The Corset – Laura Purcell

39691481Determined to learn more about phrenology and test her hypothesis that the shape of a person’s skull can determine whether or not they will commit a crime, Dorothea Truelove regularly visits prisoners at Oakgate Prison. Ruth Butterham is the youngest murderess Dorothea has visited, who offers an alternative theory: She claims her crimes are caused by a supernatural power in her sewing. Is Ruth mad, or a murderer?

The Corset is undoubtedly dark, but not a horror like The Silent Companions. Instead, it is more of a murder mystery story with supernatural vibes. The narrative is told through the perspective of both Dorothea and Ruth, as Ruth explains her story and Dorothea tries to get to the bottom of things. The two women come from very different backgrounds, with very different outlooks, and complement each other exceptionally well. The writing is a joy to read, with each woman’s voice clearly distinct and well-developed.

I found this book compelling, original and unpredictable, but not particularly creepy (which would be totally fine, if it wasn’t marketed as “chilling”). It also felt slightly too long at times. I’m not sure that I could pull out specific parts of the story and label them as unnecessary, but there were moments where things started to drag and I felt myself rushing to reach the end.

I have seen other readers complain that The Corset includes too many characters, but I personally didn’t fell that this was a problem. Yes, there is a reasonably large cast, but Dorothea and Ruth really hold the story and the rest, even those who play a big role, fade into the background a little. That could sound like a criticism, but it isn’t. I found this book incredibly easy to read and didn’t find myself worrying about other characters in the slightest.

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

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The Wives – Lauren Weisberger

40183012The Wives, from The Devil Wears Prada series, focuses on Emily Charlton (Miranda Priestly’s ex-assistant) in her life after Runway. Following the decline of her image consultant business, Emily finds herself in the suburbs with her oldest friend, Miriam. Then, when Miriam’s friend, Karolina, is publicly dumped and shamed by her husband, Emily finds herself a new purpose: clearing Karolina’s name, getting her son back and restoring her superstar image.

First things first, this book is filled with truly ghastly characters. Our lead three (Emily, Miriam and Karolina) aren’t too bad most of the time, but every single other character is just awful. Karolina’s husband, Graham, is clearly evil, while the side-characters mainly consist of dreadful, middle-aged, suburban mums. On the whole, the book wasn’t particularly enjoyable because I just hated everyone.

The Wives’ saving grace was the relationship between the three women. They have very different views and personalities but are able to come together and support each other without falling out or tearing each other down. It is, I suppose, supposed to be a story of female empowerment, but it was a bit boring on the whole.

Chick-lit, it seems, is still not for me.

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

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Pretty Little Things – T.M.E. Walsh

38091257.jpgAfter miraculously surviving a horrific car accident six months ago, Charlotte is determined to keep her daughter, Elle, safe. When local girls of a similar age to Elle start going missing, it’s Charlotte’s worst nightmare. On top of worrying about her daughter, Charlotte has to deal with her marriage falling apart, threats and forgetfulness. Things take a turn for the worst when the girls are found and the search turns into a murder investigation.

This book was a struggle to read because of the characters. I didn’t like a single one except Madeleine, who was more of a side-character. Charlotte is one of those lead characters that inexplicably doesn’t ask for help even though she obviously needs it. Iain, her husband, comes across as selfish and creepy. Elle is a judgemental teenager, which is fair enough, but I still didn’t like her. And Savannah seems to be the worst friend ever, apparently trying to steal her mate’s husband. Charlotte’s memory loss is mentioned as being a result of her accident, confirmed by her doctors and completely not her fault. However, Elle and Iain both absolutely drag her for it which means they either don’t know about it (which would be weird because they’re her family and why would she not tell them?) or they just don’t care (which would be completely unfair). It just doesn’t make sense.

The story started out quite well and gradually ramped up in excitement and intensity, as you’d expect from a thriller novel. The writing is generally good and the plot twists were genuinely rather shocking. However, the big ‘whodunit’ reveal was problematic and pretty far-fetched. I can’t say more on that without giving away spoilers.

Overall, the story was suitably surprising and thrilling, but I didn’t particularly enjoy it and I wouldn’t read it again.

