Holiday Reads – Corfu 2017

At the start of June I headed off for a week’s break in Corfu – as usual, I had visions of grandeur, thinking I’d read a book a day, if not more! Alas, I only read three books during the whole week! After all, it was because I was having too much fun playing card games, completing arrow words puzzles (hello guilty pleasure!) and drinking gin fizzes in the sun.

I’m in a very fortunate position where I frequently get sent books for review, however I decided that my holiday reading would be ones that I had picked out myself and had a thirst to read – I made sure they all had no review, timeline or expectation attached. It was oddly refreshing! Given the location we were in, I probably should’ve packed The Durrells of Corfu as one of my books. I’ll be doing mini reviews of these three books in my monthly wrap up at the beginning of July, so without further a do…on holiday I read…

Miss you by Kate Eberlen (Pan MacMillan) – 4/5

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A Richard and Judy Book Club pick, a Radio 2 Book Club Choice – and the most unconventional love story you’ll read this year Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven’t met properly yet. And perhaps they never will …Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can’t get it out of her head, even though she’s in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence – and, for one day, the paths of these two eighteen-year-olds will criss-cross before they each return to England. Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and chance, there’s no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly …or is there?

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Penguin Books) – 5/5

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Perfect family, perfect house, perfect life; Jane, Madeline and Celeste have it all …or do they? They are about to find out just how easy it is for one little lie to spiral out of control. From the author of Truly Madly Guilty and The Husband’s Secret comes a novel about the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive. Jane hasn’t lived anywhere for longer than six months since her son was born five years ago. She keeps moving in an attempt to escape her past. Now the idyllic coastal town of Pirriwee has pulled her to its shores and Jane feels as if she finally belongs. She finds friends in the feisty Madeline and the incredibly beautiful Celeste, two women with seemingly perfect lives – and their own secrets. But at the start of a new term, an incident involving the children of all three women occurs in the playground, causing a rift between them and other parents. Minor at first but escalating fast, until the whispers and rumours become vicious and spiteful, and the truths blur into lies. It was always going to end in tears, but no one thought it would end in murder …

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday) – 4/5

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The addictive new psychological thriller from the author of The Girl on the Train, the runaway Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller and global phenomenon. In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool…With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, satisfying read that hinges on the stories we tell about our pasts and their power to destroy the lives we live now.

As a bonus for reading this far, here are some photos of our break away…

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What books will you be reading this Summer?

Baileys Prize Shortlist Wrap-up

When the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced earlier this year I made it my mission to get through all of them before the winner is announced (the prizegiving is taking place 7th June 2017). I got on pretty well and (thanks to my local library!) I read five out of the six. The only one I missed out on was The Sport of Kings – I didn’t have enough time to get stuck in before I had to send it back to my local library as it was reserved for another member!

Here are my thoughts on the 2017 shortlist:

The Power by Naomi Alderman (Penguin / Viking) – 4/5
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Set in a contemporary – and almost dystopian – world, The Power is a feminist study into what would happen if true, unlimited power was in the hands of women. In this new world, with the flick of a wrist, women can emit an electrifying force and this emergence of power soon leads to corruption. I honestly didn’t know what to think once I had finished The Power – it blew my mind. It was fascinating and terrifying; I still regularly think about it and I read it over 3 months ago now. I definitely encourage you to read this, whether you’re male or female, as I think everyone will take something different from The Power. Ultimately, it questions gender, power and religion. Trigger warning: there are some harrowing scenes throughout, featuring sex-trafficking, death, rape and civil war.

First Love by Gwendoline Riley (Granta) – 3/5
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What First Love lacks in length, being the shortest novel on the shortlist, it certainly makes up for with emotion and grit. The main character, Neve, is in an unhappy, abusive and seemingly loveless marriage with Edwyn. But there is more to it. It appears that her formative years have played a huge part in contributing to her current situation as well as her mental state; or is it actually Edwyn’s fault they’re in the predicament they are? Riley writes pithy dialogue which is true to life, giving us a glimpse into Neve and Edwyn’s marriage behind closed doors. We never truly understand their backstory. First Love is raw and disturbing in places, but it lacked a real story – the timeline felt confused and it is missing a satisfying ending, however I’m certainly keen to read more of Riley’s work to see how First Love compares.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien (Granta) – 3/5
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Spanning many, many years of Chinese history, Do Not Say We Have Nothing is an epic, expansive study into the realities of life under Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution. Family loyalty, music and brutality all feature heavily in Thien’s writing. I’ll admit that I had some trouble reading this – it took me at least 100 pages to get into the story, in addition to this there are so many characters, often with multiple names and nicknames that I had to wrack my brain to figure out who was who at times. It is a fascinating read, but also felt quite heavy-going, which made it hard to emotionally invest in the characters. Whilst this isn’t my favourite book of the shortlist I can definitely see why it has been nominated as it is a fantastic piece of historical writing that offers insight to the country’s fragmented state of affairs.

