Pretty Is – Maggie Mitchell [REVIEW]

So, as you may have noticed, I haven’t been around a whole lot for the last year. Mostly this is down to laziness (& being busy with other things, sorry!), so you’ll have to excuse me for suddenly reappearing. As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been writing and editing away, and in October I started working for Waterstones. I LOVE IT.

So while I haven’t been reviewing, I have certainly still been reading. And buying too many books (far, far too many). But this week, I finished a book that just made me stop. I had to review it. I got the proof of this book through work, and before that I’d been trying to get my hands on it for a while. Even the blurb had me entranced.

Yes, this book is so good it has prompted me to revive the blog. IT’S THAT GOOD. Guys, I can’t even stop thinking/talking/obsessing about this book. Why? Well, let me tell you.

Pretty Is coverTitle: Pretty Is

Author: Maggie Mitchell

Paperback: 320 pages

Publisher: Orion

Language: English

ISBN-13: 978-1409152682

Info:

Lois and Carly-May were just twelve when they were abducted by a stranger and imprisoned in a cabin in the woods for two months.

That summer, under the watchful gaze of their kidnapper, they formed a bond that would never be broken.

Decades later, both women have new lives and identities. But the events of that summer are about to come back with a vengeance.

Lois and Carly-May must face the truth about their secret, shared past…

What really happened in the woods that summer?


Pretty Is is one of those rare books that captivates you from the start. From the first line I knew I was sold, and that my excitement about the book had been for good reason. It’s a haunting, powerful debut psychological thriller by an author I will watch with interest. This novel is about being haunted by the past, about friendship and hated and fear, and love. It’s beautifully written, carefully crafted, and generally just epic.

What I liked:

1. The prose

Mitchell’s prose is, in my opinion, absolutely flawless. The novel features beautiful description, managing to create a precise image of the cabin in the woods with what seems like such litle effort. I could picture in my head the characters, the setting, the heat of the summer… It was visceral, and beautiful, and yet realistic.

Mitchell’s imagery is stunning, too. This is the sort of novel where I often sat, enraptured, for good long minutes, mulling over just a few paragraphs. I don’t really know what it is, what exactly makes this writing good, but I know it is. It’s like the words sit on your tongue, you can almost taste them, and you have ultimate faith in the author to convey what it is they want to say.

Perhaps one of my favourite things about this novel is something that I often shun in other novels. The metaphor we are presented with, the idea at the core of the novel that Lois and Carly May are the earth and the moon revolving around some sun that no longer exists… It’s perfect. Beautifully executed, understandable without being heavy-handed. And not just a metaphor for the sake of a metaphor. It’s novels like this, when the writing just makes it, that I love infinitely.

2. The characters/their voices

This novel is pretty much entirely character-driven (I don’t really like that phrase, but it does the trick) and as such we need a strong protagonist. Well, Mitchell gives us two. Lois and Carly May are both so different, and yet they share certain elements in their personalities which compliment the narrative. Lois describes how the girls became alike that summer when they were 12, how they spent so much time together in such strange circumstances that they almost became one person – and years later both women struggle with this, with the boundaries of their own selves, and with their different reinventions of themselves. Mitchell captures this complicated sense of identity perfectly, and their character voices are so distinct I could have basically identified them from a few words alone. It’s amazing – definitely a lesson in characterisation and voice, my writerly friends!

The way the novel is narrated almost gives us this rose-tinted glimpse at an event that was at its heart a very traumatic experience. And because we get this duel narrative, and the way the story is told, we as readers have to bring our own experiences to the novel as well. This novel has serious layers. When they are abducted, both girls are aware of what normally happens to children like them – and yet they don’t seem afraid. Or not as afraid as they should. We get the impression that they are almost afraid to be afraid, and then later that they have come to see the experience as a kind of gift. After all, Zed chose them.

So the reader brings their own fears/nerves/disgust etc to the story, giving it another layer beyond what has actually been writen. We bring ourselves to the novel, our expectations of the story, just as Lois and Carly May had their own expectations that summer. And this novel just destroys these expectations, leaving a raw, haunting narrative behind.

3. The method of telling the story

This is really very clever. Adult Lois is a writer, and part of Pretty Is is taken from her novel about her experiences in the cabin with Zed and Carly May. The fun thing is that we are made very aware of the fact that Lois’ novel is just that – a novel. A fiction. She says that she draws from her memories of that summer, but we know that some of it is fiction. And Lois – Mitchell – never tells us which parts are true and which are not.

So not only do we have two somewhat unreliable narrators when we see into their POVs, but a LOT of our impressions of the girls and their abductor are drawn from this fictionalised account of that summer. What is true? What is false? This just adds to the psychological twisting we get here, never really knowing what to believe. It’s so clever, I’m only mad I didn’t think of it! Very cool.

4. The story

This novel does not have a lot of plot. It’s not what I’d describe as an action-packed thriller at all, but that’s precisely what I loved about it. There is enough story/plot to carry it, with enough threat in the modern day that there’s a driving force behind the characters’ actions. But beyond that, the unconventional nature of their abduction is what drives the characters forward, this burning need to understand what happened and why it happened to them. Lois and Carly May are so caught up in what wasn’t, what didn’t happen that what actually happened instead haunts them, torments them, and consequently informs their lives as adults. They couldn’t just get on with their lives.

