Thursday, 12 October 2017

Audiobook Review: THE SILENT WIFE by Kerry Fisher

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


Book Description:

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

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

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

My musings:

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

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

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


Summary:

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



Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Book Review: THE ROMA PLOT by Mario Bolduc

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


Book Description:

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

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

My musings:

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

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

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

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


Summary:

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


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


Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Audiobook Review: FRIEND REQUEST by Laura Marshall

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


Book Description:

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

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

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

My musings:

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

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

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

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

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



Monday, 9 October 2017

Book Review: THE CHILD FINDER by Rene Denfeld

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

Those who are loved are never lost.

Book Description (Goodreads):

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

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

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

My musings:

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

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

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

Summary:

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


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

Image result for 5 stars


Sunday, 8 October 2017

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

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

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

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

Sooooo – to the holiday wrap-up:

Books read: 6

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



Famous book shops visited: 2

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



Igreja de São Tiago, Obidos, Portugal:


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







Book Fairy activity: 2 

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

 


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


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


Currently reading:

Little Fires Everywhere

Which is off to a great start!


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

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Holiday Reads Mini Review #3: THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon

Title: The Winter People
Author: Jennifer McMahon
Read: September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Book Description:

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie.
Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara's farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea's diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother's bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara's fate, she discovers that she's not the only person who's desperately looking for someone that they've lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

My musings:

The Winter People was one of the books that stowed away in my suitcase, and I was looking forward to a chilly, spooky read that would make a stark contrast to hot sunny beaches – there's nothing like chilling with a good book! Within the first couple of chapters, McMahon had broken my heart as I followed Sara’s tragic account of how she lost all her babies and her beloved daughter Gertie – who would not go crazy with grief and pain in her situation? The atmospheric writing transported me effortlessly into a bleak, snow-covered landscape, chilling my heart and soul.
I really enjoyed the dual time frame and different POVs, which served to make the story more relevant to our present time than a purely historical account could have done. For me it managed to forge a strong  link between the past and present.
This was a bleak and often desolate story, which had its power in the unknown, the mystery surrounding Sara and the legacy of terror living on in her house. The first half of the book duly delivered on its promised creep factor, which made me feel like sleeping with the lights on and the closet doors firmly locked. For me, the story was being let down by its ending, which tried to explain the mystery surrounding Gertie and added unnecessary horror elements, which distracted from the brilliant mystery the author had constructed and forced me to suspend disbelief, which I’m not good at. Why? Up until then, the horror had been communicated in artfully disguised and chilling scenes that showcased McMahon as the skilful writer she is: the scene where Ruthie admires Candice’s house and suddenly notices that everything is dusty and broken was simply brilliant.
Overall, I admit regretfully that didn’t enjoy the story as much as I thought I would, though I loved the author’s writing style and am keen to read her other works.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Holiday Reads Mini Review #2: THEN SHE WAS GONE by Lisa Jewell

Author: Lisa Jewell
Publisher:
Century
Read:
September 2017 on the train from Vigo to Porto 
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2



Book Description:

THEN
She was fifteen, her mother's golden girl. She had her whole life ahead of her. And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

NOW
It’s been ten years since Ellie disappeared, but Laurel has never given up hope of finding her daughter.
And then one day a charming and charismatic stranger called Floyd walks into a café and sweeps Laurel off her feet.

Before too long she’s staying the night at this house and being introduced to his nine year old daughter.
Poppy is precocious and pretty - and meeting her completely takes Laurel's breath away.

Because Poppy is the spitting image of Ellie when she was that age.
And now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What happened to Ellie? Where did she go?
Who still has secrets to hide?

My musings:

I’m a huge fan of Lisa Jewell’s writing, so Then She Was Gone was one of my most anticipated new releases for 2017. The story starts with Laurel’s POV, and I immediately felt the easy familiarity with her that Jewell seems to achieve so effortlessly with her characters. Laurel’s grief and her efforts at trying to come to terms with her daughter’s disappearance over ten years ago resonated with me and I felt a deep emotional connection with this character throughout the story. I especially liked Laurel’s frank confessions about her feelings towards her husband and other children after Ellie disappeared, and her long journey towards making peace with herself and her family and reestablishing a relationship with her older daughter  (it even made me a bit teary at one point).

