Category Archives: Holiday Reads

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


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


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: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part I

You may (or may not!) have noticed that things went a little quiet on Jo’s Book Blog recently.  This is partly because I had a week on Boa Vista, one of the islands in the Cape Verde.  However, I also took a bit more time away from blogging than expected, as I found that I needed a break – I found myself in a bit of a reading slump, and I wasn’t enjoying blogging as much, which in turn affected my reviews which I felt weren’t up to scratch.

But now I’m back, thoroughly refreshed, slightly less pale than usual, and maybe a little heavier than I was before 😀

I managed to fit in quite a bit of reading during my break, and being able to read my own books without the (entirely self-imposed) guilt of not reading review copies was thoroughly refreshing.  I’ve split my mini reviews into two posts, and the second will follow later this week.

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King

sleeping beauties

All around the world, something is happening to women when they fall asleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed, the women become feral and spectacularly violent…

In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia, the virus is spreading through a women’s prison, affecting all the inmates except one. Soon, word spreads about the mysterious Evie, who seems able to sleep – and wake. Is she a medical anomaly or a demon to be slain?

The abandoned men, left to their increasingly primal devices, are fighting each other, while Dooling’s Sheriff, Lila Norcross, is just fighting to stay awake.

And the sleeping women are about to open their eyes to a new world altogether…

I enjoyed this novel which looks at what might happen if women were to disappear from the world, leaving the men to their own devices.  Whilst it’s co-written by Stephen and Owen King, Sleeping Beauties had many of the hallmarks of a Stephen King novel, and if you like his work then I think you’ll enjoy this.

Stephen King likes a small town setting, and it allows him to go into detail about the place and its inhabitants, which really do bring the books to life.  However, I did find it a little difficult to keep track of all of the characters in this novel, although there is a character guide at the beginning to help with this.

Sleeping Beauties is an interesting and original story and I liked the ending, but it did feel a little too long at times.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Hunger by Alma Katsu

the hunger

After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumoured to be shorter.

Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realise that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.

Based on the true story of The Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

I absolutely loved The Hunger in which Katsu put a supernatural spin on the tale of the ill-fated Donner party.  Whilst I vaguely remember learning about them in school, I couldn’t tell you much beyond the outcome of their journey, but no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy this novel.

The Hunger is rich in historical detail and interesting, if not entirely likeable, characters, and Katsu builds up the tension and imparts a sense of dread from the very beginning of the novel, even when things don’t look too bad for the party.  Recommended if you’re looking for a creepy, literary horror.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Girls by Emma Cline

the girls

Evie Boyd is fourteen and desperate to be noticed.

It’s the summer of 1969 and restless, empty days stretch ahead of her. Until she sees them. The girls. Hair long and uncombed, jewelry catching the sun. And at their centre, Suzanne, black-haired and beautiful.

If not for Suzanne, she might not have gone. But, intoxicated by her and the life she promises, Evie follows the girls back to the decaying ranch where they live.

Was there a warning? A sign of what was coming? Or did Evie know already that there was no way back?

The Girls is a novel that I wanted to read when it was first published in 2016, but didn’t actually purchase until late last year after being given a nudge by a friend of mine.  I’m so glad I listened to her!

It is fiction, but The Girls explores the pull of charismatic cult-leaders, and what inspires such devotion in the followers of individuals such as Charles Manson as Evie become ever more involved in a small commune made up of several young girls and their leader, Russell Hadrick.

The characters aren’t particularly likeable, but I did still want to shield Evie from what she was getting into, and I enjoyed the way in which Cline portrayed her conflict between her upbringing and doing what’s right versus the desire to “prove” herself to these girls and their leader.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh




‘To your knowledge, is there anything that would preclude you from serving on this jury?’

Murder wasn’t the hard part. It was just the start of the game.

Joshua Kane has been preparing for this moment his whole life. He’s done it before. But this is the big one.

This is the murder trial of the century. And Kane has killed to get the best seat in the house.

But there’s someone on his tail. Someone who suspects that the killer isn’t the man on trial.

Kane knows time is running out – he just needs to get to the conviction without being discovered.

Thirteen is absolutely brilliant!  I haven’t read Cavanagh’s other novels featuring Eddie Flynn, but I didn’t feel that I was missing out on any essential background to the plot or characters by diving straight into this one.