You almost get the sense that if what had happened to them had been what they were expecting, even if that was terrible, then the characters might have been able to move past it. But they couldn’t. And this is so powerful. Instead of being a story about “Here is a character who is tormented by their abuse/abduction/trauma but uses it to their advantage when something bad happens later”, this is a novel that explores the fine line between love and hate, and the confusion caused by it all. It is a story about synergy, and loss of innocence.

What I didn’t like:

Literally nothing. This book took me two weeks to read purely because I didn’t want to finish it. I tried to read as little as possible, stretch it out. I would have loved for it to be 1,000 pages long if the same story could have been told in such a way. Of course it couldn’t, but this book was so close to perfect I can’t even explain it. I want to turn back to the beginning and start all over again – but I won’t because I’m going to be lending my copy to as many people as possible in the next few weeks. I NEED SOMEBODY TO TALK TO ABOUT THIS GENIUS.

Basically, this review is a babbling mess because I just have so many thoughts about this novel. Somebody please read it??? I literally cannot understand how this book doesn’t just have 4/5 star reviews. (Maybe it’s just that I love stories that don’t answer all the questions they ask – and I think the main thing here is I LOVE books with unreliable characters because you can read a lot into them, which some people don’t always do like I do? Who knows…)

Rating:

328e5-rating

(As if you had to guess)

The Ice Twins – S. K. Tremayne [REVIEW]

I didn’t get around to posting this review last week because things got very hectic, but rest assured I’m still here! I could probably review this book in five words: I wish I’d written it. Simple as, really! But I suppose I’d better go into a bit more detail, hadn’t I?

ice twinsTitle: The Ice Twins

Author: S. K. Tremayne

Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher: HarperCollins (29 Jan. 2015)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0007563035

ISBN-13: 978-0007563036

Info:

One of Sarah’s daughters died. But can she be sure which one? A terrifying psychological thriller perfect for fans of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN.

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.

But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity – that she, in fact, is Lydia – their world comes crashing down once again.

As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past – what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?


This is a taut, delicious, psychological thriller that explores the impact that grief, and fear, can have on the average person. This novel is about relationships, about family, about the past and the future converging. And, you know, twins.

What I liked:

1. Twins

I’ve always been fascinated by twins, especially identical twins. And the idea that even the parents might not be able to tell their own children apart? A chilling idea in itself. And the very twin-ness of the book is what makes it so creepy – mirrors and reflections in dark windows, a little girl who is so connected with her dead sister that even she doesn’t know who she is. This book has CREEPY in spades. Tremayne has done a fabulous job of creating this dual-ness, right down to one parent favouring one twin and the second parent the other, creating this dynamic of paranoia, of favouritism, of a sort of danger that is around every corner when emotions are toyed with.

Angus and Sarah can’t tell their daughters apart, and so when one of them dies, how do you move on from that? This is the basic question, and one the novel does deal with. But the fall-out from that is more complex, and the novel also explores why everything has happened and has you on the edge of your seat while doing it.

2. Remote location

The setting in this book is chilling. Isolation is the perfect addition to the creepiness of twins – and you put a family on a remote island, cut off from the world by a dangerous rolling tide, after suffering a great loss, and this novel is what you get. Dark, confused, delicious… The fictional island off the Scottish coast is brooding, the weather tempestuous, providing a perfect backdrop for such a spooky story.

3. Narration

The novel is narrated by the two Moorcroft parents, Sarah and Angus – Sarah in first person and Angus in third. The narration, in my opinion, is virtually flawless. The characters are well-developed, their voices distinct enough that one can easily tell them apart, but not too distinct – for spoilerific reasons. I won’t go into it too much, but the very ending of the novel was the thing that threw me the most, and I did not see it coming. Not one bit. Fantastic! Usually I can’t say that, so that’s awesome in my book.

4. EVERYTHING.

Okay, yeah, this is one of those novels. I could gush and gush about everything I liked, but finding something else to say? Not so easy. Oops. All I can say is that I read this book in less than two sittings, didn’t sleep and didn’t eat until I was done. I devoured it.

And the hardback is only £5 on Amazon right now, so you should go and buy it so we can talk about it. Please?

Rating:

328e5-rating

The Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths [REVIEW]

I’m only going to write a shortish review this week, because my head is reeling from a bit of a rollercoaster time and honestly I can’t get my words out! But here’s a book I’ve enjoyed recently. Bonus: It’s the first in a series so you can read it without worrying about that!

crossingTitle: The Crossing Places

Author: Elly Griffiths

Paperback: 288 pages

Publisher: Quercus (6 Aug. 2009)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1847249582

ISBN-13: 978-1847249586

Info:

A child’s bones are discovered near the site of a pre-historic henge on the north Norfolk coast, and the police ask local forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway to date them. Are these the remains of a local girl who disappeared ten years ago?

