Welcome back to another update on the books I’ve read this year! I won’t ramble too much here because we’ve got a lot to go through, but if you want to catch my other books posts you can click here, or chat with me in the comments or over on Instagram. And without further ado, onto the reviews!
The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah
Let’s start this post off with a bang –The Nightingale is probably one of the best books I’ve read all year. A historical fiction set during WW2, this is the powerful and emotional story of two sisters Vianne and Isabelle as they each fight for survival and freedom in Nazi-occupied, war-torn France. Vianne’s husband is called to fight and their home is requisitioned, leaving Vianne and their young daughter to live with a Nazi officer, whilst Isabelle is passionate, ambitious and desperate to join the Resistance movement.
I thought this book was beautifully written, the descriptions of the setting alone are so idyllic, dreamy and vivid that I could picture every scene so clearly. I adored the overtones of feminism and family, the characters are fully realised and I loved the ebbs and flows of Vianne and Isabelle’s relationship as war brings them closer together and then further apart. I also really appreciated the depth of character in Beck, the Nazi officer living with Vianne. He was so interesting and he added a very ‘human’ element to the otherwise cruel Nazi occupiers.
This book is heartbreaking in so many ways, especially towards the end as the acts of atrocity are escalating – I definitely shed a few tears at the ending! I think it’s a very beautiful, important and powerful story that teaches lessons about humanity, the strength of women and the resilience of everyday people even in the darkest of times.
The Wives – Tarryn Fisher
I feel like most people will either love or hate this book, and I happened to love it. The main protagonist Thursday shares her husband Seth with two other wives. None of the wives have ever met, but they have all agreed to this unconventional marriage because they love Seth and this is what he wants. Although Thursday is only able to see Seth once a week (…on Thursdays, would you believe it) this arrangement is going just fine, that is until she discovers the full name of one of the other wives. Thursday slowly starts to descend into obsessive tendencies, desperately trying to find out more about the other wives no matter what it takes.
I really enjoyed the slow unravelling of Thursday as she gets progressively more entangled with the other women, and it was so interesting to see this entirely bizarre situation get crazier and crazier. The big reveals and the ending of this book have received very mixed opinions, and whilst I personally thought it was brilliant, I’ve seen other readers be disappointed.
The ending took me by such a surprise that I initially gave this book 5/5, but I later moved it down to a 4/5 because after I recovered from the shock, I realised it wasn’t quite up to my usual 5/5 standard.
This is the second book I’ve read by Tarryn Fisher, the first being Marrow which I also loved and I will definitely be reading more.
Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell
It’s been ten years since Ellie mysteriously disappeared, and her mother Laurel has never lost faith in finding out what happened to her. In the present day, Laurel meets a charismatic stranger who she quickly starts to fall for, but when she meets his young daughter Poppy she is taken aback at how much she looks like her missing daughter when she was that age. And suddenly, the need to find Ellie is stronger than ever.
I picked this book up thinking it would be your bog-standard yet still enjoyable mystery thriller, but it was so much more than that. Then She Was Gone is of course about the disappearance of Ellie, but its strongest moments are about her family, their relationships with each other and how they deal with loss and grief.
I found some of the surprises in this book to be fairly predictable and I expected more dramatic twists, but ultimately this didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment. Some mysteries are revealed early on, but part of the joy of this book is reading about the intentions behind the characters’ thoughts and decisions. I grew very attached to Ellie’s family and certain parts of the story were so heartbreaking, so if you’re wanting an emotional read then this might be for you.
It may not have been the fast-paced, twisty thriller I was expecting, but it was a compelling and emotional mystery that will stay with me for a long while.
Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
This book was highly recommended to me by my boyfriend who loves Vonnegut’s writing style, and since it has been on my TBR for years I figured it was about time I gave it a try. Slaughterhouse Five is a modern American classic, included in The Modern Library’s 100 best novels of all time, so it receives a lot of praise.
Primarily an antiwar novel centring on the firebombing of Dresden, the story follows Billy Pilgrim as he becomes unhinged across time and space, finding himself randomly appearing at different parts of the timeline of his life, including some surreal experiences on an alien planet called Tralfamadore.
I enjoyed this book, I liked Vonnegut’s writing once I got into it and I thought his use of metaphors and descriptive language was really compelling. The satirical, comedic elements of the story mixed with the tragedies of war was a striking combination, and helped to frame the anti-war narrative in a way that was still light and funny at times.
