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The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

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“None of us ever know all the possible courses our lives could have and maybe should have taken. It’s probably just as well. Some secrets are meant to stay secret forever. Just ask Pandora.”

 

RATING: 4.5/5

BLURB: “Mother of three and wife of John-Paul, Cecilia discovers an old envelope in the attic. Written in her husband’s hand, it says: to be opened only in the event of my death.

Curious, she opens it – and time stops.

John-Paul’s letter confesses to a terrible mistake which, of revealed, would wreck their family as well as the lives of others.

Cecilia wants to do the right thing, but right for who? If she protects her family by staying silent, the truth will worm through her heart. But if she reveals her husband’s secret, she will hurt those she loves most…”

REVIEW: Having read previous novels by Moriarty, I was very much looking forward to reading ‘The Husband’s Secret’. This novel tells the stories of four women: Cecilia, Tess, Rachel and, taking place several years prior to the other perspectives, the story of Janie. The novel is instantly gripping as Cecilia discovers the letter from her husband and the reader eagerly urges her on to open it; we are also introduced to Tess very early on, who discovers that her husband is having a relationship with her cousin and best friend Felicity, and to Rachel, a grandmother who is heartbroken at the thought of her son and grandson moving abroad and who has already lost so much. The book is instantly gripping, and the reader is intrigued to see how the stories of these three women who are intially present in the novel could possibly be linked. In this manner, mystery is built whilst the protagonists are made easily likeable as we wait for the letter to be opened.

I had expected to reach almost the end of the novel by the time the contents of the letter were revealed, but actually uncovering the story of Rachel’s murdered daughter Janie and the identity of her killer relatively early on in the novel somehow makes it even more intriguing, as I could not see where the story would then go. The reader is then introduced to Janie through flashbacks where she tells the story of the events leading up to her death, and the twists revealed through these and, indeed, through the present-day perspectives, keep the reader guessing despite the fact that the conclusion of the main mystery has long been revealed. I absolutely loved the ending of the novel and how it links to the butterfly effect, with Moriarty showing us how the lives of the characters would have been had certain events not taken place. I find the whole idea of the butterfly effect fascinating, and loved seeing it depicted fictionally. I didn’t love this novel quite as much as ‘What Alice Forgot’, but I greatly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it all the same.

 

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The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Fraser

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “London, 1728. A young, well-dressed man is driven through streets of jeering onlookers to the gallows at Tyburn. They call him a murderer. But Tom Hawkins is innocent and somehow he has to prove it, before the rope squeezes the life out of him.

It is, of course, all his own fault. He was happy settling down with Kitty Sparks. He should never have told the most dangerous criminal in London that he was bored and looking for adventure. He should never have offered to help, the king’s mistress. And most of all, he should never have trusted the witty, calculating Queen Caroline. She has promised him a royal pardon if he holds his tongue but then again, there is nothing more silent than a hanged man.”

REVIEW: Having greatly enjoyed ‘The Devil in the Marshalsea’, I was really looking forward to reading the first of its sequels. Once again, I found this novel just as impossible to put down as the last, and had devoured the whole thing within a day. This novel follows seamlessly on from the last and continues the story of Thomas Hawkins whom, as the book opens, is on his way to Tyburn to be hanged. The novel continues to flash back and forth between the events leading up to the hanging and Tom’s approach to the gallows in the present. It is easy to fall back into Tom’s world and Hodgson once again does a fantastic job of setting the scene and making the reader feel as if they can really smell, taste and experience the world of eighteenth century London.

I really enjoyed seeing how the relationship between Tom and Kitty had progressed, and also enjoyed the introduction of Sam, nephew of Tom’s old cellmate Samuel Fleet, who becomes almost like a son to Tom despite Kitty’s wariness of his sly and quiet ways. When a murder is committed in the house next door, fingers are soon pointed at Tom, who was seen to have had a very public argument with the dead man just a few days prior to his murder. In order to save his own skin – and that of Kitty – Tom is talked into becoming one of cunning Queen Caroline’s many spies. His mission is to help the King’s mistress, Henrietta Howard, escape the clutches of her vengeful husband Charles, on a quest to ruin her and take away their son. Sucked into court life and determined to save himself and his lover, Tom is also tasked with solving the murder of his neighbour. Just as in the previous novel, the reader is as puzzled as Tom by the murder and equally as conflicted about who can be trusted. The twist in this murder was just as spectacularly delivered and I again loved the ending of the novel.