DCI Harry Nelson refuses to give up the hunt for this missing child. Ever since she vanished, someone has been sending him bizarre anonymous notes about ritual sacrifice, quoting Shakespeare and the Bible. He knows Ruth’s instincts and experience can help him finally put this case to rest.

Then a second child goes missing, and Ruth finds herself in danger from a killer who knows she’s getting ever closer to the truth…


Although I had my reservations about Ruth as a character when I started reading the novel, one thing that won me over with this book was setting. And, actually, the atmosphere that just seeps out of it. And, to be fair, the plot. So, actually, pretty much everything else. I don’t always love present tense, but the manner in which Elly Griffiths writes is such that her setting – the desolate Norfolk coast, haunting and haunted – truly comes alive.

Things I liked:

1. Setting

I love books where setting plays a key role, and it’s something I do often try to achieve with my own writing. Griffiths has created an atmosphere that is at once spooky and captivating. I want to go there exactly as much as I want to avoid getting stuck on those mud flats at high tide, which leaves me with an interesting attitude towards the book as a whole. I devoured it. And it makes me want to go back to Norfolk.

2. The plot.

I have a thing where I’m reading a lot of books about missing children right now (also fuelled by my own writing), and that’s partially why I read Griffiths’ novel. I think that if you get the balance right, having a missing child can be such a haunting plot device. One that keeps you thinking about the novel long after it’s over. Needless to say, Elly Griffiths did her job, and I’m still freaked out by the ending.

Things I didn’t like (at first)

1. Ruth

That’s horrible. I didn’t dislike her, I just wasn’t sure that I could stick with her for a whole book. But my love for the setting and the deftness of the unravelling plot made it much easier for me to forget any caution I had about Ruth and, you know what, I think I’ve grown to – well, if not LIKE her, then I respect her.

And I’ll be reading the next Ruth Galloway book. So I think Griffiths has done her job. And you should give this a read and then tell me how I can give my novel as much atmosphere as this one.

Rating:

66775-4star

Little Face – Sophie Hannah [REVIEW]

I bought this book back in March after having Sophie Hannah recommended to me by Claire McGowan. I love psychological thrillers and domestic noir, and I’ve been trying to read more of it lately. I had quite high expectations for this novel – considering how often I’d seen Sophie Hannah’s name floating around – and I wasn’t disappointed! I read the whole thing in only a couple of days and spent a lot of the time I wasn’t reading thinking about it. Fabulous.

lfTitle: Little Face

Author: Sophie Hannah

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks; New Ed edition (24 Aug. 2006)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0340840323

ISBN-13: 978-0340840320

Info:

She’s only been gone two hours.

Her husband David was meant to be looking after their two-week-old daughter. But when Alice Fancourt walks into the nursery, her terrifying ordeal begins, for Alice insists the baby in the cot is a stranger she’s never seen before.

With an increasingly hostile and menacing David swearing she must either be mad or lying, how can Alice make the police believe her before it’s too late?


So why did I like this novel?

1. The police element & POV:

The police element is something I wasn’t actually expecting, although it is completely logical. Sophie Hannah not only shows us what is happening from Alice’s perspective, we also get a unique insight into the police investigation through Simon and his colleagues. A surprisingly ineffective police search, really, considering a baby’s life could have been at risk. This made me side more with Alice, which was an interesting tool because otherwise I might have judged her more for her actions, her indecisiveness and her inability to TELL THE TRUTH. Overall, an excellent addition to the story.

2. Tense:

I don’t read a lot of books that are written well enough in present tense. But Hannah has achieved a good balance here. Often with present tense, the way I know it’s well-written is that I don’t notice it. But one thing I found while reading Little Face was that, not only did I not notice the present tense until well over half way through – I also found myself channelling it in my own writing! Note to self: it’s actually difficult to write in past tense when you’re reading present tense. Oops. But the tense lends itself to a sort of immediacy that past tense might not otherwise achieve.

3. Plot/Story

A baby goes missing? Fairly obvious. But a baby is allegedly swapped…? BOOM. Awesome idea. So the shock factor of the initial premise is what drew me to this book. I demanded to know how this could be possible. Conspiracy? Changelings? Lies? The premise is a great one. And for the most part the execution is very well done; I spent most of the time gripping the edge of my seat because OH MY GOD WHAT NOW?? The idea is a lot of fun, and it’s nothing like anything I’ve read before.

What I didn’t like:

1. David

And this isn’t to say he’s badly written. I was supposed to dislike him, and I did! The only thing I wish is that Alice’s husband got more of what was coming to him. After all she suffered through, I wanted him to pay! But more than anything that’s a testament to his horribleness and the fact that Hannah has written him so well that I actually HATE him. (Yep. Hate.)

2. The Ending

I say this about a lot of books I’ve really enjoyed, and some of it is probably to do with the fact that I don’t want the books to end so the ending is always going to disappoint in one way or another. But there was something about this ending that left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Perhaps it’s simply because, well, the outcome could only really have been one of two things – there was no real surprise. And that’s perhaps not the point of the novel, but I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more of a reveal.

Having said that, I can’t for the life of me think what would have improved the ending (in terms of tangible ideas), so I’d suggest you taking my thoughts with a grain of salt. Because I definitely enjoyed the book. I devoured it. I just, I suppose, didn’t want it to end!

