Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich

Dear Evan Hansen
by Val Emmich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear Evan Hansen,

Today’s going to be an amazing day and here’s why…

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own, desperate to know more about their enigmatic son from his closest friend. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?

No longer tangled in his once-incapacitating anxiety, this new Evan has a purpose. And a website. He’s confident. He’s a viral phenomenon. Every day is amazing. Until everything is in danger of unraveling and he comes face to face with his greatest obstacle: himself.

A simple lie leads to complicated truths in this big-hearted coming-of-age story of grief, authenticity and the struggle to belong in an age of instant connectivity and profound isolation.

I’ve listened to the Dear Evan Hansen broadway soundtrack several times a week for the last year so when I heard it was being released as a YA novel I was desperate to get my hands on it. It was the only ARC at YALC I was desperate to go home with and sadly I didn’t manage to win the raffle. I was lucky enough however to be granted access via Netgalley AND my husband bought me a copy of the final published book (can you tell I went on about it a bit?!)

I find this story really sad. My heart hurts for Evan and the struggles he faces and the situations he gets himself into. Reading the book was more emotional than the musical because the novel format allows you to delve further into Evan’s brain and really expand on the emotions and issues he experiences. This also makes the book far heavier than the musical as there are no lighthearted catchy tunes to raise the mood. With no light relief the book is a really intense reading experience which is incredibly immersive.

The author’s writing is captivating and very believable. I imagine it was extremely hard to write this story without making it sound preachy- how can Evan learn his lesson without making it sound like a cheesy cautionary tale?
The authors managed to tell the story with compassion and through it all Evan remains a sympathetic, lovable character.

I recommend curling up with this book with the soundtrack on in the background. You can never have too much Dear Evan Hansen!

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The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The blurb for this book intrigued me instantly, as did it’s description of being a bit Agatha Christie/Groundhog Day/Quantum Leap, however I have to admit that as I sat down to begin this story I was apprehensive given the length of the book! At a hefty 512 pages I was worried it would be overly wordy and lose the momentum that mystery books like this need to keep a reader invested in the plot.

I needn’t have worried. I have never been so impressed with a mystery/crime book in my life. I was hooked instantly even though I had absolutely no idea what was going on. I love that the reader is plonked into the same position as the lead character and drip fed clues and information and for the most part has no idea of the significance of an action until much later in the book.

I usually love guessing the ending of mysteries, but find myself a little disappointed if I do manage to guess the ending or if the ending is so baffling it would never be able to be guessed by a sane person. Stuart Turton has achieved the impossible and created a mystery which ends so perfectly, which makes all the sense in the world but which very, very few people would be able to see coming.

I’m very cautious about reviewing this book in detail as I don’t want to give away a single plot point because it was such an incredible feeling to read this book knowing nothing about it. I was completely immersed and desperate to find out what would happen next.

I will say that I loved the sci-fi aspect of the plot, and I thought the repetition of the days was achieved masterfully. How on earth all the loose ends managed to get tied up at the end is completely astounding but very satisfying as a reader.

I cannot rave about this book enough and have already recommended it to several friends. I think this Christmas I may just bulk buy copies and hand them out to everyone I know.
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We Were Liars by E Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We Were Liars is one of those books that is made to be gulped down in one sitting. From the moment I sat down to read to the moment I reached the last page I was completely enthralled by E. Lockhart’s beautiful writing.

The novel is centred on a well off family who holiday every year on their private island in Massachusetts and is narrated by a young teenage girl, Cadence Sinclair, one fourth of the group of cousins who make up the holiday club “The Liars”.

Cadence (Cady) takes the reader through a history of the family and of their summers, every now and then mentioning “an accident” that took place on the island not long ago but which she cannot remember much about.

Much of the plot of the story is hard to explain from here on out, so inherently entwined is the mystery and twist of this novel. The marketing campaign for We Were Liars has succeeded in building a complete frenzy around the ending of this book and keeping it secret and unspoiled for readers worldwide, even going so far as to set up a dedicated hot line for people who finish the book and need someone to discuss it with.

I would advise you to take this hype with a pinch of salt. I loved the book, I loved the writing and I believe that We Were Liars does deserve the acclaim it has been receiving; however, I guessed the twist half way through. It was abundantly obvious to me. Ordinarily this wouldn’t spoil my enjoyment of a book, but considering the great hype placed around this particular twist, I was more than a little disappointed in that regard.

Twist ending aside, We Were Liars is one of the most cleverly written Young Adult novels I have ever read. E. Lockhart beautifully achieves a realistic tone when depicting the realities of family life set against the fantasies that most families project to the outside world. Her teenage characters are wonderfully vivid and haunting in their teenage angst, which will be familiar to everyone reading this book.

I highly recommend this book, but again urge you not to get hung up on the excitement of the ending and concentrate instead on E. Lockhart’s wonderful words.

