The Chain by Adrian McKinty

I thought this started really well, the shock and fear was so powerful, but this didn’t continue throughout, and I was left disappointed by the second half.

Your phone rings.
A stranger has kidnapped your child.
To free them you must abduct someone else’s child.
Your child will be released when your victim’s parents kidnap another child.
If any of these things don’t happen:
Your child will be killed.
You are now part of The Chain.

This book starts off really powerfully. Rachel’s daughter is kidnapped, and she therefore becomes part of The Chain, a spooky entity forcing people to commit crimes to get their kids back. I was hooked from the start, as it was quite an unusual concept, and one that I really liked. Rachel herself was a great main character, she was strong, stubborn and resourceful, as anyone would need to be in this situation. Her daughter, Kylie, was also a strong person, and just as determined to get herself out of the situation.

I felt like the first part of the book was clever, fairly fast-paced, and the story showed a detailed look into the complexity of human nature. Rachel’s emotions were closely examined throughout, her guilt, determination, love, relief and her dangerous side were all shown.

Unfortunately, it’s the second half of the book that I felt let it down. To me, it felt really disconnected. McKinty starts dropping sections written from the perspective of the people behind The Chain. I personally feel this would have been more powerful if it had started earlier in the book, and there hadn’t been such a strong division between Parts 1 and 2. Learning more about The Chain’s leaders was definitely interesting however, so I did like that this was added in.

I also expected more characters to be introduced in part 2, but instead it was the same people, but with more personal issues being thrown at them. I would have liked to see a character who was just a strong, independent and courageous person, without having them battle through an emotional or tragic backstory just for the sake of it. It just felt like a lot to me, for both main characters to have a really intense story, and I would have liked to see some more in-depth analysis of their personality, as was shown in part 1.

The ending was a little cliche for me. There was a lot of heroics thrown in, and it was a bit much. I know it’s a bit ridiculous to say it didn’t feel realistic, as the whole concept is very ‘out there’, but it just felt a little overdone, and I was just reading through it super quickly to get past all the dramatics. I was disappointed by the ending, as I was hoping for something more deeply thought out.

There are definitely things about this I loved, but it mostly comes in the first half of the book, and the second half didn’t live up to how awesome that was. Still a great read, but just not my favourite, and I’d probably rate it a 3* read. However, I know that lots of people have loved this book, so maybe this is just me!

The Chain
Adrian McKinty
Orion, 9th July 2019

Bookish Bites: Last Lullaby by Carol Wyers

Hello, and welcome to my new feature! ‘Bookish Bites’ is a quickfire review round, where I write shorter reviews based off quick and easy to answer questions. If you don’t have the time to read lengthy reviews all the time, then this is the one for you!

Kicking off this feature is Last Lullaby by Carol Wyers.

Charlotte’s baby is safe. But is she?
When the body of young mother Charlotte Brannon is discovered by her husband in their immaculate, silver bedroom, Detective Natalie Ward is first on the scene. The killer has left a chilling calling card: the word ‘Why?’ written on the wall in blood. 
Determined to find justice, Natalie quickly discovers the husband is hiding a troubled past, and she’s sure the teenage babysitter’s alibi doesn’t quite add up.
But before Natalie can dig deeper, another mother is murdered, her young son left distraught, staring at a fresh ‘who’ scrawled beside her.
Natalie knows it’s only a matter of time before the killer strikes again, but all the key suspects have alibis. It’s her toughest case yet, and with her marriage hanging by a thread, the cracks are beginning to show.
Just when Natalie finds an unsettling clue she thinks could solve the case, another young woman and her baby disappear, and a member of Natalie’s team is put in terrible danger. 
Can Natalie stop this twisted killer and save one of her own before more families are torn apart forever?

Loved the easy to follow, but seriously sinister plot! It was a detailed and clever crime, and I particularly liked the pace of the book as it kept me engaged throughout without rushing anything. There were a lot of red herrings, clues and I really liked the glimpses into ‘Patient X’s conversation with the doctor as it gave an insight into the mind of the killer.

Disliked ummm… nothing? It’s honestly just a great read!

Favourite moment was the first scene between Patient X and the Doctor, as I was so horrified when I realised what I was reading, due to the creepy and sinister nature of the scene.

Favourite character is definitely Lucy. I like her stubborn nature, the way she shows her emotions and being able to have a glimpse into her personal life.

For fans of Angela Marsons and Rachel Lynch

Final comments: This is a truly sinister plot, with the brilliant and established detective Natalie Ward leading the team, and the ending is really satisfying. The plot builds intensity and suspense throughout, and the conclusion gives the reader a lot of detail in order to understand why these crimes were committed. Brilliant book!

BLOG TOUR: The Divorce by Victoria Jenkins

I thought this was a really unusual thriller, that absolutely flew by, in a fascinating setting.