This novel is a deliciously dark look at suburban nightmares, a very readable psychological thriller with a police twist. And I am definitely going to be reading more by Sophie Hannah in the future.

Rating:

66775-4star

Evil Games – Angela Marsons [REVIEW]

I received a free copy of this novel through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

First off, Happy Publication Day to the lovely Angela Marsons (@writeangie). Today is the day that Evil Games is actually available, and while I’d like to say it was no coincidence that today is Evil Games Review Day – I’d be lying. It’s just a happy accident.

However, you going out and buying Evil Games, and Silent Scream (#1 in the Kim Stone series) will not be an accident if I have anything to do with it.

This novel is fantastic. Actually cracking. It’s one of those books I almost shouldn’t review because I only have positive things to say about it. But, you know what? I love Kim Stone so much I’m going to write this review anyway. And then you lot are going to go away, buy these books, read them, and we’re going to fangirl over them for the rest of the year. Deal?

Okay then.

Evil GamesTitle: Evil Games

Author: Angela Marsons

Format: Kindle Edition

File Size: 3425 KB

Print Length: 349 pages

Publisher: Bookouture (29 May 2015)

Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.

Language: English

Info:

When a rapist is found mutilated in a brutal attack, Detective Kim Stone and her team are called in to bring a swift resolution. But, as more vengeful killings come to light, it soon becomes clear that there is someone far more sinister at work.

With the investigation quickly gathering momentum, Kim finds herself exposed to great danger and in the sights of a lethal individual undertaking their own twisted experiment.

Up against a sociopath who seems to know her every weakness, for Detective Stone, each move she makes could be deadly. As the body count starts to mount, Kim will have to dig deeper than ever before to stop the killing. And this time – it’s personal.


So why do I love this novel? Evil Games is everything Silent Scream promised – and more. We’ve got a fantastic cast of characters, all uniquely built and crafted; we’ve got a stunning plot; we’ve got emotion; we’ve got LACK of emotion; we’ve got sociopaths – I mean COME ON GUYS, what more can you want? Seriously.

I’m actually glad I gave the first novel a 4.5 star rating because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to explain why this novel is so great. It’s the fact that, well, it’s actually better! The plot is ace, the characters are becoming some of my favourite in crime fiction, and what I thought might be a limiting factor in later books (Kim’s tragic past) has proved me wrong by being something that can be used and enjoyed (I don’t think that’s the right word…) again and again.

Onto the specifics:

What I loved:

1. Barney

Okay, this is a lame starter but it’s true. One of Kim’s flaws (strengths?) is her emotional distance from other characters in the book. It’s what makes her vulnerable, but also what gives her a unique insight into the job she does. Thing is, it can be sad watching a character turn away everybody in their life and guard their deepest secrets – but Angela Marsons has found a way around that. And his name is BARNEY. Kim’s budding relationship with Barney is perhaps what I was craving in the first book. And although this might just be the crazy dog-lover in me, I think it really completed her character, rounded her out and made her even more awesome. I love that Kim now has somebody/something to care for, and it gives her more responsibility as a character.

2. Bryant

I said last time how much I loved Bryant, and that absolutely has not changed. He is the light to Kim’s dark, the warm to her cold. He is friendly, soft, kind and perhaps a little bit naïve – all the more reason than he and Kim complete each other (especially considering Kim’s endless pessimism). I love Bryant. I hope in the future he can have a big ‘personal’ part in one of Kim’s cases.

3. The bad guy.

Angela, A++++ on this one. Our baddie Alex is fabulous, somehow managing to be terrifying and yet super-duper interesting. Alex is the kind of nemesis I love to write and love to read even more. And I get the feeling that Marsons liked writing her (who wouldn’t?) and that totally bled through onto the pages. At once creepy and moreish, Dr Alexandra Thorne is a force to be reckoned with.

4. Plot/sub plot balance.

I wish I was this good at sub plot. Honestly. This novel is so tightly plotted it had me in awe the whole way through. Although not entirely unpredictable (this isn’t really what this novel is going for, I don’t think), I felt like Marsons was in complete control throughout. I love that feeling. And I think this will only get better with each Kim Stone book we see!

So, all in all, I think you’ve got the message. GO OUT. BUY IT. READ IT. TALK TO ME ABOUT IT.

Please. I’m begging you. We need to fangirl, you and I.

Rating:

328e5-rating

Before I Go To Sleep – S. J. Watson [REVIEW]

I’m sorry lovely people, I’ve been slacking recently! I spent the weekend at Crimefest15 in Bristol, and then celebrated my birthday, so have had very little time for typing up my thoughts. Stay tuned for a post all about Crimefest, along with an appropriate Book Haul post as well, but for now I’m going to get myself a bit more caught up with book reviews.

It’s an older book today, one I’ve had sitting on my shelf for a while. Another one (like Gone Girl) that I’m kicking myself for not having read it sooner. Oh well, better late than never!

BIGTSTitle: Before I Go To Sleep

Author: S. J. Watson

Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: Black Swan (2 Jan. 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0552164135

ISBN-13: 978-0552164139

Information:

Memories define us.

