Thursday, 12 October 2017

Audiobook Review: THE SILENT WIFE by Kerry Fisher

Author: Kerry Fisher
Narrator:
Emma Spurgin-Hussey
Read:
September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Lara’s life looks perfect on the surface. Gorgeous doting husband Massimo, sweet little son Sandro and the perfect home. Lara knows something about Massimo. Something she can’t tell anyone else or everything Massimo has worked so hard for will be destroyed: his job, their reputation, their son. This secret is keeping Lara a prisoner in her marriage.

Maggie is married to Massimo’s brother Nico and lives with him and her troubled stepdaughter. She knows all of Nico’s darkest secrets – or so she thinks. The one day she discovers a letter in the attic which reveals a shocking secret about Nico’s first wife Caitlin. Will Maggie set the record straight or keep silent to protect those she loves?

For a family held together by lies, the truth will come at a devastating price. 

My musings:

I accidentally stumbled across The Silent Wife when browsing Amazon’s monthly deals, and ordered it on Audible for my upcoming holiday. It turned out to be one of those random purchases which worked in my favour, as the story and characters soon drew me in.

This is a slow burning drama, focusing on family and husband-wife relationships, and there were a few intriguing dynamics being explored here. Since I was the same age as Francesca when my mother died and my father married again, I could draw quite a few parallels between our lives, and it was interesting to get a different perspective. Fisher’s writing is lively and evocative, capturing my attention from the very first page. I especially liked Maggie’s tongue-in-cheek voice, which provided a few laugh-out-loud moments, but also some reflection points. Some of her observations about her step-family were hilarious as she doesn’t hold back! Lara, the other narrator, provided a good contrast and it was refreshing to see this character change as the story went along.

There are many different  themes being explored through the eyes of these two very different women: death, remarriage, domestic violence, and cultural differences are just a few issues that drove the storyline. The Farinelli family truly were a force to be reckoned with, and I found myself gnashing my teeth in frustration a few times. The story did flag a little bit for me in the later half and perhaps needed a bit more action or a twist to move it along. Luckily I was listening to that part of the book on a train and found it entertaining enough to provide a narrative to the landscape flashing by. Had I read it in print it may not have been enough to keep me interested right until the end as the resolution was fairly predictable for me. I’m not sure what happened to the promised “twist that will take your breath away” because I thought it all worked out a bit too neatly –something unexpected would have made it more memorable.


Summary:

All in all, The Silent Wife was a light, enjoyable book for me whilst providing some food for thought with the themes it explored – a perfect holiday read. 



Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Book Review: THE ROMA PLOT by Mario Bolduc

Author: Mario Bolduc
Publisher:
Dundurn
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 21 November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Max O’Brien may be a professional con man, but that doesn’t mean you can’t count on him in a bind. So when he hears that his old friend Kevin Dandurand is a wanted man over a seemingly racially motivated killing spree, he heads to Bucharest to try to make sense of what looks like an impossible situation.

The buried truths he uncovers reach back to the Second World War, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, and an entanglement between a Roma man and a German woman whose echoes pursue O’Brien and Dandurand into the present day. But if they can’t escape the long shadows of the past, the two will find their present cut all too short.

My musings:

I am a bit of a sucker when it comes to books about WWII, and was instantly intrigued by the premise of The Roma Plot. I admit I know very little about the fate of the Roma, except that, like other ethnic minorities, they had been ruthlessly persecuted during Hitler’s regimen in the name of clearing the country of everyone but the championed “Aryan” race. Bolduc’s knowledge of the issue is astonishing, and he has obviously done a lot of research into the subject matter, which he clearly feels passionate about. It was interesting to learn more about Roma culture and their ongoing struggles to be accepted as a people, and their fate during WWII – Emil’s life was simply heartbreaking! Needless to say that I found the chapters about Emil and his life the most interesting and captivating, and I admit that the modern day part of the book took a bit of a backward step for me.

