Review: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

The Turn of the Key
The Turn of the Key
may be the first book I’ve read by Ruth Ware but it definitely won’t be the last. I loved Ware’s writing style and the dark and sinister atmosphere she created and somehow managed to maintain throughout. It’s a gripping read that kept me compulsively turning those pages until the very end.


WHAT’S IT ABOUT

When she stumbles across the advert, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss: a live-in nanny position, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten by the luxurious ‘smart’ home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare – one that will end with a child dead and her in a cell awaiting trial for murder.

She knows she’s made mistakes. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty – at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.


MY THOUGHTS

The Turn of the Key is an addictive read based loosely on The Turn of the Screw, with the main character Rowan hired as live in nanny to four children. What initially seems like a dream job, however soon becomes a nightmare as she’s left alone to look after the children for weeks in a house with a bit of a dark history, spooky goings on and more than a few secrets. It’s not long before one of the children ends up dead and Rowan gets the blame despite her protestations of innocence.

It’s a genuinely creepy read at times and I loved the way the author built up the tension, revealing little hints and throwing in the odd twist along the way. I very much enjoyed the way the story was told in the form of letters from Rowan to a potential barrister. I’m not sure it felt wholly convincing as a letter but I did love the conversational style to it.

I thought the characters were for the most part well developed and intriguing and I loved how little by little more is revealed about Rowan’s past as the story unfolds. I’m not sure I would describe her as likeable or nice, she’s the typical unreliable narrator so you can’t really trust her, but I certainly felt some empathy for her by the end. The other characters are a little more mysterious and there were a couple in particular whose motivations I’m not sure I ever fully understood. It does however work within a story that keeps you guessing who dunnit so I can’t complain too much.

The real highlight for me however was the atmosphere which is dark and sinister throughout. I loved the Scottish Highland setting and the sense of remoteness and isolation it created. I also loved the use of technology, it’s a smart home with all of the latest gadgets, to give a classic story a much more contemporary feel.

If I had one complaint, it would probably be the ending. I’m not going to say much about it so no spoilers, but it felt a little rushed and unsatisfying to me. Possibly that may be what the author intended but given the build up I would have liked a little bit more.

Overall though I thought this was a great read and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for a slightly creepy who dunnit.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spooktober Review: The Six by Luca Veste

The Six

The Six by Luca Veste

Full of twists and turns The Six by Luca Veste is a gripping read that keeps you guessing till the very end. Also have to say a huge thank you for the 90s nostalgia, I loved it.


THE BLURB

Six friends trapped by one dark secret.

It was supposed to be our last weekend away as friends, before marriage and respectability beckoned. But what happened that Saturday changed everything.

In the middle of the night, someone died. The six of us promised each other we would not tell anyone about the body we buried. But now the pact has been broken. And the killing has started again …

Who knows what we did? And what price will we pay?


REVIEW

The Six, or “I Know What You Did Last Summer 90s Music Fest”, is just the kind of addictive serial killer thriller I love. I literally couldn’t put it down once I started it and read it from cover to cover in an afternoon.

The story follows six thirty something friends who go to a 90s music fest to try and relive their youth. They’re having a great time until the final night when tempers start to fray a little and someone ends up dead. The friends decide to cover it up by burying the body and making a pact to never speak about it again but as guilt starts to eat away at them and one of them dies suddenly a year later it seems the secret won’t stay buried.

It’s a cracking story and just the sort of twisty tale that keeps you guessing, and boy did I come up with some pretty out there theories. It doesn’t really help that the author throws in more than a few red herrings to send you down the wrong path or to point out how crazy that brilliant theory you’ve come up with is.

Pretty much the whole thing is told from the pov of Matt, one of the friends and this single pov works perfectly. Matt is not the most reliable of narrators and it’s safe to say he is not coping well with things, he barely sleeps or leaves the house and is living in a constant state of fear. It definitely makes him an intriguing and compelling character.

I also loved the portrayal of the other characters too. They are so well defined and distinctive and the way they develop and grow is perfect. It’s a real character study in how different personalities deal with guilt but it’s also a story about friendship. I think a lot of people will be able to recognise themselves and those friends they’ve had since childhood in this.

Given the characters are of a similar age to me I could certainly relate to them. I also have to say a big thank you for all of the music references, they really took me back to my school and uni days.

