REVIEW: A FATAL FLAW

Quick synopsis: As 1960’s Oxford prepares itself for the inaugural Miss Oxford Honey Beauty Pageant, excitement is in the air. But when one of the leading contestants is found dead, suspicion hangs over the event. Poisoned, the authorities assume her death was suicide. But after a malicious series of pranks and blackmail attempts are reported, WPC Loveday and Coroner Clement Ryder are called upon to solve the case. In an atmosphere of fierce competition, the list of suspects is endless. Could what have started as harmless fun become a deadly race to win the prize?

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Review: This cosy murder mystery is a classic whodunit. A kind of British 1960s Miss Congeniality featuring an undercover cop in a beauty pageant. Cosy, comfortable and easy-reading, this story drew me in and kept me turning the pages. The ensemble class are likeable, the main protagonists especially so, as they go about their business trying to figure out who keeps pranking the young girls and, possibly, killing them.

The positives: The story is well laid out and the mystery is suspenseful and well-drawn.

The negatives: I usually prefer a story with a little more guts and gore, I like my protagonists flawed and ruthless, but I really appreciated this break from the norm and I can see why Faith Martin has such a loyal following. It’s a great read!

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.

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REVIEW: CLOSER THAN YOU THINK

Quick synopsis: Claire Moore survived an attack by the Black-Out Killer and became an overnight celebrity. Now ten years have passed but Claire remains traumatised by her brush with death. One night, there’s a power cut; a house fire; and another victim is found killed in the same way as before. The Black-Out Killer is back. And he’s coming for Claire…

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Review: Claire Moore is a delicate and complicated character whose struggle to come to terms with her brush with death we follow in close detail. Some reviewers comment that this is repetitive but I personally felt it added to the story and helped me understand her character better. The sections written by the Black-Out-Killer sit in stark contrast to Claire’s own introspection and juxtapose really nicely. There’s action, too, plenty of it, especially towards the end where the killer twist hits you like a punch to the face!

The positives: This story grabbed me from page one and the spine-tingling, chilling narrative kept me gripped throughout. The ending was a complete surprise and I loved that about  this book.

The negatives: Not many, maybe Claire’s narrative could have been swapped for a bit more of the Black-Out killer – I found him fascinating.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: I KNOW WHO YOU ARE

Quick synopsis: I Know Who You Are alternates between two story lines: Aimee Sinclair, a well-known actress with a missing husband; and a little girl who’s abducted from her home.

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Review: I Know Who You Are is a twisty-turny psychological thriller and explores themes of child abduction, child abuse and neglect, marital secrets, memory-loss and twisted familial relationships. In my opinion, this book started out incredibly but lost its way. The twists came one after the other, sure, but the major reveal was kind of ridiculous and I just couldn’t buy into it.

The positives: This book is definitely readable and interesting. The twist is different from things I’ve read before – so that’s definitely a plus – it’s just the fact that it had to stretch all credibility to get there… and when you’re there it’s slightly disgusting. I think it could have worked if there had been more set-up and more background to the relationship… what happened in the past to provoke this crazy bond?

The narration from the child is excellent. This sub-story had it all: peril, fear, tension, drama, action.

I really enjoyed Alice Feeney’s Sometimes I Lie. I gave that a 5 star rating and if you’re after an introduction to her work I’d go with that rather than this one.

The negatives: I couldn’t work out what the reader was meant to think about the main character. She kind of fell off the page for me. I didn’t feel I ever got to know her or understand her. Also, her part of the story got stuck in a rut at times, the main issue –  ‘where’s my husband’ – dragged on for ages and didn’t move with enough pace. I also found the latter stages of the book really confusing, there was too much misdirection and, rather than adding to the story, just distracted from the action, especially as I had to keep going back to try and work it all out.

Overall: 3 out of 5 stars.

REVIEW: THE FURIES

Quick synopsis: 1998. A sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing. No known cause of death. Four girls know what happened. They’ve kept their silence. Until now.

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Review: The Furies is a haunting, spell-binding novel set in the sinister grounds of Elm Hollow Academy. Witchcraft, wizardry and four wicked young women propel the plot behind this dark debut and, for me, it was an enchanting read, rich with beautiful prose, gorgeous, in-keeping, historical references and an interesting exploration of toxic teenage relationships.

The positives: The Furies is truly gripping at times. The characterisation is wonderful, especially Robin, the most devilish of them all. Robin takes Violet, our protagonist, under her wing and into the underworld of secret societies, alcohol-fuelled parties, drug-taking and criminal activity. The girls relationships were really twisted and I loved that about this book. I enjoyed the twist towards the end, too – which took me by surprise – and the almost supernatural imagery when we discover the Wych Elm’s secret. Beautifully harrowing!

