‘The Island of Missing Trees’ – Elif Shafak


Exploring thoughts about identity, love, tradition and conflict, I found this book a strange experience. As I was reading I found myself caught up in elements of the various stories, but the overall story felt quite disjointed.

Our story spans decades, and through the split narrative we are offered an insight into the lives of our characters and how their experiences impact on them. Set in Cyprus and London, Shafak attempts to show us something of the conflict that caused such chaos and how it continues to impact the lives of those caught up in it, or who come later.

We begin with sixteen year old Ada, a young girl grieving the death of her mother. Her father does not speak much about her mother, and her pain is clear. When she suddenly stands up and screams in the middle of a lesson, she spawns a new social media meme. As part of her school homework she is tasked with interviewing an older family member…and it is this seemingly innocuous task that sets in place the digging into Ada’s family past.

Her story begins many years earlier, in Cyprus, when her mother and father first meet. They enjoy their time together, but because one is Greek and the other Turkish they have to meet in secret. The potential shame at their relationship being discovered results in some unusual choices being made. Their illicit love is mirrored in that of the two cafe owners who welcome them – being from opposing sides, and gay, leads to tensions and events that seem world away from the experience of many.

Finding out the intricacies of the various relationships does not come easy. Much of what we learn is in small pieces, usually revealed by what I came to see as our main narrator – a fig tree. This device is a bit of a tricky one to respond to. It allows for a voice to accompany each character as they are witness to all the events that take place, in some way, and I certainly felt that part of this book was focused on encouraging us to see the tree as a metaphor for our human experience and how we put down roots, the conditions we surround ourselves with and how we need to create the right environment in which to thrive. At times this seemed heavy-handed to me, though it allowed a unique voice and served as a way of encouraging us to consider how we are interconnected to our environment.

I found myself recognising what the author was doing, but I didn’t connect to this in the emotional way that I felt would have given it greater impact.

‘The Dragon’s Promise’ – Elizabeth Lim

Princess Shiori is determined to stick to her promise to her stepmother, and to return the pearl to its rightful owner. However, fulfilling this promise is fraught with danger.

She visits the dragon realm, and it is clear that the pearl holds more sway over those who desire it than she realised. The opening of the story took a while to recall exactly who was who, and how they linked to the story. Shiori is tempted to take up the offer to remain in the dragon realm, but her determination to return to Takkan and to fulfil her promise means that her time there is short.

Upon her return we realise very quickly that the people of her homeland fear her magic. Shiori cannot understand why, but she soon sees that the demon has become stronger and that she will have to call on an assortment of people to help her. Assasination attempts, desperate plotting and a perilous journey to return the pearl keep us on our toes.

I liked that Shiori comes to learn more about her stepmother, and exactly who she was. Shiori comes to find acceptance of her skills and talents, and finds the courage to follow her convictions even though they challenge what she has always been taught.

While there was a lot to like here, I felt at times that there were a lot of characters introduced and discarded once they’d served their purpose. The initial focus on the dragon realm suggested an influence that felt lacking by the end, though it does not get wholly ignored. I understand that this ties Shiori and Takkan to the stories of their past, but the ending felt like something of a hedge-better. However, I couldn’t rate it 3 stars as there were many sections – namely those with Kiki, and the story of her stepmother – that were deserving of a higher rating.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication.


‘Razorblade Tears’ – S.A. Cosby

There’s so much about this book that should make me hate it – transphobia, homophobia, graphic descriptions of wanton violence being the main ones – but this got under my skin and was a surprising hit.

Razorblade Tears is unflinching in its honesty. Sometimes the things said are very hard to read, but from start to finish this was a book that I found myself fully engaged with.

Ike and Buddy Lee are fathers who feel they have let down their kids. Ike, a black ex-convict, has tried to keep on the straight and narrow but is judged whenever he sets foot outside his home. Buddy Lee is a drunk white redneck (his own description) who is hiding from the fact he has cancer. In spite of their sons being married, the two men don’t know each other. When their boys are murdered, the police don’t seem to be looking too hard for answers, so Ike and Buddy Lee take it upon themselves to try to make up for the way they treated their sons while alive to avenge their deaths.

From the outset it’s clear there is something big at stake here. The gang links and casual attitude to violence were a challenge to read – how anyone can be so casual about disposing of a body in a wood chipper I don’t know – but they help to explain a little where these two very flawed men are coming from.

Neither is without fault, and I can’t imagine taking the law into your own hands, but Cosby paints a sympathetic picture of two men struggling to accept their shortcomings.

This will not be for everything, but it really was an unexpected hit for me.


‘The Drift’ – C.J. Tudor

From start to finish The Drift had me hooked. In spite of reading this on the hottest two days of the year, my blood ran cold.
In the beginning we are given three unusual scenarios. A group of teens in a crashed bus. A group of adults trapped in a cable car. A group in a place known only as The Retreat. We know this is a world in which a deadly virus has taken hold; a virus for which there seems to be no cure. What we don’t know is how these scenarios link, or exactly what is happening.
The lack of detail should be off-putting, but Tudor carries us through with barely time to pause for breath.
I want to say more, but not knowing exactly how these stories link made such a difference to my reading of the book. I was thrown more than once as I pieced together who was who and the links between their stories. Plotting to die for…and a sign that we’ll never know just how far we’re prepared to go when it counts.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication.


‘The Retreat’ – Sarah Pearse

The Retreat opens with an insight into an event so horrific that its influence is still felt years later. A young couple are out in the woods when one of them is attacked. The other runs. We know nothing of them, but the death was part of a gruesome attack on a remote island known as Reacher’s Rock.

