Our Story by Miranda Dickinson

Reviewed by Lotte:

This is the story of Otty, an aspiring writer who gets the chance to make it big, and Joe, an up and coming name within the industry. The two are thrown together in both their living and then their working world with varying levels of success. But will their stories work out or will they end in disaster?

This isn’t the genre I would usually pick up but the literary element had me intrigued. My verdict – it was ok. As far as a lighthearted, easy to read book goes, it works but for me I wanted a little more.

I really wanted the whole Otty and Joe thing to work and wished there were more moments in the books where that was allowed to flourish. Instead I found myself getting frustrated at their actions which prevented them from understanding each other. In terms of the love story itself, I felt it was all pretty predictable and I could see the ending coming. However, that was one of the quickest round ups I’ve seen in while! It would have been nice to have seen more of their love story played out in the literary world rather than it just ending at the proposition.

The supporting characters were all basic and played no real role in the story telling. So for me it felt unrelatable and underwhelming.

Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with the ARC in return for an honest review.

Author: Miranda Dickinson
Publisher: HQ Digital
Release date: 25 August 2020

Peace Talks by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #16)

Reviewed by Mark:

Peace Talks is the latest novel in the Dresden Files from Jim Butcher. Firstly, it’s safe to say that if you’re not up to date on this series, then jumping in at book 16 is not advisable. There’s been a break of some years since the last instalment, and I was very eager to jump into this given how much I’ve enjoyed the series to date (and re-read them at least twice).

The story essentially does what it says on the cover and follows the proposal and lead up to peace talks between supernatural nations after a period of war. Suffice to say that this isn’t the entire focus of the novel, with some other plot threads bringing some interesting developments early on. It’s also clearly one half of a larger story, which is somewhat frustrating given the lack of answers and resolution, but with the next novel in the series, Battle Grounds, due out within a few months it’s a forgivable annoyance.

Butcher delivers a solid story and build up here, with many characters from previous novels making an appearance and ticking the right boxes. I was left very interested to get to the next novel and will be making it a priority read on its release. The narrator, James Marsters, does as good a job as ever and perfectly embodies Harry Dresden. A joy to listen to and so easily digested. Great stuff!

Author: Jim Butcher
Publisher: Orbit
Release date: 14 July 2020

Second Sight by Maximilian Pereira

Reviewed by Lotte:

Michael is a budding young scientist who chances on an opportunity to work on developing new nano-technology. During his research he discovers a way to develop the nano-technology to cure blindness but in his eagerness to develop his research he ends up working for some very shady characters, not realising the impact his work will have until it is too late.

This was a very rudimentary read in my opinion. The premise itself held a lot of potential but the delivery lacked substance and depth. Beyond the statements of – this is what we’re doing (regarding the nano-tech) there was no attempt at really explaining how it would work. In fact the only thing futuristic about the technology was just the mention and use of nano-technology. Even the descriptions, use and scope of the technology was lacking. I was left hoping for and wanting so much more information because there was certainly scope for it.

Apart from the above additional details, there was also lots of unfinished ends. For example: what happened to the fifth soldier; did we solidly find out what happened to the other 4 soldiers; what happened to general fielding (other than ‘something’; how did they ‘move on’ as it were, at the end – to name a few without giving spoilers away (but seriously, what happened was all that new journey/new world at the end and why didn’t we read about it.

However, despite it’s slightly laborious start, it was a very quick read. So if you’re looking for something light then this might just fit.

Thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and the author for the opportunity to read this ARC post-publication.

Author: Maximilian Pereira
Publisher: Milian Books
Release date: 13 August 2018

Standing on My Brother’s Shoulders: Making Peace with Grief and Suicide

Reviewed by Lotte:

In this incredible book, Standing on My Brother’s Shoulders: Making Peace with Grief and Suicide, we see not just a family struggling with heartache but a true study in the impact that mental illness, grief and suicide can have on both a family and an individual. Tara J Lal talks us through living with a father struggling with mental ill-health, a mother that has taken the brunt of most of the family life and then sadly passes away, a deep sibling bond with her brother Adam and the shattering loss she experienced when he lost his life to suicide, and ultimately where that left her and how she learnt to heal.

This is a raw but beautiful account of a life so heavily impacted by grief and mental ill-health, showing the devastating effects this can have within a family and as an individual trying to find your way in the world. In the case of her brother, Adam, who did not manage to find his way, Tara shares his inner thoughts in such a caring, delicate way, it felt like she was truly honouring who he was and how he felt. It was a privileged insight into another person’s struggle. The way that Tara wove his writing into her own experiences, thought patterns, challenges and discoveries was masterful. It was like an echo of two souls connected even through death.