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

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Blackwing – Ed McDonald

36402955.jpgThe republic faces total annihilation at the hands of the Deep Kings. With Nall’s Engine failing, the only thing standing between the people of the Range and certain death is an unpredictable no-man’s land called the Misery. Tasked with the protection of a powerful spinner named Ezabeth Tanza, Captain Ryhalt Galharrow finds himself wrapped up in a world of conspiracy, secrets and treason.

Blackwing is a piece of truly excellent fantasy fiction. It has everything you could possibly want (magic, adventure, epic battles), without any of the usual tropes or clichés. The plot is multi-layered, with the surface story of Galharrow and Ezabeth and the overarching fight between the Deep Kings and the Nameless. This two-tiered style of story-telling was excellently pulled off, without one overshadowing the other.

Galharrow is a brilliant lead character. He’s grumpy, gritty and determined; battle-hardened and flawed, in no way irritating or infuriating. I also really liked his mismatched team of soldiers, especially Nenn.

I liked the fast-paced and gritty nature of Blackwing. There is a romantic element in the book which, in my opinion, didn’t add much to the story but didn’t take anything away either. It is, frankly, shockingly good for a debut novel and an absolute must-read for fans of fantasy and adventure.

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

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Blog Tour: The Caged Queen – Kristen Ciccarelli

Welcome to my stop on a tour that I have been very excited about: The Caged Queen by Kristen Ciccarelli. I hope you enjoy my review, and do remember to check out the other stops on the tour (which you can find details of at the bottom of this post).

40873495.jpgIn the second instalment of the Iskari series, Roa and Dax are the new queen and king of Firgaard. Far from home and married to a weak king who doesn’t keep his promises and was responsible for the death of Essie, her beloved sister, Roa feels alone and frustrated. Trapped in bird-form for years, Essie’s time is finally running out and Roa will do anything she can to bring her back; even kill the king.

I love this series. The world and the characters are fantastic, and I enjoyed reading from a new perspective. However, I did find Roa quite annoying with how indecisive she was and I didn’t enjoy reading about her as much as I did with Aasha in The Last Namsara. Dax, on the other hand, was a fantastic character. He was much deeper and more layered than romantic side-characters usually are, which really added something to the story.

The plot contained multiple love triangles which usually wind me up, but the story and the writing were good enough that I was able to get past these easily. The romance between Roa and Dax was very organic and lovely to read.

As in the first book, there are short chapters inserted throughout the story describing a mixture of past events and folklore which were probably my favourite parts of this book. It’s such an effective way to include background information without interrupting the narrative.

Final comment: There weren’t enough dragons.

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

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Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

33654875During the American Civil War, President Lincoln’s beloved son, Willie, died. Newspapers report that Lincoln returned to his son’s crypt alone to grieve for his boy. Using this seed of history, George Saunders weaves a supernatural story of familial loss. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm known as the bardo, while other trapped spirits try to encourage him to move on and squabble amongst themselves over the best way to make this happen. Told over the course of a single night, this story describes the monumental struggle Willie faces following his death, and explores grief among both the living and the dead.

The narrative style of this book is unique. The majority is told through the voices of the characters (very similar to a play-script), with some chapters built from excerpts of historical texts. This style took some getting used to and often took the story on rambling tangents, but was a very effective way of telling the story.

I loved the characters. Willie meets lots of different ghosts in the bardo, who all have their own stories and kooky personalities. There are some bizarre features (like Hans Vollman’s giant member) which I didn’t really understand the point of but they certainly helped to enhance the eccentric, unconventional vibe of this book.

I would recommend Lincoln in the Bardo, not because it’s an excellent story, but simply for the experience of reading it. It is unusual, with a unique style and a good enough plot. A modern classic, definitely deserving of its Man-Booker Prize win.

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

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The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway – Rhys Thomas

35078788Sam Holloway has lived through one of the worst experiences in life: losing his family. But his life is quiet and meticulous, and not really living. With one exception: he is a superhero. To escape the reality of his life, he dons a costume and ventures into the night to help those in need. He feels invincible, but his acts of heroism don’t always go according to plan. Then, he meets Sarah and his safe life begins to shatter around him. Is he brave enough to take off the mask and learn to love again?

