The Haunting of Barry’s Lodge – Annie Walters

34997487When Alfred’s father-in-law offers him the chance to go on a writing retreat in an isolated motel, he jumps at the opportunity to finish his upcoming book. However, everything at the motel is not as it seems, and soon the complete isolation turns from a blessing to a nightmare.

Honestly, if this book had been longer, I probably wouldn’t have finished it. It has potential: the story is intriguing and has some decent, unexpected twists, but it is hugely underdeveloped and not brilliantly written. There were a number of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors (which I really struggle to overlook in a published book) and the general style is very simple, which made it not particularly engaging. There are also some pretty abrupt changes in narrative angle which made parts of the plot quite difficult to follow. Lastly, there wasn’t enough description or scene-setting, so it isn’t very atmospheric which is very important in horror stories.

Overall, it could have been worse but definitely could have been better. As it is, this is not a very scary horror story.

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Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give – Ada Calhoun

32051305In a collection of essays, Ada Calhoun combines her own personal experience with the advice of experts and friends to explore the trials of marriage and the key to staying married.

Ada Calhoun’s narrative voice is fantastic. She’s witty and very likeable, and very very real. Her tales of married life are amusing and honest, and her commentary is insightful. Basically, I want to be her friend. Her relationship with Neal sounds great – they seem like an entertaining couple – but she doesn’t hesitate to share that, like everyone else, they too have problems. Looking at cases of infidelity, temptation, changing and fighting, this is a clever and humorous exploration into marriage and an answer to the big question: how do you stay married?

The answer: Don’t get divorced.

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Right Here Waiting For You – Rebecca Pugh

34150011.jpgMagda and Sophia used to be best friends, until Magda made one big mistake she couldn’t take back. Years later, both women receive invitations to a school reunion, bringing them back into each other’s lives. Back home and faced with her past mistakes, Magda is forced to re-evaluate her life and make some big decisions, while Sophia has to make some tough choices of her own.

This is a sweet and quite short story about friendship and love. I’m not sure why it’s being marketed as “a laugh-out-loud romantic comedy”, but there you have it. Romantic: yes. Comedy: No.

The writing is very simple. It’s a little underdeveloped and easy to skim over, which made it a nice, quick read but not particularly engaging. The plot itself isn’t bad, if a little annoying in places because of how obvious and predictable it is. For some reason the author insists on trying to act like what’s happening isn’t totally obvious (e.g. the way each woman’s POV refers to the other as “her” instead of giving the name even though we clearly know who they mean). It isn’t a brilliant or especially original story but it’s entertaining nonetheless. I breezed through it very quickly and it didn’t drag at any point, despite its flaws.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Ninth Rain – Jen Williams

29758013.jpgIn this fantasy adventure, the once great city of Ebora is on the verge of collapse, while the lands of Sarn live in the shadow of past battles against the Jure’lia. While on an exploratory expedition, Tormalin the Oathless and Vintage de Grazon cross paths with an escaped witch, Fell-Noon. The three travellers are quickly drawn into a conspiracy of magic and danger, running from the Winnowry, attempting to heal the dead tree god, Ysgrel, and racing against the clock before the imminent return of the worm people and their evil queen.

If that description sounds confusing to you, that would be because this is a fantasy novel of epic proportions. We are fully immersed in a fictional world of magic, war, and fantastic world-building. The general fantasy aspects are very enjoyable: fantastical beasts, fighting, blood-drinking but NOT  vampires, and literal magic. It’s a very original fantasy world, filled with magical beings that I haven’t come across before (rather than the usual elves, dwarves, ghosts, etc).

I really liked the characters, and there’s a very mixed range of them. There’s quite a lot going on, with multiple different character threads, but all of them are integral to the story and fun to read. I especially loved Noon – she’s sassy, strong and damaged but not too tropey or predictable – and Vintage, who is a 40-something badass. It’s pretty unusual to have a female lead in her forties, and she was a really fresh and engaging character. The way she speaks was kind of annoying (a lot of “darling” and “my dear”) but it made her voice stand out above the other characters and made her much more memorable.

The plot itself was very good. It was a bit long and dragged at a few points, but none of it felt unnecessary to the story. Plus it is the first in a trilogy so the world-building and scene-setting is very important and so can be forgiven for it’s length.

I received a copy of this book from Headline in exchange for an honest review.

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The Fourth Monkey – J. D. Barker

35101847The Four Monkey Killer has been kidnapping victims and sending their ears, eyes and tongues to their families before finally killing them, for five years. When his body is identified after stepping in front of a bus, the police realize he was on his way to deliver one final message about one final victim. Lead investigator, Sam Porter, and his team race against the clock to find the final victim while she may still be alive. But the case might not be as straightforward as that. With only a disturbing diary and a handful of clues Porter finds himself caught up in the mind of a psychopath who taunts him from beyond the grave.

The plot of this book is very detailed and fast-paced. A lot happens in a very short space of time. It’s a long book (almost 500 pages) and the story unfolds over the course of only about 3 days. This means we get a lot of insight into the investigation and we get to build a strong relationship with all of the characters.  Speaking of whom, are brilliant. Porter and his team are realistic, likeable and believable, while the Four Monkey Killer is the perfect serial killer – sick and twisted but intelligent, with strong motives and a well though-out plan. He is genuinely pretty scary.

The Fourth Monkey is a well-written and exciting crime thriller. It has mystery and plenty of suspense, while the short chapters (intersected with entries from 4MK’s personal diary) make the book easy to read despite the length. There are so many different aspects to this story: the case in hand, 4MK’s motive and identity, the relevance of the story unfolding in the diary, and Porter’s own personal tragedy.

Clever, detailed and kind of disturbing, this book is a must-read for detective/thriller lovers.

