‘The Twyford Code’ – Janice Hallett


The Twyford Code is, I think, going to be one of those Marmite stories…but, however you respond to it overall, it’s a cleverly constructed puzzle.

Told through a series of audio file transcripts, it appears to be a series of recordings from ex-con Steven Smith to his son. In the files, Steven tries to work out exactly what happened to his remedial English teacher, Miss Isles, after she took he and his peers on a school trip and disappeared. For Steven this event is inextricably linked to his discovery of a book on a bus, a book by the writer Edith Twyford. This book was filled with strange markings, which his teacher interpreted as a code for helping to decipher a long-forgotten mystery. Steven can only recall fragments of that day so upon his release from prison he tries to use his old schoolmates to work out what happened.

Initially, I found it quite a puzzle to read. The transcriptions are not always clear, and some words are inaccurately presented. However, once you get a feel for the language then it is less noticeable.

The story is a fantastic one. Seen through the eyes of a rather unlikely hero, it’s very much a story that seems to make little sense. Steven’s obsession with the Twyford Code and his attempts to work out what it all means lead to all manner of scrapes. Things become increasingly dangerous, and it seems that there may be more to this than we were led to believe.

As the story nears its conclusion it becomes clearer that what has been presented to us is very much a smokescreen. Usually, this would annoy me no end, but I found it helped to make sense of some of the little details that had irritated me as I was reading. Now there was a reason for them, and it wasn’t quite what I expected.

I’m excited to see how this book is received by others once it’s released. Now I have finished it and know what’s being hidden, I think this might be a book to reread and enjoy in a whole new light. Though I enjoyed The Appeal, this was a whole new experience and I can’t wait to see what Hallett comes up with next.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this in advance of publication, and what a book to end 2021’s reading with.


‘Breaking Point’ – Edel Coffey

Dr Sue is well-known. A busy paediatrician, a busy mum, a busy wife…and someone who is accustomed to paying in order to maintain the illusion of having it all. The story opens by allowing us an insight into the lives of Dr Sue and her family, which marks them as relatively normal (if we ignore the level of wealth they have).

On the day we meet Dr Sue things are more hectic than normal. Work is pressured and events are not quite running as smoothly as they need them to. This is the day that will change her life forever, as she forgets her six-month old daughter is in the car when she goes into work. The temperature is high…and her daughter dies.

We follow her as she is put on trial for negligence resulting in the death of her child. We see the devastating impact such an experience has on her and her family, and we also see how this event impacts on reporter Adelaide Gold who has her own interest in this case.

I found the descriptions of the initial event impactful. Nothing could prepare you for that sight, and the trial/story around it allows us to reflect on so many elements that will touch readers. At times it was incredibly hard to read, but I think the way it explores grief and some of our issues surrounding working parents and attitudes to childcare was very necessary.

While this had some elements that could seem melodramatic, the portrayal of the characters and the closing stages of the book kept me hooked. Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for giving me the chance to read this before publication, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only parent who reads it and hugs their kids a little harder afterwards.


‘Apples Never Fall’ – Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall is a book that fans of Moriarty may love unreservedly, but which may perplex others.

The story begins rather slowly…with the disappearance of Joy Delaney.
Joy, along with her husband Stan, is a character who seems to have it all. A long marriage, four adult children, a successful tennis coach and embarking on retirement in a comfortable situation. Yet Joy disappears, leaving no note and a garbled text message to each of her children. Her husband has scratches on his face…and the detective investigating this case is, probably rightly, suspicious of the family and their reluctance to tell all.

The initial setting-up of the story felt odd, and it soon becomes apparent that there is more to this. A mysterious young woman arrived on the doorstep of the Delaney home, claiming to have been attacked by her boyfriend. They take her in, and she quickly becomes embedded in their nest.