This review was first published on and Goodreads on 30th May 2014.

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The Boy That Never Was by Karen Perry

The Boy That Never Was by Karen Perry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Young bohemian artists Harry and Robin are a young married couple living in Tangier with their young son Dillon when their lives are devastated by an earthquake. Left alone in their flat whilst Harry popped to a neighbour, Dillon appears to vanish without a trace and is assumed dead.

After losing their son Harry and Robin relocate back to their home city of Dublin in an attempt to rebuild their marriage and move on from the tragedy, a feat easier said than done considering the great resentment Robin feels towards Harry for leaving Dillon unsupervised, and the existing problems that dominated their marriage even before the earthquake.

The main story picks up five years after the loss of Dillon. Their relationship is still fragile, but Robin is hopeful for their future, and so is Harry, until he sees a boy in a crowded Dublin street. A boy he recognises immediately as his missing son.

The Boy that Never Was is being compared to the kinds of psychological suspense novels written by leading authors such as Nicci French, Sophie Hannah and Gillian Flynn. With this in mind, I sat down to read with high expectations. These expectations were met in some aspects- the plot of the book is very fast paced and exciting, with twists that definitely rival Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

However, I did initially have trouble getting into the flow of the writing. The narrative is told from the point of view of both Harry and Robin, in alternating chapters. This in itself doesn’t usually present a problem for me, however, I found Harry’s chapters very dry and often boring which was disappointing considering a lot of the main plot happens directly with his involvement, and therefore during his chapters. At times, I felt I only continued reading because of the strength of the plot, and because I found Robin’s chapters much more engaging.

With psychological suspense novels authors have to balance a fine line between being enigmatically mysterious, and being downright confusing. I found the first 50 pages of this novel sometimes wobbled over into the latter a bit too often.

I have wondered whether this disjointedness I experienced was the result of the book being a product of two authors, rather than one (Karen Perry is the pen name of respected authors Karen Gillece and Paul Perry). I’m always intrigued when I hear of author teams like this, and fascinated to know how it works. I don’t know how they wrote this book, but I did at times get a sense of two distinct writing styles fighting against each other, rather than working to complement each other.

In spite of this minor issue with getting into the flow of the story, once the plot picked up pace I couldn’t put the book down. I thought I had it all figured out by half way through the story, but then everything changed and I was completely blind sided. I was gripped right to the end because I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I really dislike it when authors think up a very clever and intricate plot and then leave a lot of loose ends for the reader to assume their own ending, and this story did the complete opposite of that. I was left feeling very satisfied that the plot made sense, the actions of the characters all made sense and the story was rounded off nicely.

I urge you to do what I did with this book- curl up with a cup of tea and read it in one sitting. Allow yourself to be absorbed in the drama and then take days to get it out of your thoughts.

This review was first published on and Goodreads on 5th March 2014.

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Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eleven years ago Tobias Sartorius was convicted of the murder of his beautiful girlfriend Stefanie (also known as Snow White) and his childhood friend Laura after a trial consisting of circumstantial evidence only. After serving his sentence Tobias returns to the tiny German village he grew up in still unable to remember himself whether he is actually guilty of the crime he served time for, and hated by the tight-knit community of the village. Then, history begins repeating itself as another pretty girl with a remarkable resemblance to Stefanie goes missing, stirring up events from the past and leading Bodenstein and Kirchkoff to uncover secrets which the villager’s would prefer to keep hidden…

Snow White Must Die is the first of Nele Neuhaus’s books to be translated into English. As is often the case with translations of series’, the publishers have decided to start with what is actually the 4th book in the extremely popular Bodenstein and Kirchkoff detective series. The knowledge that I’m starting a set of books in the middle of the wider story arc often makes me feel uneasy. Cognitively I understand the need for publishers to translate the strongest book in a series first in order to attract their audience, but it inevitably means the reader does get a sense of having wondered into a party in the middle of the evening whilst it’s in full swing, where you know none of the other party-goers.

That being said, the enthralling plot of Snow White Must Die more than made up for the parts of the books which concentrated on Bodenstein and Kirchkoff’s private lives and (I assume) referred to the previous novels in the series.

It took a little while for me to settle into the writing style of the book. As it’s a translation it’s hard to tell whether this is to do with Neuhaus’ writing, or if it’s simply down to the translation. I will say that for the first few chapters of the book I found myself a little preoccupied with trying to follow the translation guidelines- that is, guessing what parts of the book didn’t exactly translate easily. There were certain phrases that jarred a little and didn’t seem to fit with the overall tone of the prose but once the action started I soon forgot about this and found myself transported into the novel.

