hopes will be as successful as her previous bestseller – whilst simultaneously dealing with the death of her husband’s business partner, among other personal issues.
This novel follows an extremely interesting structure. The chapters alternate between Liza’s P.O.V in the real world, and the P.O.V of Beth, the main protagonist in Liza’s novel. We are, therefore, following both Liza’s actual story, alongside her fictional story. At first, the similarities between the two are small – a shared feeling or a similar setting for example – but after a while, the similarities become more pronounced, leaving us to answer the question: what is real and what is fiction?
I personally love this structure. As a writer myself, we’re forever told that elements of us, our personalities, feelings and life stories will inevitably bleed into our fiction, so not only does this structure work in terms of building tension and results in an awesome novel, it also subtly explores several interesting elements of writing, which I find very clever and engaging. As well as this, the structure offers us, in essence, two novels to read at once, both of which I found clever and full of suspense. The alternation also serves to increase tension, as you jump from one cliffhanger to the other. I always looked forward to the next chapter in both stories, and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.
Lies She Told will appeal to anyone looking for a unique and engaging thriller, or anyone searching for a novel that’s a little bit different. Must read!
All Things New by Lauren Miller – 5*
All Things New follows the story of Jessa, our protagonist, as she attempts to come to terms with the after-effects of a terrifying accident, and the physical and mental scars left behind.
Long story short, I loved this book. It’s so sensitively done, it’s hard not to, and I believe the comparisons with The Fault in Our Stars and All the Bright Places are justified. It tackles several very difficult subjects carefully and beautifully, weaving a sometimes heart-breaking yet hopeful tale that’s part love-story part coming-of-age. I’d recommend this to everyone.
Last Seen Alive by Claire Douglas – 4*
Last Seen Alive follows main protagonist Libby as she swaps her tiny flat in the city for a large, sprawling house by the beach, for what she hopes will be a relaxing get-away. As expected, things don’t go to plan – this is a thriller after all – and the holiday soon turns into a nightmare.
This is a fabulous book, which I very much enjoyed reading. Rarely do I reach the ‘twist’ of a novel without any prior ideas as to what the twist might be, but I’m happy to say this wasn’t the case here, and the twist was shocking yet still managed to maintain believability. Douglas has cleverly managed to allude to it throughout, creating tension and suspense, and laying a solid foundation for the later revelations.
Then she was Gone by Lisa Jewell – 5*
This book was incredible. Dark, twisty and sometimes horrifying, but incredible. I loved reading it and flew through it in a single day. My heart was thumping in my chest throughout and I’d absolutely recommend it to everyone – the fact that it’s so believable makes it all the more shocking.
The 100 by Kass Morgan – 3*
This book was OK and kept me interested throughout, but to be honest, I felt like it lacked something. There seemed to be an awful lot of nothingness (no real plot) and ended with a cliffhanger. I enjoyed it as a ‘listening whilst doing other stuff’ audio-book but may have stopped reading if it was a paperback. I probably won’t read the rest but I’m interested to see the TV show. * UPDATE * The TV show is incredible! I think it might even be my favourite programme…!
The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond- 2* DNF
I’m sure others would enjoy this novel as it offers all the standard things you would expect from a thriller – interesting protagonists, intriguing premise, conflict and unanswered questions. Despite this, this novel wasn’t really my cup of tea, due solely to the fact that I don’t think the intelligent protagonists would have ever opted into the pact in the first place. They seemed to ask almost no questions and didn’t think it was weird at all. I liked the writing and characterisation, but feel I would have had to suspend belief whilst reading to actually enjoy it properly. Thanks anyway to the publisher and author for the ARC!
UPDATE: Apparently this book has sold its movie rights…!
No Filter by Orlagh Collins – 5*
Emerald, our female protagonist is likeable yet somewhat troubled. She’s forever checking her social media accounts and lusting over those sometimes-elusive ‘likes’ ‘hearts’ or ‘shares’. My prior experience of novels that try to emulate the social media age is wholly negative, but this is one of the rare books that actually manages to be ‘social media savvy’ without being boring or try-hard. Both protagonists are well-rounded, and I think Collins has done a fabulous job of writing in two distinct voices (which is hard to do right!).
