Category Archives: Book Review

The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

the labyrinth of the spirits

To say that The Labyrinth of the Spirits is one of my most highly anticipated novels of the year doesn’t really begin to cover it.  I adored The Shadow of the Wind which to this day remains one of my favourite novels of all time, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this final instalment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him.

Just when Daniel believes he is close to solving this enigma, a conspiracy more sinister than he could have imagined spreads its tentacles from the hellish regime. That is when Alicia Gris appears, a soul born out of the nightmare of the war. She is the one who will lead Daniel to the edge of the abyss and reveal the secret history of his family, although at a terrifying price.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is an electrifying tale of passion, intrigue and adventure. Within its haunting pages Carlos Ruiz Zafón masterfully weaves together plots and subplots in an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits reunites the reader with some old friends (and that is how it feels to me) as well as introducing some new characters into the mix.  Daniel now runs Sempere & Sons along with his wife, Bea, now that his father is less active in the management of the business.  Fermin, of course, is still present, and much the same as ever, doling out little seeds of wisdom (irrespective of whether these have been asked for), and generally being as cheeky as he feels as he can get away with.  I’m extremely fond of both Daniel and Fermin, and it was a pleasure to be reunited with them, and to see what they were up to two years on from The Prisoner of Heaven.

Whilst Daniel and Fermin feature in this novel, the main character is Alicia Gris.  Alicia was orphaned during the war, and still suffers from the effects of an injury sustained at that time.  Since then, she has been recruited into a role in a special unit of the police – one that seems to go unnamed throughout the novel.  This latest case sees her return to Barcelona in order to find Mauricio Valls, Minister for Culture and former head of Montjuic Prison.  Alicia’s character is an interesting one.  I didn’t find her as immediately likeable as Daniel and Fermin, but she grew on me as the novel progressed.  Bold and beautiful, she allows no one to get close to her, and hides behind a persona of femme fatale.  I loved her determination to get a job done, no matter how much pain her old injury causes her.  She is intelligent, and I loved her perseverance in getting to the bottom of this mystery even as things don’t go to plan.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits has a dark, gothic atmosphere, and this novel seemed to be more of a thriller than other novels in series, with the investigation into the disappearance of Valls uncovering a much broader and longer running conspiracy.  The storytelling is second to none, and whilst this is a long book, I read it relatively quickly, desperate to uncover the truth behind Valls’s disappearance.

One common theme running through the whole series is that of a love of books, stories and of reading, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits is no exception.  Here, the rare book in question is one by Victor Mataix, and is part of a series he wrote for his daughter, Ariadna, which features her as a heroine, facing up a series of horrors, fictionalised yet inspired by Spanish history.  Whilst this seems like an aside, it becomes clear that this book, and is author, Mataix, have a role to play in the story and in Alicia’s investigation.  It’s a dark and thrilling story, and if this novel perhaps contained more violence than the earlier novels, this is very much in keeping with the story as events come to a head.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits brings to a close an epic narrative, and I wouldn’t recommend reading this as a standalone novel.  I think that the whole series has been pitched as being a set of interconnected stories that can be read either as a series or individually, and in any order.  However, I think that because of the way in which this final instalment brings everything to a close, tying up all the loose ends from the earlier novels, that this should be read after The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven.   Additionally, The Shadow of the Wind has long been one of my favourite novels, and is one that I recommend to everyone.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits will be published on 18 September by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.  Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read an early copy via Netgalley.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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Guess Who by Chris McGeorge

guess who

I love mysteries where we know that the culprit must be one of a limited number of people, and when I saw Guess Who available for £0.99 on Kindle, I just had to get it.  This is a novel that has garnered a lot of support ahead of and since its publication, and I’ve been wanting to read it since I first heard about it earlier this year.

Morgan Sheppard is the presenter of Resident Detective, and takes on a role very much like that of Jeremy Kyle – answering questions as to whether a person is cheating on their partner, who really is the father of this child etc.  His fame came about at quite a young age when he solved the murder of his maths teacher – something that the police had labelled a suicide, dismissing the case.

