Saturday, 27 April 2019

Review: 'The Tragic Daughters of Charles I: Mary, Elizabeth & Henrietta-Anne' by Sarah-Beth Watkins

I love history, but reading about history is often more of a chore than a pleasure. History can't be changed, the outcome is set, and, depending on how old the history is, history isn't surprising. Or is it? What the best history books do, in my opinion, is show us the humanity behind the shadowy figures of history. And The Tragic Daughters of Charles I does just that. Thanks to John Hunt Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 4/26/2019
Publisher: John Hunt Publishing; Chronos Books

Mary, Elizabeth and Henrietta Anne, the daughters of King Charles I and his queen, Henrietta Maria, would be brought up against the background of the English Civil War. Mary would marry William, Prince of Orange, and be sent to live in the Netherlands. Elizabeth would remain in England under Parliamentary control. Henrietta Anne would escape to France and be the darling of the French Court. Yet none of the Stuart princesses would live to reach thirty. The Tragic Daughters of Charles I is their story. 
One of the things that fascinated me about The Tragic Daughters of Charles I was the sheer amount of letters that Sarah-Beth Watkins showed and quoted in her novels. History can become dry very quickly when it is recounted coldly and impersonally. By quoting the princesses' letters to their brother Charles and others, we as the readers get a real sense of who they might have been, what their internal, emotional lives look like. For me personally, I loved seeing how smart these women were in how they handled the fraught times in which they lived. Both Mary and Henrietta-Anne were crucial in their brother's attempts to bring Britain back after its Civil War, juggling their responsibilities to their old and new homes. Mary consistently used her power to provide her brother with money and ships, while Henrietta-Anne used her considerable influence in the French Court to barter for peace. Reading the words these women wrote brings them to life in a way no amount of details and facts could.

The Tragic Daughters of Charles I focuses on Mary (1631-1660), Elizabeth (1635-1650) and Henrietta-Anne (1644-1670). There were two other daughters, yet neither survived childhood. Sadly none of Charles' daughters made it to thirty. Although I lived in the UK for a good few years, a lot of British royal history is actually a bit of a mystery to me, especially its Civil War. Much of Britain's history is contextualized in The Tragic Daughters which definitely helped me. Sarah-Beth Waters starts her book with the execution of Charles I as a defining moment in all of his children's lives, before backtracking a few years to describe each child's birth and first few years. Although his daughters are the main focus of the novel, his sons also play key roles. Perhaps the fewest pages are dedicated to Elizabeth, who spends most of her short life under control of Parliament and far away from her family. Mary, Charles I's oldest daughter, takes up the central part of the book, as Watkins describes her move to the Netherlands and her troubles as she tries to fit in. Although both Protestant countries, the Dutch monarchy is very different from the British monarchy, and Watkins describes Mary trying to find an even ground between helping her brother's attempts to regain his crown and settling into her new country. The final part of the book looks at Henrietta-Anne, who was smuggled out of Britain at age 2 by her nurse while dressed as a little boy. Rejoining her mother in France, she becomes an elemental part of the French Court of the Sun King. She is perhaps the most fascinating of the daughters, simply because she becomes crucial to the peace efforts between Britain and France.

Sarah-Beth Watkins infuses her historical protagonists with a lot of life. Whether it is the sibling love shared between them or their own separate trials and tribulations, they feel like real people. I think many of us still hold on to the idea of the princess as being mainly a bartering good for kings, whose sole goal is to provide heirs and then retire to convents when they become inconvenient. Watkins doesn't shy away from these truths, showing the unhappiness many of the princesses felt at being displaced and removed from their homes and families. She also shows how erudite, sharp and powerful these women could be, however, and how much the course of history relies on their behind-the-scenes work. In the end what Watkins really describes is a family torn apart by political strife, scattered across Northern Europe, but united by a common goal. The Tragic Daughters also drives home just how close and connected European countries are, just how entwined their histories really are. In the time of Brexit this is a very important message to bring back.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Although I went into The Tragic Daughters of Charles I not knowing who these women were, I came out of it feeling strangely connected to them. Watkins brings these women to life without burdening the reader with too much extraneous detail. Anyone interested in British history and women in history should absolutely pick up this book!

