Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: Missing Presumed by Susie Steiner


Title: Missing, Presumed
Author: Susie Steiner
Release date: March 2016
Genre: Crime
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Publisher

Description: Mid-December, and Cambridgeshire is blanketed with snow. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw tries to sleep after yet another soul-destroying Internet date – the low murmuring of her police radio her only solace.

Over the airwaves come reports of a missing woman – door ajar, keys and phone left behind, a spatter of blood on the kitchen floor. Manon knows the first 72 hours are critical: you find her, or you look for a body. And as soon as she sees a picture of Edith Hind, a Cambridge post-graduate from a well-connected family, she knows this case will be big.

Is Edith alive or dead? Was her ‘complex love life’ at the heart of her disappearance, as a senior officer tells the increasingly hungry press? And when a body is found, is it the end or only the beginning?

My thoughts: I love a good crime novel, so when this book just kept selling and selling I decided to see what the fuss was about. Missing, Presumed introduces D. S. Bradshaw and her teammates, sets up their working relationships and starts to look at some of their individual dramas. In terms of the case they're dealing with, I was intrigued by the title - straight away is the question of whether Edith (the missing girl) is just missing, or presumed dead.

I enjoyed the various twists in the case, as the team follow different leads and uncover new clues. The story is told from several viewpoints, with the most prominent being Manon. As the book progressed I began to have a suspicion of what might have happened, even if I couldn't put together the details of it, but I wasn't sure, and it was good to read through to the end and finally get everything untangled.

While I'm interested in seeing the developments of the police team over future books, Manon's love life in this one did annoy me quite a lot, and I skimmed through large portions of her point of view chapters which didn't relate to the case. She just seemed a bit too grumpy and strange, it wasn't very interesting to read her awkward dating experiences or to see things getting messed up.

Overall, it was a promising start to a series, and hopefully Ms. Steiner can build on it and the characters she has introduced to create a stronger second book. Missing, Presumed was a good, fast read but not memorable once I'd finished - definitely the sort of book I'd class as a 'beach read' or holiday read. I'm giving it 6/10.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Book review: Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough


Title: Behind Her Eyes
Author: Sarah Pinborough
Release date: 26th January 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Genre: Thriller (supernatural)
Source: Review copy from the publisher

Description: Louise: Since her husband walked out, Louise has made her son her world, supporting them both with her part-time job. But all that changes when she meets...
David: Young, successful and charming - Louise cannot believe a man like him would look at her twice let alone be attracted to her. But that all comes to a grinding halt when she meets his wife... 
Adele:  Beautiful, elegant and sweet - Louise's new friend seems perfect in every way. As she becomes obsessed by this flawless couple, entangled in the intricate web of their marriage, they each, in turn, reach out to her. But only when she gets to know them both does she begin to see the cracks...Is David really the man she thought she knew and is Adele as vulnerable as she appears? Just what terrible secrets are they both hiding and how far will they go to keep them?

My thoughts: Going in to this book, I wasn't sure what to think. I'd heard the first couple of pages at an event and didn't want to read another thriller centred around an unhappy or abusive relationship. Then I heard there was a slight 'weird' or fantasy element to it - a very subtle one, but enough to make it not just a normal thriller. If you're familiar with Ms. Pinborough's work, this shouldn't surprise you, as it's sort of her calling card. I decided to give the book a try.

It's an awkward book to review, because so much of the impact comes from the little twists, and I don't want to give anything away. There were a few times where the pace didn't quite go fast enough for me, but just as I was on the verge of giving up, something would be revealed, sometimes a thing which changed my perception of events so far, and I'd be hooked again.

Adele and David were childhood sweethearts from very different backgrounds, and Sarah Pinborough uses flashbacks and diary entries to show how happy their relationship was at that time. It contrasts dramatically with the present, where something is (or in fact several somethings are) wrong with their relationship. As Louise tries to puzzle out what's going on, the amount of manipulation going on between the three of them seems to get deeper and deeper. It's not a happy story. Told across several different points of view, you never quite know which narrator to trust, or if what they are guessing at is true. With Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has redefined the unreliable narrator, and it's great.

