Category Archives: Books

The Holdout – Graham Moore

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

The Holdout – Graham Moore

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One jury member changed the verdict. What if she was wrong?

It was the most sensational case of the decade.

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher, Bobby Nock, is the prime suspect. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed.

Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, persuades the rest of the jurors to vote not guilty: a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.

Ten years later, one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the prime suspect.

The real killer could be any of the other ten jurors. Is Maya being forced to pay the price for her decision all those years ago?

 

When reading the blurb of this book, I thought it sounded a little like Twelve Angry Men, but, you know… ten years later. Then as I kept reading, and realised there was extra murder involved, I was totally sold.
The book is told in a mixture of present-day murder investigation and flashbacks to the trial of Bobby Nock, a black teacher who was tried (and acquitted) of the murder of billionaire heiress Jessica Silver. Maya, our protagonist, was the turning point of the jury, convinced that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Bobby, who turned the rest of her jurors around to her side. But as the tenth anniversary of Jessica’s disappearance approaches, the jury reconvenes for a retrospective, where one of them is found dead – in Maya’s hotel room. Secrets unravel in present day and past day chapters, as Maya races to discover who the killer is – and where they might strike next.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, reading it over the course of two engrossing days, deeply engaged in the twists and turns of this mystery/courtroom thriller/detective novel. Past wrongs intertwine with present as characters who barely know each other and yet intimately know each other form allegiances and gang up against each other. And at the centre of the book is fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver – blonde, beautiful, billionheiress, her body never found.
This was actually my only problem with the book. Jessica, the central victim of the narrative, was never a person so much as she was an image on which to hinge the story. There were flashes of exploration of why that might be the case near the end of the book, but not really enough for me. I think there was a whole angle to be explored in this book about why the daughter of a billionaire – white, young, pretty, female – was the subject of a media frenzy, and whether that contributed to the excoriating backlash against the jury who failed to convict her purported killer.

But outside of that complaint, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Maya was a compelling and enjoyable heroine, a lawyer whose legal training fails to stop her from doing the eminently stupid things that the protagonist of every gritty thriller does. That is to say, investigating her own case. But that was knowingly presented in the narrative, with Maya’s boss rolling his eyes in frustration at Maya’s refusal to act in the way she knows is most effective. Maya’s present-day narrative is interspersed with chapters from the other 11 jurors, each in turn. I didn’t realise at the beginning that this was the format. Rick, the juror whose perspective is presented first, is perhaps the most central to Maya’s story, so I thought they would be dual narrators. When he vanished, I realised I had been mistaken, and then a parade of other narrators began to appear, so I realised what was going on. There was, perhaps, a lack of depth to some of the other jury members, as they appeared only for their few pages, to present their view of how the court case developed, but I can appreciate the reasoning behind that narrative decision. It didn’t quite work for me, and I’m not sure why – just didn’t quite hit the right note. But it wasn’t terribly off-putting either. That does mean that there are a total of 12 different POV characters in this book, some of which are only seen incredibly briefly, so if you’re not a fan of multiple POVs, this will definitely put you off.

Overall, though, this was a thoroughly engrossing thriller, with enough elements of danger, mystery, and legal proceedings to keep things interesting. Maya was a relatable and sympathetic heroine, and the plot was littered with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing throughout. Very enjoyable, and I’ll look out for more from Moore.

Four Stars
****

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Blogiversary

I realised at about nine pm tonight that I didn’t get a chance to write today’s post during the day. So when I logged into WordPress to decide what I was going to write about, I really didn’t have any idea. I’ve finished one or two books lately, but I haven’t collected my thoughts on them yet.

But when I logged in, I had a notification from WordPress, and I instantly knew what I was going to write about.

The notification said it’s been 11 years since I first set up on WordPress. 11 years since I started blogging!

In those 11 years, I’ve posted 1,382 times, to 28,541 visitors, who’ve viewed 75,313 posts. Although not all 11 years of my WordPress journey have been as a book blogger, I’m thoroughly enjoying my book blogging journey (although the number of pending book reviews on my NetGalley is beginning to get me down), and am looking forward to many more years of blogging and reading to come!

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My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

I’ve been clear before in my opinions of student-teacher relationships and how they’re portrayed in literature. So I was really excited when I heard about My Dark Vanessa, an exploration of a student-teacher relationship which the student was fully convinced was love.

