Category Archives: Book reviews

Hunted by G. X. Todd

hunted

I adored G. X. Todd’s debut, Defender, and it was one of my top ten novels of 2017.  I’m sure it goes without saying that I was thrilled when my request to review the follow up, Hunted, via Netgalley was approved.  That said, I did experience some trepidation in reading the follow up to a novel that I loved, but I needn’t have worried – Hunted is excellent!

The birds are flying.  The birds are flocking.  The birds know where to find her.

One man is driven by a Voice that isn’t his.  It’s killing his sanity and wrestling with it over and over like a jackal with a bone.  He has one goal.

To find the girl with a Voice like his own.  She has no one to defend her now.  The hunt is on.

But in an Inn by the sea, a boy with no tongue and no Voice gathers his warriors.  Albus must find Lacey… before the Other does.  And finish the work his sister, Ruby began.

Hunted is the second book in the highly acclaimed Voices series, where the battle between Good and Evil rages on.  And on.

I don’t want to go into the plot in too much detail as I think that it would be all too easy to slip into spoiler territory but Hunted opens with something of a curveball.  I was expecting it to pick up where Defender left off, featuring those same characters that I grew to know and love.  Instead, it starts by introducing two groups of mostly new characters, one of which is led by a familiar face.  Both groups are hunting Lacey – for markedly different reasons – and for the first third or so of the novel the story alternates between these two groups, introducing the key players and providing the necessary background to allow the reader to understand their motivations.  I wasn’t sure what to make of this change at first, but I soon came to appreciate the shift in perspective.  It gives the novel a bit of a twist, and I enjoyed getting the perspective of the bad guys.  Additionally, it’s clear that certain characters introduced here have a significant role to play in the series, assuming they live long enough.

Given the need to introduce the new characters, the novel did start out a little slower than I was expecting, but there is still plenty of action as the reader comes to understand what these people have been through, and I found that the novel became increasingly tense as the two groups start getting closer to their target.  This allows Lacey and friends to make their entrance later in the novel, and I loved the way in which Lacey had grown and developed since Defender.  She’s so young, and this, combined with the relatively sheltered life that she’d lived before her journey began, gave her an innocent air bordering on naivety.  In Hunted, I felt that she had toughened up a great deal and had become less vulnerable, and whilst this is sad in some ways, I felt that it made her a more interesting character.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I love post-apocalyptic novels, and the harsher and bleaker the world the better.  This series fits the bill perfectly.  Todd’s world building is second to none, and her writing style is such that I found myself completely immersed in the setting – it’s so easily to visualise the narrative as it unfolds.  I really enjoyed finding out a little more about the voices in this novel, although with two instalments still to come, there are still some unanswered questions, and I’ve no real idea of where the story will head in book three, I just know that it will be brutal, and some people will die.  It’s Todd, after all.

Hunted is a brilliant novel in what is proving to be a brilliant series, and I really can’t wait for book three!

Hunted is published on 31 May by Headline.  Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read and review this title via Netgalley.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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My Sweet Friend by H. A. Leuschel

my sweet friend

I enjoyed H. A. Leuschel’s collection of short stories, Manipulated Lives, and I was really pleased when she offered me the chance to read and review her latest novella, My Sweet Friend.

A perfect friend… or a perfect impostor?

Alexa is an energetic and charismatic professional and the new member of a Parisian PR company where she quickly befriends her colleagues Rosie and Jack.  She brings a much-needed breath of fresh air into the office and ambitiously throws herself into her new job and friendships.

But is Alexa all she claims to be?

As her life intertwines with Rosie and Jack’s, they must all decide what separates truth from fiction.  Will the stories that unfold unite or divide them?  Can first impressions ever be trusted?

Like Manipulated Lives, My Sweet Friend focuses on the affect that a manipulator can have on those around them, why those being manipulated might not realise immediately, and why they may try to excuse the manipulator’s behaviour.  It’s a topic that Leuschel knows extremely well through her studies, and this comes through in this novella (and her short story collection) with authentic characters and situations.