I don’t want to say too much about this – the premise of a serial killer sitting on the jury is a fantastic one, and whilst I wasn’t sure how he’d make it work, he did.  Wonderful, twisty, and clever, I highly recommend Thirteen.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part II

As promised, here is part II of my mini reviews of my holiday reads.

Don’t Let Go by Michel Bussi

don't let go

In an idyllic resort on the island of La Réunion, Liane Bellion and her husband Martial are enjoying the perfect moment with their 6-year-old daughter. Turquoise skies, blue sea, palm trees, a warm breeze.

Then Liane disappears. She went up to her hotel room between 3 and 4pm and never came back. Her husband, worried, had gone to the room along with the concierge – the room was empty but there was blood everywhere. Despite his protestations of innocence, the police view Martial as their prime suspect. He was the only other person who went to the hotel room between 3 and 4pm according to the staff of the hotel.

Then he disappears along with his daughter. With Martial as prime suspect, helicopters scan the island, racial tensions surface, and more corpses are found. Is he really his wife’s killer? And if he isn’t, why does he appear to be so guilty?

I had really high hopes for this novel, having loved After the Crash and Black Water Lilies, and whilst I enjoyed it, I have to admit that it didn’t quite live up to my expectations.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, and I liked it, but I had had a couple of issues with the novel.

The good points.  The plot has all the twists and turns that I’ve come to expect from Bussi, and if I guessed elements of where it was going, I didn’t see the whole picture until the big reveal.  I’ve not been to La Réunion, so I don’t know how accurate a portrayal it is, but it does sound lovely.  And, Captain Aja Purvi was a great character.

But.  Throughout the novel, many of the women are treated as little more than objects to be groped and ogled at, and whilst the inclusion of the odd incident isn’t necessarily an issue (it does happen, after all), to have to read about it repeatedly does get a little tiresome.  In addition, the plot requires the suspension of disbelief, as it’s rather implausible at times.  I also had some issues with the relationship between Martial and his daughter, Sopha, which seemed a little off.

Not for me, this one, although I’d be willing to read additional novels by Bussi, on the strength of the first two.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

the loney

“If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney – that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest.

It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is.

I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn’t stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget….”

The Loney is book that has had quite mixed reviews.  Having read it, I can see why it doesn’t appeal to everyone, although I absolutely loved it.

The narrator, who we know only be his surname, Smith, or by his nickname, Tonto, tells the story of what happened at the Loney whilst he was a child on the last of the many Easter vacations he spent there with his family, the local vicar, and other members of their congregation.  This book does contain a lot of detail of Catholic rites, although it’s done in such a way that even an atheist like myself didn’t feel overwhelmed by this.

This isn’t a fast-paced novel with something happening on every page.  But, if there’s nothing overtly happening, I always had the feeling that something was about to happen, and I thought that Hurley’s writing effortlessly maintained the sense of unease with which he imbued the novel from early on.  Obviously, it wouldn’t be much a novel if nothing happened at all, but it does take a while, and I did suspect where it was going from the hints earlier on.  That said, I still found the ending to be quite shocking, even though I was expecting it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and whilst I can see that it may not be to everyone’s taste, I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a gothic tale.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Method by Shannon Kirk

the method

Imagine a helpless, pregnant 16-year-old who’s just been yanked from the serenity of her home and shoved into a dirty van. Kidnapped. Alone. Terrified.

Now forget her …

Picture instead a pregnant, 16-year-old, manipulative prodigy. She is shoved into a dirty van and, from the first moment of her kidnapping, feels a calm desire for two things: to save her unborn son and to exact merciless revenge.

She is methodical, calculating, scientific in her plotting. A clinical sociopath? Leaving nothing to chance, secure in her timing and practice, she waits for the perfect moment to strike. The Method is what happens when the victim is just as cold as the captors.

The agents trying to find a kidnapped girl have their own frustrations and desires wrapped into this chilling drama. In the twists of intersecting stories, one is left to ponder. Who is the victim? Who is the aggressor?

I’m not sure that a book about a kidnapped, heavily pregnant teenager should be fun, but that is the word that springs to mind to describe this one.  Told from the perspective of a unique protagonist, we see how this exceptionally intelligent and gifted young woman is able to scientifically assess her situation and the “assets” that she has available to her, and to form a plan to escape her captivity.