The arrival of this cuckoo definitely stirs things up. We don’t learn the details quickly, but I was intrigued by the way these characters interacted and the shifting focus we had which allowed us – slowly – to start piecing things together.
While the story is not quite the dramatic one I thought it was going to be, I actually found myself liking it more because of the way it examined relationships and how our actions can impact on others even years down the line.

Without giving too much away, the ending had – for me – a wonderful conflict. There was happiness and acceptance on one hand and a chilling sense of a story yet to be uncovered.


‘The Winter Guest’ -W.C. Ryan

A haunting tale, exploring a post-war Ireland where loyalties are divided and we see the tensions growing between those who make it their home.

Captain Tom Harkin, our main character, is sent to investigate the death of an ex-lover, aristocratic Maud Prendeville and a known rebel sympathiser. Sent under the guise of an insurance investigation, Harkin is an IRA intelligence officer who has been tasked with learning the truth behind Maud’s shooting.

After his service, Harkin is clearly affected by PTSD. He arrives at the Prendeville home and, from the outset, we can see this is a community increasingly divided. Many characters have a secret they want to remain hidden and I found myself regularly having to check just who was loyal to which faction as double-crossing seems to abound.

From a historical perspective, this was a fascinating read.

Touted as a ghost story I found myself occasionally wondering what I was missing. There’s reference to a mysterious White Lady, rumoured to be seen before the death of a Prendeville. Harkin himself believes he is being watched over by the ghost of Maud, but the ghostly element was more subtle than I thought. There are hauntings aplenty, of the psychological variety, and this element of the narrative lent a wonderful air of unease to things.

On so many levels this story had me captivated. I want to know more about this period and these concerns, so would appreciate recommendations/suggestions for further reading. Thank you to the author, publishers and NetGalley for granting me access to this before publication.


‘The Measure’ – Nikki Erlick

The idea of getting the measure of something is toyed with here in an intriguing book, which got off to a slow start but which drew together in an eminently satisfying way. Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this before its expected May 2022 publication in exchange for sharing my thoughts.

We are asked to imagine a world where the world’s population is, one day, given a delivery of a wooden box left on their doorstep. For those who open it they discover a piece of string. Nobody knows where the boxes have come from or what the string signifies and the initial confusion/panic was well-presented.

Introduced to quite a number of characters, this made it quite hard for me to get into. I felt a certain disconnect initially, perhaps mirroring the sense of unease and uncertainty about the boxes.

Over time we learn that the string length represents how much time you have left. This, quite naturally, throws up some interesting ideas about how we live our lives and the extent to which others should control our lives.

As we develop our knowledge of the scenario and see how characters respond to events, it was easier to feel some affinity with them. This raises some interesting questions, and I can see this book proving a hit with many readers. The closing message felt rather earnest, though in current times where we are facing (potentially) further restrictions it will certainly resonate.


‘Idol’ – Louise O’Neill

What a twisted web has been woven here. A timely and engaging read, packed with O’Neill’s wry observations, but one which left me feeling distinctly nauseous.

Samantha Miller is the kind of character you might love to hate. Ruthless in her determination to succeed and something of a social-media icon, I found her whole demeanour unpleasant. She is adept at spinning the truth to suit her narrative, and this propensity makes the crux of the book more than a little problematic.

Sam herself is a victim of abuse, in therapy to help her manage the effects of the trauma and definitely struggling to keep a lid on her more self-destructive tendencies. This is heightened when her best friend from school sends an email accusing her of assault. Sam recalls the night referenced very differently, and we get to watch things unfold as we follow Sam try to manage this potentially disastrous moment.

As we journey with Sam through a return to her home-town we learn just how difficult it can be to ever know the truth, as each of us will experience things differently and bring our own experiences to events in our lives. Just because two people remember an event differently doesn’t mean one is lying.

This was a murky read, certainly encouraging us to reflect on how we interact with others and the role social media has in our lives. I can’t wait to see what other O’Neill fans make of it when it’s released next year, and I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication.


