His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

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His Bloody Project is the 2016 novel by Graeme Macrae Burnet. I picked it up on a whim whilst I was browsing the tables in Waterstones at the beginning of the year. I had come to read it a couple of times but for a reason I cannot pinpoint I just never got further than the first few pages. However, a couple of weeks ago I found myself in my ‘reading zone’, so I thought I would try again. This time, I had my full attention on the text in front of me, and I found that I just could not put the book down. I am usually quite a slow reader, so I was surprised to find I had finished the book in two days.

The story itself is set in 1869 and tells of the brutal murders of three people in Scotland. There is no mistaking who committed these murders, however, what we do not know is how the boy responsible found himself in the positon to commit the crime. And, at a time when hanging was still a punishment, we are taken on a journey to establish what will be the consequences of his actions.

I feel Burnet created something truly unique with his creation of His Bloody Project. I have searched online repeatedly trying to establish whether this was a true story, or whether it is simply imagination. I found myself doing this because the novel is so well structured. We are given witness accounts, a memoir written whilst the alleged murderer is in jail, doctors reports and a day by day retelling of the trial. Therefore, the novel is easily mistaken for being simply a collection of found documents. So, although as far as I am aware it is completely fiction, we get a sense of an author who has done thorough research into his subject. As a reader this gives us a real sense of rural life in Scotland in the mid-19th century, as well as insight into the approach taken in the criminal justice system at the time.

If you have read one of my previous blog posts, So much history…, you will be aware I am currently taking part in a research project, Writing Lives, which looks into working-class autobiographies. Throughout my participation in this project I have been focusing on a memoir written by a man in rural England. So, when it came to reading His Bloody Project I was completely in my zone. The ‘memoir’ that Burnet includes was my favourite section of the novel. This is because we got a sense of what the alleged murderer was thinking leading up to the crime and whilst he was in prison. Through my participation is Writing Lives I have acquired the skills to look at a piece of autobiographical writing and read between the lines, thus, the memoir that Burnet created was a joy to read…even if it is fiction.

Although His Bloody Project does not follow the traditional ideals of novels that I am used to, and that I love, I would recommend the book for others to read. It provides brilliant insight into a world away from the one many of us are used to. Each, and every, section of the novel entices you to want to continue in your journey. Therefore, do not be surprised if you, like me, rush through this novel in a couple of days. It an interesting and remember able journey and destination that the Burnet takes you to. And, if you do enjoy this book, make sure you do check out the Writing Lives project, for some fascinating and very true memoirs penned by the British working-class.

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The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman

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The Light Between Oceans is the 2012 debut novel by M. L. Stedman. It is a novel classed as war fiction, however, aside from Tom Sherbourne’s (one of the main characters) PTSD and few references about the First World War, there is little content that is explicitly about the war. The novel follows Tom after his return to Australia, from the Western front, and his decision to take a job as a lighthouse keeper on the isolated Janus Rock.

I think this is one of the best novels I have read in a while. It is beautifully written, and is a truly unique story. In the novel, Stedman effectively explores human morals, and the effects our decisions can have, not just on ourselves, but those around us. The struggle I had with this novel, and why it pulled on my heartstrings, was because the main characters Tom and Isabel are good people. They both had good intentions, they just make a bad decision. Stedman created so much depth in the characters and the story that I found myself struggling to dislike the characters for their actions. You truly find yourself justifying their decisions and hoping that their lives will continue happily. However, like any good novel, this does not necessarily happen the way you would expect. Stedman, as the story progresses, does not deliver a conclusion that is easily guessed. The story continues to throw us off, and gives us twists and turns, making it impossible to know where the story will end, until it does.

The novel itself was adapted into a film in 2016, starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander. I watched this film after reading Stedman’s novel, and although it is fairly true to the book, I could not help but feel a disconnection with it. I feel in the book we are given a better insight into the run up to the ‘decision’ and the feelings involved in it. Thus, the movie, for me, did not provide the emotional, heart wrenching response that the novel gave me. I wanted to touch upon the film though because sometimes people do the book/film order the other way around to me. I.e watch the film and then read the book. Therefore, if you have watched the film and not connected with it, I do not want you to be put off from reading Stedman’s novel. I promise you, you will not regret it!