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant (Virago) – 3/5
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Set in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Kent countryside, The Dark Circle charts the beginnings of the NHS at the end of the Second World War. Second generation Jewish immigrants, twins Lenny and Miriam, are sent there in their teenage years to recover and gain strength. Linda Grant’s characters, whilst diverse, felt lacklustre; there is something missing for me as I didn’t care what happened to them, which is never a good sign. If the plot was stronger and quicker in places I think I would have been more connected to their stories. It is a moderately enjoyable read, but it certainly felt wayward in places, particularly as the story progressed to hear about their later lives.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adébáyò (Canongate Books) – 5/5
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Spoiler: I absolutely loved this book. Set in Nigeria, Stay With Me is a mouthpiece for Yejide and Akin, a married couple whose troubles push them to the brink of separation. The themes of individual identity, heritage and societal expectations of women are explored as Yejide struggles to conceive; she cannot offer Akin the family his family have always dreamt of. The plot then thickens, set against a backdrop of Nigerian politics. Stay With Me weaves a stunning and engaging story of deception and love. Featuring many twists and turns, the narrative flows effortlessly. It swiftly switches perspectives, between Yejide and Akin, making the reader challenge their assumptions of what the female or male view of marriage should be. I felt wholly invested in this book and was sad when the book ended – Adébáyò manages to fit so much in less than 300 pages! I was also astounded to hear that this is her debut novel. Without a doubt, I will be keeping an eye on what Adébáyò does next as I’m sure she has a bright future ahead.

My prediction

Based on my overall reading experience I would absolutely love Stay With Me to win as it drew me in and enveloped me with its layered commentary on marriage and the pressures of being a woman. Having said that, I don’t think it will win – I think The Power will. It has so many themes that are prevalent and important in today’s predominantly patriarchal society. Until we have full equality between men and women I think this will continue to be an important, eye-opening read. It is clever, powerful (sorry, I couldn’t resist…) and really, really is something special. It is such a unique novel. Either way, I’d be happy if one of these fantastic novels won the prize! Now, we just have to wait until 7th June for the winner to be unveiled.

May Reads

Where has the month gone? I barely blinked and suddenly it is June! In April I set myself a challenge of reading a book every other day and whilst I didn’t do too badly, I didn’t do too good either. As is always the way, life kind of just got in the way.

In total I read 11 books over the course of May, which included two graphic novels.

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier (Time Warner Books) – 5/5
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Light-hearted, high-spirited and fun – this book is very different from Du Maurier’s most famous novel, Rebecca. I raced through this in a day and was captivated by the wonderful, mischievous Lady Dona St. Columb. Full of humour and action, Du Maurier paints such a vivid, vibrant scene that I was instantly transported to Navron House and the Cornish creek. The ending managed to surprise me too, as only Du Maurier could do – she executes the twists in her stories so well. This is the best book by Daphne Du Maurier that I’ve read so far.

One Hundred Shadows by Hwang Jungeun, translated by Jung Yewon (Tilted Axis Press) – 3/5
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This is a piece of translated Korean fiction, which I received in the March Moth Box (the service is run by Mercedes of Mercy’s Bookish Musings – her channel on YouTube is great). Set in a slum electronics market in central Seoul, a tentative relationship between Eungyo and Mujae forms and during this period we hear about people’s shadows rising above them, particularly when stress or depression creeps in. As the future of the market is threatened, the novel explores the economic downturn in Seoul as well as the effect it has on the lower-classes. It is full of fantasy, magical realism and lyricism, and whilst I’m not a fan of this style, I know other readers have praised these elements. Sadly, the ending also let it down for me, as it felt open-ended and inconclusive.