Throughout, I found myself wondering how I would react to the situation between Rosie, Alexa, and Jack.  I like to think that I wouldn’t have allowed it to go so far (I like to think that I wouldn’t be in such a situation at all!) and yet I think it’s human nature to forgive to a certain extent, to not rock the boat too much and it’s this facet of human behaviour that manipulators seek to take advantage of.  I thought that this was cleverly portrayed in the way that the manipulator in My Sweet Friend blames a misunderstanding or a misremembered event for their actions, and I could see how such a situation might evolve.

I loved the structure of My Sweet Friend which alternates between the manipulator’s perspective and that of their victim, giving both sides of the story.  Whilst the victim’s perspective evokes sympathy and gives the reader a character to root for, hoping that they’ll come out of the situation unscathed, I did find the manipulator’s point of view to be absolutely fascinating.  I thought that Leuschel was deviously clever in the way that the manipulator would twist events in their own mind and find a way to take advantage of the situation, even when it didn’t look all that good for them.

I thought that the length of this novella suited the story well, and for me personally it worked better than the short stories I’ve read by Leuschel.  This is just my opinion, but I thought that this format allowed her to explore the manipulation over a longer period and through a variety of means so that the reader could see the full extent of their actions and the effect it had.

My Sweet Friend is available to purchase now and is currently available for the bargain price of £0.99 via Amazon Kindle!  Many thanks to H. A . Leuschel for the copy.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Blog Tour: The Retreat by Mark Edwards

the retreat

Having read and enjoyed one of Mark Edwards’ previous novels (The Magpies) I was delighted to be invited to join the blog tour for his latest novel, The Retreat.

A missing child.  A desperate mother.  And a house full of secrets.

Two years ago, Julia lost her family in a tragic accident.  Her husband drowned trying to save their daughter, Lily, in the river near their rural home.  But the little girl’s body was never found—and Julia believes Lily is somehow still alive.

Alone and broke, Julia opens her house as a writers’ retreat.  One of the first guests is Lucas, a horror novelist, who becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Lily.  But within days of his arrival, the peace of the retreat is shattered by a series of eerie events.

When Lucas’s investigation leads him and Julia into the woods, they discover a dark secret—a secret that someone will do anything to protect…

What really happened that day by the river?  Why was Lily never found?  And who, or what, is haunting the retreat?

I went into The Retreat expecting a thriller, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that this had darker undertones and an almost horror story vibe, so much so that I wasn’t entirely sure whether the outcome would be supernatural or whether there would be a rational explanation for everything.  I won’t spoil it for you, but I thought that this aspect of the novel worked really well, and it added a little something extra to the missing child story, as I found The Retreat to be an extremely creepy novel, and I loved the atmosphere throughout.

The plot was fascinating, and I desperately wanted to know what happened to Lily on that day by the river.  The police have all but given up their investigation, convinced that the most obvious answer is the right one and that she drowned, her body swept away by the fast-flowing current.  The novel opens with that day by the river before moving forward two years to Lucas’s arrival at the writer’s retreat, and so the reader knows a little more than the characters in the novel, but not much.  This was a story that kept me guessing to the very end, and I didn’t even come close to putting together a halfway decent guess as to what had happened.

The Retreat is predominantly narrated by Lucas, with a small number of chapters told from Lily’s perspective in the run up to that fateful day at the river.  I thought that this structure worked brilliantly, and whilst Lucas’s investigation continues to result in more questions than it answers, the reader gets a little more insight from the Lily chapters, although the who / what / when / where / how remains elusive until the very end.  I have to admit that I didn’t really like Lucas all that much, but this didn’t stop me enjoying the novel at all – the story was plenty to keep me engaged.  And I REALLY wanted to know what happened to Lily.

The Retreat is a brilliant thriller with a hint of the supernatural thrown in and is a novel that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.  Just don’t read it in the dark.

The Retreat was published on 10 May by Thomas & Mercer and is available in digital and paperback formats. Many thanks to Gabriella Drinkald for the opportunity to read and review this title ahead of its publication.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


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

The Retreat by Mark Edwards Blog Tour banner final

Blog Tour: Tubing by K. A. McKeagney

tubing

I’m thrilled to be taking part in the blog tour for Tubing today – a debut novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Polly, 28, lives in London with her ‘perfect-on-paper’ boyfriend. She works a dead-end job on a free London paper… life as she knows it is dull.  But her banal existence is turned upside down late one drunken night on her way home, after a chance encounter with a man on a packed tube train.  The chemistry between them is electric and on impulse, they kiss, giving in to their carnal desires.  But it’s over in an instant, and Polly is left shell-shocked as he walks away without even telling her his name.

Now obsessed with this beautiful stranger, Polly begins a frantic online search, and finally discovers more about tubing, an underground phenomenon in which total strangers set up illicit, silent, sexual meetings on busy commuter tube trains.  In the process, she manages to track him down and he slowly lures her into his murky world, setting up encounters with different men via Twitter.

At first, she thinks she can keep it separate from the rest of her life, but things soon spiral out of control.

By chance she spots him on a packed tube train with a young, pretty blonde.  Seething with jealousy, she watches them together.  But something isn’t right, and a horrific turn of events make Polly realise not only how foolish she has been, but how much danger she is in…

Can she get out before it’s too late?

Tubing isn’t my usual kind of read.  I like a thriller, but I don’t tend to read novels with overtly erotic themes, but I’m so glad that I gave this novel a go, as I really enjoyed it, and whilst the “action” on the packed tube trains is a central part of the novel, there’s so much more going on here than sex between strangers.

I think that the idea of tubing is a fascinating one, and I haven’t quite dared look up whether it’s an actual thing.  It seems as though people would get caught, but even as a non-Londoner, I know better than to look at people on the tube where people tend to withdraw into themselves, avoiding eye contact at all costs, and so it’s a plausible idea.  Either way, I’m pretty sure that I’ll be thinking about this novel every time I’m on a packed tube journey for some time to come!

I thought that Polly was a fascinating, if not entirely likeable, character.  At 28, she’s is in a relationship that would sound ideal to many, but it’s one that she’s not entirely satisfied with.  That first illicit encounter on the tube gives her a taste of temptation and excitement that she simply doesn’t get from boyfriend, and it doesn’t take long until she is hooked on tubing, even though some of her encounters are a little uncomfortable.  I think that there’s an element of the grass being greener here, in that tubing gives Polly an experience of being with other men and of having fun which to her seems more interesting than the steady relationship that she is in.

The plot moves along at quite a pace as Polly becomes obsessed with tubing and tracking down that handsome stranger from her first encounter, and it’s shocking at how quickly her life spirals out of control as she loses interest in her job, family and general “real life” concerns.  I wasn’t sure where it was going to go, but I loved how McKeagney brought things to a close, even if I thought that the ending was a little abrupt.  Additionally, I had some unanswered questions at the end, largely around Polly’s mother and her notebooks.  This was a minor point, however, and didn’t mean that I enjoyed the novel any less, and overall, Tubing is a highly enjoyable thriller with a bit of a twist, and if you’re not sure about it, I’d encourage you to give it a go (the novel, that is)!

Tubing is published today – 10 May – by Red Door Books.  Many thanks to Anna and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this title, and to take part in the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


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

Tubing - tour poster.jpg

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part II

As promised, here is part two of my mini reviews of books I read during my blogging break.


Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

godsgrave

Conquer your fear, conquer the world

Mia Corvere, destroyer of empires, has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry do not believe she has earned it.

Her position is precarious, and she’s still no closer to exacting revenge for the brutal death of her family. But after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it is announced that Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself into slavery for a chance to fulfill the promise she made on the day she lost everything.

Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold, secrets are revealed and the body count rises within the collegium walls, Mia will be forced to choose between her loyalties and her revenge.

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how Kristoff could possibly manage to follow up the story of Mia Corvere that began in Nevernight (and which you do need to read first), but he’s managed it.

Godsgrave is as brilliant and bloody (possibly bloodier?!) than the first instalment, and takes some unexpected turns.  Some questions are answered, and others are posed.  I cannot wait for the third instalment, Darkdawn, which is released in September.  Honestly, you just need to read this series.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


One Way by S. J. Morden

one way

There’s a murderer amongst them, and everyone’s a suspect… 

Frank Kittridge is serving life for murdering his son’s drug dealer, so when he’s offered a deal by Xenosystems Operations – the corporation that owns the prison – he takes it.

He’s been selected to help build the first permanent base on Mars. Unfortunately, his crewmates are just as guilty of their crimes as he is.

As the convicts set to work on the frozen wastes of Mars, the accidents multiply.

