‘Pretending’ – Holly Bourne

Holly Bourne’s latest takes some familiar themes in this but with our focus very much on adult characters some of the issues are a little more triggering.

Alice, our main character, is definitely a character you will come to understand – whatever you actually think about her. Her work for a support charity means she is regularly seeing the worst of people. She, herself, has been raped by an ex-boyfriend and it’s evident that her experience continues to impact upon her. Alice is fed up with boyfriends lasting a few dates and then dumping her because she doesn’t measure up to their expectations. She wants to be loved for herself, and so comes up with a plan.

Determined to make men pay for their privilege, Alice decides she is going to act in the way she believes men will find appealing. She becomes a different person – Gretel – a woman who knows what she wants and is not going to pretend to be something else in order token other people happy. It seems to be an act of disassociation and when Alice comes up with the idea I felt quite angry – not that she had to do it, but because she’s making the same assumptions she is criticising others for making.

Perhaps inevitably, she ends up meeting Joshua, and as their dates progress things seem positive – but he thinks he’s with a confident young woman called Gretel. How can things work out when they’ve started on such a strange footing?

I received an ARC of this from NetGalley and formatting issues definitely impacted on my enjoyment of this. There were random sections of text that appeared, empty pages and – on occasion – pages that didn’t seem connected to what I’d just read. They didn’t (I think) drastically affect my reading but it didn’t help my ability to engage with the character.

‘The Authenticity Project’ – Clare Pooley

Sometimes you just need a book to take you out of your daily routine, to offer a glimpse of something else, and The Authenticity Project definitely does that.

The book focuses on an unusual group of characters living in London, brought together by a rather interesting project. We have artist Julian, cafe owner Monica, addict Hazard, Australian traveller Riley, an Instagram influencer and a number of other characters. They are brought together by Julian’s attempts to be honest and reveal a little of himself to others.

Like a number of readers, the core group established at the start of the book are the ones we get more invested in. While the premise itself may be most unlikely, the sentiments explored are going to resonate with many. In such busy times it’s all too easy to lose sight of our connections with those around us, and the book shows what can happen if we take time to open ourselves to new experiences and take a risk.

As you might expect, things are not always quite what they seem. I was not entirely surprised by the twist regarding Julian, but I did feel a little sentimental by the closing scene.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

 

‘Grace is Gone’ – Emily Elgar

While this begins slowly, it soon picks up pace and becomes a fascinating read. Thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read it prior to publication.

The story focuses on what happens when Meg, a much-loved local woman, is found murdered in her home. Her daughter, Grace, is missing and so begins a tense hunt to discover what happened to her and try to find her alive.

Watching this story unfold is a journalist called Jon who seems unhealthily interested in this story. As we follow him through his day, we learn why. This family is known to him. Things between them didn’t end amicably years earlier when Jon interviewed them and suggested Meg’s ex should not have been cut out of Grace’s life in the way he was. With Simon, Grace’s dad, the prime suspect for this kidnapping we guess it’s only a matter of time until we find the truth.

Simon is, eventually, found. He refuses to cooperate with the police, but asks to talk to Jon. Breaking with protocol, focused only on getting Grace back safely, this is allowed. And so begins a tale stranger than any you could invent.

Not knowing crucial information is essential to the success of the book. Whatever our views of the characters involved, it certainly raises interesting questions about criminality and human behaviour. The ending is ambiguous, and this definitely encourages us to reflect on the information we have been given and consider what we would do with it.

 

‘Eight Perfect Murders’ – Peter Swanson

Malcolm Kershaw – bookstore worker, widow and suspect in a series of murders. At least that’s what we’re led to believe initially.

Malcolm narrates his story, and it’s clear we’re not being told everything. The question is, what’s being hidden and why? When an FBI agent asks to speak with Mal in connection to a series of murders we’re immediately intrigued. There seems to be a link between a number of deaths and a blog post written some years ago by Mal called Eight Perfect Murders. Someone appears to be using the list to carry out their own killing spree.