The hashtag for Behind Her Eyes is a bold #WTFthatending, which is what caught my attention, and when I finally got to the end, I think my eyes were as wide as saucers as I read. I loved it - it was a twist that I completely didn't guess and I do want to reread the whole book knowing the full story. Overall, I did very much enjoy the book, so I'm giving it 7 out of 10. If you're looking for a thriller and are prepared for a tiny fantastical twist, this is absolutely the book for you.

~Ailsa

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Beyond Surrender by Kit Rocha


Title: Beyond Surrender
Author: Kit Rocha
Genre: Dystopian/Romance
Series: Beyond #9
Release date: December 13th 2016
Source: Review copy from the authors

Description: She’s the heart of O’Kane liquor.
For years, Nessa has been focused on work. She keeps the whiskey—and the money—flowing, and life is sweet. Sure, she’s tired of being everyone’s baby sister, and she longs for a man who can stand up to her overprotective O’Kane brothers. But she never thought she’d meet him in the middle of a war.

He’s the brains of the revolution.
War is all Ryder knows. He was raised with one goal: to ensure the sectors’ successful rebellion against Eden. His father and his mentor both died for freedom, and nothing will stop him from securing their legacies with victory. He doesn’t have time for distractions—especially beautiful, impulsive ones like Nessa.

Opposites don’t just attract, they combust. Together, Nessa and Ryder have a chance for something more than the lives they’ve always known. But this is war—deadly, bloody war—and the only way to happily-ever-after is straight through Eden.

My thoughts: From the early days of this series, I've been a fan,  and the authors (two women collaborating under the pen name Kit Rocha) have grown with each book. It makes sense then that this one, the final part of the Beyond series, is one of their strongest. If you're new to the series, don't start here, but go to the beginning safe in the knowledge that it's a series with a well written ending. If you've kept up, then you probably don't need much encouragement to read Nessa's story. Just in case, here are my favourite things about this book.

1) Nessa. Like many people, I've been waiting for Nessa's story pretty much since she was introduced. And which guy was going to be enough for her, and able to stand up to her many honorary dads & brothers? Nessa is sassy and knowledgeable, and even with the scary wartime backdrop of the story, it was a lot of fun to read from her point of view.

2) They don't pull punches. This is war. It would be unrealistic if everyone on the O'Kane side made it through with little to no harm, and I wouldn't have as much respect for the story. Make sure you have tissues close to hand, because you're going to need them, I cried a lot reading certain parts of this book!

3) New points of view! One thing I've enjoyed through the whole series has been that you don't just see through the eyes of the main characters for that book; you get different snapshots of what else is going on through the eyes of a few others as well. And here, we get a whole host of new people. My favourite is Penelope, a hacker who works in Eden. I can't wait to see more of her in future books.

4) The 'bonding time' between Ryder & the O'Kane men. Any time Ryder was hanging out or working alongside O'Kanes, was just fun to read, regardless of the situation they were in. That's especially true once a couple of them know something is going on between him & Nessa. I loved the group interactions, how they're always teasing each other but still clearly caring a lot.

5) How satisfying the ending is. All the big points get wrapped up, you see (I think) every couple from the rest of the series and several favourite characters who haven't had a story yet, and enough is set up for the next arc of the Eden/Sectors story that I can't wait for the new series to come. That new series is called Gideon's Riders, and the first book is out in the spring.

How could I not give Beyond Surrender 10 out of 10? Brilliant, emotional, and very satisfying.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Book review: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds


Title: Revenger
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Release date: 15th September 2016
Publisher: Gollancz
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher

Blurb: The galaxy has seen great empires rise and fall. Planets have shattered and been remade. Amongst the ruins of alien civilisations, building our own from the rubble, humanity still thrives. And there are vast fortunes to be made, if you know where to find them …

Captain Rackamore and his crew do. It’s their business to find the tiny, enigmatic worlds which have been hidden away, booby-trapped, surrounded with layers of protection – and to crack them open for the ancient relics and barely-remembered technologies inside. But while they ply their risky trade with integrity, not everyone is so scrupulous.

