Monday, 25 July 2016

Book Review: MY HUSBAND'S SON by Deborah O'Connor


My Husband's Son



Title:
 My Husband's Son
Author: Deborah O'Connor
Publisher: Twenty7
Read: July 2016



Synopsis (Goodreads):

You'd always recognise your own son. Wouldn't you?

Heidi and Jason aren't like other couples.

Six years ago, Heidi's daughter was murdered. A year later, Jason's son Barney disappeared. Their shared loss brought them together.

By chance, Heidi meets a boy she's certain is Barney.

But Jason is equally convinced it's not him.

Is Heidi mad? Or is Jason hiding something? And can their fragile marriage survive Heidi's newfound quest for the truth . . .


My thoughts:


Heidi and Jason may appear like an ordinary married couple to outsiders, but those close to them know that they have an unusual bond – they met in a support group for grieving parents after having had their children abducted by strangers. Whilst Heidi knows that her daughter is dead, having been raped and murdered by the man who took her, Jason still has hope that his son Barney will be found alive. Time and time again he has had his hopes dashed, as children believed to be Barney have turned out to be strangers. One day Heidi spots a boy she is convinced looks like the computer-generated image of Barney, who would be 8 years old by now, in a liquor store on the wrong side of town. However, after reluctantly agreeing to have a brief look at the child, Jason is sure that the boy is not his son and refuses to investigate any further. But in her heart Heidi knows that the boy is Barney, and she is determined to bring him home ....


I was thoroughly intrigued by the premise explored in My Husband’s Son – would it be possible that a marriage of two people who have lost the very thing they treasure most of all – their children – could ever succeed? Would they find comfort in each other’s grief, or would this ultimately destroy them? Especially when Heidi, who knows that she will never have the chance to take her daughter into her arms again, encounters Jason’s resistance to consider that the child she saw could be Barney. Would she be angry and resentful? Or would it make her more determined? Unfortunately I felt that I was never fully allowed to explore Heidi and Jason’s deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings. Despite, or maybe because of, such an emotionally charged issue, the author may have shied away from delving too deeply into the darker emotions her characters may have felt,  which is a pity, as it would have given the story a lot more depth for me.  I kind of understood the reasons for their actions, but I would have loved to be allowed to truly feel them in all their gory details. Especially when Jason claims that a parent would always instinctively recognise their child, no matter how many years would have passed. How does Heidi feel about that, when she is so convinced that he is wrong? And why would a woman who has suffered so much already ever allow herself to get entangled with an unsavoury character like Tommy? What I am trying to say is that the characters seem to hold the reader at arms’ length, which was frustrating – as we witness the slow unravelling of Heidi’s life, she still appears distant and aloof and I so wanted to be allowed to look into her head and to feel her anger, her grief, her obsession with making this right. This may also have explained the twist at the end, which will shock and surprise many readers, as it is no doubt intended to. I thought it was somehow a fitting end to the story, even if many will disagree. All in all an intriguing if not totally satisfying read. Pick it up and judge for yourself! 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Book Review: THE STEPMOTHER by Claire Seeber

The Stepmother


Title:
 The Stepmother
Author: Claire Seeber
Publisher: Bookouture
Read: July 2016


Synopsis (Goodreads):

The perfect wife. A fairytale family. Don’t believe your eyes…
Jeanie and Matthew are a happily married couple who both have teenage children from previous relationships.

No one said it would be easy to raise a blended family under one roof but Jeanie and Matthew are strong. They will make it work.

And whilst Jeanie’s step-daughter Scarlett rejects her, Jeanie will just have to try harder to win her over.

But Jeanie has a past. A terrible secret she thought she’d buried a long time ago. And now, it’s coming to the surface, threatening to destroy her new marriage.

Someone is playing a terrifying game on Jeanie and she must put a stop to it once and for all.

After all, a fairytale needs a happy ending … doesn’t it?


My thoughts:


When Jeanie marries Matthew and moves into his grand old country mansion, she hopes that he will be her salvation, her chance to give her son Frankie a better life and overcome a traumatic past – a past she has never told Matthew about because the right moment never seems to present itself. But it soon becomes evident that married life brings its own pitfalls. Matthews’s children, especially his daughter Scarlett, seem to be rejecting his new wife, and an anonymous email is threatening not only to rob Jeanie of any chance of getting a job in her new hometown, but also to alert Matthew of secrets in her past she would rather keep hidden. On top of that, strange things are happening in the old house, until Jeanie is worried she is losing her mind. In her desperation, Jeanie turns to her sister Marlena – will she be able to get her out of this latest predicament and help her safe her marriage?

