Welcome to my first post of 2021! January was an absolute write-off so I’m only just getting back into the swing of reading and blogging again. In today’s post I’m going to talk about the 8 books I finished since my last wrap-up post in October; six books in January and two books at the end of 2020.
As always, if you want to catch my other books posts you can click here, and feel free to chat with me in the comments or over on Instagram. I’d love to know your thoughts or if any of my reviews have made you want (or not want) to read any of these books! Enjoy reading, or if you prefer you can watch the Youtube video version below.
The Hunting Party – Lucy Foley
After hearing a lot about both The Hunting Party and The Guest List by Lucy Foley (with the latter arguably being the better of the two), I decided to pick up The Hunting Party because a) it had the cold, wintry vibes I was going looking for back in November and b) if I liked it and went onto read The Guest List then it could only get better.
This book follows a group of old friends in their 30’s who reunite every New Year, who on this occasion have booked a hunting trip in the desolete Scottish Highlands. One of the friends is soon found dead, and following the different character’s perspectives across two different timelines we eventually learn who has died and who has killed them.
Full of trope-heavy characters, secrets and a sense of being trapped amongst a killer, The Hunting Party was a really fun read that I didn’t take too seriously. None of the characters are especially likeable or interesting so I felt like I didn’t really root for or care for anyone much, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing in this case. I went into this book expecting a fun, fast-paced mystery that would be more plot-driven as opposed to focused on character, and that’s exactly what I got.
There are lots of secrets and reveals which made it an exciting read, plus they all made sense with the flashbacks and the small details mentioned earlier in the book. I always appreciate when a book drops in seemingly insignificant details that go largely unnoticed until they start to add up and become something more significant at the end, so props to Lucy Foley for managing this.
The ending wasn’t my favourite, it surprised me but I think because of my lack of investment in the characters I didn’t really care who did what by the end, it was more of an “oh okay” moment than an “oh wow” if you know what I mean.
I would recommend this – especially in the colder months – but as someone who reads a lot of mystery thrillers it ended up being just “okay”. Saying that, I will give The Guest List a try at some point!
Blood Orange – Harriet Tyce
This had been on my TBR for a short while when I saw it was the Fully Booked book club’s pick for November, so it was the perfect time to give it a read.
I would describe this as a domestic legal thriller, which isn’t usually what I would go for. Our main character Alison is a married lawyer with a child, who we soon learn is having an affair with her colleague, neglecting her role as a mother and drinking a lot of alcohol. The reader follows her as she deals with each of these problems whilst also working a difficult domestic violence case.
I liked that this book talks about issues such as domestic violence, abuse and consent, showing a few varying examples of how abuse can take shape in people’s lives even when we may not realise or recognise it immediately. There are a few abusers in this book who operate very differently, and it made me think about the complexity of abuse and how it isn’t always black and white. If you are interested in this kind of thing, I think Blood Orange does this really well.
One thing I didn’t like about this book is that I found some parts of it really dull, especially the more domestic, “family life” aspects which aren’t very interesting to me. At times I wondered what the actual plot/drive was, and although I don’t always mind that, I don’t think it works often in a thriller story.
Another aspect I didn’t like was how much one of the characters frustrated me! I was literally so angry and ready to scream at some parts, and it made me want to shake other characters, but maybe that was the whole point. As an outside reader, it was easy to see certain red flags and even though it frustrated me how it was all playing out, I wonder if that was the author’s intention in dealing with the theme of abuse. Either way, it did spoil some of my overall enjoyment in the book.
However, I did think it had a really satisfying ending that I didn’t see coming and it was definitely worth the read.
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
This is probably one of the most talked about books in the online book community, so after months of putting it off for fear of it being “too upsetting” I spent the last two months of 2020 tackling this beast of a book. With my edition coming in at the 720 page mark, A Little Life follows the lives of four friends based in New York from the moment they each meet at university right up until their 40’s and 50’s.
It’s renowned on the internet for being tragic and devastating (which it definitely is) but it’s also very beautiful and hopeful in it’s portrayal of friendship, relationships and family. The writing is beautiful, it is so richly descriptive and whilst I thought it was dense and hard to read in large chunks I never felt bored. This book dives sooo deeply into each character’s thoughts, feelings and motivations, and I felt a lot of empathy and understanding for every single character even if I didn’t like or understand their actions at first. There are so many wonderfully patient and resilient characters in this book who are really admirable and likeable.
I’ve seen some reviews that claim that A Little Life is comparable to “torture porn”, and whilst I acknowledge that there’s a lot of triggers warnings for this book (and I don’t know whether I’m just desensitised or not) but for me personally I didn’t think it was as overly traumatising and soul-destroying as I’ve seen elsewhere. Definitely be wary of what you’re getting into, but don’t let the rumours scare you away from this book if you know you’re in a good headspace to read it. I did cry (twice) but I loved it so much more than I was upset by it.
I’m not sure why I didn’t give this book a 5/5, I guess when I finished it I wasn’t immediately struck with a “this is definitely a 5/5” moment and so my gut feeling is that for me A Little Life deserves a very high 4* rating.
