Sure look, I know, it's almost the end of April but better late than never, as always! I'm on track with my 60 books for the year goal and for the most part, I'm loving everything I've read so far. There are some truly excellent psychological thrillers out this year and over the last couple of years and some beautiful historical fiction. Here's what I read over February and March, not including A Man With One of Those Faces, which I reviewed HERE.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough
This received a whole lot of hype when it was released at the start of the year. Its PR campaign used the hashtag #WTFThatEnding and so as you can imagine, I was pretty keen to see how it ends. Louise is a single mum and a secretary in a doctors clinic, generally bored with life with only her (extremely annoying) five year old son to give her life meaning. And so, she inadvertently starts an affair with one of the doctors she works with and also inadvertently becomes best friends with his wife, who obviously doesn't know about the affair…or does she? As the book progresses, the perfect marriage of her friend and lover appears less and less ideal as David seems to be controlling and brooding, while Adele seems fragile and weak. Bizarrely, Louise discovers that both she and Adele can astro-project, for Louise this often happens when she sleeps and she can't go very far but Adele seems to have mastered this supernatural skill. The plot thickens! OK, so there's a few red herrings in this one and most of the characters are terrible people who I found it hard to sympathise with. Louise is a bit of an eejit, truth be told and her child..I can't even explain how irritating he was and yes, I know he's a fictional five year old, I don't care. And that ending. Well, I know it annoyed a lot of people but I can honestly say that it completely floored me. There is literally NO way that you can guess this one so if you're looking for an unpredictable psychological thriller- this is it! #WTFThatEnding indeed!
The Trespasser by Tana French
I love Tana French, I've mentioned that several times before but her Dublin murder squad books have for the most part, all been excellent. This is number 6 in that series, I think? You don't need to read them in order but the previous book will feature the detective that's the main character in the next book in the series. If that makes sense. Here, Antoinette Conway is battling to stay on the Dublin murder squad- it's where she's always wanted to be and since she made detective, she does not want to go back to Vice or Undercover or anywhere else. Her partner Stephen is the same. They both have a hunger for it. Unfortunately, Antoinette is not well liked- partly because she's a woman in an all male environment but also because she takes none of her team's misogynistic bullshit. She's a tough cookie. Because of their persona non-grata status, they get the cases that go nowhere, including the murder of Aislinn Murray, a young, pretty blonde, found murdered by a single blow to the head in her own home. There's a distinct lack of DNA evidence at the scene and no obvious suspects, other than a fella Aislinn was seeing. All is going reasonably well until Antoinette and Stephen realise the rest of the squad are not so subtly pushing them into arresting the boyfriend, fast. What they have to figure out is if this is more of the bullying Antoinette has been on the receiving end of or if there's a more sinister reason why they are being coerced into solving the case in a certain way. This is a good thriller/crime/whodunnit. As always, what makes French's books that bit more interesting is the innate Irishness to them, which often translates quite darkly in her stories. While I enjoyed this, I can't say that it immediately hooked me, the way some of her other novels have but I did enjoy it and was keen to see how it would end.
Final Girls by Riley Sager
I had seen this reviewed on someone else's blog and the name and concept made me want to read it immediately. I was kind of horrified to find out that it's not released til July so I went and asked for it on NetGalley and they very kindly complied. Thanks NetGalley, you completely put me out of my misery!
