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.

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Review: Goodbye Perfect by Sara Barnard

Goodbye, Perfect
Goodbye, Perfect
by Sara Barnard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodbye Perfect has some wonderful character development and depth but while Barnard handles a difficult topic with real skill I’m afraid the storyline just wasn’t for me.


THE BLURB

When I was wild, you were steady . . .
Now you are wild – what am I? 

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend. Not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts.

As the days pass and things begin to unravel, Eden is forced to question everything she thought she knew about the world, her best friend and herself.


MY REVIEW

Hmm As a huge fan of Barnard I really wanted to love this book but for some reason it just didn’t happen for me. It may just have been that the story, about a girl whose 15 year old best friend runs off with her music teacher, made me uncomfortable or it may just have been that I was in the wrong frame of mind when reading it but I just didn’t connect with it the way I have with the authors other books.

It is very well written as you would expect from Barnard and even though I didn’t love the story I did find it very readable and flew through the whole thing in a couple of days.

There were elements about it I absolutely loved, the relationship between main character Eden and her adoptive family (the fact that the main character was adopted), inclusion of a teenager who is a carer for his mother, the way it looks at how people are judged based on their background. All wonderfully done and so great to see in YA fiction.

I am not sure I necessarily connected with Eden but she was very different from what I expected and from what you usually find in these type of stories. She’s not had the easiest of lives, is argumentative and immature in some ways but her attitude and goals are very grown up in a lot of ways. She’s just full of contradictions, which I thought was wonderful, and she’s not the only one. Almost every character has layers and depth, something I loved, and I really liked how both they and the relationships between them developed through the story.

The pacing is maybe a little on the slow side and I did find myself getting frustrated with it, particularly in the start. I felt like a lot could have been resolved much faster and much easier and far too much time was spent with Eden going back and forward trying to decide whether to tell everyone what she knows. With my general uneasiness around the teacher student relationship I just wanted it to be resolved and for the story to move elsewhere.

I think these are me issues however rather than any kind of problem with the book and based on the other reviews I can see that a lot of people have really loved it. It is definitely a worthwhile read even if just to get some discussion around the issues it raises.

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

ARC Review: Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Force of Nature
by Jane Harper

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The second book in Harper’s Aaron Falk series is just as good if not better than the first. Atmospheric and packed full of tension, this story of a corporate retreat gone wrong and a missing woman is absolutely riveting.

Please note that as this is the second book in the series it does follow on from the Dry but could easily be read as a standalone as there are only some very mild spoilers and very little overlap. This review is therefore spoiler free.


THE BLURB

FIVE WENT OUT. FOUR CAME BACK…

Is Alice here? Did she make it? Is she safe? In the chaos, in the night, it was impossible to say which of the four had asked after Alice’s welfare. Later, when everything got worse, each would insist it had been them.

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged landscape is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advertises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a particularly keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case – and Alice knew secrets. About the company she worked for and the people she worked with.

Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, the women tell Falk a tale of suspicion, violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers may run far deeper than anyone knew.


MY REVIEW

I was a little late in discovering just how good Harper’s first book The Dry was, it felt like everyone had read it but me, but as soon as I finished it I knew I needed more. It was just so atmospheric and I found main character Aaron Falk very likeable and someone I wanted to know more about.

For me the highlight of this book was yet again the setting and character development. Unlike The Dry however there are no high temperatures and no drought but rather a cold, wet and rugged landscape where five women set out on a corporate team building event which ends in disaster. As they lose their way (and their supplies) in this remote and isolated location, the bickering and disagreements on how best to find their way or get help begin and in the end only four of them make it out. It’s one of those classic survival stories, mixed with a missing person investigation and I absolutely loved it.

This has a slightly different format to previous book but the writing is just as good. In The Dry the author interspersed flashbacks to different time periods and events within the narrative (something I found a little jarring at times) to give an insight into the characters motivations and thoughts. In Force of Nature however Harper alternates between two separate timelines, the first following Falk as he investigates the disappearance of his key informant and the other following the five women on the retreat.

I have to say I preferred this format but I did find myself more gripped by the women’s story than Falk’s investigation. It felt like Aaron and his partner Carmen were pushed a little to the side particularly in the first half of the book where they’re getting everyone’s story but that may just have been because I was rushing through their sections to get back to the retreat.

The sections on the corporate retreat are told in more or less chronological order and I found it absolutely riveting to read the changing dynamics within the group as their situation goes from bad to worse. Watching their relationships and attitudes shift as they move from their corporate personas and roles to their more natural, and at times primitive, behavior was by far the highlight of this story. It does make you wonder how well you know your work colleagues and how you would react in that situation. Would you really pull together or would it be every man for himself? What would you do if you thought your life was on the line and someone in the group was risking it?

As it’s told from the points of view of each of the women you do get a real insight into their characters and motives but it still keeps you guessing as to what happened between them until the very end. Did Alice really set out alone and get lost or did she push the others in the group too far?