So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story.

Welcome to Christine’s life.


BIGTS tells the story of Christine, a woman who wakes up every morning with no memory of the last 20+ years, who has to be told every morning that the man beside her is her husband, that she had an accident, that she is happy. Christine can’t help being afraid. And it turns out, she’s been keeping a journal. She’s been meeting a doctor. Both in secret from her husband, Ben. She has been living a whole other life he doesn’t know about, and she is forced to question what this means. Is she who she thinks she is?

And in the front of her journal is a note in her own handwriting. It says, “Don’t trust Ben.” But is Christine’s journal reliable? Is it truthful? And why does it seem like Ben is lying to her?

Before I Go To Sleep is a masterful story told in the first person, demonstrating clear voice and clean style – and developing tension and a sense of foreboding from the very first words. There’s a lot to be enjoyed in this novel, from Christine’s own determination despite her uncertainty to Ben’s unwavering devotion, despite the lies he tells her… The novel is a heady mix of scary, tense, and heartbreaking, and consumed an entire two days of my life. I gave them gladly. ❤

What I liked:

1. Christine’s Voice

I think one of the things Watson has really achieved with this novel is creating a character who we are simultaneously fearful for and frustrated with; I admired Christine’s strength, but often found myself cursing her condition as I began to piece together the clues that she couldn’t see. Watson’s writing is fabulous, igniting in just a few words the feelings of memories just out of reach, of the claustrophobia and tension that seep into everyday activities when you don’t know yourself never mind the man you are living with. I was proud for Christine when she was courageous, and sad for her when I saw the life she could have lived if not for her memory loss. So heartbreaking.

2. The Twist (No spoilers!)

I know a lot of people have felt pretty ambiguously about this one, but I’m going to have to disagree. Yes, I saw it coming. But that happens to me a lot, so it’s not something that often upsets or frustrates me – especially if the execution is there. Because I ended up reading this book so quickly, I felt that the pace moved forward at such a rate that I didn’t have time to contemplate whether I was annoyed that I’d figured out the ending, I just sat back and enjoyed watching the threads unravel and Christine make her own discoveries. And yes, there were also a few elements I wasn’t expecting as well, which was nice.

What I didn’t like:

1.The Ending

Although I’ve said that figuring out the twist early didn’t bother me, I will say that something about the ending didn’t sit 100% right with me. I think perhaps this is personal taste though, because I admire endings with a particular haunting quality. And this novel was just too… convenient? I guess? In the end, everything is perhaps a bit too positive. I liked my tortured characters to stay tortured, if only a little bit, and although a lot of people might prefer a more upbeat ending, I don’t. Still, it’s not something that hugely coloured my reading, so I suggest you give it a shot anyway!

All in all, this was a great read. It was quick, fun, fairly pacey and unpredictable enough in places that I wasn’t 100% spoilered by my brain. Overall, I’d recommend!

Rating:

4-5 star

P.S. I haven’t seen the film. Is it any good?

Little Black Lies – Sharon Bolton [REVIEW]

I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.

I actually finished reading this book over a week ago now, but I’ve been so busy with my latest MA assignment I thought I’d wait and post it as this week’s review. I really enjoyed this book, but I have to say the enjoyment hasn’t lasted much. It’s one of those books I enjoyed reading, but which left no real impression on me in the end.

little black liesTitle: Little Black Lies

Author: Sharon Bolton

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher: Bantam Press (2 July 2015)

Language: English

Info:

What’s the worst thing your best friend could do to you?

Admittedly, it wasn’t murder. A moment’s carelessness, a tragic accident – and two children are dead. Yours.

Living in a small island community, you can’t escape the woman who destroyed your life. Each chance encounter is an agonizing reminder of what you’ve lost – your family, your future, your sanity.

How long before revenge becomes irresistible?

With no reason to go on living, why shouldn’t you turn your darkest thoughts into deeds?

So now, what’s the worst thing you can do to your best friend?


I’m not a huge fan of the title, here, but I really like the concept of this novel. I mean, your best friend kills your kids? WOAH. But, then, I expected there to be murder involved (Amazon’s & NetGalley’s new blurbs are clearer on this than the one I read, where it was more ambiguous), and the fact that it was an accidental death gives the novel a whole different feel. I’m not saying it was bad, because I do enjoy a novel that explores guilt and more psychological stuff too, but it just wasn’t what I expected.

What I liked:

1. The Characters

As always, Sharon Bolton has created a cast of completely believable characters. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to gel with the protagonist at first, but after a few chapters I really felt for her. I liked her a lot – and I was actually disappointed when the POV switched away from her (probably because this didn’t happen until about halfway through the novel and I wasn’t expecting it).

2. The Premise

I think this idea is really neat. Take a couple of unrelated incidents (the death of Catrin’s children and the sudden disappearance of a little boy on the island) and weave them into a tale that is interconnected, drawn together by grief and mystery and determination. I liked the idea a LOT, and thought Bolton worked really hard to bring all these separate elements together. However, I also had a few problems with it in the end (there may be spoilers ahead).

