Monday, 19 February 2018

Book Review: THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND by Karen Hamilton


Author: Karen Hamilton
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read:
February 2018
Expected publication: 27 February 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


I want a happy-ever-after, and you're going to give it to me.

Book Description:


Juliette loves Nate. She will follow him anywhere. She's even become a flight attendant for his airline, so she can keep a closer eye on him.

They are meant to be.

The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back. She is the perfect girlfriend. And she'll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.

True love hurts, but Juliette knows it's worth all the pain... 


My musings:


Ok, here I am, fingers poised on the keyboard, and finding myself speechless. The Perfect Girlfriend was one of the strangest books I have read in a long time. And I mean that in a good way. In fact, this was such a fun read for me! Narrated in the first person by our main protagonist Juliette (aka Lily, aka Elisabeth), the story drew me in immediately as it became clear that there were some very unusual dynamics at play here. Juliette’s boyfriend Nate may have ended their relationship, but she is not that easily dumped. According to her, the two of them are “meant to be”, if only she could make Nate see sense. 

"And the overriding problem I have is that Nate thinks he doesn't love me. Once he realises that he does, everything should naturally realign."

And Juliette will not stop at anything to get her point across. From breaking into Nate’s apartment to leave his favourite muffins in the freezer for him, to changing careers in order of getting a job with the airline he works for, to even installing a spy app on his phone to keep track of his every move, this is a girl who knows what she wants and who is determined to get it!

"Perseverance always pays off. It never, ever fails."

Extremely well written and compelling in its storyline and no-nonsense narrator, The Perfect Girlfriend took me on a rollercoaster ride of conflicting emotions. I sometimes felt like I was in a game of twister, one leg on disbelief, the other on humour, with one hand on horror and the other waving frantically around in an effort to come up for air. For most of the book the palette of emotions congealed in a kind of morbid fascination as I breathlessly watched events unfold, knowing that nothing good could come of Juliette / Lily’s actions.

Juliette is a most unusual character. Whilst not quite as blunt as Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor, Juliette is quite frank about her bordering-on-sociopathic thoughts and emotions. It is obvious that she has a problem, and that her actions veer into crazy territory, and yet anyone who has ever been cheated on, slighted or bullied will gain a certain satisfaction from her well thought out plans of revenge and her total lack of boundaries. 

"You think that you can use people and discard them when it suits. Like I was nothing. Like I meant nothing. Like we meant nothing. And you're still doing it today."

At times her rationale was quite humorous and cynical, and made me laugh. Does that make me crazy, too? I really wanted to see Nate and Bella get what they deserved – most of us have had a character like that in our lives at some stage, the privileged person to whom rules don’t seem to apply, who bully and wheedle and get their own way, sailing through life on the expense of others. 

"Girls like her get to make decisions about girls like me. Who our friends are or aren't, who will or won't speak to us, and even how teachers view us. And I was getting more and more sick of it."

I hated them both, knowing that Juliette was probably not the most reliable judge of character. And despite everything, I never stopped rooting for Juliette, which to me highlights Karen Hamilton’s skills as a writer to elicit such empathy in the reader that they are willing to justify or simply overlook and forgive Juliette’s crazy actions.


As far as psychological thrillers go, it is difficult these days to find one with an original premise that has not been done a million times before in various shades of grey. Hamilton somehow managed that difficult trick, and it really paid off for me. From the airline setting, which was unusual and interesting, to a character who defies all stereotypes of your typical young air hostess, I couldn’t tear myself away from the story. I won’t give any more away in terms of plot, because I don’t want to spoil anything for other readers, just to say that the story managed to shock and surprise right up to the end. Points for the most unusual and original psychological thriller of the year so far! Did it thrill – yes. Surprise? Yes! Shock? Definitely! It even made me question my own sanity as I secretly cheered Juliette along in her mission.  

Summary:


If you are looking for an unusual psychological thriller with a somewhat crazy but likeable heroine, then I urge you to give this one a go! The Perfect Girlfriend is Hamilton’s debut novel, and I really hope she will write more. I look forward to seeing what she will come up with next! 


Quotes:

"I developed a little theory recently, which I named my "Olive Stone Theory". Whenever I bite into an olive, I expect a stone. I am prepared. I am not like Nate - or pampered people like him, who expect to bite into their bloody olives, pitted, soft and perfect - I anticipate problems and mentally deal with them in advance."

"Trust is a luxury."


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

Friday, 16 February 2018

Cure the reading slump: MOST ANTICIPATED NEW RELEASES IN 2018 - the first 5


READING SLUMP
That period of time when you when you don't feel motivated to read anything and you're so disgusted with yourself.