In The Roma Plot, Bolduc delivers a multi-layered, very intricate plot with a true historical background and some famous historical characters interspersed with fictional ones. I must admit that whilst I found the history fascinating, the book was at times a bit too political for me, and I found it difficult to keep track of the multiple characters who come and go between the chapters. Some characters even changed their names and identities throughout the story, which presented an even tougher challenge. This was not a book you could easily put down and pick up again. I often found myself flicking back and forth in confusion: “And who is this again?”

The story plays our over several different time frames, with one thread set during WWII and the other starting in the present time. But as Max is reminiscing about the origins of his friendship with Kevin, his story also contains elements from the past few years, skipping back and forth over events that have brought him to his current predicament. Whilst Emil’s chapters are clearly labelled as being in the past, I found myself struggling a few times to work out the timings in the “present”.

I found Max to be an intriguing and interesting character, who makes for a refreshingly different protagonist. Being a con-man he certainly stands out from your average detective, and got himself into some unusual situations. I initially found it a bit hard to get into his head, which may have something to do with the book being the second in a series. Since Emil makes his first appearance here, I had no trouble identifying with his character and feeling his pain as his life unfolded in a series of tragedies and struggles.


Summary:

In summary, The Roma Plot was a bit of a mixed bag for me. On one hand I loved the historical content and appreciated the rich background information the author provided. On the other hand I felt that I may not be the right audience for this book, as I found it a bit too political and involved at times. I am sure it will appeal to readers who love spy fiction and books set against the backdrop of political events, and who can fully appreciate the intricate, multi-layered plot.


Thank you to Netgalley and Dundurn for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.
  


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Audiobook Review: FRIEND REQUEST by Laura Marshall

Author: Laura Marshall
Narrator:
Elaine Claxton
Read:
September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren't. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends.

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria's sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she'd severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there's more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what's known to Maria--or whoever's pretending to be her--is known to all.

My musings:

With social media playing such a big part in our lives these days, I was intrigued to read a book that had its plot based on the hidden dangers of airing our lives on the web for everyone to see – and there were times when I felt like deleting my facebook account and going undercover! Luckily I have no big dark secrets like Louise (or even if I did I wouldn’t tell – lol), so being stalked by some long dead friend from high school should hopefully not be a problem. Or maybe there is a reason I moved to the other side of the world? Without giving too much away, the story revolves around our main protagonist Louise, who receives a facebook request from an old friend from high school, who she believes to have died as a result of events involving Louise and her friends. Quite terrifying, really. But instead of tightening her privacy settings and running for the hills, she accepts the request, and even plans to go to an upcoming school reunion. Things quickly go south from here, and soon Louise is convinced that she is in danger.

I loved how Marshall incorporates details from our everyday lives into her story that could potentially have devastating effects. I have seen plenty of people air all their dirty laundry on facebook and give away details that could make them prey to some twisted mind. Even though Louise at times struck me as a bit naive and not overly proactive in trying to protect herself, I guess that this would reflect a good percentage of the population – as opposed to those who shy away from social media all together, believing that big brother is watching them ....

Reading Friend Request was like a ticket on the nostalgia train straight back to my high school days, which made me shudder. I was never one of the cool crowd, only surviving with all my limbs intact by letting the worst bullies copy my maths homework on a regular basis (if you’re a nerd, you have to make it work for you). Everyone has a Sophie Hannigan and her crowd in their class at one time or another, and I had vivid flashbacks to our own group of cool girls, who regularly made other kids’ lives pure hell. And to make matters worse, as a mother I had to witness both of my children experience similar bullying. So whilst this made me resent Louise for playing her part in tormenting other girls, I could also see her as a victim of circumstance, which was a balance well played by the author.

For me, the book started out really strong and had me totally captivated. My only letdown was the end. I know that endings work for some readers and not for others and there is never a solution that will please everyone, but I thought that with all the unlimited possibilities to create an ending to really stand out from the fray, the resolution to the mystery was a bit of a cop-out for me. After all that building tension and nail-biting suspense, I felt slightly cheated – I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but some of the threads did not come together for me and some of the motives seemed a bit far fetched. Which was a real shame, as I had imagined the ending to be some wild and wonderful conspiracy theory that would take my breath away.