While the initial idea seems rather far-fetched, we slowly learn further details that indicates there is indeed a link. We also get told by Mal himself that he’s hiding things. The details he does give us mean we have developed a sense of trust and I certainly didn’t want to think badly of him.

As the story develops little details are revealed that start to affect the way we regard Mal. His actions become increasingly strange, and it’s evident that there’s twists coming…but it’s all about working out why and when this info is given.

It’s hard to say more without inadvertently revealing details that are crucial to the book’s success. While I’d not read all the books mentioned on the list, the literary link was appealing and Mal – though evidently not quite the good guy I had him pegged as initially – has a rather mercurial charm. By the notional end I felt rather disappointed that things were going to go that way.

A huge thanks to NetGalley for providing me with this in exchange for my thoughts.

 

‘A Window Breaks’ – C.M. Ewan

How far would you go to protect your family? Hopefully, this is something you will never have to worry about.

Our main characters are a family who have suffered more than anyone should have to. Their eldest child, a sixteen year old boy, was killed recently when he took the car without permission, crashing and killing both himself and his girlfriend. Only a week before the start of the book, the surviving family members are attacked as they leave a work event. Daughter, Holly, is attacked and the family are struggling to pick up the pieces. When boss, Lionel, offers them the use of his Highland Lodge to get away for a while it sounds like a perfect opportunity.

The first night they are there, the adults are woken by the sound of breaking glass. Unsettling, and at first we put their reactions down to nerves following recent experiences. But then they hear more noises and see men downstairs. They’ve come prepared. But, for what?

Tom and Rachel then begin a tense cat-and-mouse hunt. They take their child and try to escape-but every attempt is thwarted.

While the initial set-up was great, from this point on it became exaggerated to the point of losing my interest. We wanted to know who these people were, and find out what secrets Rachel and Tom were keeping. We got no answers…just a repetitive cycle of hide, almost found, escape…

As we start to creep closer to answers things take a more gruesome turn. In light of the actual details, this seemed too much to believe. The snippets of son Michael’s last moments did make more sense. Certain characters seemed to grow into quite unbelievable caricatures…but perhaps this is a natural result of circumstance and having the opportunity to do something about it.

By the end I was relieved with certain events, but can’t help but feel this was all rather over-the-top.

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

 

‘The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep’ – H.G. Parry

Thanks to NetGalley for bringing to my attention a book that is an unashamed testimony to loving Literature.

For anyone who loves books, this is a delight. Reading about the summoners who form such a bond with the books they read that they can create these characters in real life was always going to be fun.

Our main characters are brothers, Rob and Charley. Since they were little the brothers have kept Charley’s secret safe. They fondly recall childhood teas with Sherlock Holmes and so on, but as they’re older things have become a little more serious.

When we meet them, Charlie is a professor at the university of Wellington. He calls to ask Robert to help him as he has brought Uriah Heep to life, and things aren’t going smoothly. What comes next is a frightening scenario for anyone, but because it features so many familiar faces it really is concerning.

As we progress through the story we learn that Charley has a nemesis. It takes the time to work it out, and there’s a very real chance that people will not survive. This story could have gone in numerous directions, but throughout it had me gripped.

 

‘The Memory Wood’ – Sam Lloyd

Confusing beyond belief, horror piled on horror and – throughout- there’s a blurring of the line between dream/nightmare and reality. While the content is deeply unpleasant, the end result is a story that is very hard to put down.

A huge thank you to NetGalley for granting me the opportunity to read this prior to publication in exchange for my thoughts.

This won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a book that I’m sure will be talked about.
The majority of the story takes place in somewhere called The Memory Wood.

Elijah, one of our main characters, has been there a long time and Elissa, a somber yet highly resourceful thirteen year old chess fan, has just arrived. The pair seek solace in each other’s company, though we’re never entirely sure who to trust.

Alongside the experience of Elissa realising she has been abducted and incarcerated, we follow the detective put in charge of the investigation. We learn – eventually – exactly who Elijah is and how he fits into the story.