For me, this connection was unfortunately lacking with the other narrator, whose name I will not divulge here for fear of giving away spoilers – but anyone who has read the book will know who I am talking about. Personally, I have never been a fan of reading a story from the POV of a psychopathic character because I think that very few authors can pull this off in a way that the person is both believable and relatable on some level  - I just don’t “do” repulsive characters very well. In this instance, I really struggled to connect, which stalled the story a bit for me. I felt that a lot of the subtleties in Jewell’s writing that usually flesh out her characters and make them real to me were missing in this person and he/she needed to have either a few more redeeming features or background to explain some of their actions and motives. This was a slight disappointment for me, as I usually find Jewell’s character development faultless and am normally able to empathize with even her most flawed protagonists. Perhaps these chapters would have worked better for me from an omniscient narrator, but this is purely a personal preference and other readers will undoubtedly disagree with me on that.

Whilst the general story was nothing new, I enjoyed the details that made it different from similar books in the genre, even though I found a few logistics slightly puzzling and somewhat far fetched. I noted Jewell’s confession at the end of the book that her original draft was too twisted for the publisher, which immediately piqued my interest as I think I would have liked a few more unexpected twists!

Despite my minor quibbles I enjoyed the story and found it hard to put it down. So whilst Then She Was Gone is not my favourite from the author, it was an enjoyable mystery with some unusual elements that set it apart from others in the genre, which will undoubtedly appeal to many readers. Jewell’s writing is as ever engaging and captivating and I look forward to her next book.



Monday, 18 September 2017

Holiday Reads Mini Review #1: EXQUISITE by Sarah Stovell

It's holiday time! I've had my reading list sorted for ages, leaving the most coveted books on my tbr pile for my trip - which you must agree shows great restraint!

After much agonising, I chose this little gem to sneak into my cabin luggage and be first off the rank. Unfortunately I was much too tired after coming off night shifts to read much on the plane, but made up for it once we got to the beautiful city of Barcelona.

I will try to post mini reviews of my holiday reads by painstakingly typing them out on my trusty old Samsung in hotel rooms at night, and challenging myself by trying to figure out my Blogger app as I go, so please forgive me any formatting errors.

Pictured here is the beautiful ancient city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, where we are currently staying.




Title: Exquisite
Author: Sarah Stovell
Read: September 2017 in Barcelona, Spain
My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

Book Description (Goodreads):

Bo Luxton has it all—a loving family, a beautiful home in the Lake District, and a clutch of bestselling books to her name.
Enter Alice Dark, an aspiring writer who is drifting through life, with a series of dead-end jobs and a freeloading boyfriend. When they meet at a writers’ retreat, the chemistry is instant, and a sinister relationship develops. Or does it?

Breathlessly pacey, taut and terrifying, Exquisite is a startlingly original and unbalancing psychological thriller that will keep you guessing until the very last page.

My musings:

Ever since its release date earlier this year, I have kept stumbling across raving reviews about Sarah Stovell's dark and unsettling psychological thriller about obsession and lies, and I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. With a premise that was certain to mess with my mind, I thought it would make the perfect holiday read. And true to its promise, once I started I was well and truly hooked!

Told in the alternating voices of Bo and Alice, the story soon spiralled into the murky waters of lies, deception and a friendship gone terribly wrong. Having two unreliable narrators, each with their own agendas and motives, soon saw me constantly questioning everything I read, which made for an interesting if somewhat exhausting reading experience. To be honest, neither of the two women were particularly trustworthy, both scarred from dysfunctional childhoods that make most of our ordinary lives sound like princess fairy tales. Despite the age gap between the women, and their obvious differences, their rich background stories explained perfectly why they would be drawn to one another. I confess that the young struggling Alice struck me as the more innocent of the two and I warmed to her much more than to Bo, despite her love for hiking (which I share) and being much closer in age to me.You will have to see for yourself whether I was on the right track or not!

Stovell's writing is engaging and seductive, drawing me so deeply into the story that I emerged a long time later like a sleeper out of a disturbing dream. With its constant twists and turns and two narrators who both tried to convince me that there account of events was the right one, I was constantly questioning what I was reading, to the very last page. And to be totally frank with you, I'm still not sure if I got it right, even after the last page has been turned. Yes, it certainly made good on its promise of messing with my mind!