Stacking the Shelves #1

I haven’t participated in any weekly blogging posts in what feels like eons, but Stacking the Shelves has always been one of my favourites because I get so many awesome book recommendations out of it! Hosted by Tynga’s Reviews and Reading Reality, Stacking the Shelves is easy as could be. Throw together a post of what books have made their way to you this week and then go see what other bloggers have been stacking up!

This week my books have come from Netgalley, so below is just a short overview of each:

The First Girl Child by Amy Harmon, to be published by 47North in August
m the New York Times bestselling author comes a breathtaking fantasy of a cursed kingdom, warring clans, and unexpected salvation. 
Bayr of Saylok, bastard son of a powerful and jealous chieftain, is haunted by the curse once leveled by his dying mother. Bartered, abandoned, and rarely loved, she plagued the land with her words: From this day forward, there will be no daughters in Saylok. 
Raised among the Keepers at Temple Hill, Bayr is gifted with inhuman strength. But he’s also blessed with an all-too-human heart that beats with one purpose: to protect Alba, the first girl child born in nearly two decades and the salvation for a country at risk. 
Now the fate of Saylok lies with Alba and Bayr, whose bond grows deeper with every whisper of coming chaos. Charged with battling the enemies of their people, both within and without, Bayr is fueled further by the love of a girl who has defied the scourge of Saylok. 
What Bayr and Alba don’t know is that they each threaten the king, a greedy man who built his throne on lies, murder, and betrayal. There is only one way to defend their land from the corruption that has overtaken it. By breaking the curse, they could defeat the king…but they could also destroy themselves.
The Man in the Next Bed by David K. Shipler, to be published by Knopf Doubleday’s impress Vintage in May.

In this heartbreaking and extraordinary first foray into fiction by Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Arab and the Jew and The Working Poor, David K. Shipler has delivered a miniature masterpiece.
Gibson has learned to keep his spirits up as he receives care from his many doctors, nurses, and attendants. He likes to watch the bustling goings on in the ward from his hospital bed, crack witticisms, and make his caretakers smile—even the news isn’t good. 
Gibson is an engineer, and he likes to understand how people work. When a young man gets placed in the bed beside his, hidden behind a paisley curtain, Gibson becomes privy to the intimate, private pains of his young neighbor’s life and forms with him the kind of fleeting human connection that will reverberate to the depths his memory and soul. 

And finally there’s, Klotsvog by Margaret Khemlin, translated by Lisa C. Hayden. To be published by Columbia University Press in August.

Klotsvog is a novel about being Jewish in the Soviet Union and the historical trauma of World War II—and it’s a novel about the petty dramas and demons of one wonderfully vain woman. Maya Abramovna Klotsvog has had quite a life, and she wants you to know all about it. Selfish, garrulous, and thoroughly entertaining, she tells us where she came from, who she didn’t get along with, and what became of all her husbands and lovers.
In Klotsvog, Margarita Khemlin creates a first-person narrator who is both deeply self-absorbed and deeply compelling. From Maya’s perspective, Khemlin unfurls a retelling of the Soviet Jewish experience that integrates the historical and the personal into her protagonist’s vividly drawn inner and outer lives. Maya’s life story flows as a long monologue, told in unfussy language dense with Khemlin’s magnificently manipulated Soviet clichés and matter-of-fact descriptions of Soviet life. Born in a center of Jewish life in Ukraine, she spent the war in evacuation in Kazakhstan. She has few friends but several husbands, and her relationships with her relatives are strained at best. The war looms over Klotsvog, and the trauma runs deep, as do the ambiguities and ambivalences of Jewish identity. Lisa Hayden’s masterful translation brings this compelling character study full of dark, sly humor and new perspectives on Jewish heritage and survival to an English-speaking audience.
I also ordered Sally Rooney's Ordinary People, but it hasn't come through yet so I'll feature it as soon as it's made its way to me in China! 