Adrana and Fura Ness are the newest members of Rackamore’s crew, signed on to save their family from bankruptcy. Only Rackamore has enemies, and there might be more waiting for them in space than adventure and fortune: the fabled and feared Bosa Sennen in particular.

My thoughts: I don't read much sci-fi but when I do it's usually space opera and I love it. I was excited to read about Revenger and never having read an Alastair Reynolds book it seemed like a good place to start. Revenger is narrated by Fura Ness, who is on the verge of adulthood when the story begins. I definitely felt like there was a YA turn to this book for the first section but having finished, I think it's a clever reflection of who Fura was then, and her innocence, and gives another way for Alastair Reynolds to show how she changes over the course of the story.

This is not a happy story. To start with, there's some adventure, some tension, but it's still quite fun. Then things get dark, and they stay pretty dark and tense for the whole story. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say that something happens with the crew of Rackamore's ship and it sets Fura on a path to seek revenge. She becomes very determined, to the point of being single-minded, in that pursuit. I found that as the book went on, I worried more and more for Fura and who she was becoming, as well as finding her less likeable. 

I agree with what Sarah says about Revenger in her review: a lot happens in the book and I would have liked it to slow down in some places and focus more on some big events. With fitting in so much to the story, some parts felt rushed. 

If I sound negative here, I don't mean to - it was an incredibly action-packed book that I could hardly put down, as my co-workers will attest. I really enjoyed the story and was on the edge of my seat on many occasions, waiting to see if characters would get through the next scrape. The writing was very good, as you'd expect from someone with Alastair Reynolds' experience and I'll definitely be reading more of his work in future. I feel like there might be a sequel down the line as the ending definitely left lots of potential for a continuation of the story but the main conflicts of Revenger did all get wrapped up. This was a nail-biting adventure through space with all the danger and wonder you would hope for in a space opera. I'm giving it 8 out of 10, and I definitely recommend it to sci-fi fans. 

-Ailsa

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Book review: The Hatching, by Ezekiel Boone


Title: The Hatching
Author: Ezekiel Boone
Genre: Horror
Publication date: 5 July 2016
Publisher: Gollancz
Source: Won (from Blackwell's)

Description: Deep in the jungle of Peru, a black, skittering mass devours an American tourist whole. Thousands of miles away, an FBI agent investigates a fatal plane crash in Minneapolis and makes a gruesome discovery. Unusual seismic patterns register in a Kanpur, India earthquake lab, confounding the scientists there. During the same week, the Chinese government “accidentally” drops a nuclear bomb in an isolated region of its own country. As these incidents begin to sweep the globe, a mysterious package from South America arrives at a Washington, D.C. laboratory. Something wants out.

My thoughts: I'm not a horror movie (or book) fan at all, and thinking about spiders makes me a little bit twitchy & paranoid but for some reason I had to know what happened. I'm so glad I gave it a go because I ended up loving this book.

It's a classic horror movie in book form. You know pretty much by reading the blurb what's going to happen. You know very early on that there are going to be killer spiders spreading around the world, especially as characters do really dumb things which the reader/audience can clearly spot. And there are the classic horror film protagonists: a scientist (actually several) with issues in her personal life; an FBI agent who only has occasional visitation rights with his young daughter; a newly engaged couple in a rural location. Will the scientist(s) save the world or make things worse? (A bit of both.) Will the father crack the case and also build a much closer relationship with his daughter? (Not sure yet, we'll have to see how book 2 goes.) Will the couple manage to survive in their quiet location or will one die while tragically trying to save the other? (Again, we're waiting for the sequel, but this is a sweet couple in a horror story... I don't fancy their odds.)

