August Wrap Up

I don’t know what’s come over me recently but I just can’t stop reading! Only last month I was writing that I’d had my best reading month ever in terms of the number of books I read, and now I’ve surpassed that already?! This month I read a whopping ten books, which is absolutely crazy considering my average is usually 4 books per month. I’m pretty sure this is because I’ve fallen in love with audiobooks recently, which has allowed me to read basically anywhere and anytime.

There’s a pretty mixed bag of reviews this month, including two 5 star ratings for books in genres totally out of my comfort zone, and two 1 star thrillers from authors I have previously read and loved, so definitely a very strange but exciting reading month!

As always, if you want to catch my other book 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 to read (or completely avoid) any of these books! Enjoy reading, or if you prefer you can watch the Youtube video version below.

The Wrong Family – Tarryn Fisher

1/5

Told through alternating dual POVs, in The Wrong Family we follow the stories of Juno, a retired therapist and Winnie Crouch, a wife and mother who is struggling to keep her family together. When Juno first started living with the Crouch family she thought Winnie had the perfect family, but Juno starts having doubts when she overhears a dangerous conversation between Winnie and her husband. Juno wants to act on this conversation, but then she risks uncovering her own secrets.

Tarryn Fisher has become a hit or miss author for me – I loved Marrow and The Wives, I found Bad Mommy disappointing but this one has to be the worst that I’ve read so far. My main issue with this book is how slow-paced it is. The writing feels meandering and it takes forever to reach the point, which made large chunks of the book pretty boring.

I didn’t care about any of the characters, who I found to be uninteresting and forgettable. The only positive thing I have to say about this book is that the twist had potential and it surprised me, but after that it fell flat and went nowhere. Barely anything happens until it reaches a bizarre crescendo which defied belief. In fact, the whole story certainly tests the readers tolerance for the unbelievable, which left me eye-rolling and frowning quite frequently.

If this was the only book I had read by Tarryn Fisher I probably wouldn’t read another, but having had luck with her books previously I will continue to read the ones with good reviews in the hopes that I will find another gem.

Invisible Girl – Lisa Jewell

4/5

This book was such an improvement on The Family Upstairs! It’s still not quite as good as Then She Was Gone, but it was definitely a very solid and enjoyable book.

In Invisible Girl we follow three very distinctive characters, one being Owen Pick – a thirty-something year old teacher living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, who has been accused of sexual harassing his students. The second POV is physiotherapist Cate Fours, who lives across the road from Owen with her therapist husband Roan and their two children. Lastly, we follow Saffyre Maddox, a young girl who spent three years in therapy with Roan. These three character’s lives soon start to converge when Saffyre disappears suddenly, and the last person to see her alive is Owen Pick.

The characters are easily the strongest element of this book, all three main POVs are easily distinguishable from one another and each character is interesting in their own way. Even the minor characters feel authentic and real – for example, Cate’s daughter Georgia totally encapsulates the melodrama of being a modern day teenager whilst still being funny and likeable. I loved seeing all the little characterisations that made these characters feel so real.

Owen was slightly different, he was more complex and complicated, but I found his perspective to be very interesting and thought-provoking all the same.

It’s worth noting that there is a focus on “incel” culture throughout Owen’s POV which I found pretty infuriating to read about, but it does explore it in some depth and shows how easily a vulnerable person can get sucked into this culture and how dangerous it can be. Overall I thought it dealt with the topic really well and I appreciated the character development that came from it.

I loved seeing how the whole story came together and the ending felt very satisfying and nicely wrapped up. Overall this was another very good book from Lisa Jewell!

The Maidens – Alex Michaelides

1/5

After reading and loving The Silent Patient I couldn’t wait to read Alex Michaelides’ latest release – unfortunately I’m gutted to say that I just didn’t this book at all!