The story is quite sweet, but overshadowed by unlikable characters and an unromantic love story. I didn’t feel any connection to Sam which made it difficult to be fully engaged with the story. I also didn’t like Sarah at all. She came across as selfish and uncaring, seemingly oblivious to the fact that she was stringing both Sam and Francis along and I actually didn’t really want them to end up together. Considering that this is supposed to be a romance, that didn’t work for me.

The Unlikely Heroics of Sam Holloway is a story of grief, friendship, and learning to let go. It sounds heavy but is actually quite light and fun in many ways. However, this kind of story has been told before, and told better. For a similar but truly excellent (as opposed to distinctly average) reading experience, I would much sooner recommend Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine over this.

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

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Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager

38206879.jpgWhen Emma was thirteen, she spent her first summer away from home at Camp Nightingale. That summer, three of her friends disappeared and were never found. Now, years later, the owner of Camp Nightingale invites Emma back as an art teacher for the camp’s reopening. Determined to find out what happened to her friends, Emma does her own investigating. But she can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching her, and she can’t let go of the lies she told and secrets she kept all those years ago.

Riley Sager is an undeniably good writer. His books are atmospheric and dark, and I really enjoyed Final Girls which is what attracted me to this book. As another psychological thriller, the storytelling and style is very similar to Final Girls, but I’m not sure that I enjoyed it quite as much. Although still very good and well thought out, Last Time I Lied felt slightly more forced and convoluted – it didn’t capture me as fully as I’d hoped.

There isn’t a whole lot I can say about this book without giving away spoilers, but what I can say is that it was never boring. The story is completely unpredictable and suspenseful. There are so many red-herrings and unexpected turns, making the shock of the reveal very effective.

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

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The Butterfly Garden – Dot Hutchison

29981261.jpgIn a beautiful garden hidden away on private land, young women are kidnapped and kept as butterflies, tattooed and preserved by a man known to them only as the Gardener. After more than 30 years, the garden has been discovered and a survivor is bought in for questioning. As the girl tells her story, FBI agents Hanoverian and Eddison start to think that there may be more to her story than she’s letting on.

The Butterfly Garden is truly horrendous and awful but so, so brilliant. There are heavy themes of rape, violence and other abuse, but, although they are explicitly mentioned, these are never explicitly described. As I said, completely horrendous subject matter but a fantastic detective/thriller story.

There were, one or two problematic factors, such as how no one even tried to escape (despite having possible opportunities and weapons), but it was sort of understandable at the same time: they were scared and honestly didn’t think they had a chance. I also did not like the twist at the end (no spoilers), but the rest of the story was excellent.

Maya was an interesting character because her narrative voice was so strong. She was a completely believable character and hearing the story through her was great. However, I didn’t really like her personality (although I’m not totally sure we’re really meant to). There were a lot of other strong characters, some of which we see much more than others. My personal favourites were Bliss and Special Agent Victor Hanovarian.

The story being told through an FBI interview with Maya was brilliant. It was a very effective way of telling the horror story of the garden, while keeping the book within the detective/crime genre and it gave the story a much more interesting perspective.

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Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions – Mario Giordano

34030926.jpgWhen her friend Valentino disappears, and then turns up dead, Auntie Poldi swears to find out what happened to him. Against the wishes of her family, some very suspicious local businessmen, and a handsome detective, Poldi gets 100% stuck into the case. After all, it’s in her blood.

I was looking for something like The No1 Ladies Detective Agency when I chose this book: a kooky, funny crime novel, with an unlikely and unqualified female protagonist. However, although it wasn’t a million light years away, it simply didn’t quite match up. Auntie Poldi was indeed kooky and there were some amusing parts, but there were chunks of book made up of things almost totally irrelevant to the story that were, quite frankly, boring to read.

The narrative angle was interesting, because the story is told from the point of view of Poldi’s nephew, who has absolutely no involvement in the plot. This was quite well done, but it was sort of weird having the story told by a character (rather than just a narrator) who wasn’t even an active part of the story.

On the whole, I did enjoy Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions. It is fun and quite well written. However, parts of it were a bit of a struggle to get through and I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it enough to bother reading any other books from the Tante Poldi series.

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

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