This novel is great for those who love a good romance, or who like a good period drama or who want to read something with more depth. I found it to be one of those books that just stayed with me for some time after I had finished it – it truly haunted me for some time. I cannot give enough praise to M. L. Stedman for her work, thus I encourage you to pick up this novel and immerse yourself in the story.

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Alice (The Chronicles of Alice, Book 1) by Christina Henry

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Alice is the first book by Christina Henry in The Chronicles of Alice series. To put it simply, the book is a twist on the popular children’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking-Glass, written by Lewis Carroll. Though it is a twist on these children’s books, I would not recommend Henry’s books to be read by a child. It is a dark story with some explicit ideologies, thus it should be left to an older audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed this twist on Lewis Carroll’s original Alice in Wonderland stories. Henry’s story is a completely unique reinvention of the story we all know. The dark and disturbing elements just make the original so much more compelling. Although the story can be vulgar, I think it is a quite enjoyable adventure that Henry takes us on, as she provides twists and turns throughout her novel. Although it is a unique story, Henry effectively includes so many of Carroll’s elements. For example, the characters are all there, just re-imagined into something else, and most of all, Henry’s novel is just as ‘trippy’ (for want of a better word) as Carroll’s original story.

I honestly cannot think of much that I did not like, aside from the fact that the novel did not go on for longer. However, since this is the first in a series, I can accept that this fantastic re-imagination will continue in Henry’s second book, Red Queen. If you are looking for something with a lot of depth and deep meaning, however, this book is probably not for you. I did not find that this book lead me to question our existence, or my path in life etc, but it is a novel that will leave you thinking ‘what did I just read’. – In the most positive way possible!

I am somebody who is not easily offended though. I like reading and exploring a huge range of topics, including the more dark and taboo concepts. However, I realise many people are not like this. So, as a warning, I will say that the book contains a lot of violence, and a lot of references to rape. This is a ‘theme’, is you like, that runs throughout the novel, therefore if this is something that you are not necessarily comfortable with, I would possibly think twice about reading this novel.

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King

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The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a collection of short stories by Stephen King. This is his sixth published collection of short stories. Some of the stories included in the collection however have been printed or have been previously available online. For example Blockade Billy can be found published alone and Mile 51 and Ur have been available on Kindle. Although this is the case, in an author’s note at the beginning of the publication King writes ‘some of these stories have been previously published, but that doesn’t mean they were done then’. Thus, as readers we are given the understanding that there could be changes and improvements to the stories, that they should not be overlooked.

Although I am nowhere near an expert in King’s work, and have only ready a small number of his publications, I am a fan of his. Therefore, when I came across this publication of short stories, I did not hesitate to purchase it. I do not often read short stories however at a time when I was not ready to commit to a full length novel I thought The Bazaar of Bad Dreams would be perfect. This was because I figured that short stories would be a low commitment. However, upon reading the first couple of stories I could not put the book down. I found each story was so well written, engaging and gripping that I did not want to cease reading them. Understandably, I do have favourites in the collection. These being, Ur, The Little Green God of Agony, and Obits. Although these are three stories which are extremely different, all three presented a different reality. Ur, presenting a story about alternative realities, The Little Green God of Agony, a story displaying an exorcism type event and Obits about a columnist who can kill people by writing their obituaries. These were three concepts which intrigued me the most and found that I could not pause from reading. From these three stories alone, you can see just how diverse this collection of King’s work is.

The diversity in this collection is something which thoroughly surprised me. As somebody who thinks of Stephen King and only pictures horror, I have been pleasantly surprised. I have been introduced to new sides of King, sides that I did not know existed. Thus, I am more inclined to delve further into his many literary works and discover how much more King can surprise and challenge my initial perceptions of him and his writing.