So not a whole lot of books for me this week, but definitely some variety there! I'm quite intrigued b The First Girl Child, mainly because I feel like diving into some fantasy soon! What do you think of these books? Any of them draw your eye?

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Short Review: 'The Other Sister' by Dianne Dixon

Twin sisters, one beautiful, happy and and accomplished, the other plain, sad and lost. Or are they? Who are we, outside of our family? And how much do they dictate who we become? These are some of the questions Dianne Dixon attempts to address in The Other Sister. Part of me would warn against reading the blurb below because it will give away much of the plot twists that kept me hooked to this novel despite its flaws. Thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book.

Pub. Date: 1/11/2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmarks
Morgan’s twin sister has everything, and she hates her for it. A terrifying crime reveals that those who know us best can either destroy us…or save us.
Ali and Morgan are sisters, fraternal twins who from the moment of their birth share a strangely intertwined existence. But then their connection is abruptly fractured by a series of startling changes that begin when Ali suddenly moves from Rhode Island to Los Angeles. Almost immediately she is raped, by a man wearing a very peculiar set of clothes. Then, years later, in ways that are both harrowing and transcendent, Ali’s life (and Morgan’s) is sent spinning into chaos by a bizarre discovery: the rapist’s clothing, neatly packed away in a small, brown suitcase. The suitcase is hidden in the attic of a house that Ali has only recently moved into.
How could this be? How, and when, did that suitcase get into that attic?
The startling answer to this question has its roots in a place of guilt, and of love—in the need to belong and the need to be free—in small accidents and dark crimes—and in an elusive search for atonement. 
The Other Sister tries to be a lot of things. On the one hand it is a family drama, on the other hand it is a suspense novel, and on an unexpected third hand it is a bit of a coming-of-age story. The story twists it way through the different genres, never quite settling and therefore never quite achieving a solid status. Dixon has too many ambitions for what is a relatively large book at almost 400 pages.
This book is very dramatic. Now, I love drama, it drives a plot forward, it brings out all the emotions, and it usually leads to scenes that stay with you for a long time. The Other Sister has drama aplenty but unfortunately it backfires. There are so many twists and turns throughout, subplots that don't seem at all relevant and then also fail to become more relevant later on, that you'll get lost. The biggest reason I kept reading was the sheer fun of it. The Other Sister felt like a soap opera, where something as tragic and horrifying as a rape happened one evening, to be followed the next by a suggested girls' ski trip.

My biggest issue with The Other Sister is the characterization. Now, one of my favourite novels is Wuthering Heights, so I have no issue with unlikeable characters. But I need them to be realistic, I need to be able to at least partially understand their motivations, the reasons behind their cruel behavior. The tension between Ali and Morgan is incredibly toxic and I could never imagine treating my sister that way. Dixon hops from one dramatic moment to the other, with characters seemingly going through enormous emotional upheaval without it ever truly coming alive. What also irked me was the treatment of the rape plotline. It is presented as something of a punishment for Ali, as if truly her life was perfect and she needed something bad to be able to appreciate how everyone suffers in their own way, or something like that. You can imagine why I wasn't a fan. I was expecting more, but in the end I only finished The Other Sister out of sheer stubbornness.

I give this novel...

