Hall of Fame Review: In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings

Tuesday 1 March 2016
Title: In Her Wake
Author: Amanda Jennings
Publisher: Orenda Books
Publication Date: 10th February 2016
Pages: 360
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 5/5
Purchase: Amazon
A perfect life... until she discovered it wasn’t her own.

A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella's comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but her life. Chilling, complex and profoundly moving, In Her Wake is a gripping psychological thriller that questions the nature of family - and reminds us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.

Despite the fact that I use a star system to 'rate' the books that I've read, I do feel it is a flawed system and so my Hall of Fame category was created for those books that are that little bit special, but even now I feel a book like In Her Wake deserves a category all of its own on my blog because it is without a doubt one of the best books I have ever read. It's also one of the hardest books I've ever had to write about and so this review is probably going to go one of two ways... I do hope though that it encourages people who haven't picked up In Her Wake yet to do so right away because this is a book I think everybody needs to read, even those that say they don't enjoy reading.

I suppose the first thing that excited me about In Her Wake was when reading the reviews (and I only read a few because you need to read this book knowing little about its story) there wasn't a single comparison to any other book. There weren't any cheap marketing tactics of putting the title of a bestselling psychological thriller across the front cover in the hope of tricking somebody into picking it up. Orenda Books is all class and instead relies on the huge amount of praise from a very impressive list of authors and bloggers who have put into words how incredible In Her Wake is better than I ever can. Just to go off-topic for one quick moment and mention this book was quite a special one to me as I approach the second anniversary of setting up this blog, Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books (then Arcadia) was one of the first people to follow my blog and has been nothing but supportive and encouraging of it since, despite being an incredible busy lady. So this is certainly a book I will be treasuring.

Bella returns to her family home for the funeral of her mother and straightaway there's an air of mystery about the whole thing. I even found myself thinking that I knew something of what was about to happen, and found myself (not for the only time in this book) being proven completely wrong. Bella is given some traumatic news which makes her question everything she ever thought she knew about herself. And it's this discovery that finds her travelling down to the beautiful Cornish coast, in search of those answers that she so desperately needs. Bella is such an intricately-created character, one who I think every single reader will be rooting for from the word go. Especially as we discover more about the very sheltered life that she's led, one that at first was controlled completely by her mother and father and now by her husband David. I can't remember the last time I disliked characters more than some of the ones in this book. With occasional sojourns back into the past featuring Bella's parents, we start to discover a whole lot more about what happened all of those years ago, whilst Bella herself does that also in the present day.

I've said this in the past but, despite having an A-level in English Language, I couldn't describe writing to save my life and so whilst not wanting to resort to the same old cliches, I think I'm going to have to. Amanda's writing is incredibly powerful and emotive, each line having real meaning. In Her Wake is incredibly thought-provoking the whole way through, and Amanda's writing is extremely hard-hitting and really leaves its mark. Amanda's writing is also beautifully descriptive, the Cornish setting being something I have only ever read about as a glorious holiday destination, and not as a metaphor for a woman's whole life being torn apart, as she starts to discover where she really came from. I didn't feel like a reader as I turned the pages of this book, I felt like a witness to everything that was unfolding. In fact, at times it felt almost uncomfortable, to be witnessing first the heartbreak Bella was feeling, then the shock of discovering a terrible secret, to the injustice of how something like this could actually happen to somebody.

I've mentioned before about characters feeling real in stories but with In Her Wake that has never been more true. Bella is a character I'm never going to forget, and the same is true for some of the other characters that make up the story, characters I can't even mention because it would spoil the book. I won't forget Bella because her story, her past, her journey and even her future is all ingrained in my mind. A sign of a good book is when you finish it and the next day the characters are still in your thoughts, a sign of an excellent book is when you can't foresee a time when they won't be. It wasn't that I connected with Bella as such, our lives being vastly different, but because Amanda has created this woman that just felt so real, so believable that I formed a kind of attachment with her and so on each step of her journey I shared in that hope, confusion, despair, horror, sadness, happiness, pretty much every emotion it is possible to feel was felt by me whilst reading this book and it takes a truly exceptional and gifted writer and storyteller to have an effect like that on a reader.

Throughout In Her Wake I was thinking of where the story was going to go and, perhaps thinking about those throwaway thrillers I had a couple of 'out there' theories about what might happen but I couldn't have been more wrong. Amanda completely threw me off course, especially with the last third of this story which was some of the best writing and storytelling I think I have ever read in a book. I was well and truly mesmerised, and could not tear myself away from what I was reading. Everything just began to fall into place and whilst I don't want to say 'it all made sense', I guess it kind of did in a way which to me just made everything even more heartbreaking than it had been already. It was only when I closed the book and set it aside that I realised tears had been rolling down my face, such was the effect this book had on me and I've waited a couple of days before writing this review, because I wanted to think about it, and somehow put my jumble of thoughts into some kind of review. In Her Wake is a remarkable and very rare kind of story, one that will touch every reader that picks it up, and I can't imagine a single person finishing this book and not wanting to recommend it to everybody they know (and even some people that they don't). Believe every single bit of praise you've read about this book because it is all true. I honestly cannot recommend it enough.


  1. Wonderful review - you've just made me buy this book!

  2. Grey characters add depth to novels for me, and they are the most reflective of what it means to be human.

  3. Amazing review Shaun! Going to buy myself a copy now :)


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