Alongside each story, King offers up an intimate author’s note which introduces each tale to the reader. This is something I have not yet come across and thus makes each short story more unique and personal. As we discover where the idea for the story stemmed from and why King felt the need to write the following story. This draws us, as readers, closer to the author, enabling us understanding of the mindset and the feelings King had whilst writing the stories. Something which is so rarely done with the literature we read.

Out of the publications I have read recently The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is one of my favourites. It is perfect for those who do not wish to commit to a full-length novel, for those who are die hard King fans and those who may not have read King’s work before. The amount of diversity King offers us as a reader means that there is something for everyone. And I would highly recommend you find your ‘bad dream’.

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Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

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Enduring Love is a novel written by British writer Ian McEwan. The story revolves around two strangers whose lives become entangled following a deadly incident. Although the novel has received mixed reviews, I have found this novel to be extremely thought provoking and engaging. The gripping events of McEwan’s first chapter excellently sets up the continuation of the novel. McEwan’s writing in this chapter is beautiful and emotional thus we experience the events alongside McEwan’s main characters Joe and Clarissa. We are brought along on the journey of coming to terms with the events of the first chapter. We, alongside the characters, are faced with questions of love, trust, and moral dilemmas.

What I enjoyed about this novel is how the relationship between Joe, Clarissa and Jed, three of the people present at the ‘incident’, is portrayed. As the novel progresses from the initial chapter we learn that Jed has become obsessed with Joe, and thus becomes Joe’s stalker. However, when reading the novel I found myself questioning what was the true reality of the situation. This is because I found, through the conversations between Joe and Clarissa and conversations between Joe and Jed, I begun to question what was really happening. Was there more than meets the eye? (so to speak).

However, although I thoroughly enjoyed the journey this novel took me on, I was a little disappointed with the ending. I felt it ended a little flat. For the length of time this novel took to tell its story you cannot help but be a little disappointed with its conclusion. I was definitely hoping for a little more than McEwan gave us.

The novel is brilliant in the way it demonstrates our mortality and questions themes of love, trust, and morality. It is a novel that provokes thought and reasoning from the reader, thus it makes an interesting read. I am a big fan of Ian McEwan, however, if you’re new to his work I would recommend starting with one of his other novels. (maybe, Atonement) As although Enduring Love is engaging, the novel does fall flat towards the end. It is therefore not a novel to judge Ian McEwan’s work on, as he has written many other excellent pieces of work. (Atonement, The Child in Time, Saturday)

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Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

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Birdsong is the second novel in Sebastian Faulks’ French trilogy. Preceded by The Girl at the Lion d’Or and succeeded by Charlotte Gray. Although each novel is not directly linked, the novels relate in term of their themes and subject matters; they all graphically portray characters’ lives during war time. Birdsong is set around the First World War. The story itself centres around the character Stephen Wraysford who arrives in the French town of Amiens in 1910. Throughout the novel, we see the twist and turns of Stephen’s life, from his love affair which tears a family apart, to his participation in the war itself.

Birdsong is a novel that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is a novel which keeps you on your toes and guessing about where the story is heading from beginning to end. The contrasts Faulks creates between life prior to the war and during the war is fascinating. By using vivid imagery, we as readers, get a thorough image of what life was like for soldiers fighting in the war. However, what Faulks does often and brilliantly, during more grotesque war scenes is leave many chapters on cliff hangers, by moving on to something new in the next. This you may feel is counterproductive, you may think how can you get a true grasp of the story this way. But Faulks writes in such a way that he divulges just enough information to understand the horrors of the war without making the reader feel so grotesque and so repulsed that they cannot continue with the story. This I feel was extremely effective in my reading of the novel as this technique continuously made me want to progress further and further with the novel.

As somebody who finds The Great War to be an extremely interesting topic I am a little bias when it comes to speaking about this novel. However, if you are going to read any piece of fiction that revisits this era I encourage you to make it Faulks’ novel. The descriptive language, the tone and passion that pours from the book makes this novel one in a million.

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End note: Working Title Films (BBC) produced a two-part adaptation of Birdsong in 2012. The adaptation starred the likes of Eddie Redmayne, Richard Madden and Clémence Poésy. 

