Carmel has been returned home after being abducted and spending years with a travelling mad man and his cult. Now 21, she is trying to return to her old life, and find out who she is, who she has become, and who she was before she was kidnapped. Her mother Beth still can’t believe she has her daughter back. She finds herself tiptoeing around the house, trying to regain a relationship with her, afraid of saying the wrong thing, or the wrong action causing an argument. They don’t know how to be mother and daughter any more.

As Carmel tries to dig into her memories and figure out who she is, she starts to realise she may not have been the only lost girl. She is haunted by this and she spirals into deeper and deeper manic thinking trying to figure out who these other girls are. Meanwhile Beth does all she can to not lose her daughter again.

This is a follow on from Kate Hamer’s Girl in the Red Coat. While it will give more context to the characters and what they are suffering from if you have read the previous book, it stands relatively well as a stand alone. The book works in a series of flashbacks in different characters’ point of view, and slowly pieces together the picture of what exactly happened to the lost girls.

It was an interesting read, but for a main character you would imagine you would have much sympathy for, Carmel is very unlikable at times. She is very self centred and doesn’t consider how her mother may be feeling, or anyone else in all of this. She does what she wants, when she wants, regardless of the consequences. She acts very childlike for someone of her age, and you ask yourself is it due to the upbringing she had. In general it was an interesting read, a little slow and dragged out in places, but a good story overall.

*I received this copy from NetGalley for review, but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Lost Girls by Kate Hamer

It is the summer of 1995. July Hooper has been given a summer school project to write about a family member. Her teacher suggested she write about her mother. July only knows eighteen things about her mother. One of these facts being that her mother died in a car crash when July was very young. She keeps this list of facts hidden away from her father, written in her own secret code, because they are not allowed to talk about her mother. Not ever. Not with her father, stepmother or grandmother, not with anyone.

However, July finds a note in her school bag on her tenth birthday, and it throws her world into turmoil. Did her mother really die in a car crash? Is she really dead? July starts to investigate, and meets someone who seems to be able to give her some answers – if he will talk to her. The more July learns, the more lies she discovers her family have been telling her. Desperate to find the truth, she keeps digging, but what will happen when she finds it?

This book is outside of my normal genre, but something about it called to me, and I am glad I listened. It was beautifully written, and absolutely engrossing. July is a tenacious, sweet and heartbreakingly innocent child, who only wants to find out what really happened to her mother. She idolises her father, Mick, who you quickly come to despise. Her stepmother and stepsister do the best they can, while navigating Mick’s temper, and trying to curry favour with him. 

It is an uncomfortable read at times, for what is depicted in it (I will try not give any spoilers) but seen from July’s point of view, it is even more uncomfortable, as her childhood innocence makes it so much more painful to witness. The ending was a real revelation, for all involved in the story, including us, the readers. July’s tenacity and persistence pays off, but certainly not in the way she could have expected. A beautiful read, of a child’s desperate search for a connection with a deceased mother, and the heartbreak along the way.

*I received this copy from NetGalley for review, but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: What July Knew by Emily Koch

An alien force sweeps over the world and declares full ownership. Humanity has thirty days to reach Antarctica, the only place they will be allowed to remain in existence. This results in a mass exodus, and the often harrowing journey of those trying to make it to humanity’s last hope. The struggle in making the journey is hard enough. As they get closer and closer peoples thoughts turn to how they will survive the extreme environment. What hope do they have of surviving, rebuilding society, and living life in one of the most hostile environments on Earth? 

This was a book that left me conflicted. A mysterious alien force appears from nowhere, and makes no demands, has no other message than to leave for Antarctica or else – and the entire human population rush to comply? No attempts at retaliation, no mass uprising against the alien force. Just a panicked scramble to the supposed safe area. No thought for supplies, preparation, survival once arrived. Just sheer panic to get onto any method of transport available to arrive by the stated deadline.

The opening story built a strong relationship Liza and Atto, our two main protagonists, and their connection in the midst of the terror unfolding. This part was engaging, engrossing, and you were rooting for their budding relationship and survival. As they arrive in Antarctica, you expect to read more about the struggle for survival and how society reforms itself, and more about Liza and Atto’s journey. Instead there is a series of time and character jumps. We still see Liza and Atto, but in less depth. The dystopian nature of the story unfolds more as the time jumps progress, and the lengths that humanity will go to in order to survive becomes clear.

