Tag Archive | crime fiction

Best Books of 2016 – aka, I Am A Terrible Person

So firstly, I am ashamed, ASHAMED, of my lack of blogging since my Journey to Employment post – my only excuse being my employment. With how busy my first two months of work have been and keeping up with the PubInterns account, and attempting to have a social life, I just haven’t had the time or inclination to blog as much as I used to. SHAME CHLOE, SHAME.

But I’m making a quick return, and though I can’t promise my blogging will be better in 2017, at least I’m ending 2016 on a high note, with a run down of the best books I read this year (totally my opinion, probably not the mainstream or what everyone else thinks, but whatever, this is my blog, not theirs). Incidentally, I am currently reading The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton and loving it!!!

No particular order, just wonderful books, and I can’t even remember all the books I read this year (there were lots okay) but these are the ones that stood out to me.

Nina does not have a drinking problem. She likes a drink, sure. But what 17-year-old doesn’t? 

Nina’s mum isn’t so sure. But she’s busy with her new husband and five year old Katie. And Nina’s almost an adult after all. 

And if Nina sometimes wakes up with little memory of what happened the night before , then her friends are all too happy to fill in the blanks. Nina’s drunken exploits are the stuff of college legend. 

But then one dark Sunday morning, even her friends can’t help piece together Saturday night. All Nina feels is a deep sense of shame, that something very bad has happened to her…

I loved this book, such a brilliant, humorous read, that made a difficult subject honest and real and entertaining without taking away from the severity of it. Shappi is a fantastic writer and this was definitely a stand out this year – Nina is a great character and I wish she was my friend.

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him. 

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink. How far will Violet go to save the boy she has come to love?

This is a book that I felt really and truly affected by after I read it. It has stuck with my long after I read it and I am itching to get my hands on Jennifer’s next book, Holding Up the Universe to enjoy her writing again. I wrote a longer but still ‘mini’ review of it here but to repeat the most important thing from that review – this book is not afraid of the hard stuff, of real life and unhappy endings. And that’s what makes it special.

In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different. She is the special one – beautiful, popular, powerful. And she works hard to keep it that way. 

Until that night . . . 

Now, she’s an embarrassment. Now, she’s just a slut. Now, she is nothing.

And those pictures – those pictures that everyone has seen – mean she can never forget.

This is the kind of book I just want to throw at people and force them to read it. Again, longer review here but in essence Louise O’Neill teaches a valuable lesson about the blurred lines between consent and rape, victim blaming, and the painful after effects of rape. What’s really quite special is that Emma is not a hugely likeable character but that still is no excuse for what happens to her.

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible . . .

Controversially, I actually prefer Fangirl to Rowell’s more celebrated novel, Eleanor and Park. (I’ve done reviews of both here and here, and state why I prefer Fangirl in my E&P review.) I felt really connected to Cath as a character and really enjoyed seeing her different relationships: with Wren, with Reagan, with her parents, and with Levi. How each relationship added personality to Cath and developed her as a person was so great to read and I loved seeing her grow. However, this book is certainly not without its problems.

Every day I am someone else.

I am myself – I know I am myself – but I am also someone else.

It has always been like this.

Each morning, A wakes up in a different body. There’s never any warning about who it will be, but A is used to that. Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And that’s fine – until A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with – every day . . .

Such an interesting idea for a novel, and so well written. For a character whose body is constantly in flux, A manages to have such a complex and solid personality and development. My longer review is here and I have re-read it since then and still love it just as much. I love that it explores loss of identity in quite a bold way by actually having A lose their identity repeatedly.

They were the victims of separate massacres. Three strangers bound by similar traumas grouped together by the press.

When something terrible happens to Lisa, put-together Quincy and volatile Sam finally meet. Each one influences the other. Each one has dark secrets. And after the bloodstained fingers of the past reach into the present, each one will never be the same.

Is this cheating if it isn’t out until next year? Whatever, I was lucky enough to get my hands on a proof copy and devoured this novel. It was so well written and so great for a debut, I will encourage everyone to read it if they can next year! A total page-turner that keeps you guessing throughout. Definitely a must-read in 2017.