My only real niggles were the time line which for me felt a little off (although it’s very possible I just missed something) and that I found it a little repetitive at the start.

Other than that I enjoyed it. This was my first book from Luca Veste but it will not be the last. It’s very clear he knows how to tell a great story.

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. This has in no way influenced my review.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Review: From The Shadows by G.R. Halliday

 

THE BLURBFrom the Shadows

A stunning, atmospheric police procedural set against the grit of Inverness and the raw beauty of the Scottish Highlands, this is the first book in the DI Monica Kennedy series.

Sixteen-year-old Robert arrives home late. Without a word to his dad, he goes up to his bedroom. Robert is never seen alive again.

A body is soon found on the coast of the Scottish Highlands. Detective Inspector Monica Kennedy stands by the victim in this starkly beautiful and remote landscape. Instinct tells her the case won’t begin and end with this one death.

Meanwhile, Inverness-based social worker Michael Bach is worried about one of his clients whose last correspondence was a single ambiguous text message; Nichol Morgan has been missing for seven days.

As Monica is faced with catching a murderer who has been meticulously watching and waiting, Michael keeps searching for Nichol, desperate to find him before the killer claims another victim.

From the Shadows introduces DI Monica Kennedy, an unforgettable new series lead, perfect for fans of Ann Cleeves’ Vera, Susie Steiner and Peter May.


MY REVIEW

From the Shadows is a promising start to a new crime series set in the Scottish Highlands. It’s a dark and atmospheric story that is truly gripping at times and while I didn’t love it quite as much as I hoped I would this is definitely a series I want to read more of.

The story is told primarily from two points of view, DI Monica Kennedy and social worker Michael Bach, and is part police procedural, part mystery/thriller with Kennedy leading a murder investigation and Bach trying to track down one of his clients who has disappeared. It’s an intriguing story, a little chilling and gruesome at times but one that goes in a very unexpected direction and kept me guessing throughout.

Both Monica and Michael make for interesting characters and are for the most part likeable however I’m not sure I ever got to know them well enough to feel truly invested in them. Both clearly have issues and shadows hanging over them from the past but while there are some hints as to what these may be I still feel like there’s a lot to learn about them. I suspect the author is holding things back for subsequent books in the series but I feel like there could have been a bit more development of the characters and more depth given to them. I also found the constant references to Monica’s height (she’s very tall) and her insecurities about it became irritating after a while. It’s great to have a detective who’s different from the norm but it seemed a little overdone.

Similarly, I felt like the secondary characters such as DC Fisher and DC Crawford were also under developed. They seem a bit stereotyped and lacking in depth at times and it was the characters who appeared very briefly who made the biggest impression. It also felt to me like the relationships between characters were all a little too serious and formal. It would have been nice to see some humour (even if it was dark) or an emotion other than anger or guilt to provide a contrast to what is a very disturbing and tense narrative.

The highlight of the story for me was by far the Highland setting and the very dark and chilling atmosphere the author creates. It’s here that his writing really shines and he very skillfully conveys the wildness and remoteness of the rural communities while also taking us into the seedier parts of the city of Inverness, giving a real sense of place. I loved the way he showed the different sides of the area, the beauty and peacefulness and also the isolation and danger. It actually made me want to head up north for a visit despite the plot.

Overall, while not perfect From the Shadows does show some real skill from the author and I think there’s a lot of potential for the characters to grow and develop. As the first book in a series I think it shows promise and I will certainly be looking out for more books by the author.

I received an advance copy of this book via a Readers First giveaway

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

ARC Review: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

An Unwanted Guest
An Unwanted Guest
by Shari Lapena

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

An edge of the seat who dunnit that’s reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. It kept me guessing until the very end and had just the right amount of creepiness and tension to keep me reading late into the night.


THE BLURB

We can’t choose the strangers we meet.

As the guests arrive at beautiful, remote Mitchell’s Inn, they’re all looking forward to a relaxing weekend deep in the forest, miles from anywhere. They watch their fellow guests with interest, from a polite distance.

Usually we can avoid the people who make us nervous, make us afraid.

With a violent storm raging, the group finds itself completely cut off from the outside world. Nobody can get in – or out. And then the first body is found . . . and the horrifying truth comes to light. There’s a killer among them – and nowhere to run.

Until we find ourselves in a situation we can’t escape. Trapped.