I don't want to give any spoilers, so will not delve any deeper into the story other than to say that there is a lot of tension and foreboding as the two women's friendship blossoms. For me, disaster was always the inevitable outcome, and the power of the story lay in its detail. Personally, I thought that the ending was a bit of a let-down, feeling slightly rushed where it could have drawn out the unbearable tension just a tad longer to make it truly satisfying. However, I can fully understand the hype Stovell's book created, and will be anxiously looking out for her next book in anticipation of another great read.

Summary:

Exquisite is an unsettling and utterly compulsive story of a friendship gone wrong that will mess with your mind and make you question everything you read. A must-read for lovers of domestic noir who are looking for a character driven story with unreliable narrators who will stay with you long after the last page has been turned.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Book Review: DARK PINES by Will Dean

Title: Dark Pines
Author: Will Dean
Publisher:
Oneworld Publications
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 4 January 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

An isolated Swedish town. A deaf reporter terrified of nature. A dense spruce forest overdue for harvest. A pair of eyeless hunters found murdered in the woods.

It’s week one of the Swedish elk hunt and the sound of gunfire is everywhere. When Tuva Moodyson investigates the story that could make her career she stumbles on a web of secrets that knit Gavrik town together. Are the latest murders connected to the Medusa killings twenty years ago? Is someone following her? Why take the eyes? Tuva must face her demons and venture deep into the woods to stop the killer and write the story. And then get the hell out of Gavrik.

My musings:

Tuva is an interesting, multi-dimensional character who I like straight from the start. Being deaf from childhood, life has not always been easy for her, but she is never bitter of bemoaning her fate, determined not to let her disability stop her from achieving her goals. Wanting to be near her dying mother sees Tuva give up her career as a journalist in London and move to the small town of Gavrik in a remote region in the Swedish countryside, where she finds work writing small features for the local paper. Her job suddenly becomes a lot more interesting when a man is found murdered in a gruesome fashion in the forest, mutilated in ways that link him to other killings twenty years ago.

The more Tuva starts investigating the town's dark secrets, the creepier the book becomes. There were some truly terrifying characters there - those woodcarver sisters will give me nightmares for some time to come I think! Everyone seems to have a motive for murder, and most of the characters are - for lack of a better word –odd, yet strangely compelling. There were so many interesting side stories here that would make for whole books just on their own, and I could have kept reading on long after the mystery had been solved just to find out more about this unusual cast of characters. Dean portrays small town mentality perfectly, with all its prejudice, allgiances and narrow-mindedness, Tuva always remaining the outsider. Her friendship with Tammy was portrayed beautifully, and I was glad that at least she had someone fighting in her corner!

I am always a sucker for a creepy remote setting, and the author certainly knows how to set the atmosphere: the dark, sinister woods Tuva is so afraid of take on a life of their own, closing in tighter and tighter around the small town the more people fear for their lives with a serial killer on the loose. Dean does a brilliant job in ratcheting up the tension by including small, seemingly insignificant details that add to the general undercurrent of danger, like the plague of insects that attack Tuva every time she goes into the woods, or the pile of rotting mouse carcasses she finds piled up against a stonewall near one of her suspect's homes. With its air of menace, the forest becomes almost like another character Tuva is up against in her quest to find out the truth. 


Summary:

Dark Pines is one of those dark, atmospheric and haunting thrillers that contains everything I look for in a good mystery, and I was instantly hooked. If you are looking for a sympathetic gutsy heroine, a rich cast of unusual characters, a creepy claustrophobic setting and a chilling murder mystery, you can’t go wrong with this one!  It definitely earned itself a spot on my favourites list for the year and I look forward to reading more from the author in future. Very highly recommended. 


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





Monday, 11 September 2017

Book Review: COLD BLOOD by Robert Bryndza (Detective Erika Foster #5)

Author: Robert Bryndza
Publisher:
Bookouture
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 20 September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description (Goodreads):

When a battered suitcase containing the dismembered body of a young man washes up on the shore of the river Thames, Detective Erika Foster is shocked. She’s worked on some terrifying cases but never seen anything like this before.

As Erika and her team set to work, she makes the link with another victim – the body of a young woman dumped in an identical suitcase two weeks ago.

Erika quickly realises she’s on the trail of a serial killer who’s already made their next move. Yet just as Erika starts to make headway with the investigation, she is the victim of a brutal attack.