What I didn’t like:

1. The Execution

I think my biggest problem with this novel is what felt like a lack of commitment. Not from Bolton as such, because I understand why she did what she did, but from the characters involved. Catrin opens the novel planning to kill her best friend. But unfortunately, being inside her head, I was fairly convinced from the outset she wouldn’t go through with it – and (spoilerspoilerSPOILER) I wasn’t wrong. The problem, really, was that I liked Catrin too much. Yes, she was flawed. She was. But did I think she was truly capable of murdering her ex-best friend in cold blooded revenge? Nope. Not even for a second. Even when the characters around her thought she’d do it.

I guess really I expected something grittier, given the tone and the way the novel starts. And really, what I got wasn’t what I thought. It wasn’t as gritty, wasn’t as hopeless or upsetting. And the ending was really far too happy (although the fangirl in me was very happy with the romantic outcome). Still, well worth the read because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love a good dramatic guilt-ridden tale about redemption?

2. Multiple POVs

This is probably a personal thing, but recently I’ve been liking novels with static points of view. I like novels where you’re so entrenched in one person’s perspective that you forget that others exist – and this novel isn’t one of those. This is building on what I said earlier, but I guess I wouldn’t have minded the POV switches so much if I’d seen them coming, or been warned that this was going to happen. But I was halfway through the novel and all of a sudden I was in Callum’s head – and then Rachel’s. And really I just preferred Catrin. =P

Anyway, I did enjoy this novel, but ultimately I think I felt a bit cheated. I know dead children is not something to want when reading any sort of book – but I think I wanted something more than what I got. Like, an actual murder or something. There was too much coincidence and not enough investigation. But, in any case, if you go into it knowing what to expect I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I think I was just coloured by my reading of Bolton’s other novels and not really knowing what to expect with this one (having not read a good blurb, haha).

Rating:

 rating

Little Black Lies is due for release on July 2nd 2015 and is currently available for pre-order.

The Doll Maker – Richard Montanari [REVIEW]

It’s review day!

Today I’m reviewing The Doll Maker by Richard Montanari. I received an ARC through NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.

Okay guys, this book is very cool. I can always tell when I’m reading a book by an experienced author as opposed to a debut, and Montanari is a classic example of why you don’t always have to read an author from the beginning to enjoy them. I LOVED this book, even though it’s #8 in the series – so don’t let that put you off!

doll makerTitle: The Doll Maker

Author: Richard Montanari

Paperback: 496 pages

Publisher: Sphere (9 April 2015)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0751549339

ISBN-13: 978-0751549331

Info:

Mr Marseille is polite, elegant, and erudite. He would do anything for his genteel true love Anabelle. And he is a psychopath.

A quiet Philadelphia suburb. A woman cycles past a train depot with her young daughter. And there she finds a murdered girl posed on a newly painted bench. Strangled. Beside her is a formal invite to a tea dance in a week’s time.

Seven days later, two more young victims are discovered in a disused house, posed on painted swings. At the scene is an identical invite. This time, though, there is something extra waiting for Detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano.

A delicate porcelain doll. It’s a message. And a threat.

With Marseille and Anabelle stalking the city, Detectives Byrne and Balzano have just seven days to find the link between the murders before another innocent child is snatched from its streets.


So what did I like about this novel? Why did I enjoy it so much? Let me just start by saying that it would take me an age to list everything I liked, so we’ll settle with just a few big things.

What I Liked:

1. Byrne & Balzano

Montanari’s detectives are stellar. Both are completely separate people with their own lives. They are completely real and completely 100% believable, to the point where I felt I knew their families like they were my friends’. Byrne is the more experienced detective of the two, but the pair have been working together so long that they are in sync and well-tuned to one another. Byrne’s relationship with Balzano was something I cherished while reading; knowing that they had each others’ backs made the novel’s foray into the creepy that much more enjoyable because I knew that they were looking out for each other and I, as the reader, could relax in the knowledge that if anybody was going to solve the crime, it was them. Byrne is warm-hearted and determined, and Balzano is shrewd and loving, all qualities I love in my detectives!

2. Bad guys

I have a feeling (from snooping through other Amazon reviews) that Montanari has a certain skill for writing the baddies. And if that’s the case, then this novel is no exception. Our killers Mr Marseille and Annabelle are so damn creepy it’s unreal – something that few other crime authors have made me say. They live in another world, one of tea parties and etiquette, documented with the same care and attention with which they treat their victims.

It probably helps that I’ve always been fascinated by doll collectors and old dolls, and I find them spooky at the best of times (I have ever since I was a kid), but saying that, I’ll give credit to Montanari for tapping into a common horror trope for his crime fiction. I mean, a lot of crime I read tends to fall kind of heavy-handed, with a gory crimey mess for the detectives to investigate. And that’s fine, that’s enjoyable, but there’s something about the creepy, haunting and the spooky that is even more enjoyable. Especially when our detectives are more than a bit creeped out themselves.

Score!