MY REVIEW

Oooh I liked this. A story with a group of strangers trapped together, isolated from the outside world and a killer on the loose is always my idea of a great read and Lapena does a brilliant job with it. It’s packed full of tension, has some genuinely creepy moments (which I probably shouldn’t have read while on my own on a dark and stormy night) and there are enough twists and reveals to keep you guessing till the very end.

It’s a classic who dunnit that reminded me a lot of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None but brought right up to date. I do love a good who dunnit and I had so much fun trying to figure out which of the guests (or staff) was the murderer and what their motive could be (or if in fact there was someone else behind it all). There are lots of hints and clues along the way but with lots of red herrings thrown in and a mix of characters who all seem to have some kind of secret it’s almost impossible to figure out. I did have an inkling but considering I guessed pretty much everyone at some point or another I don’t think I can really say I had it sussed.

The story is told from the pov of almost every one of the characters which I have to admit I’m not sure was a wise decision in this story. I do like how it showed the reader the events from various different perspectives and helped you to get to know each of them better but I think the author made her job of keeping it a mystery harder than it needed to be.

With the necessarily fast paced nature of the story there’s not a lot of depth given to the characters and I can’t say I really connected with any of them but it didn’t spoil any of my enjoyment of the story which had me completely gripped until the very end. There are quite a good mix of different personalities and while some are a little stereotyped and some are not very nice I did love watching them under pressure and trying to guess who would do something stupid, who would get themselves killed and who would be the killer.

I’m obviously not going to say how it does end or who the killer is but I will say that I felt a little bit disappointed in the big reveal. It’s not that it wasn’t good or that I disagreed just that with the build up I was expecting something more. It was over a little too quickly for me.

The writing throughout however is wonderful and the author does create a very tense and atmospheric setting. I loved the sense of isolation, the bleakness and threatening nature of the environment and the very primal fear it creates in both the characters and the reader. I read a lot of it late at night and can honestly say it was giving me the creeps. I wanted to put it down and hide under the covers but my need to find out what happened next overrode this.

There were a couple of sections, mostly giving characters backstories which were a little clunky but otherwise it’s pitched just right.

This was an edge of the seat (or hide under the covers) read that I found incredibly difficult to put down. Would definitely recommend to anyone who loves a good who dunnit in a creepy setting.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance reader copy. As always all thoughts are my own.

An Unwanted Guest will be out on the 26th July

Review: Deadly Secrets by Robert Bryndza

Deadly Secrets by Robert Bryndza

This may be book 6 in the series but DI Erika Foster shows no signs of slowing down and I think this is possibly my favorite so far.

Note: while this is book 6 in the series it can be read as a standalone so there are no spoilers in this review, although I do recommend the others in the series


THE BLURB

To commit the perfect murder, you need the perfect cover. 

On a cold icy morning, a mother wakes to find her daughter’s blood-soaked body frozen to the road. Who would carry out such a horrific killing on the victim’s doorstep?

Straight off her last harrowing case, Detective Erika Foster is feeling fragile but determined to lead the investigation. As she sets to work, she finds reports of assaults in the same quiet South London suburb where the woman was killed. One chilling detail links them to the murder victim – they were all attacked by a figure in black wearing a gas mask.

Erika is on the hunt for a killer with a terrifying calling card. The case gets more complicated when she uncovers a tangled web of secrets surrounding the death of the beautiful young woman.

Yet just as Erika begins to piece the clues together, she is forced to confront painful memories of her past. Erika must dig deep, stay focused and find the killer. Only this time, one of her own is in terrible danger…


MY REVIEW

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you’ve been reading this series you’ll be familiar with the format, it begins with a gruesome murder (beware Bryndza has upped the ick factor) and the discovery of a body. Erika who’s supposed to be on the way to Christmas lunch with her former boss and old police training pal, can’t resist getting involved and before you know it she’s leading the search for yet another serial killer.

Unlike previous books in the series however, this time Bryndza has put the focus almost entirely on the investigation and this is much more police procedural than thriller and personally, I think it is so much the better for it. There are still some chapters from the killer’s point of view but they’re fairly brief, give little away and are very chilling. It’s rare that an author can present a convincing view from inside the mind of a killer so I’m always happier to stick with the detectives, particularly those in this series.

The characters are definitely what I love the most about this series. They really are such a wonderfully diverse, interesting and well rounded bunch and I love how their relationships have evolved and developed over the series.

