February – April 2021: Books Wrap Up

Welcome back to another books wrap-up post! Every time I post I feel like I should apologise for not posting more regularly, but in all honesty I’m not the fastest reader so I only have 8 new book reviews to share with you since my last post.

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 Running Man – Richard Bachman (pseudonym of Stephen King)

2.5/5

Every time I start a new Stephen King novel I think I’ll like it better than the last, but I’ve noticed that every one I’ve finished feels very “meh” to me. The premise is what initially drew me in as it reminded me of the Fifteen Million Merits episode of Black Mirror, and having read only from King’s horror works I thought I’d try out one of his dystopian thrillers.

Set in a dystopian near-future where poverty and violence is rife, our protagonist Ben is black-listed from his trade, his wife Sheila has resorted to prostitution and their daughter is urgently in need of medical treatment. In desparation, Ben turns to the government-run television station that runs violent game shows where the higher the risk, the higher the prize you win. After rigorous testing, Ben is chosen to appear in The Running Man, where he will be declared an enemy of the state and given a 12 hour head start to go anywhere in the world, after which professionally trained hitmen will hunt him down and kill him. Viewers of the show can win money for informing on his whereabouts. The longer he survives, the more money he wins for his family, and if he makes it to 30 days on the run he can claim $1 billion dollars.

The premise of this book is my favourite thing about it, it’s like a super extreme version of the show Hunted. Being on the run is such a scary situation to imagine yourself in and I was looking forward to seeing how all the action played out. However, in order for this kind of the story to work for me I need to root for the main character, and unfortunately Ben was just too unlikeable.

Ben has a raging hatred for authority and anyone who has reaped the benefits of the totalitarian state, and whilst I normally love when characters in dystopian novels stand up against the state, I couldn’t help but feel like Ben was just a total dick about it! I often thought he was plain rude to innocent people because of how angry he was at the system, and at times when his hatred was more “subtle” a lot of the comedic/sarcastic comments he Ben made went completely over my head. I feel like I just didn’t understand where he was coming from a lot of the time, and even though he had every reason to be angry I thought the ways in which he dealt with his anger made him really unlikeable. It doesn’t help that this book is full of racist and sexist overtones that leave a bad taste in my mouth reading it in 2021.

It’s such a shame that I didn’t like Ben, because as things get more dangerous for him I didn’t feel as invested as I would’ve been had he been a nicer person. I do think his book has interesting discussions about propaganda, power and indoctrination and I thought the ending was really good, but as a whole I was left pretty disappointed.

I’m not quite ready to give up on Stephen King yet, I think my next test will be with his short horror stories because I think I like his ideas more than I like his writing. I’m interested to know your thoughts on Stephen King if you’ve read any of his works!

Behind Her Eyes – Sarah Pinborough

5/5

This book truly blew me away, but I’m not going to be able to tell you why without spoiling the entire story!

The story starts when single mum Louise kisses a man in a bar on a rare night out. Lo and behold, this man turns out to be her new married boss. The situation gets all the more awkward when Louise becomes friendly with his wife, Adele, who is adamant that her husband can’t find out about their new friendship. Louise soon becomes tangled up in their dysfunctional marriage and she can’t shake the feeling that something doesn’t seem quite right…

This book had me hooked – I was constantly back and forth wondering which characters to trust and I couldn’t wait to get to the end to see how it all pieced together. After every chapter I was left with so many questions and that ending was just the perfect way to wrap it all up.

This is a prime example of how an ending can really make a book stand out in my eyes, the final twists instantly propelled it to 5 star territory and I couldn’t get enough. What initially felt like a domestic mystery thriller became creepier with every page and the whole concept left me with chills. I didn’t expect any of the reveals whatsoever and I couldn’t stop thinking about this book and how creepy it was for weeks after I finished it – I love when a book genuinely surprises me!

From Blood and Ash – Jennifer L. Armentrout

1/5

The Blood and Ash series has quickly become a wildly popular entry into the fantasy-romance genre that I tend to steer clear of. Fantasy is not something I gravitate towards unless it’s leaning more towards sci-fi/dystopia, however, my best friend recommend From Blood and Ash as one of the best books she’d read for a long time, and after seeing it’s glowing reviews on Goodreads I couldn’t resist.

I’m not going to try and summarise the plot, because in all honesty all this book is about is a forbidden romance between Poppy, a prim, proper and perfect “Maiden” (I’m still not entirely sure what her title meant) and her handsome guard Hawke who is duty bound to protect her.

Initially, I just couldn’t understand the hype. I never resonated with Poppy as a character and Hawke is basically written to be a perfect specimen of a male with absolutely no flaws, physically or mentally. I think the reader is just meant to be swooning over Hawke the whole time?

Even at around the 1/3 mark, I still wasn’t feeling it but I pushed through to half way and only then did I start warming to the romance between Poppy and Hawke. There’s a lot of sexual tension and banter, so it got better once the characters (finally) started to show a bit of personality. It also started to pick up plot-wise so there were some exciting reveals that I enjoyed.

However, that is where the praise ends. This book is essentially a romance masquerading as a fantasy. The world building is so meh and I genuinely don’t think any of the lore was original in any way. It started to get a lot like Twilight as it neared the end (if you’ve read it you’ll know…) and I realised this book is definitely not for me.