While I really enjoyed parts of this story, others left me with a highly raised eyebrow, sceptical of what I was being asked to believe in. While knowing it is a sci-fi novel, the leaps taken were a bit too questionable at times. Overall however, excellent writing, but the plot and falling off of the characters let it down for me. I got a glimpse of a potential part two at the end, but it would not be one I would be following up on. 

*I received this book from NetGalley for review, but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: Cold People by Tom Rob Smith

Kate Marshal is a retired police detective, now working as a Private Investigator. Her daily routine involves a morning swim in the sea. One morning she gets caught in a riptide, and narrowly misses death, pulled out just in time. In hospital while recovering, a chance meeting with an elderly lady called Jean sees her picking up a new case. Jean tells Kate the story of how her three year old grandson, Charlie, went missing on a family camping trip on the moors of Dartmoor. It has been eleven years, with no sign of him.

Kate and her business partner Tristan take on the case. Kate is still trying to recover when she is released from hospital, but as she digs into the case, she is left weak on more than one occasion, and not just from the results of her near death experience. They quickly realise there is more to the case than Jean originally let on. Jean had Charlie declared dead a few years after his disappearance, so are they looking for a missing child, or a body? What does the brutal murder of a woman have in connection with the case? What they do find leaves them shook to the core.

This is the fourth instalment in this series, and my first introduction to the Kate and Tistan Private Investigation business, and what an introduction. As the story progressed I was more and more engrossed, until I suddenly realised it was 3am and well past bedtime – it is a riptide of a story! The pace was fast, yet the characters were real, flawed, human. The case was solved through realistic footwork and searching for information and overlooked connections, and yet it was exciting, and tense, and the story builds to an emotional crescendo. I was so vested in Kate and Tristan and this was the first time I met them. I can’t wait to go back and read the first three instalments and read more about them. I feel like I will be back looking for more very soon. A very easy to recommend read – perhaps just keep an eye on the time when you get sucked in and can’t escape to put it down.

*I received this book from NetGalley for review but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: Devil’s Way by Robert Bryndza

Ana and Nan are twins, born 12 minutes apart. They are lost after the death of their mother Elena, who was all they had in life, apart from one another. Elena was a highly renowned author, and everyone knows that she was driven to suicide by her long running, incredibly harsh critic Eben. The twins are heartbroken, but also want vengeance.

Eben is desperate to clear his name. He requests access to Elena’s diaries at the National Library, knowing the twins work there. He hopes he can write a new piece, and seek the twins forgiveness through it, and in the process, write his way to society’s forgiveness. The twins have other ideas. They hatch a plan to lock down the library, intent on making Eben suffer, and ultimately, wanting to make him pay the ultimate price. No one else is to get harmed. But the plan quickly starts to unravel, and with it their bond. How far can sibling love, twin love, go before the bond breaks?

This book was absolutely not what I expected when I started reading it. It took off in a completely different direction, and along with the main story, wove in teasing glimpses of a newly forming dystopian world. What exactly is happening? What is this world? When is this world? How much of it has an impact on the story playing out in front of us? It is hard to explain more of this story without giving away too much. I went into it expecting one thing, and came out with something completely different. I came out with questions about life, society, the conservation of knowledge and more. A very engaging and thought provoking read.

*I received this book from NetGalley for review but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Library Suicides by Fflur Dafydd

During World War 2, in 1943 the German forces occupied Rome. The Vatican City, the world’s smallest state, is a neutral and independent state located within Rome. The Germans had no hold over the Vatican. Irish priest Hugh O’Flaherty is located in the Vatican during this time. While the Pope and the Vatican are strictly neutral and want no involvement with the war, Hugh feels otherwise. Hugh gets involved with helping people escape from the Nazis. 