Sheppard is thrown out of his comfort zone when he wakes up in a hotel room with five other people, and a dead body in the bathroom.  He is given three hours to solve the mystery, knowing that the murderer is one of those in the room with him.  No one can leave – the only way out is for Sheppard to successfully identify the killer before the deadline.  His task is made harder upon finding that all five people in the room with him have some connection to the victim, as does he himself.  Can he solve it in time?

Whilst there are six people to get to know, I think that Sheppard was the only character that the reader gets to know in any detail, successfully replicating the situation that Sheppard finds himself in – the reader is also thrown into a situation of having to identify a killer with absolutely no information, and allows the reader to take on the role of detective as well.  I love novels where the reader is given the same information as the protagonist(s), and I love the feeling of participation that this setting allowed.

I didn’t actually like Sheppard in the slightest, however.  He comes across as being an extremely shallow individual – someone who has always wanted and pursued fame, and taking full advantage of the money, women, and substances that his fame has given him access to.  At no point did this put me off the story – I wanted to know who had committed the murder, whether he or I could solve it in time, and why Sheppard had been put in this situation.  I just wasn’t too concerned for his own outcome.

The plot moves along quickly, as you’d expect given the time limit on Sheppard’s investigation.  And it’s anything other than straightforward, as things become increasingly tense in the room.  There were elements of the plot that I figured out quite early on, although there was a twist that I did not see coming.  I did find the ending a little anticlimactic, however.  I thought the premise was fantastic, but the finale lacked a little je ne sais quoi for me personally.  I enjoyed Guess Who overall, however, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on McGeorge to see what comes next.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Sep 2018

Would you believe it, I’m behind on my reviews again?! 😮

Here are two mini reviews of books I’ve read recently.


Artemis by Andy Weir

artemis

Like many other people, I adored Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this second novel, despite then leaving it languishing unread for almost a year!

WELCOME TO ARTEMIS. The first city on the moon.

Population 2,000. Mostly tourists.

Some criminals.

Jazz Bashara is one of the criminals. She lives in a poor area of Artemis and subsidises her work as a porter with smuggling contraband onto the moon. But it’s not enough.

So when she’s offered the chance to make a lot of money she jumps at it. But though planning a crime in 1/6th gravity may be more fun, it’s a lot more dangerous…

Overall, I enjoyed Artemis.  I thought that the story was interesting, and I loved the complexity of it as what begins as a reasonably straightforward job for our protagonist, Jazz, escalates out of her control.  Whilst the initial set up takes a little time, I thought that once the action really got underway that the story was great, and it allowed Weir to incorporate the little snippets of science that was partly what made The Martian so brilliant (in my opinion).

I did struggle with Jazz’s character, however.  A woman in her mid-twenties, some of her speech (and definitely her humour) brings to mind a teenage boy more than a young woman.  I liked her determination and drive to achieve her goal, but I was confused as to why someone who is clearly very intelligent refuses to utilise all of the skills at her disposal.  I can understand that she has been told of her “potential” all of her life and that she may have found this irritating to the point where it pushed her the other way, but I couldn’t quite reconcile these two facets of her character.  I also wasn’t sure why she felt the need to promote herself as promiscuous, when her actions don’t actually seem to match this behaviour.

As with The Martian, Artemis is both brilliantly written and funny, and there were some pithy one-liners that made me chuckle.  A great story, but one that was a little let down by Jazz’s character for me personally.


Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

cross her heart

I loved Behind Her Eyes with its WTF ending – it was a brilliantly original novel, and I’ve been really looking forward to reading Cross Her Heart since its release in earlier this year.

Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job, and her best friend Marilyn, but when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe she can trust again. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go. Then her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see. Lisa’s world explodes, and she finds everything she has built threatened. Not knowing whom she can trust, it’s up to her to face her past to save what she holds dear.

