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Review: The Killer You Know by A.M. Taylor

Review: The Killer You Know by A.M. Taylor

The Killer You Know centres on Olivia Hall’s attempts to exonerate her brother Ethan. He’s spent the last ten years in jail for the murder of their classmate Tyler Washington. Tyler was the mayor’s son, about to go to college on a sport’s scholarship and naturally one of the most popular kids in their school. Olivia’s friend Daniel suggests that Olivia have Ethan’s story investigated by one of the hottest crime podcasts. If anyone can find out the truth, they can.

The story progresses through two narratives. In the present day we move forward towards the conclusion of the podcast season, while in the past we hurtle backwards from Ethan’s trial to the night of the murder. Olivia’s experiences are brought to life, especially as the ‘past’ is in present tense. We’re there with her as she watches her brother go to jail for something he didn’t do. Her pain feels very real.

As well as the interesting narrative structure, Taylor has created a sense of duality through the three pairs of siblings caught up in the case. There’s Ethan and Olivia, Morgan and Tyler and orbiting further away are sisters Reid and Spencer. The contrast between the experiences of siblings is a key theme in the novel. Morgan is pregnant with her first child, Tyler died in the woods as little more than a child.

Most importantly though, Olivia and Ethan are both likeable protagonists. Olivia’s attempts to save her brother are admirable and watching her interact with podcasters Kat and Ray her care for Ethan is evident. Seeing the inner workings of how a true crime podcast might come together was fascinating for me, as someone who has yet to watch podcasts at all. After this novel I might have to give one a go!

The story itself is also very topical, reflecting on issues that are at the forefront of public consciousness in 2019. This did, however, make the ending very predictable from the opening chapters. I would have liked the novel to continue for a few more pages to give a slightly more satisfying conclusion though.

The Killer You Know is not so much a who-dunnit but a refreshing twist on the usual story progression of crime novels. Innocence and guilt aren’t the key themes here.

What matters to Olivia and the reader is freeing Ethan and discovering the truth behind that night – what kind of person was Tyler Washington? How about his friends?

I’d recommend this novel to anyone looking for something a little different from your usual crime novel. The Killer You Know’s youthful protagonists and podcast creation focus made it a novel I loved.

Coming 12th July from Harper Impulse and Killer Reads!

I was provided with a free e-copy of this novel by NetGalley in exchange for my honest review, thank you to them and the publishers for the opportunity to read this thrilling tale.

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Review: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Review: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Miracle Creek focuses on an explosion at an experimental therapy site that leaves two dead – autistic child Henry and his mother’s friend Kit. In the aftermath, both the patients and site owners wrestle with their feelings over what happened as the court case progresses.

Angie Kim weaves a fascinating tale, offering the reader sneak peaks into each character’s perspective on the tragedy in turn. We aren’t trapped in the head of one unreliable narrator and this adds so much depth to the story. Moral debates such as whether Elizabeth’s difficulties in parenting her son and hatred of the impact on her life make her a bad person underlie the central tale.

Some characters, such as Young Yoo and her daughter Mary are incredibly likeable. Others you will quickly grow to despise and hope that they get their comeuppance.

The twists and turns of this novel made it a great read, as well as a thought-provoking read. I’d recommend it to anyone who would like a fresh take on a courtroom drama.

Miracle Creek is available now from Hodder and Stoughton!

Thank you to the publishers and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this novel in exchange for my honest review.

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Review: My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

When I received a copy of My Lovely Wife I had no idea what to expect. The blurb was deliciously vague, only letting readers know that the couple had secrets.

I initially set out to read just a chapter or two before bed but instead found myself tearing through the pages. Over a hundred pages passed before I could bear to put the book down. This morning I finished it.

With a hint of Netflix sensation You, the opening chapters drew me straight in. A man who purposefully meets women at bars? Maybe a little seedy but nothing awful, right. But what if one of those women turns up dead? He’s a little more suspicious now….

I’m going to avoid telling you any more about the plot, as I think that might spoil the adventure.

The characters weren’t likeable. This isn’t a book about good people doing bad things. It is a book about bad people doing bad things, at least in my opinion. There was something endearing about that though. There was no trying to hide from reality.

The husband, our narrator, is a tennis coach. His wife an estate agent. The story of their first meeting is adorable and their life seems pretty perfect at first glance. Two children, a gorgeous house in a gated community.

But what could possibly go wrong?

You’ll have to read this for yourself to find out!

My Lovely Wife will be published in May 2019.