There’s a little bit less of Erika this time around as something in her personal life forces her to pass on the case to one of her team but, while less Erika seems like a bad thing, it actually added an extra element to the story as it allowed the personal side of her character to be developed while also providing a bit more insight into her backstory. It also had the benefit of giving some of the other team members the opportunity to shine. Moss, my favorite character, gets a much more prominent role which I really can’t complain about.

The case itself is an intriguing one and it really kept me guessing. There are a few clues and a few red herrings scattered along the way but I can honestly say my theories as to who the killer was were completely wrong.

You may be wondering why if I enjoyed this so much I couldn’t give the full five stars (believe me I wanted to). Unfortunately it suffers from some of the same issues the previous books had in terms of continuity errors (there are some disappearing shoes and inconsistencies in setting). I also felt that at times there was something off about descriptions of expressions and reactions but this may just have been me.

Despite these niggles this is a gripping read and one I’d recommend if you like a fast paced serial killer type story with quite a few twists and turns.

Thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for providing me with a copy. As always all views are my own.

Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart  Turton
The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
by Stuart Turton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I think this book could be one of my favorite reads of the year and for the author’s debut novel is a seriously impressive feat of ingenuity.


THE BLURB

How do you stop a murder that’s already happened?

At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.


MY REVIEW

The overriding feeling from this book is of a classic Agatha Christie style murder mystery and it has all the best elements of this, a number of guests invited to a party on the anniversary of a tragedy, an isolated location, an absent host, old grudges and long held secrets and a general feel that nothing is truly as it seems. Added to this however is a Groundhog Day, or possibly more Quantum Leap, type element with main protagonist Aiden Bishop tasked with solving a murder before it happens by repeating the day over and over again in a series of different roles (hosts) each of which has some kind of link to the mystery.

It’s an absolutely brilliant and unique premise that adds an extra layer of complexity and intrigue to the story I wasn’t expecting. It’s a very intricately plotted mystery and one I would say requires all of your concentration (and probably a notepad to keep track of multiple characters and timelines) but it’s worth it. I read this over the course of a weekend while trapped indoors by snow (and a bit of a cold) and it worked so well as it allowed me to completely immerse myself in the very vivid and atmospheric world the author creates.

The setting feels a little Downton Abbey, with the country estate, Lord of the manor and servants dotted about but from the very beginning it is clear that all is not as it seems. There’s a feeling that there’s more going on than meets the eye and something dark and sinister lurking just below the surface. Something that also seems to apply to most of the characters who are never quite what they appear to be.

This is particularly true for Aiden who spends the story in the guise of someone else, making him a very intriguing character. Who he is and how he’s ended up in the position he’s in is just as much of a mystery as who the murderer is. He has no memories of who he was before and no knowledge of his hosts either and this is where it most reminded me of Quantum Leap (a show I was obsessed with as a teen). Aiden has to look in a mirror to discover what he looks like and slowly unravel who each of his hosts are, and they are a decidedly mixed bunch. Most would definitely not be considered your typical hero, they are downright horrid, and even those who seem initially good often have a little bit of darkness lurking inside.

There is certainly a lot to think about in this story and it’s really worth taking your time over. I very much liked the authors writing style and found myself highlighting sections here, there and everywhere partly in hope of solving one of the many mysteries but mainly because I just really loved it.

In terms of actually solving it, I did get bits here and there but I think that was mostly due to guessing just about everything and suspecting everyone rather than any kind of skill on my part. There are so many twists, turns and red herrings that I think even the most experienced sleuth would struggle. Although I should say that once the truth was revealed I could see the hints the author had scattered throughout and I have been very tempted to read it a second time to really appreciate it.

This book is certainly one of a kind and I even a few days later there are elements of it still buzzing around my head in the best possible way. If you like complicated mysteries and don’t mind a little bit of genre bending I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this. All gushing over this brilliant book is my own.

ARC Review: Everything is Lies by Helen Callaghan

Everything Is Lies by Helen Callaghan
Everything Is Lies
by Helen Callaghan

My rating: 4 of 5 star

Unexpected and gripping, Everything is Lies is yet another great thriller from Helen Callaghan.


THE BLURB

No-one is who you think they are

Sophia’s parents lead quiet, unremarkable lives. At least that is what she’s always believed.