Jude and her twin Noah were incredibly close – until a tragedy drove them apart, and now they are barely speaking. Then Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy as well as a captivating new mentor, both of whom may just need her as much as she needs them. What the twins don’t realize is that each of them has only half the story and if they can just find their way back to one another, they have a chance to remake their world.

You can see my longer review here and see that I do love Jandy Nelson as a writer and think she is so talented. What is great about I’ll Give You the Sun is that, like Fangirl, it understands that relationships other than romantic ones are so formative in your teenage years, especially ones between siblings. Also the dual narrative is absolutely brilliant – two different characters and two different timelines that manage to complement each other so well.

What if you had said yes . . . ?

Eva and Jim are nineteen, and students at Cambridge, when their paths first cross in 1958. Jim is walking along a lane when a woman approaching him on a bicycle swerves to avoid a dog. What happens next will determine the rest of their lives. We follow three different versions of their future – together, and apart – as their love story takes on different incarnations and twists and turns to the conclusion in the present day.

I love, love, love this book! It’s such a clever idea by Laura Barnett and I wrote a nice long review of it here. It was such a gift to receive it as part of a competition I won, that I had no pre-conceived ideas of it and was allowed to fall in love with the purity of a great story and brilliant writing. This is a love story that goes beyond the norm. It’s one for the ages.

In a split second, Jenna Gray’s world descends into a nightmare. Her only hope of moving on is to walk away from everything she knows to start afresh. Desperate to escape, Jenna moves to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast, but she is haunted by her fears, her grief and her memories of a cruel November night that changed her life forever.

Slowly, Jenna begins to glimpse the potential for happiness in her future. But her past is about to catch up with her, and the consequences will be devastating . . .

It’s no shock that this was on my must-read list this year and that it gained so many good reviews. It is superbly written, compelling and exciting. Clare Mackintosh does a brilliant job of keeping the reader’s attention and focus and the book zags in places where you expect it to zig which I love. I wrote a full review here and still maintain that it was the best thriller since Girl on the Train. 

Best friends Caddy and Rosie are inseparable. Their differences have brought them closer, but as she turns sixteen Caddy begins to wish she could be a bit more like Rosie – confident, funny and interesting. Then Suzanne comes into their lives: beautiful, damaged, exciting and mysterious, and things get a whole lot more complicated. As Suzanne’s past is revealed and her present begins to unravel, Caddy begins to see how much fun a little trouble can be. But the course of both friendship and recovery is rougher than either girl realizes, and Caddy is about to learn that downward spirals have a momentum of their own.

I just finished this last week and am so pleased to write a review of a book with NO ROMANTIC INTERESTS. This book passes the Bechdel test on so many levels and pages which gets all the applause. Caddy reminded me so much of me at 16 though without a Rosie or a Suzanne and it was so easy to see how she could get swept up in the danger of someone a little bit more exciting than her. It was a beautiful representation of life after a trauma, how tragedy affects the victim and damages them even after they are supposedly saved.

In this historic romance, young Elizabeth Bennet strives for love, independence and honesty in the vapid high society of 19th century England.

Shock horror but I hadn’t actually read Pride and Prejudice until this year. But then I found myself addicted to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (which if you haven’t watched you really really need to) and decided it was about time I actually read the most famous novel in the English language. Plus, now that I knew the story from LBD, I would be able to keep track of what was going on and focus more on Austen’s words. And I have to say, I totally understand why it’s so popular and beloved (aside from Colin Firth coming out of a lake sopping wet). It is a great narrative, with the original boss bitch Lizzie Bennet and a brilliant representation of 19th century high society.


So, what were your top books of 2016? Any recommendations?

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Into the Darkest Corner – Elizabeth Haynes & Between You and Me – Lisa Hall: Comparative Review

Doing something a little different with the blog this week! I recently read two books that I thought were quite similar in premise: a domestic abuse story, so I decided to do a comparative review of the two (even though at this stage, I’m still not really sure which I preferred).