Pinborough writes excellent (if not always likeable) characters, and the three ladies – Lisa, Ava, and Marilyn – at the heart of this story are no exception.  I particularly liked Ava, and I thought that she epitomised what it is to be 16 years old, with all of the angst and secrecy that implies.  Lisa, on the other hand, I didn’t care for, even though it was clear that there was some traumatic experience in her past, and it took me until later in the novel to start to sympathise with her.  Until then she just came across as a tiresome worrier.

Cross Her Heart is told in three parts, with the first part setting the scene and introducing the characters.  Whilst the pace picks up in parts two and three, I did find the first part to be a little slow as it takes a long time for the first big revelation.  It’s hinted at repeatedly, but the reader doesn’t find out what happened until much later in the book, and I did find that this made the pace a little slow initially.

Whilst Cross Her Heart didn’t quite blow me away in the same way as Pinborough’s previous novel, I still enjoyed this, and I’ll be looking out for her next offering.

The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

the blinds

I really liked the sound of The Blinds when I first heard about it, and now that I’ve (finally!) read it, I wish that I’d done so earlier!

Imagine a place populated by criminals – people plucked from their lives, with their memories altered, who’ve been granted new identities and a second chance.  Welcome to The Blinds, a dusty town in rural Texas populated by misfits who don’t know if they’ve perpetrated a crime or just witnessed one.  All they do know is that they opted into the programme and that if they try to leave, they will end up dead.

For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace – but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt.  Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her – and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down.  The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway, it’s simmering with violence and deception, heartbreak and betrayal, and it’s fit to burst.

I thought that the concept behind The Blinds was absolutely fascinating, and if it’s a little difficult to grasp the full extent of what is going on in Caesura (commonly referred to as The Blinds) at first then it’s worth persevering with as it all becomes clear before long.  Caesura – population (approximately) 48 – is a small town in rural Texas that is largely unknown to the outside world.  Here, people who have committed a crime, or who have been witness to a crime, can come to live under a new identity with no memory of why they are there.  They don’t even know which of these categories they fall into.  Whilst it’s not marketed as such, I thought that The Blinds had a distinctly dystopian air about it, and I thought that the underlying premise was brilliant.

The Blinds opens with a murder of one of the residents of Caesura.  Given its isolation and the fact that very few people know if its existence, it seems fairly certain that the murderer must be one of the residents.  And there are plenty of suspects, given the nature of the population.  Whilst this is an interesting part of the story, I don’t think that the whodunnit was the sole focus of the novel, and those approaching it purely as a mystery may be a little disappointed, although we do find out the who / what / when / where / why of the murder, and it wasn’t who I expected it to be.  Set over the course of a single week, the pace moves along quickly, and the plot took a few unexpected turns throughout, keeping me on my toes.

I think that the idea of removing specific memories from people is an interesting one, and one that has huge potential should we develop the science to do this.  The Blinds poses some interesting ethical questions, although it doesn’t really seek to answer them, and I’m left considering whether the perpetrators of violent crime deserve a completely fresh start under a new identity where no one knows of their past (mis)deeds.  I love books that make me think like this, and I think that this would be a great novel for a book club discussion.

Combining mystery, a touch of sci fi, and some great storytelling, I thoroughly enjoyed The Blinds.  Highly recommended.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Inhuman Resources by Pierre Lemaitre

inhuman resources

I’m thrilled to be sharing my review of Pierre’s Lematire’s latest novel, Inhuman Resources, as part of the publication day blog blast.

Alain Delambre is a 57-year-old former HR executive, drained by four years of hopeless unemployment.  All he is offered are small, demoralising jobs.  He has reached his very lowest ebb, and can see no way out.

So when a major company finally invites him to an interview, Alain Delambre is ready to do anything, borrow money, shame his wife and his daughters and even participate in the ultimate recruitment test: a role-playing game that involves hostage-taking.

Alain Delambre commits body and soul in this struggle to regain his dignity.

