‘The Ties that Bind’ by Erin Kelly

The Ties that BindFleeing a bad relationship, struggling true crime journalist Luke runs to Brighton. Soon, he unwittingly stumbles across a story that has the potential to completely turn his career around. Joss Grand, now an upstanding business man and property owner, was once an infamous racketeer who ruled Brighton with an iron fist.

As he delves further into Grand’s murky past, and into the unsolved murder of his right hand man in the 1960’s, Luke soon finds himself increasingly over his head. His attempts to find the perfect story have stirred up old secrets that some people would prefer to leave buried. Someone is watching his every move, and it’s impossible to know who to trust. But by the time that Luke finds out just how high the stakes are, it’s too late.

There’s no doubt that Erin Kelly has a talent for writing skilful, well-structured mysteries, and this is no exception. It starts off quite slowly but then all of a sudden it picks up the pace and throws in a few curveballs to keep you guessing. The suspense gradually builds as the novel progresses and the twist at the end

My main problem with this book was that Luke wasn’t the most likeable main character. It was incredibly frustrating to watch his relationship with Jem develop. He then spends most of the book distrusting and ignoring his friends, whinging in self-pity when anything goes wrong and being wilfully stupid whenever the opportunity arises. Continue reading

‘We Were Liars’ by E. Lockhart

We Were LiarsFrom the outside, they are the perfect family. Blond and tall with a strong chin and a strong tennis serve, they are the Sinclair’s and they stick together.

Since she was a child, Cadence Sinclair has spent every summer on her grandfather’s private island. Each year, she spends her days inseparable from her cousins, Mirren and Johnny, and Gat, the nephew of a family friend. Surrounded by boats, beaches and wealth, it seems like nothing will ever go wrong. But in the heat of the summer, tensions brew.

Now 17, Cady is recovering from an accident. But she has no recollection of what happened. In fact, she has very few memories of an entire summer spent on the island. With her family keeping secrets from her, Cady returns to the island in an attempt to uncover the truth about events.

To say much more about the plot of this book would ruin it entirely for anyone that hasn’t already read it, which makes it quite hard to review! Over the course of the book, we’re shown how Gat’s friendship with the cousins and his presence on the island forces the family members to examine themselves from the outside. As they grow older, Cady, Mirren and Johnny gradually become aware of what the darker side of being a Sinclair entails, and what the family is willing to do to keep their positions. Continue reading

‘The Final Testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix’ by Paul Sussman

RIPAs Raphael Ignatius Phoenix approaches his 100th birthday, he plots his own demise. But before that day comes, he’s makes the decision to write a testimony of his life as a legacy to leave behind. Armed with felt tip pens and the white walls of his cliff top castle as a canvas, he tells his own autobiography in reverse. The defining details of his life? He’s a multiple murderer. In an attempt to tell his story, Phoenix decides to commit the full stories of each of his ten murders to paper.

Phoenix himself is an engaging and entertaining. He has a sharp tongue, an impressionable personality and a willingness to go where the wind takes him, discarding his past for a new life without so much as a second thought. Each period in his life is entirely unique, yet characterised by the same distinctive flair and personality.

But Phoenix is also deeply flawed as a character. He has a dark side that frequently comes to the forefront and a complete lack of regard for the feelings and wellbeing of anyone around him – with the exception of his childhood friend, Emily, who regularly turns up at opportune moments to save the day. His murderous tendencies are often provoked by the smallest of details, and he shows little or no remorse for his actions.

As we go further through the book, however, it becomes quite clear that Phoenix is entirely unreliable narrator. By the end, the lines between fact and fiction and reality and illusion have become distinctly blurred. Continue reading

‘Perfect’ by Rachel Joyce

perfect-rachel-joyce-uk-newI loved Rachel Joyce’s first novel, ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’, but found her second one harder to get through.

On the one hand, we follow the lives of Byron, his family and his friend James over the course of a summer in the 1970’s. An accident, two additional seconds and a childish need to right a wrong will have devastating effects on the lives of everyone involved.

In the other, Jim cleans tables at a café. Having been in and out of psychiatric care all his life, he keeps his head down and avoids contact with others as much as possible. He lives alone, and only by following a strict regime of rituals and routine does he feel safe.

