The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Reviewed by Lotte:

Ok so I should probably say I’m a complete Jodi Picoult fan – like, ride or die fan. I’m pretty sure I’d love anything she writes because up until now I haven’t been disappointed with a single one of her books (and I’ve read them all!). This one certainly didn’t let me down either – it was epic!

Within 16% Jodi had managed to intertwine the physics theory of quantum mechanics, the Ancient Egyptian Book of Two Ways, a love story and a moral dilemma. If that’s not mastery I don’t know what is!

So, let’s rewind slightly. The book opens with Dawn’s near-death experience and the thoughts she had in what she believed would be her last moments. She didn’t see the man she had married though, instead she saw the road she hadn’t taken. This is where the book splits into the Water Path (Boston) and the Land Path (Egypt). I don’t want to give any spoilers away so let’s just say we follow these two timelines as Dawn works through whether she should carry on in the life she was living or pick up the road not taken and finish the work she left behind in Egypt.

I found Dawn a pretty interesting character. For a start she was a Death Doula, not something I’d heard of before, and her history of academia, her mother and her current life were well-developed. This also included her flaws; we saw how human and real she was which made her really relatable. None of us are sunshine, roses and straight forward thoughts so it was refreshing to read.

I always enjoy the structures of Jodi’s books and this one was the same. Having the two paths playing out in parallel until later in the book when they converged was a super clever way of following the theory of multiverses existing. It was also a neat way of writing from different perspectives (although it was still Dawn throughout) which Jodi is well-known for. This structure really helped us understand the real dilemma that Dawn was facing because both ‘timelines’ could be completely feasible. How do you decide which one to choose? 

The other thing I really enjoyed was the level of detail in the plot. There is a lot of Egyptian terminology and names, lots of which I had to google (only because I wanted to attempt the correct pronunciation not because it was necessary, Jodi explains it all really well for us). The book is pitched in a way that combines these academic lives with the complexities of emotions and the different connections we have the people around us. All these different facets made it compelling to read and kept me engaged throughout.

This was yet another cracking novel from Jodi and a well-earned NYT #1 bestseller! But are you Team Wyatt or Team Brian?!

Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Release Date: 20 October 2020

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal (Lady Astronaut #3)

Reviewed by Lotte:

This book takes place at the same time as the second book in this series, written from the perspective of Astronaut Nicole Wargin, whilst Elma is off on her Mars mission. I was worried I’d miss Elma, our Lady Astronaut, but I absolutely loved Nicole and loved this approach.

Nicole was such a great character to add to this saga. She was relatable, fallible and just all round really interesting and well-developed. I loved that she didn’t have to be perfect, that she was real and that it didn’t limit her either. She was still strong, independent, capable and reliable. That for me is true strength and the type of thing I want to read! It added so much depth to the plot too.

As for the story itself, all I can say is wow! I keep thinking I can’t enjoy this universe anymore and then Kowal just goes ahead and takes it to the next level. It was a genius idea to shift the focus and write this as a parallel to the previous story. It helped develop the world more, building on the details we already had, making the universe more substantial, and ultimately more intriguing and enjoyable, without it being laborious.

Add in all the mystery, sabotage, drama and ultimately the fight for survival, along with all the sci-fi elements and the complexities of space, and you find yourself with an epic read with so many facets. I was engaged every single moment and often found myself mulling over the pieces of the puzzle between reading sessions!

I’d just like to say how much I appreciated Kowal’s sensitivity in writing the parts that related to eating disorders and recovery. Including it was inspiring without ever being triggering or encouraging. This should be the gold standard for writing!

Thank you Mary Robinette Kowal, Tor and Netgalley for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Rebellion, Solaris
Release Date: 26 November 2020

The Magpie Society: One for Sorrow by Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

Reviewed by Lotte:

This story is set at the boarding school Illumen Hall, immediately after one of their students was found dead. Her death was ruled as ‘misadventure’ with the police believing it was suicide. But was it? We get to see the story unfold from the perspective of Ivy – one of Illumen Hall’s top students, a prefect and all-round perfectionist, and Audrey – an American that recently had to move to England, attempting to leave her past behind. But it’s not always that straight forward.