The two books in question are Into the Darkest Corner (IDC) by Elizabeth Haynes and Between You and Me (BYM) by Lisa Hall, and they are terribly difficult to review without giving spoilers away, which I will aim to do.

Blurbs 

Into the Darkest Corner

Catherine has been enjoying the single life for long enough to know a good catch when she sees one. Gorgeous, charismatic, spontaneous – Lee seems almost too perfect to be true. And her friends clearly agree, as each in turn falls under his spell. But there is a darker side to Lee. His erratic, controlling and sometimes frightening behaviour means that Catherine is increasingly isolated. Driven into the darkest corner of her world, and trusting no one, she plans a meticulous escape. Four years later, struggling to overcome her demons, Catherine dares to believe she might be safe from harm. Until one phone call changes everything. This is an edgy and powerful first novel, utterly convincing in its portrayal of obsession, and a tour de force of suspense.

Between You and Me

They say every marriage has its secrets.
But no one sees what happens behind closed doors.
And sometimes those doors should never be opened…

Sal and Charlie are married. They love each other. But they aren’t happy. Sal cannot leave, no matter what Charlie does – no matter how much it hurts.


What I like about both books is that they have a compelling dual narrative; IDC uses a dual-time narrative, whilst BYM has a dual-persepective narrative. I think this keeps the reader on their toes and keeps the story engaging at all times.

I felt that the abuser in IDC was more frightening and more cleverly crafted, making them more believable and making the story more gripping and powerful. In BYM I felt that the abuser was more of a caricature of what an abuser should be and thus less subtly dangerous.

Both novels had a really solid and engaging ending, which kept the pages turning and kept me focused until the end. BYM‘s ending had me stop for a moment and made me go back and re-read some of the novel to see if I could get my head around it, whilst IDC‘s ending felt a little more satisfying.

I think the premise of BYM was incredibly clever and very well written, to the point that I fully believed what the author intended and was shocked by the ending.

However, overall, I feel that IDC was much better written with more interesting and complex characters and secondary storylines.

I would definitely recommend reading both these books (and Between You and Me is only 99p on Kindle at the moment) and then you can make your own comparisons and decisions on which you prefer.

I think the whole concept of abusive relationship fiction is so gripping and really allows for a deep look into the psychology of characters. What I particularly like about IDC is that through the dual-time narrative it showed the aftermath of abuse on a formerly outgoing, extroverted character, which was a really nice comparison.

So do read these books and prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster in each, and when you get to the end, do come back here and let me know what you think!

Elizabeth Is Missing

What a novel. Elizabeth is Missing is the debut novel by Emma Healey, broken by Penguin General in 2014 to rave reviews, incredible debut sales and went on to win The Costa Book First Novel Award . I myself swallowed it in half a day and couldn’t read it fast enough.

Simplistically, it tells of Maud, a charming old lady suffering from dementia who can’t remember buying food, never mind where her friend Elizabeth is. As her dementia worsens, so too does her determination to discover what happened to dear Elizabeth and even more dramatically what happened to her sister Sukey when she mysteriously disappeared after the Second World War.

Having a narrator who can’t remember her own daughter’s name sometimes adds a depth unexamined in previous literature. Not only is the narrator unreliable and questionable, one can never guarantee exactly what is happening in the novel.

The novel comes alive with Maud, her characterisation and Healey’s flair for language. The beautiful way in which she constructs Maud’s past and interweaves it with her disjointed present allows you to really feel for Maud and her snatching attempts to grasp at something to answer her questions.

Whilst she fails to obtain more answers, the reader begins to have more questions. I thought I had guessed the ending about three quarters of the way through the book, but unfortunately, I found that by the time the ending had come around, I actually preferred the one I had invented in my own head.

Perhaps this novel is an example of exactly that: the life and stories in our heads are more interesting and more obtainable than those in real life. Is Elizabeth really missing? Or is Maud just missing some marbles?

