This type of anti-love-story is becoming more popular in the psychological thriller market; telling a story which the protagonist believes is true love but which the outside world and the reader can see through and recognise as a dark obsession. In Our Kind Of Cruelty, our protagonist is Mike. He has a very troubled past in and out of foster care, but things started to turn around when he met Verity.
Mike and Verity were happy together once. They’re not together now, but Mike believes it’s only a matter of time until she comes back to him. We learn the history of their passionate relationship, juxtaposed with present day. Mike is alone, living a fairly isolated life, and Verity is marrying Angus. But Mike things V’s impending nuptials are all part of a game they used to play, and he’s sure if he bides him time he’ll work out what he needs to do to win her back. Continue reading
Lisa Jewell has been making waves over the last few years, but this was my first experience of her. Her novels seem to often be categorised as either psychological thrillers, or ‘women’s fiction’ – a genre term I generally don’t like but I can to some extent see why her novels straddle these genres. Although she tackles dark topics and weaves a compulsively readable we of lies and secrets long buried which stands strong within the psychological thriller market, she does it with humour and heart. Part of what drew me into this novel so quickly is the character development; this author seems to be able to create characters who are instantly likeable, and who I wanted to read more about.
The story starts with Alice, who lives in a quaint British coastal town. Having left the rush of the city behind, she’s happy living a quiet life with her family by the sea. Until one day, she finds a man on the each who has no idea who he is or how he got there. She takes him into his home, and tries to help him solve the mystery of his past. Meanwhile we also meet Lily, newlywed and new to the country, whose husband fails to come home one day. As Lily embarks on a search to find her husband and Alice tries to help the strange man find the key to how he got there, it’s clear the two stories are linked, but Jewell keeps you on tenterhooks, not revealing the complicated overlap between the cast of characters until the last few chapters.
All of this is intertwined with a story of a family who came to the seaside town for a holiday decades before. The parts in the past were perhaps my favourite parts of the novel, the author captures that quintessential, right-of-passage family holiday atmosphere perfectly, and when things turned darker with the appearance of a mysterious and good-looking stranger, this book became unputdownable.
A brilliant character-driven mystery which kept me guessing. Lisa Jewell perfectly balances the thriller aspects with the relationships, making this novel a great all-rounder which I really enjoyed.
I received I Still Dream in exchange for an honest review
Where to start with I Still Dream?! This was a gorgeous book, with beautiful writing, a strong main character, and a compelling, thought-provoking story which spans decades and touches on some of the most topical issues of our time. It was unlike anything else I’ve read, and a book which won’t be forgotten easily.
The novel starts in 1987 when the protagonist Laura is 17. This early section immediately sucked me in, the author captures the angsty impression of a teenage girl surprisingly well, and the smatterings of nostalgia in the form of mix-tapes and dial-up modems were something I could really connect with. Laura has her fair share of problems, including a father who disappeared without a word ten years before and a serious case of undiagnosed depression. She’s also got a talent; she takes after her Dad, a technology entrepreneur, and using her self-taught coding skills she builds a rudimental AI and names it Organon. Organon is her sounding board; a kind of therapist to whom she can pour out all of her feelings, and who always knows the right prompt or question to ask – because Laura has programmed it to.
From there, we follow Laura and Organon as they grow and evolve, with each chapter taking place a decade apart. Some are from Laura’s point of view, some from others close to her, but despite spanning continent and topics, the strong characters of Laura and her creation shine through. She inevitably follows her father’s footsteps into a career in tech, and as the world around her changes, the one constant in her life is Organon.
The growth of technology, data privacy and artificial intelligence are hotly debated issues and I Still Dream explores them all. Smythe takes us from the birth of the modern computer in the 1980s, decades into the future and his projections are disturbing and all too believable. This is speculative fiction at its best, but what makes it stand out is how the sci-fi elements sit so naturally alongside human issues such as depression and dementia. This novel doesn’t just explore the boundaries of technology but also humanity, and how the two can work together. It’s beautifully done.
I received The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle in exchange for an honest review
Warning: this book may cause anti-social behaviour! This trippy blend of classic mystery and time-travel left my head reeling, and is one of the few novels I’ve read recently which is truly worthy of the label ‘unputdownable’.
The unusual combination of Golden Age mystery, reminiscent of Agatha Christie at her best, and new age, Groundhog Day-esque time travel which reminded me of a couple of my favourite movies, Memento and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, makes this book something really special. There’s layers within layers and a complex cast of characters which are difficult to keep up with at times, but persevere and the author will give you a satisfying ending which makes all the layers of mystery and the twists and turns worthwhile.
We first meet our protagonist as Doctor Sebatsian Bell. He’s attending a party at a grand manor in the heart of the old English countryside, but he has no idea how he got there or who he is. All he can remember when he wakes is a name; Anna. Pieces of the puzzle are gradually revealed to Bell, until we get to the real twist. He’s actually Aiden Bishop, doomed to wake as eight different visitors to the ball until he solves the mystery of the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, for whom the ball is being thrown for. He gets to live the day leading up to her death through the eyes of eight different guest, and on the eighth day he must have the answer to the mystery, otherwise he is doomed to start all over again.
Already confused? This is just the basic premise to a trippy, bizarre story which only gets weirder and more complex, and kept me guessing until the last few pages. The feat this author has undertaken is truly staggering, creating an entire cast of characters and their intermingling lives, and the meticulous detail which has gone into the time-hopping structure littered with clues and red herrings scattered along the way is eye-watering to think about. This book was completely different to anything else I’ve read this year, and I loved it.
