‘Copycat’ – Alex Lake

In this age, where every little detail is shared online, privacy is everything. We take reasonable precautions to protect our data…so what do we do if someone steals our identity? How can it happen, and what are the consequences if it does happen?
While this raises issues around how we use social media and the security of our online information, the book itself is about a story much closer to home – the desire for revenge.
Sarah is a doctor, has three lovely kids and a loving husband. She is pretty settled in her routine, and still in touch with many friends from her past. When an old school friend moves back to the area and tries to befriend her on Facebook she doesn’t think anything of it…until the friend sends a message asking which account she should use.
At this point we are suspicious. Has Sarah set up an alternative account or is there a more sinister motive? Watching Sarah and her husband, Ben, try to work out who might have done this – and the turmoil caused as things progress and the suspicion is on Sarah herself was bad enough. However, we are privy to another voice – unknown of most of the novel – who shares with us the details of their plan to remove Sarah and take revenge for an act from her past.
There’s no doubt this was a page-turner. I was keen to work out what was going on, and there were moments when the suggestion that Sarah might be experiencing some kind of medical condition causing her to not remember actions was an intriguing possibility. The venom behind the actions of the unknown ‘stalker’ was palpable…
It was only when we were told who was behind it and saw just how far they were prepared to go that I found myself less entranced. There was a sadistic cruelty to the novel that I found discomfiting, and I wasn’t entirely convinced by the plausibility of what we were being told to believe. That aside, a cracking read.
Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read this in exchange form honest thoughts.

‘The Power’ – Naomi Alderman

‘The Power’ is a book I’d been desperate to read since I first heard about it, but it has taken me a long time to get round to.

My initial reaction upon finishing the book was one of bemusement. In this novel Alderman highlights issues of gender and power in contemporary society, by turning our expectations and norms on their head.

I liked the fact the book focused on four separate characters during this time, but that inevitably led to a sense of detachment as we never fully get under their skin and jumping from one to the other means the links between their stories aren’t always clear.

I found the basic premise of the girls’ power fascinating, but it seemed to descend into abuse of such magnitude that I felt a real bleakness towards people and their basic humanity.

While this book seems to fit into science-fiction/dystopian writing, I think the messages it gives us about how we live now are really depressing.

I can admire much about how this has been constructed, and the writing style but it was an unnerving experience and one that I’m left uncertain about how to respond to.

‘Lies She Told’ – Cate Holahan

Scheduled for publication in September 2017, I must thank Crooked Lane Books publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

Our plot focuses on Liza, a novelist who hasn’t been able to reproduce the dizzy heights of her debut novel. We meet her as she is struggling to work out the plot of her next novel. It’s hard to focus on writing though as she’s undergoing fertility treatment, desperate for a child, and her husband’s work partner has disappeared.

We regularly switch to chapters of the work in progress. Here we follow the character of Beth, a young mother who learns that her husband is having an affair. We watch as Beth follows the adulterous couple, eventually killing the other woman, a police officer.

From the outset it was hard to keep focused on which parts of this story were Liza’s and which belonged to the fiction of Beth. Their voices were very similar, and the details from both stories were clearly intertwined.

There’s a moment in the book where Liza says “Blurring fact and fantasy is my trade. I am a con artist. A prevaricator. I make up stories. So why does he think this one is real?” This, for me, was the essence of the story-what was reality, and what was fiction?

A rather difficult one to get into initially, but it was certainly worth it.

‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ – Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant…a truly remarkable character.

Honeyman strikes a perfect balance in her portrayal of Miss Eleanor Oliphant. She is socially awkward, blunt to the point of rudeness, and has a clear defined structure to her life. All the signs point to her being on the autistic spectrum, possibly the quirky kind of character that you may find it hard to understand. Though it’s clear that people who encounter her think she’s somewhat bonkers, I never felt that we were given anything other than a sympathetic account of her.

The narrative is split into three sections: good days, bad days and better days. As you’d expect, we see Eleanor go through her daily life and we slowly come to see there’s a bit more to her than the surface oddness.

Our understanding of Eleanor comes as she becomes friends with her co-worker, Raymond. It would have been easy for this to turn into a romance, and I was pleased that Eleanor and Raymond’s relationship focused on the platonic bond, and the benefits to each of them of having someone to share things with. There were some genuinely funny moments as these two awkward people find a way to interact with someone else. Yet there were genuinely emotional moments that rather wrung me dry.

I felt somewhat awkward as I read about Eleanor’s visit to a salon for a waxing session, or her comment ‘it sounds gibberish’ to the hairdresser setting up her new style…there are definite traits that many of us could recognise in ourselves.

It’s not until quite late on in the novel that we learn the truth about Eleanor Oliphant, and by this point I admit to being quite beguiled by this woman. She is, indeed, completely fine.

‘You Don’t Know Me’ – Imran Mahmood

An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech. 
He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out.Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth. 
There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions… but at the end of the speeches, only one matters:
Did he do it?

This was an interesting format-told through transcripts from court. We focus on our unnamed narrator, who is on trial for murder, and who gets to tell his story in his own words. This created a rather claustrophobic atmosphere, and though you wanted the narrator to stop talking at times – you can picture just how well some of the information given would have gone down – I admired the voice and the insight he tried to give into his existence.

Part of me expected a straightforward retelling of a story with a final focus on the decision. While we were given a story, it didn’t quite go as expected.

The actual telling of the story building up to the shooting for which he is in court meanders all over the place. We twist and turn as details are passed over because they don’t quite fit at this moment, and we have to trust our narrator knows what he’s doing. Given his position, it does make it hard to decide to what extent we’re getting a brave attempt to recreate his life for us, and how much we’re listening to the delusions of someone trying to escape justice.