The negatives: The story slightly loses its thrust in the mid-section, it’s not clear what the plan is or what we’re investigating. At times, a thread will be picked up and chased for a bit, then we’re onto something new, or not. As such the language, though beautiful, sort of gets in the way and I found myself skimming sections so I could get to the good bits that I knew, and were, right around the corner. For me, personally, the chapters could have been more concise – I think that might have helped keep things moving.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: CROSS HER HEART

Quick synopsis: Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job, and her best friend Marilyn, but when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go. Then her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see. Lisa’s world explodes, and she finds everything she has built threatened. Not knowing whom she can trust, it’s up to her to face her past to save what she holds dear.

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Review: A lot of reviews for Cross Her Heart observe that this novel has a ‘slow start’. I couldn’t disagree more. The beginning of this story drew me in like a fish on a line and I was hooked immediately by the tension, the incredible writing, and the creeping sense of dread that pervaded these opening chapters. I loved the commentary from Ava, her secret relationship felt raw and real and I understood why she’d want to hide it from her mother and her friends. I enjoyed Marilyn’s story, too, the hint that her life was not as perfect as it initially seemed. And Lisa’s narrative drove the entire plot: what is she hiding? Why? Is it really as bad as it seems?

The problems, for me, came in the latter stages. The twists were completely bonkers, and not in a good way. The reveals were outrageously bad. I felt completely cheated that there was little to no way I could have guessed who did it and why. For me, a more realistic story wins every time and the ending here was the complete opposite. I guess part of the reason is that readers often demand to be shocked, I read reviews all the time that claim ‘I guessed who it was straight away: 1 star’, so Sarah Pinborough is clearly avoiding that trap! But, if you suspect who the baddie is you inherently understand their motivations, and, when you can’t, and their motivation turns out to be incredible tenuous it’s not a fantastic twist: it’s a complete let down.

The positives: For me, these all come in the first half to two-thirds which, like I said, I couldn’t put down. The characters were fantastic and believable, the set-up was extraordinary and the writing was tight and pacey and fantastic.

The negatives: Sarah Pinborough is a brilliant author and I adore her writing, I just wish the execution of the twists had been different.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars because great writing wins every time and even though I didn’t like the conclusion I was gripped enough to find out what happened.

REVIEW: THE PICTURE OF INNOCENCE

Quick synopsis: Maddie is an overwhelmed mother-of-three, exhausted by her youngest’s never-ending colic and battling herself with memory loss. When tragedy strikes and Maddie loses a child in suspicious circumstances, the police are convinced that someone is to blame. But who? Maddie begins to doubt herself, but it’s those closest to her she should be questioning…

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Review: Are we born evil, or made that way? The classic nature vs. nurture debate is ignited in this novel with great effect, diving into themes such as psychopathy, child-killers and juvenile prison sentences. In fact, this novel could have been really, deliciously dark, and I found the narrative from abused Lydia to be gripping, horrific and, at times, challenging. The main crux of the story, told through the eyes of the overwrought and unreliable Maddie, were much less spine-tingling.

The positives: A healthy number of twists and turns for a psychological thriller, the first of which caught me unaware – I love it when that happens!

The negatives: I guessed the final twist very early on in the novel, but I don’t mind that, it’s quite nice to be proved right and for the moment to serve as a reveal rather than a shock.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.

 

REVIEW: THE APPLE OF MY EYE

Quick synopsis: When a mysterious note arrives for six-months-pregnant Dr Eliana Hughes, she begins to doubt every aspect of her life – from her mixed feelings about motherhood to her marriage to Martin. As the person behind the note escalates their campaign to out Eli’s husband as a cheat, she finds herself unable to trust even her own instincts, and as pressure builds, she makes a mistake that jeopardises her entire future.

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Review: I love a good villain and boy do we get one in Apple of My Eye. The tension mounts beautifully and I was hooked from the word go. The story alternates between three point-of-views, which works and, for me, wasn’t confusing, I liked being able to piece the three together and to try to work out where the story was going!

The positives: Well written, pacey, a real-page turner.

The negatives: I’m not sure it’s a negative as I don’t feel like the author was trying to keep the villain a total secret, but I know some people like to be jaw-drop-shocked by the reveal. I, however, enjoyed being able to figure out who the baddy was, it just added to the tension and had me screaming ‘No! Get away!’ at various points.

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars.