Monday, 19 March 2018

Book Review: BRING ME BACK by B. A. Paris

Title: Bring Me Back
Author: B.A. Paris
Publisher: Harlequin Australia
Read: March 2018
Expected publication: 19 March 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟1/2

Book Description:

A young British couple are driving through France on holiday when they stop for gas. He runs in to pay, she stays in the car. When he returns her car door has been left open, but she's not inside. No one ever sees her again.

Ten years later he's engaged to be married; he's happy, and his past is only a tiny part his life now. Until he comes home from work and finds his new wife-to-be is sitting on their sofa. She's turning something over in her fingers, holding it up to the light. Something that would have no worth to anyone else, something only he and she would know about because his wife is the sister of his missing first love.

As more and more questions are raised, their marriage becomes strained. Has his first love somehow come back to him after all this time? Or is the person who took her playing games with his mind?

My musings:

I enjoyed B.A. Paris previous novel The Breakdown, so was a very happy chappie when a copy of her latest book, Bring Me Home, arrived in the mail – thank you Harlequin Australia! J

Warning – there may be tiny spoilers ahead, so read on at your own peril!

The premise sounds very intriguing and hints not only at secrets kept but also messy relationships, especially seeing that our main protagonist Finn is now engaged to Ellen, the sister of his previous girlfriend, who vanished into thin air twelve years ago. Weird, huh? It reminds me of a distant relative who kept marrying women with the same name as his first wife who died very tragically when they were expecting their first child – and each and every one of them ended up meeting a similar fate. But I digress .... Anyway, to me there just seemed to be something slightly askew with Finn that set all my creep alarms off, and he did little to endear himself along the way. To be honest, neither did Ellen, his soon-to-be wife, who appears quite bland and boring on the surface but who is also just a little bit – odd. Paris certainly knows how to create slightly askew characters, which instantly put me on high alert to be suspicious of everyone!

If you like psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators, who each have their own agenda, then this may be just the right story for you. I admit that despite falling into that category, I didn’t love the book as much as I had hoped. I am blaming it on my struggle with unlikeable characters, being one of those readers who needs someone to root for – I don’t mind flawed, or damaged, or seriously disturbed, as long as there is some redeeming feature that ignites a little spark of  empathy in my cold, cynical heart. And I admit that I didn’t find it here, as the ashes of my compassion failed to re-ignite. To be honest, I thought that Finn was a bit of a rude and know-it-all (pardon the Aussie slang) dickhead, acting like a moody teenage most of the time. How he had any friends left at all beats me, especially one as loyal as Harry. Ellen seemed boring and bland, so I struggle to recall anything she did or said. And Layla just sort of existed without really understanding what made her tick at all. In fact, I think the story would have worked better without her POV, as it gave away parts of the mystery that held my interest.

Whilst I normally love a glimpse into the dark and twisted corners of the human psyche, which Paris offers up so generously, I admit I struggled to comprehend what motivated these people to act the way they did most of the time. Despite Finn’s reminiscence of a great romance with the vanished Layla, and his professed love for her sister Ellen, who he is about to marry, I did not feel any chemistry between any of the characters and they seemed almost like strangers. However, these very dynamics may be the drawing card for other readers!

What I really did like was the idea of Russian dolls serving as messages, which was creepy! Even though I thought that the potential for a lot more menace and suspense was missed here. When one doll arrives in less than perfect condition, I thought: “Ooh! Things are heating up!”, but the thread didn’t develop any further from here, sadly. I think I needed a hook, a climax, an escalation of sorts to make up for my total lack of connection with any of the characters. The final reveal also failed to convince me for the very same reasons, though I can see its appeal to people who appreciate unusual plot twists and don’t lose sleep over loose threads.


To cut a long story short, and without giving any more away that may spoil things for other readers, I concede that my inability to connect with a main character marred my reading pleasure. However, other readers who don’t mind unlikeable characters or who are not hampered by the need for a spark of warm-and-fuzzy empathy, may find that this exploration of the dark and twisted corners of the human psyche works perfectly for them. If you normally like the genre, I suggest you give it a go and find out for yourself! 

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

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Book Review: SOMETIMES I LIE by Alice Feeney

Author: Alice Feeney
Read: March 2018
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2

People think that good and bad are opposites but they're wrong, they're just mirror images of one another in broken glass.

Book Description:

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie. 

Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it's the truth?

My musings:

WTH have I just read????? My mind is still reeling! I love it when a book messes with my mind, and this must be one of the darkest, twistiest thrillers I have ever read. I am still trying to work out what just happened here!

Amongst the vast number of books that are marketed as psychological thrillers, Sometimes I Lie certainly lives up to its claim. Amber, the narrator of the story, tells us right from the start that she doesn’t always tell the truth – and with that the stage is set. What can you believe and what is a lie? That is the big question throughout the entire book, and I was quite often wrong in my assumptions. I will not go into the plot at all, since this is a book you should dive into blindly with all seat belts firmly fastened, as you will be in for some turbulence!

It is hard to believe that this is Feeney’s debut novel, as she employs just about every plot device the genre has to offer, and she does this very well. The story unfolds in three timelines – the now, as Amber Reynolds lies in a coma, able to hear those around her but unable to move or talk; the days leading up to the accident that put her in hospital; and diary entries from fifteen years ago. It doesn’t help that Amber is also experiencing strange dreams in her coma, which further blur the line between reality and lies. The frustration Amber feels as she is trapped in her own body and unable to reach out to anyone was well portrayed, as was the feeling of claustrophobia and fear as she slowly remembers the events of “before”. However, of all the timelines, I found the diary the most chilling, and if you read the book you will find out why. It was a very dark and disturbing thread that had me covered in goosebumps many times. The undercurrent of menace is always there, at one point culminating in a situation that had me truly terrified for all the people involved. Enough said.

I started out listening to the audiobook, but once things heated up I switched to the print version as I absolutely could not tear myself away and had to find out what would happen – and I read a lot faster than the narrator. My husband is still slightly miffed that I locked myself away in the bedroom with a Do Not Disturb sign, refusing to talk to anyone until I had found out the answers. Answers I could never have predicted, by the way, so cleverly had the author laid her traps. In fact, there are still things I am not sure I interpreted right, and I am just itching to discuss them with someone. Utterly brilliant!


In summary: there are three things you should know about Sometimes I Lie:
1)      It is a dark and claustrophobic psychological thriller that firmly earns itself a place in the “twister hall of fame” for its many unpredictable twists that you will never be able to foresee.
2)      It is totally addictive and will have you firmly hooked, so make sure you have lots of time to spare when you start reading it.
3)      Don’t take anything for face value in this book, and don’t trust anyone!

Anyone looking for a true psychological thriller that messes with your mind – this is it, folks!

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Book Review: OUR HOUSE by Louise Candlish

Title: Our House
Author: Louise Candlish
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (Australia)
Read: March 2018
Expected publication: 1 April 2018
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2

Book Description:

When Fiona Lawson comes home to find strangers moving into her house, she's sure there's been a mistake. She and her estranged husband, Bram, have a modern co-parenting arrangement: bird's nest custody, where each parent spends a few nights a week with their two sons at the prized family home to maintain stability for their children. But the system built to protect their family ends up putting them in terrible jeopardy. In a domino effect of crimes and misdemeanors, the nest comes tumbling down.

Now Bram has disappeared and so have Fiona's children. As events spiral well beyond her control, Fiona will discover just how many lies her husband was weaving and how little they truly knew each other. But Bram's not the only one with things to hide, and some secrets are best kept to oneself, safe as houses.

My musings:

My favourite genre is mystery / suspense, but it is getting harder and harder to find an original story that hasn’t been done before in varying shades of grey. So picture my excitement when I stumbled across the blurb of Our House on Netgalley, it sounded so intriguing! Imagine coming home from a weekend away to find that your home has been stripped of all your possessions and strangers are moving in, claiming that they have legitimately purchased the house. How is this possible? And who could have done it? This is the situation Fiona finds herself in when returning from a romantic getaway with a new boyfriend, leaving her ex-husband minding her house and her kids. Scary, huh?

If you think the premise sounds a bit outlandish, don’t worry, because Louise Candlish writes her story with such conviction and lays such a solid foundation that you will think twice about ever leaving your house again! I loved her writing style, which incorporates a “transcript” from a live true crime podcast (in which Fiona tells her side of the story) and a document in which Bram, her estranged husband, confesses his part in the events that unfold. Incorporating social media has become a popular feature in contemporary crime fiction, seeing how it plays such a big part in most of our lives, and Candlish uses this to its full potential. What ensues is a she said / he said type of story that is chilling and ingenious in equal measures.

