Review: Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

51T2Wtx1HsLWhat I thought:

I was lured in to reading this book after having read Sophie Hannah’s very early books and loving them (and then later on, not so much). This one sounded intriguing though: Cara Burrows, on holiday from England, walks into the wrong hotel room and sees the most famous murder victim in the USA, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving life sentences for her murder. Or does she?

Well, where to begin? I scratched my head for most of this book, wondering if it was meant to be tongue-in-cheek or even a spoof of this very crowded genre. Having since seen other reviews, it appears I’m not alone. My reading of this book was accompanied by much eye-rolling, some jaw-dropping and a spot of guffawing at its incredulity.

Cara Burrows goes half way round the world, leaving her family with no way of contacting her and spending all the family savings, to an over-the-top, luxurious American spa for a reason, that as it becomes apparent, just seems ridiculously dramatic. There is much made of Cara giving her phone to a complete stranger of a cab driver so that her family can’t contact her, and less than 24 hours later she is setting up an Instagram account and posting shots of herself to tag in her children to show she’s “OK”. This is an example of the many times I had to suspend my disbelief at a plot which felt so contrived and clunky. Cara herself is not a character I cared about or could even empathise with, and the Americans were, in the main, such caricatures I was almost embarrassed for the author.

Verdict:

This could have been a good story – the premise certainly piqued my interest but I couldn’t see past the gaping plot holes and Hannah’s attempt to stitch them together with something – anything – however tenuous, to get us to the next part of the book. I am more bewildered than disappointed if I’m honest. If this does turn out to be a spoof, then it’s a good one, if not then I can’t recommend I’m afraid.

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Review: Friend Request by Laura Marshall

51j-9wc-v1LWhat I thought:

I was intrigued by the blurb on this book: Louise receives a Facebook friend request from Maria Weston. But Maria Weston has been dead for 25 years. Hasn’t she? Back in the early noughties, before Facebook and at the dawn of social media, there was such a thing as Friends Reunited. I remember being so excited that I could now see where my old (pre-mobile, pre-email) school friends had ended up and actually get in touch with them! Until I saw one name….. the name of someone who it was widely believed had died just after we left school. It sent chills down me. First disbelief and then anger that someone was playing a nasty joke until someone got in touch and it came out that she wasn’t dead at all, as we had all believed for the last 10 or so years. The point I’m trying to get to was that when you see the name of someone whom you think is dead, it’s a bloody shock!

Anyhoo, on to the book. I absolutely loved it. Split between present day and a school-leavers party in 1989, Louise is now in her early 40’s, newly divorced with a four-year-old son. Her ex-husband, Sam, is the only person still in her life from her school days as she has deliberately distanced herself from almost everyone and everything to do with that time. We are given enough information to know that whatever happened to Maria Weston at that party, Louise feels responsible for it. More messages, a sense of being watched and an invitation to a school reunion successful ratches up the tension and keeps the plot pacey and gripping.

Verdict:

I loved this book. In a genre that I can become rapidly bored with these days, this one stands out amongst the best I have read in some time. It’s relatable, sometimes uncomfortable and keeps you guessing throughout. Massive thumbs up from me.

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Have you read this yet? I’d love to know your thoughts.

The Final Girls by Riley Sager

30215662What I thought:

Bloody hell, this book was addictive! A veritable feast of twists, turns, and bombshells, not to mention an incredibly unreliable narrator who keeps us firmly on our toes.

The ones who got away in separate massacres (think Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween), Lisa, Samantha, and Quincy may have survived something truly horrific but at what cost? Having made it out alive from their own private hells they are bunched together by the press as The Final Girls. Although they have never met they have communicated a couple of times over the years but just as Quincy is getting her life together she is given the shock news that Lisa is dead. And then Sam turns up on her doorstep…

Ten years ago Quincy went on holiday with 5 friends to Pine Cottage, a cabin in the woods, and came back alone. She has lost a huge chunk of her memory about that night and only remembers running out of the woods screaming and covered in blood. Now living in an apartment in New York with her boyfriend and having created a successful baking blog, the news about Lisa rocks her world, but that’s only the beginning. Sam’s arrival, a hurricane ripping through her neatly composed life, sets off a chain of events that sucks Quincy in like a vortex and spits her out the other side. As Quincy and Sam’s ensuing game of cat and mouse increases in speed and ferocity, you’re never really sure who to trust.

 

  Verdict:

I absolutely loved this book. Dark secrets, red herrings, blind alleys – the perfect ingredients for a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat. It felt original and authentic and was astonishingly assured for a debut novel. I very much look forward to reading what the author comes up with next.

Fantastic book!

NB/ I received this book in return for an honest review from Ebury Publishing via Netgalley.

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Throwback Thursday: Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

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Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This week I have picked a book by one of my favourite authors – Joanne Harris. I have loved all her books and in fact, Five Quarters of the Orange is in my top 20 books of all time.

Gentlemen and Players was Harris’ first book set in the crime genre and it gets a massive thumbs up!

 

51EsKeqqRpLWhat I thought

What a great book; especially the end where I did NOT see any of those twists coming. It’s the sort of book that makes you want to turn to the beginning again to see where you might have picked up clues or see what you missed.