But nothing will stop Erika. As the body count rises, the twin daughters of her colleague Commander Marsh are abducted, and the stakes are higher than ever before. Can Erika save the lives of two innocent children before it’s too late? She’s running out of time and about to make a disturbing discovery…there’s more than one killer.

My musings:

I’ve been a big fan of the Erika Foster series from the start, and was duly excited to see that a fifth book is coming out, doing my usual happy dance around the kitchen when I got the approval for an ARC from Netgalley. I’m not sure what it is exactly that makes Erika such a stand-out character for me, but I find the series totally addictive! Bryndza has a very direct, “no-frills” writing style that works well for the genre and really appeals to me. The short chapters are filled with action and move the story along at a good pace. Plus, I have grown very fond of the team of detectives and forensic scientists that have been featuring alongside Erika, eagerly following their side stories.

As usual, Bryndza has given Erika a chilling and challenging case to solve, which she approaches in her usual “give-it-all” manner, determined to find the killer/s before the body count mounts. Parts of the book are narrated from the perpetrators’ POV, and I must admit that on this occasion this did not work as well for me than in previous novels, especially Nina’s diary entries. The trouble I have with most fictional diaries is that they rarely read like a real-life diary, and tend to slow the story down with lots of internal dialogue. Personally, I thought that this distracted me from the main story and pushed Erika and her team into the background. I felt that I was not invested enough in Nina’s story to care about her most intimate thoughts, which made the book flag a bit for me in the middle. I would have much preferred to be more involved in Erika’s investigation and problem solving, which was overshadowed by the story of the two perpetrators and always being a few steps ahead of the police. This is purely a personal preference and will probably not bother other readers, but I didn’t feel that Cold Blood offered the same thrilling cat-and-mouse game as previous books. I am also not a big fan of the theme of detectives becoming targets, finding it overused and often quite far-fetched. That said, once the story picked up pace in the last quarter of the book, there was plenty of action to make up for the short lull, and I loved the tense and thrilling finale. 

Summary:

Whilst Book 5 was not my favourite instalment in the Erika Foster series, it features a chilling murder case, a ruthless perpetrator and plenty of action, and I am sure that many readers will love it. I am still a big fan of the series and am looking forward to Erika’s next case - I hope that she will finally find a bit more happiness in her personal life!


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





Friday, 8 September 2017

Audiobook Review: INTO THE DARKEST CORNER by Elizabeth Haynes

Author: Elizabeth Haynes
Read: September 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

“You think you know now, don't you? But you have no idea what it was like.” 


Book Description (Goodreads):

When young, pretty Catherine Bailey meets Lee Brightman, she can't believe her luck. Gorgeous, charismatic, and a bit mysterious, Lee seems almost too perfect to be true.

But what begins as flattering attention and spontaneous, passionate sex transforms into raging jealousy, and Catherine soon discovers that Lee's dazzling blue eyes and blond good looks hide a dark, violent nature. Disturbed by his increasingly erratic, controlling behavior, she tries to break it off; turning to her friends for support, she's stunned to find they don't believe her. Increasingly isolated and driven into the darkest corner of her world, a desperate Catherine plans a meticulous escape.

Four years later, Lee is behind bars and Catherine—now Cathy—is trying to build a new life in a new city. Though her body has healed, the trauma of the past still haunts her. Then Stuart Richardson, her attractive new neighbor, moves in. Encouraging her to confront her fears, he sparks unexpected hope and the possibility of love and a normal life.

Until the day the phone rings . . .

My musings:

Rarely has a book ever made me so angry! At one stage, I almost experienced a murderous rage against one of the characters, wanting – needing – to see justice done. It says a lot about the author’s writing skills to be able to elicit such strong emotional responses in her readers. Whilst this is a slow-burning mystery, its tension relying more on the psychological states of mind of its characters rather than action, at times it was almost unbearable to follow their slow but inevitable fate as they walked head first into the abyss.