The name "Final Girls" derives from horror movies where there's always one girl left. She's faced the slasher/serial killer and has somehow escaped where all of her friends have been brutally murdered. Quincy has been given the nickname of a Final Girl by the media, after surviving a horrific attack in Pine Cottage, a cabin in the woods that left all of her college friends viciously murdered. There are other Final Girls too, each the victims in their own private but conversely, extremely public horror movies- Lisa, who narrowly avoided being one of nine sorority girls murdered by a serial killer and Sam, who was tortured by the "Sack Man" at a motel she used to work in, where all the guests were left for dead. It's ten years later and Quincy now writes a baking blog and lives as quiet a life as she can with her boyfriend. That is until fellow Final Girl Lisa is found dead and Sam shows up on Quincy's doorstep. Did Lisa really kill herself and is Sam a friend or a foe? It looks like someone is after the Final Girls and is trying to drag Quincy back to that forest where she will eventually find out what really happened in Pine Cottage. I am definitely the right market for this- I love horrors, especially 80's slashers so this was right up my street. I was completely addicted to this book. I took a brief break in reading it (I read it in one day) to go to the cinema but spent the time on the way there and on the way back going "I wonder what's going to happen next in my book…and what the hell happened in Pine Cottage?!!!" etc. Sorry, Cilian and Ailbhe for my poor company that evening. I also held my kindle and continued to read whilst simultaneously making tea. Boiling hot water and a lack of attention do not mix, kids. Some of the plot points are a little bit stretched if I'm honest and it was a bit trashy in places, but that's kind of what I liked about it, it made it feel more like an authentic horror movie but in book form. Awesome!
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I'd been aware of Kate Atkinson as an author for quite a while now but this is the first of hers that I've read. This is an unusual book to try and describe but sure, I'll have a go. The story begins on a cold snowy night in 1910 where a baby girl, Ursula is born. Neither the midwife nor the doctor get there on time and she dies. On an alternative version of that night, she lives and continues her life. This is basically a series of sliding doors universes where Ursula lives but is murdered later in life or lives but someone she loves dies or lives but she in turn kills Hitler. I know. Very cool. It's ultimately about the many possibilities that life gives us and the many possibilities that fate takes away from us. I listened to this on Audible and it did take me a while to get into it. I'm not sure that this particular book lends itself well to audio but after a while I really enjoyed it and I loved Ursula. I rejoiced when she re-lived her life and avoided a decision that had been catastrophic for her in a different life and in turn, felt dejected when all the many awful men she met along the way destroyed her. I felt both sad and triumphant at the end, that it was over but also, that I had survived the saga that was the many lives of Ursula Todd! Still, she felt like a friend and I missed the characters so much that I'm now reading the sequel, A God In Ruins. I'm not sure how I feel about that yet- I will report back of course, but I can definitely recommend Life After Life.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
This was for our book club but both my sister and Himself had also bought me super fancy hardback editions for Christmas, both of which are very swoon-worthy. It's also nicely fitting for the story itself, which is dark and twisty but also full of descriptions of nature. This was a really pleasant book to read, I loved the use of language and the imagery that it conjured in my mind. Parts of it floored me.
This whole paragraph for instance: "One day he said: 'In Japan they'll mend a broken pot with drops of molten gold. What a thing it would be: to have me break you and mend your wounds with gold.' But she'd been seventeen, and armour clad with youth, and never felt the blade go in".
Anyway, the "she" in that paragraph grows up and becomes a widow with a slightly unusual son and a devoted ladies maid. Cora is a complacent widow as her marriage was an unhappy one but she is an intelligent and inquisitive woman and wishes to see more of the world, which was unusual for 1893. With that, all three move to Essex, hoping for fresh air and a fresh start but Cora becomes obsessed with a rumour about a large serpent living in the waters of Essex and killing its inhabitants. She also becomes close at this time to the local vicar and his family. He is a sceptic about the serpent but finds himself more and more drawn to Cora, especially as his wife becomes more and more unwell…so you can see where that's headed, but lots of other weird things happen in the meantime and overall, it's a strange book. At times enjoyable but often slow and convoluted. There's plenty of competing story lines, that I haven't even mentioned here because we actually don't have the space. I'm not sure I'd recommend this one unless you were very specifically looking for a book like this, which is not to say I didn't enjoy it…I still haven't quite made my mind up about this yet!