There's nothing too complicated about The Hatching which is partly what I loved about it. I knew a lot of what was going to happen but at the same time I had to keep reading to see how it happened, and whether anyone would figure out how to stop the spider before it was all too late [dun dun DUUNN]. There is a sequel, called Skitter, which is due out in the spring next year. If you're a fan of horror films, or just want an easy read, I definitely recommend this. I read it in one sitting on a 4 hour train ride and really enjoyed it.

Overall I'm giving The Hatching 7 stars.
~Ailsa

Monday, July 18, 2016

Book review: All Is Not Forgotten, by Wendy Walker


Title: All Is Not Forgotten
Author: Wendy Walker
Release date: 14th July 2016
Genre: Thriller
Publisher: HQ
Source: ARC from publisher

Description: You can erase the memory. But you cannot erase the crime.

Jenny’s wounds have healed.
An experimental treatment has removed the memory of a horrific and degrading attack.
She is moving on with her life.

That was the plan. Except it’s not working out.
Something has gone. The light in the eyes. And something was left behind. A scar. On her lower back. Which she can’t stop touching.
And she’s getting worse.
Not to mention the fact that her father is obsessed with finding her attacker and her mother is in toxic denial.

It may be that the only way to uncover what’s wrong is to help Jenny recover her memory. But even if it can be done, pulling at the threads of her suppressed experience will unravel much more than the truth about her attack.

My thoughts: I've read a few thrillers over the past year and file I find them fast reading and a good change from what I normally read, they don't tend to stand out very much. All Is Not Forgotten felt different, for a couple of reasons. 

Number one: the narrator. At the start of the book, you might think it's a 3rd person, omniscient narrator. But very quickly you learn that someone specific is telling the story, and that got me interested: who would know what this person knows about Jenny? And if it's a character telling the story, how many strands of the picture can they really know about? You do find out a couple of chapters in and I think it's a perfect person to be telling a story like this. I also enjoyed that while you are mostly getting the full story, as you get further in, I questioned the reliability of the narrator more and more.

Number two: The basic premise of a treatment that could block the memory of something traumatic, and the questions that come up around the use of something like that. The decision to give Jenny a medicine that will wipe out the memory of her rape is taken while she's unconscious. It was never her decision but her parents thought it was best. That's a topic on its own, and is dealt with a little bit, but the main concern of the story is on what the effects of the treatment are. Jenny can't move on, even though the memory is blocked - quite possibly because the memory is blocked. Certain things - smells, sounds - make her body react in fright but she doesn't remember why those things are setting off the panic.

The book is based around this exploration of consequences and I found that really interesting. I will say, the first chapter is gruesomely detailed and I felt physically sick reading it. Push past that, or skip it altogether - you really don't need to read it for the rest of the story to make sense. After that, it's a very fast read, exploring the treatment and how other aspects of the family's life are pulled apart by the consequences of it. It was a very interesting read. I'm going to give All Is Not Forgotten 7/10.

~Ailsa

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Book review: Fahrenheit 451


Title: Fahrenheit 451
Author: Ray Bradbury
Genre: Science Fiction (Traditionally, although today most people would say dystopian)
Publisher: HarperVoyager
Source: Free copy via the publisher

Description: Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

The classic novel of a post-literate future, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ stands alongside Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.

My thoughts:
*contains spoilers*

I've wanted to read this for a while, as it's one of those stories everyone references and sounds like it was a significant milestone in the genre. I liked the premise: books are banned and firemen have the job of burning them.

I was pretty disappointed.

From the first page, the writing is overly flowery, using five words where one would do. It turns out Guy Montag, the fireman, is married to an idiot zombie, who is attempting suicide one day and completely dismissing the events the next. He meets a strange girl and starts to question thing, but it quickly becomes clear that he was questioning and acting on those questions before that meeting, after all. He runs away, finds book keepers in the wilderness, then the city is blown up. Yes, Bradbury shows a future which is looking more and more possible every year, with superfast cars, surround television and atomic warfare, but it is the setting that is the interesting part. To me, the story itself was not.

I give Fahrenheit 451 4 stars out of 10.
 

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