This was a fascinating, dark and unusual novel. There’s plenty of stories about twisted men who take young girls, but I haven’t ever read one quite like this. This novel tackles incredibly dark topics, but manages to maintain some level of beauty and hope.
In the present, two FBI agents are trying to get to the truth about a crime scene they’ve just discovered. They’ve found a hidden prison, where a mysterious man nick-named ‘The Gardener’ has kept beautiful women against their will for decades.
Maya is one of those girls, and she’s got a story to tell. Through interview scenes in the present and flashbacks through Maya’s journey, we learn the true nature of of the Garden and its inhabitants. Continue reading
I received Two Steps Forward in exchange for a honest review
I absolutely loved Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project and I hoped this romantic travel adventure traversing famous European pilgrimage the Camino would tick the same boxes. But Two Steps Forward is a different novel, it’s less a laugh-out-loud fun-fest and more a story of quiet self-reflection, slow-building romance and natural beauty, but it excels in its own right.
Zoe and Martin are both at a crossroads in their lives when they find themselves at Cluny, and separately decide to embark on walking the Camino. It’s a traditionally religious route, but they both decide to tackle the trail for their own diverse reasons. While the two set off from the same start point, they’re not together and they make their own journeys told through alternating chapters from each character’s point of view. Continue reading
I somehow missed the boat on this one when it was first released, so I’m behind the times here but I waited until the hype had died down to try it. And, it was different to what I expected – not so much a who dunnit or a twisty mystery, but more an emotionally-loaded, compulsive and thrilling drama.
This novel is about the perfect marriage, but from the beginning it’s clear all is not as it seems. Everything is actually pretty much spelt out early on – Jack is a villain through and through, there’s no shades of grey here, and his motivations are neatly spelled out. His wife, Grace, is more of a complex character. She annoyed me at times but I also couldn’t help but sympathise with her plight. Continue reading
I received The Immortalists in exchange for an honest review
What would you do if you were told the date of your death? Would it affect the way you live your life? Whether you believe in it or not, that date will e ingrained in your mind throughout your days. That’s what I learnt from The Immortalists anyway – a story of four siblings, starting in 1969 when they get their futures read, throughout the trials and tribulations of their lives.
This is a gorgeous, emotive and intimate story. I expected it to be a little more supernatural, with a focus on the psychic who foretold the group’s fates. But really, she doesn’t take centre stage here at all. It’s all about the four of them; Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya and the way these siblings choose to live their lives.
The book opens with a short stint when this group are young, as the four of them visit a psychic who’s skills have been heard along the grapevine.They quickly wish they hadn’t as they all receive their varying death sentences.
We then follow them through their lives, starting with Simon, each sibling picking up where the last one’s story left off. Each is intertwined with the other, yet their all their own people, and I’m sure everyone will connect with different siblings. Simon starts a new life as a gay dancer in San Francisco, Klara a magician in Vegas, Daniel a loyal husband and military doctor, and Varya a researcher on the topic of how to extend human life. For me Simon and Klara were front runners in terms of stories told – their fragile, young lives and points of views made them all the more vulnerable and endearing to me, but every one of them has an important voice which contributes to this story’s many layers.
This is a story which revolves around a death date, but really it’s about life – and how this group chooses to live it. The storytelling here is utterly captivating – I love stories which span different time periods and places, and this nailed it on those counts. It captures times and places I’ve never experienced so personally they felt intimate and visceral; the characters like long-lost friends I won’t forget any time soon. A stunning debut, I absolutely fell in love with this story, and I can’t wait to see what the author does next.
I received Beartown in exchange for an honest review
Backman’s huge hit A Man Called Ove didn’t blow me away and I’m not really a sports fan, so initially I wasn’t sure about tackling this hockey-focused story. But after seeing so much hype, I went for it. And I’m glad I did. This refreshing, emotional read was a huge change of pace for this author tackling some meaty topics, but in my opinion he’s completely pulled it off.
Beartown is a small, somewhat isolated town in the Swedish forest. It’s got little going it for, except for hockey. And the town is literally obsessed with the sport; they sleep, eat and breathe it – it’s their only chance to become more than they are; to put Beartown on the map.
“Sometimes the entire community feels like a philosophical experiment; if a town falls in the forest but no one hears it, does it matter at all?”
In the first part of the novel Backman takes his time setting the scene; I could almost feel the ice cold temperatures, and the claustrophobic single-mindedness of the secluded town with one shared goal. The author introduces a whole host of characters, from the club coach, manager and president to the parents and the children who dedicate most of their lives to succeeding at the sport. It was a little difficult to keep up to start with, but the author takes his time laying the foundations introducing the town and a whole host of residents and the passion they all share. There’s one thing that underpins this community: hockey – like it or not, they all have it in common, but they all carry their own secrets and differences too.
I finished this book around lunchtime, and by the evening I was actually missing the story and it’s characters. It’s a gorgeous little gem of a book – I wasn’t expecting it, and now I have no idea why it took me so long to try this author.
In a run-down street just out of the city, in the 1980s, there’s a music shop. It’s a place where you can come when life gets too much and the shop’s owner, Frank, will find you a piece of music to help. Music is more than just music in this shop, it’s something which connects people, which lifts them up and takes away their worries – even just for the length of one song, they can escape. Frank is the man who makes it happen.
The owner, Frank, is happy with his lot – he has a little community on Unity Street where he lives and works, he’s passionate about music and enjoys sharing it with others. He’s stubborn and set in his ways, and that’s enough for him, until a foreign woman who claims she doesn’t even like music faints outside of his shop, and everything starts to change. Continue reading