2 Universes!

Review: 'Literary Places' by Sarah Baxter, Illustrated by Amy Grimes

Who hasn't read a book and wished they could just jump straight into its world? The great news is that for a large number of brilliant books, this is absolutely and utterly possible since they're set into our very own world! For me the most vivid memory of this is Barcelona. I fell utterly in love with Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind and wanted nothing more than visit Barcelona and get lost in it. Thankfully I got to do so a few years later and now Sarah Baxter has given me a whole new list of cities and books to visit. Thanks to Quarto, White Lion Publishing and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 3/05/2019
Publisher: Quarto; White Lion Publishing
Inspired Traveller’s Guides: Literary Places takes you on an enlightening journey through the key locations of literature’s best and brightest authors, movements, and moments—brought to life through comprehensively researched text and stunning hand-drawn artwork.
Travel journalist Sarah Baxter provides comprehensive and atmospheric outlines of the history and culture of 25 literary places around the globe, as well as how they intersect with the lives of the authors and the works that make them significant. Full-page color illustrations instantly transport you to each location. You’ll find that these places are not just backdrops to the tales told, but characters in their own right.
Travel to the sun-scorched plains of Don Quixote’s La Mancha, roam the wild Yorkshire moors with Cathy and Heathcliff, or view Central Park through the eyes of J.D. Salinger’s antihero. Explore the lush and languid backwaters of Arundhati Roy’s Kerala, the imposing precipice of Joan Lindsay’s Hanging Rock, and the labyrinthine streets and sewers of Victor Hugo’s Paris.
Delve into this book to discover some of the world’s most fascinating literary places and the novels that celebrate them.
The magic thing about literature is that it transports the reader. Whenever I open a book I travel, explore, learn and discover. Hogwarts may not be real but from the moment I first read the Harry Potter books I could smell the food in the Great Hall, map the old corridors and feel the heat of the fires in the Common Rooms. It's been the same for me with many real places, like I mentioned above with Barcelona. I had a really vivid picture of it in my mind and although the city, of course, was different from what I had pictured, it still felt familiar, like an old acquaintance whose face is a faint memory.

A wide variety of places are covered in Literary Places although none of them are exactly surprising. There's Paris, of course, famous for itself but also for Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. The city may look different from Hugo's heyday, but the feel is still there. Perhaps less famous but equally as attractive to me are the Yorkshire Moors, made immortal by Emily Bronte in Wuthering Heights. Just watch me, one of these days I'm going to wear a full-skirted dress and stand in the moors, the wind moving through my hair! Anywats, Sarah Baxter travels across the world in Literary Places, mostly visiting famous cities like Berlin, Cairo and Kabul, but also the culturally important or memorable places such as Monroeville or Hanging Rock. The last chapter is dedicated to the entire country of Chile, inspired by Isabelle Allende's The House of Spirits. The main thing this book reminded me of is just how full this world is of homes. What I mean is that each of the books mentioned in Literary Places were written by people with strong ties and a strong love for their home, which they bring back to live in their writing.

Baxter's writing is charming and simple. She paints vivid pictures with her words, her experience as a travel writer clearly shining through. But there is a strong love for books there as well, which helps her look at all these places anew. If you're looking for active recommendations on where to sleep and what to eat, Literary Places might not be the best book. But if you're hoping to get a sense of how a place feels, what it has meant to those who've written about it, what it continues to mean, then Literary Places is a great read. The book is enormously aided by Amy Grimes' illustrations, which are absolutely stunning. They remind me of those old school travel posters that give an instant classic feel. (You can purchase her art at Hello Grimes, it's stunning!). I wish I could frame the cover of this book, it's gorgeous and is what first drew me to the book. 

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I loved reading through Literary Places, although ithas a definite coffee table-book vibe to it. Leaving through it, marveling at Grimes' illustrations, your mind will take a journey all on its own. Anyone who wants some literary inspiration for their next holiday, look no further!

