Book review: The Passengers by John Marrs


Title: The Passengers

Author: John Marrs

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Publisher: Ebury

Publication date: 1st April 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

The new gripping page-turning thriller from the bestselling author of THE ONE – soon to be a major Netflix series.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem?

My review:

In an alternate universe driverless cars have become a popular form of travel. Technology and expertise have created what appears to be a safer and more efficient way of getting to places and it is thought that fewer accidents happen as a result. However, their safety is put to the test when a hacker decides to test the power of the authorities when he warns the public that eight cars have been reprogrammed to crash into each other in several hours time. What follows is an intense and remarkable story line which follows all eight passengers as they are informed of their fate in the most twisted circumstances.

The concept behind The Passengers seem simple at first yet it is cleverly plotted and developed which ultimately results in a gripping and evolving story line that is difficult to break from until the very end. The narrative is engrossing and fast-paced and the plot moves from one twist to another with ease. At no point did I feel bored or detached from the story line, in fact I found myself rushing through each chapter keen to discover the passengers’ fate. The pace felt ideal, with just enough room for character growth but also fast enough to make the reader feel like they are speeding down the motorway in one of the cars.

The focus jumps from one character to another as we are introduced to the events leading up to the crash. Each passenger has a unique background and, although it was easier to relate to some more than others, the variety of controversies that the author brings up, from infidelity to death, felt both daring and exciting. Being able to relate to each character on a deeper level created a very realistic reading experience and I had to reassure myself several times that I was not trapped in one of the self-drive cars with a passenger. Although the concept may seem engaging, it is ultimately the characters which made this book truly special for me.

John Marrs doesn’t disappoint with his latest release, in fact this is easily one of the best thrillers that I have read this year. The mixture of a thickened plot, diverse characters and an exciting setting created a masterpiece which will linger in my mind for a long time.

Book review: Dear Lily by Drew Davies


Title: Dear Lily

Author: Drew Davies

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication date: 17th May 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Dear Lily,
It’s me, Joy, your much wiser and (very slightly) older sister. I thought I’d start a new tradition of letter writing – now that we’re long distance.
On the plane over here, I began to cry in seat 21C. I think the magnitude of it finally hit me, after everything that happened…
I haven’t even unpacked yet – the only thing I’ve taken out of my suitcase is Harville, your beloved childhood teddy. Sorry for stealing him, but I need him more than you do. Every time I look at that little brown bear I think about our childhood. Remember that dance we made up to Annie’s ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’? (Remember the broom choreography?)
I’m also sorry for abandoning you – I’ve always been your agony aunt, and a buffer in your infamous shouting matches with Mum. But I had to leave, Lily, I had to.
Anyway, I’m here now. I’m here to start over, and to face up to the past. I want to learn to laugh again, and to find someone to love who will maybe even love me back. You always told me I was just getting by, not actually living, so I’m finally doing it. Wish me luck, little sister.
Love,
Joy x

My review:

Sometimes authors manage to perfectly capture in words and feelings what the average adult goes through and Drew Davies certainly managed to do this with ease in Dear Lily. This book made me laugh, reminisce and wonder and that is exactly what I was hoping for when I decided to read it.

Dear Lily is told through a series of letters and this format cultivated an even stronger connection between Joy and Lily. Each chapter represents a letter that Joy writes to her sister Lily soon after her decision to move to Denmark. Not only were the letters insightful and wonderful but also allowed for discussion of some difficult topics that people usually don’t like to bring up face to face. It is somehow so much easier to do so in writing and this manifested itself as the chapters and letters evolved and the conversations become deeper as it Joy opened up to Lily and shared everything on her mind.

The characters are incredibly witty and genuine. Several times throughout the book I felt like I either was Joy or I could be a very good friend of hers as her struggles of living life in a foreign country started to develop one after another, very similar to my experience living abroad. So many of the cultural differences such as difficulties to make friends and attempts to understand her colleagues at work were sincere and extremely well incorporated. As each new letter was introduced I felt an even stronger connection with Joy and a willingness to keep reading and find out the original reason she decided to write these letters to her sister.

Unfortunately, I had a feeling very early on into the book about what really happened to Lily and I was right. This didn’t interfere with my experience while reading this book however I didn’t feel enlightened once details on Lily were revealed towards the end. If I have to be picky this would be my only concern with this book as all other factors worked wonderfully together to create a truly captivating read. The writing is excellent and the story is heartfelt and beautifully told. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to connect with the narrator and to those readers who thrive on passing through a range of emotions during their reading experience.

Book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


Title: All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Scribner

Publication date: 6th May 2014

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

My review:

All the Light We Cannot See follows Marie-Laure as she moves away from Paris with her father at the age of six, and Werner, an orphan who is struggling to find his place in the world as he joins the forces in Nazi Germany. The reader joins these two characters on their incredible journey as they try to survive the war each in their own way. Both characters are well developed and likable enough for the reader to form a true bond and I felt eager to follow their journeys.