I thought I knew how to help them. I knew nothing.
When Lydia and Josh Green walk into Karen’s office for counselling one rainy February morning, Karen sees a couple under stress, almost at breaking point. A husband working long hours at the hospital, a wife working longer hours at home with their young children.
They’re just a normal couple, with normal problems, and Karen is determined to help, but she knows she must be careful. Once in the past, she went too far – her need to fix other people’s lives tipped her over the edge… and someone got hurt.
But the couple won’t open up. And just as Karen begins to feel the couple are hiding a secret darker than the problems of an everyday marriage, she receives something which makes her question her own safety.
With everything she has been through, can Karen trust herself? She needs to listen and she needs to watch Lydia and Josh carefully – there is something there that could be the key to saving them all, if only she can unlock it in time…

I loved that this book was set, for the most part, solely in Karen’s office. It created a very claustrophobic atmosphere within the book, making it more intense than it already was, and it was really clever. Karen’s office, which started as a safe space, slowly became more and more invaded with Lydia and Josh’s problems, and throughout the novel this extended into other parts of Karen’s house, as the issues became more serious. For the odd scene which was set outside the house, there was a real sense of vulnerability and feeling unsafe, which was only reconciled when she returned to her office. Even the scenes in the kitchen were creepy and unsettling, and this use of place really enhanced all the themes throughout the story.

I also really liked how this book swapped perspectives, with different chapters being written from Josh, Lydia or Karen’s perspective. It gave an insight into how they all reacted differently to the counselling sessions, and allowed the reader to compare Karen’s assumptions and thoughts to Lydia and Josh’s thoughts. They were all such well written characters. I was definitely unsure what to make of Lydia and Josh, and had no idea where the story was going. Karen’s vague backstory was also intriguing, and Jenkins gave just the right amount of detail to make the reader feel tense and concerned for Karen.

The story itself goes so quickly – because nearly all the chapters take place as counselling sessions, no substantial time is spent on what happens in-between the sessions, so the plot is very focused. It’s really fast-paced and I was hooked throughout. The spooky little details that Jenkins puts in are perfectly timed to raise the suspense again, from pictures being misplaced to mysterious flowers arriving – they are small details, but they’re essential in building the tension.

The ending was really clever, it linked everything together in a really intense couple of chapters. It was explained really well, and Jenkins offers a much more insightful look into all three characters than the reader is allowed previously, so it’s a really satisfying ending. I was definitely taken by surprise, and the details within the plot make it even better. The last page or two is just as tense and fast-paced though, and even the rather abrupt end works really well – it keeps the pace of the book consistent, but still manages to leave the reader satisfied.

I loved this, it’s a clever, detailed, intense and fast-paced story, with three intriguing characters and a claustrophobic but brilliant setting. I would absolutely recommend this!

The Divorce
Victoria Jenkins
Bookouture, 4th July

BLOG TOUR: Kill For Me by Rebecca Bradley

This was a fast-paced, intriguing and unusual crime novel, with an intelligent yet emotional detective and a very satisfying ending.

A deadly game. An unstoppable killer. The perfect alibi.
Lucy Anderson is late collecting her daughter from nursery. A mistake that could prove fatal. 
Her daughter is gone and there is only one way Lucy can get her back. The ransom is simple, she has to kill someone…
And this is just the beginning. A deadly game with a domino effect has started as the real killer forces others to do his bidding.
Can detective inspector Hannah Robbins find the killer’s next puppet before they’re forced to strike or will this be the case where her opponent has found the perfect way to kill?

Straight from the start this hooked me. Lucy was a very emotionally engaging character, she really connected with the reader, and so the choices she made were even more hard-hitting. She’s forced to kill someone in order to get her daughter back, and the detailed thought process she goes through to make her decision and accept it is really quite painful to read. It also forces the reader to confront the choices they would make in this situation, making it even harder to read. The way this novel works is through a domino effect, with someone behind the scenes pulling all the strings. I don’t want to give too much away, but what happens to Lucy is actually really upsetting for the reader as she is the first character we bond with other than the detective. It’s a fast-paced outcome however, with no time to lose, and the next character that the novel focuses on is so different to Lucy that I felt it hardened the reader to their potential outcome and stopped the reader from becoming too emotionally attached to each character. This worked really well, as each time a new character was introduced the suspense built further and further.

Where this book really shines is in the questions it poses on morality and choice. Are the characters really offered much of a choice? The intense emotional blackmail they face would be hard for anyone to resist, but it’s also equally difficult to imagine letting it force them to commit these horrific crimes. But Bradley writes this part extremely well, highlighting the emotional turmoil they go through, their feelings after committing the crimes, and in the case of one of the characters, a sense of relief when they became the victim. It was truly brilliant writing in the face of a difficult moral topic.