Blame it on the nightshift blues, but for the last week I have been experiencing the most awful reading slump. I started and abandoned several books, finding myself unable to engage with the characters or concentrate on the action. And since reading is usual my cure-all for everything, this has been a truly terrible situation! I have even resorted to vacuuming my car and contemplating window cleaning to fill my reserved-for-reading time, which surely is a sign of madness. Luckily the urge passed as soon as I filled the bucket with warm soapy water, but it was a close call!

So, what to do about this frightening malaise? I thought I might reflect on some of my most anticipated new releases coming to us in 2018 to get myself back into the reading mood. Expect your TBR pile to get a lot bigger, as there are some fantastic books on the cards for this year!

5 of my most anticipated new releases in 2018:


The Craftsman The Craftsman, by Sharon J. Bolton: 5th April 2018


Sharon Bolton is one of my all-time favourite authors, who always delivers a suspenseful, multi-layered mystery that sucks you in immediately and grips you to the very end. If you haven't discovered her yet, then you are really missing out!

Blurb: 

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?


Day of the Dead (Frieda Klein #8) Day of the Dead, by Nicci French: 24th July 2018


The Frieda Klein series is one of my all-time favourite mystery series by the great author duo who call themselves Nicci French, and the final book is due to being released this year. Finally, we may find out if Frieda is able to free herself of her stalker Dean Reeve. If you haven't discovered this great series yet, there is still time to read the previous seven books in the series before this one comes out in July!

Blurb: 

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.


Us Against You Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman: 5th June 2018


Beartown was one of my favourite books of 2017 - I laughed, I cried, and it stayed with me for a long time afterwards. If you haven't picked up this little gem already, then you are really missing out. Imagine my happy dance to hear that there will be a sequel this year!


Blurb: 

After everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact. Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.

Soon a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker. But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.

As the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.


  Watching You, by Lisa Jewell: 15 June 2018


Everything by Lisa Jewell is automatically on my must-read list - I simply love her books! Every one of them features some complicated family relationships, and they make for compulsive reading. Lately, Jewell has been delving more and more into the dark corners of the human psyche, and I love it!

Blurb: 

Joey Mullen is thirty-six and living in her twin brother's attic in Bristol’s exclusive Melville Heights with her much younger boyfriend. She's just returned to the UK after ten years partying hard abroad, and now she's having something of a mid-life crisis.

Then one day she sees Tom Fitzwilliam - a handsome older man who lives two doors down and she’s surprised to feel a sharp attraction for him. As the weeks pass, this grows until an innocent crush has developed into a dangerous infatuation that begins to threaten her sanity.

Six months later Tom's wife is found strangled to death in a school playing field, and Tom’s teenage son Freddie points the finger straight at Joey. Because while Joey's been watching Tom, Freddie has been watching Joey and he knows exactly what she's been up to.

But Nicola’s death is not what it seems, and it soon transpires that there are some even darker secrets hiding behind the closed doors of Melville Heights.


Let Me Lie Let Me Lie, by Clare Mackintosh: 13 March 2018


With her background as a police officer, Clare Mackintosh has insider knowledge to use in her compulsive psychological thrillers, and she is the queen of the killer twist! I have been impatiently waiting for her to write another novel, and did a happy dance when I heard that her latest book will be out in March. If you love a good psychological thriller and a great twist and haven't discovered this author yet, then I urge you to rush out and pick up I Let You Go and I See You ASAP.

Blurb: 

The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They're both wrong.


One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.

Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…




It is working! I can feel my excitement grow as I share these upcoming titles with you all. Happy reading!




Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Book Review: IF I DIE TONIGHT by Alison Gaylin

Author: Alison Gaylin
Publisher:
William Morrow Paperbacks
Read:
February 2018
Expected publication: 6 March 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

Late one night in the quiet Hudson Valley town of Havenkill, a distraught woman stumbles into the police station—and lives are changed forever.

Aimee En, once a darling of the ’80s pop music scene, claims that a teenage boy stole her car, then ran over another young man who’d rushed to help.

As Liam Miller’s life hangs in the balance, the events of that fateful night begin to come into focus. But is everything as it seems?

The case quickly consumes social media, transforming Liam, a local high school football star, into a folk hero, and the suspect, a high school outcast named Wade Reed, into a depraved would-be killer. But is Wade really guilty? And if he isn’t, why won’t he talk?

Told from a kaleidoscope of viewpoints—Wade’s mother Jackie, his younger brother Connor, Aimee En and Pearl Maze, a young police officer with a tragic past, If I Die Tonight is a story of family ties and dark secrets—and the lengths we’ll go to protect ourselves.