Overall, I’d describe this novel as a ‘modern-day Romeo and Juliet’, which I understand is a little cliche, but to be honest, that’s exactly how I’d describe this wonderful book. The plot is deep, occasionally heart-wrenching and is populated with well-thought out characters and conflict. Loved it!
Just a quick post today. As I’ve been reading a lot recently, I thought I’d write some ‘mini reviews’ of some of my recent reads. Let me know what you think!
The Honeymoon by Tina Seskis – 4.5*
As with a lot of recent novels, this book employs the ‘unreliable narrator’ trope, which I personally enjoy, but only when done right. I can happily confirm that this book is one of the ones which uses this technique successfully. As I was reading, I often felt one of the narrators (Jemma, our main protagonist) was being purposely misleading and, having read a book recently which flat-out deceives the reader (see Under Your Skin…), was worried that this book would take the same course. It doesn’t and in fact, uses the unreliability of Jemma to develop her as an interesting yet flawed 3-dimensional character. I found her character intriguing, which is good as the reader spends a lot of time ‘in her head’, despite there being several other minor narrators and a little bit of head-hopping, all of which add depth to the story.
At no point did I guess the ending (which is a feat these days..!) and when all was finally revealed at the end I felt a chill run down my spine. I can pretty much guarantee that you will have no idea as to what will happen in the end, and when you do find out, it will smack you in the face (in a good way, of course). Would recommend to anyone interested in domestic thrillers or unreliable narrators.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – 5*
Heartbreaking, eye-opening, complex and sometimes chilling. Honestly, this book left me speechless. I read it all in a day. It feels weird to say I enjoyed reading it due to the subject it covers, but I did. It kept me hooked the whole way through and I think Asher dealt with a sensitive subject in a clever and absorbing way. I would recommend this book to anyone, although trigger warning (suicide is the main theme).
He Said / She Said by Erin Kelly – 5*
Intriguing, unique and not at all predictable, He Said/She Said is part twisty thriller/part courtroom drama with a little bit of eclipse chasing sprinkled in for good measure. The characters are relatable and charming, yet flawed, and the relationships created by Kelly are intricate and believable. The main couple, protagonists Kit and Laura, are perhaps my favourite – I think Kelly manages to capture the ‘met-at-uni-been-together-since’ relationship delightfully. Although the novel explores distressing themes at times, it does so with the utmost care and sensitivity, resulting in an emotionally-charged book which raises some important questions and issues. A very clever, enjoyable and emotionally-complex read. I loved it!
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor – 3*
This book was completely different to what I expected, hence I’m finding it quite hard to review. The book is obviously amazingly written, fabulously plotted and creates a vivid and wonderful sense of place and time, but I couldn’t help but find it a little hard to follow sometimes, due to the vast amount of characters and the ‘omniscient head-hopping’. What one expects to be the main plot (the missing girl) although constantly there, is pushed to the background as the writing instead focuses on the effect this has on the village, more so than explicitly about the crime itself. This is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s a very interesting choice made by the author that ensures the books stands out, although may be a little disappointing for anyone expecting a ‘crime thriller’. Overall, this book is written wonderfully but sadly will not appeal to everyone due to its unique narrative style.
Boundary by Andree A Michaud – 5*
A beautifully written and suspenseful literary work of which I enjoyed every page. Murder, mystery and folklore weave with vivid imagery and expertly created characters in this hauntingly memorable exploration of adolescence, sexuality and community. A time consuming yet massively rewarding read.
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy – 3*
Do Not Become Alarmed is a book unlike any I’ve ever read before, in a number of different ways. The narrative style is unique – as opposed to having one main character which the book follows throughout, this novel utilises a ‘head-hopping’ style of narration. Although not my favourite style, it works for this book, as it effectively allows us to experience the novel’s events from the POV of several of the characters. Although this sounds confusing at first, it’s not, as the characters are well-developed, believable and distinctive, and each bring something new to the story. It’s an impressive feat to manage to successfully write in this style, as I have read many books with multiple narrators that don’t work. That said, I think the novel would have been just as interesting (and perhaps easier to connect with) if it was written from the perspective of two of the protagonists, perhaps one adult and one child. This however, is just a personal preference of mine.
