Review: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

34466492What I Thought:

When I read this book back in the summer, it was both shocking and unsurprising (that is, the content is shocking but unfortunately I wasn’t so surprised). What I didn’t realise, however, was how closely life would mirror art (or is it the other way round?) so soon after reading it. Seldom does a book I read become so topical so suddenly and in such a huge way.

James Whitehouse, a junior minister in the British Home Office, seems to have it all. Educated at Oxford, James is privileged, handsome, well-off and a close friend of the prime minister. Married to Sophie, whom he met at Uni, and father to Emily and Toby, he appears to have the perfect life from the outside. However, one night he finds himself having to confess to Sophie that he had an affair with his assistant, Olivia. The affair is finished, he says, but he had to confess as the tabloids have got hold of the story and are about to announce it to the world. Shocked and upset, just as Sophie is coming round to this revelation,  James is arrested. Olivia has filed a charge of rape against him.

The book is narrated in turn by James, Sophie and Kate, who is prosecuting James and seems to have an agenda of her own. James claims he’s innocent, Kate is determined to bring him down and Sophie wants to believe James and stand by her husband, preferring to believe his version that Olivia consented. We, in effect, are the jury as we try to piece it all together and work out who is telling the truth.

But that’s not all: there’s another story unfolding as well. This one is set in the early 90’s when James, Sophie and Tom (the current prime minister) were at Oxford. This is integral to the plot as it helps us to gain insight and also adds a layer of mystery to the plot.

Verdict:

Topical and shocking. I predict big things for this book in 2018. Would make a great read/debate for book groups too.

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Review: Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

A1KeMQs1M0LWhat I thought:

This book started off great guns: I started the book one night before bed “just to see how it is…” and found myself flipping the pages furiously and unwilling to put it down. It was less than halfway through that I then noticed my interest waning and by three quarters I could happily have abandoned it and moved on… but I still liked the idea of the plot and really wanted to see how it would all resolve itself.

Set in a sliding-doors fashion, the first chapter follows Joanna on her night out with friend Laura, from her selfie with a stranger through to unwanted attention from a man that leads to them leaving the club early. Walking back along the canal side, and still upset from her earlier ordeal, Joanna hears quickening footsteps behind her and a split second decision makes her do something that will have long-term consequences for so many. The following chapters are then alternate between reveal (she confesses) and conceal (she runs away).

Such a great idea for a book and one I was looking forward to enormously to see how the consequences of our actions can affect us so utterly. It should have been great. But I got bored: bored of Joanna, whom I found it was difficult to empathise with, bored of the plot which didn’t seem to go anywhere for a huge chunk of the book and bored of waiting to find out how it would all pull together. If in fact, if it had pulled nicely together at the end (by way of a twist or something jaw-dropping) it would quite possibly have redeemed itself but I found the ending to not only be convenient in an attempt to wrap it all up but a bit of a damp squib.

I feel my main issue is that I couldn’t connect with Joanna or any other members of the cast, at all. It wasn’t simply that I didn’t like her; I couldn’t “get” her in either the reveal or conceal stories. That made it difficult to invest in the book overall as I was not engaged.

Verdict:

Not a bad book, just not a great one. I haven’t read Everything But The Truth (McAllister’s first book) yet but I do have a copy and I have heard great things so I wouldn’t be put off reading this at all.

Great concept, not so great execution.

Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

35323055What I thought:

Earlier this year I read Jane Harper’s debut novel, The Dry, and loved it! A fresh new voice in an overcrowded genre: I loved the setting, the protagonist and the plot. I couldn’t wait to get my mitts on her second book, Force of Nature, and was thrilled that it started in a way that drew me straight back in. Unfortunately, this book didn’t continue down that same route for me: the one that pulls me along with it. For a whole section in the middle, I actually grew bored. I don’t need a crime book to be high octane all the time, but I actually found myself losing interest in both the characters and plot for a large chunk.

Aaron Falk, our Detective from The Dry, is back which pleased me, as did the setting which was remote and away from the more usual urban backdrop. Falk is drawn into the mystery of a missing woman, Alice, who is on a corporate team-building hike in the bush. Four of the five women in the group return late, battered, bruised and frightened as not only did they lose their way in the bush, they also lost one of their group along the way. As a search party sets out to find Alice, the book alternates between the present time and going back a few days to allow the reader into the women’s trek and what really happened.

I think my main issue was that I never really got a feeling of how frightened or exhausted the women must have been. They were lost in the wilderness with dwindling supplies and it was raining and cold. I would have been terrified. I have done a solo hike of 120 miles in the UK and at one point I got lost on a foggy moor for an hour or so and the feeling of frustration and weariness just in that short timeframe was so hard to deal with, never mind wandering around with no food for days on end. There wasn’t enough plot to grab me in the middle section and with no real sense of terror or impending doom, I lost interest to the point that I almost gave up altogether.

I am glad I stayed with the book, however, as it did pick up again in the last quarter but even so I wasn’t blown away by the book.

Verdict:

Somewhat disappointing after having loved The Dry so much, but I will definitely read more of this series with Aaron Falk. I am still a fan of Jane Harper despite not being so enamored with Force of Nature.

 

Have you read either book? What did you think?

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.

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

throwbackthursday

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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