The Stepmother is written partly in the form of a diary-style narration in Jeanie’s voice, and I admit that I found it difficult to get into the story, frustrated about Jeanie’s half-truths and omissions, which in the end form part of the plot and make more sense (but which I initially found very frustrating). As a main protagonist, I found Jeanie somewhat naive and “simple”, her dream of a fairy tale life stopping her from fully engaging in her relationship with Matthew. Matthew, on the other hand, has plenty of his own flaws, treating Jeanie somewhat like his housekeeper and taking his children’s side in any confrontation, which never bodes well for a relationship. To put it mildly, I intensely disliked the guy! However, as the story unfolded, some of the half-stories Jeanie tells became more and more intriguing, and I found myself being drawn into the mystery. Instead of finding her Prince Charming, Jeanie is being caught up in a nightmarish mixture of Cinderalla meets Bluebeard’s Wives. Creepy things are happening in the house, and someone is spreading evil rumours. Who is trying to harm Jeanie and mess with her head?

Marlena, Jeanie’s sister, is a separate, neutral voice, trying to make sense of the events in the story, and I wished that more of the book could have been told by her – I found her character much more intriguing than Jeanie’s, and although never fully developed in the novel, it held a lot of potential. Which is probably the reason I enjoyed the later part of the book more than the beginning. Even though lots of hints and red herrings are being dropped in the earlier part of the book, some strands never fully tied up for me in the end, which was disappointing. Did I miss something here? I also found that the conclusion was revealed in a very sudden fashion, instead of letting the reader discover it gradually, which would have put the book higher on the spectrum of mystery / suspense for me. As it was, I found the story a quick, pleasant read, but it lacked that certain wow-factor that would have put it on my list of great reads.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.



Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Book Review: BLAME by Nicole Trope


Blame


Title:
Blame
Author: Nicole Trope
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Read: July 2016
Expected publication: 22 June 2016



Synopsis (Goodreads):

'I am here because they suspect me of something. I am here because I am a suspect. I know that, she knows that. Everyone knows that.' Anna

'It wasn't my fault. None of this is my fault!' Caro

Caro and Anna are best friends... they were best friends. Over a decade, Caro and Anna have bonded while raising their daughters, two little girls the same age but living two very different lives. The women have supported each other as they have shared the joys and trials of motherhood, but now everything has changed.

There's been a terrible car accident, an unimaginable tragedy that leaves both families devastated. Over two days as Caro and Anna each detail their own versions of events, they are forced to reveal hidden truths and closely guarded secrets.

The complicated lives of wives and mothers are laid bare as both women come to realise that even best friends don't tell each other everything. And when hearts are broken, even best friends need someone to blame.

A hard- hitting, provocative and gripping read from the queen of white-knuckle suspense and searing family drama. 


My thoughts:



Since meeting at the child health clinic when their daughters were babies, Anna and Caro have been best friends, supporting each other through the tough times. Caro has watched Anna struggle to manage the ever growing needs of her autistic daughter Maya, whilst Anna has noticed Caro turning to the comforts of alcohol after her multiple miscarriages and the stillbirth of her son at eight months. They have laughed and cried together, watched each other’s children, poured out their deepest fears and secrets. Until Maya is killed in a terrible accident, tearing the friendship apart.

Blame tells the story of the two women in the form of flashbacks as they are being interviewed by police investigating the events leading up to Maya’s death. It is a credit to the author that the story flows seamlessly despite changing from present to past and covering different time frames as both Caro and Anna recount their pasts, from the very beginning of their friendship to the bitter end. As the story unfolds and different details of both women’s lives are unveiled, the reader is being torn between sympathy and doubt as the women reveal some of their deepest secrets and the events surrounding Maya’s death are being cast in a different light. Who really is to blame? The more we find out about each woman, the more we doubt that the accident was as straight forward as originally believed. As Trope shines the spotlight on a characters, the shadows also appear. Very well done!

I cannot begin to imagine what Anna’s life with Maya must have been like, and yet felt closer to Caro, who wore her heart on her sleeve and shared her emotions freely with the reader. Both women appeared genuine and rounded, each with their own unique personality, which made the story extremely readable and addictive and emotionally gripping. I could not put the book down! Whilst it is slow moving in the recounting of events, the power of the story lies in its emotional charge rather than the action, and presents a real rollercoaster ride of emotions for the reader. Trying to put myself in either woman’s place was sheer horror and the author conveys this feeling well, a no-win situation where their backs are against the wall and the only way out is to blame the other for the child’s death. Hidden in the pages, but no less interesting, are the dynamics of both women’s marriages, and there are also some surprises in store here – but to go into detail would spoil the fun, so I won’t give any more away here. I thoroughly enjoyed Blame and read it greedily in one go. You won’t regret picking it up!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.