The writing is descriptive and vivid, the storyline is captivating and Meloy’s writing style is competent and enjoyable, although may take a little time to get used to at first. Although I would recommend this book to others, I would warn prospective readers to leave any expectations at the first page – to fully appreciate this book, one needs to read and enjoy it for what it actually is, as opposed to what they might expect it to be.
Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant – 3*
I loved this book right up until the last chapter. The writing was awesome, the narrator was engaging and I was hooked. That was, up until the reveal. WTF is up with the ending? No spoilers, but it was such a disappointment. The rest of the novel had been building up to the climax, so why did I feel that the climax and the ‘answer’ to all of my questions came out of nowhere and were added purely for shock value? I’ve noticed this with Durrant’s other book, Lie With Me, in which she did exactly the same thing – chose the most shocking ending and ran with it, despite its unbelievability.
It’s such a shame because I love her writing style, her creation of engaging characters and her ability to insert humour into her books. I was excited to spend my next Audible credit on one of her other books, but I won’t be doing that now 😦
The Ridge by John Rector – 5*
Part Linwood Barclay, part Hemlock grove, this is hands-down one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. As cliche as it sounds, I read it in only a couple of hours and not once did I guess the ending or any of the twists, although expertly weaved flashbacks and carefully placed clues ensured that the eventual conclusion and reveal was satisfying and adrenaline inducing.
The writing is detailed enough to build a strong sense of place, but not too much so that the plot is bogged down by description, and the twist is one of the best I’ve ever read. Rector expertly creates a world which, on the surface seems idyllic, but it’s not long until the cracks begin to show, leaving the reader with spine chills and goosebumps aplenty.
I would 100% recommend this title and will be actively seeking other titles by Rector. Everyone should read this novel!
The Last Girl by Joe Hart – 4*
I would describe this book as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale meets Scott Westerfield’s Uglies. Surprisingly enough, it works! I particularly enjoyed Hart’s third-person present narration – his ability to conjure up an almost tangible image using simple yet well-chosen words is a rare skill, which deserves applause.
One slight gripe I do have is that the middle of the novel dragged a little too much for my liking. The fast pace which I had grown accustomed to petered out and became almost painfully slow – I found myself skipping pages of description in several instances, hence why I have awarded 4 stars not 5.
It’s all too easy to leave too many unanswered questions in a series, but I’m happy to report that this was not the case with The Last Girl and I was sufficiently happy with the ending of the novel.
I would recommend this title and will hopefully get around to reading the rest in the series.
The House by Simon Lelic – 5*
Part murder-mystery, part domestic thriller, The House is a purely unique thrill ride, of which I enjoyed every page. Written in a conversational style, this novel’s structure and narrative voice is fresh and new – the chapters alternate between our two unreliable narrators and protagonists, Jack and Syd, as they try to figure out what on earth is happening in their new house. The style is evocative of a kind of ‘journalistic conversation’ between the two, a style unlike anything I’ve experienced before and it works well, effectively portraying the vague sense of unease at the beginning of the novel, the paranoia and violence in the middle, and finally through to the explosive climax of which you won’t see coming. As tense as it is clever, The House is a wonderfully-crafted, clever and heart-wrenching novel, which will leave your heart racing.
A quote from this review attributed to me can be found in the paperback version of this book!
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You (now a major motion picture) comes the touching, unforgettable story of three generations of Irish women faced with the fundamental truths of love, duty, and the unbreakable bond that unites mothers and daughters
Estranged from her mother since she ran away from her rural Irish home as a young woman, Kate swore an oath that she’d always be a friend to her daughter, Sabine. But history has a way of repeating itself, and Kate now faces an ever-widening chasm between herself and her daughter. With Sabine about to make her own journey to Ireland to see her grandmother, Kate is left wondering how they ever made it here, and what she can do to close the gap between them.
