Thursday, 24 May 2018

Audiobook Review: THE CRAFTSMAN by Sharon Bolton


Author: Sharon Bolton
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


August, 1999 

On the hottest day of the year, Assistant Commissioner Florence Lovelady attends the funeral of Larry Glassbrook, the convicted murderer she arrested thirty years earlier. A master carpenter and funeral director, Larry imprisoned his victims, alive, in the caskets he made himself. Clay effigies found entombed with their bodies suggested a motive beyond the worst human depravity.

June, 1969

13-year- old Patsy Wood has been missing for two days, the third teenager to disappear in as many months. New to the Lancashire police force and struggling to fit in, WPC Lovelady is sent to investigate an unlikely report from school children claiming to have heard a voice calling for help. A voice from deep within a recent grave.

August, 1999

As she tries to lay her ghosts to rest, Florence is drawn back to the Glassbrooks' old house, in the shadow of Pendle Hill, where she once lodged with the family. She is chilled by the discovery of another effigy - one bearing a remarkable resemblance to herself. Is the killer still at large? Is Florence once again in terrible danger? Or, this time, could the fate in store be worse than even her darkest imaginings?

My musings:


“What is it that you love so much about this author?, one of my friends asked me after having to listen to my half hour rant about how very much I was looking forward to Bolton’s latest offering, The Craftsman. Mmmh, where do I even start?

There is the delicious dark and claustrophobic setting with gothic undertones that is a trademark of each and every one of Bolton’s books, which thankfully also forms a large part of The Craftsman. To add some extra interest, this latest book is set in the mysterious region of Pendle Hill, Lancashire, the place of the Pendle witch trials in 17th century England. Apparently, the hill continues to be associated with witchcraft, and Bolton has incorporated this element into her story, which added extra mystery and an air of the supernatural to the story. I am always intrigued by a spooky, claustrophobic setting, and the book features quite a few of those!

Then there are the characters: in her epilogue, Bolton states that she wanted to write a story featuring women that may not fit the common mould, and PC Florence Lovelady certainly is a fine example of that. From her florid name, to her shrewd eye for patterns and detail, to her courage even in the face of adversity, this is one plucky woman that makes a worthy protagonist for this multi-faceted mystery. Bolton tells her story in two separate timelines, which means that we get to meet Florence both as a young brand-new WPC who has to fight for her place in the squad as the only female officer in the whole area, and later as a successful senior Assistant Commissioner who has earned her place and is respected by her peers. I especially loved how the young Florence never gave up but stood up for what she believed in, even when it may have been more prudent for her own career to keep her mouth shut. Over the years, Bolton has introduced us to many plucky female protagonists, but Florence may be my favourite yet (except of course Lacey Flint, who still has a special place in my heart)! Apart from Florence, there is the usual cast of three-dimensional, interesting characters, some of which had me totally under their spell and whose motives I was never totally sure about.

Not only is Bolton the Queen of gothic crime, but she also knows how to deliver a multi-faceted, well crafted plot that takes the reader on a journey with so many twists and turns you need to take some travel-sickness medication to stop your head from spinning! Despite having read every one of Bolton’s previous books and thinking I had some idea of how this author’s mind worked, I could have never foreseen the unexpected turn the plot took at the end of the book, and I am still slightly dazed with wonder. Don’t take anything for granted, is all I can say!


Personally, I especially loved the dual timeline in this one, and the realistic description of Florence’s struggles in a male-dominated career in the 1960s. Bolton totally nailed that era for me, and I thought it made for the perfect setting, from the small-town politics at the time to the ghosts of the past still casting a spell over the area’s residents, especially the female population. Witchcraft featured strongly in the book, but in a way that did not detract from the main storyline, nor did to push the story too far into the supernatural. In fact, I found the region’s history so fascinating that I would love to visit the area myself! As usual with Bolton’s books, this one is not for the faint hearted and features some pretty disturbing themes, like people being buried alive and dying horrible agonising deaths. If you are, like me, a person who finds little morbid details fascinating, such as the difference between a coffin and a casket and the amount of time one could survive trapped in one, then this book is definitely for you! Although you may want to get your chores done early and avoid having to traipse through the dark backyard to lock up your chickens after reading this (learning from my mistakes here!).