I loved that the two authors, Sugg and McCulloch, each wrote from one of the protagonist’s perspective. I didn’t know this until after I’d read the book, but honestly you couldn’t tell there was a switch, their writing was perfectly in sync. I think the very subtle differences probably just enhanced the character definitions.

For me this was a modern day ‘Enid Blyton – The Naughtiest Girl in School’ (if you’re old enough to remember this trilogy!). The story held everything you could want from a boarding school novel: inter-pupil dramas, difficult backstories, a secret society, and even an unsolved mystery. The use of a mystery podcast presenter was a stroke of brilliance and very current. It added to the suspense and generally kept us pondering…is this more than it seems? And if so, who did it???

With a couple of twists and turns along the way, coupled with an unlikely alliance, we were kept guessing right up to the end. I found myself not wanting to put it down, helped by the shorter chapters, switching perspectives and intermittent podcasts. Of course, we also had that ending! I mean really?! Bring on 2021 when I can read the next instalment!

Thanks to the authors, publisher and Netgalley for granting my wish to read this ARC. Apologies, my review is a few days late due to ill-health.

Author: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Release Date: 29 October 2020

Contacts by Mark Watson

Reviewed by Lotte:

Mark Watson has written a book so intense, dark and scarily relevant in today’s society. It is a study in mental ill-health, social media and what it’s like to be ‘contacts’ in a person’s life.

He tackles the subject of suicide with sensitivity yet still being honest enough to be painfully aware of the thought processes both as the person intending to carry out the suicide and as one of the many receiving that message. As someone that has walked the road – on both sides of the situation – I found parts comfortingly familiar and others intriguing and insightful, reading things I hadn’t considered before.

I even felt that Mark Watson narrating the audio version was a great choice too. There’s something about his voice which is halting and nervous yet genuine and raw that pitches the perfect tone for the inner monologue of Brian and that book overall.

If it were appropriate, because I’m not sure it is, I would say this book is beautiful. However, it did leave me wanting more, almost wanting to sit down over a cup of coffee or tea with Mark and just discuss it all further. The content inspired an intrigue into the complexities surrounding suicide and the world we live in, who we are connected with and how. It has left me with many things to consider.

Thanks NetGalley, Harper Collins UK and Mark Watson for the opportunity to read this ARC.

Author: Mark Watson
Publisher: Harper Collins UK
Release Date: 29 October 2020

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

Reviewed by Lotte:

I certainly loved the premise of this book but the delivery did not live up to expectations or hope. It had all the elements I knew I’d love – the well-known parts of a would-be Sherlock Holmes and Watson, mixed with many fantasy elements and characters, a good dose of murder mystery, all set in a steampunk 1880’s – but nothing was fully fleshed out or explored, leaving me feel underwhelmed.

I think for me it felt like the author tried to include too many things, leaving not enough space for anything to truly flourish. For example, there were many fantastical characters but we barely got to see their traits played out within the plot, with the exception of Doyle (our would-be Watson) and a little of Crow (our would-be Sherlock Holmes). And speaking of Crow, despite his angel status being explained and some of the pros and cons of it, the angel part was not massively integrated into the plot, or at least nowhere near as much as it could. Overall it left me feeling like it was all superficial and too much was missing.

The same was true for the storyline, the author tried to weave in many sub plots within the over-arching theme but it felt like adding too much and not allowing any one plot to fully come to fruition. At one point it was almost information overload and not enough interesting, action, plot-moving stuff. It lacked that fast pace that we know and love from a Sherlock inspired theme. The author set up many potential interesting avenues, like the types of angel – those with a dominion, the nameless and the fallen – but there was a distinct lacking in the use of those set ups. So we knew they existed, they just didn’t really get included in the main storyline other than as token gestures. All of which just left me wanting more. Also, the synopsis of the book gives away the name of a murderer so as it’s playing out in the book we already know who it is long before they start using his nickname. This was disappointing and a bit of a pet-peeve of mine.

In summary, I would have preferred a much cut down version but with fully realised characters that played integral roles in the story, with their character traits woven throughout the plot – making the plot! Couple that with a detailed but again, fully covered storyline and I might have loved this book.

Thanks Netgalley, the publisher and the author for the opportunity of reading this re-released ARC.

Author: Katherine Addison
Publisher: Rebellion, Solaris
Release Date: 17 September 2020

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