The main detective, DI Hannah Robbins, was a really strong detective. She was intuitive, emotional and frustrated with the sense of the unknown. The reader had a real sense of the urgency needed to solve this case, and she was a brilliant lead character to do it. The ending was very emotionally satisfying, especially after such a difficult story. It wasn’t the most surprising, but that’s fine, as it instead provided satisfaction after such a fast-paced and intense novel.

I loved this, it was different to a lot of other crime/detective novels, it was fast and intense, and the characters were all written really well. I’d definitely recommend this!

Kill For Me
Rebecca Bradley
15th February 2019

BLOG TOUR: The Sunday Girl by Pip Drysdale

This was a fascinating psychological insight into the mind of the main character, with a fairly creepy story.

Some love affairs change you forever. Someone comes into your orbit and swivels you on your axis, like the wind working on a rooftop weather vane. And when they leave, as the wind always does, you are different; you have a new direction. And it’s not always north.
Any woman who’s ever been involved with a bad, bad man and been dumped will understand what it feels like to be broken, broken-hearted and bent on revenge.
Taylor Bishop is hurt, angry and wants to destroy Angus Hollingsworth in the way he destroyed her: ‘Insidiously. Irreparably. Like a puzzle he’d slowly dissembled … stolen a couple of pieces from, and then discarded, knowing that nobody would ever be able to put it back together ever again.’
So Taylor consults The Art of War and makes a plan. Then she takes the next irrevocable step – one that will change her life forever.
Things start to spiral out of her control…

There were some beautiful pieces of writing in this book, the quote starting the blurb being just one example of the imaginative descriptions throughout the novel. It’s dramatic, intense and bleak all at the same time.

Taylor was an interesting main character. She was pretty intense herself, and her thought process was hard to understand at times. This definitely upped the suspense throughout however, as she was so unpredictable. Her reaction to Angus ending their relationship was honestly so fascinating, and I felt like I was watching someone spiral out of control. What made it more disturbing however, was the fact that Taylor didn’t actually seem out of control – her methodical, careful process while she was plotting and carrying out her revenge was pretty creepy at times!

Where this novel really finds it own however, is during the second half of the novel as Angus becomes more of a key character. The tension, suspense and drama really builds here, and the psychological elements comes into play. It’s creepy, it’s unpredictable, and I definitely didn’t see the ending coming.

This is great fast-paced read, with unpredictable and tense elements, and a really fascinating main character. Would definitely recommend for anyone that wants to blend a psychological thriller with women’s fiction!

Thanks so much to Anne from Random Things In My Letterbox for organising the tour.

The Sunday Girl
Pip Drysdale
4th April 2019

BLOG TOUR: The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott

Okay wow, I read this in a day and honestly, I’m in love. This was such a gorgeously written, deliciously creepy, in-depth novel.

She thought she would never go back…
Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago. Her father.
Leaving London behind to settle her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, accompanied by the half-sister she’s never taken the time to get to know.
With the past threatening to swallow her whole, she can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her. And when Ailsa confronts the first nighttime intruder, she sees that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything…

I loved this. A beautiful, haunting and unpredictable novel, both the characters and story hooked me right from the beginning. Ailsa was the type of character I felt both connected and disconnected to – her fear, panic and self-doubt in the face of seemingly unreal events were so relatable, but her closed nature, abrupt phrasing and general disconnect from those around her also isolated her from the reader. This is exactly why she was such a brilliant main character, as she wasn’t perfect, but there was so much to her, she had so many layers. I also really liked seeing her character development, even over the seemingly small things, such as why she always corrected those around her as to her sister being her half-sister. It was little details like these that really cemented Ailsa as a wonderful central character.

Apart from Ailsa, all the characters in this were written simply beautifully. The extra details that Elliott puts in, the time she takes to describe a character, it’s all worth it. The minute descriptions of Ben’s facial movements and expressions were so easy to visualise, and the way she writes Ali speaking was just as clear to imagine. I loved Ailsa’s sister Carrie – she was a stubborn, strong and stunning counterpart to Ailsa herself, especially in moments where she understandably didn’t recognise Ailsa’s fears about the house, otherwise known as The Manse. Fiona is another wonderfully ethereal and yet grounded character, and so was her son Callum – the way that Elliott uses the concept of time with these two characters, and the certainty in which they seem to understand time, was honestly one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a while. I loved the description of time as ‘folded’, it just completely makes sense within the novel, and these are the kind of details that complete the novel. All the other characters, Jamie, Bryn, Glen etc. are all brilliantly written, but where Elliott’s writing truly shines is in the relationships between all these characters. Ailsa and Fiona’s rocky friendship (if we can call it that) is one of the weirdest friendships, and yet by the end the way they communicate makes total sense. I was hooked by the adorable friendship between Ailsa and Callum, and Callum’s wisdom and factual way of discussing the strangest of topics was brilliant to read. I liked how Elliott uses hints of romance to enhance some of the friendships, and she also includes some lovely LGBT+ representation.