Have you ever read a book in which one of the main characters makes one bad decision, and that little flutter of butterfly wings soon turns into a huge shitstorm of epic proportion that will alter everyone’s lives? I love those stories, even though at times they make me cringe in horror at the avalanche that is building momentum as you frantically turn the pages. Candlish proves that immense suspense can be built through putting her characters in everyday situations each and every one of us may find ourselves in during the course of our lives. Here we have a couple with small children, who try to work out their marriage problems amicably for the sake of their two sons. I marvelled at the concept of bird’s nest parenting, a shared custody arrangement of separated couples where parents take turns living in the family home where their children live 100% of the time. Sounds good in theory, and I can imagine that it is a good solution for the children involved (if it works). But is it really possible to pull it off successfully? This is a suspense novel, so of course things soon start to go wrong – and escalate with the speed of a runaway train headed for an abyss, building tension and dread as the story speeds along.

The most difficult thing in selling a contemporary mystery is often character development, and Candlish excels in that department, Although I am far from the suburban housewife Fiona is portrayed as, I could easily put myself in her shoes and constantly questioned myself how I would react. I felt her confusion and her pain, and marvelled at her constant optimism and trust in the most dire of circumstances. Even Bram, with the part he plays in the whole situation, was a likeable – if flawed – character, caught up in a terrible situation. Our House is one of those books that made me wonder why I had not discovered this author before, but feeling immensely glad that I now have.

Our House is a gripping, modern-day domestic-noir mystery built around a unique premise that had me totally enthralled from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though it cost me hours of sleep as I read deep into the night unable to put the book down. Highly recommended if you’re a lover of the genre or just looking for a cracking good read! 

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

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Book Review: THE GREAT ALONE by Kristin Hannah

Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin's Press & Macmillan
Read: March 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Book Description:

Alaska, 1974.

Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

My musings:

I am feeling so very torn writing this review. I loved the first ¾ of The Great Alone. No, I mean I really, really LOVED it! There is nothing better than armchair travel into a wild and remote place, and The Great Alone delivered that in spades. Hannah’s description of the harsh and yet beautiful Alaskan landscape created images so vivid that I could have mistaken them for real personal memories. I was living and breathing the story, and it totally sucked me in.

Hannah certainly knows how to wreak havoc with her readers’ emotions, and she proves this once again with her latest book. Telling a story of domestic violence and dysfunctional family dynamics through the eyes of a beautiful and smart thirteen-year-old was always going to upset your average reader, and the descriptions of Ernt Allbright’s violence evoked almost visceral emotions of anger and fear as he terrorised his poor family. I thought that she did a great job in portraying this man affected by PTSD, self-medicating with alcohol to overcome his demons, misunderstood by society in the era the book was set in. I have met men like him, and whilst I could not condone his actions, my heart went out to him for the damage that had been done to him by war. As the Alaskan winter approached, it was not only Leni who could foresee the problems that the dark and confinement would cause the Allbright family – the reader knows it, too. With the construction of the wall, tension built into such a powder-keg of impending doom that I couldn’t put the book down until I knew how this would play out. There was such great potential here for a nail-biting finale that I felt totally devastated and let down when the story took an about turn and turned into a mixture between a hallmark movie and a tea-time soapie.

Apart from the melodrama, which was spread on as thickly as vegemite on my husband’s toast, there was also the lack of research (or proof reading) that let the latter part of the book down. Let me put it this way: I know absolutely nothing about cars. If I was to write a story where one of the main plot lines hinged on car trouble, and wrote about my character accidentally loosening the screw on the carburettor belt, which made the piston head explode into flames and the breaks fail, it may sound credible to those members of the general public that share my mechanical incompetence genes. However, any mechanically adept reader would at this point most likely burst into laughter or develop chest pains! I felt like that with the medical details in this book, which probably slipped past a majority of readers, who took them for the fictional entertainment they were supposed to provide. But I am a nurse, and those mistakes really bugged me! No competent ICU nurse would ever leave her ventilated patient unsupervised in a darkened room for visitors to walk in and out willy-nilly – or “prop up” a patient in C-spine precautions into a sitting position. I lost a lot of respect for the story after that, or perhaps it was eyestrain from exacerbated eye-rolling at some other medical error that was committed for the sake of drama.

As if that was not enough, at this point the story descended into a YA romance / tearjerker that stood in stark contrast to the tense tale of survival and family drama I had so enjoyed earlier. WTH happened? Obviously, I am not the target audience here, as I avoid those melodramatic stories like the plague, being much too old and cynical for such tearjerker moments. I wanted to go back to the moment it all turned to mush, and follow through with the careful groundwork the author had laid for a nail-biting finale full of tension, danger and fight for survival. Instead, there were a few quick fixes, a huge jump in the timeline and lots and lots of melodrama – I could hear the violins playing in the background.