Thank you to NetGalley, Penguin UK (Michael Joseph) and Samantha Downing for the opportunity to read My Lovely Wife in exchange for my honest review.

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Review: Opposite of Always by justin a. reynolds

Review: Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Opposite of Always made me nostalgic for my teen years. 

I’m the kind of person who re-reads books over and over again. Opposite of Always reminds me of a book that I read until the pages nearly fell out, Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. Both books deal with a character reliving a death… although in this case it is the death of Jack’s love Kate that is trying to be avoided.

Jack meets Kate on a college visit and falls head over heels in love. And then she dies.

When he wakes up before they ever met he has the chance to put things right. Save her. This novel shows his attempts to be the hero and find a way back to the young woman he met on the stairs at a party.

This novel had a lot of positives. Jack is a funny and likeable character, with a supporting cast of great friends. His friend Franny’s dad, The Coupon, is in prison. I really appreciated reading a novel where the characters surrounding the main character are more than just Back-Up 1 and Back-Up 2.

 

The way Jack interacts with the central premise is also really fun. He doesn’t just presume that the only path available to him is to stay in a relationship with Kate. It might be possible to save her in another way…

The diversity rep in Opposite of Always was also really impressive, both in terms of the representation of people of colour and the discussion of health conditions. I learnt about sickle cell anaemia in this novel, a condition which I didn’t really understand about before.

There were a few aspects that I found frustrating though. The relationship between Jake and Kate is explained much better in some of the later iterations. I have a better sense for why they care so much for each other, whereas in the first go around I do question a little what made Kate seem a better choice than Jillian – the girl Jake has known for years. I also felt that some parts of the book dragged a little and wonder if it would have been a little snappier if it had been shorter.

How did I feel about the ending? That’s a trickier question! I am curious to see how other readers find the conclusion to Jack and Kate’s story.

My overall rating, 4.5/5, reflects the fact that I know that teenage me would have jumped up and down in joy for this book. Figuratively, at least! It gives me the same feeling that the books I used to love back then did, allowing me to escape my worries and fears for a little bit.

Jack and Kate: a teen romance for the post-millennial generation.

Thank you to NetGalley, Pan Macmillan and Justin A. Reynolds for the opportunity to read in exchange for my honest review.

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Review: Voices by David Elliott

Review: Voices by David Elliott

This is one of the most unusual books I’ve had the pleasure to read in a very long time. The tale of Joan Arc, hero and martyr, is one I’ve heard only in children’s history books a very long time ago. I’ve studied History at university for four years, including a smattering of French history, but never encountered The Maid. I have a sense that this verse novel might set young people on a course of discovery, learning more about the past and the women who inhabited that faraway place. 

In Voices, we follow Joan in her final hours before her execution, as she narrates her journey from countryside maid to heroine (and back down towards her doom). There are interjections from the king and also poems from the perspective of her sword and other vital objects. Some of these additional poems felt a little gratuitous, but overall they added rather than detracted from her story.

The writing was beautiful and I found myself bookmarking many passages within the short book to re-read later. If this had been a paper copy I would have found myself highlighting and folding over pages too.

From an academic perspective, one of the most impressive aspects of this book was something I only encountered upon reading David Elliott’s author’s note at the close of the book. I had no idea that the poetic forms mirrored those that were actually in use in medieval France and can imagine that was quite tricky to execute.

This short, but perfectly formed, poetic exploration of the Joan of Arc will be published in March 2019. Check it out!

Thanks to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group and David Elliott for the opportunity to read this book.

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Review: Bloodleaf

Review: Bloodleaf by Crystal Smith

Aurelia is a princess who is forced to flee into exile because of her magic, which leads her to pretend to be a commoner in the kingdom where her betrothed is the prince. The magic that protects the wall which divides the kingdoms is being threatened, with the removal of each ward requiring deaths. The final layer of protection will fall when three royals of that country’s bloodline are killed.

What I loved:

  • Magic is hated and feared in Aurelia’s home country, yet she continued to practice it. I think I’d add into the love category everything to do with the magic system, especially regarding the mysterious plant bloodleaf itself!
  • The connection between Aurelia and Zan. Seeing Aurelia find happiness despite everything going on around her showed her determination to live the best life possible.
  • The emotional journeys of some of the side characters, such as Zan’s friend’s wife.
  • Despite being the first book in a YA fantasy trilogy, the story felt complete. There was no sense that Aurelia’s story had been chopped into three just for the sake of it.