Despite her meticulous planning, there are plenty of knuckle-biting moments when you’re not sure whether she will be ok, and I found this to be an incredibly quick read as I was desperate to know whether her planned worked and she was able to escape, what the federal agents working the case found, and whether she was also able to take her revenge on those that abducted her.

A brilliant twist on the kidnap thriller.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part I

I recently had a week away in Italy.  Whilst some of my holidays are about lazing around by the pool reading, this trip was more about going out and doing *stuff*, but I did still manage to factor in some reading time!

I’ve separated the mini-reviews of my holiday reads into two posts, and I’ll be posting part II tomorrow.

Little Deaths by Emma Flint

little deaths

It’s the summer of 1965, and the streets of Queens, New York shimmer in a heatwave. One July morning, Ruth Malone wakes to find a bedroom window wide open and her two young children missing. After a desperate search, the police make a horrifying discovery.

Noting Ruth’s perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip and speculation. Sent to cover the case on his first major assignment, tabloid reporter Pete Wonicke at first can’t help but do the same. But the longer he spends watching Ruth, the more he learns about the darker workings of the police and the press. Soon, Pete begins to doubt everything he thought he knew.

Ruth Malone is enthralling, challenging and secretive – is she really capable of murder?

Haunting, intoxicating and heart-poundingly suspenseful, Little Deaths is a gripping novel about love, morality and obsession, exploring the capacity for good and evil within us all.

I was absolutely delighted to win a copy of Little Deaths recently – it’s a novel that I’ve had my eye on since its publication earlier this year, and I’m pleased to say that I really enjoyed it.

Ruth is an absolutely fascinating character.  Adamant from the beginning that she did not harm her children, she also seems strangely reluctant to defend herself, trusting that justice will serve and the real culprit will eventually be found.  This, combined with her unwillingness to show any form of emotion in front of anyone – police, neighbours, family – means that she is perceived as being unaffected by the disappearance of her two children.  The reader has more insight, although Flint cleverly leaves it open as to whether she might have responsible.

Ruth is never seen without make up and immaculate, if occasionally provocative, dress, and these factors also lead to speculation that she feels that she is better off without her children.  She is judged harshly by both men and women, and is seen as something of a scarlet woman, out to get her claws into any man she can.  You can see how this becomes something of a self-fulfilling cycle – she is judged harshly, and so has to put on a mask (both physical, in the form of her make up, but also to mask her emotions), which then leads to further speculation and gossip.

It’s clear that the police officer in charge of the case, Devlin, is against her from the very beginning.  Again, I felt that his character, whilst secondary, was brilliantly portrayed.  As the reader, I was sympathetic towards Ruth, and yet some of the evidence presented by Devlin does suggest that there’s more to the case than meets the eye, and more than Ruth is sharing with the reader.

This is a wonderfully clever novel, with brilliantly realised characters who come across as being all too human, with everything that entails.  Highly recommended.

Many thanks to Emma Flint for the copy of Little Deaths which I won in a Twitter giveaway.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

The Fourth Monkey by J. D. Barker

the fourth monkey

Se7en meets The Silence of the Lambs in this dark and twisting novel from the author Jeffery Deaver called, “A talented writer with a delightfully devious mind.”

For over five years, the Four Monkey Killer has terrorized the residents of Chicago. When his body is found, the police quickly realize he was on his way to deliver one final message, one which proves he has taken another victim who may still be alive.

As the lead investigator on the 4MK task force, Detective Sam Porter knows even in death, the killer is far from finished. When he discovers a personal diary in the jacket pocket of the body, Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath, unraveling a twisted history in hopes of finding one last girl, all while struggling with personal demons of his own.

With only a handful of clues, the elusive killer’s identity remains a mystery. Time is running out and the Four Monkey Killer taunts from beyond the grave in this masterfully written fast-paced thriller.

The Fourth Monkey is another book that I won recently in a giveaway from Zuky @

I won’t go in to the plot too much, as I’d hate to give away any spoilers of the novel, but this is a dark and twisty thriller that alternates between the investigation into the killer following his death as well as the race against time to find his latest victim, and the diary found on his body.  I found both parts of the story (which come together nicely by the end of the novel) to be equally thrilling, albeit quite different to each other in tone.  The investigation moves at a fast pace, given the need to find the latest victim before it’s too late, whilst the diary is a little slower, yet giving an insight into the mind of the serial killer and exploring how he came to be what he is.

