The Other Half of Augusta Hope – Joanna Glen

44025076Augusta Hope has never fit in. As a child, she memorised the dictionary and corrected her teachers. As an adult, she has no interest in the dull, small town her family lives in. When tragedy strikes and severs her connection with her beloved twin sister, Julia, Augusta is more determined than ever to find somewhere she belongs.

I loved this book so much more than I expected. This isn’t a genre I particularly like, though there are always some gems (like Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) so I do give a few a try. It took me a while to get into; it wasn’t really until around halfway through the book that I realised how engrossed I was. But this is one of those books where pushing on is really worth it.

Augusta is quite a difficult character, but that’s kind of the point. She’s spiky and weird, but she knows she’s weird and all she wants is to find her place in the world. She and her family are eccentric and challenging characters, not always particularly likeable, but it just works.

The book is also about Parfait, a boy from Burundi who makes his way to Spain (to the exact place Augusta and her family visit). As the narrative alternates between Augusta and Parfait, it is inevitable that they will meet, but getting to that point is an emotional roller-coaster.

The Other Half of Augusta Hope presents a striking comparison between two people from very different worlds, coming together through their own individual tragedies. It is beautifully written and poignant. A surprising page-turner.

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

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The Bad Daughter – Joy Fielding

37649581Robin Davis hasn’t spoken to her family in six years. When her father, his young wife (Robin’s childhood best friend, Tara) and daughter, Cassidy, are shot, Robin rushes to be back with them. But her return isn’t entirely welcome, and she doesn’t know who she can trust. Was the shooting really a random robbery, like the police suspect, or was someone close to the family involved?

The Bad Daughter is a really good crime/thriller novel. The official synopsis heavily implies that Robin is the mystery character, coincidentally returning home when her family have been attacked, but this isn’t the case. The story is told from Robin’s point of view, as she tries to figure out what really happened.

This book has some really great characters, all with their own personalities and problems. The relationships within the family were brilliant. They’re a messed up family with a very strained past, but they’re family nonetheless and they want to believe the best about each other despite their considerable doubts. Melanie was my favourite; she’s harsh and defensive, but only in response to the judgement she’s had to put up with in the past.

The plot was very good because the mystery was drawn out effectively with red herrings dotted about here and there, and a really strong twist at the end – which I didn’t really like but definitely didn’t see coming. This is by no means one of the best books I’ve read, but it captured my attention and kept me engrossed in the story. I really enjoyed it.

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

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Doggerland – Ben Smith

42363339.jpgIn the North Sea, in the not-so-distant future, far from what remains of the coastline, is a massive wind farm stretching over thousands of acres of ocean, maintained by the Boy and the Old Man. The Boy was sent by the Company to take the place of his father, who disappeared. Where he went and why remains a mystery that the Boy is desperate to find out.

To be totally honest, I didn’t really get this book. I’m not entirely sure where they were, what they were meant to be doing there, or how they got there, which was a bit of a struggle. The situation on land is only alluded to, never explained, which was an effective method of story-telling but really hindered my understanding.

However, despite being bleak and vague, it is beautifully written and I still enjoyed reading it. The style of this book is VERY similar to The Road – ‘the boy’, ‘the old man’ and ‘the pilot’ caused an immediate connection between the two – so if you’re a Cormack McCarthy fan, Doggerland might be right up your street.

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

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Family Trust – Kathy Wang

38359019For years, Stanley Huang has claimed to be worth a small fortune. Now, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and close to the end, Stanley’s true worth is about to be revealed and his family is worried. His two children, Fred and Kate, and his ex-wife, Linda, find themselves at odds with his current wife, Mary, as each wonder what they’re going to get when Stanley dies.

This book really missed the mark for me. The only reason I didn’t DNF it is because I was sent a physical copy and felt guilty about not reading it. But, honestly, the time I spent reading this book was time wasted. There were two major negative factors making me dislike this book: the characters and the plot.

