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

Her Last Secret by P.L. Kane

Reviewed by Lotte:

This book kicks off with an eerie prologue playing out Jordan’s last moments alive written from her perspective. From there we’re introduced to Jordan’s mother, her estranged father and what appears to be an open and shut case that sees her current boyfriend as the perpetrator of her murder. However, her father believes there’s more to it and takes it upon himself to delve deeper into the details, taking on the investigation himself, getting into trouble along the way but ultimately uncovering the real truth.

Kane combines all the best parts of a crime thriller with all the heartbreaking elements of a family tragedy. One minute Jake was investigating his daughter’s death and the next he was experiencing all the pain and loss you’d expect in such a situation. The added complication that Jake was divorced and hadn’t seen his daughter in three years made that splintering feeling even more real. I was torn between wanting to follow the case, to discover the truth and wanting to explore the heartache of his loss and the confusion within the family dynamic.

The storyline kept me guessing right up until the last minute with each plot twist a shock, both with the case and with the personal side. Even each chapter had me wanting to carry on reading because there was usually an unanswered question, a cliffhanger or a massive plot twist. So I just had to read the next chapter (and the next!). I think my only drawback was the final reveal. It was so unexpected and contained so many elements that I would have liked to have had more details and spent more time with that part playing out in full.

At first I found it hard to get into the cadence of the writing and the language used but once I did it was a game changer. It was more conversational, more what you’d expect if you were submersed in the situation yourself which just made it all more real.

I’m really looking forward to reading Kane’s next book – Her Husband’s Grave – and hosting a day of his book blog tour on August 4th 2020. Check back then for the review!

Author: P. L. Kane
Publisher: HQ Digital
Release date: 8 January 2020

Before I Die by Jackie Morrissey

Reviewed by Lotte:

We begin with our main character – Maureen – an elderly lady that found herself recovering from an ankle injury. In a bid to help her during that time, her well-meaning but totally misguided daughter, asked a carer to drop in to assist Maureen. Afterall, Delores was the live-in carer for a friend of Maureen’s so what could possibly go wrong? Different events unfold that throw suspicion on both sides…is Maureen starting to get confused and mixing things up? Or is Delores not quite what she seems? And how on earth would you go about proving it when everything seems so reasonable?

This story isn’t overly elaborate but my, it packs a punch. There aren’t the usual overt, outlandish actions and plot twists that you’d expect from a book like this. Instead, it’s made up of clever, subtle events that could be completely believable in real life. That is where the beauty lies. I’m still reeling from the ease and realness of the events. It’s this very realness that makes this tale so dark and utterly twisted.

With this in mind I loved the plot! Despite the small twists and little changes, it still managed to move quickly. Morrissey built the intensity throughout until I was so on edge by the time we came to the last ‘scene’ I felt like I was barely breathing as it all unfolded. The way it all came together was well thought out too. We weren’t given all the answers straight away or in a linear way which kept up the mystery. There was also no knowing how much the other characters knew, apart from Maureen, or when they might show up which again, just heightened the unknown and the questions. At one point Maureen’s inner monologue said “She assembled what she knew for Michael” which was pretty much how I felt around that time and throughout the rest of the book, trying to rearrange my thoughts and the events until things started clicking in to place. Lastly, Morrissey’s choice of demographic was very smart because the more Maureen protested, the more it cast doubt and fuelled the senile theories. Very catch 22!

This was a fast, easy to read book, that delivered in its ability to create suspense and characters that you wanted to get behind. I really enjoyed reading it – well as much as you can enjoy reading something that unsettles you so much!

*Advanced review copy provided by the publisher / Netgalley*

Author: Jackie Morrissey
Publisher: Inkubator Books
Release date: 27 June 2020

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Reviewed by Lotte:

This mystical fable starts in an Inn along the banks of the river Thames, famous for its stories. One evening a stranger arrives with a seemingly dead child, and severely injured himself. No one knows the pair and thus the unknown begins. The girl, first confirmed dead, returns to life. But who is she? And how did this happen? We are taken through the lives of three separate groups who each believe she is their missing child. But what is real and what is just hope? What is the truth and what is old folklore?

Straight off this is not a fast paced, action packed story. Instead it is a slow, meandering tale with the beauty and the magic being found in the subtleties of the writing and the stories within the main storyline. It is enchanting in its mystery combined with the sadness and complexities of human nature and spirit. Setterfield takes us through the lives of these three groups, the heartbreak they’ve endured, the hope they hold on to and ultimately the truth…or thereabouts. Because not all can be explained. The gentle magic running throughout this plot left you hanging on, even to the end, never completely revealing everything…Quietly.

I felt drawn into each of the lives of these people, wishing that in some way this girl could magically belong to all. Each group had very different circumstances and reasons to like them, to feel for them. I found myself rooting for all three!