I was approved on NetGalley for this dark, entrancing book, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

47326429._SY475_.jpgAn era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher

ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER

Vanessa Wye was fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher.

She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.

Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that.

Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.

Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, and as riveting as it is disturbing, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age is grappling with.

Thrillingly dark and gloomy, this twisted and oppressive tale of a ‘romantic’ relationship developed between a school girl and her English teacher is packed with introspection and a claustrophobic, overriding feeling of inevitability as Vanessa unpacks her formative years and her experience of relationships.
The book jumps back and forth between Vanessa’s present – in 2017 – and her past. In the wake of an accusation by another student of sexual assault against an English teacher in her school, Vanessa begins to return to her relationship with that teacher, which began when she was fifteen, and the impact this had on her life in the years following. The novel follows Vanessa through her high school and college experiences, up until she’s about 22, which means we see the lasting impact and repercussions of her experience with Strane.
I hesitate to use the word relationship here, because although it was a relationship, Vanessa’s unpacking of what that means and what her experience with Strane did to her life in general is one of the great strengths of the book. Vanessa is deep, deep in the cycle of abuse, and is fully sure that Strane loved her, and that their relationship was pure and beautiful – it was only the world turned him into a monster.
My Dark Vanessa makes for uncomfortable reading, which I had to take frequent breaks from, because it was very hard to cope with at times. Not because of graphic content – although there were repeated descriptions of teenage rape, even if that’s now how Vanessa saw it at the time – but because of the psychological wearing down of Vanessa’s boundaries and defences, until she thinks that Strane’s interest in her is pure and romantic, rather than disconcerting and predatory.
The way in which Strane gently breaks down Vanessa’s boundaries is methodical and slow, clearly a man who knows how to manipulate vulnerable young girls, and as the book progresses and you see how this impacts on Vanessa’s life in so many ways, it can be difficult to cope with. Vanessa herself remains oblivious at the time, and looking back with her adult eyes, she sees much less than the reader does. The narrative delicately positions Vanessa as a hugely unreliable narrator, as her starry-eyed naivete paints a much less grim image than we see as readers.
Deeply affecting, and honestly the best portrayal of a student-teacher relationship I’ve ever read, it’s hard to believe that this is a debut, and I look forward to reading more from Kate Elizabeth Russell.

Four Stars
****

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Books to Read Before I’m 30 – update

I’ve posted a few times before on this blog about my self-made reading challenge of books to read before I’m 30. Well, thirty is only a few months away – three months, in fact, so it’s time to check back in. I last updated on this in June of last year, although I had a few review posts too – Austentatious, Quick Classics Reviews, On Unlikeable Protagonists. I’m chipping away at the challenge, but with only a few months to go, and because it’s quite a long list, I’m posting a revised table here of the books I still have to read, so that I can see what I still have to achieve in the next few months!

It’s probably not going to be completed, but I will certainly try very hard to get as many done as I can between now and April 13th, 2020!

  1. The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
  2. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres
  3. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
  4. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
  5. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
  6. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  7. The Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  8. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
  9. The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
  10. The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
  11. For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  12. Dune – Frank Herbert
  13. The Odyssey – Homer
  14. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
  15. The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Victor Hugo
  16. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  17. Ulysses – James Joyce
  18. A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man – James Joyce
  19. Finnegan’s Wake – James Joyce
  20. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
  21. Lady Chatterly’s Lover – DH Lawrence
  22. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marques
  23. Moby-Dick – Herman Melville
  24. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
  25. Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
  26. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  27. Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
  28. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  29. The Grapes Of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  30. Kidnapped! – Robert Louis Stevenson
  31. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
  32. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  33. Journey to the Centre of the Earth – Jules Verne
  34. Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
  35. The Once and Future King – TH White

So with 35 to read, and three months and four days in which to do it, this *might* be manageable, but it depends on how busy I am at work, how much free time I have, and how much time I spend on other nonsense. It also depends on my not reading the wrong books – like that time I read The Iliad, before realising that it was The Odyssey is on the list… But I’ve got a few lined up to keep going (I’m currently reading the Canterbury Tales, I have Rebecca on my Kindle, and after reading my blog post about my blunder, a friend of mine lent me his copy of The Odyssey), and we’ll see how I get on. If they’re all as long as The Count of Monte Cristo, though, I’ll never manage it…

 

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The Foundling – Stacey Halls

I read this on The Pigeonhole, so one stave was released each night at midnight. I found myself staying up late several times, just so I could find out what was going to happen next in this heart-wrenching tale of poverty, motherhood, and a stolen child.