However, I feel like this book didn’t have quite as profound effect on me as I had anticipated, especially because of all the hype. I really enjoyed certain aspects of this book, but I ended up feeling like it was just ‘okay’. I can’t really put my finger on why, but I wasn’t a fan of the short passages one after another, and I felt that I wanted more from the plot. However, I am interested to read some of Vonnegut’s other works such as his short story collections.
The Silent Patient – Alex Michaelides
Set in a secure mental facility, The Silent Patient refers to the infamous Alicia Berenson, who was caught red-handed after shooting her husband five times in the head. Alicia has remained silent ever since, not breathing a word about why she did what she did. Theo is a criminal psychotherapist who transfers to the facility in the hopes of being the person who can finally get Alicia to talk. And so begins this twisty, mystery psychological thriller.
This was such a great book! The plot hooked me straight from the beginning and had me on the edge of my seat right until the very end. I loved the slow unravelling of the mystery, and reading about Theo’s life outside of the facility and Alicia’s diary entries. The ending was just perfect and I couldn’t have predicted it.
One thing I will advise is to not read any of the reviews on the sleeve of this book, I gave this book to my sister after I read it with that exact advice and she had a much better reading experience than me (even though I still loved it!). I think some of the reviews give too much away about what this book is about, and I wished I hadn’t read them.
This is a solid mystery thriller that I think a lot of people will love.
Where the Crawdads Sing – Delia Owens
Deep in the marsh outside of small town Barkley Cove in North Carolina, the ‘Marsh Girl’ Kya Clark has learnt how to survive on her own after being abandoned by her parents at a young age. Ostracized by most of the community, Kya is rumoured to be wild and feral but in reality she is a sensitive and intelligent girl simply left to fend for herself. An amalgamation of romance, coming-of-age and murder mystery, Where the Crawdads Sing is a wonderful story that perfectly encapsulates the beauty of the natural world.
This novel’s strongest point is the imagery of nature and the marsh itself, which seems only natural as Owens started as a bestselling non-fiction nature and wildlife writer. The beauty of the marsh really shines through Owens’ writing. I think she also did a great job with Kya’s character, as I felt her love, heartbreak and frustration throughout the story.
However, something about this book didn’t blow me away enough to give it 5 stars. It had a perfect ending in my opinion, but certain parts of the story such as the courtroom scenes seemed slightly odd or out of place. Maybe that was the point, given the contrast with Kya’s isolated life in the wild, but I wasn’t completely sold. I’ve seen a lot of glowing 5/5 reviews for this book but something fell slightly short for me. It might be because this book reminded me a little of My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, which is one of my favourite books ever, and I feel like Tallent captured the isolated and nature-savvy young girl in Turtle better than Owens did with Kya.
Apart from that, this was a great debut fiction novel from Delia Owens and I’m interested to see what she publishes next.
The Killing Game – J. A. Kerley
Oh my god I disliked this book so much… and it was entirely my own fault. When I saw The Killing Game in my local charity shop, I thought I’d snagged a bargain copy of one of my new TBR additions. Little did I know the book I had intended to buy was in fact The Killing Lessons by Saul Black, and so I went into this not knowing it was the 9th instalment of the Carson Ryder police procedural series.
I know that I can’t be the fairest of reviewers as I haven’t read the previous books, but a lot of police procedural series are written with the intention that anyone can pick up a book regardless of its place in the series and still be able to make sense of it, as is the case with The Killing Game.
My main issues with this book were in the writing. Carson Ryder would randomly blurt out arrogant “cop talk” that sounded like ‘locker room chat’ as the saying goes, but it didn’t mesh well at all with the rest of his voice. I despised the romance in this book, the love interest Wendy was over-sexualised and one dimensional. There was an attempted suicide scene where Wendy distracts the guy by taking off her clothes? Definitely one of the most ridiculously male-gaze-y scenes I’ve ever read. And the ending was just awful – so rushed, disappointing and unsatisfactory. Now I know to check my TBR list on Goodreads before buying anything, but at least my £2.50 went to charity!!
The Good Daughter – Karin Slaughter
If you know me then you know that Karin Slaughter is one of my all time favourite authors. After reading her Grant County series and Pretty Girls which are some of my favourite books ever, I found The Good Daughter in the library and knew I just had to read it.