The Search by Howard Linskey (Penguin UK) – 4/5
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Set in Durham and centred around the case of missing Susan Verity, The Search is told from multiple perspectives – which I’m a huge fan of – as Detective Ian Bradshaw teams up with investigative journalists Helen Norton and Tom Carney to solve the 20-year-old, re-opened mystery. You can read my full post from the blog tour here. 

Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs (Jonathan Cape) – 5/5
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From the creator of The Snowman, Raymond Briggs, Ethel and Ernest is a heart-warming graphic novel that follows the life of his parents. There are loads of great, UK-specific historical and political references throughout, which show the impact both Labour and Conservative governments had on the country over time. All-in-all it is such a great cosy story, although it did make me blub at the end! If you read this and don’t find the end sad then you must have a heart made of ice.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton) – 4/5
ExitWestSet in an alternate reality that could be a not too distant future, Exit West is a exploration of the current refugee crisis taking place in the world, where people can flee civil war by stepping through black doors into a promising future. It tells the tale of Nadia and Saeed’s relationship, after they meet in a country on the brink of a savage war. I highly recommend this if you’re looking for a book to make you think about the turmoil the world is currently going through.

When The Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs (Penguin) – 3/5Wind BlowsI didn’t intend to read two graphic novels this month, but almost as soon as I’d reserved this at the library I received a call saying it was ready to be collected. Reading this was a different experience to Ethel and Ernest and whilst the art style is similar it definitely felt more experimental, with stark double-page spreads of a singular image. The story is macabre and sombre as the threat of nuclear war looms and consequently the affect this has on a couple. Briggs has a way of getting under your skin and into your brain.

The Wrong Knickers by Bryony Gordon (Headline) – 4/5
WrongknickersAfter reading quite a few heavy books I wanted to finish the month on something a bit cheerier. The Wrong Knickers is a hilarious, eye-opening and chaotic read which follows acclaimed journalist, Byrony Gordon, through her twenties. It had me laughing and cringing throughout. I wish I saved this for reading on a beach whilst on holiday.

The last four books I read were all nominated for the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction – I wanted to get through all of the shortlist, which I almost managed to do! Unfortunately, I didn’t quite get around to reading The Sport of Kings and as it was a chunky one I thought I’d give it a miss. The mini-reviews can be read in my Baileys wrap-up here.

Did you read anything good in May? Do you have any recommendations for books that should be on my radar?

May Reads: What I’ll be pre-ordering

There are so many great books coming out in May (a couple of which I’ve already reviewed on Harry’s Book Club – See What I Have Done and Love Me Not). Here’s an overview of the ones I’m most excited about that will be hitting the shelves soon, the 4th May is clearly a popular day for publishing!

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins (Transworld) – 2nd May

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In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool…

You Don’t Know Me by Imran Mahmood (Michael Joseph) – 4th May

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An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech. He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth. There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions…but at the end of the speeches, only one matters: Did he do it?

These Dividing Walls by Fran Cooper (Hodder & Stoughton) – 4th May

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In a forgotten corner of Paris stands a building. Within its walls, people talk and kiss, laugh and cry; some are glad to sit alone, while others wish they did not. A woman with silver-blonde hair opens her bookshop downstairs, an old man feeds the sparrows on his windowsill, and a young mother wills the morning to hold itself at bay. Though each of their walls touches someone else’s, the neighbours they pass in the courtyard remain strangers. Into this courtyard arrives Edward. Still bearing the sweat of a channel crossing, he takes his place in an attic room to wait out his grief. But in distant corners of the city, as Paris is pulled taut with summer heat, there are those who meet with a darker purpose. As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37.

Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books) – 4th May

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It’s Saturday, it’s summer and, although he doesn’t know it yet, everything in Adam Thorn’s life is going to fall apart. But maybe, just maybe, he’ll find freedom from the release. Time is running out though, because way across town, a ghost has risen from the lake…This uplifting coming-of-age novel will remind you what it’s like to fall in love.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (Viking) – 4th May

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Recalling Olive Kitteridge in its richness, structure, and complexity, Anything Is Possible explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others. Anything is Possible tells the story of the inhabitants of rural, dusty Amgash, Illinois, the hometown of Lucy Barton, a successful New York writer who finally returns, after seventeen years of absence, to visit the siblings she left behind.