Everyone has secrets

Until the day she arrives at her childhood home to find a house ringing with silence. Her mother is hanging from a tree. Her father is lying in a pool of his own blood, near to death.

Especially those closest to you 

The police are convinced it is an attempted murder-suicide. But Sophia is sure that the woman who brought her up isn’t a killer. As her father is too ill to talk it is up to Sophia to clear her mother’s name. And to do this she needs to delve deep into her family’s past – a past full of dark secrets she never suspected were there . . .

What if your parents had been lying to you since the day you were born?


MY REVIEW

This is only Callaghan’s second book but she is fast becoming one of my favorite thriller writers. I very much enjoyed her first book, Dear Amy, but I think this may be better. There are still a couple of issues but it’s a gripping read and one that really surprised me with some of its twists.

The story begins with main character Sophia out another pretty much compulsory night out with her work colleagues. She receives a call from her mum begging her to come home as there’s something important they need to discuss but, having had a few drinks and with a handsome architect showing some interest in her, she brushes her off. When she visits the next day however she discovers her mother dead and her father seriously injured. The police believe her mother killed herself and attacked her father when he tried to stop her but Sophia doesn’t believe it. The plot thickens when she discovers some notebooks her mum had been using to write about her past revealing secrets that it seems some people will do anything to conceal.

I don’t really want to say much more about the plot than that, as I think it’s better to experience the twists and turns for yourself. I unfortunately stumbled across a review with a major spoiler but I have to admit that despite this I did find it to be completely different from what I was expecting.

The story begins in the present then flashes back to the past via the notebooks and while I did like the present day story I have to admit it was the flashbacks I found so much more intriguing and actually felt like that was the more developed part of the story. Her mother’s story, and her mother was so different from what I (and Sophie) believed her to be and the other characters that are introduced are so much more fascinating and complex.

Sophie was a pretty likable lead, intelligent, principled and determined but I’m afraid I couldn’t feel much connection to or empathy with her, I think because there just wasn’t enough of her. It seemed to me as if her role was primarily to find and read her mother’s notebooks. Her life and her issues (problems at work) felt a little pushed to the side making it difficult to really get to know her, particularly in the first half of the story where the notebooks make up the majority of the narrative.

I can’t however complain too much about the amount of time spent on her mother’s story as it absolutely fascinated me. She frustrated the heck out of me and a lot of the time I wanted to give her a shake but there was something so understandable about her actions that even when she was doing the stupid thing I still found myself rooting for her and found it impossible to look away.

Callaghan can definitely write an engaging story and this was one book I found myself reading late into the night and thinking about at odd times. I do think maybe too much time was spent on some things and not enough on others but for the majority of the book the pacing is just right. I did see a few of the twists coming but there were certainly elements that caught me by surprise something which is pretty rare.

If I had one main criticism of the book however it would be the ending, not so much that I disagreed, more that it went on a little too long. Again I felt the balance was off between what I wanted to know and what I was happy not to.

Overall a great story and I can’t wait for Callaghan’s next one.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance copy. As always all views are my own.

Review: The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry by Jane Harper
The Dry
by Jane Harper

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Believe the hype. This book is just as good as everyone says it is.


THE BLURB

A small town hides big secrets in this atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by an award-winning new author.

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.


MY REVIEW

Everyone kept telling me how good this was but did I listen? I really wish I had as this book is absolutely brilliant especially when you consider it’s the author’s first. It may not have a wholly original plot (is there an original murder mystery?) or be particularly fast paced, but it has some great characterization and such a wonderful sense of atmosphere that it’s difficult to put down.

The setting of a small farming town in Australia is absolutely central to this story and for me was by far the highlight. There has been a long term drought, the weather is hot and so are the tempers creating such a powerful atmosphere. The whole town seems ready to ignite with the smallest little spark and it’s a close knit community where everyone knows everyone’s business and grudges are never forgotten.

This is the town where policeman Aaron Falk grew up before he was driven out of town. He’s forced to return when childhood best friend Luke becomes the victim in a triple shooting. The police believe it to be a murder suicide, he killed his wife and son before turning the gun on himself, but his parents aren’t so sure. They convince Falk to stick around for a few days and look into things. As he works with the local policeman Raco he also begins to have his doubts that everything is as it seems but what motive could someone have for killing them and how long can Falk stick around in a town where almost everyone seems to hate him.