I loved Barker’s characterisation, and Sam Porter, our lead detective, in particular, who has been hunting this serial killer since the very first case some five years ago.  It struck me as a little unusual to have a slightly older detective on the case, rather than some hotshot fresh out of the academy, and I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel.  Additionally, the banter between those involved in the case is brilliant – I loved the camaraderie between them, and there are some witty one-liners in this novel.

I have to admit that I did anticipate some of the twists that this novel took, although it’s still a thrilling ride, and a surprisingly quick read to say that it’s some 400+ pages long.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

this savage song

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of Schwab’s work, and whilst I didn’t enjoy this novel quite as much as her others (I’m not sure she will ever surpass her Darker Shade of Magic trilogy!), it’s still a fantastic read.

They say that violence begets violence, and so it proves to be the case in This Savage Song, in which violence begets not only violence, but savage monsters that manifest whenever a serious crime is committed.  I absolutely love this idea, and it’s one that I’ve not come across elsewhere.

As always, Schwab’s characterisation and world-building is second to none.  Kate and August, our two main protagonists, are very different to each other, and yet are thrown together and forced to go on the run following an assassination attempt.  Kate and August come from separate sides of the city, and are part of each side’s “ruling family”, and there’s something reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet about this aspect of them.  But, this book has no romance, which I loved.  It’s so unusual, but I think that it’s great to see that boys and girls can just be friends.  Not that August is any normal boy…

I did find the novel a little slow to start, and I think that it’s partly because it took me a little while to understand the world in which it’s set, although the pace does soon pick up.  I’m really looking forward to reading the second novel in the duology, Our Dark Duet.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part II

On Friday, I posted the first part of my Mini Reviews of Recent Reads.  There were too many to include in a single post, so here is part two!

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson


Siglufjorour: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thor Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose. Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights.

Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series, which starts with Snowblind, is one that I’ve heard a lot about from fellow bloggers, and I found it to be an enjoyable read.  I particularly liked the setting of a small Icelandic town which is likely to get cut off from the rest of the country in heavy snow, and I thought that Jonasson evoked the bleak landscape and the claustrophobic nature of the town really well.  This is enhanced by the “small town” feel, where everyone knows everyone else, which makes Ari’s assignment all the more difficult as he has to overcome the difficulties of being an outsider.

This isn’t a twisty thriller of a novel and fits more in the classic detective genre, and I’m really looking forward to picking up the next novel in the series, Nightblind.

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

the sudden appearance of hope


All the world forgets me. First my face, then my voice, then the consequences of my deeds.

So listen. Remember me.

My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. We’ve met before – a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit – you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

The Sudden Appearance of Hope is the tale of the girl no one remembers. But this gripping story – of love and loss, of hope and despair, of living in the moment and dying to leave a mark – is novel that will stay with you for ever.

I loved North’s previous two novels, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and Touch, and I pre-ordered this title ahead of it’s publication in May last year, but didn’t get around to reading it.

I thought that North did a brilliant job of capturing what it might be like to have no one remember you for more than two minutes.  It’s a strange and highly original concept, and I enjoyed reading about Hope’s exploits as she uses this to her advantage.

I think that the best part of the novel was the idea of Perfection – an app that prompts the reader to improve themselves in order to achieve… perfection.  An assessment of what you’re eating, reminders to go to the gym, what to wear are all covered.  Except that the idea of perfection presented here is one of conformity to a certain standard – rich, beautiful, glamourous, gorgeous people, and it’s a little difficult to tell those who’ve achieved perfection apart from one another.  I thought that North brilliantly poked fun at the idea of conforming to this supposed ideal, thus promoting individuality in the process.

This didn’t quite live up to the previous two novels for me personally, but it was an enjoyable read, and offers the reader a unique scenario to get to grips with.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Rattle by Fiona Cummins


A psychopath more frightening than Hannibal Lecter.

He has planned well. He leads two lives. In one he’s just like anyone else. But in the other he is the caretaker of his family’s macabre museum.

Now the time has come to add to his collection. He is ready to feed his obsession, and he is on the hunt.