What books are on your pre-order list? Do you have any recommendations for me?

Book Review: Love Me Not (DI Helen Grace #7) by M.J. Arlidge

#Penguin #BookReview @MJArlidge

This review contains a couple of small spoilers – beware!

As a long-time fangirl of DI Helen Grace I’ve been super excited for the next instalment in the series; it was almost time to get my next fix. Being an eager beaver I’d pre-ordered a copy of the seventh book as I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, however in the end the book Gods were looking down on me and I was lucky enough to receive an advanced copy for review from the publicist (Thank you Angela, you made my day!).

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Set over a single 24-hour period, Love Me Not is a fast-paced thriller with short, punchy chapters that are punctuated by time as the action bounds in. Early in the morning DI Grace is confronted with a brutal death – an innocent woman has been killed on her way to work. Soon the team is called out to the next crime, which is when they realise they have more on their hands than originally thought. Once again a serial killer is on the loose. I won’t say too much else about the plot as I don’t want to give anything major away.

I read Love Me Not in two short sittings – from the first page I was on the edge of my seat and eager to know the conclusion. Like the others in the series it doesn’t disappoint, it’s a crime thriller full of adrenaline, action, gore and suspense. Arlidge’s writing is succinct and snappy; it never fails to hook me in.

Love Me Not didn’t contain as much of Helen Grace’s backstory and personal life as the other six, which makes it great as a stand-alone novel if you’re yet to read any others in the series. She shows a lot more humility and lightness, with little focus on her dark past. As usual, the characters were dark and brooding – I was convinced that Arlidge was going to kill off the pesky, determined journalist Emilia Garanita, but sadly not this time!

If you are new to M.J. Arlidge’s work I heartily recommend that you start at book number one: Eeny Meeny. You won’t be disappointed!

I can’t wait to see what is next for Helen Grace!

 4/5

Give it a go if you enjoyed:  The DS Heck series by Paul Finch or Jo Nesbo

Author: M. J. Arlidge
Published by: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Hardback: 352 pages

Love Me Not will be published 18th May and can be pre-ordered through my book depository link, here.

January Reads

I kicked off the year with a pretty good month of reading. I worked my way through eight books which consisted of one poetry collection, two non-fictions, three novels and two crime thrillers.

Sorry my mini-reviews are a little late this month! Here goes…

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Rupture – Ragnar Jonasson (Orenda Books) – 4/5

I was kindly sent an advance copy of Rupture by the lovely Karen over at Orenda Books, which arrived the day before Christmas Eve.

Set in the town of Siglufjörður Rupture is chilling, dark and atmospheric. We follow the local policeman, Ari Thór, and his investigation into a suspicious death from the 1950s in the isolated fjord of Hedinsfjörður. The story unfurled slowly, was full of detail and really packed a punch – I don’t want to say too much as I implore you to read it and see what all the fuss is about. An absolute must read if you’re a fan of crime thrillers. I have to admit that I’d never read any of Jonasson’s work before, and with this being the fourth book in his Dark Iceland series I thought I might be a little bit lost, but in fact I found that Rupture worked fantastically as a stand-alone novel. To be honest, I enjoyed it so much that I’ve now added the other three books to my TBR pile.

Ragdoll – Daniel Cole (Trapeze) –  5/5

I won’t say anything about this one here, as I’m involved with the blog tour for Ragdoll and will be posting an in-depth review on Tuesday 21st February. Keep your eyes peeled!

Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge (Guardian Faber Publishing) – 5/5

I added this to my reading list for Non-Fiction November, then sadly never got around to reading it. In Another Day in the Death of America award-winning journalist Gary Younge tells the story of the children and teens killed by gun crime in a single 24 hour period, in America. Younge randomly chooses 23 November 2013 to track and chronicle the deaths of these ten young men.

Whilst I found it tragic in parts, it felt like a book I needed to read. It was so well written – insightful, intelligent and thoughtful. I find the issue of gun control and violence in the US petrifyingly scary and Younge’s account further opened my eyes to the complicated issues that are faced in the States, whilst also highlighting the vulnerability of the youth. Although difficult to read in places, I was engaged throughout and thoroughly recommend reading this one.