First, the characters: Good Lord, I hated them all. They were all obsessed with money and didn’t really seem to care about much else – least of all each other. This is a book about family, but this family didn’t care about each other at all. They spent literally the entire time worrying about money, calculating costs and trying to get more money. And these people appeared to be quite rich, so they didn’t need more money. It’s a culture that I simply did not get.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the plot: Boring, to put it simply. The official blurb makes it sound like a reasonably intricate family drama but, really, it’s all about money. Stanley Huang is dying and his family all start panicking and making grabby hands at his money. That appeared to be the extent of it. And it’s not even a short book.

Other reviews have talked about the multilayered-ness of this book, but I simply didn’t see it. The best parts were definitely the chapters focusing on Kate and her marriage, but these were too short and too few, squeezed between truly dreadful chapters following Fred’s money-grabbing antics.

Unless you’re particularly a fan of these kinds of books (compared by many to Crazy Rich Asians), I would advise a wide berth. Finding something better won’t be hard.

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

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The Lost Man – Jane Harper

40692028In an isolated part of Western Australia, two brothers live three hours apart, but are each other’s nearest neighbour. They meet at a landmark between their properties, the stockman’s grave, where their middle brother, Cameron, lies dead in shadow of the gravestone. How did he end up here, miles away from his fully-stocked car, in the middle of nowhere?

This is the first novel by Jane Harper that I’ve read, but I’d heard great things about her work and had high expectations. I wasn’t disappointed. The Lost Man is a cross between a crime novel and a family drama. Instead of a trained detective investigating Cameron’s death, we have his brother Nathan trying to work out what happened. This is extremely well-written and, combined with the context and setting, is entirely realistic and believable.

The story is filled to the brim with secrets and mysteries, but it is written in such a way that I was consistently intrigued rather than annoyed about not knowing anything. I was desperate to know more, in a way that made it very difficult to put the book down because I just wanted to keep reading. While some aspects of the plot were relatively predictable for an experienced crime reader, it was impossible to guess at everything correctly. The final reveal was well thought-out and satisfying.

The characters are nicely damaged and complex, and the setting is stunning. Thanks to Harper’s atmospheric writing, the scenery comes to life, turning the Australian outback into a character of the story itself. I don’t think this book could have been set anywhere else.

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

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The Familiars – Stacey Halls

41569416.jpgBased around the real 1612 Pendle Witch Trials, this compelling novel explores the rights of 17th century women and the true fate of those accused of witchcraft. Fleetwood Shuttleworth, noblewoman of Gawthorpe Hall, is pregnant for the fourth time. She has never carried a baby to term. Desperate to deliver an heir for her husband, Richard, Fleetwood enlists the help of a local midwife named Alice Grey. But Alice is soon drawn into the accusations of witchcraft that are sweeping the area, and Fleetwood must risk everything to clear her name.

I love books about witches, especially ones based on real-life events, and The Familiars really hit the mark. I know next to nothing about the Pendle Witch Trials (although I do now want to learn more), but I do know that Fleetwood, Alice and all the other characters in this book are based on real people affected by these trials. The author has used the real names of the women accused and tried for witchcraft, and built a fictional story out of the mystery of what really happened, which is truly fascinating.

The story is wonderfully well-written. The author builds a mysterious, slightly haunting atmosphere without any inclusion of actual magic. The plot is quite simple and develops slowly, but this only adds to the atmosphere and realism.

Fleetwood was a slightly annoying character (though I adore her name), but she fitted well into the story and was bearable enough to read about. Her complete powerlessness against the men around her was frustrating but, considering that the story is based on truth, realistic and frightening. I kind of hated her husband but, for the time, his actions were to be expected.

Also, how beautiful is that cover?

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

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The Last – Hanna Jameson

41132572Jon Keller was on a trip to Switzerland when the world ended. Without phone service or an internet connection, he doesn’t know whether his wife and kids survived. He and the other people remaining in his hotel wait for help that never comes. Then, one day, the body of a little girl is found. It’s clear she’s been murdered, so Jon decides to investigate. Is one of his fellow survivors a killer?

I really loved the idea of this book: A murder mystery set during the end of the world. And it turned out to be even better than I expected. The murder mystery aspect gets quite a lot of attention towards the beginning of the book, but then it does sort of drop away and become about the character’s survival in the months after the world has ended. Which is totally fine by me, because it turns out I love apocalyptic fiction.