Added to that there is a mystery around a serial killer who previously operated in the area and Falk’s current investigation into the shady dealings of the company Alice works for. Could someone associated with the killer have taken up where he left off, could someone have found out Alice was informing on them? There are so many potential options for what could have happened to her and so many red herrings thrown in that it’s impossible to figure it out and I suspected everyone at one point or another.

Like the previous book this isn’t necessarily a fast paced story but it’s no less gripping as a result. Yet again Harper creates real tension and atmosphere in the story and while I would have liked a bit more time on Falk I very much enjoyed this book and can’t wait for the next one in the series

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an ARC. 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: The Last Romeo by Justin Myers

The Last Romeo by Justin MyersThe Last Romeo by Justin Myers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wonderful writing and a scarily accurate portrayal of the dating scene make this a very readable and addictive story. It left me with very mixed feelings but that can only be a good thing can’t it?


THE BLURB

James is 34 and fed up. His six-year relationship with Adam has imploded, he hates his job making up celebrity gossip, and his best friend Bella has just announced she’s moving to Russia.

Adrift and single in loved-up London, James needs to break out of his lonely, drunken comfort zone. Encouraged by Bella, he throws himself headlong into online dating, blogging each encounter anonymously as the mysterious Romeo.

After meeting a succession of hot/weird/gross men, James has fans and the validation he’s always craved. But when his wild night with a closeted Olympian goes viral and sends his Twitter-fame through the roof, James realises maybe, in the search for happy-ever-after, some things are better left un-shared. Seriously, wherefore art thou Romeo . . .


MY REVIEW

When I finished this, very early one Saturday morning, I felt so mixed up about it. Did I enjoy it? I’m honestly not sure. I think it was so completely different from what I was expecting it confused me.

There is certainly a lot to really like about it. The writing is excellent and there’s a lot more depth and realness to it than I was expecting. It’s wonderful to finally come across a book with a gay main character who’s looking for love that gives such an accurate portrayal of the dating scene.

As a main character, James (or Jim) is very genuine. He’s far from perfect, he’s insecure, doesn’t seem to really like or value himself but he is someone I’d want as a friend and there was so much I could relate to. I didn’t particularly agree with everything he did (a lot frustrated or worried me) but I could certainly understand it. Similarly his experience of dating, while uncomfortable and awkward a lot of the time was very believable and true to life.

I really loved the other characters and the way the relationships between them were portrayed. I think the author really captured modern friendships and how your circle of friends can become in fact your family. I also loved the commentary on celebrity and social media and found it so relevant. Myers has a very successful blog (I hadn’t read it before picking up the book but have now and it’s brilliant) and works as a freelance writer and columnist for several major publications so his knowledge and experiences really shine through.

Unfortunately however I think it was the realness and the depth that stopped me from loving this. For some reason I was expecting a bit of a light and fluffy romance and the fact that it was so completely not this threw me off. It has some funny moments but at times it goes a little bit dark making it more uncomfortable rather than enjoyable to read.

Overall, I’m not sure my feelings on this will ever be clear. The more I think about it the more I think yes that bit was brilliant or I’m really not sure I liked that bit. It definitely challenged me so I think I’ll just suggest that you read this for yourself and make your own mind up.

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

ARC Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood
The Hazel Wood
by Melissa Albert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow this book was good. So dark and creepy and just wonderfully well written. I found myself becoming lost in the story which considering how tired and stressed I was while reading it was pretty impressive.


THE BLURB

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate – the Hazel Wood – Alice learns how bad her luck can really get. Her mother is stolen away – by a figure who claims to come from the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: STAY AWAY FROM THE HAZEL WOOD. 

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began . . .


MY REVIEW

I have to admit that while I initially had high hopes for this book, I did see some negative reviews that put a little bit of doubt in my mind. Thankfully though this book was right up my street. I am a huge fan of retellings and all things fairy tale and this, while not really being a retelling, certainly has the feel of one albeit a very dark and creepy one.

This is a story about stories where the lines between the real and the imagined become decidedly blurred. It’s a little confusing and frustrating at times and occasionally nonsensical but there’s so much mystery and so many twists that it’s difficult to put down. The world the author builds is incredible and draws you in so completely that it feels real. It’s dark and disturbing pretty much all of the time and I found myself getting genuine chill in places.

I’m not going to say much about the story as I think you really need to read it for yourself but essentially it’s a voyage of discovery for Alice as she tries to find her mother after she suddenly disappears. She uncovers a link to her recently deceased grandmother’s collection of dark fairy tales and has to find her way first to her grandmother’s estate, The Hazel Wood and then to the place that inspired her stories. She’s pretty much on her own with no other family and no money or resources so has to rely on a boy from school to help her but he seems a little too excited about going to the Hazel Wood.

The story is told entirely from Alice’s point of view and she is very much the focus of this story. There are other characters but they generally appear briefly, play their part and then move on. I’m not sure I would necessarily say I liked Alice but I’m not sure you’re supposed to. She’s cold, sharp and angry and not very nice but I did admire her determination and liked how the author developed her over the course of the story.