The Foundling – Stacey Halls

45308037. sy475 London, 1754.

Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter Clara at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to reclaim the child she has never known. Dreading the worst – that Clara has died in care – the last thing she expects to hear is that her daughter has already been reclaimed – by her. Her life is turned upside down as she tries to find out who has taken her little girl – and why. Less than a mile from Bess’ lodgings in the city, in a quiet, gloomy townhouse on the edge of London, a young widow has not left the house in a decade. When her close friend – an ambitious young doctor at the Foundling Hospital – persuades her to hire a nursemaid for her daughter, she is hesitant to welcome someone new into her home and her life. But her past is threatening to catch up with her and tear her carefully constructed world apart.

From the bestselling author of The Familiars, and set against the vibrant backdrop of Georgian London, The Foundling explores families, secrets, class, equality, power and the meaning of motherhood.

This is Stacey Halls’ second book – I actually have her first, The Familiars, lined up as an audiobook, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Needless to say, after thoroughly enjoying The Foundling, I started The Familiars very shortly after.

The Foundling starts in London in 1748, when Bess Bright, impoverished shrimp girl, gives up her illegitimate daughter to The Foundling Hospital, as she cannot afford to raise her. Raffled off in a lottery, women are given a chance to draw a ball from a bag, with the colour of the ball determining the fate of their child. The opening scenes of the book are stark, brutal, and draw a clear contrast between the rich and the poor of Georgian London, setting up some of the themes which come through later in the book.

Fast forward six years, and Bess returns to collect her child, with every penny she has saved over the last six years. But when she gives the details of the child she left – a number and a trinket from the child’s father – she’s informed that the child was collected the day after she was given the Foundling – by her.

The process of finding her child is relatively straightforward, which I wasn’t expecting at all, and Bess is then appointed as a nursemaid to her own daughter. What follows is a contrast between two women, both of whom love this child, and the lengths they will go to to claim the child they perceive to be their own. Bess’s narrative shifts then, and we see Alexandra Callard’s perspective, as she appoints her new lady’s maid, Eliza.

The writing in this book is absolutely gorgeous. From the rich drawing room that Mrs Callard lives in to the deprived alleys that Bess hides in, the atmosphere was so richly created that I could almost smell the shrimp on Bess’s hands. The two main characters are richly drawn, and I empathise with both of them so hard, it was incredibly difficult to try and take sides in their battle for the child. And I think that was a huge strength of the book. Neither mother is perfect, but both love the child, and are trying to give her the best life they can. The book as a whole isn’t so much a mystery – who took the child, how, why? – but rather an exploration of what motherhood is, how children are raised, what children need, and the stark divide between the impoverished and the wealthy in London in the 1750s.

For the most part, I thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I had a couple of quibbles, though – the characters outside of Mrs Callard and Bess were quite thin, and didn’t have a huge amount of substance to them. This was particularly evident in Ned, Bess’s brother, Ambrosia, Alexandra’s sister, and Lyle, the lampboy. This was a little disappointing, because so much of the rest of the book was really rich, and to have these cardboard-like supporting characters was slightly disappointing.

I also felt like the book wrapped up incredibly quickly. There were mere pages between the dénouement and the eventual resolution, and for a book which went into so much detail previously, that felt like quite the letdown. I would have loved to see more of the thought process and negotiation of the two women as the resolution played out, but it was skipped over in favour of a thin romance. Disappointing.

Also, Charlotte, the child, had a pet tortoise, but it was winter, so the tortoise would have been hibernating…

Overall though, this was a sumptuously written book, with achingly evocative scenery and plot, and a moral dilemma worthy of sitting down and thinking about for a long time after I finished it. I thoroughly enjoyed also the atmosphere of the audiobook, which I used for some staves, as the two narrators added greatly to the contrast between the two main characters.

