Set in 1914, Grace Winter and her husband Henry are onboard The Empress Alexandria bound for New York, when it starts to sink after a mysterious explosion. Though already overcrowded, Henry manages to secure Grace a spot on a lifeboat and for the next 3 weeks Grace waits with 38 other passengers to be rescued. However, the group soon realise that their lifeboat is sinking and that if anyone is to face a chance of survival out in the stormy seas, sacrifices will have to be made.
Told through Grace's voice, the novel opens with Grace stating that she is now a widow and is on trial for her life. To help clear her name, her lawyer recommends that she write a diary to recreate the events of those perilous weeks at sea. Through these diary extracts we soon learn the shocking truths of what happened onboard the lifeboat. Yet Grace is an unreliable narrator, not only from the starvation she endured, which has blurred her memories but also from her own self deception. Both absorbing and beautifully written, you can't help feel slightly sea sick as you turn the pages. A great book, that questions what people will do when their life is on the line.
Amber Hewardine is suffering from insomnia and as a last resort she decides to visit a hypnotherapist. Yet under hypnosis Amber repeats the words 'kind cruel, kind of cruel.' Words that mean nothing to her but everything to detective Simon Waterhouse, who has been working on the murder investigation of Katherine Allen, who was found dead in her apartment. It was these exact words that were found imbeded on a notepad at the crime scene and when Amber finds herself in police custody to explain why she said this sentence aloud, she is forced to remember how she came about it in the first place. Can there really be a connection between her and this poor woman, despite the fact they've never met?
Full of psychoanalytical studies and underlying family tension, Sophie Hannah builds her thriller around Amber's search to find the meaning behind these words, which she believes are somehow linked to a family Christmas at Little Orchard many years ago. Though I enjoyed some of the chapters dissecting human behaviour, told via an anonymous narrator, the novel itself is simply too far fetched. Even the notion of the main character being charged with murder over a simple sentence is unbelievable in itself. In addition to this, there were some uneventful chapters featuring the detectives and their prickly relationships, that I felt weren't necessary. There was almost too much crammed into this story, which made it slow to read. Ultimately, I was disappointed with this book. If it hadn't been for the 12 hour plane ride, I doubt I would have finished it.
Daniel Hunter works as a solicitor in London and is asked to defend Sebastian, an 11 year old, accused of murdering another little boy in a playground. Daniel doesn't know if Sebastian is innocent or guilty, but something compels him to take the case. He relates to this child and wants him to be fairly represented, especially given the media's interest in the case. As he begins building his client's defence, Daniel finds himself revisiting some of his own painful childhood memories. In particular his relationship with his adoptive mother Minnie, a woman who gave him everything and then betrayed him. But what Daniel starts to realise is, in truth, we're all guilty of something.
The Guilty One is told through Daniel's perspective as an adult and as a boy. We follow the case against Sebastian and slowly find out why Daniel relates to this little boy the way he does. Though we are reminded, a little too often, that Sebastian reminds Daniel of himself at that age, this does not detract from the sharp characters, plot and moral questions Lisa Ballantyne has taken on in her debut novel. A brilliant page turner, that is highly enjoyable despite the disturbing subject matter.
Penelope O'Shaunessy is about to start her freshman year at Harvard. Though sweet, Penelope is painfully awkward and seemingly unprepared for the competitive world of panels, placement exams and Math 55. She tumbles through social groups and quickly finds herself roped into extra curricular activities that she doesn't even like. However, Penelope is full of charm and wit, and when she attracts the attention of Gustav, the 'hot european guy', things seem to spiral even further out of control...
Penelope is a refreshingly 'ordinary' and laid back heroine. You can't help love her dead pan view of life and her ability to brush off the snide remarks that come her way from her overprivileged peers. At times I found myself laughing out loud at some of the situations Penelope finds herself in. Though at the end of the novel I had hoped Penelope might have grown as a character and developed some backbone, I still thoroughly enjoyed this novel and thought it was a great account of a normal girl starting university. It's full of charm, intelligence and cleverly reveals the social absurdities and pretentiousness behind Harvard's ivy covered walls.