Jakey Frith and Clara Foyle have something in common. They have what he needs.

What begins is a terrifying cat-and-mouse game between the sinister collector, Jakey’s father and Etta Fitzroy, a troubled detective investigating a spate of abductions.

Set in London’s Blackheath, Rattle by Fiona Cummins explores the seam of darkness that runs through us all; the struggle between light and shadow, redemption and revenge.

It is a glimpse into the mind of a sinister psychopath. And it’s also a story about not giving up hope when it seems that all hope is already lost.

I went into Rattle expecting a lot of dark gory unpleasantness.  Perhaps because of this expectation, I didn’t think it to be all that gruesome.  There are hints, and some unpleasantness is implied, but I didn’t find this to be a particularly uncomfortable read.

I thought that the characterisation was excellent.  The psychopath, Etta Fitzroy, Jakey, Clara and their families are all well developed, and I loved that no one, even the bad guy, was purely good or bad.  The novel is told from multiple perspectives, and in this way we see not only the investigation and the frustration of not being able to find the two missing children, but also the affect that this has on their families.

I also enjoyed the ending of the novel.  It took me by surprise, and that’s always a good thing.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

tall oaks

For fans of Twin Peaks and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, this brilliant debut is dark yet hilarious, suspenseful and sad.

Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town.

Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.

Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own . . .

In Chris Whitaker’s brilliant and original debut novel, missing persons, secret identities and dangerous lies abound in a town as idiosyncratic as its inhabitants.

I was intrigued by Tall Oaks when it was first published last year – fellow bloggers raved about it, and it appeared on many “Best of 2016” lists.  Plus, I loved The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, so I had high expectations of this, given that it’s recommended for fans of that novel.  And it definitely lived up to those expectations!

Whilst it is about a missing child, this isn’t really a police procedural, although one of the many perspectives that we see in the novel is that of Jim, the local sheriff and his investigation into the whereabouts of Harry.  And even though the disappearance of the child touches upon the lives of everyone in the small community, that isn’t the sole focus of the novel.

There are some great characters here, and, like many others, I am now a fully paid up member of the Manny Romero fanclub!  A foul-mouthed, gangster wannabe teenager who is admirably un-PC, I wasn’t sure what to make of him at first, but by the end of the novel he was my favourite character in the novel, and one of the best characters I’ve come across for quite some time.

Whitaker has plotted an extremely clever novel, and I didn’t see the ending coming at all.  This is, quite simply, brilliant, and I can’t wait to read Whitaker’s second novel, All the Wicked Girls, which I’ve just received a proof copy of!

Rating: ★★★★★

13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough

13 minutes

I was dead for 13 minutes.

I don’t remember how I ended up in the icy water but I do know this – it wasn’t an accident and I wasn’t suicidal.

They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but when you’re a teenage girl, it’s hard to tell them apart. My friends love me, I’m sure of it. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to kill me. Does it?

The cover describes this novel as “Mean Girls for the Instagram age”, and I think that’s an accurate description.  The three Barbies, as Natasha, Hayley and Jenny are known, were very much like a British version of the trio in Mean Girls.  They are slim, blond, beautiful and popular.

The novel focuses largely on Rebecca, who was once close friends with Natasha and Hayley when they were younger, and has felt stung ever since they abandoned her when they were 11 or so.  Following Natasha’s close call with death, she becomes friends with Rebecca again, not knowing who she can trust following the incident that resulted in her being pulled from the river by a passing stranger.

I thought that Pinborough captured exactly what it’s like to be a teenage girl, and everything that goes along with that.  And whilst you might think that this is a YA novel given the age of the protagonists, I didn’t think that was the case, and I think that anyone who enjoys a thriller will love this.

Whilst it didn’t quite have the shock factor of Behind Her Eyes, these are plenty of twists in the novel, and if I suspected the what, I absolutely had to keep reading to find out the how and the why.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Part I

Following my recent holiday, I wanted to provide some “mini reviews” of the books that I read while I was away, as well as the two books I read prior to my holiday which I didn’t get chance to review in full.

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

the trouble with goats and sheep

Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming debut about a community in need of absolution and two girls learning what it means to belong.

England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbours blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God—they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home.

Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in.

