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Review: The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney

Review: The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney

In The Perfect Wife J.P. Delaney explores the boundaries of technology and questions surrounding what it means to be human.
Abbie wakes up in a hospital bed, believing herself to have been in an accident. That’s sadly not the case. She’s a robot, a synthetic copy of the real Abbie who has been missing – believed murdered by her husband Tim – for the past five years.
Over the course of the coming weeks, Abbie soon becomes unsettled. Why would anyone recreate their dead wife? She’s the subject of media attention, hounded by the press, disliked by those around her. She’s not real.
After discovering books and an old tablet disguised in a bookshelf in the home she shares with Tim, co-bot (companion bot) Abbie starts to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of the real Abbie…
First things first, this book has one of the most engrossing opening chapters I’ve seen in a long while!  The way that a robot might react to being told it isn’t real plays out in a very realistic manner and the book feels reminiscent of the wonderful Black Mirror episode Be Right Back. If you enjoyed that set-up, then you’ll probably love this novel too.
Delaney’s use of dual narratives is an incredible narrative tool to build up the suspense within this thriller. The use of the second person allows the reader to fall into the head of a robot, you are a newly created co-bot questioning the motives of her creator. The chapters set in the past are told by a mysterious narrator who has intimate knowledge of Abbie and Tim’s relationship, yet doesn’t reveal themselves.
Abbie is likeable, especially when you learn more about her through the chapters set in the past. You see the art exhibits she set up in the tech office, including one (do as you please I believe it was called) which I would love to see in real life! You see her fall for Tim and he for her…
She is sweet and creative. Tim is, quite simply, a creep. As the novel goes on his actions get stranger and stranger. This created a sense of panic within the novel, because her creator was the very person she grows to fear and distrust. The interplay between Tim’s role as husband and as creator (and his simplistic views on women as whores/mothers) were very well developed.
The novel is filled with twists and turns and I raced through it, finishing just before midnight. Wow, what a tale!
However, the discussions of autism towards the beginning of the novel were unsettling to me. If Delaney’s afterword discussing his personal experiences parenting his son had been an author’s note at the start of the novel I would have felt much more comfortable, especially as I was concerned about the representation.
Aside from discussions about the ability of autistic people to empathise, the other aspect that concerned me early on was the descriptions of the ABA technique as like a fix-all. While I don’t have personal experience of this technique I have seen numerous autistic people online discuss the negative impacts ABA has had on their wellbeing and I was concerned that anyone who did not have personal knowledge of autism might not be aware of the controversies behind ABA.
I wish that Delaney’s skilful debunking of Tim’s extreme use of ABA had been hinted at earlier in the novel, or the author’s expertise mentioned in a foreword. As Delaney discusses in the afterword, ABA has brought great results for his family, and I appreciate his acknowledgement in the novel of the potential downfalls (e.g. electric shocks when used extremely).
I would also question whether this plotline would have been better served as a novel in its own right, as at times the focus on Danny’s autism felt unnecessary to the wider narrative. The care of a mother for any young child would have created similar effect.
Like always, Delaney weaves a gripping tale.
If I could review the story of Abbie, the companion bot who wakes up five years after her originator’s death, on it’s own then I would be giving this whirlwind book an impeccable five stars. My fears regarding representation were dampened later in the novel when the discussion of Abbie’s relationship with her autistic son was heartwarming and very moving.
The Perfect Wife releases 8th August from Quercus Books.
Thank you to NetGalley and Quercus for the opportunity to read in exchange for my honest review.
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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: 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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Review: Empress of All Seasons

Review: Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean

I’m loving the move to more diverse worlds in YA fiction recently. This is the second Japanese inspired novel I’ve read this summer and I’ve loved both of them.

The Concept

The premise is very high-concept. What would happen if a magical woman whose very freedom is banned tries to win the hand of the emperor’s son in a high-stakes contest? Mari is a yokai. She is an Animal Wife whose people seek wealthy husbands in order to take their wealth for themselves. Mari sets out to do her duty and try and win the hand of the emperor.

YA novels involving competitions are usually very predictable and what I loved about this story was that the contest didn’t occupy every moment of the novel.

The Characters

Mari wasn’t preoccupied with the idea of finding love through a game, like so many of the heroines of past stories. Instead, she was going to find herself and do her duty by her people. And that is exactly what she did. She is fierce!

The other characters are also fascinating. The emperor’s son Taro loves to make mechanical creatures. Seeing the journey of his clockwork bird high into the sky as it crashed, trapped just as much as he was, was one of my favourite scenes in the first part of the novel.

