March ’22 Zoella Book Club: Breathless by Amy McCulloch

Still catching your breath? Us too. This March Team Zoella dove headfirst into Amy McCulloch's first adult thriller release, and boy oh boy are we still thinking about it now.

Cecily Wong, adventure journalist with a slightly questionable mountaineering success rate, is taking on a near-impossible challenge in order to secure a once-in-a-lifetime story that could see her writing career skyrocket. Enter, Mount Manaslu. The eighth highest mountain in the world, measuring over 8,000 metres above sea level, it’s an intense challenge for the mind and body of even the most capable climbers, so how will Cecily fair amongst her new team when things start to go wrong before they’ve even made it to base camp?

There’s a theft. Then an accident. Then a mysterious note, pinned to her tent: there’s a murderer on the mountain. The higher they get, the more dangerous the climb becomes, and the more they need to trust one another. And that’s when Cecily finds the first body…

Still catching your breath? Us too. This March Team Zoella dove headfirst into Amy McCulloch’s first adult thriller release, and boy oh boy are we still thinking about it now. Known around these parts as co-author of our very own Zoe Sugg’s Magpie Society Duology, Amy is the queen of evocative, tension building writing, and if you’re seeking a book you won’t be able to put down, let it be Breathless.

Despite its cool, snowy setting, Breathless makes for perfect summer getaway reading when pure escapism is the aim, although we can’t promise you won’t have finished it before the plane even lands. Keep reading to see what Team Zoella thought, and spoiler: we’re obsessed…

Charlotte’s Review

I need to know if there’s a part 2 to Breathless IMMEDIATELY. This book was everything I hoped it would be and more upon reading the blurb, and I’m so glad it lived up to my expectations of Amy as an incredible writer who loves an unsuspecting twist and strong characters you feel deeply invested in. Had we not been reading for book club I probably wouldn’t have been drawn to a book based around mountaineering as it’s not something I felt was especially relatable to me, but not only am I now inspired to get climbing (genuinely went to mountaineering TikTok after finishing the book) but also really enjoyed this unique setting for a thriller that as we find out, does in fact make the perfect place for a murder.

I struggled at the start of the book to remember exactly which character was which as a lot of Cecily’s climbing team were introduced at once, however the further I got into the book the more I was able to differentiate and felt a definitive connection to them, especially Elise and Zak! I sped through Breathless super quickly which is rare for me as a chronically slow reader, but I honestly couldn’t put it down as each chapter revealed another twist in the tale and deeper level to the mystery.

I found myself rooting for (almost) the whole mountaineering team throughout, and Amy did an incredible job of conveying the trust and teamwork integral to climbing with a group, making the threat of a member with ulterior motives even more terrifying! I have to say I don’t love a book that ends on a cliffhanger and wished there had been a tiny teaser about what was to come (if there will be a sequel that is!) but I absolutely raced through the last couple of chapters before bed one night and struggled to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about it!

I’ll definitely be running straight to Waterstones next time Amy publishes something new as I find her writing style super digestible and her characters really well built out.

Rating: 5/5
Would you recommend it? Yes!

Lareese’s Review

Admittedly, I’m not an avid reader of the murder mystery/thriller genre but I’ve got to hand it to Amy, Breathless sucked me in and spat me out just like the very mountain it was based upon, serving as a reminder that good things can come from stepping out of your reading comfort zone once in a while. It features a fantastic cast of fully realised characters that get under your skin and cloud your judgement throughout. As the protagonist, Cecily Wong, continually questions who can be trusted and who can’t, the reader makes a similarly precarious summit alongside her.

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The setting is the perfect killing ground for a thriller novel, with the mountain playing just as much of a role in this story as the rest of the characters. One minute it’s a stunning Instagram-worthy setting, the next it’s the ideal place for a murderer to hide. Amy’s mountaineering knowledge and personal experience absolutely shines through, giving the story a terrifying dose of realism and authenticity without getting in the way of the story. I knew nothing about mountaineering life before Breathless and really enjoyed learning about how they push their bodies to their limits in the acclimatisation processes and how much they have to prepare themselves for danger.

In true McCulloch style, Breathless ends on a cliff-hanger which I only hope means she is clipping into the safety lines as we speak and making her next adult fiction move… here’s hoping!

Rating: 4/5
Would you recommend it? Yes – ‘Be Bothered’ by Breathless.

Darcey’s Review

Thrillers are right up my street so I was excited to get stuck into Amy’s newest book! Having read The Magpie Society, I was aware of Amy’s writing techniques and a fan of them too, but this being her first novel out of the YA realm, I was intrigued to see what that would be like!

Amy did a great job at describing mountaineering techniques, especially for someone like me who has not a clue about that world, it really benefited the read having some level of understanding of what they were facing. The setting of the book is really quite breathtaking, you can imagine the incredible views whilst climbing, but it sets a scary and ominous scene too which gave me literal goosebumps at times.

It’s a thriller and ‘whodunnit’ read, I was engrossed throughout, with strange deaths which seemed unexplained, you knew something much darker was happening! The characters really make this book, there are a lot of crew members in this climb so you might find it takes some time to remember all their names, but it really does play such an integral part.

That cliffhanger too!! I felt breathless knowing I couldn’t find out more …

Rating: 4/5
Would you recommend it?: Yes!

Danielle’s Review

SO, I actually really enjoy the extreme sport/climbing space, I adored the documentary Free Solo ( Alex Honnold on his quest to perform a free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park) and as soon as 14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible came on Netflix I sat down to watch it. The docu follows Nepalese mountaineer Nirmal Purja and his team as they attempt to climb all 14 eight-thousander peaks within a record time of under 7 months. Not 3 days later I was watching Amy’s IG story and realised she had actually ascended one of the mountains with him and had also written a new fiction inspired by mountain climbing so it was definitely one of those “when two of my worlds collide” moments and I couldn’t wait to tuck into breathless.

The novel itself DID not disappoint and is the absolute epitome of the phrase page-turner. Journalist Cecily Wong made such a great character to follow through this thrilling pursuit with climber Charles, and Amy’s descriptions of the icy crevices and situations the climbers find themselves in we’re so emotive, my hands were sweating just reading them! This survival story was so gripping, I kept switching between characters I thought were suspects or guilty and I couldn’t wait to find out more. For anyone who thinks the subject matter might not intrigue them the murder mystery definitely will!

Rating: 5/5
Would you recommend it? I’ve already given it to my sister to read!