Friday, 28 July 2017

Book Review: THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY by Barbara Fradkin


Author: Barbara Fradkin
Publisher:
Dundurn
Read:
July 2017
Expected publication: 26 September 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟1/2



Book Description (Goodreads):

Amanda Doucette’s cross-Canada charity tour is in for a cold snap when she organizes a winter camping trip for inner-city young people in the stunning setting of the Laurentian Mountains. With a view to bridging cultural divides, she brings along a mixture of Canadian-born and immigrant youth.


Trouble begins when two of the teenagers disappear into the wilderness during the night: Luc, a French/English-Canadian with a history of drug use, and Yasmina, an adventurous young woman from Iraq who dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer. Although frantic, their parents are strangely secretive amid suspicions of drug use and forbidden romance. But when a local farmer turns up dead and terrorist material is found on Luc’s computer, the dangers turn deadly. Now in a battle against both the elements and police, Amanda and Corporal Chris Tymko discover a far greater web of secrets and deception.


As Amanda races to save the young people from danger, she finds herself fighting for stakes far higher than their own lives.

My musings:


Firstly, can I just say that this was cover love at first sight – what an absolutely gorgeous cover! I couldn't resist it! Plus, I have discovered a lot of fantastic reads published by Dundurn in the past, so picking this book up was a double temptation for me.

The Trickster’s Lullaby was my first introduction to the Amanda Doucette mystery series, and I really enjoyed discovering a new engaging, multi-layered female protagonist who stands out from other fictional amateur sleuths by offering an interesting past that drives a lot of her actions. Plus, she has an adorable canine sidekick, who is the perfect companion to a woman who spends a lot of time in the mountains.  In this latest instalment, Amanda is trying to enrich the lives of immigrant youths by exposing them to the Canadian wilderness, hoping that they will form some friendships in the process. Having experienced trauma in her own life, Amanda feels passionate about the youngsters, who each come from war torn countries and have lived through some hellish experiences. Even Luc, the only Canadian youth in the program, is battling with his own demons and substance abuse issues. It soon becomes obvious that things will not work out as Amanda has planned, and what better place for things to go awry than a wintry wilderness camp in a remote place!

I loved the scenes of slight discord as a diverse group of people are thrown together in a wild place, and the escalating tension as things spin out of control. To be honest, The Trickster’s Lullaby was not at all what I had expected, since I thought that the winter camp would feature for most of the story and focus on the group’s interpersonal relationships. It became very obvious in the first few pages that group dynamics would be an issue, and I loved how the author built the tension and the reader’s anticipation of conflict soon to come. However, the events in the camp only formed the first part of the story, and the scene soon shifted to a more political and current affairs arena, with other protagonists also featuring in the mystery and displaying a different angle to the story. Whilst I really enjoyed Amanda’s friends’ sleuthing and their various different characters, I admit that I would have preferred savouring the slow unravelling of the group and the escalating tension for a bit longer rather than the unexpected direction the novel was taking. Whilst the story was extremely well written and researched, and was certainly a topical issue, I admit I am not a great fan of politically based mysteries, and therefore perhaps not the perfect audience for this book.  

That said, there is action, adventure, armchair-travel, some very interesting characters and a great surprise in store for the reader, so this is certainly an author who knows how to deliver a multi-layered, well-plotted mystery that keeps readers frantically turning the pages. I would love to see Amanda and her friends back in future novels – the more remote the setting the better. In the meantime, I must read the first in the series to discover a bit more about this remarkable former aid worker, who makes for such a refreshingly different protagonist.


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.




Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sunday Confessional: SINGING THE NIGHTSHIFT BLUES

I'm currently in between night shifts, which basically means that I am in zombie mode, obsessively trying to snatch a few hours sleep all day (if I go to sleep right now, I can get 5 hours sleep ... 4 hours sleep .... 3 hours sleep - OMG I'm gonna die!), and all night to keep my eyes open and muster up some enthusiasm. 

With my life on hold, plus trying to study for my ALS2 certificate at work, I have been getting very little reading or reviewing done all week. And, seeing that I can barely string a few coherent sentences together right now, I thought that I would have to abandon this week's Sunday Confessional altogether. But luckily, some of my bookstagram friends came to the rescue, and tagged me in the irresistible #10thingsiwouldneversay tag. Since I started the Sunday Confessional series to share a little bit about the blogger behind but books are better, this is perfect!

10 things I would NEVER say:


  1. I LOVE night shifts – please roster me on for more!
  2. No thanks, I don’t eat chocolate.
  3. Let’s spend the whole day in our pyjamas watching sport on TV! (well, the pyjamas bit may be something I would actually do, but with a book in hand).
  4. I’m not going to add any books to my TBR list for the rest of the year.
  5. Go for a hike? God, no! I hate nature. Let’s go to the nightclub instead!
  6. I would rather read a steamy romance novel than a murder mystery any day.
  7. I wish I lived in the city surrounded by lots of people!
  8. I have a great fashion sense – my daughter always tells me so.
  9. I hate the beach! All that horrible sand and salty water!
  10. A lazy morning lying in bed reading my book? No way, I need to get up early to do some housework (my husband will laugh soooo much at this!).

