‘Broken Things’ – Lauren Oliver

 

Lauren Oliver always manages to grip me with whatever she’s writing, but I found myself increasingly frustrated by this.

Brynn, Mia and Owen have spent the last five years of their lives being regarded with suspicion by everyone in their small town. They are regarded as suspects in the death of their best friend, Summer, who was found, stabbed, in a field in circumstances very similar to a story they wrote together. The facts have been told so many times that everyone thinks they know what happened. But we’re told to assume these facts are not the truth.

In varying states of upheaval, the three teens find themselves back in their small town as people prepare to commemorate Summer’s death. They are determined to uncover the truth – for themselves, as much as for their friend.

Initially, this made for a tense read as each has reason to doubt the other and we can see they’re all keeping secrets. Unfortunately I felt we suffered from just too many ‘red herrings’ and attempts to misdirect us. I can’t believe such crimes would go unnoticed or unpunished…and yet Oliver glosses over all the issues we might have with how such an event is handled. There’s some details that other reviewers have alluded to that are put in place to shock but a lack of preparation/background made me feel they offer little extra to aiding us in understanding the characters.

I really wanted this to keep the hold on me that it had at the beginning. Sadly, it didn’t and I found this very frustrating.

‘Sadie’ – Courtney Summers

It starts with a dead girl. Mattie, aged 11. Found in a field after being missing for days. Her sister, Sadie, then goes missing.

This felt quite different to the other books by Summers that I’ve read. There was an unusual style of writing, with excerpts from a radio podcast interspersed with the story of Sadie. The podcast lent an air of interest to the story – watching someone else uncover the events that we were already familiar with, but also piecing together the strands just that little bit after we had been told certain details. 

We follow Sadie as she tries to find the man she blames for her sister’s death. Along the way Sadie makes some deeply unpleasant discoveries, and it makes us think a little more about how easy it is for people to hide their true feelings/behaviours if they choose to.

Throughout, there was an ominous tone to the story. The threads surrounding Sadie pulled tighter and tighter, and it felt like the resolution was not quite what we hoped for.

Personally I found the ending to be frustrating as Sadie’s story was not clearly resolved. I liked the way this was left open to a positive possibility, but with what we know I can’t help but feel it wasn’t on the cards.

‘It Ends With You’ – S.K. Wright

YA thriller that really packs a punch.

Told from multiple perspectives it could be a mess, but these different voices keep us waiting for information and all shed new light on what happened.
Eve is one of the popular crowd. Beautiful, wealthy and destined for great things people are surprised when she falls for bad boy Luke. Luke is not from a wealthy family, and he has a temper – so he’s the perfect suspect when Eve’s body is discovered in the woods.

It seems from the beginning that Luke is innocent, but there are hints that keep us guessing throughout. We learn Eve is not quite as innocent as people thought, and the details of what she’s been up to were pretty shocking.

When Luke is imprisoned and put on trial for Eve’s murder there’s hints that we might not have everything as neatly wrapped up as we thought. However, the end was chilling and really made me rethink some of my earlier ideas.

This is certainly one I’ll recommend, and I must thank NetGalley for providing me with the opportunity to read this prior to publication.

‘The Tall Man’ – Phoebe Locke

Thank you NetGalley for letting me read my oddest of 2018 so far.

There were issues with my ARC – parts of text missing or disordered – and this meant there was some inevitable confusion as I tried to keep fixed who was the focus/what was happening. Those issues fixed, I think this will be the kind of read you’ll either fall hook, line and sinker for or you’ll be ambivalent about. I, sadly, was somewhere in between.

For me, the start of the story was not quite there. We’re expected to fall for The Tall Man story but without really being given enough detail to justify such a reaction. Throughout, the supposedly creepy references to this mythical figure felt forced. I never felt I had enough to substantiate this, feeling it was always something of a smokescreen for another story.

Some reviewers have commented on the fragmented nature of the setting. This is disconcerting on occasion, but it does make sense as we learn more about Sophie, Miles and their daughter, Amber, as she is being followed by a film crew for a documentary about a murder. Certain details hint at there being more to certain characters and the events unfolding, but it’s not until later that we get to piece everything together.

‘All of this is True’ – Lygia Day Peñaflor

A group of teens go to a book signing and end up being befriended by the author. They are given unlimited access to her home and time, and she seems genuinely interested in getting to know them. Except, then her latest book is published and it is – in fact – the story of their lives.

The book idea itself was fascinating. I liked the inclusion of excerpts from the fictional book. Unfortunately, the group of teens were not particularly interesting characters. They had potential to be, but they were focused on in relation to the fictional book so we don’t see much beyond the surface.

Stylistically it feels choppy. We cut from interview to interview, to messages, to novel excerpts and it’s difficult to get a sense of quite where it’s going. It always felt like we were second guessing events/characters and those I’d really like to have heard from were not given a voice.

An intriguing idea, but one which didn’t quite come together for me.

‘The Woman in the Window’ – A.J. Finn

A solid homage to Hitchcock, with one or two modern twists.

Dr Anna Fox is agoraphobic. She spends her days inside her NY home in a fairly rigid number of ways: counselling on-line; playing chess; learning French; watching classic black and white movies; drinking fine Merlot; downing a wide variety of medication for all manner of illnesses and, last but not least, watching her neighbours.

In her very own ‘Rear Window’ moment, she creates her own life story through the lives of those around her. When a new family move in across the way, she is intrigued and it reminds her of all that she once had.

Dr Fox is not the most reliable of narrators, and yet there is something I found inherently trustworthy about her. When she says she has witnessed one of her neighbours get stabbed in the throat I wanted to believe her, even though the woman she claims was stabbed is alive and well.