Catherine Bailey and Cathy Bailey may be one and the same woman, but they are like night and day. How can the carefree young Catherine have turned into a frightened, obsessive recluse, too afraid to get out of her house, and endlessly checking windows and doors to make sure they are secure? Don’t worry – you are about to find out. Told in a “now” and “then” format from the POV of Cathy as she reflects on her present life and her past, we get to follow her journey from first meeting the charismatic Lee to having to lock herself in her flat and fearing for her life. The experiences that turned Catherine into Cathy are as intense as they are terrifying – I listened to the audiobook, and some scenes left me shaking in horror as well as rage of the sheer “wrongness” of it all. Without giving anything away that has not already been mentioned in the blurb, Into the Darkest Corner is a tale of domestic abuse, psychological terror and of a relationship gone horribly wrong. The story is so well plotted that every time I questioned Catherine’s options, I realised just how limited they were, how omnipotent the evil that had taken over her life. I constantly asked myself: what would I do? And shuddered at the image of the dead-end corner Catherine had found herself in, with her back against the wall.  

Summary:

Into the Darkest Corner tells of one of the most chilling fictional relationships I have ever encountered in a psychological thriller, and it terrified me to the core. A brilliantly plotted, dark and sinister book that will stay with me for some time to come, and makes me want to check that my windows and doors are locked up tight. It would make for some brilliant bookclub discussions!

Credit must also go to Karen Cass, whose voice was perfect for narrating Cathy’s story – I loved listening to her and she gave life to all the characters in the book. 



Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Book Review: LITTLE SECRETS by Anna Snoekstra

Author: Anna Snoekstra
Publisher:
Harlequin Australia
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 23 October 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description (blurb):

What happens when ambition trumps the truth?

A town reeling in the wake of tragedy…

An arsonist is on the loose in Colmstock, Australia, most recently burning down the town’s courthouse and killing a young boy who was trapped inside.

An aspiring journalist desperate for a story…

The clock is ticking for Rose Blakey. With nothing but rejections from newspapers piling up, her job pulling beers for cops at the local tavern isn’t enough to even cover rent. Rose needs a story — a big one.

A bizarre mystery…

In the weeks after the courthouse fire, porcelain replicas of Colmstock’s daughters begin turning up on doorsteps, terrifying parents and testing the limits of the town’s already fractured police force.

Rose may have finally found her story. But as her articles gain traction and the boundaries of her investigation blur, Colmstock is seized by a seething paranoia. Soon, no one is safe from suspicion. And when Rose’s attention turns to the mysterious stranger living in the rooms behind the tavern, neighbour turns on neighbour and the darkest side of self-preservation is revealed.


My musings:

I think that over the last decade or so, Australian mystery & crime fiction has really come into its own, with authors using unique characteristics in their stories and creating a niche market for themselves that draws readers from all around the world for an Aussie interpretation of “noir” . For me, these are books that have a strong sense of place, using the harshness of nature and the remoteness of the setting to create tension and a constant undercurrent of menace and danger to the story. Little Secrets definitely falls into that category! Snoekstra has done a wonderful job in creating not only a setting, but also characters that captivate and terrify at the same time. The dying little country town of Colmstock is so quintessentially Australian that you can literally feel the heat and hear the flies buzzing in its dusty, deserted streets! Not only does its remote setting make for a perfect background to a chilling mystery, but Snoekstra includes some seemingly insignificant but terrifying elements that make the streets of this particular country town even more creepy: such as the smoking ruins of the courthouse, or the spooky presence of the paper plate kids – and those creepy dolls of course! I had goosebumps reading it!

In Rose, Snoekstra has created a wonderful main protagonist – one you cannot help liking, even though she definitely has her flaws. Young and ambitious, Rose’s main dream is to get out of the dying town she has grown up in, and yet has limited means to do so. An aspiring journalist, Rose knows rejection only too well, even though this latest one threatens to put all her best-laid plans to rest. Like any creature trapped, Rose is not afraid to fight for her chance of an escape. Her friend Mia, on the other hand, has long resigned herself to living and dying in Colmstock, which makes her both adore and resent Rose in equal measure. The dynamics between the two best friends was fascinating and very well drawn, and held a few unexpected surprises.