As I said, this was a slower read and if I’m honest I would have liked a little more pace. However, the chapters were almost self-contained additions to the plot, so it was possible to just chip away at the story, and in some way, this worked well, allowing the details, the implied notions and the query of reality to fully sink in.

Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria
Release date: 4 December 2018

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

Reviewed by Lotte:

This Victorian, art inspired novel is based in 1980 London and centres around obsession – of art, lovers and peculiar possessions. It is both beautiful and disturbingly dark in equal measures, following the lives of very different characters that become entwined in the most unlikely way. It is also the story of an unlikely love and the plight of a woman destined to find her own way in man’s world.

This book just didn’t completely hit the spot for me. It had many elements that I enjoyed – dark and twisty hints, suspension, and what appeared to be a good plot, but I felt it didn’t quite deliver fully. I found myself hoping for so much more from the storyline because it had so much more to give. Large parts of the plot that would have had a great impact were swept over, leaving great gaps in both storyline and character reactions. Albie’s ending situation is one of those moments. The dynamics between the characters could have been embellished more too. I wanted to know and feel more of the unrequitted love between two people from differing worlds because I was drawn in my them. Even Silas, who had no functional relationships, could have been expanded upon more. Only some of his work was explained, like his mice collection, which was inherent to the plot, yet we were only told the story of a few of them. Maybe we could have a Novella (both a prequel and a sequel with these additions in!)

This book got really good from the 50% mark and I found myself falling into the world as the pace and storyline picked up. Initially I had found the prose pretty hard to follow but as I got used to the cadence of the writing I became more intrigued and compelled to continue reading. So weirdly, despite the lacking described above, I did feel suspense and enchantment. However, I wish the ending had been different! The book focuses on this style of artistry that shows the world in its messy, non-fictionalised way and yet it skims over the messy aftereffects in a dreary and predictable, fictionalised last chapter (again – sequel novella?!).

Author: Elizabeth Macneal
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release date: 5 March 2020

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Reviewed by Lotte:

I had heard good things about Hannah and I have to say her style of writing didn’t disappoint one bit. Her descriptions were simply beautiful and her use of language evoked such vivid images it was as if the characters and settings were playing out real-time. This was the story of a family trying to survive post Vietnam War with the father being a POW. They embark on a move to Alaska with the hope that it’ll be the fresh start. Within this book there are many love stories, with the Alaskan life as well as with each other. Ultimately the question became will this unrequited love prevail? I feel the book needs a censor warning though as it heavily contains references to veteran PTSD and physical abuse.

I found the pace of the story slightly out of sync for me. The first half felt slow and hard to get through, with the focus being on building the world and the details needed for the story to really start. The second half was paced much faster, which I much preferred. It felt like this was where the main part of the story was and I was eager to keep reading. In a way I was slightly disappointed that there wasn’t more time spent on these latter events, rather than all the build up at the beginning.

Despite being keen to keep reading and finding out what comes next, there were some discrepancies in the storyline that I found hard to overlook. Like why they mentioned only making one mistake in Alaska because the second will kill you, yet Hannah then writes this major life changing event in which the characters knowingly made more than one mistake and practically did the opposite of every warning that had ever been given (desperately avoiding spoilers here!). Then there were the inconsistencies, for example, when the other towns-people acted to help Leni and Cora but then later on in the book, fail to follow through on their promise. And finally the secrets that were kept at the end didn’t feel real to me. Like Large Marge holding on to that knowledge without telling those close to her who would have been hurting desperately. It just didn’t quite fit into the narrative and sense of unity that Hannah created within the Alaskan community.

I did enjoy this book and it was definitely worth it in the end but I couldn’t quite give it four stars.

Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Release date: 30 January 2018

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce

Reviewed by Lotte:

How can you really enjoy a book but really dislike every single character? For me, that was exactly how I felt about this book. This novel by Tyce was full of suspension and plenty of plot twists – some predictable but many totally unexpected until the last minute. This is the story of Alison whose personal life seems to be falling apart whilst her career begins to take off. As details of her most recent case unveil themselves so do the flaws and apparent misdemeanours in her personal life. Slowly her life and the lives of those around her unravel to a point beyond recognition, that is until the pieces start to fall in place and it all begins to make sense, in a dark, disturbing way

I think I disliked Tyce’s characters because they were incredibly human, flawed and messy, which becomes uncomfortable. But this may also have contributed to me really enjoying this book – it was real. And the twists and subversive actions were subtle enough to feel believable too

In terms of plot twists, Tyce certainly knows how to throw a curveball just when you think you’ve figured out what is happening. The suspense she creates and the revelations of yet more intricately placed surprises was incredibly clever. Plus all the loose ends that Tyce left throughout the book were all neatly tied up by the end. I do love a book that makes sure it explains all its unanswered mysteries.