What is uncovered is beyond your worst imaginings. We’re shown the very worst of people, but we also uncover some good. Unsettling, but strangely compelling.

 

‘A Good Man’ – Ani Katz

Thomas Martin defines himself as a good man. Outwardly successful, earning a good wage, caring for his mother and sisters, and taking an interest in his wife and daughter. We see snippets of their life through Thomas’s eyes, and initially everything seems so straightforward.

Ever so slowly we get prickles of unease. Little details hint at something off-kilter about Thomas and his background. There’s suggestions of abuse at the hands of his father and the behaviour of his sisters seems symptomatic of those who’ve experienced neglect or abuse. But Thomas calls himself a good man and paints a picture of someone on top of their game. Why would we doubt him?

The memories of his early relationship with his wife appear fond. Then we learn that her family avoid them, and the details about her behaviour ring pretty vivid alarm bells.

As we move into the sphere of work it seems Thomas isn’t painting the full picture. This is never satisfactorily explained, but we do know he loses his job and never admits this.

Thomas’s mental decline seems to happen rapidly, but I think this was some time in the making. Before we know it we move towards a highly charged situation. Set against a beautiful winter setting we watch the most extreme events unravel. Even as I was getting over the situation between Thomas and his wife, I was not remotely prepared for the closing scene. Chilling.

A Good Man? It’s safe to say Thomas has one view of himself that is at odds with our view. How he went so long without being aware of this is hard to see, and I’m rather curious to know what he does next. This was certainly a different read, and I’d like to thank NetGalley and the publishers for offering me the opportunity to read it prior to publication.

 

‘Djinn Patrol on the Northern Line’ – Deepa Anappara

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with the chance to read this prior to publication.

In this transporting debut novel, three friends venture into the most dangerous corners of a sprawling Indian city to find their missing classmate.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is the kind of story that only really shows its significance once you reach the end.

Our main character, Jai, is a rather innocent nine year old. He watches too much tv, is obsessed with real-life crime stories and plays cricket. He spends his time with his friends doing the kinds of things many nine year olds will do. Then children in the area he lives start to go missing.

Seen through Jai’s eyes as he and his friends try to investigate these disappearances, I was struck by the lack of regard given to these cases. The writer’s journalistic background may have led to this determination to write about the number of children in India that go missing, but because we observe events through Jai’s eyes we can’t help but notice the absence of action.

I found the book a little slow at times in terms of action. The description was powerful, and the story as a whole I found unsettling. I definitely felt it became more impactful once Jai’s reasons to investigate become more personal.

‘A Curse so Dark and Lonely’ – Brigid Kemmerer

With the release of book two I decided it was high time I got round to this Beauty and the Beast retelling.

This time round our Beast is Prince Rhen, cursed to relive his eighteenth year time and time again. The only thing that will save him is to have someone fall in love with him. Unfortunately, over the three hundred plus seasons Rhen has tried this it has failed. When he turns into a monster Rhen has killed his family and is, slowly, destroying his people.

Our Beauty is Harper, a young girl from DC. We first meet her as she’s looking out for her brother, desperately hoping they can do what is needed to pay off their father’s debts and keep their mother safe. When Harper sees a man attack a young girl in the street she pursues him…and before we know it Harper is spirited away to Emberfall.

Not off to a good start the two characters are prickly towards each other from the start. Each has their own situation to try and resolve, and in our minds there’s a focus on the curse. However, their characters certainly play a huge part in the choices they make and how this impacts on them.

Rhen’s commander, Grey, is a great character from the start. Spirited but strangely loyal, he also develops a close friendship with Harper. At one point I wondered if this would be a cliched love triangle, but the role Grey plays is a much more interesting one.

Over the course of the book we see Harper and Rhen develop their relationship, but also develop as individual characters. We have the manipulative Lilith, the enchantress who has cursed Rhen, and political machinations as those around Rhen try to take advantage of the circumstances.

While the latter stages of the story are, in some ways, quite predictable I was struck by the developments around certain characters that suggest where this might go. I’m looking forward to reading book two soon.