Four Stars
****

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2019 Round-Up

It’s the second day of January, and Christmas is well and truly over. My tree is still up (it’s staying up until Sunday, because it’s supposed to come down on the 6th, but I’ll be at work then) and I’m still wearing Christmas PJs (because I got loads of them) but I’m also back to work, and life is beginning to start again after the blissful break that I had at home, seeing friends and family, and eating an incredible amount of food, none of which I had to cook (which is great, because I hate cooking).

But with the new year starting, I just wanted to do a quick roundup of how I read and blogged in 2019, and think about what I’ll do for the rest of this year.

Headline Stats

I read 176 books in 2019, which is far fewer than 2018, when I read 240, but mostly in line with 2017 and 2016, so I’m writing 2018 off as an anomaly.

I blogged 85 times, 11 of which were monthly roundups. I was also pretty consistent in my blogging, sticking to Tuesdays and Thursdays the majority of the time. Obviously not all the time, because if I had, I would have 104 blog posts, but I’m not too stressed about that.

According to my Year In Books from Goodreads, I read 179 books, which comprised 63,172 pages. Whew! The longest book (and boy did it feel like it) was The Count of Monte Cristo, while the shortest, a short story from Holly Black, was The Lost Sisters.

Reading Challenges

I only did one reading challenge this year – the Hodderscape 2019 Reading Challenge. But I completed that, mostly by accident, and will look out for their 2020 version.

I also continued with my Books to Read Before I’m 30 self-made challenge, and will post a proper update on that soon. My thirtieth birthday is looking very close now that we’ve tipped over into 2020 and I’ve got more books left than I’d like to admit.

I’m on the lookout for challenges for 2020 and will be checking out the usuals – PopSugar, Modern Mrs Darcy, etc, but I’m not sure if I’ll start any, preferring to focus on the before 30 one.

Bookish Events

I only went to one day of YALC this year, which was the first time I haven’t done all three days since I started going. But I also went to several bookish brunches, evenings, and blogger meetups, and thoroughly enjoyed all of them.

Reading Trends

I read far fewer short stories and novellas in 2019 than in previous years. Only three short stories made it onto my list, compared to nine last year, and 16 the year before. I’m not sure why that was. I don’t think I’ll worry too much about it.

On the other hand, there’s been a marked increase in non-fiction books. In 2017, I read one non-fiction book (How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran), and in 2018 I upped it to seven, two of which were definitely in my top reads of the year.

In 2019, however, this increased even more, with 15 non-fiction books. This is still a tiny proportion of my overall reading, but I think it’s something I’ll continue to try and increase into 2020 and beyond, because it adds more variety to my reading experience. I have a little trouble, sometimes, though, categorising what’s work reading and what’s leisure reading. I didn’t list Eve Was Framed, for example, even though I read that in 2019, but I did list Nobody’s Victim – and actually, looking back, I’m not sure I can justify the distinction between them. I’ll have to think a little more about that.

Reviews

Although I didn’t review every book I read this year on the blog, I did rate them all on Goodreads. My average rating was 3.5 stars, so I guess I’m a very average sort of person.

I rated one book one-star, which I was pretty clear about in my blog review.

But on a happier note, I had thirteen five-star reads in 2019!

Seeing them all together like this makes it clear that I really like Sebastien de Castell. Most of these were reviewed in full on the blog also, although some didn’t make it. The Switch is embargoed until later in the year, but I will have a full review when I’m allowed!

To finish off this post, I’m just going to collate all the cover art from this year, because I like the visual that adds. Next year maybe I’ll have graphs in my annual review, but not this year! This year, only pretty pictures!

2019 Cover Art

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

 

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Nobody’s Victim – Carrie Goldberg

This is one of those combi books that I read partly for pleasure, and partly for work. Although pleasure probably isn’t the right word for it, because this book made me more angry than anything else. Carrie Goldberg is the owner of CA Goldberg Law, a firm which specialises in sexual privacy cases. Nobody’s Victim is a deeply personal yet also universal story of her experience in fighting four different categories of abusive POSs – Stalkers, Psychos, Pervs, and Trolls (hence the full title of the book) and it’s both horrifying and gripping. Deeply disturbing but also in some ways empowering, to say I enjoyed this book would be to misrepresent my experience of it, but I do think it’s a hugely important book which is incredibly accessible, interesting, and eye-opening.

Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs and Trolls – Carrie Goldberg with Jeannine Amber

47897366._SY475_.jpgNobody’s Victim is an unflinching look at a hidden world most people don’t know exists—one of stalking, blackmail, and sexual violence, online and off—and the incredible story of how one lawyer, determined to fight back, turned her own hell into a revolution.

“We are all a moment away from having our life overtaken by somebody hell-bent on our destruction.” That grim realitygleaned from personal experience and twenty years of trauma work is a fundamental principle of Carrie Goldberg’s cutting-edge victims’ rights law firm.

Riveting and an essential timely conversation-starter, Nobody’s Victim invites readers to join Carrie on the front lines of the war against sexual violence and privacy violations as she fights for revenge porn and sextortion laws, uncovers major Title IX violations, and sues the hell out of tech companies, schools, and powerful sexual predators. Her battleground is the courtroom; her crusade is to transform clients from victims into warriors.

In gripping detail, Carrie shares the diabolical ways her clients are attacked and how she, through her unique combination of advocacy, badass relentlessness, risk-taking, and client-empowerment, pursues justice for them all. There are stories about a woman whose ex-boyfriend made fake bomb threats in her name and caused a national panic; a fifteen-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted on school grounds and then suspended when she reported the attack; and a man whose ex-boyfriend used a dating app to send more than 1,200 men to ex’s home and work for sex. With breathtaking honesty, Carrie also shares her own shattering story about why she began her work and the uphill battle of building a business.

While her clients are a diverse group—from every gender, sexual orientation, age, class, race, religion, occupation, and background—the offenders are not. They are highly predictable. In this book, Carrie offers a taxonomy of the four types of offenders she encounters most often at her firm: assholes, psychos, pervs, and trolls. “If we recognize the patterns of these perpetrators,” she explains, “we know how to fight back.”

Deeply personal yet achingly universal, Nobody’s Victim is a bold and much-needed analysis of victim protection in the era of the Internet. This book is an urgent warning of a coming crisis, a predictor of imminent danger, and a weapon to take back control and protect ourselves—both online and off.

Given my research into image-based sexual abuse – on which you can see a little here– this was definitely going to be within my area of interest. I had read profiles of Goldberg before, especially with regard to her work on image takedown. Nobody’s Victim is a really interesting collection of victims’ stories, interspersed with Goldberg’s path to becoming a victims’ rights advocate, and her own personal experiences of the hell that the internet can wreak on people’s lives.

Conversationally written, punchy and mouthy, Nobody’s Victim reads like Goldberg is sitting in a room with you, telling you the tale of her professional life, liberally sprinkled with profanities and exclamations of disgust at the depths to which society can – and frequently does – sink. Interspersing incisive legal analysis with easy-to-relate personal anecdotes, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the law around stalking, trolling, revenge porn, and more, a veritable cornucopia of terrible ways people can be abused online, but does so in a way which never feels jargonistic or inaccessible. Goldberg weaves her stories around the personal experiences of her clients, explaining the nuances of s230 of the Communications Decency Act and how it protects websites from bearing responsibility for the actions of their users. She brings us through Title IX, and what that means for federally funded schools and colleges, but never treats the reader like they’re dumb, or like they already know, or should know, what she’s talking about. Pitched to be accessible but never patronising, Nobody’s Victim makes very clear the deficits of the law and the need for change.

One thing I noted [or thought I noted] while reading the book was that it has no footnotes or references within the main text. I thought this made it really easy to read, but was a little disappointed as there were plenty of references that I would like to follow up on. But actually, after I finished it, I realised that there are pages and pages of references at the back of the book, they’re just not individually marked up on the page. There’s also an index, which will be helpful for looking back on this as a resource for work in future.

There’s not a huge amount more I can say about this book. Obviously it comes with a huge content warning for rape, sexual assault, abuse, stalking, cyberstalking, harassment, sextortion, and a whole host of other things I can’t think of right now. It’s probably not the book for you if you’re in a fragile state or easily triggered by thinking about how terrible the world is. But if you’re ready to get angry and be utterly motivated to demand change, this is definitely the book for you.

One note – I’m not sure I agree with Goldberg’s use of ‘psycho’ as part of her taxonomy of offenders. But then, I’m not sure what word I would replace it with. But that’s just a point of information.