Summary:


I am rambling, so I will try to sum it up briefly: if you are a fan of dark, gritty and well-constructed mysteries then I suggest you rush out and beg, borrow, buy or steal this one right now, lock yourself away in your bedroom and enjoy a massive read-a-thon (don’t think you will get anything else done until you have finished it!). As I said, Bolton never disappoints, and this one may be one of her best novels yet to date. I am overjoyed that this is apparently the first book in a trilogy – which means that there will be more – woohoo!!!!!!! I can’t wait to learn a bit more about Florence’s past, as I am sure she has a few more skeletons in the closet for us to find (pun intended)!

Image result for 5 stars

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Book Review: BABY TEETH by Zoje Stage


Title: Baby Teeth
Author: Zoje Stage
Publisher: St Martin's Press
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: 17 July 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Meet Hanna.

She’s the sweet-but-silent angel in the adoring eyes of her Daddy. He’s the only person who understands her, and all Hanna wants is to live happily ever after with him. But Mommy stands in her way, and she’ll try any trick she can think of to get rid of her. Ideally for good.

Meet Suzette.

She loves her daughter, really, but after years of expulsions and strained home schooling, her precarious health and sanity are weakening day by day. As Hanna’s tricks become increasingly sophisticated, and Suzette's husband remains blind to the failing family dynamics, Suzette starts to fear that there’s something seriously wrong, and that maybe home isn’t the best place for their baby girl after all.


My musings:



Why do you think that we find books about psychopathic children so intriguing? Perhaps because it goes against all our instincts that children are born intrinsically innocent? It also raises the age-old nature vs nurture question that makes for brilliant debates in bookclub meetings. When I saw that Baby Teeth was being compared to We Need to Talk About Kevin – which is on my list of both most brilliant and most disturbing books I have ever read – I absolutely had to get my hands on it. Even more so when I saw all the divided opinions on social media, with people either loving or hating it in equal measure. So, you ask, which camp am I in?

To be honest, in neither. Baby Teeth was one of those books that kept me turning the pages but left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied. There was so much potential for this story to be either totally creepy, or suspenseful, or at least offering some insights into what makes an “evil” child tick. It touched on all of these points, but never really lived up to its full potential for me. I blame this on one thing: Hanna’s POV. I am not usually a fan of reading books that offer the psychopathic perpetrator’s POV, finding that only a few authors can pull this off successfully (perhaps because they are not psychopathic killers – just as well!). Most end up exaggerating the depravity until it crosses the line of credibility, or ends up being too sick for my liking.

With Hanna, a seven year old girl, it was the former. No matter how brilliant Hanna’s mind may have been, I found the idea of a two-, four- or seven-year old being capable of carefully plotting her mother’s death simply too farfetched. The one reason We Need to Talk About Kevin was such a success for me was that we only ever got Eva’s POV, which pre-empted an ever present niggly doubt in the back of my head: was Kevin really as bad as she claimed? Was it her parenting that was defective? Was she misinterpreting his needs and motives? It added suspense and tension, which I found lacking in Baby Teeth. Hanna’s POV never left any doubt about her motives, which at times were bordering on silly. Whilst I found Kevin truly terrifying, I thought Hanna was a brat that could have done with a bit of parental discipline. I may have been able to buy it had Hanna been a bit older and more able of the thought processes described here. The only other way that this could have worked for me would have been to add a creepy supernatural element, some horror, anything to add some suspense or make Hanna appear a threat.