Thousands of Jews have gone into hiding, others are prisoners escaped from the Nazis. All need to get out of Rome before they are found and killed. At first it was informal, helping here and there when he could. Then Hugh brings together an unlikely bunch of people he calls the Choir, to form the Escape Line, and work on moving as many people out of Rome as possible. Hugh makes an enemy of SS officer Paul Hauptmann, a cruel and evil man, who inflicts as much pain on prisoners as possible. Hugh and the Escape Line pull off some daring missions and save many people, right under Hauptmanns nose.

As you read this book you need to keep reminding yourself that it is tragically based on a true story. While the author presents it as fiction, the concept of the Escape Line, and the priest who helped may escape, along with the people who risked their lives to save many is true. The real Hugh O’Flaherty helped as many as 6,500 Jews and Allied soldiers escape. While Rome (and Italy) was occupied by the Germans, the Vatican remained a neutral zone. Many people who had secured refuge in it before the metaphoric gates were closed, alongside the priests and nuns, included diplomats, reporters and envoys. While many simply took refuge until it was safe to return to their own countries there were those who could not stand by and do nothing. These people risked everything, including the Vatican’s neutrality, to help Allied troops, Jews and other persecuted people escape the clutches of the Germans. 

This book is very well written, with the descriptions of Rome and its streets and buildings showing a deep passion for its beauty. The events of the war are not detailed much, and that is understandable, as it is more of a focus on the people involved in this one small aspect. The interview style, switching between the then and now, and recollection of events can get a little distracting, but overall helps tell the story from a few different viewpoints. Even if you knew what the outcome was to the real Hugh O’Flaherty, there was significant tension at points to have you concerned and wondering what the outcome would be at various dramatic incidents. There were some aspects with too much dialogue, or too much narrative, but overall an incredible story and a wonderful way to bring light to incredible acts of bravery by a collection of regular people who couldn’t simply stand by and do nothing from their privilege of safety, and who wanted to help no matter the risk and sacrifice. 

My ARC copy did have some formatting issues and missing letters in lots of words, but despite this it was still an engrossing read.

*I received this copy from NetGalley for review but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: My Father’s House by Joseph O’Connor

Apex City was formerly Bangalore, and after some unspecified disasters, has become a futuristic city where every decision is made based on mathematics, image, values and opinions. Technology is integrated into your very person, scanners, comms devices, augmented holidays and more. If you are at the high end of the Bell curve, have worked hard, proven your productivity, cultivated the right image, you can make it to the ranks of the Twenty Percent. You have all that you could desire, and more. Fail to make it, and you drop to the ranks of the Ten Percent, and risk deportation to the rank of Analog, outside of Apex City, with no electricity,running water, humanity and worse still, no technology.

The system is perfect. Until a revolution begins in the Analog world, that threatens to bring Apex city crashing to the ground.

This book is set in a future dystopian world, where image and people’s perception of you is literally everything. You have to look perfect, act perfect, be perfect in order to come out on top. It features an extremely divided society, those who have everything, and those who really have nothing. Those who have it all purposely keep those without down, rather than uplifting them.

It had the potential to be a really great read, with the world created being very unique and complex. However the approach was somewhat disjointed and left you struggling to engage. The method used, a series of characters, each telling their own story to build up the world could have worked, but it fragmented things a bit too much, and instead left us with no key character to resonate with. Some of the stories and snippets of the world we see are really engaging and you want more, and then suddenly it cuts off to the next. Other stories leave you confused, as you don’t know who the protagonist is, what they are up to, and why we should care. 

Overall it is an interesting read which had potential, and I am glad to have read it, but not one which had me on the edge of my seat.

*I received this copy from NetGalley for review but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Ten Percent Thief by Lavanya Lakshminarayan

Emilia Morris is celebrating her thirteenth birthday when her mother, Rachel, moves out, into a tent at the bottom of their garden. It is also the day that her mother stops speaking, and from that day on never utters another word. Drawn by her vow of silence and desire to ‘listen more’, other women join her. Soon there is a commune of women living down the end of the garden and they form the Community. They make efforts to spread their message to listen more, pulling off bigger and bigger stunts to spread the message. Then, eight years after Emilia’s thirteenth birthday, her mother and thousands of her followers set themselves alight in a grandiose statement, in what later becomes known as the Event.