The voice of the narrator is, sadly I think, representative of many young black men in court. Much is made of the advice he is given to ‘play the jury’ and to present himself in the best light possible. Does the truth matter? Our narrator thinks so, even if it doesn’t present him in the most favourable light. He is keen to stress that those judging him don’t know the reality of his life and are judging stereotypes.

The story unfolds quite slowly, but it worked. We learn what our narrator tells us about the events he is caught up in. Did he shoot the man? It almost doesn’t matter, as we’re so focused on his account of what he recalls. What I was frustrated by was the sense of inevitability to his experience.

I would like to thank NetGalley and publishers Michael Joseph for the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest review.

‘Yesterday’ – Felicia Yap

Described as the thriller of the year, I was intrigued when I saw this on NetGalley and, while I enjoyed it, I think there are some aspects that stopped it from being quite as good as I hoped.

In this world we have two types of people, Duos and Monos. Their whole existence is dominated by the need to record everything on Idiaries as their memory is limited.

So, what do you do when a murder is committed and you can only remember events of the day before? It makes it extremely difficult for those investigating the crime also.

As we flit between perspectives and time I have to confess it felt like we were being fed false details throughout. It was hard to work out who was reliable, and to what extent we should trust what we were seeing.

I enjoyed seeing Claire try to work out just how her husband knew the woman pulled from the river. It was interesting to try and put together just what secrets she was hiding. I really liked the character of the Detective-his obsession was understandable, and it certainly gave us an insight into the effect our identity has on our actions.

Where I lost interest somewhat was in the closing stages, once we thought we’d sorted out what had happened…only to have a whole new layer added in. This felt a step too far for me.

‘Reservoir 13’ – Jon McGregor

As in ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’ we focus on the little details, the easily forgotten minutiae of peoples’ lives…and it will not be to everyone’s tastes.

The story opens with a couple holidaying in an unnamed Peak District village desperately seeking help as their thirteen-year-old daughter has gone missing. Anyone expecting an action-packed thriller as we race to discover the girl/body – or establish what happened to her – will be left wanting. Rebecca, or Bex, fades into the background though her presence remains palpable for those left behind. What we get instead is a languid, dare I say it poetic, account of how this major event affects the village and those living in it.

We watch a huge cast of characters resume their daily lives, getting to know some in detail, and we follow them through the thirteen years following this event.

Setting in a novel such as this is everything, and there’s a real sense of beauty created here by McGregor. I wonder if it would still seem as beautiful if I didn’t live in a village very similar to that described here. Perhaps not, but I admired the sense of charm given to the everyday, the ordinary. Charting the ebb and flow of this village and those who live in it seems to have been a real labour of love.

Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review, and though we’re never given all the answers we feel we want there’s plenty to satisfy us.

‘Bloods Sisters’ – Jane Corry

I was intrigued by the idea of this one: Three girls set off for school. Within an hour one of them is dead. People are hiding secrets, and someone is determined to ensure these secrets are revealed.

Initially, I was rather taken aback by the decision to tell the story in split narrative. We follow sisters, Alison and Kitty, now they are older and see how they are affected by the impact of that day. Kitty is in a care home, brain damage affecting her ability to communicate with the world – but she’s a shrewd cookie inside. Alison, her older sister, seems fine on the surface but there are signs that not all is as it seems.

Throughout the novel there’s a lot of hints about what might have happened, and a few red herrings are thrown our way to put us off the scent. We’re given plenty of clues, but never quite enough to help us completely crack it.

A review such as this could, all too easily, give details away. For this reason, I’ll keep it brief.

I did enjoy this, but I felt the first part of the story was a little slow. I never really engaged with either character, which meant I was quite dispassionate about the revelation. There were quite a lot of details that were thrown our way to muddy the water which, actually were more interesting than the main story.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

‘The Chemist’ – Stephanie Meyer

This is one of those books that is not badly written, and there are some cracking scenes, but it seems to have attracted its fair share of hate from online reviewers.

We begin in very different territory to Twilight (thank goodness) with an adult main character who is very good at what she does, even if she is socially inept. She has come under threat on a number of occasions and her paranoia is justified when we learn more of her life.

The story focuses on the attempts by her ex bosses to get Julia (known for most of the novel as Alex) to find a suspect and torture him for information. The target, Daniel, is a teacher who seems to know nothing about the situations Alex wants information about. Okay, so no prizes for originality in how this scenario came about, but Meyer does deliver a pretty well-paced story. At least, initially.

There’s a patch during the novel where not much happens. While Alex and Daniel are left in the dark, we sit and wait…and wait some more…and then get another attempt at something action-packed.

You’ll spot the clunky moments, and the romance is just verging on cheesy, but I still found myself carried along by this. I also admit to being quite satisfied by the peek into their lives after these events (though it was not remotely necessary).

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review.

‘Into the Water’ – Paula Hawkins

This is one of those books that will, I’m sure, divide opinion. I liked elements of it but, ultimately, it fell somewhat short for me.

We start our story with the discovery of Nel Abbott’s body in the local beauty spot, known as the Drowning Pool, where a young teenage girl was recently discovered – and where a number of women have been found over time. A local suicide spot, or is something more sinister going on?

From the outset we know we’re dealing with a whodunnit, but you also want some ideas about why. In this, Hawkins sets up so many possibilities that we have an untold number of suspects, a range of suspicious stories and so many things going on that it all becomes a bit of a mess.

We get answers that aren’t really answers, and we are offered a number of things to focus on. For me, this meant we were always second-guessing people’s actions.
It was always quite high up on my ‘red-herring’ list that the person who did it wasn’t the one we were led to believe had done it. What I don’t think we got a credible explanation for was why they did it, or why the fall-guy allowed it to happen.