Book review: From the Shadows by Neil White


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Title: From the Shadows

Author: Neil White

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication date: 9th March 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“He hides in the shadows, watching, waiting, until the time is right . . .
Mary Kendricks, a smart, pretty, twenty-four-year-old teacher, has been brutally murdered and Robert Carter is accused of killing her.
When defence lawyer, Dan Grant inherits Carter’s case only weeks before the trial starts, everyone expects him just to babysit it, but Dan’s not that kind of lawyer. He’ll follow the evidence – wherever it takes him.
But as Dan and his investigator Jayne Brett look into the case, they discover that there is more to it than meets the eye. In order to do their jobs they need to push the limits of the system, even if it means putting themselves in danger.
Together they will get to the truth – whatever the cost . . .”

My review:

After having stumbled upon many reviews praising Neil White’s work, I decided to start with the first book in the Dan Grant series on a rainy day when I was looking to get lost into a complex court drama. I must admit that this book had me hooked right from the beginning; the third person point of view of the stalker was striking and mysterious and the murder revealed in the first few chapters showed a lot of promise. Similarly, the introduction of Dan Grant as an up-and-coming criminal defense lawyer keen to support his client and simultaneously win his case was a bold start to what appeared to be an intriguing murder mystery.

It was from this point when I found myself struggling to stay interested in the rest of the story. The writing felt disjointed and strained as the plot jumped from the past to the present and suddenly left behind the mysterious third person narrative of the stalker, something which really attracted me in the beginning. I was also not keen on the intent to establish a love interest for Dan as I felt that his character was bright enough without this added element and the sudden attraction to Jayne with barely any foreshadowing. Most of all, the pace during the middle of the plot was too slow without many developments on the murder case. It often felt like Dan and Jayne were following the same leads with no success which eventually became frustrating.

Unlike the middle of the story line, the ending was completely sudden and significantly more fast-paced as Dan and Jayne worked together on the final lead to solve the mystery and defend the client in court as best as they could. I was especially disappointed to find out who the stalker is because this character felt redundant to the story line from the start. Nevertheless, the strong ending had a huge impact on the plot and storytelling and I have to praise the author on these final tense chapters. From the Shadows may not have been the fast-paced and thrilling read I was seeking but I think that others who are looking for a character-driven court drama may find much to love here.

Book review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

 

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Title: A Spark of Light

Author: Jodi Picoult

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 30th October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.
After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.
But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

My review:

I recently attended one of the events during Jodi Picoult’s book tour where she spoke about this book with a lot of passion and I understandingly rushed home and immediately started reading my signed copy. It has taken me a significantly long time since finishing A Spark of Light to put my thoughts together. As with any other Picoult book, the undoubtedly controversial topic and multifaceted characters provoke a mixture of emotions which are often hard-hitting and too complex to put into words. This is by far my favourite aspect of her writing and this novel definitely did not disappoint in this regard. I was especially impressed with her ability to explore abortion through the eyes of several characters who each have completely different views. The great detail in her research shines on every page as small but very significant facts on abortion and the opportunity to seek reproductive care are revealed. Some of the statistics are astounding and really help to understand each character’s position on this complicated topic.

On a more negative note, I have to express my disapproval of the structure which I don’t think benefited the plot or character development. A Spark of Light is written in reverse chronological order to explain how and why everyone arrives at the clinic on the day of the hostage. During her book tour, Jodi disclosed that she had been waiting for the right book to come along so she could use this writing method. Thinking back to all her previous works, I agree with her choice to write this book from all others in reverse order as all the events occur on the same day, however the execution felt weak to me at times because there were simply too many characters involved. I found it more difficult than usual to connect to each character because each chapter jumps from one character to another so we only see snippets of their thoughts. In spite of this, they all had a place and were important to the story line and I wouldn’t be able to discard any of them.

Perhaps I have been too critical of this book; when I read the blurb it immediately jumped up to the top of my TBR list and as soon as I heard Jodi discuss how she wrote it I dropped everything so I could read it. I already knew that it would be extremely difficult to surpass Small Great Things, which still remains my favourite book of hers, however I was still hoping to be completely absorbed by the story. Unfortunately I found myself stopping and re-starting again several times and it took me an unusually long time to finish. Nevertheless, the subject matter is intense and the writing still brilliant, just not as slick as her usual. I would highly recommend A Spark of Light to any fans of Jodi Picoult and anyone hoping to read a thought-provoking book. I would also love to hear your thoughts on it and I am especially looking for recommendations of similar style books/authors so please let me know if you can think of any.