Many thanks to HQ for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release: 27th June, 2017.

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The Cows – Dawn O’Porter

32594947This novel follows the lives of three different women, living very different but connected lives. Cam is a successful and single lifestyle blogger who chooses to do what she wants, when she wants, without the ties of a husband or children. Tara is a single mother who’s life takes a dramatic turn after she is filmed masturbating on a train. Stella’s mum and twin sister have both been killed by cancer, and she is left facing the choice between life-altering surgery or facing the same fate. The whole premise revolves around being female, and examines the intricacies of women’s life choices in family, careers and friendship.

The three storylines are equally engaging and link together in an understated but completely plausible way. The narrative voices of the three women could have been more different. They were all a bit too similar which made them blend into one and made the book slightly harder to follow, but they each had a good story nonetheless.

The message of this book is not even remotely discreet, but it’s not pushy or intrusive either. Dawn O’Porter manages to make a clear point about feminism in the guise of an engaging and entertaining story, which is, frankly, very effective.

I was attracted to this book because of the cover and the title, and I’m very pleased to say that the inside is almost as good the outside.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Sometimes I Lie – Alice Feeney

32991958“My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:

1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.”

Amber can hear everything going on around her as she lies in hospital, in a coma. She was in an accident, but she can’t remember what happened. All she knows is that she’s sure her husband has something to do with it. As Amber catches snippets of conversation around her, she starts to regain her memory, with some shocking revelations.

No more can be said on the plot without giving things away, so let’s move on. Basically, this book was confusing. Alice doesn’t know who to trust – including herself – and so we’re given quite a lot of clashing information. Is her husband nice or was he involved in some way? What is up with her sister? Why does she go to work every day at a job she hates surrounded by people she doesn’t like? Are her parents dead or alive? Who knows what is going on? Not me, that’s for sure. It does come together in the end, but even then what really happened is unclear, which I guess is a pretty effective way to finish a book but I didn’t like it. I wanted to know exactly what happened and, unfortunately, this book doesn’t give us that.

Overall, it’s a good story. There are a mix of intriguing characters, and a very twisty plot – certainly psychologically thrilling, just not conclusive enough for me.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Miracle at Speedy Motors – Alexander McCall Smith

106021-457x720In the ninth instalment of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Mma Ramotswe is asked to find the biological family of an adopted woman. Distracted by a threatening anonymous letter-writer and Mr J. L. B. Matekoni’s pursuit of an expensive miracle treatment for their foster daughter, Mma Ramostwe is left considering the nature and importance of truth, and if it can sometimes be better not to know it.

I adore the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, but the books are very samey so it’s taken me a very long time to get as far as book #9. They are all very well written, with a delightful style and loveable characters, and The Miracle at Speedy Motors is no exception. Being set in Botswana, the values and messages within each book are interesting and – usually – aspirational. I couldn’t recommend this series more (but start with book #1 because the character building throughout is very important, even if the plot progression isn’t).

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A Crown of Wishes – Roshani Chokshi

29939047.jpgWhen Gauri, the princess of Bharata, meets Prince Vikram while being held captive by his people in Ujijain, her life takes a magical turn. Invited by the Lord of Wealth to participate in his Tournament of Wishes, the two flee Ujijain and make their way into a land of magic to compete for the opportunity to win a wish.

I believe this book is based around Indian mythology, which was a fresh and interesting genre for me. I love the world the book is set in, with unusual magical beings and fantastic world-building. The game-style story was very reminiscent of books like Caraval, so it was really nice to see this one done in an entirely different setting – it made the story a bit different from others like it.

I liked the characters – Vikram and Gauri are both sweet and relatable – and I loved Roshani’s writing style. For a while, I felt Aasha’s storyline was a bit irrelevant, but she did start to fit into the book better towards the end. For me, the book could have been longer: the story felt a little rushed. Gauri and Vikram had barely arrived in Alaka before they’d completed their tasks and the tournament was over. It could have contained a lot more detail and slower pacing without becoming too long or too descriptive.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot more than I was expecting. It’s creative, well written, and the romance between Gauri and Vikram is lovely (not too angsty or forced like so many YA romances are). I would definitely read more from Roshani Chokshi.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Sweetpea – C.J. Skuse

33229410.jpgRhiannon seems relatively normal. She lives with her boyfriend and her little dog, goes to work, and spends time with her friends. Except she has one little secret: she’s a serial killer. Every day, she makes a kill list. From her cheating boyfriend to the man on the checkout in Lidl, Rhiannon is after revenge.

The idea of this story is really good: our protagonist is a murderer living a normal life alongside her secret killing. However, Sweetpea doesn’t quite pull it off. Rhiannon is such a dislikeable character – no, hateable – that there is no empathy or support for what she’s doing. A main character needs to have at least some likeable traits – especially such a controversial character – so that the reader can make a connection, but Rhiannon has none. She’s just an awful, terrible person who makes nasty and offensive judgements (i.e. against disabled people) and gets aroused by necrophilia (trust me, it’s as disgusting as it sounds). This idea could have worked and it is a genuinely interesting story, but I couldn’t get beyond my absolute hate for Rhiannon. I wanted her to lose, which is generally the wrong way to feel about the main character of a story.

On a more positive note, the book is well written and good enough that I did read it the whole way through. The story is gripping and, despite my distaste for Rhiannon and her activities, I had to find out what was going to happen. (I did take a break and read another book in the middle of this one, to give myself a rest from the horrors of Rhiannon’s murder and sex life, but I couldn’t not finish it).

If you are a fan of dark characters and unusual crime stories, Sweetpea might be right up your street – it just wasn’t up mine. But be warned: this book contains VERY adult content and graphic descriptions of murder and (creepy and gross) sex, which there is NO mention of in the book description, hence why I gave it a go.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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