Tara handles this incredibly delicate subject with care and sensitivity. Working within mental health, I really appreciated the re-write and subsequent re-release of the book to include adaptations to the language and descriptions that better reflect our understanding of suicide now compared to 5 years ago at it’s initial release. This shows instantly how Tara has a real thoughtfulness and compassion surrounding these topics and can handle them well.

Having said that, this book does cover some incredibly difficult and intense topics. The writings she shares, both of her own thoughts and those immortalised in her brother’s writing are often so raw and brutally honest, it is hard not to feel. There is beauty in what is written too, it’s there throughout, in the descriptions, the understanding and genuine human responses to these experiences. But it’s wise to make sure you are in a place where you are able to read this without it having an adverse effect.

As someone that has experienced loss through suicide and had periods of time where I too made those attempts, it felt like this book spoke to me on a whole other level too. I related to both Tara’s and Adam’s writings, the inner turmoil, the aftermath and the healing. Although no two experiences are ever the same, I found comfort in the explanations and a sense of not being alone in this experience. I was often left lost in thought after certain phrases, appreciating the explanation that at times has been hard to find, and yet there it was, right in front of me. Even if you’ve not been impacted by suicide, this book will provide you with such an insight into the plight and struggles of those that have. It is powerful and invaluable!

Thank you to Tara J Lal, Watkins Publishing and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Author: Tara J Lal
Publisher: Watkins Publishing
Release date: 11 August 2020

Her Husband’s Grave by P.L. Kane

Reviewed by Lotte:

Kane kicks this novel off with a gripping opener, giving us Dr Robyn Adam’s harrowing backstory before taking us straight into a murder investigation – the death of her cousin’s husband. As a consultant psychologist, Robyn’s cousin asks her to use her skills to help solve the mystery of who did it, but despite her reputation from some high profile cases, she is initially met with resistance from the local police. Meddling in a small town causes waves and soon Robyn find herself in trouble which only escalates as she digs deeper and the questions surrounding the murder become greater. Eventually it seems like Robyn has cracked it, but will she live to bring the guilty to justice and is that really the end?

We already know that Kane can combine a crime thriller with a family heartbreak but in this novel he manages to weave in a psychological element complete with an extensive and complex backstory – mastery! This created a dark, intense and twisted plot!

This books really packs a punch in the opening chapters! I love that we get such an insight into the shocking backstory of Robyn, it feels like we’ve already read a full novel about her before we even get started on this one. Having such a fully established character added depth and a layer of complexity that I really enjoyed. You could see how this history, along with the clever way that Kane shares additional flashbacks, really influenced how Robyn questioned and saw the world in front of her. It also heightened that emotional reaction to the events happening.

As I said before, this multi-layering of approaches meant one minute we were experiencing those raw human emotions and just how real they were, then we were processing the twisted psychological moments, while in the next minute puzzling over the crime details. This constant change in focus kept me hooked pretty much throughout. I think the only time the pacing dipped a little was during the middle of the book when Kane needed to do some fact/world building in order to deliver the impressive latter half of the book, which was totally worth it. I was kept guessing right up until I was reading the plot unfold and loved all the twists and turns. I honestly thought I had it figured out at one point until everything was thrown into uncertainty again.

This was, for the most part, a fast paced and easy to read book. Kane structures his chapters to finish in such a way it entices you to read the next, be that with plot twists, more questions or gut-wrenching events, making it hard to put down. Although it is definitely a standalone story, for those that have read Kane’s previous novel – Her Last Secret – there was a very small but incredibly interesting link. I’m wondering if a third book might reveal more…I’ll be keeping my eye out!

Thanks to NetGalley, HQ Digital and Paul Kane for providing me with this ARC.

Author: P.L. Kane
Publisher: HQ Digital
Release date: 26 June 2020

Seven Devils by Elizabeth May & Laura Lam

Reviewed by Lotte:

I’m not sure how to summarise Seven Devils because so much happens! We have 5 main characters: Eris, an ex-heir to the throne; Clo, a natural born, mechanic; Nyx, an ex-soldier; Rhea, a courtesan for the empire; Ariadne, a teenage genius behind the workings of the Oracle. We kick of this novel with Eris and Clo being sent on a difficult intel mission, one where neither wish to be with the other. During this mission they end up colliding with Nyx, Rhea and Ariadne, Tholosian fugitives looking to join the resistance and escape the Empire. However, with the Empire’s new plans for a truce with their previous sworn enemies and suspicious findings, things don’t seem to add up, so these five are forced to work together to uncover and prevent the Empire’s plans. The fate of the entire galaxy and millions of lives rests on their success but can they pull it off when al the odds are against them?

What a fantastic read! Seven Devils has pretty much everything you could want from a sprawling space saga: great characters, detailed back story, well-built worlds and so much action! And I love where the name for the book eventually came from – nicely done!