In The Maidens, therapist Mariana returns to her alma mater Cambridge University after her niece Zoe’s closest friend, Tara, is found murdered. Mariana soon suspects the murderer is Professor Edward Fosca, the charismatic and popular Greek tragedy professor on campus. Mariana refuses to give up on her gut instinct despite Fosca having an alibi, and her obsession with him begins to spiral out of control.

There are so many issues I had with this book, but let’s start with the most frustrating one. Every single male character in this book is creepy. Honestly, the amount of times that Mariana had to fend off a forceful advance from one of the men was insane. I’m not sure what the purpose was here – was it to create red herrings? Was it meant to be sort of endearing/hot? Either way I was so irritated with how every man interacted with Mariana – there’s just no need for it!

Mariana herself as a character was one dimensional and bland, I wasn’t rooting for her and if anything she just annoyed me. How was she able to infiltrate a police investigation when she was a therapist with no experience in criminal investigations or forensic psychiatry? Every time she conveniently got access to something she shouldn’t I just rolled my eyes.

The dialogue felt unrealistic and unnatural, side plots were dropped suddenly with little or no explanation, and there wasn’t enough focus on “The Maidens” themselves or their relationship with Fosca (they are literally the titular characters and I know nothing about them).

And lastly, the ending was so bad. The motive was silly and completely out of nowhere, and to top it off it was revealed using one of my biggest pet peeve tropes ever! Why do authors insist on making a character go from 0-100 and confess all their crimes with very little prompting required?!

So overall, I really did not like this book, which is bizarre because I loved The Silent Patient (even the cameo from Theo felt unnecessary and like it was just playing off the success of The Silent Patient!)

I know this has come across as a rant (and that’s because it sort of is) but I can’t really think of anything positive to say except that I finished the book…

The Imposter – Anna Wharton

3.5/5

The Imposter is a first person narrative following Chloe, a 29-year-old newspaper archivist living with and caring for her Nan. At work, Chloe comes across an old newspaper clipping about the disappearance of Angela Kyle, and she quickly becomes obsessed with the unwavering devotion and resounding hope shown by Angela’s parents as they wait for her to return. When Nan’s worsening Alzheimers puts her in a nursing home, Chloe takes the opportunity to become a lodger at Angela’s parents’ home.

This book was way more of a slow-burner than I had anticipated, it took around half of the book just to get to what is described in the blurb! In this case I didn’t mind too much as it allowed me to really get to know Chloe and her situation, which made her slow descent into obsession all the more believable and understandable.

It was well-written and it had some beautiful moments touching on grief and loneliness, especially when we get to meet the Kyle parents and see how they’ve dealt with the loss of their daughter, the lack of closure and putting their lives on hold as they wait for Angela to return.

It also portrayed dementia in a really touching and realistic way that added to the sadness of this book.

I thought I had this book figured out, but my theory was hinted at and then swiftly tossed aside, so I was genuinely surprised and pleased with how it ending – it felt plausible but still quite shocking. Overall I enjoyed the story, however the pacing was a bit too slow for me.

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman

3.5/5

This is not your average mystery thriller – it follows four unlikely 70-something-year-old friends, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, who meet every Thursday in their retirement village to discuss their theories on historic cold cases. When a murder happens close to their village, the group excitably take on the challenge of solving a case in real-time.

This was a super endearing, heartwarming and funny read. I’ve never read anything from a much older perspective before and this is the real selling point of this novel. The characters really do feel like lovely old people but each with their own personalities: Elizabeth is the bossy, resourceful leader of the group, Joyce is sweet yet mischievous, Ibrahim is intelligent and Ron is loud and brash but still loveable. I loved how they used their age to their advantage, each using their individual skillsets and experience to find information, or playing the role of being “senile”, “crazy” or super sweet when it benefitted them. This was such a unique take on a mystery story and I loved reading about their characters.

I liked how it touched on topics such as grief, being a widower, having adult children who have their own lives, illness, loneliness and all these things that felt so important to talk about in a book about older people, whilst still being jam-packed with quintessential dry British humour that made it feel super light-hearted.