 

One Day by David Nicholls

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The latest novel I have read and have been eager to review is David Nicholls’ One Day. The novel was first published in 2009 so I realise I am late to the party. However, it is a piece of work which I have not had the chance and the motivation to read until very recently.

The novel tells the story of the two protagonist’s lives, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, over a twenty-year span. Zoning in on one day a year, 15th July (St Swithin’s Day) every year. The novel starts on the day they met, their graduation night. We see Emma struggle with the concept of a ‘one night stand’ in contrast to Dexter’s ‘Lothario’ characteristics, who knows these situations only too well. Over the years we see their friendship go through ups and downs as they progress throughout their own personal lives. Both characters struggle with what they are achieving throughout life and what they are expected to have achieved. Throughout all this though, Nicholls gives us an endearing tale of a close friendship, showcasing their flirtations, banter and often yearning they have for one another.

If your only contact with this novel is through the 2011 adaptation directed by Lone Scherfig, please do not let this hold you back from reading the novel. The film itself I believe got mixed reviews, many people picking up on Anne Hathaway’s (Emma) accent throughout the film. On watching the film, I found she often switches up her British accent, going from a thick northern accent to a far more southern one. Although this can be understandable as British people are known to flip between accents, personally I just feel the accent switches were just far too extreme. I am though not here to review the film but the novel. So, I will just say this: please do not watch the film and believe you have seen all that David Nicholls’ novel has to offer.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was the structure and how Nicholls had crafted it. I have yet to come across another novel which holds a similar writing method. In the way that Nicholls drops in on his characters just one day a year. I was dubious at first, unable to contemplate how Nicholls could create such an in depth and emotional story when we only get glimpses of his protagonist’s lives. I was pleasantly surprised though, i found the characters developed effectively, and with that the story progressed just as well. I found it interesting that we as readers watched the two characters grow from university students and progress into their early and then later adulthood. This I found effective as I am so used to reading novels where we only see just the snippet of a character’s life. We only experience one aspect of their life where some event is going on or something has happened to them. Nicholls’ novel however I feel is far more realistic in that we experience the characters’ numerous ups and downs through their life. We are given the realism in that life doesn’t run smoothly bar one or two negative/happy events. Thus demonstrating that life is far more complicated than that.

This therefore is a book I would recommend. I found that once I started reading it I did struggle to put the novel down. This I feel is always a telling sign as to whether the book is any good or not. After all who wants to continue reading a book that doesn’t entice you in to read more? So whether you are a fan of a good romance novel or simply want to try something new, delving into the world of One Day and experiencing 20 years of Emma and Dexter’s life is definitely something you should be considering.

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End of Summer Road Trip

We may have just reached October, but I completely forgot to share the events of the end of my summer, and the road trip I took with a friend. So of course I have to go back to summer for this next blog post and divulge all the details of that week here…

img_0905I’m like the poorest person when it comes to summer, (always a nightmare), so this year we decided to keep it relatively ‘Hannah friendly’ and go on a road trip. Our main goal was to get down to Dorset, to the Jurassic coast for a few days camping. However, on the way there and on the return journey we decided to make some stop offs. I’ll keep it chronological and start with the way there. That makes sense, right? So, to split up our four or five-hour journey down to the coast we stopped off at Stonehenge. Which, if you remember, was on my ‘Summer to do list’. Yay, I finally can tick that off! I’m not sure what I was expecting, I mean I had visited before when I was a lot younger and didn’t have a clue what my parents were taking me to. But I feel like since then I’d been taken in with the romanticism of the landmark. Although yeah pretty great, some big rocks from years and years ago, mysterious and all that. I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty underwhelmed. I did however get a lot of great photos. I’m pretty sure we were the only two there not taking the whole scene seriously and were just having a laugh.img_1006

From there we carried on going to our destination; Durdle Door. We booked in to stay right on the coast at the Durdle Door Holiday Park, in a little wooden pod. Not quite camping, but not quite glamping. It was smaller than the pictures led us to believe, however it was perfect for us and we were not planning on spending a lot of time there anyway. Luckily for us the weather was great all week so we were able to do just this. Bonus though, the pod looked so cute at night when we were chilling from our days out. Just major regrets for not taking some cute fairy lights and getting all vibey.