And to finish off this bog post on a positive note, I will share my other big passion apart from books - HIKING! Nature is one of the biggest healers in my life. Surrounded by nothing other than the sound of the wind, the waves and the birds, I can sort out my jumbled brain, forget some of the sad tragedies I see on a regular basis in my job, and just BE. So before heading back to work tonight, I am going to share some of my favourite hiking pics, and spend a moment in gratitude reflecting what a beautiful place I live in.

But, and here comes the biggest confession of them all - even though I take my book everywhere and have discovered some amazing reading places, my all-time favourite reading spot is still - MY BED!






 

  

 






Saturday, 22 July 2017

Book Review: THE ROOM BY THE LAKE by Emma Dibdin



Author: Emma Dibdin
Publisher:
Head of Zeus
Read:
July 2017
Expected publication: 10 August 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Having recently lost her mother after a long illness and watching her father drown his grief in alcohol, Caitlin flees England for New York in the hope of escaping her everyday life. Shy in the company of strangers, she finds that loneliness plagues her even in this seductive big city – until she meets Jake, a handsome stranger, in a bar one night. After only a couple of blissful days together, Jake asks Caitlin to come with him to the country to meet his parents. Despite some misgivings, Caitlin agrees, and they set off to a remote “house by the lake”, an old mansion Jake says has been in his family forever. But what Caitlin finds there is not at all what she expected ....


My musings:

I love discovering a new author who manages to draw me into the story within the first few pages, and Emma Dibdin managed to do just that. Everyone has had periods in their lives when things were not going well, when running away seemed like the only option, and Caitlin is portrayed with insight and feeling, making her an irresistible main protagonist I couldn’t help fear for. After her mother’s lifelong struggle with mental health issues, Caitlin is especially vulnerable to any signs that she, too, will one day succumb to this terrible illness, which makes part of her normal grieving process even scarier for her. Sad, lonely and far away from home, she makes the perfect target for a predator. What follows is a chilling account of a journey gone wrong, and I couldn’t put the book down as Caitlin’s life spiralled out of control in front of my eyes. Dibdin manages to create a constant undertone of menace and confusion, which had me questioning my own interpretation of events several times – I just love it when a book messes with my mind! The setting, too, was irresistibly creepy – a remote old mansion set in a dark forest on the shores of a lake – and gave the additional pleasure of some armchair travel to Upstate NY. There were perhaps a couple of moments when I felt I had to suspend disbelief a little bit, mainly to do with some characters’ motives, but this did not spoil my reading pleasure and I sat up reading late into the night to find out what would happen next.
  

Summary:

The Room by the Lake is a gripping psychological thriller by a new author I hope to read a lot more from in future. I really enjoyed it and can wholeheartedly recommend it to all lovers of the genre. 


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





Thursday, 20 July 2017

Book Review: OUR LITTLE SECRET by Darren O'Sullivan


Author: Darren O'Sullivan
Publisher:
HarperCollins UK
Read:
July 2017
Expected publication: 28 July 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

After the murder of his beloved wife Julia, Chris has lost all joy and hope for a better future and has decided to end his life by jumping in front of a train. He has planned it all right down to the last detail: a deserted platform in the middle of the night, a fast moving freight train, no witnesses, no trauma to anyone. Noone would miss him, and no one would have to bear witness to his final desperate act. Except that on the night, things don’t go to plan. A woman arrives on the platform just minutes before the train is due to arrive. And even though Chris tries his best to get rid of her, she refuses to leave. What should he do? Should he still jump and know that the traumatic images of his suicide will haunt this stranger forever?

Sarah’s face is tear-stained as she arrives on the platform late at night. She has just broken up with her boyfriend and her life is a mess. She doesn’t even have enough change for the train ticket, let alone a cup of coffee, so waiting on the dark, windswept platform is her only option. She spots a lone, barefoot stranger standing on the platform, too close to the edge, swaying in the breeze, and recognises in him the same hopeless desperation she feels herself. Tentatively she tries to make contact – and changes both their lives with a simple act of kindness to a stranger.


My musings:

Apparently, there is an old Chinese proverb that states if you save someone’s life, you become responsible for that person and their actions forever. It’s an interesting premise, and one which would make for a lively discussion after reading Our Little Secret. Sarah is certainly taking her responsibility seriously, tracking down the stranger whose life she unwittingly saved, stalking him, trying to worm her way into his life. I really liked the way O’Sullivan portrayed this damaged woman, whose choice in men is reflected in her own lack of self-worth and despair. Told in alternating chapters from both Sarah’s and Chris’ POV, the story explores the dark places of the human psyche, which would drive a man to seek death as his only option and a woman to seek solace in trying to “fix” the life of a total stranger, whether he wants it or not. Underlying it all is the mystery surrounding Chris’ wife’s death, which has driven him to despair and adds an element of menace and danger underlying the storyline.