Friday, 15 February 2019

Review: 'The Enchanted Sonata' by Heather Dixon Wallwork

I started learning how to play the piano when I was 6 years old. Sure, initially it was more of a chore than anything else but quickly it became something of an outlet. I loved creating something beautiful that way, so when I saw The Enchanted Sonata I was immediately drawn to it. Music, fairies and an enchanted empire? Sign me up! Thanks to Amazon and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 23/10/2018
Publisher: Amazon, The Wallworkshop
The Enchanted Sonata, a retelling of The Nutcracker Ballet with a dash of The Pied Piper, will captivate readers of all ages. Clara Stahlbaum has her future perfectly planned: marry the handsome pianist, Johann Kahler (ah!), and settle down to a life full of music.  But all that changes when Clara receives a mysterious and magical nutcracker. Whisked away to his world--an enchanted empire of beautiful palaces, fickle fairies, enormous rats, and a prince--Clara must face a magician who uses music as magic...and the future she thought she wanted.
The Enchanted Sonata brings together a variety of different themes, stories and influences. Two main stories form the inspiration for Wallwork's novel and those are The Nutcracker and The Pied Piper. However, these two originate in their own way from the German tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. These stories provide inspiration for most of the plot and much of the characterization. This makes something of an adaptation out of The Enchanted Sonata, but since many people won't be familiar with the original tale, there is still much in the novel that will surprise the reader. (I also saw some notes of The Phantom of the Opera in parts of the novel, and especially in some of its characterization.) At the very heart of The Enchanted Sonata is music. It moves the plot forward, it wraps itself around the characters, but it is also in the very way Wallwork writes. The way she describes music is the very best thing about this book. I think that anyone with some experience in music will fall in love with The Enchanted Sonata for that alone, the clear reverence and adoration with which the book treats music.

As I said above, I adored the way Wallwork writes about music in The Enchanted Sonata. It is where she excels, alongside her descriptions of the landscape. All of the novel seems set inside a snow globe, a perfectly adorable, cozy and wintery landscape full of snow-topped pines, candy factories and imperial palaces. It was a perfect winter read, in that sense, purely because of its setting. However, there are a few things in The Enchanted Sonata that feel amateur-ish. Much of the characterization is flat. Clara was an okay main character but her motivation, her "perfectly planned future", are slightly ridiculous and I almost found myself offended on her behalf. The dialogue is sometimes oddly modern or childish, which doesn't fit with the fairy tale-esque backdrop. The writing in general could have done with some heavy editing since some sentences didn't really make any sense. These things would often take me out of the narrative and led to some frustration, but even despite them I did adore the atmosphere of The Enchanted Sonata and couldn't help but keep reading.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

I did like The Enchanted Sonata, even if it's severely flawed in certain aspects. However, it has a lovely atmosphere and makes for a perfect little winter read that doesn't require too much from you, except some patience here or there.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Review: 'The Ruin of Kings' by Jenn Lyons

Fantasy was my bread and butter for much of my childhood. Nothing was quite as exciting as discovering new worlds and joining exciting heroes on their adventures. Although I did broaden my reading out a bit since then, Fantasy has always remained a staple and I keep returning to it time and time again, looking for authors that craft something new within the genre's conventions. My latest Fantasy read was The Ruin of Kings and I think I'm still making up my mind about it. Thanks to Pan Macmillan, Tor and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 07/2/2019
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, Tor
What if you weren't the hero? 
As a bard’s apprentice, Kihrin grew up with tales of legendary deeds. He also steals, desperate to buy a way out of Quur’s slums. Then he raids the wrong house, he’s marked by a demon and life will never be the same again. 
Kihrin’s plight brings him to the attention of royalty, who claim him as the lost son of their immoral prince. But far from living the dream, Kihrin’s at the mercy of his new family’s ruthless ambitions. However, escaping his jewelled cage just makes matters worse. Kihrin is horrified to learn he’s at the centre of an ancient prophecy. And every side – from gods and demons to dragons and mages – want him as their pawn. 
Those old stories lied about many things too, especially the myth that the hero always wins. Then again, maybe Kihrin isn’t the hero, for he’s not destined to save the empire. He’s destined to destroy it. 
The Ruin of Kings is the first book in Jenn Lyons's incredible Godslayer Cycle.
Like most other genres, Fantasy has a lot of conventions that kind of need to be followed to let it qualify. A big part of that is the Hero's Journey, a concept coined by Joseph Campbell but existent for thousands of years. A young hero sets off on an adventure and encounters a magical guide. They face trials and challenges and undergo some kind of death and rebirth, whether that is physical or mental. In the end they return wiser, having learnt from their travels and having conquered their enemies. This pattern is immediately recognizable and brings to mind countless of stories and characters and is also the reason why Fantasy and YA fit together so well as genres. The best Fantasy novels take this journey and transplant it somewhere completely new. I have loved some of the recent Fantasy novels that moved away from the stereotypical Tolkien-esque setting and rather reinvigorated the genre by bringing in their own cultural backgrounds. I'm thinking specifically of Children of  Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi and The Empress of All Seasons by Emiko Jean. The world created in The Ruin of Kings isn't quite as refreshing or new as those, but Lyons does create something very interesting with her world building. And I do mean interesting in both its positive and negative connotations, because although The Ruin of Kings gripped me, it did so in part because it felt slightly messy.