Not to blow my own trumpet or anything but the Holiday Park was a perfect pick. It was right on the door step of two different beaches, Durdle Door itself and also Man O’War img_1124beach. As well as these Lulworth Cove was just a short walk along the cliffs. Reading this back it makes it sound like such a relaxing time away. And although it was mostly, man, the walk down to and up from the beaches were a killer. So steep and rocky, and just no. However, it was a hundred percent worth the effort. And you always feel good after putting in that sort of effort, don’t you? The beaches themselves were so lovely. I have so many photos it’s hard to choose a select few! I am a little regretful that I never went ahead with swimming through the Durdle Door arch, as I feel like that’s 14333012_10209510247726409_634567678369222283_nsomething you have to do.But I keep telling myself we never managed to get down there when it would’ve been safer to do so. And also we did manage to have an evening swim on Man O’War, so I actually can’t feel too bad. That was definitely one of the best nights though. Having the beach basically to ourselves and swimming in the cove after a long day of walking. The many people watching from the clifftops must have thought we were a little mad, it wasn’t exactly warm weather.

We spent one of our days in Lulworth Cove. The walk itself was probably less than a mile along the coastal cliffs. On the way there, such a lovely stroll looking at all the scenery. On the way back, killer feet and nearing on vertical walk up a cliff. (Ok, maybe a little bit of img_1111exaggeration) Either way though, it was worth the walk. We were greeted with a cute little village, and a beautiful cove. We relaxed on the rather stony beach, I had my first fish and chips at a lovely pub, (The Lulworth Cove Inn) and we went on a boat along the coast. It is definitely worth checking out if you are ever in the area. And if you have more time I saw an activities centre which you could take advantage of and go exploring stair hole and other such things!

img_1166Another of our days we spent a bit further afield. We drove along to Poole for a bit of a change of scenery. I don’t know how or why but somehow I also had romanticised Poole. Although we had a lovely walk along the waterfront, along the harbour, there wasn’t anything major going on there. So we continued on and found ourselves in Bournemouth. I had spent time there as a kid and surprisingly enough a lot of it remained the same to my eyes. And my god weren’t we happy to spend time on a beach with sand rather than stones! I feel like sand is just so much more tranquil, just because you don’t have to deal with the awkwardness and discomfort of walking along stones. It was also so hot there. We immediately were regretting not taking anything along to allow us to go in the water. And even to just chill there for a longer length of time. Unsurprisingly then we decided we would img_1192make a day of it the following day. Take our towels, swimwear, a picnic, a book, music etc etc etc so we could spend an entire day lapping up the sun. And it was such a good day. So windy though I am still, a month on, finding sand amongst the stuff I took with me. Annoying, but worth it. I also love Bournemouth beach. I love when you are able to just keep going when you’re in the water. Like you don’t feel like you have to stop, the currents are relatively ok, there’s no major drops from the ground and the waves are manageable. It’s just a safe, fun beach to go to. And there’s just so much to do there, with the pier, restaurants, bars, the beach itself, shops. Ideal if you ask me!

img_1225Bournemouth was our last full day, but on the way home we broke up the journey by stopping off at a place called Puzzlewood in Gloucestershire, in the Forest of Dean. At first I had no idea what I was going to, a puzzle in the woods? Hmm.  On its website it boasts of the various productions which have been filmed there, including Dr.Who. On arrival you can see why. It’s an interesting attraction and out of the two we did during the ‘journeys’: Stonehenge and Puzzlewood, I would definitely prefer to go to Puzzlewood again. Which is interesting in the sense that it is the least known of the two… and the cheapest. A hidden14265006_10209510243286298_531145024472763338_n gem, to me at least. Basically Puzzlewood is a maze. You go in and you have to find your way out again. In the meantime, keeping your eye out for specific elements. It’s an adventure, so a lot more fun! Along with this though there’s farmyard animals, there’s an indoor maze and there’s a café. So I can imagine it being a proper day out. For us though it was just nice to be out of the car, stretching our legs and all that jazz!