I was a little more uncertain about other aspects of the story, such as the reveal relating to Toris, the novel’s villain. I think for me Bloodleaf was a novel much less about the plot itself and more about the relationships between the characters. If you liked the characters, as I did, then the story was very satisfying. I also found what happened to Aurelia’s best friend a little unbelievable, but understand why it had to happen.

Overall this was a really fun read. The magic system and the ghostly element brought by the spirits Aurelia is haunted by added some depth to the story. I’m excitedly awaiting the next book in this series and urge anyone who loved Queen of the Tearling or Red Queen to pick this novel up!

Thank you to NetGalley, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s Book Group, HMH Books for Young Readers and Crystal Smith for the opportunity to read Bloodleaf in exchange for my honest review.

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Review: The Twisted Tree

Review: The Twisted Tree

Martha spends summers in Norway with her grandmother. One day, following a catastrophic accident, she sneaks away to visit her grandmother. Her secret journey covers hundreds of kilometres and involves just a little subterfuge. When she arrives, she finds her grandmother’s home empty. The beautiful landscape she loves during summer looks a lot more sinister in winter. Worse still, there’s someone in her grandmother’s house. Stig. He heard that the place was empty and decided to stay. Over the course of the following days, in a spectacularly supernatural way, things start to unravel for Martha and Stig…

I really liked the way that Burge explored Martha’s injury and her missing eye, with it becoming central to the story. The way that Stig helped Martha to see herself as beautiful and regain her self-confidence once again made me smile.

He was very sweet. I only wish that the hints of his past that came through towards the end of the novel had been there earlier.

The way that Martha was able to read emotions in clothing was something else I really enjoyed as I don’t think I’ve seen something like that in a YA novel before. If there is a sequel it’s something I’d love to see explored. In the outside world that might have some interesting consequences, especially if someone is wearing cashmere.

The use of Nordic mythology was also very impressive, especially the way it geared up so the reader uncovered details right alongside Martha. Likewise, the Nordic landscape was utilised incredibly. The atmosphere in the cabin and its surroundings really added to the creepiness in the middle of the book.

I wish The Twisted Tree had started earlier than when Martha was heading to Norway to visit her grandmother. I wanted to know more about her, about the friend back home who she was texting on arrival, what her hobbies were other than jewellery making. Likewise, I feel like the most exciting bit of the novel was crammed up into a short space. The final showdown was very quick, compared to the long scenes in the cabin, and it disappointed me a bit. Although exciting, I felt at times that the pace towards the end took away from the emotional impact of some scenes. Once everything was tied up, the novel ended pretty quickly. I think a little more time spent on those final scenes would have been great.

I finished reading The Twisted Tree quite quickly. As another reviewer mentioned, it’s a wonderful book for a cold evening (as we’re sadly already experiencing in my area!). It wasn’t quite for me, for the reasons I’ve mentioned and perhaps as I was expecting something a little heavier on the ghosts, but I’m going to round up my review to four stars. For The Twisted Tree’s target audience, which I wonder if might be the slightly younger end of YA, this could be a beautiful read. At that age, I think I would have loved the mystery, the unresolved threads, the hopeful ending.

Thank you to Bonnier Zaffre, Hot Key Books, NetGalley and Rachel Burge for the opportunity to read this spooky tale.

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Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Jon is away from his family and friends at a convention in Switzerland. When nuclear bombs start going off around the world, he seems to be in a tiny safe haven. A hotel out of the blast zones, with enough resources for the remaining residents to survive for months at least. There’s just one small snag. Soon after the explosions, he finds a body in a water tank. The body of a young girl. Investigations suggest that she died right around the time of the explosions… but in the panic, who would kill a girl? And why?

There’s lots to love about The Last. The narrative style is great, with the fast paced diary entries giving you a real insight into Jon’s personality. It allows secrets to be kept from the reader, so that the puzzle pieces of Jon’s life are revealed slowly rather than all at once. The relationships between Jon and the other residents of the hotel were also amazing. Scenes where he and some of his new friends relaxed, both in one of their rooms and on the roof, were beautiful and really added some happiness to a book that so easily could have been overly grim. Characters like Tomi and Dylan were fascinating too, as there was always the sense that there was something lurking beneath the surface.

The ethical questions that characters raised were also fascinating. How would you react at the end of the world if someone did something terrible? What is the appropriate punishment when the people are judge and jury? I also really enjoyed the descriptions of the reality of life post-apocalypse. There were adventures relating to food (and horrible suggestions about what some people nearby might be eating…), realistic depictions of medical care, and depictions of panic that felt real.
There are so many different ways that people could react to the end of life as we know it.