However, I have two issues with this book that are making me unsure as to whether I’ll continue reading the next books in the series. Firstly, I found that I wasn’t really invested in the crime itself and I wasn’t that curious about who the murderer was, which is sort of the whole point of a mystery novel. There were a few twists and turns that were surprising and well-plotted but I was more interested in the characters themselves than the overall mystery. Secondly, the group’s ability to access police/financial records and the like was explained and made sense in a comical way (seeing them barter for information with the local police force was pretty funny), but it still seemed a little farfetched which affected my belief and investment in the story.

Overall, this was a really lovely book that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside but the mystery/thriller elements didn’t captivate me as much, so whilst I love the idea of this book I’m not sure it all meshes very well together.

Expectation – Anna Hope

5/5

I loved this book way more than I was expecting to! It’s a compelling and realistic story of female friendship and finding happiness and meaning in ordinary life, told through the lives of three friends, Lissa, Cate and Hannah.

I loved the writing style of this book, the alternating perspectives and timelines are woven together so effortlessly and it all just seems to flow perfectly. It feels like there’s an omnipresent narrator hovering over the story guiding us through it, I would sort of describe it as floating across and dipping in and out of these women’s lives and I absolutely loved it.

As someone in their mid-20s, I felt truly seen in the sense that all these women had visions about how their lives would play out, and there is always that underlying worry that life will turn out to be very different. It’s a reflective novel, with all three women reminiscing on what their lives were, who they could be now, and they all battle with feelings of inadequacy, jealousy and being unsuccessful in their goals. I thought it was so interesting to how these feelings affected how they viewed and treated their friends, and all the tension it caused.

I found this book super interesting, intelligent and thought-provoking, and I just loved it. Some of the writing is beautiful and the overarching message that you can still find joy and peace in life even when it doesn’t go how you imagined was really inspiring and uplifting.

Black Leopard Red Wolf – Marlon James

5/5

Going into this book I knew it would be a difficult read. I’ve read two Marlon James historical fiction novels in the past and they were both tough to get into, partly because his writing style doesn’t really appeal to the masses. It’s complex and it takes some tme to get used to the rhythm of his writing, but it definitely gets easier the further along you read.

Not only is James’ writing difficult to begin to, but epic, high fantasy is one of my least read genres, so I ended up savouring reading this book across well over a month (also accompanied by the audiobook) to make it all easier to digest. I’m so glad I did this because it was amazing to fully submerge myself into this world for a long period of time – and I could’ve carried on for much longer!

Set in ancient Africa, our main character Tracker is a hunter with a heightened sense of smell, who makes his money by searching for philandering husbands on behalf of their angry wives. One day Tracker is given a quest to find a missing child, so he sets out on a journey with a bizarre cast of characters also recruited for this quest, including a leopard man, a “giant” like figure and a mermaid/goddess.

The book has a slow to medium pace to it, alternating between whimsical dialogue and mini-stories followed by more intense action scenes to keep the story moving. The whole experience of reading this book is totally immersive, hallucinatory and magical and I loved every minute of it. The descriptions are vivid, the characters are diverse and loveable and I was so invested in their stories. The creativity displayed in this book is just insane, not only with the characters but also the various landscapes that provide a backdrop to the story and the horrifying creatures the group encounter on their journey (I’m surprised I didn’t have nightmares after reading some of those scenes).

I loved the representation of male queerness and sexuality, as well as the themes of family, masculinity, power and inheritance. I laughed, I smiled, I CRIED, and I didn’t want it to end. 

As with every James novel, there is a lot of graphic violence and dark ideas that are not shied away from, and I’m aware that this is a very complicated book that won’t be for everyone, but it’s such a challenging yet rewarding read and I would definitely give it a chance if it sounds interesting to you. I for one am in awe of Marlon James for crafting such an amazing debut into the fantasy genre and I can’t wait until the next book is out!