So that was our end of summer road trip type thing, all of this having spent less than £100 I cannot complain! We had such a good week, it was nice to be escaping our ‘real lives’ for a while. But also this just proves to me and everybody else, you don’t need to spend so much money when you’re planning a trip away! I am definitely now under the realisation that less can a lot of the time mean more.

 

Until next time…

x

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I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

I may have only recently started this blog, and I may have only posted a small number of posts, but I feel that I already want to add something more to my page. I got thinking and I came to the conclusion of book reviews. As you may or may not know I am currently an English Literature student, therefore I find myself reading countless books for my course as well as reading my own choice novels. I decided then that this would be the perfect idea to keep me writing, keep me posting, keep you all informed on what I have been reading and also in turn inspire or introduce others to read. Reviewing books is not something which I have often put my hand to. I was once asked to review a novel for the teen magazine ‘Sugar’ when I was about 13/14 using only 100 words, this was something I failed at miserably! I just write and write and write. Therefore I feel this is a great place to write reviews as the logistics are all down to me. I am hoping this little venture will enable me not only to share my reading experiences but also improve my abilities in this style of writing. A challenge though is going to be talking about the book but not actually talking about the book. I.e discussing the novel but attempting to not give anything away which may lesson a reader’s suspense. With this in mind I am just going to dive right in…

I have just recently finished reading I Let You Go, the debut novel and Sunday Times bestseller by Clare Mackintosh. The novel was ‘the fastest selling title by a new crime writer in 2015’ (http://claremackintosh.com/clare-mackintosh-about/). Naturally I had high standards. It is not often that an author’s first novel does so amazingly! Crime and Thriller fiction is actually something which I have only just recently discovered. Having caught up in the excitement of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train I have become a lover of this genre of fiction. Like others that enjoy this genre of writing, I love the suspense, the plot twists, and how gripped I get when I am reading the story. I often have to force myself to take a break just to lengthen the experience of reading such a novel.

I admit I am terrible. The saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is universally used, yet what do I do? I always judge a book by its cover. Granted the saying usually is not used to refer to an actual book. The concept though is there. I feel if the book cover does not talk to me and intrigue me then the story won’t either – And I know this is silly. I could and more than likely am missing out on some great pieces of work, but I cannot stop myself. When it came to I Let You Go the novels cover is something which excited me. The image used from a company credited as ‘Arcangel’ spoke to my ‘I need to know more’ side. I just couldn’t help but to envisage somebody solemnly looking out of the window to a bleak, cold, rainy day. Something which you automatically associate with a person feeling down, and i just couldn’t help but wonder why and what was going on. The accompanying butterfly I also found interesting because butterflies are meant to represent new life, change and joy, which contrasted greatly to the surrounding image. So from the get go I was excited to delve into Mackintosh’s story.

The novel itself I can only describe as amazing. It is fast-paced, intense and complete with numerous twists that I did not see coming. The little bits of writing on the front of the book and the blurb on the reverse initially tell us that the story is likely to revolve around a ‘tragic accident’. Usually I tend to try and guess what happens at the end of novels whilst I am reading them. However I gave up doing this whilst reading I Let You Go. This was because when I thought I had a grip on where the story was taking me Mackintosh would seem to throw in another twist. Thus I don’t believe I would have ever come to the conclusions that this novel presents. Which is fantastic! As it can sometimes be disheartening when you have the story all sussed out.

Another great thing about this novel for me was how much I reacted to it. The chapters of the novel tend to change perspectives to enable the reader a more rounded story. However one of these perspectives towards the end of the novel began to infuriate me. It was definitely a struggle to read as I just wanted to hit the character. Although I found myself developing this great hate for one of Mackintosh’s characters I couldn’t help but find myself loving the character at the same time. It was a pretty great addition to the novel and I applaud Mackintosh’s ability to write a character which produces such great emotions from a reader.

Thus this is a novel that I would highly recommend anybody reading! Whether you’re interested in crime novels or not this is a page turner for anyone which will shock you right up until the last pages!

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