The Family Upstairs – Lisa Jewell
After reading and loving Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone last year (it actually made it into my top favourites of 2020) I thought The Family Upstairs would be just as good, but I was left sorely disappointed.
When Libby was a baby, she was found alive and well-cared for in a house with three dead bodies downstairs, and as she now turns 25 she has inherited the multi-million pound mansion from her mysterious biological parents. Told in alternating timelines, The Family Upstairs has creepy, claustrophobic, cult vibes that I really enjoyed at the start of the book. However, I soon found that I didn’t emotionally connect with the characters like I had with Then She Was Gone, which meant that I didn’t care much about what was happening.
There were also a lot of things that didn’t make sense to me, such as some of the reveals that weren’t foreshadowed in the slightest (at least to my knowledge), certain plot explanations not making any sense and then some things feeling under-developed because we were always hearing from the same person’s perspective in the past timeline. I wish that we got to hear from other characters, especially the women, who were living in the house in the past because I felt it didn’t go into their experiences much at all.
This one was a miss for me, but I won’t give up on Lisa Jewell yet since I loved Then She Was Gone so much. I do have another one of her books – Invisible Girl – on my TBR so I’ll give this one a go soon and see what I think.
Eeny Meeny – M. J. Arlidge
What a fast-paced, addictive thriller! I love a good mystery from the perspective of a detective, so when I heard good things about Eeny Meeny I was excited to get stuck into a new series.
Detective Helen Grace takes on a case where two people are kidnapped and left to starve to death unless one of them kills the other. It was a harrowing premise that brought with it a lot of gory, graphic descriptions of the terror you might experience in this situation. I don’t know if it was because I read most of this book on my night shift breaks, but I felt genuinely creeped out at the concept and the killer themselves.
I did guess who the killer was eventually, but I didn’t have the motive figured out and it was exciting to see it all unfold. I also really liked Detective Helen Grace herself so I will probably continue this series at some point. A great thriller if you like the darker side of fiction!
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
This has been on my TBR for approximately 8 years now so as part of my mission to finally read my back-listed books I picked this up to provide me with a break from mystery thrillers. I would describe Never Let Me Go as contemporary fiction with a subtle dystopian sub-genre. The reason I say that is because it feels different to every other dystopian book I’ve read – it’s still set in a nightmarish world but it is very downplayed and pretty much just accepted by the characters. There is little to no resistance to what is happening to these characters and I feel this is quite unique in a story of this sort.
I don’t want to give away too much because the details of how this world is dystopian are slowly revealed throughout the book, so all I will say is that we follow our protagonist Kathy, a carer in her late twenties who is reminiscing about her past experiences mainly with her friends Ruth and Tommy.
I noticed that a lot of it is structurally repetitive in the sense that it often interrupts the flow of the story to describe the significance of a previous event, object, or argument before continuing the story, which felt a bit overdone by the end but I didn’t dislike it too much. I also found one of the main characters to be really irritating and I wished that they got called out more for some of their toxic behaviours.
This book had a strange “quietness” to it in that it’s not in your face with all the horrible things going on in the world, it’s very subtle and downplayed and I think that adds to sadness of this book. It did make me cry and it left me with a lot to think about after it ended.
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson
Finally, a YA mystery thriller that had little to no faults! This book really surprised me, because although I’ve heard good things about A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, having read so many adult thrillers I always expect YA to be slightly underwhelming. However, I found this to be a really refreshing and original take on a “younger” mystery thriller.
Our 17-year-old protagonist Pippa is working on a school project, and she controversially chooses to write about a case based in her small-town. 5 years ago, a young girl went missing and was assumed murdered, so when her boyfriend committed suicide it seemed like he was the killer and the case was soon closed. Pippa doesn’t believe this version of events and embarks on her own investigation into what really happened.
Pippa was truly one of the best characters I’ve read in a long time, she is super smart, resourceful, self-assured and knows her own self-worth. Sometimes I find YA fiction a bit grating because of all the coming-of-age tropes, such as feeling insecure in your appearance, falling out with friends, having a difficult relationship with your family and so on. It was refreshing to read from a character who didn’t have any of these problems, but still felt really relatable and like a great role-model for teenage readers.
The format was really fun as it contained a mixture of ordinary prose, Pippa’s research notes, her interview transcripts, text messages and more. I also thought the twists and reveals were genuinely surprising and I felt really giddy towards the end as everything started coming together. Definitely a winning book in my eyes!
Moonrise – Sarah Crossan
Last but not least we have Moonrise, an emotional story told in verse that reads super fast. Our main character’s older brother has been incarcerated on death row for many years, and as he receives an execution date the two brothers form a special bond as they count down the days till the execution.
This book was obviously very emotive as it deals with some really difficult issues surrounding the death penalty. It discusses whether or not being innocent even matters, the impacts of race and poverty and the arbitrariness of the death penalty across different states in America. It leaves the reader with a lot to think about and a desire to find out more.
I read this in one sitting in a couple of hours (and I cried) so I’m interested in reading more of Sarah Crossan’s work that is similar in style to Moonrise.
And that’s all for now! I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and please do get involved in the comments or over on my Instagram. Until next time,