Anyway, enough said. Overall, this was a contemporary mystery with many interesting premises that kept me interested until the very end, and I recommend it to anyone who has a facebook, twitter, instagram or other social media account. I bet you will look at your privacy settings a bit more closely after reading this!
  



Monday, 9 October 2017

Book Review: THE CHILD FINDER by Rene Denfeld

Author: Rene Denfeld
Publisher:
Orion Publishing Group
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 11 January 2018
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Those who are loved are never lost.

Book Description (Goodreads):

Three years ago, Madison Culver disappeared when her family was choosing a Christmas tree in Oregon’s Skookum National Forest. She would be eight years old now—if she has survived. Desperate to find their beloved daughter, certain someone took her, the Culvers turn to Naomi, a private investigator with an uncanny talent for locating the lost and missing. Known to the police and a select group of parents as The Child Finder, Naomi is their last hope.

Naomi’s methodical search takes her deep into the icy, mysterious forest in the Pacific Northwest, and into her own fragmented past. She understands children like Madison because once upon a time, she was a lost girl too.

As Naomi relentlessly pursues and slowly uncovers the truth behind Madison’s disappearance, shards of a dark dream pierce the defenses that have protected her, reminding her of a terrible loss she feels but cannot remember. If she finds Madison, will Naomi ultimately unlock the secrets of her own life?

My musings:

It’s always a special moment when I stumble across a book that’s just perfect for me in every way, containing all the elements I look for in a good thriller: a gutsy, interesting and enigmatic main protagonist with a cast of intriguing supporting characters – tick! An atmospheric, claustrophobic setting with a wonderful armchair travel component – tick! Plenty of mystery and suspense – tick! And, as an added bonus, a mystical element that adds to the intrigue and lends a dreamlike quality to some of the scenes – tick, tick, tick.

I don’t give out my five-star ratings easily, but the Child Finder was without doubt one of the best books I have read all year. From the very first page, Denfeld captured my full attention and drew me so deeply into the storyline that I only surfaced – slightly dazed and confused – for absolutely necessary tasks such as food, drink and toilet breaks, and then only reluctantly. Denfeld’s writing is beautiful, evocative and descriptive in ways that the story played out in my mind in vivid technicolour glory, to a point where I felt like an invisible spectator amongst the characters, witnessing events as they unfolded.

Naomi is a wonderful main protagonist – with her mysterious past that has shaped her personality and is fuelling her obsession, she not only got my interest but also tugged at my heartstrings. Thinking back, I realise that this was one of the rare books where there wasn’t a singly truly despicable, unlikeable character featuring in the story, despite some very dark and disturbing elements being explored here. With the current trend of featuring casts of unlikeable characters in mysteries, I welcomed the opportunity to get to know a heroine I actually liked and admired, to a point where I hope to see her back in future books to be able to follow her journey a bit longer. Showing perfect insight into the human psyche, Denfeld created a rich cast of intriguing characters, lending even the most disturbed ones a background that inspires compassion and understanding rather than disgust, as only very few books dealing with similar themes can. I loved the way Denfeld wrapped her most disturbing scenes in layers of magical realism, bringing her message across in a non-confrontational manner and highlighting the human survival instinct and ability to mask trauma with dissociation from one’s experiences – in this instance in a child’s ability to identify herself as a character out of one of her fairy tales. The story, with all its darkness, brought with it a prevailing sense of hope for me. I think that the power of the story lies in exactly this element – one becomes so emotionally engrossed in the book that its message burrows its way right into the heart of the reader. 

Summary:

To cut a long review short, and without giving anything away, The Child Finder is a wonderful book that easily made it onto my list of favourite reads for 2017. I am definitely going to get a copy of the author’s first book, and am hoping for many more to come. If you are a lover of the genre or are simply looking for a book to get lost in, you can’t go wrong with this one. Very highly recommended. 


Thank you to Netgalley and Orion Publishing Group for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review. I loved it!