I am a HUGE Joanne Harris fan, my favourites of hers being the “foodie” books and I must admit to being a tad skeptical when I picked this up thinking that maybe she wouldn’t do thriller novels quite as well. I was wrong – this lady is no one-trick-pony. From the first page, you know that there are a murder or two which sets the reader up for the unfolding story ahead. The story is set in a public boys school that is centuries old and has a mighty reputation to uphold and is narrated by two people, in turn, to keep us guessing. The old school teacher, Mr. Straitley, adds some real comic moments too which add warmth to the book. However, whatever you think you know about this book, think again. By three-quarters of the way through I guarantee that you will flick back wondering when you could possibly have missed the signs (not once but twice).

Verdict

I highly recommend this book; I had great fun reading it. If you have only read the “foodie” books, then this will be a really great surprise. This author can write!

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Review: The Honeymoon by Tina Seskis

111111111What I thought:

This is one of those books where I scratch my head wondering if I have actually read the same book as everyone else. There is a lot of love for The Honeymoon so I am definitely in the minority here, however…

Where to even start? I suppose I did finish it so that’s something, but it was more to find out what this “amazing twist” was. Well, yes, it is a proper WTF moment but I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry (mainly that I had plowed on to the end to get to it).

This book had the promise of a great holiday thriller: a newly married couple on honeymoon in the Maldives and the groom disappears into thin air one night. With no way off the island, did he plan to disappear, did he commit suicide or was something more sinister at play? So here are my problems: set on a luxurious and idyllic island in the Indian Ocean and yet for all the sense of place I felt they could have been in Margate, and a couple who’s relationship I didn’t buy at all – I could never quite fathom what on earth kept them together for so long as there didn’t seem to be any spark of love (or even lust) between them.

The book is narrated mainly by Jemma who is a hugely unlikeable character with, in my opinion, no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Neither did her husband for that matter, or indeed the other couple on the island, Chrissy and Kenny. I found all the characters to be either cardboard cutouts or caricatures and couldn’t invest in them in any way. I found the narrative flat and one-dimensional, almost Janet and John at times, which may sound harsh but honestly, I just felt nothing while reading this book. Well, apart from at the end, once I got over my disgust and howled with laughter at its incredulity. It’s almost worth reading just for that but I actually feel that the reader has been cheated with the ending as any possible scenarios seem to fade to nothingness.

Verdict:

While I wasn’t expecting a work of great literary merit when I picked this up, I did at least expect something more than I got. I’m afraid this book left me feeling duped. I’m all for a bit of misdirection and the odd red herring but not when you realise that the entire book is one big diversion.

I’m really in the minority here and as I always say – judge for yourself; particularly as it seems to be a big hit for most. I just can’t recommend this book, sorry.

Review: Exquisite by Sarah Stovell

exquisiteWhat I thought:

What an exceptionally beautifully written book Exquisite is. A psychological thriller of such deliciously sumptuous, yet so clean and crisp, prose and not a word wasted.

Narrated in turn by Bo Luxton – author, married mother to two young girls, living an idyllic life in a cottage in the Lakes –  and Alice Dark – young, lively aspiring author living in a bedsit in Brighton, who attends one of Bo’s creative writing courses, Exquisite starts out as a friendship based on their love of the written word, but soon spirals into something much darker. What the reader is then presented with is two increasingly differing accounts of the same thing by each woman, it becomes clear that one or both of them is twisting the truth. We know right from the first page that one of the women ends up in prison, but what we don’t know is which one and why. This cloaks the book in tension and suspicion as we know that things won’t end well and this, along with its undercurrent of intensity and unpredictability, provides the sense of teetering on the cusp of something and never quite knowing when we’re going to fall off the edge (or be pushed).

Verdict:

Exquisite is a perfectly suited title of a book of such lush lyrical prose with themes of obsession, manipulation, and all-consuming passion. With gorgeous descriptions of one of my favourite places in the world – The Lake District – and strong, believable narrative, Exquisite has proved itself more than worthy of being among the best psychological thrillers I have read in some time. Debut author, Sarah Stovell, is definitely one to watch.

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Have you read this yet? Are you going to?

With thanks to Karen at Orenda for providing me with a copy of this book (for which I have provided an honest review).

Review: The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins

night visitorWhat I Thought:

I bloody loved this book. It put me somewhat in mind of Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal (which I also bloody loved). Alternating between the voices of Olivia – successful author and TV-personality, attractive, nice houses, large family, and Vivian – bitter, jealous, lonely, plain, elderly housekeeper, The Night Visitor sucks the reader into a claustrophobic chokehold of deceit and secrets.

While Olivia Sweetman should be riding high on the massive success of her latest book, she is acting strangely fretful and on edge, and Vivian, her research assistant has mysteriously vanished at a crucial moment. With absolutely nothing in common, Olivia and Vivian’s lives have become interwoven through work, but increasingly uncomfortably and obsessively so. Set mainly in East Sussex and the south of France, the story of these two very different women is filled with symbolism, usually of the creepy-crawly variety, which was a very clever way to expose many character flaws in both parties.

There were several gasp-out-loud moments for me in this book. Not the gratuitous or macabre kind, but much more subtle and a feeling of being sucked into a vortex of manipulation and deceit. It was difficult to know who to trust at times and difficult to know who the characters themselves could trust also.

Shining a light on feminism (and cleverly done, might I add), this exceptionally well-plotted book exposes our culture and how we believe things to be. But as Vivian points out: just like the dung beetle, never underestimate someone you think is below you.

Verdict:

Absolutely brilliant! Creepy and compelling edge-of-your-seat reading at its best. Often disturbing and unsettling but always absorbing and engrossing. Massive thumbs up from me!

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Have you read this yet? It’s a belter!