 

Book review: List of 13 by E.A. Comiskey

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Title: List of 13

Author: E.A. Comiskey

Genre: Fiction/Fantasy

Publisher: Nuff Said Publishing

Publication date: 16th December 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

If Jim C. Hines wrote about Gilmore Girls taking a journey through the underworld, it might be a little something like A LIST OF 13.
Death sucks, but there’s good beer in Purgatory.
Alice and her adult daughter, Claire, created a “bucket list” of thirteen experiences they would seek out before Alice died from cancer. They never expected to die in a plane crash attempting to cross off number three. Now, mother and daughter are stuck in the underworld, unable to move on to their ultimate destiny until they finish the list, but finding an Irish Pub near the Fields of Asphodel, or swimming naked in the ocean while being pursued by bloodthirsty Aztecs and a smitten Egyptian god is as hard as it sounds. When everything they ever thought they knew is challenged, will faith be enough to carry them through?
A LIST OF 13 moves between the time after Alice’s death and the time before, allowing the reader to explore the way her relationships evolve and intertwine throughout her life and beyond.

My review:

This was a light and fun book which I read in only a few sittings. I enjoyed following Claire and Alice on their adventures in the Underworld as they completed their list of 13 experiences they would like to pursue. Both characters were likable and unique despite their differences. Their relationship, although often strained, really developed in marvellous ways and I was happy to see that they managed to put aside their differences and past mistakes in order to focus and conquer the challenges they faced in the Underworld. Rory’s involvement was also gratifying, especially during the difficult stages in the Underworld where he supported his wife and daughter from afar.

The small details linked to each part of the Underworld made for a very vivid and striking setting. The mythological elements of the book were well integrated into the story line and the plot developed with a steady pace and without too much focus on the mythology but rather a greater emphasis on Claire and Alice’s journey. However, the story jumped a lot between the past and present and it was sometimes difficult to follow the time jumps and points of view. Despite this small shortcoming, the execution of the writing and character development was still excellent.

Overall, this book offers something for everyone, whether you love the thrill of an adventure, prefer to delve into the challenges of a mother-daughter relationship or even enjoy a mix of fantasy and mythology.

List of 13 is soon to be published on 16th December!

Many thanks to the author, E.A. Comiskey, for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Internal Lockdown by Ernie Quatrani

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Title: Internal Lockdown

Author: Ernie Quatrani

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Prodigy Gold Books

Publication date: 30th October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

Over a morning, you can tend to your garden, paint a room, watch the morning news repeat its talking points. Over a morning, you can do the laundry or visit the doctor for a check-up; you can run errands…Over a morning, you can stop a school in its track, or lockdown an AP English class. Over a morning, you can get revenge.
Green Hill is a small, ordinary Pennsylvania town where nothing ever happens until the morning its normalcy is crushed by a shocking act of violence. One morning the school is interrupted by the frantic announcement calling for a lockdown. AP English teacher, Mike Zarlapski, swings into action, following the lockdown procedures. Although his students help pile as many desks in front of the classroom door as possible, their panic is not allayed as they communicate with what is now the outside world first-in responders, police entering the building, and the shooters who remain at large via cellphone.

My review:

Suspense and tragedy play a huge part of this book and I was very impressed with how the author developed both of these key themes to create an intriguing and thought-provoking story. We are immediately introduced to several key characters who would later endure a school shooting with many lives at stake. The plot delves right into action with a brief introduction of the main character, Mike Zarlapski, and sets the scene of what appears to be a normal morning at school. From here on, the action-filled plot unravels quickly as the characters are subject to the terrors of the shooting and law enforcement is called on the scene. I especially liked how the third person narrative was used as an asset to justify and analyse the decisions that each character took.

With reference to the characters, I must confess that I sometimes found it difficult to keep track of where each teacher and student was located in relation to the shooters and this could perhaps have been made easier with the use of an attached map of the school. I felt that there were too many characters which prevented the opportunity to fully connect with each one. However, I understand the author’s decision to proceed this way as situations like this always affect a wide range of the population and consequently this should be reflected in the story line.

Internal Lockdown is a difficult but compelling read and I encourage anyone interested in developing a better understanding of the implications and lives involved in school shootings to consider reading it. The final chapter, although bittersweet, offered the best possible conclusion to a series of tragic events affecting this community. I applaud the author for handling such a sensitive topic and hope to read more by him in the future.

Internal Lockdown is available to buy now!

Many thanks to Laura from Prodigy Gold Books for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

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Title: Then She Was Gone

Author: Lisa Jewell

Genre: Thriller/Mystery

Publisher: Cornerstone Digital

Publication date: 27th July 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

THEN
She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.
NOW
It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter.
And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet.
Before too long she’s staying the night at this house and being introduced to his nine year old daughter.
Poppy is precocious and pretty – and meeting her completely takes Laurel’s breath away.
Because Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age.
And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.
What happened to Ellie? Where did she go?
Who still has secrets to hide?

My review:

To give you an idea of just how gripping this book was, I read it in 2 sittings – the first on a flight and the second as soon as I arrived home. I was already aware of the hype surrounding Lisa Jewell and her books and felt compelled to read it after it was recommended to me by Stephen (many thanks for the recommendation!). As soon as I started it I felt compelled to find out what happened to Ellie and who was responsible for her disappearance. Storytelling is Lisa Jewell’s main strength and I was impressed with the varying changes of scene and narrators, especially as this also presented the perfect opportunity for the reader to understand each character’s motive and involvement in Ellie’s disappearance.