I found it an incredibly satisfying read and rather refreshing from the usual crime thriller. Healey’s unreliable narrator is comparable to another unreliable narrator of another novel I read on holiday, The Girl on the Train. Though Rachel in the latter is a drunk forgetful, whilst Maud is merely forgetful, both delay the progression of the novel by forcing the reader to ask questions of the narrator, rather than just the story.

Despite my misgivings about the ending, I was wonderfully impressed by Healey’s narrative and her skills as an author. The book was funny, warm, heartbreaking at times, and had an element of old Hollywood drama in the flashbacks to the past, which I thought were beautifully constructed.

Maud is a refreshing voice in the canon and as I said, not often do we get a narrative from an elderly lady, especially one who can’t even remember her own daughter at times.

I would indeed recommend the novel, though do take it with a pinch of salt. It’s a fabulous debut from an author with much promise, and if you are disappointed by the end as I was, remember the beauty of the middle. The construction is an art in itself.

Cover Star.

We Need To Talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

SPOILER FREE. Also a relevant review for its film adaptation. 

We need to talk about this book. Everyone talks about this book. And for good reason. It is haunting, disturbing and ultimately sticks with us, and certainly stuck with me, for time to come.

A quick recap of the events: this story is written in epistolary form, meaning that it comes in a series of letters written by Eva Khatchadourian to her seemingly estranged husband Franklin as she discusses her son’s imprisonment for a school massacre and the lead up to these events.

Though I found the novel slow to build, it reads as a thriller when the story of Kevin’s life is interweaved with his mother’s visits to the juvenile prison where he is detained, offering insight into Kevin both before and after his terrible crime. The slow build allows for intrigue and curiosity about the ultimate massacre itself and lets the reader question Kevin’s motives and what in his life led him to that point.

What’s interesting about this novel is the questions it raises about criminal responsibility and nature vs. nurture. The reader is forced to ask whether Kevin himself is a pure sociopath or whether Eva’s brand of detached motherhood led him to a dissatisfied existence that drove him to sociopathic thoughts.

Shriver considers Kevin’s innate characteristics and life experiences as factors in his development and questions who is in fact more responsible for his unfavourable actions: is it his mother Eva or himself, from his own inner qualities. Is Kevin a villain or a victim? A villain due to his own actions or a victim due to the actions of his mother?

It is certainly a distressing and disturbing book that will leave you unsettled, reeling and unnerved. But in my humble opinion, that is what makes a successful author: one who has a profound effect on their reader at the close of the novel. A book that leaves you thinking and questioning and challenged.

There comes a point when you really do question your own sanity in persevering with such a difficult and quite frankly, horrible book. But the satisfaction in completing it – and joining the masses that have – and being able to ask your own questions of the author and the society in which we live makes it rather worth it.

So this is a recommended read of mine, extremely valuable in the canon of crime reading. Along with novels like Gone Girl and Nineteen Minutes, it really gives you the opportunity to consider humanity, responsibility and the blurred lines between villain and victim.

Let me know below if you’ve read it and what you thought! Were you as disturbed by the ending as 90% of readers?

Cover art.

Summer Reads Vol. I

Because I read quite a number of books this summer, and I feel like some of them don’t need as in-depth a review as others, I’m going to publish a series of ‘Summer Reads’ posts, which will each have a few of the books and their reviews on. I’ll also be doing some full, in-depth reviews.

So here’s the first of my Summer Reads:

  1. The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom

This was such a sweet and lovely read, that in a way is less about the story itself and more about a journey of self-reflection. Because the chapters are fairly short and the narrative style is simple, it’s a really easy read, which means that everyone should really be reading it. It tells the story of Eddie, who after death meets five people whose life he impacted, whether he was aware of it or not.

This is definitely a book that is more about the characters and character development than the narrative plot, because at its most simplistic level, it is a very basic narrative plot, which allows Albom to develop Eddie’s character, and the characters of those around him.