 

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

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“He made her more confident, funnier, smarter. He brought out all the things that were there already and let her be fully herself, so she seemed to shine with this inner light. He loved her so much, he made her seem even more lovable.”

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Alice is twenty-nine.

She adores sleep, chocolate, and her ramshackle new house.

She’s newly engaged to the wonderful Nick

. . . and is pregnant with her first baby.

There’s just one problem. That was ten years ago . . .

Alice slipped in her step-aerobics class, hit her head and lost a decade.

Now she’s a grown-up, bossy mother of three in the middle of a nasty divorce and her beloved sister Elisabeth isn’t speaking to her.

This is her life but not as she knows it.

Just how many mistakes can you make in a decade?

Can she ever get back to the woman she used to be?”

REVIEW: Having both read and watched ‘Big Little Lies’, another creation of Moriarty’s, I was really looking forward to reading some more of her books. ‘What Alice Forgot’ tells the story of Alice (duh), who is knocked unconscious during a gym class and wakes up believing that she is a 29-year-old Mum to be, happily married and doing up her dream house with her perfect husband, Nick. What Alice actually discovers is that she is a 39-year-old Mum of three, her adored sister is barely speaking to her, her mother has married her husband’s father, and she and her husband are going through a messy and bitter divorce. Completely stunned by these revelations, Alice finds herself unable to even remember her own children, and finds it completely impossible to comprehend the idea that she could be happily living a life without Nick.

The novel is instantly gripping and unputdownable, as the reader is just as desperate to uncover Alice’s memories as she is herself, and to find out exactly what happened between her and Nick. The reader instantly sympathises with Alice and warms to her, surprised to learn how much of a different woman she seems to have become in the last ten years with her military style organisation and her coldness towards Nick. The reader also recognises the connection between Alice and Nick despite their coldness towards each other in the present day, and wills them to get back together. With Alice’s memories being slowly pieced back together, the reader gets to know the other characters in the novel, particularly her children, at the same rate as she does – therefore, the reader bonds with them at the same rate . We also learn a little more than Alice through reading Elizabeth’s journal and Frannie’s blog, meaning that in terms of some of her relationships she’s actually a step behind the reader.

I loved the ending of the novel and how the characters blossomed throughout the story; it wasn’t just the protagonists’ story we were following, as it was easy to become invested in all of the characters. I would highly recommend this novel and am greatly looking forward to reading more of Moriarty’s work!

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The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson

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RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “London, 1727 – and Tom Hawkins is about to fall from his heaven of card games, brothels and coffee-houses into the hell of a debtors’ prison.

The Marshalsea is a savage world of its own, with simple rules: those with family or friends who can lend them a little money may survive in relative comfort. Those with none will starve in squalor and disease. And those who try to escape will suffer a gruesome fate at the hands of the gaol’s rutheless governor and his cronies.

The trouble is, Tom Hawkins has never been good at following rules – even simple ones. And the recent grisly murder of a debtor, Captain Roberts, has brought further terror to the gaol. While the Captain’s beautiful widow cries for justice, the finger of suspicion points only one way: to the sly, enigmatic figure of Samuel Fleet.

Some call Fleet a devil, a man to avoid at all costs. But Tom Hawkins is sharing his cell. Soon, Tom’s choice is clear: get to the truth of the murder – or be the next to die.”