Local Woman Missing – Mary Kubica

4.5/5

Wow, this book hooked me immediately and was SO hard to put down! In Local Woman Missing, Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, disappear just minutes from where Shelby was last seen. After an extensive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold. Now, 11 years later, Delilah shockingly returns.

I loved the way this book was structured, it flawlessly flipped between different characters POVs across multiple different timelines and all the information was given to the reader at just the right time which had me flipping the pages to find out what happened. The first two parts of this book are literal perfection, I don’t think I’ve ever read a more engaging and enticing opening to a thriller before!

Unfortunately, I had two main issues with this book that stopped it from being a 5 star read. Firstly, although I loved seeing how the ending came together, there were a couple of things that I wasn’t entirely convinced by, which might be a bit nit-picky of me but it left me with a couple of niggling questions about whether certain characters would’ve behaved in that way based on what we’d already learned about them. Secondly, I wanted to shake one of the characters so hard towards the end because of how dumb they were being (I was listening to the book in my car literally shouting “oh my god don’t do that!!!!”), which made this book feel a little less clever by the end.

However, these issues were only minor and overall this was a very well-crafted, tense and fast-paced read that I really enjoyed, and it’s still probably one of my favourite thrillers from this year!

Pretty Little Wife – Darby Kane

3/5

This sounded like a really interesting premise, but I ended up finding this book a little meh. We mainly follow Lila Ridgefield in dual timelines, who maintains a perfect exterior but secretly her life at home with her husband Aaron is anything but. One day Aaron goes missing, and whilst everyone frantically starts searching for the beloved school teacher, Lila is just confused, because she was the last person to see his body, and now it’s gone.

This book felt fairly slow and dull to me, I didn’t care for any of the characters and whilst usually I quite like a secondary detective POV, in this case I didn’t like her either. Lila and the detective reminded me a bit of Killing Eve (which I didn’t love) in the sense that they get a bit obsessed and fascinated with each other, and I just wasn’t here for it. There were also lots of references to their impressive “verbal sparring” – and I’m sorry but it didn’t seem any more impressive than any other interview or interrogation scene I’ve ever read.

I also felt that the author was trying to bang the reader over the head with how “smart” Lila was without actually showing us. If anything Lila was a bit slow to catch on, when the mysterious notes started arriving I was like “come on girl, think outside the box a little bit!”

The ending could’ve been good as it went a lot darker than I had expected, but it ended similarly to The Maidens as mentioned above, which usually ends up irritating me – something about it just feels very “yes it was me all along” *evil laugh* and it’s so overdone and boring!

So with that, I found this book to be pretty average at best.

Small Pleasures – Clare Chambers

4/5

Small Pleasures is a historical fiction novel set in the 1950s in southern England. Our main character, Jean is in her late 30s, living at home with her mother and working as a journalist for her local newspaper, specialising in gardening and recipe tips. One day a letter comes into the newspaper office from Gretchen Tilbury claiming to have had a virgin birth, and Jean is sent to investigate the story. At first sceptical, she soon finds herself charmed by the Tilbury family, which starts to disrupt the homogeneity of her ordinary life.

I loved the whole feeling of this book, it felt very warm and cozy and I loved reading about the mundane aspects of life in the 50s, being reliant on your own garden for produce, shopping at the quaint independent shops, writing letters and cycling to work. I also adored Jean, I really sympathised with her loneliness and her struggle to balance caring for her mother and developing her newfound social life.

As a sceptic myself, I was really intrigued by the virgin birth story but the part I loved most was seeing all the blossoming relationships between Jean and the Tilbury family. I was so invested in the hints of romance and my stomach dropped whenever things weren’t looking to go in Jean’s favour. It maintains a careful balance of being hopeful whilst being slightly ominous and foreboding, so I never knew which way it was going to go.

I thought the writing was wonderful in this book, someday I will re-read it and annotate some of my favourite sentences because some parts were truly beautiful.

My only negative criticism for this book is the ending. It felt a bit jarring and abrupt compared to rest of the flow of the story, and it’s the only reason why this book wasn’t a 5 star read!

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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