For Joy, seeing her granddaughter is a dream come true. After the painful separation from Kate, she’s looking forward to having time with Sabine. Yet almost as soon as the young woman arrives, the lack of common ground between them deflates her enthusiasm. And when Sabine’s impetuous, inquisitive nature forces Joy to face long-buried secrets from her past, she realizes that perhaps it’s time to finally heal old wounds.
Description and blurb taken from Goodreads
JoJo Moyes’ debut novel Sheltering Rain has shown me that you can write a fabulous, well-crafted first novel, but you may still have to wait another ten years before acquiring the type of world-wide fame brought by a best-seller like Me Before You. It has become apparent to me that, although her debut book was great, writing well consistently and over a number of years is often the commitment an author must make in order to achieve world-wide domination in the industry. As the saying goes:
Practice makes perfect.
I came across the book purely by chance. My grandma Sheila had been given the book by a friend, and because she was reading my copy of After You, she knew I was a fan of Moyes. I was excited by the book because I wanted to see how Moyes’ first novel compared to her recent best-sellers. I have read her second novel Forbidden Fruit which I really enjoyed (I really should have written a review for that one…) so I felt optimistic that Sheltering Rain would also not disappoint. I was right.
This book has been added to my list of favourite recent reads, and books that serve to truly inspire me. I thoroughly enjoyed it, believed the characters and was hooked from the first page to the last. If I can write a first novel as good as Moyes (miracles happen, right?) then I will be over the moon.
The characters are well developed, with backstory, intricate relationships, different personalities, flaws and goals all of their own. There are a lot of characters, and I am impressed with Moyes’ ability to manage them all, without getting herself or the reader lost along the way.
In just about any ‘how to’ on the topic of fiction writing, creating backstory for characters almost always comes with a warning. You do not want to write so much that it detracts from the story, however, the characters need to be believable as having a complex past that has shaped them, and the story. Finding the balance is a key element in writing a successful novel, and I think Moyes’ has done an excellent job of doing just that. The back story in Sheltering Rain exists because it adds to the story – it builds the characters to be who they are, as well as building the narrative tension. I wanted to know more about the secrets Moyes’ hinted at throughout, and I wanted to know why the characters behaved as they did. Moyes revealed it all in good time, which I felt added to – rather than subtracted from – the story.
Narrative point of view
What I think Moyes did really well with this book is her use of three different points of view. The story is told from the perspective of three women, from three different generations of the same family.
Usually, I struggle with head-hopping narratives, as I don’t like to be jerked from one mind to another and I sometimes find it hard to follow. However, Moyes handled it well – each character had a clear and distinct narrative voice and no head-hopping occurred within chapters.
Ultimately, Moyes’ POV choice helped to explore a meaningful and engaging premise – that it is easy to assume how other people are feeling and why they act in a certain way, but unless you walk in their shoes, you couldn’t possibly know. Personally, I enjoy stories that I feel I can learn from, and Sheltering Rain is a story that I feel helped me to engage with and understand aspects of my own life that exist way past the pages of the novel. It was intriguing to see how each narrator perceived the other two woman’s actions, and their assumed motives behind them. I liked to be able to compare the perceived motives with the actual motives, because there was often a great amount of misunderstanding between all three women, resulting in plenty of conflict (and we all know how important conflict is in writing!).
In terms of writing style, I was very much at ease when reading this book. It didn’t seem too much like hard work, and although there was not pages and pages of description getting in the way, I felt there was enough for me to immerse myself in the story. If I were to compare it to her more recent books, I would say that Sheltering Rain has a bit more of an elaborate/ornate style than Me Before You, although both styles worked for me.
I would assume that over time, and with plenty of practice and editing, Moyes has managed to hone the skill of giving vivid description in a succinct, subtle and unobtrusive way. This is a skill that I’d like to develop in my own writing, and one that I know will only come with practice.
