‘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.

‘STAGS’ by M.A. Bennett

Feature film rights for M A Bennett’s debut YA novel S.T.A.G.S have been bought by Chernin Entertainment, ahead of its UK publication. The novel focuses on the exclusive St. Aidan the Great’s School (S.T.A.G.S.) in England and follows first year boarding student Greer as she navigates the traditions of the school hierarchy, until she is invited for a weekend getaway by the school’s elite and most popular group, known as the Medievals. The invite promises a weekend of bloodsports, but what Greer and the other invitees don’t know is that the Medievals just might be hunting, shooting, and fishing them over the next three days.

It comes as little surprise to me that there’s plans to turn this into a movie. It definitely has that feel to it, and there’s more than one or two scenes that I think have been inspired by classic films.

From the moment we meet Greer, we know she’s caught up in something shocking. She tells us she might be a murderer, and I couldn’t wait to see just how this came together.

Greer’s scholarship at S.T.A.G.S. – a school of traditions, where money is revered and there’s a sense that those who have money/status will always come out on top – makes her feel like an outsider from the start. The book itself reminded me of a number of films/novels, where we are asked to look at how privilege affects character.

Our story starts properly when Greer and the others are invited to the home of Henry de Warlencourt (leader of the Medievals) for a shooting, hunting, fishing weekend. I was fascinated by the aura of wealth and privilege, but also slightly repulsed by the air of menace that exudes from this group.

As the story picks up, the rose-tinted glasses fall from Greer’s eyes. What she’s involved in isn’t simply an attempt to make a group of people feel socially inferior, it’s deadly serious. Over years ‘accidents’ have happened and it quickly becomes a case of survival, and trying to work out just how far-up the chain this goes!

The focus on wealth and race felt uncomfortable. Yet I know this probably isn’t too far from the norm for some. Whether it goes quite this far is hard to credit, but it certainly makes for a thrilling story.

Thank you NetGalley for allowing me to read this in advance of publication (and I await news of the movie).

‘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.

‘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.

‘Cruel Summer’ – James Dawson

This is a difficult review to write, as I enjoyed this book but it was all just too knowing for me (without some of the elements you get when it’s done really well).

The book opens with a chapter called ‘Fade In’…telling us about the moment Janey died. It’s strongly hinted that she was murdered. The book ends with a chapter called ‘Fade Out’ where we leave our characters with all manner of secrets revealed, and most of our questions answered. In-between this frame we are given a series of scenes telling us the story.

Katie and her group have friends have never really got over the apparent suicide of their friend Janey a year ago. They decide to go away on holiday to Katie’s villa…and, of course, they have questions about that night. Nobody wants to talk about it, but someone is about to force their hand.

So much for a relaxing break and a chance to catch up…another murder is on the cards!

We see events through the eyes of Ryan, our TV star in the making. He views everything as if it was his own personal TV show, which is a form of coping mechanism, but it means everything is elevated to a more significant status in an attempt to show its worthiness. It also means that there’s a rather irritating tendency to self-consciously deconstruct everything to tell us why it’s significant, or to force us into a certain train of thought. However, it does allow us to switch between the various characters in a way that works well.

There’s the standard cliches: jock, good girl, nerd…we think we know what to expect and Dawson plays up to this. We watch these supposedly ‘perfect teens’ implode as secrets are outed. Some of the secrets are given up more easily than others, and some offer more of a motive for murder than others.

Throughout, I felt like I was reading a paint-by-numbers screenplay for a teen scary movie. It was good fun, but didn’t move beyond what we’d expect. If you want to know who did it, you’ll have to read the book. You might well have sussed it very early on, but it’s good fun watching our various characters work things out.

‘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.

‘Good Me Bad Me’ – Ali Land

A tense, deeply troubling but utterly fascinating read.

Our narrator is fifteen year old Annie, the daughter of a serial killer. Details of Annie’s life are drip-fed to us, and they make for a tough read. We learn, bit by bit, of the awful abuse meted out to Annie by the very person who is meant to care for her. Alongside this we are given some details of the murders her mother carried out.

When Annie makes the decision to go to the police it sets in motion a court case, and Annie being taken into foster care. Her shiny new identity is as Milly. This is a chance for a new start, but throughout the book we are urged to consider the extent to which you can move on from your past, particularly when faced with new challenges such as the  ‘Mean Girls’-style group in her new school led by her foster sister, Phoebe.

Watching Milly’s attempts to settle into her new home always felt rather strained. We put it down to the strain of preparing to testify against your own mother, but there’s a point where Milly questions whether good me or bad me will win out – and we’re launched into a murky psychological area. Watching events unfold there was a grim inevitability to them, where I hoped the author wouldn’t go down this route but couldn’t resist seeing just where we’d be taken.

This book references Lord of the Flies throughout, and there’s a lurking menace behind most interactions.

While I can’t say I enjoyed this book – some taboos feel like they don’t need to be broken – it was one I found myself mesmerised by, and I am pretty certain this will be all over the bestseller lists in months to come.

Thanks to publishers and NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

‘The Missing Hours’ – Emma Kavanagh

Make no mistake – in this story we are exposed to a murky world.

Serena Cole is in the playground with her two young daughters. She goes missing, leaving her children in the park. Twenty hours later, she is found.

Alongside this, the body of a defence lawyer is found. Could there be links between the cases?

In this case, we know that’s inevitable. This is rather more focused on us working out just how the two cases are connected, and who does what.

Told from multiple viewpoints this is a story packed full of intrigue. Alongside the investigation into a murder in Herefordshire we are exposed to the workings of a kidnap and ransom group.

I was hooked on this from the moment I picked it up. The shifting perspectives meant it was quite a slippery read, and I wasn’t ever fully certain what revelation we’d get next. Sadly I felt some of the links were just too neat (ultimately) but the senseless nature of some of the events was quite upsetting.

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