Five Stars and a whole-hearted recommendation
*****

 

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The Fallout – Rebecca Thornton

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. And I feel kind of bad about it, because this isn’t a great review…

I was surprised to find this was Thornton’s third novel, because my major problem with it, which I elaborate on further down in the post, felt like the kind of thing someone does in their first novel, when they haven’t honed their craft enough to work the mystery into their story subtly. But I guess it probably works for some people, and perhaps I’m just cranky? At any rate, my dislike for needlessly obscuring thoughts in first person narratives or omniscient narratives is already well-documented on this blog.

The Fallout – Rebecca Thornton

48191178.jpgEveryone has an opinion. Everyone has a secret.
I only took my eyes off him for a second.
One little mistake is all it takes . . .

When Sarah forgets to check on her best friend’s little boy, distraction turns to disaster. And she’s faced with a dilemma.

Tell the truth, lose a friend.
Tell a lie, keep her close.

In a split second, Sarah seals her fate. But accidents have aftershocks, and lies have consequences. And when it’s someone else’s child, the rumours are quick to multiply.

Everyone’s talking about what happened. And sooner or later, the truth will have to come spilling out…

I was quite surprised to find that I actually didn’t really like this book. I thought it was going to be great, a story of claustrophobic tensions and bitchy school-gate politics. But actually, it was just entirely claustrophobic, filled with anxiety, deliberately obscure, and needlessly melodramatic.
Generally I quite like these kinds of psychological insights into women’s lives, and particularly the relentless comparison which happens with school mums (and yet not dads?) and seems to overtake every aspect of one’s life. So I thought I would love The Fallout. But actually I really… didn’t. In fact, I quite disliked it.
There were some aspects of this which were great. Bitchy groupchats on Whatsapp, gossipping mothers, stories getting overblown out of all proportion and the absolute mortification of sending a message to the person it’s about, instead of the person you meant to send it to. And yes, I quite enjoyed all of that. But many aspects of the book totally overshadowed what I liked, leaving me quite disappointed about everything.
Firstly, I didn’t like the narrative style. The two main characters, Liza and Sarah, were written in first and third person, positioning Liza, the fpv, as the main character, despite the book actually being about Sarah, who was written in third person. And while the interspersed whatsapp chats were interesting, it didn’t make sense that a chat with only two people in it had a specific name – would it not just be your message thread with that person? Why would it need a name? Unless people make chats to talk about specific things, and I’m just way behind the times with my single conversation with each person… Anyways. I also didn’t like the journalistic interviews which broke the spaces between chapters. Largely because they didn’t go anywhere, and didn’t seem to serve any purpose. Can’t see what the logic behind them was.
So the structure of the book got to me. And so did the reaction of Sarah to the accident – her stress over it all was completely incomprehensible to me. I don’t understand, even having finished the book, why she was so guilty about it all. Perhaps that’s because I’m not a mother, though, so I let that one slide.

My largest annoyance, though, and the one which made me really dislike the book, was how needlessly obscure the characters were. Even when we were inside the character’s head, and they were thinking about something, the actual content of the thing was obscured from the reader. A good example of this is a whatsapp message which was accidentally sent to the person it was about. We see the message being sent, from Sarah’s perspective. But we don’t find out what the message says. Then she thinks about how awful it is that she sent this, and tries to delete it, but fails to do so before the unintended recipient reads it. Following this, she stresses about it for like, three days, but never mentions the content of the message. It’s then sent to no fewer than four different whatsapp groups, before being sent back to Sarah, the original sender. And despite us seeing the reactions to the message from a whole bunch of people, we don’t see what the message actually said until two or three chapters later. And there’s just no need for this kind of pointless obfuscation. The same sort of vagueness or obscuring things that the characters know from the readers permeates the whole book, from the message Sarah sees that makes her forget about checking on Jack to the ‘thing’ that happened after Jack was born. There’s just NO NEED for this kind of pointless obscurity. Not only that, but it’s actually intensely frustrating and clunky to read characters thinking about ‘that thing’. I could kind of understand it in the case (and ONLY the case) of what happened after Jack was born, because as a traumatic experience, I can understand not wanting to think about the specifics. But it happens over and over again. Liza’s Uber destination, Ella’s text message, the appointment Sarah has… The frustration of knowing that the author is writing in a deliberately clunky way to save ‘shocks’ for the reader for later is distracting enough that it ruined the whole book for me, and I doubt I’ll read anything else by Thornton, for fear the same thing occurs elsewhere.