Taking a critical view
Being a designer, I can’t pick up a book without judging the cover, and although I am careful not to let the cover dictate too me whether or not I buy the book, a good cover certainly helps to catch attention. After all, the first step in selling a book is to get readers to notice that it actually exists. We have written more about the importance of cover design here.
The cover for Sheltering Rain was nice, although personally, I feel it was not eye-catching in the slightest. It employs the typical flat illustration style often seen on Romantic Fiction novel covers, and the rather cliche silhouette of a woman. I understand that to some degree it is important that a novel looks clearly as if it sits within a genre, but perhaps even more importantly, is that it should stand out amongst its competition. If I had not been handed the book and had not been expressly told it was written by JoJo Moyes, I would probably not have even noticed it if it were on a shelf surrounded by hundreds of others. To conclude, my verdict is that it is an average cover for a higher than average book. Lesson being (here comes another saying!!):
Don’t judge a book by its cover. Much.
I would recommend this book to friends, and it has been one of my favourite recent reads. It was a strong story, full of emotion, passion and intrigue. It has also spiked my interest to hunt out more debut novels by best-selling authors, as I find it fascinating to see where they started compared to where they are now.
Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2015
“Two women; two different worlds.
Emma is a struggling mother who has put everything on hold.
Nina is sophisticated and independent – entirely in control.
When the pair meet, Nina generously draws Emma into her life. But this isn’t the first time the women’s paths have crossed. Nina remembers Emma and she remembers what Emma did . . .
But what exactly does Nina want from her?
And how far will she go in pursuit of it?”
Although I bought Her at a recent book sale, I first saw it advertised on the tube on my way to work. I was instantly attracted to the intriguing tagline: “You don’t remember her, but she remembers you.”
It is pegged as a thriller – my current favourite genre, so when I saw it at the sale, I picked it up immediately and bought it without even reading the blurb; rebellious, I know!
The design of the book is awesome, but sadly, the ‘highlighter yellow” doesn’t photograph well. I did my best though…
The tagline is metallic, hence you can’t see it very well in the photo, but it looks great in real-life. The inside cover is as cool as the outside, with reversed out quotes on the left and the publisher logo printed on the right.
The book is written in stunning first-person present, which results in a fast-paced, immediate and wholly absorbing narrative. Set in modern London, the novel focuses on ‘frenemies’ Nina and Emma, two middle-class women whose lives are soon entwined, no thanks to Nina and her relentless lust for revenge. Lane’s writing evokes perfectly the bourgeois lifestyle, complete with snobbery, and the often-destructive need to keep up appearances.
The novel is narrated by both Nina and Emma, in alternate chapters. Often, Emma will narrate a scene, and immediately after, Nina will narrate the same scene but from her P.O.V. One would be wrong to assume that this re-telling gets repetitive and boring; quite the opposite is true. It is interesting to see the contrast between how the two girls feel toward one another and how they feel about certain events. It also offered a chilling insight into Nina’s mind. By structuring the novel this way, Lane manages to portray Emma’s ignorance toward Nina’s true motives, resulting in steadily rising tension, as she is dragged further and further into Nina’s web of deception.
Although Lane’s style is quite wordy, the words are well chosen, and the description is vivid. She manages to evoke perfectly, not just setting and character, but also the superficial, poisonous society in which the women live. When I first began reading the book, in one of the earlier chapters, Emma lists off lots of (rather fancy sounding) names. At first, this annoyed me – I was never going to be able to remember all of these names, let alone keep up with what was going on in these character’s lives. BUT I soon realised that Lane had cleverly used this to further emphasise Emma’s hectic, and often shallow lifestyle.
Lane does an amazing job at creating tension throughout – often, I couldn’t put the book down as I was desperate to find out the awful thing that Emma had done. The one (very tiny) criticism I had when I initially finished the book is that this ‘awful’ thing, the one that had inspired Nina’s eventual retribution, seemed very minor, and not very awful at all. I didn’t understand why Nina hated her so much, and I definitely didn’t think it warranted Nina’s horrific final act of revenge. Despite this, the more I think about it, the more I realise that maybe Nina wasn’t as mentally stable as I first believed. Perhaps Emma’s actions had affected her more than I initially thought. This is the only way I can justify her overreaction to Emma’s wrongdoing.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Her. I loved Lane’s writing style, the book was fast-paced, absorbing and un-put-down-able. I would very much recommend this novel and look forward to reading more of Harriet Lane’s work!