Probably the aspect of this novel I loved the most is the fact I had no idea how it was going to end. Often crime/mystery novels give away their hand too soon, or are scattered with ludicrous red herrings that insult the readers’ intelligence. Neuhaus provided many intelligent possibilities for the resolution of the story, which made it almost impossible to guess the exact ending entirely. The plot is fairly complicated and intricate, but the ending makes complete sense and wholly satisfies every aspect of the plot that was up for question which is not an easy task for authors of this genre to accomplish. I will certainly by looking to see whether any more books from this series will be translated in future.

This review was first published on Nudge-books and Goodreads on 27th May 2013.

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Hunger by Melvin Burgess

Hunger by Melvin Burgess

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Melvin Burgess is a masterful young adult writer. Perfectly able to encapsulate what it means to be a teenager in books like Junk and Doing It, and equally adept at creating dystopian science fiction in books such as Bloodtide and Bloodsong, Burgess has long been a favourite author of mine. However, Hunger just didn’t live up to the standard I’ve come to expect from his writing.

The mystery behind what is happening to Beth sets the story up seamlessly. This first quarter of the book is spine-chilling. The strangeness behind Beth not knowing what was causing her aches and pains and hunger, along with the connection to the empty grave really got under my skin and I found myself avoiding reading it at night time because it was too creepy to handle, all alone in my flat!

However, once the supernatural element of plot was revealed it lost its sense of drama and menace for me. The rest of the book felt a little too much like a Scooby-Doo episode. Will the pesky kids manage to defeat the beastly ghoul? Endless chase after chase with the kids managing to escape by a whisker got a little tiresome. The book didn’t feel like it was moving along in terms of the plot, we were just reading encounter after encounter where they had managed to put themselves in vulnerable situations.

Beth, her brother Louis, her best friend Coll and Louis’s best friend Ivan are all at University but throughout the book no mention is given to the fact they may have lectures, assignments, part-time jobs… They just seem to live in a perpetual Sunday where nothing happens in the outside world and they don’t have any responsibilities. This kind of slack characterisation is so out of line with Burgess’s usual writing. If it wasn’t for the repeated (and unnecessary to the story) mentions to the casual sex that they’re all having I would have thought the book was written for 7-10 year olds rather than the young adult audience it is aimed at.

The climax of the story doesn’t get into full swing until the last 60 or so pages. The entire middle section of the book plods along with no massive changes or plot development and then we have a flurry of action right at the end which wraps everything up nicely. Despite this neat ending, my feeling on putting the book down was a sense of relief that it was finished, but also disappointment that the story which had been set up so well had resulted in such a safe, average plot. I hope that this is a one-off for Burgess and his next book returns to the standard I’ve come to expect from him.

This review first appeared on and Goodreads on 8th May 2013.

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Close my Eyes by Sophie McKenzie

Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eight years ago Gen Loxley gave birth to a stillborn daughter, Beth. Since then she’s found it impossible to move on, floundering whilst her charismatic husband, Art, flourishes. Then, one day a stranger arrives at her door with news she could only dream of- Beth is alive.

Initially distrustful of this stranger, Gen quickly finds herself sucked into a sinkhole of unanswered questions and suspicious behaviour. Why is her best friend Hen having secret conversations with Art, why can she not find anybody who was present at the stillbirth to corroborate that her baby was dead on delivery, who was Art transferring money to just a few days after the birth?

In her first adult novel Sophie McKenzie weaves a tale full of confusion and doubt which keeps the reader guessing to the very end. Gen is portrayed as a very sensitive and vulnerable person and this makes her whole narrative uncertain. Should the reader be on her side, or is she suffering from paranoid delusions caused by her grief? The underlying tension between Gen and Art, and indeed Gen and most of her family and friends means the reader is constantly switching sides. Every new piece of information that is uncovered is marred by the unreliable perceptions of the characters. You find yourself certain that you know what is coming next, only to question the source of the information that led you to this assumption.

The child’s narrative that intersperses throughout the story remains a mystery to the end of the story. I found myself getting sucked into the story and every time I had decided that Gen was paranoid I’d reach another page written from this mystery child’s point of view and be completely thrown off the scent again.

Ultimately I did guess the ending of the novel, whether this was because I am particularly good at sleuthing or because I had a lucky guess I don’t know! However, guessing the ending didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story at all. At times I was wriggling in my chair, so eager was I to reach an explanation. Even when the answers do start arriving they are drip fed to the reader and this infuriated me and delighted me in equal measure!

I did find a few red herring plots a little bland, but then novels such as this need many different possible avenues in order to avoid the real ending being guessed. Additionally, I found that the end dragged on a little too long for my liking and some of the action could have been cut out and tidied up to keep to the climatic pace I felt I had been built up for.

Finally, the last page of this book was possibly one of the most chilling things I have ever read. If you’re one of those people who like to sneak a peek at the end books before they start reading- do not do it with Close my Eyes. The ending is worth waiting for!

This review first appeared on and Goodreads 24th April 2017.

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