Two Stars
**

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The Red Scrolls of Magic – Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

Another of Riveted’s #25ReadsofDecember, I was pleased when checking out the list to see that Cassandra Clare’s newest Shadowhunters novel, cowritten with Wesley Chu, made an appearance. Although occasionally repetitive and formulaic, the Shadowhunters world is comforting enough that it feels like slipping into a warm blanket with a mug of hot chocolate sometimes, so reading the first in the Eldest Curses series was a little like that.

The Red Scrolls of Magic (The Eldest Curses #1) – Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

From40551089._SY475_.jpg #1 New York Times bestseller Cassandra Clare and award-winner Wesley Chu comes the first book in a new series that follows High Warlock Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood as they tour the world after the Mortal War. The Red Scrolls of Magic is a Shadowhunters novel.

All Magnus Bane wanted was a vacation—a lavish trip across Europe with Alec Lightwood, the Shadowhunter who against all odds is finally his boyfriend. But as soon as the pair settles in Paris, an old friend arrives with news about a demon-worshipping cult called the Crimson Hand that is bent on causing chaos around the world. A cult that was apparently founded by Magnus himself. Years ago. As a joke.

Now Magnus and Alec must race across Europe to track down the Crimson Hand and its elusive new leader before the cult can cause any more damage. As if it wasn’t bad enough that their romantic getaway has been sidetracked, demons are now dogging their every step, and it is becoming harder to tell friend from foe. As their quest for answers becomes increasingly dire, Magnus and Alec will have to trust each other more than ever—even if it means revealing the secrets they’ve both been keeping

I’m not quite sure what to make of this book. The original press release says it’s an adult series, and that’s replicated in the Goodreads series page (here). The very different cover art for this series also makes it stand out as something a little different to her existing works, as it’s drawn in a very different style to The Mortal Instruments/Dark Artifices/Last Hours/Infernal Devices, etc. But actually, The Red Scrolls of Magic has been published by Simon and Schuster teen, and on Goodreads it’s mostly shelved as YA, and the content doesn’t skew particularly adult, so maybe a decision was made after the announcement of the series that actually this wouldn’t be particularly adult-facing, but rather just another YA series, that happens to be co-written with Chu. I’m not sure. At any rate, I’m not sure it would really work as a standalone adult series, because it really is tied up in the Shadowhunters world in general, with lots of callbacks to existing plot points from the series as it stands.

The Red Scrolls of Magic takes place between the first and second trilogies in The Mortal Instruments, so quite early in the canon, and as such it’s interesting to see Magnus and Alec’s relationship in its very early stages. Although we know they end up married with two warlock children, one of whom is named after their deceased vampire friend Raphael Santiago, this is still very, very early on. They’re still finding their feet as a couple, they haven’t had sex yet, they’re trying to navigate what being together means when one is a Shadowhunter and the other is an immortal warlock. Oh, and they’re trying to hunt down a cult that Magnus may or may not have started. As a joke, of course, to worship his father, the Demon Prince Asmodeus.

I have to admit, I find it hard to envisage Asmodeus as anything but the giant snake from Redwall, but apparently that’s not who Magnus Bane’s father is. And that’s my own perception problem, I guess.

Generally, this was quite a fun book, very closely interwoven with the other stories in the Shadowhunters universe. We get to see the blossoming of several established relationships (Helen and Aline, Lily and Bat, plus the deepening of Magnus and Alex), set against a backdrop of a fun but relatively standalone story of finding and disbanding a demonic cult. Plenty of references are made to the recently deceased (purportedly) Ragnor Fell, who makes a mysterious reappearance in Queen of Air and Darkness, and I suspect later books in this trilogy will tell us more about where he was.

I did quite enjoy reading The Red Scrolls of Magic, but it’s quite forgettable, as an entry in the Shadowhunters Canon. Nothing really feels like it’s terribly high-stakes, as we know which relationships succeed and who lives and who dies. This is the problem, I suppose, with a flashback novel set seven years before the latest addition in the Shadowhunters chronology. But it is nice to see some solid LGBT+ rep in the book, and Malec is a fan favourite pairing. The usual weaknesses of Shadowhunters novels are evident here also, with something of a lack of critical thinking about how Downworlders relate to the Angelic-descended Shadowhunters, although Alec’s being introduced to Magnus’s world gives us a little more insight into that. The characters aren’t always the most deeply developed, and the world-building relies largely at this point on established points and characters, rather than doing anything truly innovative.

