Book Review: The Truants

The Truants is a coming of age story with a twist, telling the experience of Jess Walker’s first year as a student at the fictionalized University of East Anglia. Jess studies English Literature and enrolls herself on an Agatha Christie course, immediately finding herself enthralled by the subject, as well as the expert in the field, Professor Lorna Clay. Jess becomes friends with a group of uninitiated, carefree students, including falling for Alec, an ex student and current journalist.

Genres: Mystery, Suspense, Coming of Age, Literary Fiction

My rating: ★★★★

This book echoes the reverberated student scene of carefree days drinking in pub gardens and ignoring academic responsibilities. As the closeness of Jess’ relationship with Lorna unfolds, the mystery involving Alec starts to appear before the readers’ eyes.

Jess cannot help but be pulled in by the perplexing Alec. He is good looking, intelligent, but little does she know about his deeply troubled past. As a character, he is laced with toxicity, regret and past betrayal and takes it out on those who fall for him – a classic maverick disguised as a heart throb. Jess gets caught up in several disturbing love triangles, which serve to explore the realities of betrayal on a relationship and friendship basis. The lure of new love becomes her achilles’ heel as she is placed in the middle of a dark mystery of her own.

Something rather dark lurks beneath the seemingly picturesque portrayal of student life, which is discovered as the book progresses. Despite drawing so heavily on the works of Agatha Christie and her novels, this book is essentially its own mystery and a play on the psychology of relationships, seduction and betrayal. It combines a lot of different genres which I think is one of its selling points, it has elements of literary fiction, mystery and thriller, whilst being told within the coming of age paradigm. The feeling of suspense is naturally created early on in the book, which produces an unavoidable hook for the reader. The whole time I was reading I had a feeling of unease; but couldn’t help but read on. I was fascinated by the characters and wanted to see how everything would unfold.

I think the highlight of this book is in the complexity of the characters. The story only centers around a handful of individuals, but each are fundamentally flawed. This allows for the difficulties of coming of age to be realistically conveyed, with the exploration of problematic friendships and relationships. Jess, the protagonist, was particularly complex, and I was drawn to her insight. It is essentially a major portrayal of character development and exploring the dark incidents that lay within her experience at university.

That said, I did think the play on the mystery was to a certain extent cliche. Not being familiar with Agatha Christie’s writing, I can’t comment on the full exploration of this – and there may be things I missed. Critique’s and readers alike have drawn similarities between this and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, being an avid fan of that novel, I fail to see the comparison aside from the theme of ‘dark academia.’ I found the language in this underdeveloped and simplistic at times, whereas Tartt’s writing is wonderfully crafted, with layers of intricacy. In some ways, I think this book tries too hard. I got the sense it was trying to aestheticize student suffering within the framework of academic life. There are many troubling scenes and dark elements to the book, some are explored well, but others rather flippantly.

However, I very much enjoyed reading this and would recommend it to anyone. It combines so many genres, is full of complex characters and a sense of unrelenting intrigue. It grabbed me from the start and left me hooked, for that alone I would say it is very commendable.

A big thank you to Net Galley and Bloomsbury Publishing for giving me an e-arc copy to review. Please note however, this does not influence my review in any way.

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Book Review: The Library of Lost and Found

Title: The Library of Lost and Found

Author: Phaedra Patrick

Genre: Fiction

My rating: ★★★★

Synopsis

One day Martha, a librarian, discovers a mystery package on her door step which changes her life forever. In the package is a book of short stories, featuring a dedication from her Grandmother, Zelda, who died years earlier. This becomes a puzzle to Martha and she sets out to get to the bottom of it.

Martha is always helping other people and spends her life putting people before herself, however, with the arrival of this package, she is forced to face past family secrets that have entrapped her forever. Join her, as she goes on her own journey of self discovery.

This is a heartwarming and uplifting story set in a small, English seaside town, that will take you on Martha’s journey as she discovers more about her family. It is fundamentally, a story about the joy of storytelling and the power of the written word and imagination, but also the value of family, friendships and love.

Review

  • I immediately loved the feel of this book as it is a book about books! The main protagonist, Martha, is a librarian who appreciates the joy of books and used to write stories when she was a young girl, naturally I was invested in the book and Martha as a character.
  • Martha is instantly likable as she leads a life helping others and the reader is left wanting to know if she herself, gets a happy ending. All her life she has put her needs last and it is starting to take its toll on her. The arrival of this mystery package comes at the right time.
  • The element of mystery introduced by the package and the can of worms it opens within Martha’s family, is intriguing and made me want to read on. I wanted to find out what had happened within the family many years ago. I wanted to know where the book came from and why etc.
  • The book flips between different narrators, events and time periods, to give background on the family setting and what happened between Martha’s parents and her Grandmother, Zelda. I thought this was clever in the way it related to the present and connected the dots.
  • The story on the whole was very well told, intriguing and gripping, but for a story about stories, I was left feeling slightly unfulfilled by the plot and its ending. I felt there were more avenues it could have explored to give it more depth, however, maybe it’s being left for a sequel…?
  • The story ends with Martha just starting to gain more control over her life and putting her happiness first, however, we never know exactly how this ends which is disappointing.
  • I loved the setting of this book, as I have always been attracted to small, English coastal towns. I like the idea of Martha’s family living in the same place for generations and the amount of history and sentiment the place holds for her.
  • It definitely has elements of sadness which I kind of expected – but these were explored with a great amount of poignancy which makes you realise the importance of family, and how we are all constrained by time.
  • Martha as a character frustrated me at times but I guess that was the point – as readers we feel invested as we want her to have the good ending that she deserves.

Final thoughts

I would recommend this to anyone who likes stories about stories, books and writing. And also anyone who loves a slight mystery tinged with romance and intrigue. This book covers all of these elements and is told in such a heartfelt, uplifting way, that I would’t hesitate to suggest it to anyone.

It was a joy to read and I devoured it over the course of a few days. But I was left feeling slightly unsatisfied by the ending, hence, I haven’t given it a five star rating. Nonetheless, it is a story full of great characters that oozes warmth and the value of family and friends – which we could all take a dose of in this difficult time.

The past was in the past, and she had to accept it and lay it to rest, so she could look to the future.”