In the suffocating heat of the summer, the ability to guard these differences becomes impossible. Along with the parched lawns and the melting pavement, the lives of all the neighbours begin to unravel. What the girls don’t realise is that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was beginning to peel back just before she disappeared.

I avoided this book for a long time when it was released – I’m not sure why, but it didn’t really appeal.  I bought it when it was offer around Christmas time, however, and bumped it up the TBR following the great reviews I’ve seen elsewhere.  And I have to admit, I absolutely loved it!

I really enjoyed reading from the perspective of ten-year-old Grace, and I think that Cannon captured perfectly what it’s like to be that age and not understanding everything that people say and do (including the often too literal interpretations), but picking up a lot more than children of that age are given credit for.

Given the setting of the novel in a small cul-de-sac, there are several characters to get to grips with and I was a little worried that it would become too confusing to remember who was who, but Cannon handled this admirably, giving each a distinct personality yet with without resorting to unrealistic or outrageous characteristics.  I loved their curtain twitching antics, and found several reminders of my own childhood, and growing up on a street where everyone knows everyone else, and takes far too much interest in everyone else’s business.

This is a brilliant and often amusing story about a small neighbourhood with lots of secrets, and two unforgettable little girls who are determined to get to the bottom of what’s going on and where Mrs Creasy has disappeared to.  I loved it, and I can’t wait for Cannon’s next offering, Three Things About Elsie, which is due for publication in January 2018.

Rating: ★★★★★

The Revenant by Michael Punke

the revenant

A thrilling tale of betrayal and revenge set against the nineteenth-century American frontier, the astonishing story of real-life trapper and frontiersman Hugh Glass

The year is 1823, and the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Hugh Glass is among the company’s finest men, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker. But when a scouting mission puts him face-to-face with a grizzly bear, he is viciously mauled and not expected to survive.

Two company men are dispatched to stay behind and tend to Glass before he dies. When the men abandon him instead, Glass is driven to survive by one desire: revenge. With shocking grit and determination, Glass sets out, crawling at first, across hundreds of miles of uncharted American frontier.

Based on a true story, The Revenant is a remarkable tale of obsession, the human will stretched to its limits, and the lengths that one man will go to for retribution.

I’ve not seen the film of The Revenant, so I’ve no idea how it compares to the novel, but I really enjoyed this.  I was reminded a little of Ian McGuire’s The North Water (which I absolutely loved) in that this novel is quite dark and brutal at times.  The setting is very different, however, and I loved the evocation of a largely unsettled America where the Native Americans still hold sway.

There’s a fair amount of detail contained in the novel, and I thought that Punke did well to incorporate this information without it coming across in a textbook fashion – it fits seamlessly into the narrative, giving the reader contextual detail without being tiresome.

I recommend giving this a go, if it sounds like your kind of thing, and I’d love to know if anyone has read any of Punke’s other novels – I’m quite intrigued now that I’ve read this one.

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Burial Hour by Jeffery Deaver

the burial hour

Number one bestselling author and master of suspense Jeffery Deaver returns with the thirteenth Lincoln Rhyme thriller, which sees a crime go global…

The only leads in a broad-daylight kidnapping are the account of an eight-year-old girl, some nearly invisible trace evidence and the calling card: a miniature noose left lying on the street. A crime scene this puzzling demands forensic expertise of the highest order. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are called in to investigate.

Then the case takes a stranger turn: a recording surfaces of the victim being slowly hanged, his desperate gasps the backdrop to an eerie piece of music. The video is marked as the work of The Composer…

Despite their best efforts, the suspect gets away. So when a similar kidnapping occurs on a dusty road outside Naples, Rhyme and Sachs don’t hesitate to rejoin the hunt. But the search is now a complex case of international cooperation – and not all those involved may be who they seem. All they can do is follow the evidence, before their time runs out.

I didn’t think that this novel had been released yet, and so I was delighted when I discovered it in the Airport Exclusives prior to leaving the UK.  I love the Lincoln Rhyme series – I’ve read them all, and whilst I haven’t enjoyed the latest instalments quite as much as I did the earlier novels, I still find these to be highly entertaining reads.  I’ve not solved a single one yet, not even through guess work.  Deaver weaves exceptionally clever plots and even when I think I’ve worked something out, there’s always an extra twist that I never expected.