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick (Touchstone) – 3/5  

This was a collection of autobiographical essays by Anna Kendrick, the actress and star of Pitch Perfect. I was really unfussed by these; they were quite self-indulgent and often not that funny. If you’re looking for a light hearted, humorous memoir I’d recommend either Amy Schumer’s or Sue Perkins’ instead as both of them are much better!

The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer (Harper Collins) – 3/5

 ‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

Whilst I enjoyed The Shock of the Fall, and it was an okay book, it didn’t wow me. It didn’t surprise or shock me and it felt a little lack lustre. I thought Filer’s portrait of mental illness and the health system was good, but perhaps a little too simplistic at times. Personally, I think this book could’ve been chopped in half and still told the story succinctly.

Gold from the Stone – Lemn Sissay (Canongate Books) – 4/5

My Mum got me this poetry collection for Christmas as I’ve been super keen to find more poetry that I enjoy. Lemn Sissay’s work is bold and personal, commenting on race, the government, social services, relationships and much, much more – it is filled with rage, humour, sadness and love.

After reading this collection I went on to watch countless YouTube videos of Lemn reading them – his performances breathed endless life into the words, so strong and powerful. My favourite from the collection was Invisible Kisses, it’s just breath-taking       .

And the hippos were boiled in their tanks – William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac (Penguin) – 2/5

After being involved in a crime one Summer, Kerouac and Burroughs decided to collaborate on a novel about the event they’d experienced. At the time, the two authors were undiscovered and yet to write anything of note – their original manuscript was rejected by publishers, left untouched for decades in a filing cabinet until it was published many years later. Kerouac and Burroughs narrate alternate chapters, piecing together a tale of bohemian New York during World War II. For me, this had so much promise, but in truth I found it clunky and static, with little to keep me interested. It took me months to read this, which is crazy as it is pretty short at a mere 214 pages. 

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff (Windmill Books) – 4/5

A tale of love and lies, we follow newly married Lotto and Mathilde through their marriage; with two sides to every story, we hear both the male and female view of what their life is like as time passes by. Groff’s storytelling is sublime and her descriptions and plotline kept me hooked until the very last page. However, one thing I wasn’t overly struck on was Groff’s incorporation of Greek tragedy, but at the same time it wasn’t off-putting as it mirrored Lotto and Mathilde’s tragic tale.

What Alice Knew / November Reads  

November was a crazy, busy month with a small bout of ill health (thankfully I’m feeling right as rain now) and a career change under my belt. Sadly, my reading fell by the wayside. Rather pathetically I managed one whole book in November but at least it was a good one!

I received What Alice Knew (T.A. Cotterell) in the post from the lovely Becky over at Transworld Books to help me get Harry’s Book Club set-up and on the road.

As soon as I read the blurb, I knew I’d be in for a treat:

Alice has a perfect life – a great job, happy kids, a wonderful husband. Until he goes missing one night; she receives a suspicious phone call; things don’t quite add up. 

Alice needs to know what’s going on. But when she uncovers the truth she faces a brutal choice. And how can she be sure it is the truth?

Sometimes it’s better not to know.

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Without revealing any spoilers as I don’t want to ruin what is a fantastic book, What Alice Knew is not your average thriller. The storyline follows Alice, her husband Ed and their children, Arthur and Nell, through a moral dilemma, dissecting trust and honesty, questioning how far they’d go for familial love after Ed mysteriously disappears. Cotterell’s storytelling captivated me throughout, he crams so much tension in and explores many themes in the book, from loyalty to justice, with ease.

I really enjoyed Cotterell’s characterisation of Alice – as an artist she is a creative, complex and deep, someone who feels her way through situations. In contrast to this Ed is simple, straight forward and to the point. Throughout the book I found myself siding with Alice, then Ed, then Alice; it was like a tennis match between them as the story darkly unfurled.I loved that the ending was a complete twist and one that I wasn’t expecting. Since finishing the book the story has really stuck with me and made me question what I would have done in Alice’s situation.

From the moment I started this book I didn’t want to put it down – What Alice Knew is a gripping, psychological read and one that I am surprised to hear is a debut novel! It is currently available on Kindle, whilst the paperback is available to pre-order and due out May 2017.

4/5

As mentioned, this book was sent to me in exchange for an honest review and all views are my own.