Original and captivating from the very beginning, this book is very different to most recent thrillers because there are many hints of the kidnapper from the start and it becomes more apparent as the events unfold that our suspicions were right. Nevertheless, the author used this technique to her advantage and created a unique story, both character and plot driven, which ultimately delivers in nearly all respects. There was never a chapter where the character’s emotions were not fully analysed and despite identifying the culprit from early on, I felt compelled to carry on reading until the end.

My only complaint about this book, and also the reason to downgrade to a 4-star rating, revolves around the slightly far-fetched events involving Ellie’s disappearance. (I don’t want to give too much away here but if you have read the book you would probably know which part I am referring to.) Despite this shortcoming, I was still able to warm to the characters and appreciate the plot, thick with suspense as Laurel’s story line developed in ways I didn’t anticipate. The epilogue was bittersweet and perhaps the most near-perfect scenario in such delicate and somber circumstances. I greatly enjoyed this mystery and have already made plans to read some of Lisa Jewell’s other books.

Book review: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

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Title: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Author: Stuart Turton

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Publication date: 18th September 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.’
It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.
But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.
The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

My review:

This is one of those books – the one that you need to finish before you go to sleep, the one that you will think about weeks after finishing and most likely the one that you would end up recommending to all your friends. I am still in awe of the beautifully portrayed scenery, the multi-layered characters and the cleverly crafted plot Stuart Turton has built. He has a gift for storytelling and the rare ability to draw the reader into an engaging and intense mystery right from the first word. I knew how important it would be to stay focused on every bit of information but still I often found myself flipping back several pages just to memorise the little details. Each peculiarity and character trait is of utmost significance and it is astounding how smoothly these pieces of the puzzle fit as the plot unravels. However, despite paying close attention to these details, I never stopped guessing who killed Evelyn Hardcastle until the very end. It is almost impossible to figure out the ending but on reflection, all the snippets of information were relevant to the murder and crucial to understanding the plot.

Besides the exquisite storytelling and intricate plot, I must highlight my favourite aspect of this book: the superb characters which all develop and merge into one host. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult this must have been to accomplish yet the execution is brilliant and exudes ambition and courage. Aiden Bishop visits each of the eight hosts in order to solve the murder and not only does Aiden’s character come to life, every occupant he seizes control of is also presented with unique quirks and virtues. A doctor, an artist, a gambler, Stuart Turton explored all possible character profiles with apparent ease. Identity, patience and vindication are the key themes portrayed throughout the book as Aiden wakes up in a different body each time. He struggles to remember who he is and what his mission comprises of and it is here where the author’s marvellous writing really shines as he poses the ever important questions concerning such as finding out who we really are and if we can trust our emotions and gut feeling to lead us to the right path.

Immensely bold and intelligent, Stuart Turton’s first novel does not disappoint and addresses all the right questions in an attempt to lure the reader into a 20s style murder mystery. The multiple timelines and beautiful setting form only one small part of the brilliance that this novel manifests – the rest is split between the elaborate details and labyrinth of a story line. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is by far the best book I have read this year and perhaps even one of the best ever. It deserves all the hype and I will definitely be recommending it to everyone around me.

 

Book review: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers


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Title: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet

Author: Becky Chambers

Genre: Science Fiction

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 16th March 2015

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The ship, which has seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.
But Rosemary gets more than she bargained for with the Wayfarer. The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptillian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.
Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime: the chance to build a hyperspace tunnel to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the long trip through war-torn interstellar space without endangering any of the fragile alliances that keep the galaxy peaceful.
But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

My review:

This book was such a joy to read! My principal concern with Science Fiction is the emphasis on the setting and lack of character development but this really was no issue here; each character’s backstory is unique, personal and intriguing and there are many friendships built and relationships developed on The Wayfarer. The crew is incredibly diverse, including humans and several other species, and the result is an entertaining and delightful mix of conversation and events. Each character has their own voice and opinion and is respected by the other colleagues despite their personal tastes and differences, something which I really valued and admired when following their conversations. Apart from supporting each other on board, I also found the crew’s adventures upon coming across other hostile species fascinating and commendable. The appreciation and understanding for one another really shines here, along with their support and teamwork to fight off villains.

Despite my appreciation for each character, I was slightly disappointed with the slow pace and lack of plot which I felt was missing, especially towards the middle of the story. The main adventure that the crew embarks on is the building of a tunnel towards another planet, but it is not until the midway point until this becomes clear. After this, each chapter involves a confrontation with an enemy and the crew’s combined effort in protecting their ship and escaping from the imminent danger. I greatly enjoyed joining the Wayfarer on these adventures but would have preferred more action and a greater focus on the task, which I felt could have been developed more.

After finishing this book I am keen to join the crew on their further adventures in the sequel, A Closed and Common Orbit, although I am also curious to explore more of Space Opera in particular. I was not a huge fan of Science Fiction before reading this book but the combination of a fun adventure and unique characters had me hooked from the beginning and laughing until the very end. I highly recommend The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet to anyone hoping to dip their toes in the diverse world of Science Fiction and those looking for a light-hearted and character-driven read.