It was though, the other characters who left more of an impression on me despite only their relatively brief appearances in the story. They tended to the eccentric, with erratic sometimes violent behavior and talking in riddles (this is where it goes a little Alice in Wonderland). It’s rarely clear whether they are there to help Alice, are playing with her or using her for their own ends. I can understand some may find them frustrating and annoying but I just loved the mystery around it and found myself wanting more of them. There were a couple of characters in particular who I really wish we’d gotten to understand more about but if I’d gotten everything I wanted the book would probably be twice as long.

The one problem I will say I found with the characters however is that I thought the relationships between them were a little lacking. There just isn’t enough time spent fully developing them and consequently I didn’t feel their connection to each other. The relationship between Alice and her mother for example is key to the story, the whole plot is Alice trying to find her, but because her mother only appears briefly I didn’t feel any closeness. We have to rely on Alice’s assertions of how much her mother means to her which for me is not the same as showing it. Similarly the relationship between Alice and the boy who’s helping her just felt a little odd and uncomfortable. That may be intentional but even by the end there was something incomplete about it.

That being said though I did love the story. It drew me in completely, so much so that I almost missed my stop on the train. I especially loved the dark fairy tales that are told as part of the story and would really love it if the author wrote the whole complete collection at some point. Almost every story is left unfinished or interrupted and they were just so creepy and dark that I want to know how they end.

Overall, despite a few niggles over the relationships I have to say I really loved this story. It’s one I’d recommend to anyone who likes fantasy and fairy tales with a dark twist.

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

The Hazel Wood is due to be published on 30th January in the US and 8th February in the UK.

Review: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera

They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
They Both Die at the End
by Adam Silvera

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Unsurprisingly this was an emotional read but what impressed me the most was the incredible detail that went into the world building. I loved how this made me think and how when I finished I wanted to rush out and live my life. Absolutely brilliant.


THE BLURB

When Mateo receives the dreaded call from Death-Cast, informing him that today will be his last, he doesn’t know where to begin. Quiet and shy, Mateo is devastated at the thought of leaving behind his hospitalised father, and his best friend and her baby girl. But he knows that he has to make the most of this day, it’s his last chance to get out there and make an impression.

Rufus is busy beating up his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend when he gets the call. Having lost his entire family, Rufus is no stranger to Death-Cast. Not that it makes it any easier. With bridges to mend, the police searching for him and the angry new boyfriend on his tail, it’s time to run.

Isolated and scared, the boys reach out to each other, and what follows is a day of living life to the full. Though neither of them had expected that this would involve falling in love…

Another beautiful, heartbreaking and life-affirming book from the brilliant Adam Silvera, author of More Happy Than Not and History Is All You Left Me.


MY REVIEW

Do you know what, I’m not sure that title was wise. This is an absolutely brilliant book but honestly I spent pretty much the whole time afraid to get too attached to Mateo or Rufus just in case they did in fact both die at the end. I kept hoping it wouldn’t happen, that they would be the exception, there was a mix up with the names and they received the call in error or that just by finding each other they’d save each other but just in case I kept myself that little bit detached. Consequently I think it lost that emotional punch I was expecting. It is still packed full of feels and some very touching moments but I was ready for out and out devastation.

It is an incredibly well written story and I really loved both Mateo and Rufus. Both are a little bit lost in the beginning but it was so wonderful to watch them develop over the course of the story. Mateo was probably the more relatable of the two, anxious and afraid to live (or leave his bedroom) in case he does something that results in the dreaded death cast call informing him he has less than 24 hours to live, I could see elements of myself in him. Wanting to go on adventures and be brave but just too scared and needing that little push. He was also just the nicest and sweetest guy. I really wanted him getting the call to be a mistake. Rufus took a little longer to warm up to, he’s beating someone up at the story, but you can’t help but grow to love him when he helps Mateo so much and starts becoming more like him.

The relationship between them is just so sweet and funny and wow. They begin the day as complete strangers and opposites but somehow they compliment and bring out the best in each other. Rufus encourages Mateo to be brave and break out and Mateo makes Rufus kinder and better…. oh god I’m gonna cry.

Anyway, moving swiftly on, I just loved their story but what made this even better was the little glimpses into the lives of others who cross their paths. The chapters more or less alternate between Mateo and Rufus’s povs but there are these other chapters thrown in from the pov of their friends, the people who make the calls to inform people they’re going to die that day, and others who have either received their call or just bump into Rufus or Mateo in some way. These gave such an insight into the world and raised so many questions I found it fascinating.

Actually the whole world just fascinated me. What would it be like to live in a world where everyone finds out between midnight and 3am whether they’re going to die that day? What would you do if you found out it was your day to die? Would you deny it, try to fight it? Would you accept it and try to make your last hours count? Take control and decide for yourself how you’re going to die? Or what if you don’t get the call? Does that mean you can’t die no matter what you do that day? Would you take more risks? It really makes you wonder about fate, self fulfilling prophecies and whether you have any control over your destiny.

The world the author creates and the way he presents all of these issues and questions was just brilliant. Such clever writing to create a world that’s so similar but so different in terms of attitudes to life and death. I think this is a story I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Overall an absolutely brilliant but emotional read.