Until Frank begins to suspect they might not be accidents at all…

One Way is the love child of Andy Weir’s The Martian and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None.  Sound odd?  Trust me, it works.

In order to cut costs, a small group of convicts is selected and trained to build the first, small base on Mars.  Each has a skill that will contribute to the scheme, but they are all convicted felons, and this makes the group dynamics extremely interesting as they need to work together, but with little trust between them.  And when things start to go wrong, it doesn’t take long for them to start blaming each other…

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Origin by Dan Brown

origin

Robert Langdon, Harvard professor of symbology and religious iconology, arrives at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to attend the unveiling of a discovery that “will change the face of science forever”. The evening’s host is his friend and former student, Edmond Kirsch, a forty-year-old tech magnate whose dazzling inventions and audacious predictions have made him a controversial figure around the world. This evening is to be no exception: he claims he will reveal an astonishing scientific breakthrough to challenge the fundamentals of human existence.

But Langdon and several hundred other guests are left reeling when the meticulously orchestrated evening is blown apart before Kirsch’s precious discovery can be revealed. With his life under threat, Langdon is forced into a desperate bid to escape, along with the museum’s director, Ambra Vidal. Together they flee to Barcelona on a perilous quest to locate a cryptic password that will unlock Kirsch’s secret.

In order to evade a tormented enemy who is one step ahead of them at every turn, Langdon and Vidal must navigate labyrinthine passageways of hidden history and ancient religion. On a trail marked only by enigmatic symbols and elusive modern art, Langdon and Vidal uncover the clues that will bring them face-to-face with a world-shaking truth that has remained buried – until now.

Harvard professor Robert Langdon on the run with a beautiful woman?  Surely not 😉

I enjoy this series.  Five books in, and Brown still keeps them interesting and different, and I love the opportunity to explore a different city in each novel.  I did feel that Origin didn’t have quite the same focus on symbology and puzzles as the previous novels, which is an element that I’ve particularly enjoyed in the series, but this was still an entertaining ride, even if I did have my suspicions as to the culprit relatively early on.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


The History of Bees by Maja Lunde

the history of bees

In the spirit of Station Eleven and Never Let Me Go, this dazzling and ambitious literary debut follows three generations of beekeepers from the past, present, and future, weaving a spellbinding story of their relationship to the bees – and to their children and one another – against the backdrop of an urgent, global crisis.

England, 1851. William is a biologist and seed merchant, who sets out to build a new type of beehive—one that will give both him and his children honour and fame.

United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper and fights an uphill battle against modern farming, but hopes that his son can be their salvation.

China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao’s young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident—and is kept in the dark about his whereabouts and condition—she sets out on a grueling journey to find out what happened to him.

Haunting, illuminating, and deftly written, The History of Bees joins these three very different narratives into one gripping and thought provoking story that is just as much about the powerful relationships between children and parents as it is about our very relationship to nature and humanity.

I absolutely loved The History of Bees, a novel I purchased when it was released late last year.  Alternating between the three narratives, Lunde gave each character a unique voice, and I loved seeing each story progress, and discovering the links (other than the obvious) between them.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Good Son by You-jeong Jeong

the good son

I loved the sound of The Good Son as soon as I heard about it and I was thrilled to be invited to read and review this title via Netgalley by the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group.

Who can you trust if you can’t trust yourself?

Early one morning, twenty-six-year-old Yu-jin wakes up to a strange metallic smell, and a phone call from his brother asking if everything’s all right at home – he missed a call from their mother in the middle of the night.  Yu-jin soon discovers her murdered body, lying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs of their stylish Seoul duplex.  He can’t remember much about the night before; having suffered from seizures for most of his life, Yu-jin often has trouble with his memory.  All he has is a faint impression of his mother calling his name.  But was she calling for help?  Or begging for her life?

Thus begins Yu-jin’s frantic three-day search to uncover what happened that night, and to finally learn the truth about himself and his family.  A shocking and addictive psychological thriller, The Good Son explores the mysteries of mind and memory, and the twisted relationship between a mother and son, with incredible urgency.