For parts of this book I was utterly confused. Part of that, if not most of it, is down to the book's narrative structure. We start in the present, where Kihrin is telling his story in first person, but he is not telling us his story from the very beginning. He is telling Talon, a demon, who then tells the initial part of Kihrin's story, leading up to where he began, in the third person. The novel flicks back and forth between these two narrators chapter by chapter. And finally, all of this is has been transcribed by a third character, who adds footnotes whenever they think anything needs clarifying or a sassy comment is required. I am confusion! Now, I adore complex structures. I wrote whole essays just on structure while I was at university. A complex structure, however, has to have a purpose aside from just being different or unusual. In the case of The Ruin of Kings it often leads to a lack of clarity rather than adding to the meaning or message of the novel. Throughout the novel, and especially in the blurb, Lyons hints at wanting to tell a story of someone who is neither hero or villain or perhaps both. I assume this is what the split narration is meant to work towards as well. This gets almost completely lost though since the structure means you get attached to Kihrin in a kind of distanced way while the moral gets lost.

We follow Kihrin's story from two different points of view, technically, but Talon is a shape shifter who has taken other people's memories, so her narrative is really the point of view of countless of characters. Together they tell the reader what has happened to Kihrin so far, how he has come to be where he is now. This journey of his spans years, as far as I could gather. How many I don't know. Some years apparently pass within a single sentence while some days are stretched out across chapters. Similarly there are a lot of supporting characters, many of whom were once someone else or at the very least aren't what they appear to be. What this means is that The Ruin of Kings is a fascinating read with some amazing world building, stunning imagery and interesting character building, while simultaneously being confusing for its readers. At almost 600 pages, I think that The Ruin of Kings could have done with some more thorough editing to prevent overloading the reader with too much information they can't place yet. There is so much going on in this novel that now, as I'm writing this review, I keep remembering things that happened, plot lines that were fun but seem irrelevant to the main story. While Lyons tries to address topics such as free will and slavery, the few instances where these are highlighted are washed away by a kind of sensationalist violence akin to Game of Thrones. There is a lot of murder, love, slavery, backstabbing, politicking, incest, etc. and it's all very exciting. Where the heart of The Ruin of Kings lies, however, what it is that the novel is supposed to really care about, is unclear.

In the paragraphs above I have tried to give as clear an overview of why The Ruin of Kings was a confusing read for me. I absolutely loved a lot of what Jenn Lyons did in this novel. There is a clear historicity to the text, it is steeped in references to emperors and kings, to deities and battles, intrigue and lawmaking. It reminded me of the Nevernight books, in that it felt like there was much more, that we were only scratching the surfaces of this world. Unfortunately Lyons does overwhelm her readers with much of the world building. Not a single page is read without a reference being made to something the reader will only understand fifty pages later. As the first book in a series, you'd think that Lyons would leave some of the world building to future books and focus on strongly establishing her main characters in this first book. Instead now I have a lot of information about Kihrin and his companions, not all of which I can place. The Ruin of Kings is like an incomplete puzzle. Pieces fit together here or there, but I feel like the overall picture is crooked. I'm not a big fan of books, or films for that matter, that serve only as a set-up for future books, and it does feel as if The Ruin of Kings is mainly there to make sure everything is set up and kind explained for the next book in the A Chorus of Dragons series called The Name of All Things, expected later this year. Don't get me wrong, I will most definitely want to read The Name of All Things because I'm fascinated by this world Lyons has created, but I have high hopes she will restrain herself a little bit with the flourishes and focus on telling a clearer story.