The pacing of this book was great too. I felt drawn to reading chapter after chapter, not wanting to put the book down, yet wanting to make it last. I choose to read this book at the same time as a friend and couldn’t wait to discuss it with her. So many facets and talking points! All in all, a really good book!

Author: Harriet Tyce
Publisher: Wildfire
Release date: 21 February 2019

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Reviewed by Lotte:

This was the story of a young girl who discovers she can taste emotions in food, right down to where and the situation in which the food was made. From here the story shares her struggles with this, the secrets she stumbles across and then the unfolding of other family members potentially having gifts too.

This book contained so much promise with an excellent premise, but I felt it was poorly executed. For a start it felt like multiple books crammed into one, as if the author had many ideas so tried to incorporate them all, which only left it feeling like it was all half done.

So firstly, we read of Rose’s gift and although there were reactions to her struggles and refusal to eat certain food, there was even more left unsaid. Characters picked up on it in different ways but seemingly lost interest and left her to it. And that’s without mentioning the implications of said ‘gift’. This just felt unbelievable for me, given Rose’s age.

Bender then sets out multiple avenues that the story could follow throughout the book with none of them coming to fruition. The initial way was a way in which Rose’s gift could be used for good with a friend and how that then twisted into dependency. This is where I thought the story was heading and I was excited by that prospect. But it was not to be. Then it looked like she might use it to unearth secrets like when she discovered her mum’s additional activities. This seemed like an unnecessary part of the story as nothing came of it. It only added to the lack of believability.

Then the story twisted to the brother’s problem which just seemed weird and disconnected from the theme…he became an inanimate object, a chair. Seriously? I did not understand this at all! We begin to learn of perhaps a family trait – we know of Rose and her brother, then we find out about her Grandfather and potentially her father. Again, I thought this was finally where we were heading. But it turns out the Dad refuses to work out what his gift might be, he only shares a small amount about the grandfather and nothing really of the brother.

Eventually Rose finds a path for her life and a potential career but we’re now at the end of the book and so following the same theme, this aspect is unexplored too.

This book was about everything and nothing. This particular lemon cake was indeed sad.

Author: Aimee Bender
Publisher: Windmill Books
Release date: 1 September 2011

Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales by Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane

Reviewed by Lotte:

What a deliciously wicked collection of dark and twisty fairy tales. O’Regan and Kane have done it once again, sourcing the most excellent takes on new and re-imagined fairy tales written by renowned authors such as Neil Gaiman and Christina Henry. This anthology contains 20 short stories that are based loosely around the theme of curses. These authors have taken this cue, warping and twisting stories so good that even the re-imagined ones bear hardly any resemblance to their originals.

I think I can honestly say I found each and every one of these stories both enchanting and captivating. They were each written in the individual author’s style and covered a different take on the cursed theme. No two were the same yet I was equally drawn into them all. Some were beautifully written about magical curses turned sweet and others were disturbingly cold and wretched.

Even the placement of each story was well laid out, with each varying greatly from the last, meaning they didn’t mash into one. My particular favourites have to be Christina Henry’s ‘As Red As Blood, As White As Snow’, Neil Gaiman’s ‘Troll Bridge’, Jen Williams’s ‘Listen’ and Christopher Golden’s ‘Wendy, Darling’. Using poems my Jane Yolen to bookend this anthology was a lovely touch. I would highly recommend delving into this if twisted tales are your thing!

Author: Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane
Publisher: Titan Books
Release date: 3 March 2020

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Reviewed by Lotte:

It’s time to get Untamed! Yes! In this memoir Glennon talks about how in the last 4 years she has found herself, finally hearing the voice within and vowing to never again abandon herself. She explores the conditioning within women and in society as a whole, offering alternative view points and ways to break those chains. To become free again. To become wild. To become Untamed. I decided to listen to Glennon narrate this on Audible which I think helped me to see it as she intended with the phrasing and emphasis in the right place. It certainly felt very moving.

I really enjoyed this book, I felt like it spoke to me on many levels. Hearing Glennon’s explanation of her perspective was informative and eye-opening. How wonderful to be able to appreciate another person’s experience of the world and the choices they are making. It’s like this book sung to different parts of my body and was healing in ways I could not have imagined. Prior to reading it, I was intrigued by the changes in Glennon’s life having followed her on Instagram and relating to the things she shares. What I did not expect was to learn so much from this book, to have so many things to consider with this altered perspective. I felt a myriad of emotions too, being moved to tears one moment to feeling called forth in a rally-cry of support and strength to support and uplift others.

It truly contained so many elements that I am certain I will re-read this many times. But for now, I feel I my understanding of the world has shifted, I’m analysing the way in which we’ve been conditioned to believe we should be a certain way. I’m realising that I am a god damn cheetah!

Author: Glennon Doyle
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio
Release date: 10 March 2020