I really don’t want to give anything away to spoil this wonderful mystery for anyone, so won’t be delving too much into the storyline, except to say that it had me captivated from beginning to end. If it hadn’t been for the reality of having to go to work, and catch a few hours sleep, I would have devoured this book in one giant read-a-thon. I couldn’t tear myself away! As things start heading south, and the small community of Colmstock is beginning  to unravel like a pack of wild dogs snapping and snarling at each other, the tension was almost unbearable. I loved how the author slowly strips each and every character of their masks, revealing their true personalities underneath. There were a few surprises there!  Snoekstra’s ability to give all her characters true-to-life personalities and flaws made them come to life for me. As tensions grow, and neighbours turn against neighbours, friends against friends, there was a palpable sense of menace that had my heart racing and my knuckles turn white as I gripped the book tightly in my hands, wanting, needing to find out how this would all end – what more can you ask from a good mystery? 

Summary:

Little Secrets is Australian crime fiction at its best – this is the type of psychological thriller that makes me come back for more, and I can’t wait to read more from this talented author. Highly recommended! 


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



Monday, 4 September 2017

Book Review: IF I DIE BEFORE I WAKE by Emily Koch

Author: Emily Koch
Publisher:
Random House UK, Vintage Publishing
Read:
September 2017
Expected publication: 11 January 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟


Book Description (Goodreads):

Everyone believes Alex is in a coma, unlikely to ever wake up. As his family debate withdrawing life support, and his friends talk about how his girlfriend Bea needs to move on, he can only listen.

But Alex soon begins to suspect that the accident that put him here wasn’t really an accident. Even worse, the perpetrator is still out there and Alex is not the only one in danger.

As he goes over a series of clues from his past, Alex must use his remaining senses to solve the mystery of who tried to kill him, and try to protect those he loves, before they decide to let him go.

My musings:

I know that this book is not going to be published until January. Plus, I have plenty of books on my reading list that I should be reading first. But I felt like I just needed something a bit different, something that stood out from the fray– what would fit the bill better than a mystery told from the POV of a character in a permanent vegetative state, his active mind trapped in a lifeless body and unable to communicate? I just couldn’t resist!

Alex is in a coma, unable to move his body, eat, speak, or even move his eyes.  Two years after a terrible climbing accident, the doctors have long given up on him ever regaining any function and have been unable to prove that Alex is even aware of his surroundings. Pneumonia has almost claimed his life several times, but still Alex clings on to the small hope that one day he can return to his old life, his girlfriend, his family. Lying helpless in bed, totally at the mercy of others, he overhears his visitors talking about the incident that has cost him his life as he knew it, but as hard as he tries to think back, he cannot remember anything. Hearing that the police are investigating his accident as a possible attempted murder, Alex is determined to find out what happened – if it’s the last thing he will ever do.

I really loved the premise of If I Die Before I Wake, which was both original and captivating. Imagining what it must feel like for our main character, Alex, trapped in his own body unable to communicate even his most basic needs or pain, created an almost unbearable tension. His frustration over his helplessness was highlighted by the many scenes in which he had to endure pain or suffering, simply because of being locked into his lifeless body. It was horrible to imagine what this must be like! The mystery element is well thought out and kept my attention, and it was interesting how slowly but surely all the pieces of the puzzle came together in Alex’s mind. The interpersonal relationships were sensitively drawn – the nurses, the doctors, Alex’s girlfriend and family – and made for some touching and some infuriating moments.

The main issue I had with the book was the pacing. Whilst Alex’s predicament made for an original plotline, it also slowed down the story quite significantly in places, whilst the reader follows his long internal dialogue and his daily frustrations. It reminded me a bit of Tom Hanks’ epic movie Castaway, where a marooned Chuck Noland only has his volleyball to talk to – which, to be fair, is very original, but wore a bit thin after a while. Parts of the story dragged a bit for me, and I would have liked to have a different element introduced, a different POV perhaps, just to move the story along and shed light on some other aspects of the investigation Alex was not privy to. Some threads didn’t seem to go anywhere, like the scene where Alex’s catheter “fell out”, which made me wonder if I had missed something? Because of this, I struggled at times to fully connect to Alex, hoping for things to move along a bit faster than they did. 

Summary:


All in all, If I Die Before I Wake was a very original mystery written from the POV from the most unlikely character – a man trapped inside his lifeless body, surely one of the most terrible situations a person could find themselves in. Koch explores this topic with sensitivity and insight, realistically portraying the frustrations of her helpless character as he strives to find out the truth. Whilst the pacing was a bit slow for me at times, the story certainly made up for it in originality. One of the most unusual mysteries I have read this year.


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.