Sunday, 10 July 2016

Book Review: THE SISTER by Louise Jensen


The Sister



Title: The Sister
Author: Louise Jensen
Publisher: Bookouture
Read: July 2016


Synopsis (Goodreads):

Grace hasn't been the same since the death of her best friend Charlie. She is haunted by Charlie's words, the last time she saw her, and in a bid for answers, opens an old memory box of Charlie's. It soon becomes clear there was a lot she didn't know about her best friend.

When Grace starts a campaign to find Charlie's father, Anna, a girl claiming to be Charlie's sister steps forward. For Grace, finding Anna is like finding a new family, and soon Anna has made herself very comfortable in Grace and boyfriend Dan's home.

But something isn't right. Things disappear, Dan's acting strangely and Grace is sure that someone is following her. Is it all in Grace's mind? Or as she gets closer to discovering the truth about both Charlie and Anna, is Grace in terrible danger?

There was nothing she could have done to save Charlie ...or was there?


My thoughts:



At a young age, Grace has already had to deal with a lot of grief and loss, and the guilt that comes with it. After the sudden death of her father at the age of 9 and her forced move out of the family home into the care of her grandparents, it was the friendship with Charlie that sustained her and gave her the sister she never had. But now Charlie is dead, too, and Grace feels more alone than ever. Her marriage to Dan is struggling under the weight of her grief and they have become like strangers living under the same roof. Until one day a stranger appears on her doorstep, claiming to be Charlie’s half-sister. Can Anna fill the void Charlie has left in Grace’s heart? It is not until things start going wrong in Grace’s life that she has to face up to Dan’s claim that there is more to Anna than meets the eye ....

A clever debut novel, even if the reader will work out what is going on much sooner than Grace does, which makes for a bit of frustration which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as we want to shake Grace and yell at her to finally see what is there right in front of her. I enjoyed the character of Grace and found her naiveté in the face of past trauma and guilt believable if sometimes a bit frustrating. She makes the perfect protagonist for a psychological thriller in which people play games with one another, simply because she is so blinded by her past and so needy for love that her slow descent into the traps spun by those around her is inevitable. Since the author freely shares all of Grace’s feelings, anxieties and deep-rooted fears, it is easy to relate those to her actions. There were a few threads which didn’t quite add up for me, and at times the pace was a bit slow, but otherwise I enjoyed the journey.


The story is told in a dual time frame, switching back and forth from Grace’s past (“Then”) to the present (“Now”) and opening with the intriguing scene of Grace digging for the memory box her best friend Charlie buried as a child, making Grace promise not to look until they are both adults. It is not until very much later in the book that we learn what has happened to Charlie, and I enjoyed the slow unravelling of the mystery. However, the downside of this format is that the “Then” chapters can dilute the tension building in the “Now” sections and slow down the action, which was a bit of an issue here, as there was a lot of reflecting and re-telling of Grace’s childhood, some of which could have been edited out without losing any of the necessary information. Also, the final reveal of the secrets inside the memory box turned out to be a bit of a let-down for me, and I think there was a lot more potential for that part of the story to grab the reader’s attention and throw a real curveball into the mix. In saying that, the ending certainly had that crucial element of surprise which put a new light on events in the novel. All in all I enjoyed the story and  look forward to reading more from this author in future.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Book Review: SIRACUSA by Delia Ephron


Siracusa



Title: Siracusa
Author: Delia Ephron
Publisher: Penguin Group
Read: July 2016
Expected publication: 12 July 2016



Synopsis (Goodreads):

An electrifying novel about marriage and deceit from bestselling author Delia Ephron that follows two couples on vacation in Siracusa, a town on the coast of Sicily, where the secrets they have hidden from each other are exposed and relationships are unraveled.

New Yorkers Michael, a famous writer, and Lizzie, a journalist, travel to Italy with their friends from Maine—Finn, his wife Taylor, and their daughter Snow. “From the beginning,” says Taylor, “it was a conspiracy for Lizzie and Finn to be together.” Told Rashomon-style in alternating points of view, the characters expose and stumble upon lies and infidelities past and present. Snow, ten years old and precociously drawn into a far more adult drama, becomes the catalyst for catastrophe as the novel explores collusion and betrayal in marriage.

With her inimitable psychological astuteness, and uncanny understanding of the human heart, Ephron delivers a powerful meditation on marriage, friendship, and the meaning of travel. Set on the sun-drenched coast of the Ionian Sea, Siracusaunfolds with the pacing of a psychological thriller and delivers an unexpected final act that none can see coming. 