3. Story/plot

As I said above, I love dolls. That was what made me request this book in the first place. But scanning the summaries of Montanari’s other novels I can see that plot is something that this author does very well. Everything is planned and coordinated perfectly, all the pieces falling into place with expert ease. I would actually be intrigued to read Montanari’s first novel to see whether this is a skill that has grown over time, because boy am I impressed. If I could learn to plot 1/10th as well as this, I’d die a happy girl. Hats off to you, sir!

4. EVERYTHING

Can you see? This book has me crazy! I’m not even kidding when I say I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like. This novel was spooky and plotted with master skill, with characters I loved and villains I loved to hate. Amazing.

What I Disliked:

Erm, nothing? Actually nothing. That’s insane. Mr Montanari, you have rendered me as close to speechless as I’ve ever been. Thank you!

Please, please, go out and buy this book. Sure, read the others first if you must (I’m sure they’re just as good, and I’m going out to buy them now), but don’t put this one off. It’s amazing! Plus, right now on Amazon UK it’s part of the 3 books for £10 deal, so you really can’t go wrong.

Rating:

328e5-rating

The Ladies of the House – Molly McGrann [REVIEW]

Thanks to Katie Green at Pan Macmillan/Picador. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Having browsed through a few of the Amazon reviews available for this book, I’m seeing a theme emerging and an agreement with some of the points I am about to make. I think a lot of people were a bit disappointed with this book, and currently its average rating is only 3.6 stars (3 stars on Goodreads). Some of the reviews are a bit harsh, but I can see why there is such a mixture of opinions.

Ladies of the HouseTitle: The Ladies of the House

Author: Molly McGrann

Hardcover: 256 pages

Publisher: Picador; Main Market Ed. edition (26 Mar. 2015)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 144727475X

ISBN-13: 978-1447274759

Info:

On a hot July day, three elderly people are found dead in a dilapidated house in Primrose Hill. Reading the story in a newspaper as she prepares to leave the country, Marie Gillies has an unshakable feeling that she is somehow to blame.

How did these three people come to live together, and how did they all die at once? The truth lies in a very different England, and in the secret world of the ladies of the house…


I don’t really know what I expected from this novel, but the story itself was a little convoluted and a bit removed from my expectations. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The novel tells the stories, primarily, of Rita and Annetta, high-class prostitutes who are still living in the brothel they have called home. Now it’s just a house, and they live there alone with Joseph (the son of the brothel’s leading lady and its proprietor). One of these women suffers from dementia, and the other is dying. Through a series of vignettes we get a sense of their lives, of who they are and how they have come to be living in this house together, even into old age. I think this novel is what I’d call, jokingly, a “Coming of AGE” novel. A good idea, just not what I was expecting.

What I liked:

1. The past

Some of the scenes set in the characters’ pasts are the most interesting. Although I like the retrospective telling of the story, the idea that these characters have continued to age and grow after their experiences, I found myself better captured by the scenes where Rita and Annetta were young, and where they were still struggling with the way their lives were unfolding. I felt trapped with Annetta in the dark world she had come from, and I felt sympathy for the young Rita who could never seem to get what she wanted most: human connection.

2. The writing

Molly McGrann writes beautifully, and I did enjoy her descriptions and turns of phrase. There were sections of the book that were very adept at making me feel very strongly, but sadly there was not enough of this beautiful writing to overshadow the problems I had with the plot.

What I didn’t like:

1. Older Rita

I quite liked young Rita. She was sparky and angry and clever, if vain and selfish. But old Rita – she is all her negative qualities multiplied by five. I understand that this is probably the point, and that I’m probably missing some big trick, but old Rita really just didn’t do it for me, and by the end of the novel I have to confess I wasn’t sad that she was dead. Oops!

2. The ending

Endings are a big a deal, and this one just didn’t cut it for me. I felt that the climax of the novel happened too late, while simultaneously being too short. At the end I felt a little cheated and dazed and I had to spend a good twenty minutes just thinking things through – but not necessarily in a good way.

~*~

The novel is perhaps a little ambitious, telling too many characters’ stories in less than 300 pages. I think it could have benefitted from fewer intersecting story-lines and more focus on each one. For instance, given that the blurb makes mention of this “unshakable feeling” experienced by Marie Gillies about the deaths in the house, I think I expected the book to explore her guilt or something more than it does. Marie, for me, was nothing more than a passing fancy. And as for Marie’s mother, and the scenes with Joseph… I actually had trouble remembering Joseph’s name, so I don’t think they really did anything for me.

But some of the scenes are wonderfully captivating and the writing really is beautiful. It’s only a short book, and I did enjoy it. I actually read it in one sitting. Definitely worth a read but perhaps ultimately not a favourite.

Rating:

rating

Don’t Turn Around – Caroline Mitchell [REVIEW]

I received an ARC of this novel through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

I’d been looking forward to reading this book, and when I managed to get a copy through Netgalley that was even more awesome. I was so excited! There’s something really unique about the premise of this story – or at least I haven’t read one like it before so I was super psyched to delve right in. I actually finished reading this in a couple of days, which we know is usually a good sign.

don't turn aroundTitle: Don’t Turn Around

Author: Caroline Mitchell

Format: Kindle Edition

File Size: 1606 KB

Print Length: 277 pages

Publisher: Bookouture (24 April 2015)

Language: English

ASIN: B00V6DTAYM

Info:

Soon he would be able to touch her, to feel the warmth of her blood. And when the time came, nothing would stop him.