REVIEW: The first in the Thomas Hawkins murder mystery series by Antonia Hodgson, ‘The Devil in the Marshalsea’ is at once unputdownable and instantly gripping. The writing is fast-paced and descriptive and truly makes the reader feel as though they themselves are living in 18th century London; particularly during the chapters where Tom is locked in the Marshalsea, where the reader can almost feel the claustrophobic, terrifying atmosphere of the prison itself. Tom is a likeable character despite his many vices and shortcomings, and the reader instantly roots for him – I suspect this is because he is open about his own flaws, rather than trying to hide them from himself or the reader. He is a witty and intelligent character who the reader can instantly get behind.

Tom ends up in debtors prison after wracking up gambling debts that he fails to pay off after having been robbed of his last savings. Life in the Marshalsea is cruel and only money can prevent Tom from being taken the other side of the wall, where prisoners are cramped together in tiny cells, hardly fed and forced to stew in their own dirt, where disease is rife and corpses are dragged out every morning. With the help of his friend Charles, Tom is given a mission – to find the murderer of the late Captain Roberts, in order to secure his release and the payment of his debts. He finds a cellmate in the notorious Samuel Fleet, whom most of the inmates are convinced murdered Captain Roberts himself; but despite his misgivings, Tom soon begins to trust Fleet, and finds him valuable in terms of the investigation – despite being distracted by Fleet’s pretty niece Kitty, who works as a maid at the prison.

Due to the many twists and turns taking place throughout the novel, the reader is just as wrapped up in the mystery of who killed Captain Roberts as Tom is. There is a constant questioning from both Tom and the reader as to who could be trusted, and the mystery remains thrilling right up until the very end of the novel, when the killer is finally discovered. I loved the ending of the novel and couldn’t wait to get started on the next!

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The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

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“Two stubborn lovers, protecting each other from the very same threat.”

 

RATING: 3.5/5

BLURB: “In a land on the brink of war, Shahrzad has been torn from the love of her husband Khalid, the Caliph of Khorasan. She once believed him a monster, but his secrets revealed a man tormented by guilt and a powerful curse – one that might keep them apart forever. Reunited with her family, who have taken refuge with the enemies of Khalid, and Tariq, her childhood sweetheart, she should be happy. But Tariq now commands forces set on destroying Khalid’s empire. Shahrzad is almost a prisoner, caught between loyalties to people she loves.

Refusing to be a pawn, Shahrzad tries to uncover powers that may lie dormant within her. With the help of a tattered old carpet and a tempestuous but sage young man, Shahrzad will attempt to break the curse and reunite with her one true love.”

REVIEW: After thoroughly enjoying ‘The Wrath and the Dawn’, I was really excited to get started on its sequel, ‘The Rose and the Dagger’. Having been torn from her husband Khalid, Shahrzad finds herself by people whose only mission seems to be to kill him and ruin his empire, and by those who do not understand her love for him and judge her for it. Not to mention the fact that her childhood sweetheart, Tariq, is still bitter over being rejected in favour of Khalid and is still cold towards Shazi. Her relationship with her younger sister is also strained, and her father’s descent into madness as a result of meddling with magic is also difficult for her to deal with. The relationship between Shazi and Khalid, however, stays strong despite their separation and is in some ways more believable than it was in the previous novel.

I did find the novel as a whole less gripping than its predecessor, but still enjoyed the many twists and turns that occured throughout, particularly towards the ending. I also really felt the emotion in Ahdieh’s writing with the death of Rahim, lover of Shazi’s sister, which was truly heartbreaking and very well-written. Overall, however, I did not find this book as memorable nor as exciting as the first, but I enjoyed the satisfaction of the happy ending and am sad that there will not be further novels following Shazi and Khalid’s story.

 

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The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

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“I know love is fragile. And loving someone like you is near impossible. Like holding something shattered through a raging sandstorm. If you want her to love you, shelter her from that storm…And make certain that storm isn’t you.”

RATING: 5/5

BLURB: “Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a terrible surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch…she may be falling in love with a murderer.

Shazi discovers that the villainous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. It’s up to her to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.”