One thing I have to touch on is the disappearance of Ailsa’s father twenty-seven years previously. It offers a sort of indirect look into Ailsa’s reaction to it, all these years on, after returning to her childhood home. Between each chapter is a theory, presumably from Ailsa herself, as to what may have happened to her father, or where he may have gone. It’s genuinely quite heartbreaking at times, as there’s almost a childish sense of pain and confusion as to why he left throughout all these sections. The change in tone as the truth about her father eventually comes to light works really well alongside what’s happening in the story, and it just helped build up the suspense and fear even further.

The Manse deserves it’s own section in my review, because it’s such an interesting character. Despite being a house, it’s definitely got a creepy sense of personality about it (hence why I’ve called it a character…). The way Elliott links The Manse with the theme of time is a deeply unsettling yet interesting thread throughout, but her descriptions of this are really gorgeous. The reason why The Manse is so creepy, and effectively so, is because it’s not something that’s outright stated – instead Elliott weaves descriptions of the sounds and shapes within the house to build up an unsettling sense of the unknown. It definitely works, and I started to feel quite spooked by it all, but I loved it at the same time. This is where the real story lies – what exactly is going on in The Manse. Why don’t animals go near the house? Who is leaving the threatening and creepy signs that Ailsa should leave…? Despite all the other details and plot lines throughout, such as the character relationships and her father’s disappearance, the real gem in this novel lies in the puzzle of The Manse itself.

This book is pure brilliance. I would get shivers up my spine, but I couldn’t possibly stop myself from reading. It’s creepy and unsettling, but it’s also beautiful, ethereal and heart-wrenching. Somehow, Elliott weaves all these emotions together perfectly, in a story examining family, love, time and the home. It’s a must-read book for sure.

Thanks so much to Anne at Random Things Through My Letterbox for organising this tour! I loved being a part of it.

The Missing Years
Lexie Elliott
Corvus, 6th June 2019

BLOG TOUR: The Child Before by Michael Scanlon

This was a detailed, intriguing and complex mystery, with an interesting main detective and a horrific, scary crime.

She began to sing, the girl. Her voice was soft, so soft it was almost of the wind. It was a lullaby. She cradled her arms, rocking them gently back and forth. As if she was holding a baby. But she was not. Her arms were empty.
On a cold morning a cyclist finds the brutally-slaughtered body of a woman in her car, on a remote lane leading to the long-abandoned Irish village of Kelly’s Forge.
But when Detective Finnegan Beck arrives from the nearby town of Cross Beg to investigate he notices there’s a baby’s seat in the back of the car. A bottle of baby’s milk lying in the footwell. And no child.
Little Róisín isn’t the first child to go missing from that same remote location though. There was another baby girl, taken more than fifty years before, who was never found. Has too much time passed for there to be a connection, or does something – or someone – link these two crimes?
Beck claims he does not want to stay in Cross Beg. His heart is back in Dublin, with the woman he loves. But, knowing that a child’s life depends on him changes things. He knows he has to find the missing baby girl. Because if he doesn’t, he fears there’s a chance everyone will give up the baby for dead, just like they did before…

This story was really detailed, so it does require more concentration than other crime novels you might read but because of this it’s much more rewarding.

It starts with some fascinating flashbacks to 1954 when some unknown family is going through what seems like a traumatic incident involving a young baby. It’s very mysterious and creates a real aura of the unknown which is quite spooky. It’s also unclear at first how it’s linked to the present and honestly, when it is revealed, I was definitely not expecting it. It was a very well written and clever twist.

The murder and missing child mystery of the present is quite graphically described, but it’s very intense. The pain and stress of Beck, the main detective, is very clear to see when it comes to finding the missing baby. As the clues as to what may have happened to the baby are revealed, the hunt for her becomes quite emotional. It’s actually quite a stressful read in some places, as the crime and methods of solving it are described in such detail that I felt really involved with it.

Beck himself was an unusual choice for the main detective, his alcoholism and methods of dealing with it were unorthodox, his bluntness was brilliant, but his moments of inspiration were particularly great. I loved seeing his thought process and investigation so in depth, as it made the whole crime seem much more real. The glimpses into his personal life were also fascinating, and his slight character growth/change throughout was really well written.

The ending was seriously shocking. It’s not often that you come across an ending that genuinely and completely blindsides you, but this was it. To be honest, I had no idea where this was going, as there were enough red herrings or confusing clues to mislead the reader entirely. I really loved how Scanlon wrapped it all up, it was detailed, well thought-out, and with a partly happy ending included as well.

This was a very different and detailed crime novel, and if you’re looking for something you can get your teeth into, that has a truly awesome ending, then this is it.

The Child Before
Michael Scanlon
Bookouture, 5th June 2019