These two threads weave together, until the truth behind what happened in 1972 is finally revealed. Continue reading

M. L. Stedman’s ‘The Light Between Oceans’

the-light-between-oceansIn the early half of the twentieth century, lighthouse keeper Tom and his young wife Isabel are living on an isolated life on an island far off the coast of the Australian mainland. The conditions are tough, contact with the outside world is few and far between and the job is demanding, but they make it their home.

It’s a life that seems perfect, but for one thing. Isabel is unable to carry a baby to term. After numerous heartbreaks, all seems lost. Then a boat washes ashore, carrying the body of a dead man and a very much alive baby girl. The decision they make that day, to not report the wreck and to keep the baby and raise it as their own, will set into motion a chain of events that will last for years to come.

The book questions our morality, and asks whether doing something you know is wrong can ever be right. It also questions what makes a parent – is it the person that’s raises a child or the person that gives birth to it? Continue reading

‘Where’d you go, Bernadette’ by Maria Semple

Bernadette Fox has disappeared. Everyone assumes she is dead, or gone for good. But her fifteen-year-old daughter, Bee, is determined to do everything she can to find her.

41qQVsFZtmLOver an eclectic collection of notes, letters, private emails, articles, blog posts and reports, we gradually gain a unique insight into all of the characters, their motivations and their emotions. These are interspersed with commentary from Bee, as she attempts to piece everything together. These all come together to form a bigger picture of the string of events that took place in the run-up to Bernadette’s disappearance, and to help us – and Bee – solve the mystery as to where she is now.

The format of the book is really interesting. It’s quite hard to describe the plot for this exact reason. It didn’t feel as if I was reading a story, instead, it felt like I was piecing together a case and a narrative from the raw material. Only in this case, the raw material is incredibly witty and expertly crafted to give away just the right information at any given point in time. Each character has their own voice, and this voice is real, rounded and completely convincing. I think one of the real skills on display here is the author’s ability is to flit from character to character, switching between different perspectives from page to page.

The overall narrator, Bee, is strong willed, independent and funny, and her mother is wonderfully eccentric and entertaining. I wanted to know them. The story does veer into the ridiculous at some points, but this only adds to the overall charm of the book and it somehow manages to also stay believable. It’s been a while since I enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

‘Prince of Thorns’ by Mark Lawrence

In an empire divided by constant wars, poverty and harsh rulers, a band of outlaws is burning a path through the countryside, destroying everything and everyone in its wake. Their leader is the ruthless and immoral Jorg Ancrath, a royal prince by birth. Far from home, he has amassed his own followers and gained a thirst for power, driven only by anger and a desire for revenge against those that have done him wrong.

Prince of thornsDriven home to his father’s castle, his talents for destruction and violence soon become evident. His father offers nothing but rejection and steely contempt, his pregnant stepmother is threatened by his very presence at court, and the queen’s alluring sister, Katherine, cannot see past his brutal, underhand behaviour. The result is an inevitable family clash that leaves Jorg with two choices, to yield to his father’s iron will or to strike out on his own to conquer a new kingdom.

In Jorg, Lawrence has created a twisted anti-hero. He has no qualms about resorting to murder, rape and torture at the slightest provocation, although it must be said that a lot of his most brutal actions are reported to us second hand.

In spite of this, Jorg has a kind of arrogant charm and wit that gives him the likability factor that he so desperately needs to offset the darkness that often overpowers his character. Throughout the course of the novel, we find out more about his background, and come to understand how the murder of his mother and brother have shaped him into who we meet today. It doesn’t excuse his behaviour, but it does help to round out his character and give him a slightly more human element.

Game of Thrones fans will love this book. It has all the gore and action that you need to keep you gripped. There’s also a supernatural element, as the lines between the living and the dead become more and more blurred.

If there’s one thing I would say, I’d have liked to know a bit more about the world that the book is set in. We’re given no context, although the map at the beginning bears some resemblance to our modern Europe and there are references throughout the text to ancient philosophers. It’s frustrating that we don’t know more about this and it would have helped to really embrace the subtleties of the author’s creation.