The history of this island is steeped in mystery, and locals tell a good story. Since the murder of a group of children on a summer camp the locals have talked of a darkness. Over the course of the book we come to understand why, and how the events of the past link to the present.

When we pick up the story Reacher’s Rock is home to a luxury retreat offering people with money the chance to get away. Jo, an influencer, has organised a holiday on the island for her sisters and their partners. From the outset there is tension between them, and as our story progresses we come to learn a little more about each of them.

Early in the story a body is discovered. Having seemingly fallen from a balcony while under the influence, this could have been it. But the young woman found dead was not a guest on the island. Only days later another body is found.

Detective Elin Warner is on her second big case, full of doubts, but this time round she seems a little more certain of herself and her decisions seem more circumspect. As she investigates these mysterious deaths she too falls under the spell of the island, but with the help of her partner Steed she teases out the finer points of these crimes and unearths a determined plot for revenge.

For those who enjoyed The Sanatorium there’s a sense of the character developing, and I feel this could work as a stand-alone story. I found myself more unsettled by the ending than I care to admit, and I’m hoping that in Warner’s next outing we’ll get to the bottom of who has their own vendetta against her.
Thanks to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this prior to publication in exchange for my review.


‘The Island of Lost Girls’ – Alex Marwood

In light of some of the things coming out recently, this book struck a nerve. Money can buy you a lot, and the contempt I felt for some of these characters was visceral. It was too easy to see how some of these predators engineered situations to exploit the vulnerable, and I really hope people who pick this up will stick with it.

Mercedes is a young girl living on a beautiful island and she, like many in her hometown, is rather taken aback when multi-millionaire Matthew Meade arrives with his daughter. The glamour and wealth they bring has its allure…and we soon see how certain people are prepared to look the other way if they can benefit from their association. Mercedes is one of the first victims, when her father takes a huge payout in order to encourage his daughter to befriend Tatiana Meade.

While Tatiana has some redeeming qualities as a child, we also see her as an adult exploiting her relationship with Mercedes. There are hints of behaviour that sets alarm bells ringing, but the true horror is not revealed quickly.

As we follow Mercedes going about her work, we also follow the story of seventeen year old Gemma and the mother seeking her runaway daughter. Their stories inevitably link, and when they do we see the full horror hidden beneath the glamorous surface.

A mesmerising read, and one which feels unsettlingly relevant. I’m grateful to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this prior to publication.


‘Every Summer After’ – Carley Fortune

A second-chance doesn’t often work in a romance since if you broke up once, I can’t help but wonder why you think things would be different second time round. However, that really wasn’t the case here and I found myself hoping Sam and Persephone (Percy) would sort out their issues.

Early on we learn that these two first became friends when Percy’s family moved to the lake. They become next door neighbours and seem to have a lot in common. Before we know it, they’re spending a lot of time together…but, for ages, nothing happens between them.

When we first meet Percy she’s in her thirties and has just received a call to say Sam’s mother has died. Having been close to her once, Percy goes…but is worried by the fact that she hasn’t been there for years.

As we work through the book we see that their friendship shifts to a relationship. We know they didn’t last, so it becomes a case of trying to work out why. When we finally learned the truth I was rather surprised, but couldn’t help be happy that it wasn’t the proverbial nail in their coffin.


‘The Society for Soulless Girls’ – Laura Steven

Jekyll and Hyde inspired story…school setting…supernatural…I was curious about this the moment I saw it on NetGalley, and I wasn’t disappointed.
The elite Carvell College of Arts has a fantastic academic reputation, but it’s association with student deaths has haunted it. Ever since her family friend Janie died there, having jumped from the infamous North Tower, Lottie is determined to find out what happened. Much against her family’s wishes, Lottie enrols at the college.

From the outset she feels a darkness to the place. Her roommate, Alice, appears unnaturally angry. Lottie finds herself waking in the middle of the night, covered in dirt, with no memory of having left her room. One morning she finds herself with a ruby – which seems to come from the statue of Saint Maria – embedded in her neck. Whenever she talks about leaving the place, the ruby grips her throat and causes intense physical pain. Soon after their arrival at college a student is found dead outside the North Tower. On the night in question Alice (having experimented in a ritual she finds written down in a mysterious book in the library) has several unaccounted hours and wakes drenched in blood.

When I see those events recorded in the way I have just presented them, this book sounds crazy. It requires you to suspend your disbelief and trust that the supernatural elements serve a purpose…and they do.

Once the parallels between Jekyll and Hyde were explicitly made, and we focused on the mystery surrounding the college, the book became more interesting. At its heart it is a story about friendship, love and trusting in others to help – while taking on those who would do their best to crush women simply for daring to have strong emotions!


‘The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise’ – Dan Gemeinhart

Sometimes you come across a book that worms it’s way in…and this is one of those books. Heart-warming, feel good emotional rollercoaster…what a journey, and message.

Coyote Sunrise is unconventional in many ways. For the last five years she and her father, Rodeo, have been travelling round America in a converted school bus. While this might seem appealing, we soon learn this is a defence move after Coyote’s mum and sisters were killed in a road accident five years earlier.

When Coyote takes a call from her grandmother, she learns that the park near where they used to live is to be dug up. Having not visited since the accident, that could mean little…but Coyote is determined to return as she remembers burying a box of memories with her mother in the park. Hard though this will be, she feels that she can’t ignore this. Unfortunately, she has to find a way to get her dad to drive her across country, without telling him what they’re doing.

Our story focuses on the journey, where Coyote finds herself taking on board a ragtag bunch of runaways and misfits. Determined to show kindness, Coyote learns that many people have things they want to keep hidden and that sometimes you need to let people in to help you.

From start to finish this was a charming read, giving a beautiful message and showing how grief impacts us. I loved the goat, and couldn’t help but smile throughout!