One aspect of The Burial Hour that I particularly enjoyed was the Italian setting – taking Rhyme and Sachs out of New York made The Burial Hour a little different, and it was interesting to see Rhyme unable to rely upon his encyclopaedic knowledge of New York and it’s surrounds.  Not that this stops him, of course – he’s still Rhyme and his arrogance is well earned.  And working with the Italian police also adds an additional element of complexity as they have to defer to the local law enforcement.

If you’ve enjoyed previous Lincoln Rhyme offerings then I think that you’ll still enjoy this one.  If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Bone Collector.  These novels can (just about) be read on their own, but there are references to previous cases, and you’ll miss a lot of the context around Rhyme’s and Sachs’s relationship.

Rating: ★★★★☆

A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab

a conjuring of light

The precarious equilibrium among the four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari -begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties.

Lila Bard, once a commonplace but never common thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry.

Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery and the Night Spire crew are attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible, as an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown and a fallen hero is desperate to save a decaying world…

A Conjuring of Light follows on directly from the events in A Gathering of Shadows, which ended on such a cliff-hanger!  Needless to say, if you haven’t read A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, you should – this isn’t a series to dip in and out of, and all three books have been absolutely brilliant, and I can’t recommend them enough.

I’ll be honest, I have slightly mixed feelings now that I’ve read A Conjuring of Light.  Not about the book – it was absolutely brilliant and more than lived up to the promise of the first two books in the series, but it’s done, and I now feel a little bereft that I’m leaving Schwab’s brilliantly imagined parallel Londons ☹

I’ve loved everything about this series – the world, the characters, and the magic system have all been brilliant, and Schwab tells an excellent and thoroughly entertaining story.

Rating: ★★★★★

Thirst by Benjamin Warner


On a searing summer Friday, Eddie Chapman has been stuck for hours in a traffic jam. There are accidents along the highway, but ambulances and police are conspicuously absent. When he decides to abandon his car and run home, he sees that the trees along the edge of a stream have been burnt, and the water in the streambed is gone. Something is very wrong.

When he arrives home, the power is out and there is no running water. The pipes everywhere, it seems, have gone dry. Eddie and his wife, Laura, find themselves thrust together with their neighbours while a sense of unease thickens in the stifling night air.

Thirst takes place in the immediate aftermath of a mysterious disaster–the Chapmans and their neighbours suffer the effects of the heat, their thirst, and the terrifying realisation that no one is coming to help. As violence rips through the community, Eddie and Laura are forced to recall secrets from their past and question their present humanity. In crisp and convincing prose, Ben Warner compels readers to do the same. What might you do to survive?

I loved the premise of Thirst when I first came across it last year.  The (rapid) decline of society following some kind of disaster – in this instance, a lack of water – and seeing how people deal with the scenario is exactly my kind of read.  And I think that Warner delivered.  As the water stops and communications break down (it’s not clear why communications have broken down when the water stops, given that these are two separate systems) individuals begin to stockpile goods and to loot local shops.  There is violence, and whilst some individuals come together, it’s very much every man for himself.

As with many novels of this nature, Warner doesn’t go into detail as to why there is no water.  I didn’t find this to be an issue, but those readers who like to have all the answers by the end of a novel may find this a little frustrating.

If I have one little bug bear with the novel, it’s that I didn’t really take to Laura’s character – at least partly because I found her to be a little inconsistent, and she seemed hellbent on sabotaging their chances of survival.  Whilst her wanting to help others is an admirable quality, I don’t think that anyone would do so to the extent of their own detriment.

An enjoyable read, if you like novels focusing on the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Holiday Reads – Spain 2016

I’ve spent the last week or so enjoying the sun and sangria in Spain.  This much needed break allowed me to catch up on some reading and to make a little dint into my TBR pile.  Here are the books I read:

after-the-crashAfter the Crash by Michel Bussi

I read Bussi’s Black Water Lilies earlier this year and really enjoyed it.  Shortly before I went away, I noticed that the first of his novels to be translated into English – After the Crash – was on one of Amazon’s many Kindle deals, and couldn’t resist.  And I’m so glad that I didn’t!

After the Crash presents the sole survivor of a plane crash of the French / Swiss border – a three-month old girl.  Two families step forward to claim the child as their own, and the novel focusses on the investigation by a private investigator to determine her identity – an investigation which takes 18 years.