Jameson’s characters show us that there is no one right way to react to disaster and that ultimately, in the face of horrors beyond our imagination, the only way to survive is by sticking together.

While I loved the characters and hearing about Jon’s journey, some aspects of the book were a little disappointing. It felt like questions that felt so important at the beginning of the book were either left unanswered or hurriedly tied up towards the end. The mystery of the little girl, which had seemed so central at the beginning, is solved relatively quickly. Being honest, I’m not sure how much it added to the book at all in the end. Jon’s personal journey was intriguing enough on its own, without murder. References to paranormal activity are very interesting, but could have perhaps been taken a little further. At one stage a character hypothesises that they are all already dead and this could potentially be the afterlife, a place like purgatory perhaps. I found that idea fascinating and would have perhaps liked further exploration of that idea. Questions are raised about the lifestyle of those in a town Jon finds, but these are never really answered. I’m also not really sure how I feel about the slight heavy-handedness regarding who was responsible for the nuclear disaster, as the discussion on what seemed to be our own political world took me out of the story a little bit.

The Last has a great premise and characters, but for me aspects of the plot sadly detracted from its true potential.

Thank you to NetGalley, Penguin Books, Viking and Hanna Jameson for the opportunity to read The Last!

3.5/5

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Review: The Present by D S Devlin

Happy Holidays!

Review: The Present by D S Devlin

The central premise of this one is great. A serial killer who utilises a popular Christmas song to unleash hell on his victims, ruining lives year after year. Anna, a plucky journalist, is enlisted to help stop him after

Rating this one 3.5 out of 5 for Goodreads, as the ending was a bit of a disappointment. The ramping up of the twelve days of Christmas was impressive, with Santa’s house of horrors leaving me flying through the pages, but it felt like there was something missing towards the end.

The ending felt a little too focused on the identity of Santa rather than on stopping him, on the killer rather than his innocent victim. There was even a mention of the killer as a “victim” – despite the fact that he murdered multiple people over many years in extremely violent ways.

Anna’s happy ending at the end of the novel was a great touch, making this novel’s Christmas notes more than simply the violence of a creepy Santa.

Thank you to NetGalley, HarperCollins and D S Devlin for the opportunity to read The Present.

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Review: The Living by Isaac Marion

Review: The Living by Isaac Marion

This review will contain some spoilers so please consider avoiding reading it until after you’ve finished The Living!

Some of the scenes are pure magic.

The moment when Nora finds out M’s secret, the whole episode in the church with R on stage, the big showdown regarding BABL and the very last scene of all were stunning. It’s very difficult to talk about them all in detail, without giving some massive spoilers, but they made for a great read. In a way I wish there had been more scenes like the final one, as it’s circularity was really something special.

For me, the amount of chapters devoted to ‘We’ was a little frustrating at first. The characters I cared for most were all with Julie and R, so seeing the journey of other individuals mattered a little less to me. However, by the end of the novel, I found that the ‘We’ chapters were complementing the journeys of our main protagonists. The level of care and thought that was put into shaping the structure of this novel was impressive. I will be re-reading The Living in the future because of Isaac Marion’s lyrical writing style. The prose sang and there were some really thoughtful comments on the nature of our lives and how tragedy shapes us. Learning more about ‘The Library’ was fascinating, especially in the latter half of the book.

In The Living some of the hard and fast rules established earlier in the series seemed to have been bent a little bit. Avoiding spoilers on this is tricky, so I’ll just say that I’m referring to something that happens in the second half of the book which has a major impact on one of our characters. By the end of the novel I had a better sense of how this change in ‘rules’ came about, but perhaps the unpredictability of what happened is also a reminder of how things in life rarely follow a set path.

The world of Warm Bodies has expanded a lot since the first book and The Living shows this perfectly. I know this is the final book in the series but I do wonder whether there is room for more novellas like New Hunger expanding on the lives of some of the secondary characters. The author of the almanac is the person I’m thinking about most. The snippets we heard of Huntress’ life were enough to make me want to read a lot more about her.

The Living is not only the conclusion of R’s story but also a novel with lots of inbuilt commentary on our own changing world. A fascinating read and one I would recommend to all fans of Warm Bodies.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to read this final instalment in the Warm Bodies series through NetGalley — thank you to NetGalley, Isaac Marion and Zola Books for the chance to read. The Living is published November 13th and is available online, as both a hardcover book and an e-book.

 

 

 

 

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