Has anyone else read this book? Let me know what you think!
Hodder & Stoughton 2015
“Four days into a five day singles cruise on the Gulf of Mexico, the ageing ship Beautiful Dreamer stops dead in the water. With no electricity and no cellular signals, the passengers and crew have no way to call for help. But everyone is certain that rescue teams will come looking for them soon. All they have to do is wait. That is, until the toilets stop working and the food begins to run out. When the body of a woman is discovered in her cabin the passengers start to panic. There’s a murderer on board the Beautiful Dreamer… and maybe something worse.”
When I stumbled across this novel at a book sale recently, the overall design of the book (my copy has fancy purple-edged paper, an attractive design, and a matte finish cover), along with a quick read of the blurb convinced me to add Day Four to my (already heaving) shopping bag. Although the above synopsis suggests that it is a murder mystery novel, one would be wrong to classify it as such – the murder mentioned is only one small element of this paranormal thriller.
Second image sourced from http://carabas.co.uk/tag/monthly-book-recommends/
Only after I bought the novel, did I realise that it was the sequel to Lotz’s previous book, The Three. Although it is marketed as a ‘stand alone’ story, (reviews suggest that the links between the two are loose), I debated long and hard as to whether or not I should buy and read the latter first. The decision to dive straight into Day Four was made mainly because the blurb intrigued me so, but also because I wanted to figure out whether or not it was worth spending more money on an author that I had no previous experience of reading.
The book is mainly written in third-person, which happens to be my least favourite tense. Despite this, Lotz’s writing style is enjoyable – she writes simply, and her use of description is vivid yet sparing, with no unnecessary words or extended descriptions. Lotz sets the scene well and I found it easy to imagine the cheap and cheerful Beautiful Dreamer. Unlike a lot of novels, the pacing was perfect – the sense of despair aboard the ship increases gradually as life on-board begins to get more and more unbearable.
Although I enjoyed the overall narrative of Day Four, Lotz’s use of characters disappointed me somewhat. Instead of having one or two main characters, the novel had several, all of which took it in turns in being the view-point character. Each protagonist had several chapters dedicated to them throughout the novel, which made it hard to follow what was going on. Just as soon as you got into one character’s storyline, the chapter ended and another began, along with either a new character storyline or a continuation of one which had happened several chapters back. Thankfully, each character has a nickname which appears at the beginning of the chapter (‘the Devils Handmaiden’ for example) which helped in navigating the chapters, and also added another level of characterisation.
Because of the extensive character-hopping, I found it hard to become attached – I didn’t find myself ‘rooting’ for anyone in particular. Although each of the characters seemed ‘fleshed out’, their development and backgrounds appeared to offer no real depth to the plot. I believe the novel would have been equally as entertaining, if not more so, if it had focused on only one main character.
Day Four is my first experience of reading a supernatural thriller so I was excited to see how Lotz would interweave supernatural into the novel. Overall I was a little disappointed – although the sporadic paranormal events were creepy there was very little build up to them. I had read some reviews where reviewers had described the book as ‘terrifying’ so was really expecting to be scared out of my wits! This didn’t stop me from enjoying the book as a whole though.
The twist and the ending had promise but were not as chilling as they could have been. I was left feeling a little confused as to what had actually happened. This could well have been intentional – the ending is perhaps meant to be ambiguous and echoes the confusion aboard the boat.
Although some of the elements of the novel were a little disappointing, I really enjoyed reading Day Four, so for that reason alone, I would recommend it. I looked forward to reading it, and it had me hooked right up until the end. I also enjoyed Lots’z overall style, and have read some rave reviews about her other book The Three, so will be purchasing and reading that in the near future!
Has anyone else read this book? Do you agree or disagree with my comments? Comment below!