Written in short alternating chapters of each character’s POV, the plot feels almost feels too linear and I wondered why the author chose this style several times as I was reading the book. My favourite part was by far the moment when their paths cross as this was the closure I needed from the beginning and I finally understood his decision of writing the book in this style.

As far as storytelling goes, no words can do this book justice and Anthony Doerr deserves all the awards. Only a few other authors come to mind when it comes to telling a heartfelt story from start to finish but none manage to do so with as much ease and finesse. Although the scenery is almost always dreary and somber as the war spreads through France, the feeling of hope is so deep rooted in this book that it makes for a very raw and real reading experience.

My pet peeve in Historical Fiction is short chapters as I feel that there is not enough depth to the narrative and not enough time to truly engage with the scenery and characters. I definitely felt that way as I read this book and I would have preferred longer chapters focusing on each character rather than small snippets into their lives until their reunion. I could have carried on reading past the ending as by that point I was so invested in both characters and would have enjoyed reading whichever way the story developed.

It is no wonder that All the Lights We Cannot See is the Goodread’s Historical Fiction win of 2014. This book is moving, exciting and incredible. If you decide to read any Historical Fiction book, even if it is not your choice of genre, I am sure that you will not be disappointed if you make it this one.

Book review: Vox by Christina Dalcher


Title: Vox

Author: Christina Dalcher

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia

Publisher: HQ

Publication date: 21st August 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Silence can be deafening.

Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins.

Now the new government is in power, everything has changed. But only if you’re a woman.

Almost overnight, bank accounts are frozen, passports are taken away and seventy million women lose their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write.

For herself, her daughter, and for every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice. This is only the beginning…

My review:

As a linguist and fan of dystopian fiction I was hoping that Vox would explore the current climate driving extremist views on sexism while shining light on the importance of expression and autonomy. Although at first it seemed to me that the premise of this book is exactly what I expected,  in actuality there are so many other deep rooted issues examined through the main character’s point of view that my opinion on the book changed quite drastically after finishing it.

Imagine a world where women are deprived of one of their basic rights: the freedom of expression. Suddenly young girls are obliged to follow an outdated curriculum that no longer includes reading or writing. Females are obliged to only speak 100 words per day or otherwise face the pain of electricity shot through their veins as punishment for extending their limit. The concept seems so terrifying and yet at the same time not too far from reality and this combination is exactly what prompted me to read Vox.

By far the most interesting aspect for me was the science behind the linguistics research carried out by the main character, Jean. Not only was it well researched and educational but also relevant to the development of the plot and sudden turn of events during the final chapters. Sudden societal changes and human reaction has been widely diversified in other literature like The Handmaid’s Tale but the focus on language and how it affects our emotional state made this book stand out from others in the market.

Unfortunately I was not moved by any of the characters and felt that some of the other story lines explored, such as Jean’s love interest, were too unimportant when considering the significance of the surroundings. It seemed almost ruthless that instead of focusing on the investigation delivered to her by the government as one of the few specialists on the subject she preferred to attract attention in other ways. My disinterest in her character grew even more towards the end as the confrontation between her team and the government unfolded in what felt like a simple solution to a very complex problem.

Rarely do I have such conflicting opinions on a book but Vox really disturbed me. There is much to love in this book and a lot to think about while reading it however certain elements felt unnecessary and the characters were too dull to fully hold my attention. Nevertheless, I am pleased that I decided to read this book as the concepts explored stayed with me for a very long time.

Book review: Twisted by Steve Cavanagh


Title: Twisted

Author: Steve Cavanagh

Genre: Thriller/Crime

Publisher: Orion

Publication date: 24th January 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.
2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.
3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…

My review:

This book certainly lives up to its name! There were several moments when I was certain that I had figured out each character’s motive but I ran into another unexpected twist which was a little frustrating at the beginning but more enjoyable as I soon discovered that the rest of the story line follows suit. I rarely have such fun trying to discover the plot twists but it is best to enjoy the rollercoaster ride in Twisted as guessing the twists is close to impossible.

Much to my surprise, Twisted is completely plot-driven and extremely fast-paced unlike many recently published books in the genre which tend to be slow burners with the focus generally on character growth. I struggle to recall the last time I read such an intense thriller which I loved despite not caring much for any of the characters. There are three main characters with chapters written from each character’s POV. At first I was convinced that I had already identified the murderer but as I read on it soon became clear that it wasn’t quite as simple as finding out who the culprit is but rather the rationale leading to their actions in the past and their response upon learning that the other two are aware of the truth. This concept was enough to form a deliciously gripping story line that held my attention until the end.