There are multiple twists, and the investigation continually throws up various pieces of evidence to say which family she belongs to, before throwing some counter argument in the way, returning the reader (and the private investigator who has been hired to solve the mystery of the girl’s identity) back to square one.  If, like me at the outset of the novel, you’re wondering why they didn’t just obtain a DNA test, this is incorporated into the novel, and is deftly handled, as is the whole investigation.

the-lie-treeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

I’ve been meaning to read The Lie Tree for some time now, as I had heard great things about it and thought it was an interesting premise.

The Lie Tree is set in Victorian times, and fourteen-year-old protagonist Faith and her family have moved to the fictional island of Vane due to a scandal at home.  Faith isn’t a typical Victorian young lady, and when her father dies in mysterious circumstances, she begins her own investigation, and stumbles across a strange tree that is in her father’s possession – a tree that thrives on darkness and lies, producing fruit when the lie becomes established as fact.  When eaten, the fruit reveals a truth to the person consuming it.

Whilst ostensibly a murder mystery and a coming of age tale, there is much more to The Lie Tree as it examines the roles of men and women in society at the time as well as the impact of Darwinism on Christianity.  Told in the gothic tradition, I found The Lie Tree to be thoroughly enjoyable, and a story that would be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

the-vagrantThe Vagrant by Peter Newman

The Vagrant walks through a land ravaged by war and corruption.  A man with no name, he journeys across a dangerous landscape in order to bring a weapon to the Shining City – last bastion of the human race.  A weapon which may be humanity’s last hope in the ongoing battle.  His journey is a perilous one, and full of people who seek to double-cross him at every turn.

The Vagrant is a wonderfully original fantasy novel with a strong cast of characters – both good and bad.  The Vagrant’s journey is partly hindered by the presence of a baby girl – the identity of whom becomes clearer as the novel progresses – who seems so out of place in the war-torn land.  She is quite possibly the most delightful child in fiction, and never failed to bring a smile to my face. Her presence allows us to see a softer side of the Vagrant, as well as providing additional peril (as he seeks to protect her) and a little comic relief.

A strong debut, and I can’t wait to read the second instalment, The Malice, which was published in May.

armadaArmada by Ernest Cline

Zack Lightman loves science fiction in all its forms – games, novels, films – he laps it all up.  Due to graduate in two months, he daydreams about a more exciting life where something – anything – interesting might happen.

Staring out of window in class one day, he sees an alien spacecraft.  And not just any alien spacecraft.  This alien ship looks remarkably like the ones from his current favourite game, Armada – an online flight simulator in which players protect Earth from an alien invasion.  Initially afraid that he’s lost his mind, he soon comes to realise that it’s real, and that he, and millions of other gamers from around the world, are now required to defend the Earth against alien invaders.

I absolutely loved Cline’s first novel, Ready Player One, and so I was really looking forward to Armada.  I have to say, I was a little disappointed.  Whilst the premise is interesting, there are large sections of info dumps that made the novel difficult to get into.  There are multiple hints throughout that things aren’t quite what they seem which remove any possibility of a successful plot twist and I found the characters to be wooden and under-developed.

american-godsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

Shadow has spent three years in prison, and can’t wait to get back to his wife, Laura.  A few days before his release however, he’s told that his wife and best friend have been killed in a car accident.

His life in pieces, he leaves prison with no plans for the future, so when he runs into the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, he accepts a job as a driver and occasional bodyguard, but soon finds himself caught in the middle of a war he doesn’t fully understand – a war between Gods whose followers brought them to America as they migrated, then abandoned them, and now Shadow has to do what he can to survive.

American Gods is another book that I’ve been meaning to read for ages, but for whatever reason never quite got around to until now.  I’m glad I did though – American Gods is an epic novel which spans multiple genres, and draws heavily from mythology, particularly Norse.  As readers of my blog will know, I’m quite taken with anything that relates to old myths.

American Gods is populated with fascinating and intriguing characters, and big, taciturn Shadow complements the somewhat whimsical gods nicely.  Some characters are more easily recognisable than others, in terms of the gods they represent, and I enjoyed the way that multiple mythologies are interwoven successfully.

I can’t wait to see this brought to life in the TV series that is planned for next year.