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

What She Saw by Wendy Clarke

What a brilliant, fast-paced, intriguing and consistently surprising book!

She lied to her daughter to save her family.
Everyone knows Leona would do anything for her daughter Beth: she moved to Church Langdon to send Beth to the best school, worked hard to build a successful business to support them and found them the perfect little cottage to call home. Leona and Beth hike together, shop together, share their hopes and fears with one another. People say they’re more like best friends than mother and daughter.
It’s the relationship every mother dreams of.
But their closeness means that Beth struggles to make friends. Her mother has kept her sheltered from the world. She’s more reliant on her mother’s love. More vulnerable.
When Beth finds an envelope hidden under the floorboards of their home, the contents make her heart stop. Everything she thought she knew about her mother is a lie. And she realises there is no one she can turn to for help.
What if you’ve been protected from strangers your whole life, but the one person you can’t trust is the person closest to home?

I thought this was a genuinely clever thriller/drama. I loved the elusiveness of Leona, the sense that she was holding something back, even during the scenes with her therapist. It was so brilliantly written, as the reader felt both connected to her and distant from her at the same time. Ria was also a really fascinating character, as she was clearly vulnerable but there was a definite sense of strength and resolve underneath it all. Finally, the other main female character was Leona’s daughter, Beth. Again, she was really well written, both a typical teenage girl but also an unusually independent one, and the friendship she formed with David seemed super suspicious throughout.

I liked how Leona told Ria’s story herself, it gave the reader a sense of dread about what happens to Ria. Gareth was a particularly manipulative character, but I felt that Clarke built up his character at the perfect pace, giving the reader enough dread and suspense without giving too much away too soon. There were points when I literally felt shudders running through me as he was such a creepy and nasty man.

There were definitely things about the story that I questioned throughout, as the reader was meant to, and I was absolutely desperate to find out what happened. The mysterious flashbacks to Ria’s life, the box Leona keeps, Beth’s artistic fascination, all of these details kept me hooked until I found out what they could possibly mean.

The ending was really satisfying. It was definitely dramatic, but after such an intense book I was ready for an emotionally satisfying, happy ending, and Clarke definitely provides this. What I didn’t expect was the main plot twist! I had my suspicions about something else, which turned out to be completely wrong, and I was blind-sided by the turn the plot actually took. Genius writing from Clarke, as she subtly leads the reader into suspecting one thing, in order to completely shock them later on.

This is intense, deliciously creepy, fast-paced, with some absolutely brilliant characters and a shocking ending. A definite must-read book!

What She Saw
Wendy Clarke
Bookouture, 1st May 2019

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: Death in Avignon by Serena Kent

This was a detailed and different murder mystery, with a quaint setting and a likeable main character.

Glamour, intrigue, and a mystery to die for…
When Penelope Kite attends a gallery opening on the arm of the gorgeous mayor of St Merlot, her dream life in Provence seems finally to have become a reality.
But beneath the glamour, scandal is brewing. Shockwaves ripple through the art world when a controversial painter, Roland Doncaster, chokes on an almond-stuffed olive.
A tragic accident? Or a ruthless poisoning? Embroiled once more in a murder investigation, Penelope discovers that any number of jealous lovers and scheming rivals could be in the frame. And with dashing art dealers to charm, patisseries to resist, and her own friends under suspicion, Penelope will need all her sleuthing talents to uncover the truth…

I really enjoyed this! It starts off with a simple setting, re-introducing the character of Penelope, and highlighting the cute, very French, setting that she’s living in. Her life seems full of croissants, fashion advice, house renovations and new friends, and I instantly warmed to her.

Once the background and feel for the book has been established, it quickly moves on to the exhibition Penelope is attending, and the art world is where the mystery really starts to show. The sudden collapse and subsequent death of painter Ronald Doncaster is very shocking, and Penelope’s instincts to solve it rise quickly. The reason I liked this is because it’s different to the usual detective mysteries. Firstly, Penelope isn’t a detective herself, although she previously worked in forensics, and secondly she definitely doesn’t get along with the detective actually in charge! I liked this as it would have been easy to write them as two best friends, but their relationship was actually more tricky than that and so it made Penelope’s determination to solve the murder even more interesting as she had no help from the police department.

All the characters in this were brilliant as well, and I liked that Kent included lots of detail about Penelope’s personal life, making the reader feel more connected to her. She was just such a loveable main character, with a whole range of emotions. Seeing her children visit her from England gave the reader a respite from the murder mystery, and the addition towards the end of Penelope’s best friend Frankie was really fun as well. There were so many awesome characters, and Kent wrote Penelope’s relationship with all of them really well, including all the ups and downs that happen with friendships.

The ending of this definitely took me by surprise, and trust me, if you read this then you’ll definitely feel the same! I was 100% blindsided by the ending, and finding out who was responsible was a genuine shock. It made perfect sense as well, and although it was a great ending, it still fitted the general tone of the novel by being slightly outlandish! I just loved it, the inclusion of all the characters worked really well as they all brought something to the story. I’d definitely recommend this if you’re a fan of murder mysteries and want something a bit different!

Death in Avignon
Serena Kent
Orion, 26th June 2019

BLOG TOUR: The Perfect Betrayal by Lauren North

What. A. Book. This kept me hooked the whole way through the book, and I had no idea what was going to happen until the end.

After the sudden death of her husband, Tess is drowning in grief. All she has left is her son, Jamie, and she’ll do anything to protect him – but she’s struggling to cope.
When grief counsellor Shelley knocks on their door, everything changes. Shelley is understanding and kind, and promises she can help Tess through the hardest time of her life.
But when a string of unsettling events happens and questions arise over her husband’s death, Tess starts to suspect that Shelley may have an ulterior motive. Tess knows she must do everything she can to keep Jamie safe – but she’s at her most vulnerable, and that’s a dangerous place to be.

This book had some of the strongest characters I’ve read in a psychological thriller in a long time. Tess was so hard to read, she was clearly drowning in her grief and trying to take care of her son, but her mood swings showed the reader that something was not quite right. The whole way through the book the suspense just kept building, with Tess’s fear and paranoia increasing, and her protectiveness of Jamie eventually coming to a head. Shelley was definitely the most interesting character, her kindness seemed too good to be true, and the way Tess described Shelley’s emotions and actions convinced the reader that something is not quite right. The two women are simply brilliant characters, and while the others add detail and depth, Tess and Shelley are where the real story is.

It’s difficult to discuss the story without giving too much away, but as Tess and her son Jamie grieve for their lost husband/father, the tension throughout the novel increases. Gradually the reader learns more and more about what happened, and the suspense simply keeps building. As Tess becomes more suspicious of Shelley, who has lost a son previously, the reader becomes quite fearful for Tess and Jamie.

I was actually a bit lost for words at the ending. It was enthralling, unexpected and completely blindsided me. The pace is so fast that the reader doesn’t have time to stop and think, you just keep going until all is revealed. Throughout the book there are interview scenes between Tess and a detective, and these are also connected to the story at the end, and everything ties in really well.

You simply have to read this. Breathtaking, fast-paced, full of suspense and a little bit creepy – it’s honestly got everything.

The Perfect Betrayal
Lauren North
Corgi Books, 27th June 2019

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 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