I really enjoyed the five main protagonists that Lam and May created. Their diverse characteristics were subtly woven into the plot bringing different elements and so much more depth. With each chapter being told from one of the five perspectives we experienced such a range of emotions and responses.

I appreciated having no repetition in the chapters as we switched between characters, instead it was either a flashback or the next step of the story. The flashbacks themselves were really useful and added a lot of context to the plot and world-building without requiring a ton of effort. It almost felt like we’d read a prequel! I also loved that there were so many ‘events’ plus twists and turns within the story which didn’t all end in doom, halting the progression of the story and requiring some farfetched solution. It was refreshing to see the characters face difficulties but find ways to get through them meaning we got so much more story and the plot continually moved forward without losing out on the drama. The Sci-Fi element was pitched perfectly for me too. There was enough for us to understand the different empires, races, space craft, technology etc. without it being too overwhelming and confusing. Elements like the Oracle’s all knowing, all controlling influence were neat little complexities Lam and May added to their novel.

The chapters themselves were short and easy to get through but I did find the pacing in the first half of the book a little slow and I didn’t always feel compelled to read the next chapter. I think part of this was because Lam and May were fleshing out both the characters and the worlds. It completely paid off though! The story reached a gripping crescendo, and cleverly one that left us wanting more, despite all the action. Seven Devils ended with so much drama, I could hardly believe it when they wove in such suspense for the next novel. It had me checking to see when Lam and May were planning on releasing it (please be soon!) as they’ve proved themselves to be a stellar writing duo!

There has been quite a bit of discussion around categorising Seven Devils as an adult novel or a YA. In my opinion it’s definitely aimed more at adults, but reading is subjective so if this sounds like your thing I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Author: Elizabeth May & Laura Lam
Publisher: Gollancz
Release date: 6 August 2020

The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter

Reviewed by Lotte:

Firstly, this book needs a serious content warning. It’s not that I wouldn’t advise reading it, more just to be aware it contains some pretty graphic details and events that some people may find difficult.

A dead body, an arrested perpetrator, all things seem to add up. That is until another body turns up 8 years later with an identical MO yet the original attacker is still in prison. So is it a copycat? Or was the wrong person put away? Our convict is certainly saying he’s innocent and apparently now has proof. Will Trent – Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Agent for Grant County (GC) – has to work alongside medical examiner Sara and fellow officers both past and present to find the killer, but will he have to go back to those incidents 8 years ago and why does there seem to be a pattern emerging for a serial killer? Both timelines play out until the two come together in a shocking conclusion.

This book is the tenth in the Will Trent series but it works well as a standalone novel. It was truly compelling! I did initially struggle with the content, mainly because I had no warning of quite how graphic it would be so be prepared for detailed, brutal descriptions that leave nothing to the imagination. But despite that, each chapter ending left me wanting more and more, and as the two timelines began to play out, I became even more enthralled. Even as the facts came to light it seemed the questions just kept coming, pulling me further and further into the story. I definitely didn’t have to work to stay engaged!

Having both past and present timelines playing out simultaneously, flicking between them, was incredibly clever. It provided such a rich tapestry for Slaughter to fill with complicated, interwoven details that she brought together as we made our way through the plot. I really loved this continuing change in perspective!

Then there were the twists and turns, the unfolding of the investigation…wow…I really didn’t see them coming! Slaughter staged them well and shared them between characters so each one was tempered and experienced in a slightly different way, only adding to the depth and scope of her writing. The whole storyline was so intense, twisted, dark and at times utterly horrifying – but in that good way – everything you’d want from an epic crime/thriller novel.

I did find all the names and the two timelines a little difficult to get my head around to begin with but within a few chapters I got into a rhythm and really appreciated that fully fleshed approach. Slaughter has a well-built world with really well-developed characters, making the whole thing feel so complete. I’m sure this comes from having 9 previous novels in this series but she managed to write in such a way that I still felt like I really knew the characters well, like I was living it with them. I felt the heartbreak of Jeffery, the complexities of Sara’s past and the overall reactions of each character to the disturbing events. I found myself relating to different characters at different times, feeling their shock, fear, hope, devastation, and love. The way Slaughter weaves in this very human experience: it’s messiness; it’s brutality; it’s beauty; only added another layer to the story. It was so honest, so raw, so real.

It’s been such a good read that I’m pretty certain I’ll be reading the previous 9 books!

Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins UK for the opportunity to read this ARC post-publication date.

Author: Karin Slaughter
Publisher: Harper Collins UK
Release date: 23 June 2020

The Butterfly Lampshade by Aimee Bender

Reviewed by Lotte:

The Butterfly Lampshade is about a mother with a mental illness, psychosis, and a daughter trying to decipher her past and work through her present. We begin by seeing the extent of Francie’s mother illness and the facts of what happened next. However as we get further into the story Francie recalls these memories and gives them more details and context.