All that said, I kept turning the pages despite my sigh of exasperation about 30% into the book as I flung it from me in frustration and vowed to DNF it. But I picked it up again and kept reading – to the very end, which I guess earns it at least three stars. Why? I’m not sure – on one hand I want my four hours back, on the other the thought of having a child you are frightened of was intriguing and I constantly wondered what I would do if I were in Suzette’s shoes. There was one point at which a therapist came into the picture and added a brief hope of learning something interesting about Hanna’s personality disorder, but unfortunately the thread was not fully explored. 



Summary:




To sum up the experience for me, a We Need to Talk About Kevin it was not. It was, however, strangely compelling and kept me reading. I can see that Baby Teeth will make some waves in the bookish community once it comes out in July with some staunch loved-it or hated-it factions battling it out on the review front, whilst I am still sitting on the fence watching with morbid fascination as it all unfolds. I guess there is only one way to find out whether this one is for you, so by all means, get yourself a copy and read it!



Thank you to Netgalley and St Martin's Press for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Book Review: WHEN I FIND YOU by Emma Curtis


Author: Emma Curtis
Publisher: Random House UK
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: 9 August 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


What do you do when someone takes advantage of your greatest weakness?

When Laura wakes up after her office Christmas party and sees a man’s shirt on the floor, she is horrified. But this is no ordinary one-night-stand regret. Laura suffers from severe face-blindness, a condition that means she is completely unable to identify and remember faces. So the man she spent all night dancing with and kissing – the man she thought she’d brought home – was ‘Pink Shirt’.

But the shirt on her floor is blue. And now Laura must go to work every day and face the man who took advantage of her condition. The man she has no way of recognising.


My musings:



With the sheer number of psychological thrillers out there, I always greatly admire an author who can come up with an original premise that hasn’t been done a million times before. Such as giving the main character a medical condition that makes them just a little bit unreliable and casts doubt over the events unfolding. We saw it with the agoraphobic protagonist in A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, or S.J. Watson’s character Christine in Before I Go toSleep, who had suffered a brain injury and couldn’t form memories. Curtis uses the rare condition prosopagnosia, or face blindness, for her main protagonist Laura, and I admit that when I first started reading I had no idea that this debilitating condition could form the basis for such a riveting story – or where exactly the author was going to lead me. Aren’t those mysteries the best kind?


Laura, a creative ad designer in a successful advertising agency, has managed her condition from her work colleagues, even though she struggles with it on a daily basis. There is nothing wrong with her eyesight, but her brain is unable to interpret facial features, which makes her “face blind”, i.e. unable to tell one face apart from another – even those faces of the people nearest and dearest to her, including her own face in the mirror. She heavily relies on other features, such as hairstyle and colour, mannerisms, clothing etc to be able to tell who people are, but these things are changeable and not always reliable. Social situations are her worst nightmare, such as people approaching her in the street or on the train, where the context is missing and she has no reference points to help her identify them. When Laura finds herself in a situation where someone exploits her vulnerability to his advantage, it struck me how debilitating her condition really is! Imagine there is a perpetrator out there somewhere, but you are unable to recognise him, even if he sits next to you on the train, chats to you in the canteen, or shows up at a dinner party. It came as no surprise to me that Laura became anxious and neurotic, living in constant fear and suspicion.

Apart from the very original and fascinating concept of face blindness, I found Laura to be an enigmatic and interesting character who courageously fought to overcome her limitations. As Laura shares insights into her daily struggles, it was obvious that Curtis had done her research into the condition, which made for fascinating reading and a story that kept me turning the pages. To turn this into a well-written mystery was an added bonus! I also really enjoyed the two separate POVs in the story – whilst the main part is being told in the first person through Laura’s eyes, her accounts are fleshed out by a third-person account from the perspective of Rebecca, one of Laura’s bosses. I was slightly puzzled at first as two why these two very different women were being chosen to tell the story, but it was perfect!

There are a few well-executed twists in the story which took me by surprise, and the final denouement was satisfying and fitting for this original, character driven story. Overall, I really enjoyed a mystery that stood out from the rest with its intriguing concept, and I look forward to reading more from this author in future.