‘Escape Room’ – Christopher Edge

Any book by Christopher Edge is usually a treat, blending a great story with something to encourage discussion. Escape Room is no different.

Ami is treated to an Escape Room experience by her father, and she is keen to show her skills. Upon entering the room she is surprised to have to join with four other children, each of whom seems to have their own set of skills. Their Host tells them that, in fact, they have been chosen to save the world and that they need to find the answer.

From the outset we see Ami plunged into some horrific scenarios. Each room has a distinctive environment, and it was fascinating to watch them try to work out exactly what was needed in order to get to the next stage. My personal favourite was the library of dust, but the group also experience a Mayan tomb, a deserted shopping mall overrun by extinct animals and a space mission to Mars. I was stunned as we watched the scenarios progress, realising quite quickly that there was a lot more to this than we first thought.

By the end of the book the message was clear. This will certainly be of interest to readers on a number of levels, and I’m definitely going to recommend this to a number of students who have an interest in environmental issues.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this before publication, expected February 2022.


‘Real Easy’ – Marie Rutkoski

Real Easy was not what I expected at all…and I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this before publication.
Our setting is the Lovely Lady strip club. We get to meet the girls, the other staff and some of the patrons over the course of the novel as we watch the police try to uncover the identity of the person responsible for running two women (both of whom worked at the club) off the road, killing one and then holding the other hostage.
The scenario around the serial killer targeting strippers feels like it has been done before, but this was a cast of characters that you couldn’t help but root for. We receive a sympathetic portrayal of a business that may not be to everyone’s states, and a chilling reminder set of the risks involved in certain types of work.
There were more than one or two moments where I found it hard not to prejudge. While I still had a lot of questions, there was plenty to keep me satisfied.


‘Iron Widow’ – Xiran Jay Zhao

Iron Widow did take a little time to get going, and the world-building was not as developed as I’d have liked. However, once we get underway this is a compelling narrative and definitely a series I’d like to continue reading.

Our main character, Zetian, is determined to become a co-pilot and use this as her opportunity to avenge her sister’s death. She wants nothing more than to fly, and to show her capabilities. But few want her to, and her plan is not without consequences.

We follow Zetian as she finds herself fighting for her people, and showing her worth. Those in power are reluctant to let her show her capabilities, but this was a great idea.

There’s plenty of action, a cracking focus on the role of women and a love triangle that didn’t have me shouting in anger at the book.

While I don’t really feel I gleaned a lot of info about how things came to be, the ending suggests that this lack of world-building might be quite deliberate. It certainly wasn’t anything I saw coming.


‘The Paris Apartment’ – Lucy Foley

Lucy Foley does it again…a thriller that gets its hold on you and draws you in.

Featuring a cast of characters that you can’t help but hate/love, The Paris Apartment is a story that I’m sure lots will be talking about upon its release.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for giving me the chance to read this in advance of publication.

Our story focuses on a mysterious apartment block in Paris and a family with plenty to hide. Sometimes secrets can be kept for years, but just one thread unravelling can pull it all apart. While the secrets are not anything out of the ordinary, the way they have tangled over the years and the resulting problems make for a most intriguing read.

When Jess needs to escape her life in London after a run-in with her pervert boss, she flees to her brother, Ben, who has found himself an apartment in Paris. She gets more than she imagined, as we already know that something has happened to Ben. Watching Jess blunder into this macabre building – with deliciously creepy characters and a wonderfully oppressive atmosphere full of shadows that could just be hiding something threatening – felt uncomfortable at times. We sensed she was getting into something potentially dangerous, but her determination to leave no stone unturned and to help those in need meant you couldn’t help but wish her success in her endeavours.

Knowing no more than is revealed to us in the blurb is important for this read. We know something is not right, but the way these little details are revealed is done well. Perhaps a little more background information about some of the characters would have been welcome but there was plenty to be getting on with.