 

REVIEW: It’s been a long while since I read any kind of Young Adult fantasy novel, so I was really looking forward to ‘The Wrath and the Dawn’. It certainly did not disappoint; I was hooked from the first page and found the book difficult to put down. Shahrzad is a brave and likeable heroine, and the reader cannot help but warm to her. After the death of her best friend Shiva at the hands of the Caliph of Khorasan, Shazi is determined to get revenge at whatever costs. She volunteers to marry the Caliph with a plan in place that will hopefully ensure her survival – and his demise.

When Shazi enthralls the Caliph with a story, one she promises to continue the following night – this novel clearly takes inspiration from the ancient story of ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, and does so brilliantly – she becomes the first of his brides to survive until the dawn. Much to the amazement of those in the palace, Shazi continues to survive, and begins to break through the Caliph’s barriers in a way that no-one else, not even his closest friends, have managed to do before. This comes at a cost, however; Shazi’s determination to murder Khalid is weakened as she begins to learn more about him and grow close to him. The development of feelings between the two is slightly predictable, yet so well-written that it still leaves the reader hooked even though we can clearly see it coming. The love-hate relationship soon turns to love and as Shazi learns the truth behind the deaths of Khalid’s wives, she realises the only way the two of them can be happy together is by breaking the curse that lays heavy upon Khalid and the land of Rey.

As Shazi grows closer to Khalid, however, outside forces are homing in on the surprising relationship between the two and are determined to put an end to it, including Shazi’s former lover, Tariq. Her father, Jaqar, also uses his magical gifts in order to try and save his daughter, not realising that Shazi is, in fact, beginning to feel at home in her new role as Calipha of Khorasan and wife of Khalid.

I loved the development of the relationship between Shazi and Khalid, so much so that I almost resented the parts of the novel where we got to see the perspectives of other characters, like Tariq. The novel itself is beautifully written and the reader can really visualise the setting; having never been to a country remotely comparable to the fictional land of Rey, this is an impressive feat for Ahdieh to have managed. The cliffhanger ending also made me eager to jump straight into the sequel, ‘The Rose and the Dagger’, which I will be reviewing on here shortly!

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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped. When her best friend disappears, she’s determined to be part of the search party. Guided by an ancient map and her knowledge of the stars, Isabella navigates the island’s dangerous Forgotten Territories. But beneath the dry rivers and dead forests, a fiery myth is stirring from its sleep…”

REVIEW: I had been eager to read this book for a while, and one of the first things I noticed is that it seems to also have been based on one of the more common tropes of YA fiction in recent years; that of the protagonist living under a tyrannical regime where information is kept from the public. Isabella is a young woman living with her father (a mapmaker), her hen (Miss La) and her cat, desperate to explore the world outside of the borders of the island of Joya, the only place she has ever known. As the only friend of the restrictive Governor’s daughter, Lupe, Isabella is determined to join in the search for Lupe when she runs away to try and fix a mistake that she has made. Disguising herself aa a boy, Isabella joins the search party as a navigator along with Pablo, her neighbour who, it soons transpires, she has rather a crush on. I loved the description of this fantastical world in which Isabella lives, and how it seems to link in some ways to our own world – I suspect it is meant to be a future version of one section of our current earth. The book itself is also beautifully illustrated, which adds to its mythological and magical nature, and intricately designed.

I did find upon reading this book, however, that it reminded me very strongly of the Disney film ‘Moana’, released in the same year as the novel’s publication. Isabella’s desire to explore the world outside of her island reminded me very much of Moana’s, as did her pet hen (who ends up in almost as many sticky situations as HeiHei), and, most significantly, her battle at the end of the novel with a mythological fire demon living beneath the island itself. I would therefore definitely recommend this novel to fans of the ‘Moana’ film, though the similarities did a few times strike me as almost uncanny.

I loved the ending of this novel, however; it was moving and poignant, with the sadness of the death of Lupe intermingled with the joy of freedom for the island of Joya. I felt perhaps this novel could have been longer, as some parts felt somewhat rushed, but otherwise I enjoyed it and thought it a very good debut.