Nonetheless, a comforting and enjoyable read, and definitely one which will please die-hard Malec fans. I can only assume I will eventually read the next two books in the trilogy as they’re released.

Three Stars
***

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Slayer – Kiersten White

I meant to write this post yesterday, but I was really busy voting, joining a library, getting rained on, cuddling a baby, and then being really depressed by the exit polls, hoping they wouldn’t be correct (they were…), so I didn’t get around to it. So, a day late, a buck short, I’m writing a report… on Slayer, the first in Kiersten White’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff series.

Slayer (Slayer #1) – Kiersten White

41444273._SY475_.jpgFrom New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes a brand-new series set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer that introduces a new Slayer as she grapples with the responsibility of managing her incredible powers that she’s just beginning to understand.

Into every generation a Slayer is born…

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

I was quite interested in this book when it was first announced. I never actually watched Buffy – although my dad consumed it rabidly – other than the occasional episode which was on when I came in from school. I’ll admit to having sat through one or two, so I can identify the major characters, and I may have shed a tear or two when Buffy sacrificed herself to the Hellmouth to save her sister. And then cried again the following day when the same episode was repeated on Sky Two. But I don’t have a real understanding of the Buffy canon. I know Buffy, Willow and Xander solve the mysteries, Angel and Spike run around being broody vampires who are good/bad, and for some reason an old guy named Giles helps them out with research. So when I was looking at the information for this reboot, which follows a Slayer after Buffy, I thought cool! This is pegged as a perfect place to enter the canon, and gives newbies to the universe enough information to figure out what’s going on. So I was kind of looking forward to reading it. Then when it was free on Riveted’s 25 Reads of Christmas, I was really cooking with gas. So I dived in, ready to be introduced to the world of Slayers.

Reader, this is NOT accessible for those unfamiliar with Buffy canon. You literally are thrown in headfirst, with information being thrown at you left, right, and centre. I know enough about the tv series to see some of the callbacks to the established canon, but I definitely didn’t know enough to be able to jump in to this with any level of confidence about what was going on. Nina – Athena – has a connection to Buffy, from the early seasons, in that Nina’s dad was Buffy’s first Watcher, but we’re never really told what a Watcher is, or what they do. Nor are we told what a Slayer is, although we can mostly figure it out from the title, in fairness. There’s no explanation of how demons exist, why humans don’t notice them (do they notice them? Does everyone know vampires and demons exist?) or where Slayers came from. Nor why there are now tons of Slayers, or what Slayer dreams are. It’s just kind of assumed that you have at least some residual knowledge of the Buffy canon, and you’re building on that. There’s some big story about the Seed of Wonder, which was something Buffy did, which had big repercussions, but I’m still not sure what those repercussions were. Also, if there used to only be one Slayer at a time, wasn’t a whole council of Watchers to look over her kind of overkill? I spent much of the book being very confused.

I had some other complaints about the book, too. Namely, it was set in Ireland, but it read like the author, Kiersten White, had done next to no research about what Ireland is actually like as a country. Two egregious examples:

  • Cillian, an Irish character, says ‘innit’ every second sentence
  • One character is handed a ‘fistful of pound notes’ to go to the cinema.

I actually went googling on that second one, because I know Buffy was set in the 90s originally, but apparently this book takes place in 2006, many years after the transition to the Euro. Honestly, it just read like the author had set the book in England, and then decided that it would be fun if it was actually in Ireland, so she just did a find and replace on country names. Really disappointing stuff. It’s not hard to get the currency of a country right.

Plotwise, this book was interesting enough. There was a mystery, a romance, some demons, a girl coming to terms with her newfound power, some twins, some lesbians… All fairly good stuff, although utterly forgettable. Nothing has really stuck with me as much as the rage about pounds and innit.

Honestly, I think if you like Buffy, you’re familiar with the canon, and you’re not actually Irish, this would be a great book. Filled with references to Slayer lore, but fresh enough to take a new direction. But for me, who’s barely familiar with the Buffy history (not that that would stop me crying at it) and is very familiar with Ireland, it was a disappointingly mediocre ride.

Three Stars
***

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