The Good Son is an in-depth character study of Yu-jin, who wakes up at the start of the novel covered in blood and with no memory of how he came to be in such a state.  Over the next three days, Yu-jin seeks to piece together the events of that evening, with flashbacks to his past – his time as a competitive swimmer at school, the death of his father and older brother, Yu-min, and his interactions with those around him.  I have to admit that I found this novel a little confusing at first, and if you find yourself in the same situation, it is worth sticking with it to see where it goes.  Whilst it takes some time to answer the questions it initially poses (and adds a few more in along the way) it does all become clearer, and I found myself drawn into this complex story after my initial confusion had passed.

Yu-jin is an unusual and complicated character, and I found myself questioning the boundary between his memories and his imagination – it wasn’t entirely clear how much of the narrative I should believe.  Added to this is the fact that he has recently stopped taking his medication, an act that he does from time to time to revel in the almost manic state it results in, which he, understandably, prefers to the lethargy induced by his medication.  Is he an unreliable narrator, or is he a young man adversely (and unfairly) affected by his medication?  This was the question I kept coming back to throughout the novel as I learnt more about him and his background, and I liked the ambiguity as to whether I could trust Yu-jin’s narration.

This is an incredibly dark and clever novel, although it’s one that I suspect won’t appeal to everyone.  I came to love the slower pace and the level of detail feeding into the question of did he / didn’t he do it.  I didn’t realise when I read it, but The Good Son is inspired by a true story, which makes it even more shocking once you understand the outcome.

The Good Son is published today – 3 May – in hardback and digital formats by Little, Brown Book Group.  Many thanks to Grace Vincent for the opportunity to read and review this title ahead of its publication.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Blog Tour: Keeper by Johana Gustawsson

keeper

I’m absolutely delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Keeper today.  Keeper is the second novel in Johana Gustawsson’s Roy and Castells series, following on from Block 46 and I think that this second instalment is even better than the first.

Whitechapel, 1888: London is bowed under Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror.

London, 2015: actress Julianne Bell is abducted in a case similar to the terrible Tower Hamlets murders of some ten years earlier, and harking back to the Ripper killings of a century before.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2015: a woman’s body is found mutilated in a forest, her wounds identical to those of the Tower Hamlets victims. With the man arrested for the Tower Hamlets crimes already locked up, do the new killings mean he has a dangerous accomplice, or is a copy-cat serial killer on the loose?

Profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells again find themselves drawn into an intriguing case, with personal links that turn their world upside down.

Following the highly acclaimed Block 46 and guaranteed to disturb and enthral, Keeper is a breathless thriller from the new queen of French Noir.

Like Block 46, Keeper has two timelines running through it.  There’s the modern-day narrative in which Roy et al are investigating the disappearance of Julianne Bell whilst also looking into the gruesome discovery of a woman’s mutilated body in Sweden, as well as the historical story that kicks off in Whitechapel in 1888 featuring Jack the Ripper.  The historical elements in Gustawsson’s novels are, I think, my favourite thing about them.  I think that these historical cases add something extra to her novels, setting them apart from the usual crime procedurals.  Additionally, the historical tales always tie in with the main narrative brilliantly, and give a background to the culprits before the reader even knows who they are.

I felt that this story focused more on Emily Roy than Alexis Castells at first, and it was brilliant to be back in her company.  A behavioural profiler, she is extremely clever but doesn’t always play well with others, often not bothering to worry about social niceties and often comes across as being a little blunt.  I think that she’s a fantastic character – she has the troubled past that one often finds in the genre, but hasn’t let that turn her into a maverick, and I like that her profession as a profiler again gives the novel something a little different to the usual harried police detectives that feature heavily in the genre.

As I mentioned, Alexis’s role isn’t as immediately apparent in Keeper, although the case has a very personal element for Alexis, and she soon proves her worth through her own investigations as she comes at the case from a different angle.  Alexis is another character that I really like, and I have to say that her mother is an absolute star!  I’ll let you find out more about her when you read it, however. 😉

I’ve deliberately not gone into the plot in any detail, as I really think that the above synopsis tells you as much as you need to know going into the novel but like Block 46, this is a wonderfully dark and complex novel that will keep you guessing right to the end.  Highly recommended.

Keeper was published in paperback on 28 April by Orenda Books, and is also available as an eBook.  Many thanks to Anne Cater for the review copy, and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour:

FINAL Keeper blog poster 2018