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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Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

29748925Lazlo Strange, junior librarian, has always dreamed of seeing the lost city of Weep. For years he’s been obsessed with the Unseen City, so he can’t believe it when a hero known as the Godslayer arrives and offers him the opportunity, not only to see Weep, but to save it.

The dream chooses the dreamer. Not the other way around.

Strange the Dreamer is magical and magnificent. It delivers everything a reader could possibly want from a fantasy story. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was so emotional about a book. Laini Taylor broke my heart with the ending.

This book is filled to the brim with wonderful characters (especially Lazlo, Sarai and Sparrow) who were really well developed and endearing. Even the ones we don’t actually get to know that well (like Eril-Fane and Azareen) and aren’t supposed to like (like Thyon Nero) are interesting and obviously complex.

During the first half of the book, I was completely entranced by Lazlo’s side of the story. However, Sarai’s parts were a little bit uneventful and the language was too flowery. Although description and scene-setting is important, I do like stories to get to the point a little quicker than they do in this book. But once things finally got going, wow, it was worth the wait. Immersive, romantic and completely irresistible.

It’s long, but I never lost interest and Laini’s writing is truly mesmerising. Book #2, The Muse of Nightmares, has already been pre-ordered.

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