So, how do you rate a book you both loved and hated equally? It’s hard to even consolidate the two very separate parts of the story. I am left feeling slightly cheated, as if standing in front of Ernt’s wall with the door firmly bolted shut to the fitting end of a story I had loved. But hey, I am one in a million and don’t let my old cynical self stop you from reading a book 90% of readers obviously adored. Seldom has a book made such waves on social media, so Hannah has found a formula that works for most of her audience. Sadly, that obviously doesn’t include me. Whilst the Allbrights will stay in my mind for some time to come, as I imagine different outcomes to their story, the one thing I will take away from the book is the visual image of a wild Alaska, and a truly magnificent armchair travel experience.


If you love armchair travel to a remote and wild place ...

1) ...and don't mind a lot of melodrama (and hey, it worked for 90% of readers on social media!), then I urge you to give this book a go - the descriptions of the Alaskan landscape and life there in the 1970's are breathtaking!
2) ... but hate melodrama, and don't mind which country the story is set in: I recommend picking up Our Endless Numbered Days by Clare Fuller, one of the best wilderness survival novels I have read. Ever. Though it is also a bit disturbing. You have been warned. I adored it!
3) ... but hate melodrama and really want the Alaskan setting: I recommend The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, one of the most beautiful novels set in a wild remote place I have ever read. It also has a mystical element to it that adds it an air of mystery and wonder. Highly recommended.

Our Endless Numbered Days The Snow Child

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Book Review: SKIN DEEP by Liz Nugent

Title: Skin Deep
Author: Liz Nugent
Publisher: Penguin Books UK
Read: March 2018
Expected publication: 5 April 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2

Book Description:

'Once I had cleared the bottles away and washed the blood off the floor, I needed to get out of the flat.'

Cordelia Russell has been living on the CΓ΄te d'Azur for ten years, posing as a posh English woman fallen on hard times. But her luck is running out.

Desperate to escape her grotty flat and grim reality, Cordelia spends a night at a glittering party. Surrounded by the young, beautiful and privileged she feels her age and her poverty.

As dawn breaks she stumbles home through the back streets. Even before she opens her door she can hear the flies buzzing. It hasn't taken long for the corpse in her bedroom to commence decomposing ...

Liz Nugent's novel is the dark, twisted and shocking story of what takes Cordelia from an island childhood in Ireland to ruins in Nice.

My musings:

Skin Deep starts with a death (no spoilers here, it’s literally the first page), and the reader soon becomes aware that there is something slightly off about Delia O’Flaherty, the female character narrating the story. And it’s not just the fact that she is leaving a body behind in her flat in Nice as she goes out trying to clear her head and come up with a plan of how to best dispose of it. It was all very, very intriguing, and I soon felt myself getting sucked into the story. Who can resist a mysterious character embroiled in a violent death at the start of a mystery? Well, lovers of crime fiction will surely know what I mean!

After the first chapter, the story jumps back in time to Delia’s childhood on a remote island off the West coast of Ireland renowned for inbreeding and madness. And Delia’s upbringing certainly isn’t normal. As her father’s favourite, she has learned at an early age to use her beauty to scheme and plot in order to get her way, without caring about the consequences of her behaviour on others. Every life she touches, however briefly, will be irrevocably altered – unfortunately never for the better!

Liz Nugent certainly knows how to create a sociopathic character that burns through the pages like a fireball of destruction (an apt comparison, which you will find out if you read the book). I initially found myself intrigued, then disturbed, and at one point in the book so disgusted by her actions that any empathy I may have felt for this character vanished in a puff of smoke. There was a definite turning point in the story for me, from a kind of morbid fascination to one of outright horror. To say that it disturbed and depressed me is an understatement – some of its images haunted me in my worst nightmares. Perhaps the graphic images in my mind come from a background of seeing such tragedy in real life in my job, which created visuals I did not want to follow me into my sleep. Or perhaps it is parenthood that altered me to the point where I could not get over this one particular event in the book without feeling sickened to the very pit of my stomach. Whatever the reason, I admit that I would have gladly abandoned the book at this point if I had not invested so much time in it already. Delia was not the only dislikeable character in this somewhat bleak tale, but certainly the one who created the most destruction in her wake. All in all, the images created in my mind were bleak, depressing and disturbing. Kudos to the author for evoking such a visceral reaction, but sadly it marred any pleasure I may have gained from reading the rest of the story.  


Skin Deep is a powerful, sinister and disturbing character study of a narcissistic, sociopathic protagonist that will appeal to readers who don’t mind their characters dark and unlikeable. Nugent’s writing is engaging and soon manages to draw you into the action. There is an unexpected twist at the end that should please mystery lovers, even though its circumstances just add to the overall tragedy of the story. Personally, I found some of the themes too disturbing for my liking and concede that I am obviously not the right audience for this book. 

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