Jon isn’t always the most likeable character, but he feels very real. The story is told from his point of view, as a kind diary of events because he’s a historian and he feels someone should write down a record of the end of the world. The first-person narrative was really effective in this context. There’s also quite a good range of other characters to fill out the story – all of whom can be believed to be surviving an apocalypse.

The Last is a really solid, well-written piece of fiction. I enjoyed every page.

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

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The Flower Girls – Alice Clark-Platts

42954215Laurel and Primrose were children when Laurel (10) was convicted of the murder of 2-year-old Kirstie Swann, Primrose (6) was given a new identity, and the Flower Girls were born. Nineteen years later, another child has gone missing from the same hotel that Hazel (aka, Primrose) is staying at. Her true identity discovered, Hazel in drawn into an investigation that will turn her life upside down and bring her back into contact with her murderous sister…

I enjoyed the majority of this book immensely. It was intriguing, well-written and very engaging. The story is unsettling and believable… Until the ‘twist’. It was predictable and didn’t really fit with how the characters are presented throughout the rest of the book. It was obvious from the very beginning what the big twist was going to be but, when it finally happened, I found that I didn’t really believe it. It’s as though the author decided what she wanted the plot to be and never properly worked out the kinks to make the climax really fit with the body of the story.

The characters were pretty good. The sisters in particular were quite complex and realistic characters, with both good and obviously bad (they murdered a baby, after all) aspects to their personalities. It was interesting to see in the characterisation how their different treatment after the event effected their lives in such profound ways.

Negative points aside, around 90% of this book was excellent and I was completely hooked. It’s just a shame that the ending was so disappointing.

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

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Once Upon a River – Diane Setterfield

36678391.jpgOn the night of the winter solstice in a pub on the Thames, the regulars are telling stories as they do most nights, when a stranger bursts through the door carrying the dead body of a little girl. A few hours later, the girl wakes up. Nobody knows who she is and, when multiple families come forward to claim the child as their own, nobody knows who to believe.

Once Upon a River is a magical fairy tale, but it has a very long-winded plot. There’s a lot of build up to “something’s about to happen”, ending in comparatively little actual climax. The book isn’t actually especially long, but it took me ages to read and I would have found it impossible to read in one sitting. It just didn’t flow particularly well and was quite hard work to get through.

There are loads of different characters, to the extent that we don’t really get to know most of them properly. The only ones I got to know well enough to particularly like were Rita and Daunt, because they appear in multiple threads of the story. Most of the other characters were very forgettable (in fact, as I sit here writing this, I can’t remember the names of any others).

I liked the way the story was told, from the point-of-view of a narrator who was not part of the plot but felt like an integral participant in the book. It is written in a way that feels as though the narrator is telling you the story, but without ever explicitly inserting themselves in the narrative. This has the effect of drawing the reader in and, had the story been more engaging, would have been a wonderful style.

Once Upon a River had a lot of potential to be a great book but, unfortunately, didn’t quite live up to it.

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

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Empress of all Seasons – Emiko Jean

41435393.jpgIn this Japanese inspired fantasy, a competition is held every generation to find the next empress of Honoku. The winner will be the woman who survives all four seasonal rooms: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. Al are eligible to compete, except Yokai – supernatural beings whom the emperor is determined to destroy. Mari is a Yokai with the ability to transform into a monster, and she has spent a lifetime training to become empress. As the competition progresses, Mari finds herself torn between duty and love.

Empress of All Seasons is a very strong YA fantasy. I absolutely loved that this is a standalone novel, not part of a series. Every YA fantasy I read seems to be part of a series these days and it was wonderful to be able to read a full, complete story in just one book for a change. It has potential to grow more stories in the same world with some of the same characters, but this particular story, at least, is finished.

I liked the concept of the seasonal rooms and the competition. It’s quite Hunger Games-esk, but the contestants only have to survive, rather than kill each other. I actually would have liked more of the book to have been focused on the competition instead of the wider rebellion.

My other favourite aspect of this book was that the Japanese features were so fully integrated into the story. I recently read another Asian-inspired fantasy – The Girl King – and was sorely disappointed by how western it actually was. In this book, the world is filled with words, creatures and scenery that are clearly inspired by Japanese culture. It was fantastic.

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

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