But if he suddenly realised that the dice had been loaded against him from the start, his fury would be limitless.

And what began as a role-play game could quickly become a bloodbath.

Alain Delambre is a former HR executive who was made redundant 4 years ago.  He’s undertaken any number of low paid, menial jobs since then in the hope that something better will come up.  Except that nothing does come up – not for a man of his age.  When he does finally see a role for a HR position, it’s therefore understandable that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to land the position – and I do mean whatever it takes.  At the outset of the novel, Alain comes across as being an extremely ordinary, everyday kind of guy – a tad annoying at times, perhaps, but he’s very much your average person.  Initially down on his luck, it’s interesting to see how his initial excitement at the opportunity crosses over into an obsession with obtaining this role which he sees as his last chance at a career, rather than just another job.  And his obsession pushes him to take drastic steps…

I enjoyed the structure of Inhuman Resources, which is split into before, during, and after sections, with the hostage taking role play forming the pivotal scene.  Before allows the reader to get to know Alain, his family, and his circumstances, and if I found this section a little slow to start, it soon picks up the pace as Alain becomes ever more serious about obtaining the role.  During is told from a different perspective, and forms a nice break in Alain’s narrative, which is resumed in after, dealing with the consequences of that day.  This was my favourite section, as I discovered more and more about what happened, and how the role play got so out of hand.

I think that Inhuman Resources is a novel that requires a little suspension of disbelief, although I soon found myself wrapped up in Alain’s narrative as he begins his preparations for the role play.  He’s a desperate man, and I did feel for his situation – it’s a horrible place to be in, having worked for so much of your life and to then be cast aside and unable to find alternative employment at least partly because of your age.  Set at time when France’s unemployment rates are on the increase, Alain’s “average Joe” character really does bring home that this is a situation that affects many individuals.  Alain’s actions take this to extremes, but it did leave me with the question as to why we value youth over experience in the employment stakes.

As you’d expect from Lemaitre, Inhuman Resources is a cleverly plotted novel that took me by surprise, and I thought that this put a different spin on the crime novel, delivering something much more complex than I expected.

Inhuman Resources is published today – 6 September – in hardback and digital formats by MacLehose Press.  Many thanks to the publisher for providing an early copy for review via Bookbridgr.


Check out the other bloggers taking part in today’s blog blitz!

Inhuman Resources Blog Blast poster updated.jpg

Blog Tour: Overkill by Vanda Symon

overkill

I absolutely loved the sound of Overkill when I first read the synopsis, and I was delighted to be given the opportunity to read a copy ahead of publication and to take part in the blog tour organised by Anne Cater of Random Things Tours.

When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide.  But all is not what it seems.

Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town.  To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover.  When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands.

To find the murderer… and clear her name.

Overkill opens with the murder, and throws the reader straight into the story with this brilliant opening paragraph:

The day it was ordained that Gabriella Knowes would die there were no harbingers, omens or owls’ calls.  No tolling of bells.  With the unquestioning courtesy of the well brought up, she invited Death in.

I thought that the prologue was fantastic, and loved that Symon managed to make the opening scene so shocking and yet entirely non-graphic.  It lets the reader know exactly what they are in for, in that the novel will claim its victims without mercy, but also that it won’t be unnecessarily brutal in its approach.  Whilst so many novels rely on shock factor, it was refreshing to read a novel that does this without having to resort to gory scenes.

I loved the setting of Mataura, New Zealand.  It’s a small town, but one that has plenty of secrets hidden away, despite its outwardly peaceful appearance, and Symon evokes a sense of place brilliantly.  As always, the small-town setting makes Sam’s job incredibly difficult, as everyone knows her, just as she knows everyone else, and everyone knows that newly widowed Lockie was her lover in the not too distant past, and that only one half of that couple managed to move on.  She’s a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve, and it doesn’t really come as a surprise that she becomes a suspect.  Not that she’s about to let that get in her way.