There isn’t a huge amount of action in this story but it’s still gripping reading. Aaron Falk makes for an intriguing main character with a dark past. Yep it’s a little cliched, detective forced to return home and face his past while investigating a case, but Harper does it so well that you don’t mind. I particularly liked that the author didn’t go down the route of lone detective going against the authorities but instead had Falk forming a partnership with the local police officer and the relationship between them was brilliant.

I loved the methodical nature of their investigation and how they followed the clues, interviewed witnesses and suspects to get to the truth. There isn’t any super high tech forensics or moment of inspiration but rather a good old fashioned investigation where one clue leads to the next. That’s not to say there isn’t the odd red herring or that it’s easy to guess the ending as this story certainly keeps you guessing. I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers but I can honestly say the ending of this surprised me.

If I had one small niggle, and this is just my personal preference rather than a fault with the story, it’s that I felt the author wrapped up a little too much. That’s not to say everything is fully resolved, there is a lot that’s left open (it is the first book in a series after all), but there was one answer in particular that I didn’t want.

This is definitely one I’d recommend if you’re looking for a great mystery that may not be fast paced but is absolutely packed full of atmosphere and tension. I can see Harper becoming one of my favorite authors.

Review: Yesterday by Felicia Yap

YesterdayYesterday by Felicia Yap

My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Despite having very high hopes for this book I have to confess that I very nearly gave up on it on more than one occasion. I am happy that I continued on with it to the end but I must admit that I found it really hard going.

The premise of this story sounds so good, how do you solve a crime if you can’t remember anything other than the last 24 hours, but for me it was this central premise that just didn’t work. I absolutely love stories about amnesia and memory loss and some of my all time favourite reads feature this plot device. I’m fascinated by the question of how much of who you are is determined by your memories and experiences and how different you would be without them but I felt like this book never really touched on this.

The story is set in an alternate reality where everyone is split into two classes, Mono’s and Duo’s. Mono’s can remember only the day before while Duo’s can recall the last two days. As the famous saying goes “in the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king” and in this case it is the Duo’s with their additional day of memories who hold the positions of power while the Mono’s are considered second class citizens. Everyone however keeps track of the facts and major events of their lives in their iDiaries.

It is in this alternate reality that we are given a murder mystery. The body of a woman is found in the river and it is up to detective Hans, a mono masquerading as a duo, to solve the case before the day is out and his memories are lost.

The story is told from the points of view of Hans, the diary of the victim Sophie and mono/duo couple Mark and Claire who become involved in the investigation. These four points of view, some jumps back and forward in time combined with trying to understand this alternate reality is perhaps a bit much but you do eventually get into it.

In the beginning I did find the idea of this alternate reality fascinating but for me it quickly became frustrating and irritating. I think I found it difficult to accept that this world could be so similar to ours. There are the same companies (Apple), similar technological developments (the internet) and even the same type of society but everything just seems so cold and emotionless. The iDiaries are effectively used as a replacement for real memories and whenever anyone is asked a question about their past they simply refer to them (at one point I swore that if one more character said “let me just check that in my iDiary” I would scream). It seemed at times just a bit of a gimmick rather than a genuine attempt to create an alternate world (although I suppose it would probably be too much to try and create a completely different world and incorporate a murder mystery).

There is the interesting point over what constitutes a fact, which can be learned and remembered in this world, but I don’t think the author explored this enough and more could definitely be made of it. When is something really a fact and when is it just someone’s opinion? If you’re basing your “facts” on something someone wrote down is there not a danger they could be at best biased and at worst open to manipulation? If you could choose which facts you learn would you omit the ones you don’t like? I really would have loved more exploration of all of these questions.

The murder mystery element of the book is not particularly inspired either. There’s nothing much unique about it other than the detective having a limited time to complete his investigation. Even then a lot of the investigation seems to be reading the diary of the victim which reveals most of the events leading up to the murder and then just verifying whether they are true.

Detective Hans is probably the most likeable of the characters in the book and there are elements of his character and behaviour that felt a little bit Sherlock Holmes inspired, his determination to learn every fact, technique and other bit of knowledge he can for example. The other characters however, victim included, were not even remotely likeable something which I always struggle with and part of the reason I nearly gave up on this story on more than one occasion.