And besides the fantasy element being underwhelming to say the least, by the end I was completely against the romance between Hawke and Poppy. Mild spoilers ahead in white colour font (highlight to read): why do I feel like the only one who thinks Hawke was an arrogant arsehole and the way that Poppy was manipulated was honestly appalling and disgusting? Anyone else?! Anyway… it’s safe to say I definitely will not be reading any more from the Blood and Ash series…

Bad Mommy – Tarryn Fisher

3/5

Tarryn Fisher is usually an instant success with me, having previously loved The Wives and Marrow, so when I saw this creepy thriller I instantly added it to my TBR. We follow Fig Coxbury as she becomes insanely jealous of another woman’s life, deciding to buy the house next door to her so she can start infiltrating the family in the hopes of replacing her.

Although this was a fast-paced thriller from the get go with an interesting and morally ambitious protagonist, it all fell a bit flat for me. I liked how there were 3 parts each narrated by a different character as I’m not sure I could’ve read the whole book from just one of their perspectives. I think I was expecting a really dramatic or twisty ending that never came, and the “reveals” were dropped in so casually to the point where I didn’t feel shocked or care very much.

And lastly, Fig started to irritate the hell out of me! I still enjoyed this book but I couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed with it, so hopefully my next read from Tarryn Fisher will be more for me.

The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel

4/5

The Roanoke girls are renowned for being beautiful and rich, but they also carry a terrible legacy where either the girls run, or they die. After 15 year old Lane Roanoke’s mother commits suicide, she goes to live with her mysterious maternal grandparents and her cousin Allegra. Over one long summer, Lane starts to uncover the dark family secret that has been hidden for generations and flees the estate. Years later, Lane receives a call from her grandfather saying that Allegra is missing, so Lane returns to her family once more to learn the whole truth.

This book is really dark and disturbing, so it’s worth looking up some of the trigger warnings if you aren’t sure if it’ll be for you. I think it was especially unsettling as you get to read brief chapters from the Roanoke girls from the past and see how each of the girls are repeatedly manipulated and abused.

I think this book was really well written, it flipped between the different timelines and perspectives seamlessly and it handled the subject matter in a sensitive way. I wasn’t entirely convinced by the ending, but as a whole the story has a sense of tragedy that stayed with me after I finished it. Just be prepared to feel a bit unsettled.

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

4/5

This is a contemporary fiction story about a Chinese-American family in the 1970s dealing with the mysterious death of their favourite child, Lydia.

Rather than being a thriller, it looks at the dysfunctional family dynamics within the family and explores not just how Lydia died but more importantly why.

This book was beautifully written. I loved the omniscient/omnipresent narrative style in this book, I feel like it was the perfect writing style for this kind of story. It reminded me a lot of the writing style of The Lovely Bones which is one of my long time favourite books.

I loved how Celeste Ng portrayed loss and grief in a very real way, and depicted family life in one of the most relatable ways I’ve ever read about. There’s a lot of discussion about parental pressures, sibling arguments, and how comments and attitudes from other family members can really shape you as a person. I also really appreciated how even when certain characters did or thought something I disagreed with, I felt like all the characters were so fully realised that you could always understand where they were coming from or why they acted in those ways.

There’s also a great portrayal of the issues that come with being mixed-race, such as racism and fitting in, being seen as an “other” and fighting against cultural differences both outside and inside the family. As a white person, I don’t know a lot about the experience of being mixed-race but I think this book did an excellent job at exploring these issues.

This book has so many great themes and discussions all packed into a relatively short book, so I would definitely recommend this if you want a book that is very thought-provoking and has a lot of substance.

Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

5/5

Flowers for Algernon is a modern science fiction classic centred around Charlie, a man with mental disabilities who volunteers to take part in an experiment in the hopes it will make him more intelligent. Having just tested the operation successfully on a mouse called Algernon, a team of psychologists and scientists study Charlie as he progressively surpasses the intelligence of any other known human. However, with Charlie being the first subject, it is unknown if the effects will be permanent or not.

This book was so hard-hitting and made me ball my eyes out. It was so thought-provoking, making me reflect on how people with learning difficulties are perceived, treated and misunderstood in society. It was heartbreaking to see how Charlie had been treated as sub-human, been ridiculed and taken advantage of his whole life and how others wanted him to be “normal” rather than accepting him for who he was.

I loved reading Charlie’s own reflections on how important intelligence was, the different kinds of intelligence and how it affected his relationships with other people.

Overall, I really loved this book and I love it even more for making me cry like it did.

The Memory Wood – Sam Lloyd

5/5

The Memory Wood is the only home Elijah has ever known. It’s isolated from the rest of society so Elijah has never had a true friend. That is until Elissa is brought to the Memory Wood, desperate to escape whereas Elijah will do everything to keep his new friend with him.

This book was really wonderfully written, especially in comparison to other mystery thrillers. The description of the Memory Wood at the very beginning was so atmospheric and vivid – I felt like I could literally picture the setting right in front of me. I thought the characters were really well developed too, especially Elissa who I really rooted for.

There’s a lot of in-depth insight into how detectives investigate abductions, it seems clear that Lloyd has done their research and it paid off. It’s action-packed, full of twists and turns, and I read the last half of this book in one sitting because I literally could not put it down.

Elissa was such a likeable character who you root for. I liked how it was set in England and theres lots of insight into how the detective investigation abuctions, its clear that the author has done their research or has insider knowledge.

My only slight criticism is that I was left with some niggling questions at the end, nothing major but I felt like there were a couple of loose ends I would’ve liked some more explanation on. But overall, this is one of the better thrillers I’ve ever read so I felt like it deserved a 5/5 so it stands out on my Goodreads shelves amongst a sea of 4 star books!

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,

Lots of love, The Amber Approach

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