The police don’t believe her. The husband of the woman she claimed had been stabbed seems to be hiding something. Her tenant is behaving oddly, and even the few people Anna allows herself to have physical interaction with start to fear for her sanity.

Inevitably there are comparisons with a number of other books featuring semi-incoherent female narrators and a was there/wasn’t there a murder storyline, but this is a solid thriller. The resolution to the story was not wholly incredible, and in spite of her evident flaws Finn manages to create empathy for his main character.

Unsurprisingly, the dust-jacket of my copy says this has already been optioned for a movie. It doesn’t really offer anything new, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to get lost in for a while.

‘A Spoonful of Murder’ – Robin Stevens

What a delight this latest instalment of Hazel and Daisy’s adventures was. Thank you, Robin Stevens, for the story and I only wish it could have lasted longer.
This time round the girls are in Hong Kong when Hazel is called back after the death of her grandfather. As we come to expect, the girls are soon caught up in another mystery when Hazel’s new brother is kidnapped.
There’s a number of suspects – father’s business partners, old friends and even ex-servants – and the girls get to carry out some daring deeds as they investigate the crime.
As always with this series there is a wonderful sense of the relationship between the two girls and the ease with which they investigate these strange events. What I particularly loved in this book was getting more of a sense of the character of Hazel, and gaining an insight into her sense of alienation while learning a little more of her cultural background.
The depiction of Hong Kong was exciting and I think marks a real shift in the series. It was lovely to see Hazel coming into her own a little, and Daisy placed in the role so often assigned to her partner.
Another fantastic adventure.

‘The Chalk Man’ – C.J. Tudor

For me, this was an assured debut that I devoured but did not want to end.
Our narrator, Eddie, is in his early-40s and he lives in his childhood home, teaching in his old high school. One day he receives a drawing of a stick man in the post and it sparks memories of a childhood game he and his friends used to play.

Told in two different time-frames, this really is a compelling read. We jump from the present (2016) to thirty years earlier when Eddie and his friends are on the cusp of adolescence. It’s a very different time, and one which will only be familiar to some readers from Stephen King’s ‘The Body’ and the Netflix show ‘Stranger Things’. Eddie’s group of friends share a lot, but they all have their secrets.

The key secret that the novel focuses on is the murder and dismemberment of a teenage girl in 1986. The group are involved as they find the body having been led there by chalk drawings. We’re never certain if they know more than that, and what quickly becomes apparent is that in this town there’s a lot of people with things they’d rather others didn’t know.

I particularly liked the way the shifting perspective meant we could never be certain what revelations were relevant and how, and the nod to King is evident in so many ways (not least with the teacher being called Halloran). The style of writing was one I found hard to put down. It was very easy to picture this as a film, and seeing the viewpoint of both child and adult narrator added a complexity to this that I found hard to resist.

All in all, a wonderful read for the start of the new year and one I’d highly recommend.

‘The Innocent Wife’ – Amy Lloyd

Our main character, Sam, hints at a lonely life. She strongly suggests there are mental health issues and she does seem quite vulnerable initially, which perhaps explains how she ends up obsessed with the case of Dennis Danson.

When she first starts writing to Dennis on Death Row she is convinced of his innocence. She is part of a large community of people convinced Dennis did not kill the girl he was accused of murdering. With the appearance of a true-crime documentary focusing on his case more and more people are convinced of his innocence. Like so many of his supporters, Sam is determined justice be done and he should be released. Unlike them, she starts visiting him and ends up marrying him.

Putting aside some of the issues I have with this idea anyway, it troubled me that everyone was so keen to get Dennis released. Anyone who opposed this view was portrayed in a rather caricatured manner; their behaviour or appearance being physically repellent to reinforce how they did not agree with Sam’s view.

Once they are married things moved quite quickly. We suddenly have evidence that exonerates Dennis of all charges and he is released. Immediately I felt there were very unsubtle hints that all was not as it seemed, and we were on high alert to see just how wrong we were going to be proven.

The actual ‘truth’ does come out, but I really wasn’t wholly convinced by the way in which events panned out or the behaviour of some key characters.
All the way through I was waiting for the twist, but it really didn’t come. The big revelation was signalled pretty clearly and it lost impetus towards the end.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts.

‘The Child Finder’ – Rene Denfield

A book whose impact will be felt long after the story is finished.

Our main character, Naomi,  finds missing children. Sometimes they are alive, sometimes they are not. What matters is that she, like the parents, never forgets. Her determination to do her best by these children is compelling, but we learn early on that it stems from her own experiences. We’re never told exactly what happened to Naomi, but it’s all too obvious that it drives her…completely.

In this novel Naomi is asked to investigate the disappearance of Madison, a young girl who disappeared three years ago when her parents drove out to the mountains to cut their own Christmas tree. Most people are convinced the child, who was five at the time, died that day in the woods, but we know different.

I was initially nervous that this would be a bloody, violent read. How do you write a book about what happens to a missing child without being crass? Inevitably, the matter of how to write about abuse and Stockholm syndrome is one that has to be contended with. This is where the character of Naomi is so important.

The book switches from Naomi’s investigation to Madison’s experience trapped in a deserted cabin. Yes, there are inevitably details that you wish weren’t there but – amazingly – we are caught up in a cycle of awful experiences and all the characters involved are treated respectfully (perhaps too much so in the case of B).

The Child Finder will not be to everyone’s tastes, but this was a dark tale that felt it needed telling. Thank you NetGalley for providing me with the opportunity to read this in exchange for my honest thoughts.