I’m going to be honest from the start, this wasn’t a book for me. It was more of an introspective study of a mind experiencing psychoses than a story. It was told from the perspective of the protagonist, Francie, mainly through her internal voice which only added to that inside perspective. There were whole passages of internal monologue that were so long it became boring and dry. Despite Francie searching for answers, to remember and understand, there just didn’t seem to be much happening. It’s definitely a very subtle approach which maybe had a beauty to it that I missed.

The pacing was also pretty slow with lots of overlapping and repeating which, in my opinion, was totally unnecessary. If you enjoy a book that meanders then you’ll probably enjoy this, but I prefer stories with a bit more going on. I just found myself becoming a bit frustrated which made it harder to relate to Francie even though I desperately wanted to.

As with a previous book of Bender’s, I felt the premise was really good and held so much potential, but it just didn’t quite play out as I’d expected. So don’t let me put you off if you think you’ll enjoy – maybe it’ll play out well for you. It was a pretty quick book to read so if you’re wanting to give it a chance I found it easy to get through.

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Cornerstone for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Author: Aimee Bender
Publisher: Random House UK, Cornerstone
Release date: 30 July 2020

Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough

Reviewed by Lotte:

This book is pretty hard to surmise without giving away two many spoilers. Basically it follows the lives of some members of high society in a small Georgia town, in particular the two ‘outsiders’ as such, who had married into that world. At first everything is as you’d expect in those circles but as things get tense between these main two couples, one of the wealthy husbands is taken unwell. What has happened soon becomes clear but how it happens will keep you guessing right up to the end.

If you’re a fan of sordid love affairs, high society rules, cheating partners, trust issues and a good ole fashion ‘who dunnit’ then this is a book for you. Pinborough takes time to build a world of high class where standards are everything and one must do everything to maintain them. Within this she also takes the time to weave all the elements needed for later as the mystery plays out. This is where the twists and turns began to happen. As each new pieces of the puzzle was uncovered more questions were raised until eventually it all linked up into a neat, all loose-ends tied in conclusion, one I’m betting most won’t figure out.

However, this wasn’t the book for me. It seemed to meander through the first 60% or so before the plot twists, lies and subterfuge started to happen and it wasn’t until around 75% in that these started to come together to create all the questions. I would have preferred to have sped through to this part and spent more time in the throes of uncertainty. I also found myself really disliking the characters and finding them totally unrelatable which probably didn’t help.

This book has its merits but as I said, it wasn’t really my thing. I have enjoyed Pinborough’s work in the past though so don’t let me put you off. Thank you Netgalley and Harper Collins for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Author: Sarah Pinborough
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release date: 4 June 2020

The Garden of Forgotten Wishes by Trisha Ashley

Reviewed by Sophie:

A charming, heartwarming story of unlikely love that stems from two people who find it hard to trust again.

I am a huge Trisha Ashley fan so a massive thank you Netgalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for the opportunity of reading this book.

Trisha always manages to make me feel nostalgia when reading her books. Jericho’s end has the familiar and comforting sights and smells of my local Welsh villages. She states that she often seeks inspiration from Portmeirion, but this novel specifically speaks about ‘Fairy falls’ which reminds me of a combination of Aberfalls and the Fairy Glenn.

Trisha introduces the new character of Marnie and weaves her into the already established characters of Jericho place. Fans of Trisha Ashley know that this is something she does often with her books, introducing new characters to the stories of town. However, the beauty of Trisha’s tales is that you don’t need to have read the other books to know about these characters. This book is no exception. A beautiful stand alone novel or can link with past books to add hidden detail to the reader.

I really felt for the protagonist. Trisha writes carefully about a woman who has been mentally and emotionally abused by an ex partner. She writes about this truthfully yet sensitively, allowing the reader to become protective over her future.

I was kept guessing all the way through. I enjoyed the “budding” romance formed (excuse the pun), but I had a feeling of trepidation throughout and I knew Marnie’s possessive ex husband was going to come back into the picture but was kept waiting for the moment it would happen and I didn’t see the way Trisha wrote it happening. Trisha spends more time writing about Marnie’s secret family connections and how she is reluctant to tell her new boss.

The story itself is based of Marnie helping to restore Grace gardens and Lavender cottage and the antics surrounding the restoration. I’m no gardener myself and found myself lost sometimes with some of the “green fingered” conversations that occurred throughout the book but it didn’t take away from the imagery that were formed of the stunning gardens the characters all helped to create.

I enjoyed the book. Another lovely read from Trisha Ashley. She never fails to write stories that make me smile. Always enjoy the end of the book recipes too.

Author: Trisha Ashley
Publisher: Random House UK, Transworld Digital
Release date: 23rd July 2020