The Good Daughter begins with a shocking attack on the Quinn family home in Pikeville, leaving Charlotte and Samantha’s mother dead and the rest of the family physically and emotionally scarred. Twenty-eight years later, Charlotte has followed in her father’s footsteps as a lawyer, but finds herself in a nightmare as tragedy strikes once again in Pikeville and she is the first witness on the scene. Simultaneously following the mystery of the latest tragedy and uncovering the secrets of what happened twenty-eight years ago, The Good Daughter is an dark and emotional thriller that draws you in with its compelling characters.
As with all of Karin Slaughter’s books, the amount of violence in this book is definitely something to be aware of. The opening scene is one of the most awful and grotesque displays of violence I’ve read in a long time and it actually made me cry. The writing was so emotional and I could picture myself being in the characters’ shoes so intensely. There’s also a scene around the two-thirds mark that will probably stay with me forever because it was so upsetting.
However, if you have a strong tolerance for extreme violence then this book is well worth a read. Karin Slaughter has never failed me and I will continue to recommend her books to anyone and everyone!
The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton
Described as a combination of Agatha Christie and Groundhog Day, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle sees Aiden Bishop wake up each day at Blackheath Manor in a different body, forced to relive the day that Evelyn Hardcastle dies over and over again in order to solve her murder.
This book was so much fun! The creepy, atmospheric vibes of Blackheath Manor are perfect for an Autumn/Winter read. I enjoyed reading about the range of characters (or “hosts”) that Aiden wakes up in, as each host keeps elements of their own personality that then affect how Aiden behaves, so it was interesting to see how Aiden struggled against what his host would do in that situation and fought to distinguish his own thoughts.
The plot was expertly woven and complex, and for this I applaud Turton. The outline for this story was clearly very intricate and carefully thought out, and it paid off every time a new piece of the puzzle fit together. The best part of this book is seeing the whole story come together. You know the part in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry and Hermione go back in time, and it’s revealed that it was Hermione who called Lupin the werewolf away from their past selves and threw the stone at Harry in Hagrid’s hut? This book is full of moments where things just click together like that and I loved that.
However, I would say that this level of detail also had its pitfalls, as there were plenty of small details that I had completely forgotten by the time they were explained or later became important, and I felt like I needed to take notes or see a mindmap/timeline to feel fully informed. In some ways I feel like this is an ode to Turton’s clever writing, but I also think it may be too complicated for a lot of readers.
Lastly, I really enjoyed the ending. There were a few reveals that genuinely shocked me and that I couldn’t have predicted. However, I did have a niggling thought after I finished the book (I won’t say it here as it’s a spoiler) but it felt either like a plot hole, or of carelessness/ignorance from the author (this won’t make much sense here but feel free to message me if you want to know more!)
I would recommend this book if you like long-winded mysteries, but it’s worth knowing that you might feel a little lost or overwhelmed at times.
The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sagar
Fifteen years ago, Emma shares a cabin at summer camp with three older girls, Vivian, Allison and Natalie. Emma wakes up just as the three girls are sneaking out of the cabin, never to be seen or heard from again. Still harbouring secrets from that harrowing summer, Emma is now a renowned artist showcasing her paintings at an exhibition, when she is asked to return to Camp Nightingale as a counsellor for its grand re-opening. Fuelled by her desires to find out what happened to her missing bunkmates, she reluctantly accepts and starts re-living her past and coming to terms with the lies she told all those years ago.
This book gave me Pretty Little Liars vibes, especially during the flashbacks to Emma’s first time at the camp when she is a teenager. Although I loved Pretty Little Liars when I was younger, it’s not really my thing anymore so I didn’t really like the ‘bitchy, popular girl’ tropes going on.
And whilst I loved the last reveal, I was quite disappointed with the earlier reveals. One was so predictable, and one felt shoe-horned in to catch up with the rest of the story (I hate when a character randomly confesses to everything and explains how they previously evaded suspicion – okay so why are you now telling us all this?). I also had some issues with the writing, for example how many times can a cold chill run down someone’s spine or their blood/heart freeze? Plus, I felt that some of the more action-packed scenes were lacklustre, I’ve read other similar passages in other books that were so exhilarating and really make you feel like you are living within the pages, but this was just a bit underwhelming.
Overall, this was an okay book but I’m not sure I like Riley Sagar’s writing and ideas as much as other mystery thrillers I’ve read.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on these books, it means a lot to me! Feel free to chat with me in the comments or on Instagram if you have any opinions on what I’ve said. Until next time!