I read these two books in quick succession, so I hope you don’t mind me reviewing them as one. Ruby Oliver is 15, with all the typical problems that being 15 brings. Friends. Boys. School. Her voice is refreshing and hilarious and real, all at once. Too often I read young adult books where the protagonist is either far too self-aware to be a teenager, or so laughably ridiculous to show that they’re young and naive that they lose any realism for me. Ruby Oliver is not either of this – she felt incredibly realistic to me. Ruby navigates the awkward world of her rich-kid school (she’s on a scholarship and her parents are wonderfully eccentric), losing her first boyfriend and her best friends (and finding new love interests and friends along the way) in a way that feels a little close to home for someone who used to be an awkward teenage girl at a rich-kid school. The thing I loved most about these books are the way they introduce feminist themes without being in-your-face – they address sexism and slut-shaming in a way that is totally approachable and perfect for the storyline. Basically, I wish I’d had these books when I was a teenager (and despite not being one anymore, I still really want to get stuck into the others in the series).
Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan*
Margot Lewis is the agony aunt for her local paper, but she receives a letter unlike anything she’s ever had before.
I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.
Please help me soon,
But Bethan Avery had been missing for years. As more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public. Can Margot save Bethan? And does this have anything to do with Katie, the girl from Margot’s class that recently went missing, too?
The unusual premise of this book intrigued me, and for the first half I was pretty much hooked, trying to work out how these letters were making it into Margot’s possession. However, after the dramatic twist that reveals pretty much all, it became more and more implausible and there’s only just so far that I can suspend my disbelief. Despite the promising opening, it ended up feeling a lot like other thrillers in this genre, with rather gratuitous descriptions of violence and a perpetrator without a coherent motive or backstory.
Maestra by L.S. Hilton
This book started out with so much promise. Judith is an intriguing character; she’s smart, ruthless and, at times, incredibly compelling. Having clawed her way out of a Liverpool council estate, she longs for the class privileges of her colleagues in the prestigious auction house where she now works. She feels shut out from the world inhabited by her upper class acquaintances, constantly trying to learn their ways but falling slightly short. Her only solace is her true love of art, which sustains her, and her unusual sexual proclivities, satisfied at the most exclusive of sex clubs. But, what starts out as an interesting and thrilling story of one woman’s rage against the system and desire to infiltrate it by any means necessary becomes slightly absurd as the book goes on.
As time went on and the story plunged deeper in the underworld, with Judith happily going along for the ride, her motivations become murky and her actions nonsensical. The book also had a frustrating way of letting the action happen with no insight as to Judith’s plan, before revealing all in long passages of explanation. Maybe it was my inability to understand the world of art fraud, but I struggled to follow in the later parts of the book and I stopped caring about Judith’s fate about three-quarters of the way in, which took the edge of the ‘thriller’ element of the novel. There are some racy passages and some abrupt twists that will keep you interested, but overall ‘the most shocking thriller you’ll read all year’ doesn’t live up to its moniker for me.
The daughter of a meth-dealer and an abusive mother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult in her household. One night she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, wreck his motorcycle and in the aftermath the two form a bond that spans years. As the two fall in love, things get even more complicated for them and everyone around them.
Sheesh, this book. I’m going to be thinking about this book and these characters for such a long time. It’s ugly and wonderful, just as promised. As soon as I read the last sentence, I burst into tears. It’s just such an emotional reading experience. It was dark and uncomfortable and questioning and disturbing and occasionally sweet. It’s so confusing to work out your feelings as you watch their relationship develop over many years but they’re so well-formed and well-written than you can’t help but want true happiness for both of them. A truly compelling story and definitely up there as one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Lo, a travel journalist, has been invited onto an exclusive cruise ship but on the very first night she sees a body being thrown from the cabin next door into the ocean. But no one is missing from the ship, and no one seems to believe her. Did she make it up? Or are they trapped on the ship with a murderer? Ruth Ware is the queen of the spooky setting – in this case, a small cruise ship in the middle of the ocean – and with a limited number of suspects and a claustrophobic environment, there are some truly tense moments in this book, which had me guessing until all was revealed. However, Lo didn’t feel that well-drawn as a character to me – other than the parts of her which made her an unreliable narrator (drinking, exhaustion, anxiety), I didn’t feel that I left the book knowing anything about her – and there were definitely a few plot holes that could easily unravel if you picked them apart enough. The ending was a little too convenient for me to enjoy, but it’s an easy-read whodunnit for those times when you want to switch your brain off and get stuck into a bit of a mystery.
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