Image result for 5 stars


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Sunday Confessional: SEPTEMBER SOJOURNS (or the travelling book blogger fail)

I am back from three weeks of road tripping through Spain and Portugal, which was a great little adventure, even though I did not get nearly as much reading done as I had planned. Too busy! 

Initially, I was too tired after night shifts to read on the plane, watching 10 episodes of The Black Lake (a terrifying Scandinavian crime series) instead in between regular naps during our whopping 18 hours of flying time. The train and car rides in Spain and along the Portuguese coast were way too scenic to have my nose buried in a book, and my husband complained that I wasn’t much company when I had my earphones in listening to an audiobook when he felt like talking – especially as I was chief navigator next to Manuela, our tireless GPS guide, who kept sending us down wrong roundabout exits and calling for death defying u-turns in city traffic. Evenings saw me collapse exhausted after walking up and down hilly, cobblestoned streets all day, and my eyes grew heavy after a few pages. However, I did read a little bit, and even found another five-star mystery to go onto my list of favourite reads for 2017. My Netgalley ratio reached 80% at one point (which it hasn’t been for a long, long time due to my greedy requesting), so all was not lost.

As for blogging – well, a bit of a train wreck on that front I’m afraid. Even though I pictured myself tirelessly typing my reviews in seedy little hotel rooms like an intrepid war correspondent of the 60’s, in reality I was painfully battling autocorrect and bad wifi signals, and cursing my fat fingers as I stabbed away in the semi dark on my Samsung S5. Maybe I am not dedicated enough, but after three mini reviews that took me hours of cursing technology and feeling like crushing my little phone under my hiking boots, I decided that the wandering blogger just wasn’t going to be me. I am hoping to catch up on my reviews now that I have my computer back.

Sooooo – to the holiday wrap-up:

Books read: 6

The Roma Plot: A Max O'Brie... The Winter People Then She Was Gone Exquisite The Silent Wife The Child Finder 



Famous book shops visited: 2

Livraria Lello, Oporto, Portugal:
This apparently is the place that inspired J.K. Rowling when writing Harry Potter. It surely had something magical about it, and I don’t mean simply the ability to disappear like 12 Grimmauld Place – I swear we walked past it at least 3 times and it wasn’t there! So after trudging around Porto for hours (and this is one hilly city!) with DT (“dumb tourist”) tattooed on our foreheads and trying to ask for directions when our knowledge of the Portuguese language consisted of exactly 2 words between us, we finally found it at the exact moment when I was ready to give up and admit defeat. It was worth the painful calves though, as it is every bit as beautiful as described in travel blogs, despite the sizeable crowds lining up outside and the 4-euro entry fee.



Igreja de São Tiago, Obidos, Portugal:


This charming bookstore was quite a surprise, located in an old church in the historical walled town of Obidos that goes back to 1186 – so much history there! Apparently the church had fallen into disrepair and was transformed into a bookshop as part of a growing literary movement in the town. I loved this charming place, which still exuded an aura of peace and calm, totally lacking the crowds of the Livraria Lello, making it a pleasure to browse and simply enjoy the history of the place. If you are ever in the area, this town is well worth a visit and was a highlight of our trip.







Book Fairy activity: 2 

After much soul searching, inner turmoil and debate, the eeny-meeny-mo approach and room left in my suitcase decided which physical books made it into my suitcase in the end:
Exquisite The Winter People The Nightingale
I read two of those, taking great delight in leaving them as book fairy gifts in two very lovely locations we passed through along the way: one in Vigo, Spain; the other in Nazare, Portugal (being claimed by Atlantic mist here in the picture).

 


If you haven't heard of the book fairies yet, make sure to check them out here: LINK


Now, after 48 hours of planes, trains and automobiles we made it back home to our lovely little piece of heaven, with three more days off to recuperate before going back to work. I have already requested several more books on NG in anticipation of getting some reading done over the next few days, which dropped my ratio down to 78% again– just can’t help myself! 


Currently reading:

Little Fires Everywhere

Which is off to a great start!


In summary – I may be a failure as a travelling book blogger, but my love for both travel and books remains strong. Watch this space as I try to catch up on reviews ....