Tag Archives: Chris Whitaker

All the Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker

all the wicked girls

‘Raine sometimes complains that nothing exciting is ever gonna happen in Grace again. Daddy told her careful what you wish for.’

Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine. Then Summer goes missing.

Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.

But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye…

I read Whitaker’s debut novel, Tall Oaks, earlier this year, and I absolutely loved it.  The plot, the characters, the writing, the ending – it was all perfect, and I was thrilled to receive a proof of his follow up, All the Wicked Girls, even though it came with the usual doubts as to whether he could follow up on such an astounding novel.

I found All the Wicked Girls to be quite a different story to Tall Oaks.  It’s much darker in tone, and the atmosphere in this novel is almost palpable.  This is partly due to missing Summer and the concerns that she may have been taken rather than runaway, but was enhanced by a storm that rolls over the town – one that threatens to be huge when it finally breaks.  I loved the lingering threat implicit in the storm, and I’m full of admiration for the way in Whitaker was able to capture the oppressive nature of an imminent storm, and how this added to tension.  It was almost a character in itself, one whose brooding nature casts a far-reaching shadow over this troubled town.

Anyone who has read Tall Oaks will know that Whitaker does character brilliantly, and All the Wicked Girls doesn’t disappoint on this score.  Reading it, I felt as though I could walk into Grace already knowing the people who live there, they are all so well fleshed-out.  For me, Raine was the standout character of the novel.  She’s rather different to the golden girl that is her missing sister, Summer, and I loved her feisty, argumentative nature.  Whilst many see her as trouble (and expect her to end up in serious trouble of one kind or another before long), I got the feeling that she had decided that she couldn’t compete with Summer, and so didn’t even bother trying.  When her sister goes missing, however, she soon gets down to the business of trying to find out what happened to her, helped by Noah and his friend, Purv.  Now, Noah is no Manny Romero, but there was something in the friendship of Noah and Purv that reminded me of Manny and his friend, Abe, and these guys are really sweet.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot – I went into the novel with relatively little detail, and I enjoyed it all the more because of this.  I think it’s enough to say that it’s a riveting, fast-paced story and I rushed through it in order to find out what happened, finishing it in a single day.  And whilst I had several theories as to how it would end, none of them were correct, something which pleased me greatly.  This is another fantastic novel from Whitaker, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

All the Wicked Girls will be published on 24 August by Bonnier Zaffre.  Many thanks to Emily Burns for the review copy.

Rating: ★★★★★

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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

snowblind

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

Listen.

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

rattle

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: ★★★★☆