My musings:

I once read this quote in a book, and it has stayed with me: “You’re only ever as happy as your unhappiest child.” (unfortunately I have forgotten where I read it, or I would give due credit to the author). How true! This is the situation Jackie finds herself in, a single mother trying her best to raise her two teenage sons. Her older son Wade has been distant and secretive lately, estranged from his peers, a loner who rarely smiles. What has happened to the happy little boy who used to laugh and play, her precious first born? Ever since her husband left her for another woman and cut off all contact with his sons, Wade has been angry and distant. Then one night a car is stolen and a teenager killed in a hit-and-run. Straight away suspicion falls on the weird kid, the outsider – where was Wade that night? And why won’t he do anything to defend himself? Caught up in the most horrible of situations, Jackie can only do one thing – believe in her child.

If I Die Tonight is a heartbreaking book in so many ways. As a mother who has seen her children through the turbulent years of teenagehood  I could relate to Jackie’s confusion and pain, and the feeling of powerlessness and failure to not be able to “fix” things for her unhappy child. My heart bled for her as things start to go wrong and her child stands accused of a crime. As Jackie goes through a range of emotions – sorrow, pain, frustration, anger and guilt – I reflected on how difficult it is to raise children in a world where conformity rules, where society makes scapegoats of people who dare to be different from the norm. This was such an emotional rollercoaster ride! And once social media gets involved, things turn really ugly. Gaylin has done a brilliant job in portraying the judgment imposed by people on social media, the media frenzy and the ensuing witch-hunt. It was scary, and had my heart racing in utter horror as I tried to put myself in Jackie’s shoes. Whether guilty or not, this teenager was being tried and convicted by people’s opinions without any evidence, let alone a fair trial.

Told from several viewpoints, including excerpts of social media feeds, Gaylin tells a compelling story that will tug on every parent’s heartstrings. Each and every character is believable and well rounded, giving a different perspective to the situation., right up until its surprising finale. I especially liked Pearl, who made a most intriguing character, and her side story was fascinating – I would love to see her back in another mystery. The ending certainly packs a punch, and I did not see that one coming at all! 

Summary:

If I Die Tonight is a slow burning, character driven family drama with an intriguing mystery at its very heart that will tug on every parent’s heartstrings. Tackling contemporary issues such as single parenthood, peer pressure, mental health, mob mentality and the impact of social media on our lives, it would make for interesting bookclub discussions or personal reflection. I really enjoyed Gaylin’s writing style and look forward to reading more from this author!



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

Monday, 12 February 2018

Book Review: BEFORE I LET YOU GO by Kelly Rimmer

Author: Kelly Rimmer
Publisher:
Hachette Australia
Read:
February 2018
Expected publication: 27 February 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2

"Addiction is, in that way, just like love - in the early moments, you don't see the potential for it to bring you pain - it's just something you slide into between the laughs and smiles and moments of bliss. It's something that feels like a shield, until you realise it's actually a warhead, and it's pointed right at you."

Book Description:

As children, Lexie and Annie were incredibly close. Bonded by the death of their beloved father and their mother's swift remarriage, they weathered the storms of life together. When Lexie leaves home to follow her dream, Annie is forced to turn to her leather-bound journal as the only place she can confide her deepest secrets and fears...

As adults, sisters Lexie and Annie could not be more different. Lexie is a doctor, successful in her practice and happily engaged. Annie is addicted to heroin - a thief, a liar, and unable to remain clean despite the fact that she is pregnant. When Annie's newborn baby is in danger of being placed in foster care, Annie picks up the phone to beg her sister for help. Will Lexie agree to help and take in her young niece? And how will Annie survive, losing the only thing in her life worth living for?

My musings:

I love dysfunctional family relationships as the basis of novels, and sisters always make for interesting dynamics. But Lexie and Annie take this to another level altogether! On one side there is Lexie, who is a successful doctor and engaged to a handsome surgeon. Then there is Annie, a pregnant drug addict living in a run-down trailer and spending every cent she can find on her next fix. How can these two women be from the same background? And what brought them here? Rimmer’s novel Before I Let You Go explores this question through the eyes of the two sisters as they meet up again when a pregnant and sick Annie calls her sister Lexie for help. Whilst Lexie’s POV is in the first person, Annie’s story is being told through journal entries she writes for her therapist whilst in rehab. It is a format that is tricky to pull off, but in this case it worked perfectly for me, as Annie goes back in time to explore events in her childhood that may have contributed to bringing her to the situation she is in at this point in time. And be warned, there is a lot of pain and heartbreak in her story!