Soon after this Event, the Community’s reach grows. It becomes a global force, with impact in every sphere of influence. Rachel is seen as a martyr, a hero, a monster – depending on who you ask. Emilia has kept her opinion off record. But after falling out with the Community she decides to publish her mothers journals, and her own account of her life with her mother in her own memoirs. It is a painful process, dredging up long buried memories, and talking to people long in the past. It is an emotional journey, and on top of that, it is a book the Community doesn’t want written. Can she survive the process?

This was gripping and thought provoking read. It was well written, with excellent storytelling, and a well crafted storyline, the time jumps were managed superbly, and the characters were all superbly developed. It was portrayed in a realistic manner so that the dystopian elements were suitably disturbing, because it was not a stretch to see the events portrayed happening in this day and age. When so many elements ring true, it is off-putting to see how society could change like this in a matter of time. I was absolutely engrossed by this book, it was written like a real memoir/documentary, with footnotes, references, links to websites and interviews etc. This all gave it a hyper-realistic air, leaning even further into the feeling of a ‘what if’ that could come true. I could not stop reading, and when finished I could not stop thinking about this story. I have never wanted to discuss a book with someone more, this would be an ideal book club book, as it deserves the discourse after reading. A review does not do this story justice – go read it for yourself!

*I received this book for review from NetGalley but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: The Silence Project by Carole Hailey

In the town of Easthaven, Lakewell Manor sits, dark and imposing up on the cliffs. Twenty years ago Liz’s best friend Tasmin lived in the manor. One night something terrible happened that they have kept a secret ever since. Something so bad that forced Liz and Tasmin to flee Easthaven and not look back in the intervening twenty years.

Now, Liz is a single mother with two teenage daughters, struggling to make ends meet. She is forced to move back to Easthaven and move in with her bitter, spiteful mother, while also fighting a custody battle with her ex-husband. She gets a job as the local postwoman. She is finally getting her life on track, but suddenly when passing the locked gates of Lakewell Manor, she sees Tasmin. What is she doing back? When she comes back the next day to find out more from Tasmin she gets even more of a surprise. Tasmin doesn’t seem like herself. Convinced there is something sinister going on, Liz pulls out all her previous investigative journalist skills to get to the bottom of it. But she is risking everything in the process, chasing what everyone says are delusions and outright crazy accusations.

When I started reading this book I initially thought it was not for me. Single mother, trying to remake her life in a small town, divorce, reconnecting with old friends. But I am stubborn when I start reading a book and don’t like not finishing one. I am glad I persisted, because after the slow start the mystery really picked up. I found myself turning the digital pages faster, and trying to figure out just what was going on along with Liz. Some parts are a bit of a stretch, and Liz herself does not come across as immediately likeable, being nosey and a bit abrasive at times. She is brave and persistent however, and her mother so awful you can’t help but feel for Liz and want her to succeed. Overall, not what I expected, but a pleasant detour from where I thought it was going, and an enjoyable read!

*I received this copy from NetGalley for review but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: Secrets Between Friends by Tracy Buchanan

It is March, 1955 and a sudden storm sends a ‘100 year’ flash flood through the town of Lost Hollow. Eight very different locals seek shelter in the local general store, looking to stay safe from the raging torrent of water threatening to wash everything in its path away. But are they safer inside? The sudden appearance of a mysterious stranger begins to tear the group apart – literally and figuratively. Telling you any more about the story will be a spoiler, so I will refrain. 

The first chapter is a bit rambling, and discombobulated, but when you read it, and persist with the book, it comes together to make sense as relevant, required background. The story then continues to jump from the point of view of each of our motley cast of characters. This really sets out the backstory of each, develops them as people, and allows us to fully understand who they are, and why they are in this situation.

Time is taken to really detail each event that occurs, drawing out the horror to the maximum. Yet for all its horror, for all the loss, for all the lies, shame, evil and deceit, the struggle in the fight between good and evil, the story ends on an unexpected note. I have not read anything by Issac Thorne before, but this piece of excellent writing will definitely send me looking for more. An excellent horror read which will leave you questioning your human decency and how you would measure up! 

*I received this copy from NetGalley for review, but all opinions are my own.

Book Review: Hell Spring by Isaac Thorne