The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
I saw the film of this a few years ago and thought it was somewhat enjoyable and then I spotted this on the Library ebook section, which I of course then downloaded. I love the Library. Anyway, in case you don't remember, Andy has just graduated and needs a job. She somehow ends up interviewing for a PA position in Runway (a not very well disguised version of Vogue), which she thinks will help her get ahead- she has lofty ambitions to be a serious journalist for the New York Times. Her boss is Miranda Priestly (again, a not super well disguised version of Anna Wintour), the most hated woman in the fashion magazine industry. It turns out that she is the "devil" of the title and treats everyone who works for her with utter contempt using a good old dose of what we now call 'gas lighting' to destroy in particular, Andy's spirit. Meanwhile, Andy is also trying to juggle relationships with her boyfriend and her best friend as she slowly but surely gets sucked into the world of Runway. But can she get out before it consumes who she is? To be honest, by the end of this you probably won't care either way. None of these people are super likeable characters but it passes the time nicely. Having said that, there are plenty of other, better books in this kind of genre, if you're looking for some lighter reading.
The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood
This was the second Alex Marwood I've read, having previously enjoyed The Darkest Secret, another psychological thriller that read like a "what really really happen to Madeline McCann" expose. The Killer Next Door is set in a dingy house in London, divided into bedsits and filled with a group of very different people, all with something to hide. Their landlord is an out and out creep and spies on and sexually harasses the female renters. One of them is Collette, she's on the run from her gangster ex-boss who she's stolen from, while Cher is hiding from the social services. Vesta, an elderly woman is trying to cling on to what's left of her home, while the male tenants are all loners, asylum seekers and generally outsiders, trying to keep to themselves. Tension builds up in the house as the Summer heat increases until it comes to a head one night when a crime takes place in the house that they all in turn, become embroiled in. None of that is helped by the fact that separate to that there is also a serial killer living and operating in one of the apartments…but who is it?! This was an absolute gripper of a book, I could not put it down and had finished it in about two days. One thing I would say though is that it can be quite gory and at times even my stomach turned at some of the descriptions, which is saying something- it takes a lot to make me squeamish. Having said that, if you like a good thriller and you enjoy trying to figure out who the killer is, you'll definitely like this.
Paper Girls, Vol 1 by Brian K Vaughan
I bought this in a comic book shop in Galway on a bit of a whim. I'm a fan of graphic novels anyway and had heard this was a good'un but it wasn't 'til I saw it in real life that I knew I had to have it- it practically jumped at me from the shelf and I can't even explain how much I love it. The guy who sold it to me said if I liked Stranger Things then I'd like this too but it goes way beyond that. I adore the colours, the drawings, the pop culture references and the story itself. Four girls who deliver newspapers in an American suburb in the 80's, cross paths on Halloween night and end up joining forces when the apocalypse hits them. This encompasses time travel, other worlds, monsters, feminism and four kick-ass girls taking all of that on. When a twist was revealed I actually went 'OMG!!!' and tried to tell Himself and ruin it for him, just so I could tell someone (I didn't), so you know it's good. I've already bought Vol 2. Very excited for that!
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
This is actually Marwood's first book, so of course I have read it last in the sequence of her releases. Way behind there. I probably have enjoyed this one the least. Three little girls meet on a hot Summers day, but only two of them get home that evening. Jade is from a deprived background, she wanders the streets looking for food and gets up to mischief wherever possible. She meets and befriends Annabel, from the big mansion in the town but also from an abusive home. They somehow end up being lumbered with a four year old to look after for the day, even though they're only kids themselves and don't have the capacity or ability to look after themselves properly. Through what eventually turns out to be a horror of a day, little Chloe is killed and Jade and Annabel are not only found to be to blame but they are vilified and become the most hated girls in Britain. Fast forward several years and both girls are now grown up, using different names and trying to move on with their lives. Annabel is now Amber, a cleaning supervisor in a funfair, in an unhappy relationship with sleazy ladies man Victor, while Jade is now Kirsty, a happily married journalist with two children. They're under strict instructions never to meet or speak to each other again but they have no choice in breaking that promise when Kirsty travels to Amber's seaside town to investigate a series of grizzly murders. The book is peppered with flashbacks to the day of Chloe's death, so we don't find out until almost at the end of the book what actually happened. Add to that the fact that there seems to be two modern day serial killers added to the storyline, who are nothing to do with each other and this one ends up being a bit convoluted. I think the concept of this book was better than it's execution but it was still a good read, it just didn't quite grip me as much as her others have.
And that's that! Have you read any of these?
What are you reading right now?
To the comments!