I found this book a really valuable read, and a very easy read, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

2. Dangerous Creatures – Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

I loved the original series Beautiful Creatures and I think it’s such a shame they really messed up the movie, because I thought the book was so brilliant. I don’t know about you, but when I read an original series, sometimes I get more attached to secondary characters than primary characters, and that definitely happened to me with Link and Ridley, so I was super excited when I found out about this spin-off.

I think it was an excellent idea and really well-written, keeping Link and Ridley the same characters that we loved in Beautiful Creatures, but I did feel like the plot and the story itself wasn’t as deep or well-thought out as the original series. I definitely felt that the original was a lot stronger and more emphatic, whereas this was more take-it-or-leave-it. I read the whole of the Beautiful series in a week, whereas I feel like I could leave Dangerous to the side and not be massively bothered.

Having said that, I do feel like it might grow and develop as the series continues, so maybe it is worth persevering and seeing whether Dangerous Deception adds a little more depth and gravitas to the series.

3. These Days Are Ours – Michelle Haimoff

Interestingly, when I just Googled this book to find the cover image, an alternative cover popped up that was different to the one I read. I definitely think the original is better suited to the novel as the second one is a little too dark and thriller-y for a novel that in my opinion was about growth and rebirth.

Second cover

This book is about a post-9/11 group of privileged Upper East Siders (though far less wild and dramatic as Gossip Girl would have you believe), primarily the protagonist Hailey, who is drifting after college with no real direction, in a way that I think represents the same sentiments felt by many New Yorkers after 9/11.

Haimoff states that she wrote the novel because she was surprised to see how little actually changed in the lives of New Yorkers post-9/11 and she wanted to represent it. Indeed, for the characters in These Days Are Ours, life seems to go on as it did before. Hailey is dealing with unemployment, divorce drama and the unstoppable desire for a boyfriend. But her world starts to change bit-by-bit when a non-Upper East Side boy enters her life and changes the life she was accustomed to.

It was a really easy read, I think it took me half a day, and it was light and reflective and really enjoyable. It packed a bit of a punch at the end, and got me totally terrified about graduating university next year, but I would definitely recommend it for anyone look for a light read.

4. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson 

This title isn’t actually a metaphor or something literary and fanciful, this novel actually is about a hundred year old man who climbs out of a window and disappears. It’s not a thriller either. I’m struggling to decide what genre of novel it really is: it’s humorous, it’s very literal (as in, it relays facts and events, not metaphors and themes) and it’s rather uplifting.

Whilst relaying the events of what happens after centenarian Allan Karlsson wanders off from his retirement home and goes on an adventure, the parallel storyline tells of Allan’s life and in many instances he accidentally finds himself involved in world events and associating with world powers such as Franco, Truman, Stalin and Mao.

It was a really enjoyable read, though I didn’t find it as enjoyable as my dad who told me he had laughed out loud many times whilst reading. It definitely made me smile, and I enjoyed reading how Allan figured into world history, though I felt overall it was a long book and definitely took effort to get through the first half.

I think it’s one of those books you need to read, just to see what the fuss is all about. Even though it was a hard read at times I would still recommend it.

5. The Secret Place – Tana French

The beauty of this novel is that it inserts the reader right into two sets of action: past and present; the past action events leading up to the crime, and the present, one year later, in the aftermath of the crime and solving a crime that was laid to rest immediately after the initial investigation.

It tells of a murder of a boarding schoolboy that takes place in the grounds of the girls’ parallel boarding school. The key characters are a group of girls seemingly unconnected to the murdered Chris, their ‘rival’ gang and the two detectives on the case. French also brings in the legal thriller genre by making one of the girls the daughter of a detective who has worked with the lead detective, Stephen, in the past.

The novel is a work of ice: there are many layers and parts to chip away at, with more clues and details becoming apparent as the novel develops. I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between the group of girls, and that of the two detectives, and seeing the plot lines in tandem. It’s definitely a worthy read and really highlights the themes of loyalty and betrayal with both the young and adult characters.


 

So there you have it! The first volume of my Summer Reads, with a solid mix of books in there I think. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any of these and what you thought of them!