Although I had worked out some of the answers fairly early on, I really enjoyed O’Sullivan’s portrayal of his two damaged protagonists and their journey towards the inevitable finale. I really liked the author’s writing style, and his way of introducing little snapshots of his characters’ pasts, which added a constant undercurrent of darkness to the story. Perhaps some clues could have been withheld a bit longer to prolong the mystery for me, but it still kept me interested to the end.


Summary:

Our Little Secret is a slow-burning psychological thriller exploring the deep dark corners of the human psyche – and how a simple act of kindness to a stranger can change two people’s lives forever. An enjoyable, character-driven debut novel – I look forward to reading more from this author in future.



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


Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sunday Confessional: FICTION OR LIE? NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE VALUE OF A GOOD FISHING STORY

I recently read Ruth Ware’s great new novel The Lying Game, which I loved, and which brought back memories of a childhood game we used to play to entertain ourselves on the journey to school on a crowded train. It also threw up the age-old question: what is a lie, and what is fiction? Is it ok to embellish the truth for the sake of entertainment? Where would we be without the enjoyment of the great Aussie fishing story about the one that got away (or the one that never even existed)?

Looking for a bit of excitement


Having been a voracious reader as far back as I can remember, I realised very early on that my own sheltered and somewhat uneventful life would need a lot of fictional embellishment to make for interesting reading (or telling). I neither had four intrepid friends and a dog who would join me in catching criminals, nor lived anywhere near a wild and dangerous coastline where I could stumble across a pirates’ treasure or an old skeleton anytime soon. And even though I had suspicions that the strange man living on the first floor might have been a Russian secret agent sent to gather vital intelligence for the Russian space program, I knew that spying on my neighbours through binoculars and recording all my findings in a Harriette-the-Spy worthy notebook freaked my parents out. However, despite being a nerdy kid, I had earned a sort of strange popularity with the other neighbourhood children for organising elaborate fantasy role-playing games, which were so involved they took on the complexity of a filming of Lord of the Rings and added a bit of excitement to our city lives. Until our games came to an abrupt halt when some nosy adult discovered our secret lair, a little forgotten chamber in the cellar of the apartment block, where we had forged our blood-brother bond by branding our skin with a tyre iron heated over a candle flame. I’m not sure if it was the mother of a child presenting to A&E for a coin sized 2nd degree burn on his upper arm or the old lady on the second floor smelling the fumes from molten lead and burnt skin that ratted us out, but a huge padlock was fitted to the little chamber and our days of excitement were over.


Never let the truth get in the way of a good story


With life reduced to its normal, boring routine, I had to resort to fiction to add an interesting element to my life. Having been asked to write an essay about our Easter weekend by our third grade teacher, I chewed my pencil for hours, trying to think of something to say. It had rained all Easter and we had spent a lot of time indoors reading books and eating chocolate. How could I fill an entire A4 page with that? Perhaps it was a desperate cry for help of my inner frustrated author or sheer rebellion, but I made up a story of excitement and adventure that must have sounded credible to my teacher, because she asked me to read it out loud in front of the whole school at the next assembly. My initial euphoria and pride soon gave way to abject terror. My parents would be there, and they would know I had lied. Lied! A sin I would have to confess to our scary stern-faced priest at Sunday confessional, and one that a few Hail Mary’s would not be able to fix. I was terrified! Imagining lightning striking me as I stood at the podium reading, I worked myself up into such a state that I was physically sick, until my worried parents waived the usual rule of having to have a temperature of at least 39C before qualifying for a day off school, and sent me back to bed. Phew! That was a narrow escape. And whilst this may have been the beginning and end of my author career, it did teach me the value of a good fishing story. To quote a friend of mine: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Just make sure to tell it when there is no one around to contradict what you are saying.

Adding some journalistic flair


My family have long gotten used to my “journalistic licence” in telling stories around the campfire, snickering quietly into their drinks but thankfully keeping quiet to point out the “slight exaggeration”. Is it a lie if you embellish the truth to make it more interesting? Or is it allowable for the sake of entertainment? There is nothing more boring than a real fishing story – I know this first-hand after having been forced to sit through hours of an uncle’s mind-numbingly boring slide-shows of his boat cruises as a child (they still haunt me in my nightmares!). But add a bit of drama, a shark circling the dark waters, a tornado descending on the beach, the fishing rod quivering under the weight as you landed Mobi the whale himself and dragged him all the way up the beach to the carpark, supplying enough meat to feed a whole village. What would you rather listen to? And in the way of a good fishing story, if you tell it enough times it begins to form its own memory, blends with the truth to take on a kind of realism of its own. Until you almost believe it yourself.

Never underestimate the value of a good fishing story


Fiction or Lie? It’s like one of those impossible moral and ethical dilemmas you read about on the internet. You decide. Just never underestimate the value of a good fishing story.