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




Saturday, 12 May 2018

Book Review: THE DAY OF THE DEAD by Nicci French

Title: The Day of the Dead
Author: Nicci French
Publisher: William Morrow
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: 24 July 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


"No one is ever like anyone else. No one can be replaced. Every death is the end of a world. And they're gone, and yet they remain. They walk with us along the secret rivers."


Book Description:


A decade ago, psychologist Frieda Klein was sucked into the orbit of Dean Reeve -- a killer able to impersonate almost anyone, a man who can disappear without a trace, a psychopath obsessed with Frieda herself.


In the years since, Frieda has worked with -- and sometimes against -- the London police in solving their most baffling cases. But now she's in hiding, driven to isolation by Reeve. When a series of murders announces his return, Frieda must emerge from the shadows to confront her nemesis. And it's a showdown she might not survive.

This gripping cat-and-mouse thriller pits one of the most fascinating characters in contemporary fiction against an enemy like none other. Smart, sophisticated, and spellbinding, it's a novel to leave you breathless.



My musings:


After faithfully following the Frieda Klein series for years and becoming rather fond of this cool and composed fictional psychotherapist who has left a trail of bodies behind her over the course of the previous seven books, The Day of the Dead was one of my most anticipated new releases this year. Now that I have read it, I feel that certain sense of sadness that comes with farewelling a good friend.

Lovers of the series will know that all previous books are overshadowed by a cat-and-mouse game with the dark spectre of Dean Reeve, a psychopathic killer obsessed with Frieda, who has ratcheted up a bigger body count than Ted Bundy in his efforts to get Frieda’s attention. Initially thought to be a figment of Frieda’s imagination, the police have finally come to believe her claims that Reeve is at the centre of a murder spree targeting seemingly random victims around London, but so far no one has been able to outwit him and he has been staying one step ahead of all efforts to catch him. He has not shied away from targeting those nearest and dearest to Frieda, making her so afraid for the safety of her family and friends that she knows she must disappear out of their lives in an effort to keep them safe. So it is a very different Frieda we meet in this latest instalment, a Frieda who has left her old life behind and gone underground to divert Reeve's attention away from her loved ones. But of course, best laid plans and all that ... her old life is about to catch up with her!

Frieda has really grown on me over the years and developed into a true-to-life character I have loved to see back in every new book in the series. With Frieda, the French duo have managed to create both a mysterious, aloof and yet enigmatic protagonist as the centre of their mysteries. Frieda, who wanders the streets of London, following the courses of ancient forgotten rivers in order to clear her head, or plays solitary games of chess in her house with only the cat for company. I loved joining Frieda on her rambles through the city and know that I will have to look up some of those waterways if I ever make it to London! But the books would be nothing without the rich cast of Frieda’s friends and family, who have stayed loyal to her with a true love that overcomes even the threat of death from a psychopathic murderer like Reeve. I will dearly miss Josef’s soulful dark eyes, Yvette’s prickliness, Olivia’s drunken hysterics and Karlsson’s calm reflections. What a great bunch of people!


Each book in the series introduces a new interesting character, and this time it is the bubbly criminology student Lola Hayes who accidentally stumbles into Frieda’s path when her lecturer suggest that she write a dissertation about Frieda’s life. With Frieda on the run for her life, this will not be an easy task, and one that Lola may live to regret. 


Summary:



Enough said. To sum it up briefly, The Day of the Dead is a worthy finale to a series that has given me years of enjoyment, and I will miss the anticipation of a new book. It has all the hallmarks of previous books in the series: it is dark, and gritty and utterly compelling. If you haven’t discovered this series yet, I strongly suggest you pick up the first book in the series and read them all in order – and be assured that Frieda’s character may appear prickly and distant in the first book, but will grow on you until she feels like a well-worn coat you can’t wait to put on to head out into the dark windy night for a walk. I loved also how this skilled author duo know exactly when to pull the plug on the final resolution, so it is not wrapped and bow-tied too neatly. *applause* A five star read for me, all done and dusted in one long all-nighter because I couldn’t put it down!

