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 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 The Child Finder in exchange for an honest review
This was a surprise gem of a book. At first glance, I took it for a regular missing child mystery – a plot which has been covered many times – and I nearly passed it up. I’m so glad I didn’t because this is an elegant, atmospheric novel which tells a fairly unoriginal story in a unique, creative way.
Set in the heart of an Oregon forest, where it seems to always always be snowing, this is a beautifully atmospheric tale – you can almost see the snow topped mountains and feel the bitter cold. Denfeld makes the missing child story her own, bringing her setting and characters to life with rich, almost lyrical prose, interweaving fairy tales and magical realism with dark reality. Continue reading
There’s been countless takes on Conan Doyle’s famous detective over the years but, as far as I’m aware, this is the only series that was officially sanctioned by the Estate. And I’m so pleased it was Horowitz that was given that honour, as I loved his take on Sherlock Holmes.
The plot itself opens in typical Holmes style, with a frazzled client turning up at 221B Baker Street. I found the section a little slow, as personally I didn’t really enjoy this story; ‘The Man With the Flat Cap’. If you’re feeling the same as I did, hang on, – there’s a much deeper, darker mystery here still to be explored; The House Of Silk.
The House Of Silk is a great modern take on the classic series; it retains the atmosphere of the era and captures the characters wonderfully, but eliminates some of the more archaic language and views which (I’m sorry to admit) held me back from completing loving the original books. Continue reading
I received Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore in exchange for an honest review
This was a wonderful, quirky surprise, quite unlike anything else I’ve read this year. A twisty mystery thriller, packed with eccentric characters, bookish references and hidden secrets.
The Bright Ideas Bookstore has its regulars, those bookseller Lydia has affectionately named ‘Book Frogs’. Mainly men, the Book Frogs are lost and lonely, those who’ve slipped through the cracks of society and finding a peaceful refuge in the store. And they seem harmless, until Lydia finds one of them hanging from the ceiling, with an old photograph of her tenth birthday party in his pocket.
Joey was a little different, but Lydia liked having him around the store. “He was a shattered young man, Lydia often thought, haunted but harmless – a dust bunny blowing through the corners of the store.” His death shakes Lydia, but she’s drawn in deeper when she finds out he’s left the entire contents of his flat to her, including a stack of books with hidden messages which leads her on a journey into her own past. Continue reading
I received The Vanishing Of Audrey Wilde in exchange for an honest review
I was sold on this book by the fact that it was a dual timeline mystery described by Lisa Jewell as ‘The most beautiful book you will read this year.’ I have to admit I felt a little let down as I started it; this book has been described as ‘beautiful’ and ‘evocative’ but I found the writing a little too flowery when it wasn’t necessarily needed. It took me a little while to get into the story as I took time to adjust to the tone of voice, but once I did I found a strong plot which took me by surprise.
At the centre of the story is Applecote Manor, a grand manor in the Cotswolds. In its time it was a pristine picture of elegance, but in present day it’s crumbling and dilapidated. The story follows two timelines and shows what one house can mean to two different people. In present day, Jessie sees the mansion as a fresh start; a chance to escape the bustling city life of London and build a life with her new family. In the summer of 1959, Margot and her three sisters also escape the city for a summer in the countryside, when they are sent by their mother to live with their aunt and uncle. Continue reading
I received One Of Us Is Lying in exchange for an honest review
One Of Us Is Lying was an entertaining, quick read which perfectly captures the murky world of High School – a great guilty pleasure read with a little more depth. Five students enter detention. Only four leave alive.
All the stereotypical High School characters are here – the successful jock, the prom queen, the brain and the rebel. The only character who is a slight enigma, an outsider, is Simon, a character who dies within the first chapter. But why did he die? Who is a culprit and who is a victim? Using Simon’s death as a catalyst, the author casts a tale of High School secrets and lies. Continue reading
Since reading Room years ago I’ve followed Emma Donoghue closely and read a number of her books, but I’ve never found one which could top the Booker-nominated, film-inspiring sensation that was Room. But this one come pretty damn close. I’m not sure I’d say The Wonder quite surpasses Room, but it stands in its own right as a riveting piece of historical fiction.
The story takes place in middle Ireland, a few years after the Great Famine. Lib Wright, an English nurse who trained under Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, is called to the area to take an unusual position. Her ward is Anna O’Donnell, an eleven-year-old who who has supposedly not eaten a morsel of food for four months. Lib is required to simply watch the young girl, and report her observations to a committee after two weeks. Continue reading
I received You Will Know Me in exchange for an honest review
This was my first experience with Megan Abbott, and I’m now keen to go back and tackle her back catalogue. You will know me is a well-crafted, slow-burning contemporary thriller packed with secrets, lies and paranoia.
Katie and Eric Knox are dedicated parents: they’ve committed everything they can into ensuring that their talented gymnast daughter Devon succeeds. Their lives are built around spending hours ferrying Devon to and from practice, supporting her in any way they can, but, when a sudden death rocks their small community, everything – and crucially Devon’s future prospects – is thrown into the balance. Continue reading