My thoughts:


Siracusa, a lovely historic seaside town in Sicily, forms the backdrop of this novel, but this is where the beauty ends because the five  characters we are about to meet are anything other than lovely. Two couples have decided to holiday together – Michael is married to Lizzie, and Finn is married to Taylor, but none of them seems happy in their relationship. Neither does Finn and Taylor’s 10-year-old daughter Snow, who appears deeply disturbed and somewhat odd, and very much under Taylor’s wings. As the couples discover how much they dislike each other and their spouses, another person comes into the picture – a person who will shake up their less than idyllic seaside holiday, which ultimately can only end in tragedy.

What a field day any marriage counsellor would have with this lot! How these people are still married is beyond me – there is plenty of lying and cheating and hatefulness between the spouses, and if that wasn’t enough, the two couples don’t even like their friends that much either. Except Finn and Lizzie, who used to be a couple a long time ago and are still good mates, much to the chagrin of their partners. It is obvious from the start that this cannot end well and that there will be plenty of friction, even without the one big skeleton in the closet one of the characters brings into the mix. And then there is Snow, who frankly is plain weird, and in need of some serious therapy herself. Ugh, what a mix of dysfunctional people the author has created here! Which makes for strangely compelling reading, even though none of them is likeable – except perhaps Lizzie, who seems to be the only one trying to make the holiday work and rekindle the spark in her marriage to Michael. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I was compelled to read on to the nasty finale – because let’s face it, it could only end in tragedy -  so kudos to the author for keeping the reader hooked despite her characters’ many flaws.


I cannot claim that I liked this book very much, but I admired the author’s skill in creating these flawed characters and skilfully exploring the dynamics that develop between them whilst maintaining a constant undercurrent of tension and menace. Told in the voices of the four adults, events slowly unfold from different perspectives, making this an interesting if not always pleasant read. Interesting, yes. Enjoyable? I’m not sure. But it had me hooked nonetheless. 

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Book Review: BEFORE THE FALL by Noah Hawley


Before the Fall



Title:
Before the Fall
Author: Noah Hawley
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Read: June 2016



Synopsis (Goodreads):

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together.


My thoughts:



A plane crashes between Martha’s Vineyard and New York with 11 people on board, killing all passengers and crew except Scott Burroughs, an ex-alcoholic artist, who manages to swim for hours through shark infested waters carrying the only other survivor, 4 year-old JJ, son of the rich couple who originally chartered the plane. In the aftermath of the disaster, whilst authorities are investigating the cause of the crash, reclusive Scott comes under the cross-fire of a high-profile journalist, who questions the reason Scott was on the plane in the first place. Is he a hero who has saved a young boy’s life, or is he somehow involved in the cause of the crash? In the current climate of terrorism and in the view of the other passengers’ wealth and position, there is no limit as to how far the press will go in speculating about Scott’s involvement in the disaster. Villain or hero? Friend or foe? Scott realises that no good deed stays unpunished, and that he has long lost his right to privacy and fair play.

Before the Fall was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Initially drawn in by the character of Scott and the events of the crash and his subsequent fight for survival, I found some of the chapters exploring the lives of the less-enigmatic and somewhat clich̩d group of passengers much less compelling. However, I found Scott Burroughs to be a brilliant character with just the right mix of flaws, a troubled mysterious past and a personality torn by internal conflict Рso when the focus returned to him I was instantly hooked again.

As the author slowly unveils each of the passengers’ and crew’s lives leading up to the crash, the reader is left wondering as to what actually happened that fateful day. Was one of the passengers a terrorist target? Or was it a technology problem? Since plane crashes seem to be one of the things feared by most people (as are shark attacks, thus the breath taking moment when Scott encounters one on his epic swim), the hackles rise as the author evokes the final scenes of the fateful flight. I especially loved the way the author describes the aftermath of the crash, as Scott, the reluctant hero, is being mercilessly hounded by the press, losing all rights for privacy and a fair hearing to the point of having to go into hiding to escape the endless speculations about his involvement. I found this part of the book shocking and eye opening, how much power of the media has to influence people’s perceptions and twist facts to suit their purpose. This was brilliantly executed by the author, and made the whole read worthwhile – I was fully in Scott’s court, and eagerly read on to find out the explanation to the mystery.


All in all, After the Fall was a worthwhile read for me, despite the initial slow start. However, I would not call it a thriller, more of a slowly unravelling mystery, and if you are looking for a fast-paced roller-coaster ride, this is probably not the right book for you. But whilst some readers seem to resent the ending, I thought it was not implausible and it worked for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.