I highly recommend this thriller to all fans of the genre and I particularly advise anyone hoping to read the book to go in blind and enjoy the ride. Steve Cavanagh has created a masterpiece with Twisted and I suspect that a long time will pass until I discover another cleverly plotted and well written thriller like this one.

Book review: Devotion by Madeline Stevens


Title: Devotion

Author: Madeline Stevens

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Publication date: 15th August 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Ella Crawford is 26, lonely, and so broke that she seduces strange men when she suspects they’ll buy her dinner. Her fate changes the day she begins nannying for a rich and beautiful Upper East Side mother. Both women are just 26 – but unlike Ella, Lonnie has a doting husband and son, artistic talent, and old family money. Ella is mesmerised by Lonnie’s girlish affection and disregard for the normal boundaries of friendship and marriage, but resentment grows too, alongside this dizzying attraction.
Crackling with sensuality and heart-quickening suspense, Madeline Stevens’ searing debut novel explores themes of class, aspiration, female friendship, sexuality, and obsession.

My review:

Despite a strong start, the story line in Devotion lacked focus and the characters failed to impress as they engaged in several events that were purposeless and not really explained. I expected Devotion to explore a wide range of topics related to class, opportunity and friendship, which it did to an extent, but was ultimately left questioning the plot and each character’s intentions.

As soon as Elle starts her new job as nanny to Lonnie and James’ son, it becomes clear that her world is about to change drastically. It is not long until she realises that they lead a lifestyle she can only hope to mirror some day and this concept, together with Lonnie’s mysterious and bold nature, is enough to drive Elle to obsession. For me this aspect felt somewhat sluggish as most of the first half of the book was spent analysing Elle’s thoughts and reactions with little background to her previous life. Introducing Lonnie’s thoughts through her diary entries was a successful way of delving into her world of secrets and regrets and I was hoping to experience the same through her manuscript but unfortunately it felt too detached and irrelevant to the main story line.

There was little direction and focus on the plot which ultimately led to further indifference and disregard for the characters. I spent the first half of the book trying to understand the path the author wanted to take with these characters and setting and the second half of the book puzzled at the turn of events during the scheduled holiday. I struggled to understand the final few chapters which felt disjointed from the story line and also a little sudden and rushed.

This book raised some key issues related to friendship and the difference in class and lifestyle but fell short of my expectations. I would have preferred a deeper focus on the plot and an insight to Elle’s past as a way to connect with the main characters and understand their purpose.

Devotion is out to buy now!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: All the Lovely Pieces by J.M. Winchester


Title: All the Lovely Pieces

Author: J. M. Winchester

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Publication date: 6th August 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“For nine years, Drew Baker has been running from her brutal husband and the dark deeds of the night she left him. Focused on protecting her ten-year-old son, Drew reluctantly settles into a small town, eager to find proof of her husband’s true nature so she can stop looking over her shoulder.
But Drew is also on the run from her own terrible crimes—ones that mean prison and separation from her son should the police catch up to her before her husband does. If only she could remember that night and what really transpired…
Without warning, the unthinkable happens, and Drew is plunged into the most nightmarish situation a woman and mother could imagine. Desperate to save her child, Drew takes matters into her own hands, proving that anyone is capable of darkness, and nowhere is safe for those who fear themselves.

My review:

All the Lovely Pieces follows single mother, Drew Baker, and her son, Michael, as they attempt to run away from their dark and dangerous past involving emotional and physical abuse from Drew’s ex-husband Adam. It becomes clear from very early on that Drew is running away from an accident that had occurred several years ago which still haunts her to this day so she is eager to hide this traumatic experience from her son.

The story line is set out in rotating points of view: Drew’s, Michael’s and Catherine’s, the only character still in Adam’s life at this point, which I found to be particularly powerful especially when trying to understand Adam’s motive from another perspective. Despite my initial concerns, the writing of Michael’s POV felt raw and thought-provoking and the ideal way to bring up a further set of questions about his mother’s decision to flee from the crime scene. I also found Catherine’s perspective to be a fresh and interesting addition to the story line, especially important towards the end when the pace changed. However, I could not warm to Drew and my sense of doubt grew as more events from the day of the accident were revealed. Although unreliable main characters are often emblematic of the genre there were too many lose ends in the chapters written from her POV for me to truly understand her.

Despite a strong start and an interesting set of characters, there was little build up towards a twist or big revelation as usually happens with other books in the genre. In a way I liked how the author decided to lay out all the facts and reach a conclusion based on all the information provided. However, the last few chapters felt a little too rushed and there were parts involving other minor characters and Drew’s new love interest that felt exaggerated and at times too unbelievable. This book has all the right ingredients for a gritty psychological thriller but I believe that some of the scenes and character interactions in the last few chapters could have been rewritten to create a more realistic ending.

All the Lovely Pieces is out to buy now!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.