Mari and Taro are the first two point of view characters. The third is Akira, Mari’s friend and another yokai. He is known as the Son of Nightmares. The details about his origins felt real, adding depth to the world Emiko Jean has created. Even though I liked Akira, I didn’t enjoy the chapters from his perspective quite as much. I wasn’t entirely sure why. The other side characters, including Mari’s maid Sei, were much more interesting to me.

The World

The world building in this novel was incredible. Japanese influences were blended with the existence of fantasy monsters to create a world that felt so real. The idea of priests who could hold back monsters through curses written on their skin felt so real, as did the mountaintop village Mari came from.

My favourite aspect of the world in this novel, however, was the rooms of the four seasons. Our first insight into the power of the rooms is early on, through Taro’s eyes, when we see how one poor captured yakoi will be tortured on the orders of the emperor in one of the rooms. During the competition the competing girls have to make their way through the four themed rooms. In the Summer Room they will face punishing heat, with fires burning in the trees. In the Winter Room there will be snow and punishing cold. In short, the weather will be turned against them. It is described how nature will reward the competitors for their positive actions and turn against them for their mistakes. Some will kill for the chance to become empress, as Mari will find out…

The Message

I wasn’t so keen on the lack of happy interludes that might have added a bit of lightness to the story. I know this novel was focused on the feminist message that Mari could gain happiness without seeking to please a man, which I really enjoyed, but I liked Taro’s character too. I would have liked more scenes where they were together and perhaps a slightly less bittersweet ending for him.

Overall thoughts

The Empress of All Seasons was an exciting journey through an original world with characters that grew on me with each page.

I’m going to give it an overall 4.5 stars, rounded up to five for Goodreads, as on the whole I loved the adventure Mari had. I hope Emiko Jean considers writing more novels set in this world as the worldbuilding was phenomenal and the experiences of the yokai were so engaging. I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes next!

 

Thank you to Orion Publishing Group, Gollancz, Emiko Jean and NetGalley for the opportunity to read in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

A Spark of Light starts at the end: the end of a hostage negotiation at the Center. It is the place where so many fetus’ existences end and now potentially the site of the end of a young girl called Wren’s life. The novel follows the experience of the people who are at The Center, the only place licensed in the state to offer abortions, when a pro-life gunman enters the building. The the highly sensitive issue of abortion is dealt with extremely well. The perspectives of the different characters were fully fleshed out and explored.

What makes this novel unlike any other is that instead of moving forward, time moves back. Victims of the gunman who once were lying dead on the ground come back to life, bad news is ungiven, the hostage negotiator’s birthday cake uneaten. This led to some heart wrenching revelations, with more and more depth about the characters coming to life with every page. The lives of characters such as Olive and Bex, who at the start of the novel are for various reasons more distant, take on a new significance. As with all of Picoult’s wonderful novels, at the end (or the beginning?) there are her signature twists and turns.

This is such a poignant read, with the author’s note at the end providing information on the reality of the situations depicted. Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton, Jodi Picoult and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this thought-provoking gem of a novel!

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Review: I Never Lie by Jody Sabral

Review: I Never Lie

This review contains some spoilers for the ending of I Never Lie, so please read with caution!

The world of a journalist trying to make her way despite personal struggle was really exciting to read about. Having in the past toyed with the idea myself of trying to become a journalist, the world of the TV studio was my favourite part of this novel. Audrey, Alex’s long suffering producer, was one of my favourite characters. I also loved hearing about Greg, her ex who she left following a miscarriage. I would have enjoyed hearing more about the lives of both Audrey and Alex, as I felt they were some of the most interesting people in I Never Lie’s London.

Sadly, while I loved the first third of this book, I found the pace started to become tiresome. The murders didn’t seem to have the urgency that I was expecting. Although Nigel, Alex’s internet date, at first seemed a suspect I veered away from that pretty quickly. I didn’t really have the sense that Alex was at risk, even though that eventually was revealed to have been a major part of the killer’s plans. The repeated reference to both Sarah and Alex’s drinking became very tiresome in the final half of the novel. While the exploration of alcoholism was an interesting tool for developing the characters, it did seem to take up a little too much room. By the end of the novel, I was a little tired of hearing so much about alcoholism rather than the crime! I did find the twist with Sarah as the killer interesting, but wish that it could have been revealed through a flashback rather than exposition — hearing about what happened in a short retelling from a character who did not actually remember those events was a shame.

Nonetheless, I did enjoy reading I Never Lie and was excited to find out who the killer was, so have given it a strong *** rating. Thank you to NetGalley, Canelo and Jody Sabral for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

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