Husband Mark, is a cheat and a liar, a famous writer and wanna be politician. As a duo he sees himself as superior to everyone else. Wife Claire is a whiny, moany, emotional wreck who seriously needs to grow some back bone and victim Sophie comes across as nasty and vengeful. I genuinely couldn’t care less about any of them, never mind who the murderer was.

The split of the narrative between the characters is a little uneven and for some reason Mark and Claire seem to disappear for a big chunk in the middle of the book but actually this is when the story picked up for me. Sophie’s diary and Hans investigation were much more interesting and the book gathered a bit more pace. I found myself wondering whether the story would have been better if it had been wholly from Hans point of view.

When they did reappear however it turned out to be one of the most gripping and touching scenes of the novel before we reached the final twist which wasn’t a total surprise but made up for a lot of what came early on. I do wish the author had been a little briefer in the final exposition (I don’t want things explained to me in detail) but it did wrap everything up.

Overall, I’d probably rate it as an okay read rather than anything special but that may be down to my general dislike of unlikeable and unreliable narrators and complete inability to accept this parallel world. Certainly others have loved it so it may be worth a try.

Thanks to NetGalley and the Publisher for providing me with an ARC. I wish I could have given a more positive review.

ARC Review: Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody


Daughter of the Burning CityDaughter of the Burning City
by Amanda Foody

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A dark and twisty story with a wonderfully diverse cast of characters. The world the author has created is incredibly detailed and I loved the combination of fantasy and murder mystery. There are a few pacing issues and I thought there was a little too much crammed in but it’s definitely an enjoyable read.


Synopsis

A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.

Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.

But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.

Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.

Review

I’m a little bit torn on this one. There were parts that I absolutely loved and it’s wonderfully original and dark but there was something about it that didn’t quite work.

I loved the idea of this traveling carnival that’s as big as a city. I loved the diversity of those that live and work there, the different types of magic, the performers, vendors, guards and the thieves and assassins who all consider themselves equal. Most of all I loved the mystery and just how dark and twisted it was.

It’s called Gomorrah for a reason. There are prettymen and prettywomen (prostitutes), con artists, thieves and assassins. All visitors to the carnival do so at their own risk and literally within the first few pages one person is robbed and a seemingly central character murdered.

Sorina made for an interesting main character. The only illusion worker in Gomorrah she’s considered a bit of a freak and outsider in a city of freaks and outsiders. She has no eyes but can see via her illusions (something I still don’t quite understand). She has however used her illusion work to create a family of “freaks” and together they have quite a happy life until one of them is suddenly murdered. So begins the mystery of who is behind the murder but also how do you kill an illusion.

In many ways I did like Sorina. She’s quite a lonely character and just wants to be accepted. She wants the fairytale romance but doesn’t believe anyone will be interested in her. She does get a little annoying with the woe is me all of the time and being so easily influenced by others but she is only 16 so it’s largely forgivable.

I have to confess I found her family/illusions confusing in the beginning. I have a goldfish like memory and was extremely tired at the time so I suspect it may just have been me who couldn’t remember who was who and what they did (I think the physical book has drawings so that will make it easier). I also didn’t feel the connection between them. One is the baby of the family, the other like a grandpa, one the best friend/sister but while I knew this it didn’t feel real to me. Maybe because they are illusions but I suspect it was because there was more telling than showing, something I think the book was guilty of in quite a few places.

The author has created this big and complicated world with a whole city/carnival that moves from place to place across the continent. I think it was perhaps overly complicated particularly for one book. We have the city of Gomorrah to try and understand with its very distinct areas and layout and all of its people/magics. There are the different places they visit, the world as a whole, politics and religion. It’s a lot to cram into around 380 pages and led to a bit of info dumping, something I struggle with.

There are some wonderful descriptions of the carnival and times when you are in the moment but these were a little too fleeting. I wish it had been kept simpler allowing more time for character development and relationships to develop. I didn’t feel any of the connection between the characters and consequently a lot of the events had less of an impact (the murders for example).

The storyline is good and I loved the idea of a YA fantasy with a murder mystery. There were however some issues on timing and it felt a little disjointed at times. There were certain events that felt unnecessary and others that were rushed over and didn’t make sense.

There are plenty of twists and turns as you try to work out who is behind the murders and I did for the most part enjoy it. I just wish it had been a little simpler with a little less tell and a little more show.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. As always all views are my own.