Rimmer does an excellent job in exploring the topic of addiction and how it affects sufferers and their families, and she is not afraid to expose the dark, ugly side of the problem. As a nurse, I know that addiction is a huge drain on both the health system and families, and often sufferers have burnt all their bridges with their loved ones. Sometimes it is difficult to see past the manipulative and out-of-control behaviour of an addict and understand the true person behind it and what has brought them to this place. Rimmer does well to remind us that addiction is an illness, not a life-choice, even though sometimes it may appear that addicts choose this path. Reading through Annie’s story my heart broke many times over, even though her behaviour was infuriating at times. As a mother, I was quick to judge her for her apparent lack of insight and care for her unborn foetus, and yet as the story unfolded I could see the hurt little girl inside. I am grateful to the author for reminding me not to judge by offering a thought-provoking, insightful glimpse into Annie’s background. I also found the legal implications of Annie’s situation interesting and think it would make for a lively book club discussion, throwing up many ethical questions and emotions tied up with the subject.

Of the two sisters, Annie (despite all her problems) was the more believable and engaging character for me, and I admit I struggled at times to bond with Lexie, despite her being the one who supposedly has her life under control. I would have loved a bit more background to make me understand how a girl from such a dysfunctional family managed to leave it all behind and become a doctor. Especially since I found her to be quite whiny and weak at times, at odds with the strength and discipline it would have required for her to rise from the ashes of her damaged childhood and succeed in her career. Ditto for Sam, who remained a bit of an enigma throughout the book. The patience of a saint, he never once complains or gets flustered about Annie’s actions, which seemed a bit too good to be true. The result was that the later part of the book (which featured more of Lexie’s story) dragged a bit in places and made me skip ahead as my irritation with Lexie mounted. I would have liked a few chapters from Sam’s POV, which may have offered a more neutral look at the sisters and shed light on the points that didn’t quite add up for me. 

Summary:

Before I Let You Go is an insightful family drama exploring the implications of a traumatic childhood and the devastating effects of addiction on individuals, their families and society as a whole. With many ethical dilemmas tied up in the story (such as the rights of the mother vs the welfare of the foetus / baby), it would make a fantastic bookclub read, opening the door for lively discussion that may challenge deeply ingrained belief systems. I recommend it to lovers of contemporary family drama who are not afraid of shedding a tear or two. 


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


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Audiobook Review: SNOWBLIND by Ragnar Jonasson

Author: Ragnar Jónasson
Narrator:
Thor Kristjansson
Read:
February 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose.

My musings:

When Ari Thor Arason takes his first posting as policeman in the remote fishing village in Northern Iceland, he does so with the reassurance: “Nothing ever happens in Siglufjörður.” Nobody even locks their doors here, because it is a small community where everyone knows and trusts each other. So the whole town is rocked to the core when a young woman is found half dead in the snow, brutally attacked and left for dead. As the weather closes in and the last access route to Siglufjörður is blocked by an avalanche, Ari Thor’s sense of claustrophobia and doom mounts. There may be a murderer living amongst them, and there is no way out ....

I’ve been wanting to put Iceland on my armchair travel map for ages, so when another book blogger recommended Snowblind to me, I immediately put it on my TBR list and marked it as the perfect audio book for my daily commute. Cloistered in my car, driving lonely dark country roads, this tense and claustrophobic mystery made the perfect companion! The Dark Iceland series is definitely one I could easily get hooked on, and I especially liked young Ari Thor, the earnest and intelligent police officer who is setting out in his career in this lonely, isolated place far from his family and friends.

Snowblind is a slow burning, character driven mystery that relies heavily on Jonasson’s excellent character development and his ability to create a tense, claustrophobic setting in a wild and isolated place. His portrayal of small town politics and dynamics is well done and lends authenticity to the story. There is nothing better than the tension created by entrapment – this time through forces of nature alone, as the Icelandic winter closes in on this small fishing village. Jonasson’s writing is almost poetic, even though the story fits perfectly into the Nordic Noir genre, with the whodunit atmosphere and careful plotting of an Agatha Christie style murder mystery. Soon all the threads and different POVs fall into place to reveal the bigger picture, even though Ari Thor still has his work cut out to prove his theory.

Summary:

Snowblind will appeal to readers who love Nordic noir, or just want a cracking good read! Tense, claustrophobic and atmospheric, this is armchair travel of the best kind, even though I’m not sure I would have the nerve to visit Siglufjörður in winter.  This is one of those books that exponentially expanded my alpine TBR list, as I had to add all other works by the author! A big shout out to Thor Kristjansson, whose deep, laid-back voice is perfect for this narration.