Image result for 5 stars

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


Friday, 11 May 2018

Book Review: EVERY SINGLE SECRET by Emily Carpenter


Author: Emily Carpenter
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Read: May 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:



Emotionally guarded Daphne Amos always believed she’d found a kindred spirit in her fiancΓ©, Heath. Both very private people, they’ve kept their pasts hidden from the world, and each other, until Heath’s escalating nightmares begin to put an undeniable strain on their relationship. Determined to give their impending marriage the best chance of succeeding, Heath insists that Daphne join him on a seven-day retreat with Dr. Matthew Cerny, a psychologist celebrated for getting to the root of repressed memories. Daphne reluctantly agrees—even though the past is the last place she wants to go.


The retreat’s isolated and forbidding location increases her unease, as do the doctor’s rules: they must relinquish their keys and phones, they’ll be monitored at all hours by hidden cameras, and they’re never to socialize with the other guests.

One sleepless night, Daphne decides to leave her room…and only then does she realize that the institute is not at all what it seems—and that whatever’s crying out from Heath’s past isn’t meant to be heard. It’s meant to be silenced.


Book trailer: link


My musings: 



I love nothing more than being blindsided by a book. To happily and trustingly follow my little breadcrumb trail until I suddenly stand open-mouthed and in shock, realising I have walked right into a trap. With the growing trend of the “killer twist”, we are so on alert for these false trails that it is getting harder to find a book that manages to do that. I am happy to announce that this is one of them!


The story itself sounds irresistibly intriguing. Daphne and Heath are a young couple who are very much in love but who each carry dark secrets from the past they have never discussed with anyone for fear of destroying their relationship. The deal of making a fresh start without snooping into each other’s lives works well until Heath becomes increasingly distant and unhappy. He claims that in order to make the relationship work, he will need to come to term with his demons and make Daphne face hers. What better way to do that than join a reclusive couples retreat, run by a renowned psychotherapist that specialises in couples therapy? Daphne, predictable, is not at all eager to open this can of worms, but she goes along with Heath under one condition – she will support him but will not be participating in the therapy herself. And this is how the two find themselves and two other couples in the middle of nowhere in a large spooky mansion rigged with cameras, where the retreat will be taking place. Phones, ipads and other electronic devices are being taken off them at the door, and there is no link with the outside world. The fun has just begun ....

Carpenter proved with her last book (The Weight of Lies) that she can tell a good, original story, and she certainly continues the trend with this one. Here is a writer who can not only spin a good tale, but who is the queen of unhealthy family relationships that lend a sinister quality to the storyline. Whilst the unusual element in her last book was “a book in a book” (with excerpt from one of the characters’ books “Kitten” featuring strongly in the storyline), this story is told a bit more conventionally incorprating each character’s flashbacks to the dark secrets in their pasts that weigh heavily on their shoulders. And boy oh boy, you are in for some surprises here!

Three of the things I loved most about The Weight of Lies again make a comeback here: 1) an eerie, claustrophobic and gothic setting; 2) damaged but relatable characters who draw you into the story; 3) an irresistibly broody narrative full of foreshadowing that keeps you turning the pages frantically. I read this in one long night and blame my bad-tempered sleep deprived self on the quality of the story! For those similarly afflicted readers who, like me, find it difficult to suspend disbelief (the struggle is real!), there will most likely come a moment when you flounder a little bit – well, I did. It did not take away my enjoyment of the book, but left me wishing that someone else in my circle had read the book as I was itching so badly to discuss spoilers!


Summary: 



So for the short version: if you loved Carpenter’s earlier work, you will appreciate the same irresistible writing, claustrophobic setting and interesting characters the last book offered. Anyone who claims they saw the twist coming – maybe you’re super-Sherlock, but I don’t know if I believe you! 


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