I give this novel...

3 Universes!

I loved reading The Ruin of Kings but it was a bit of a problematic love. There is an overabundance of style and showiness to this novel that will make it a confusing and potentially frustrating read for many. There is also a lot of promise and excitement in Lyons' novel that mostly makes up for it. I'd recommend this to readers looking for a fast-paced and expansive new fantasy series to get stuck into.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Review: 'Someone You Know' by Olivia Isaac-Henry

Aah, family! As Tolstoy said, 'Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way'. The difficulties of family have filled countless books and I have read a fair few of them across a wide variety of genres. But it's thrillers and mystery novels that really excel to bring out both the best and worst about family, which is why I am utterly loyal to novels like Someone You Know. Thanks to Avon Books UK and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 04/02/2019
Publisher: Avon Books UK

You can trust your family, can’t you…?
Tess Piper was fourteen when her adored twin sister Edie disappeared. 
She has spent the last twenty years building a life away from her fractured family, desperate to escape the shadow of the past. 
Only now she needs to confront the huge hole her sister’s disappearance left in her life, because a body has been found. The police are shining a spotlight on the Piper family. And secrets are about to surface. 
After all, it’s common knowledge that more often than not, these crimes are committed by someone close to the victim. Someone they trust. Someone they know… 
What really happened to Edie Piper?
A lot of the themes in Someone You Know are staples fot he genre. There are a lot of family secrets/scandals, a beloved twin/sister/best friend/mother is missing/has been missing/is dead and now our protagonist, who always has self confidence issues and drinks/smokes too much, has to find out the truth if she is every to truly live her life. If it is set in the UK then she is currently working creatively in London but has to return to her small home town to solve the mystery. (Her co-workers are almost always horrible people.) I'm not going to lie, I love those kinds of stories. I read them avidly and no matter how often the tropes and twists and turns are repeated, they still delight me. I think part of the charm of thrillers and mystery novels is exactly how predictable they are, while constantly shocking us.

Someone You Know is a roller coaster ride, but one where you're never entirely sure you trust the ride. The novel has a lot of promise and I was very intrigued by the blurb. Unfortunately it didn't quite meet my expectations. It follows all the expected tropes and does so quite interestingly, but the novel is confusing. I was never entirely sure just how much time was passing, I'm pretty sure there were timeline errors here and there, and many of the characters didn't feel entirely fleshed out. There are some great plot twists towards the end, but while one of them wasn't presented with the gravitas it deserved, the other left me utterly disappointed since there had been no build up. In the end I feel Someone You Know would have benefited from a harsher editor, who would have taken some gardening shears to parts of the novel. Isaac-Henry creates some interesting moments with her characters, most of which are not likeable but realistic. But in the end I didn't find myself connecting to any of them, which meant I sometimes found myself continuing to the end just for the sake of it, not because I was absolutely intrigued.

As far as I can tell, Someone  You Know is Olivia Isaac-Henry's first novel. The main points where this shows is in the many sub-plots throughout the novel. Her main story is solid, but so much else is going on that you end up unable to care about any of it because you're overwhelmed. Isaac-Henry tells the story of the twins by flitting back and forth between the past, told by Edie, and the present, told by Tess. This is a great set up that could have brought a lot of emotion to the novel, showing us the deep bond the twins might have had despite their differences. We didn't really get that, unfortunately, but the idea is there. There are a lot of great ideas in Someone You Know, which I would say is the most important thing. I hope that in her future novels Isaac-Henry improves on the execution of those ideas, at which point I'm confident she'll give us a great novel. For now, Someone You Know is a great holiday read, a book you can race through and experience the thrills without getting to invested.

I give this novel...

2 Universes.

Someone You Know had a lot of promise and a great set up. Unfortunately Isaac-Henry loses the way here or there, which means I walked away from her novel slightly disappointed. For those looking for a quick read, Someone You Know will give you exactly what you need. Meanwhile I'll keep an open mind for Olivia Isaac-Henry's next novel!