The very best thing about Overkill was undoubtedly Sam Shepherd, our main protagonist.  What an absolute star!  I loved her determination to keep looking into the murder despite her feelings on Gaby, the victim.  Suspended from duty, and quite likely to lose her job if she doesn’t step away from the investigation, she just can’t help herself, and I loved this perseverance despite the potential consequences.  She is a character who is most definitely flawed but very much aware of her own shortcomings, and this acceptance of who she is and her “what you see is what you get” attitude make her very easy to like.  She puts herself through some trials in order to gather information, including a rather uncomfortable visit to the nurse!  I won’t spoil it for you… 😉

I thought that the plot moved at a fair pace, and was both interesting and original.  There are red herrings thrown in to keep you on your toes, and whilst this isn’t a novel carrying a big OMG twist, it’s one that keeps you guessing right until the end.  I’m really hoping for more from Symon, hopefully featuring more Sam!

Overkill is published by Orenda Books, and the eBook is available now, with the paperback being published on 6 September.  Thanks to Anne Cater for the review copy and the opportunity to join the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour!

Overkill Blog Tour Poster

Summer of Secrets by Nikola Scott

summer of secrets

I loved Nikola Scott’s debut novel, My Mother’s Shadow, and I was thrilled to receive an early copy of her follow up, Summer of Secrets, to review.

August 1939

At peaceful Summerhill, orphaned Maddy hides from the world and the rumours of war.  Then her adored sister Georgina returns from a long trip with a new friend, the handsome Victor.  Maddy fears that Victor is not all he seems, but she has no idea just what kind of danger has come into their lives…

Today

Chloe is newly pregnant.  This should be a joyful time, but she is fearful for the future, despite her husband’s devotion.  When chance takes her to Summerhill, she’s drawn into the mystery of what happened there decades before.  And the past reaches out to touch her in ways that could change everything…

Summer of Secrets alternates between Maddy’s storyline in 1939 and Chloe’s tale in the present day, and I thought that both were equally fascinating.  Although they seem to be quite different narratives, they do intertwine, and I loved seeing how parallels developed between the two as the novel progressed.  Scott does like to leave one narrative at a crucial point to swap to other, leaving you on tenterhooks as to what happens next, and this is a novel that you’ll want to read in as few sittings as possible – I didn’t want to leave either narrative unfinished.

Chloe is a great character, and I sympathised with her situation – it doesn’t take long for the reader to understand why her pregnancy makes her fearful rather than elated as might be expected.  I won’t go into the details, but Chloe’s situation is one that is much more common than you might think, and whilst I think it’s very easy to question why she doesn’t just get out (I thought it, I’ll admit) as the novel progressed, I came to understand how such a situation might build up over time in such a way that might not be immediately noticed, so that by the time you do realise, it’s far from straightforward to do anything about it.  Chloe shows such a great strength of character, even though she’s afraid at times, and I couldn’t help but admire this plucky protagonist.

Maddy’s story is quite different, although there are common themes and parallels between the two narratives.  I didn’t find her as immediately likeable as Chloe, although she won me round in the end.  I’m not sure of her exact age, but she comes across as being on the cusp of womanhood, although she does at times seem to act as a much younger girl might.  She is very sweet, but ultimately naïve and seems overly dependent upon those around her, not fully appreciating issues that don’t impact her in any obvious way.  Her behaviour can be partially explained by having lost her parents at a relatively young age, and it’s easy to understand why she has become overly reliant upon her older sister, Georgina, as a result.  She too shows great strength of character, and proves herself to be a strong and resourceful young lady.

Summer of Secrets is ultimately about love, although it’s definitely not a romance.  Love is presented here in many of its forms – between siblings, friends, husband and wife, etc. – and looks at the positive aspects that you might immediately associate with the word, but also its darker undertones and what happens when love becomes obsession.  Highly recommended.

Summer of Secrets will be 6 September in paperback and digital formats.  Many thanks to the Becky Hunter for the review copy.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