As D.C. Jennifer Knight investigates a routine stabbing in the quiet town of Haven, she is shocked at what seems like a personal message from beyond the grave.

When more bodies are found, Jennifer is convinced the killings are somehow linked. What she discovers is more chilling than she could possibly imagine. The murders mirror those of the notorious Grim Reaper – from over twenty years ago. A killer her mother helped convict.

Jennifer can no longer ignore the personal connection. Is there a copycat killer at work? Was the wrong man convicted? Or is there something more sinister at play …

With her mother’s terrifying legacy spiralling out of control, Jennifer must look into her own dark past in a fight not only to stop a killer – but to save herself and those she loves.

A heart-stopping supernatural thriller to engross fans of Rachel Abbott, Paul Finch and James Oswald.


Don’t Turn Around is a splendid piece of fiction from emerging author Caroline Mitchell. I was initially attracted to this novel because of the cover (isn’t is fantastic to see some bright colours on crime covers? I love it!) and then the premise had me hooked. There’s something about killings in the past and copycats and legacies that really pulls me in, so I was excited for this one. And while this isn’t a flawless novel, there is a lot of good in it, and I will be looking forward to the next novels in the series.

What I liked:

1. The protagonist & her partner

Jennifer Knight is a whole lot of fun. She’s verging on OCD, tough, troubled, and had a rough childhood that she’s trying not to let bother her – and she’s determined to live up to her mother’s legacy. I like that. While Jennifer is certainly not perfectly written, she’s a cracking debut detective with a lot of room to manoeuvre. She’s sparky and has a nice relationship with her partner and friend Will.

I loved their relationship. Will is adorable, and I think Jennifer and he have a good balance of the tough and the sensitive, which is always nice. I’m glad we’re going to see more of how these two interact, because it’s definitely going somewhere good!

2. Her relationship with her nephew

I love that Jennifer’s greatest love in life is basically her nephew. I think that this is actually pretty unique and I felt it gave Jennifer’s character a lot of depth and made her seem realistic. Josh is also a good source of conflict because Jennifer often wishes she could mother him, which makes her sister unhappy.

3. The paranormal element

This is something I didn’t really think about when reading the synopsis but it ended up being my favourite thing about the novel. ‘Paranormal’ and ‘Detective’ just go together like ‘Victoria’ and ‘sponge’ – maybe not the first thing you think of (well, it is for me, but whatever, I just love cake ok?), but still a tasty combination! And handled very well with a lot of passion from Mitchell.

4. The bad guy

Frank is super damn creepy. And the idea of meeting him in a dark alley really freaks me out so we won’t talk too much about him… But his POV was a good addition to this novel and it really added some depth. Yes.

What I didn’t like:

1. The POV Switches

The POV moves about a lot. We sometimes start chapters in one POV and then suddenly we’re in somebody else’s and it’s a bit jarring for the reader. We don’t need to see into so many minds, honestly, because Jennifer’s is interesting enough! I did like seeing Frank’s thoughts and motivations, but I think that in any future Jennifer Knight novels I’d be happiest if Jennifer was the focus of the novel, carrying more weight throughout the story. In this novel she is still the primary protagonist, but I sometimes felt that she didn’t get the page-time she deserved. Still, not a deal-breaker, and something that can definitely be improved on in later novels if the author so wishes.

2. The ‘Ethan’ thing

[Spoilers ahoy] I didn’t think it was necessary for the romantic tension that we get between Ethan and Jennifer. Especially given that Ethan’s role in the novel is most importantly to introduce Jennifer into the world of paranormal investigation at the end, which I think would be achievable and perhaps more believable if he didn’t attempt to climb into her pants. Of course he’s also a general source of conflict, always good, and we also think he might be the bad guy, again not bad – but he’s successfully set up to be such a dodgy guy I actually didn’t understand why Jennifer would be so happy to go into business with him in the end.

But I am just grumpy because I can’t write romance very well and so I tend to dislike romantic entanglements that make me cringe (not because they’re badly written, just because they’re embarrassing) and Jennifer’s grope in the dark with Ethan definitely made me think, Oh Jennifer, NO! haha. So yeah, I think Ethan is a fun character and a good point of conflict with Jennifer, but for me his presence would be better served as platonic – at least for book one. I was more focused on Will. Because he’s adorable.

Now that pairing I DO ship. ❤

3. The ending

The ending (not going to spoiler you, I promise) was something that I wasn’t 100% about, but it didn’t necessary affect my overall impressions of the novel. It seemed a bit neat, really, with all of the loose ends being tied into perhaps too perfect a bow – but I didn’t DISLIKE it so much as I guess I just prefer my endings rawer and grittier. Still it sets itself up nicely for the rest of a hopefully long series, so I don’t really have too many complaints.

More DC Knight please, Caroline!

Rating:

66775-4star

Don’t Turn Around is currently available for pre-order (99p!) and has a release date of April 24th 2015.