Monday, 21 August 2017

Audiobook Review: THE TRUTH ABOUT MELODY BROWNE by Lisa Jewell

Author: Lisa Jewell
Read: August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description (Goodreads):

Melody Browne can remember nothing before her ninth birthday. Now in her early thirties, Melody lives in the middle of London with her seventeen-year-old son. She hasn’t seen her parents since she left home at fifteen, but Melody doesn't mind. She’s better off on her own.

And then fragments of her past start to come back. At first her memories mean nothing to her but slowly, day by day, she begins to piece together the real story of her childhood.

But with every mystery she solves another one materialises, with every question she answers another appears. And Melody begins to wonder if she'll ever know the truth about her past...


My musings:

What a beautiful, touching story! As usual, Lisa Jewell has created characters that seem to leap out of the pages of her book, and became so real to me as the story progressed that I felt I had known them all my life. Even more so, since we slowly get to discover the truth about Melody’s past, feel her joy and her pain, which at times broke my heart – expect to cry! There is a rich cast of supporting characters which defy any stereotype and add a depth to the story lacking in many other books. It shows what a skilled, accomplished writer Jewell is, and why she is firmly embedded on my list of favourite authors.

Written in a dual time format, the story starts with Melody Brown’s life in the present, and it may seem a bit slow and run-of-the-mill for the first few pages – but don’t be fooled! The rest of the story jumps back and forth between Melody’s past (starting with her earliest memories) and the present, as she slowly uncovers the truth about her childhood. Whilst this is a format that can feel disjointed  in some books, Jewell marries the two stories together so cleverly that it worked perfectly for me. a) I never got bored with one of the stories, wishing to jump back to the other; and b) I never got confused as to what period she was relating to, even with the audio version. And whilst I am talking about the audio version, I must give credit to Julie Maisey, who lent her voice to the characters and made them come to life for me. I loved Maisey’s ability to give each character their unique voice, especially the small Melody Brown, whose voice I loved!

I could say a lot more about this book, but it is best delved into without spoilers, so I will leave it at: read it, you won’t be sorry. A touching, thought provoking and emotional read by a writer on top of her game. I loved it!




Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Book Review: BENEATH THE SURFACE by Sibel Hodge

Author: Sibel Hodge
Publisher:
Thomas & Mercer
Read:
August 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟1/2



Book Description:

After the breakdown of her marriage, a failed career and the loss of her pregnancy, Holly returns to her hometown to work for a small-town newspaper and mourn her losses. Defeated and ashamed of her thwarted ambitions, she does not make contact with many of her old friends, keeping to herself and plugging away in her joyless job with little hope for something better to happen in her life. 

She is shocked and saddened to hear of the murder/suicide of one of her former best friends at the hand of her friend’s own teenage son, unwilling to believe that the sweet little boy she knew in the past could do such a terrible thing. Reaching out to the victim’s mother Barbara, who used to be a mother figure to her in her childhood, Holly learns that Barbara also finds it impossible to believe that her grandson would be capable of such a horrific act, and begs Holly to investigate, hoping to be able to clear his name.

My musings:

Beneath the Surface has been touted a “gripping suspense thriller”, which is usually something I cannot resist! Not having read any previous books by Hodge, I was also curious to explore a new author and was thrilled to have been granted a preview copy of the novel on Netgalley. Hodge’s writing drew me into the story very quickly, and I was intrigued by Holly’s damaged character and the unspeakable crime, which took up the first chapters of the book. Who would not be shocked and saddened to hear that their best friend had been murdered, especially at the hands of her own son? I could imagine the grief that rocked the whole community, and understood Holly’s desire to investigate.

However, it was after this point that things started to bug me. Despite admitting to having been a journalist working for a fluffy women’s magazine, Holly makes some vast leaps of imagination and deduction to very quickly come up with her conspiracy theory into what had caused young Dean’s descent into madness and murder, which seemed a bit far-fetched to me. For a person without any medical background, or previous experience of the field through investigative journalism, some of Holly’s convictions didn’t ring true to me. I would have preferred if more time had been spent on Holly investigating the crime and finding a lot more clues before being convinced of her (at that stage rather far-fetched) theory of what had caused Dean’s murderous rampage.

I am trying to tread carefully here, so as not to give anything away, so will only say that the author spends some time later in the book explaining her theory – and she has obviously done her research into the topic at hand – but to me it felt a bit too conspiracy-theory like all the way through. Perhaps I am just the wrong audience for this type of book, as I felt that the background conspiracy got in the way of being able to engage with the main characters, and I totally lost any emotional connection with Holly in the process. The ending also seemed rushed to me, tying all ends just a bit too neatly and quickly, and I turned the last page feeling rather let down by the whole story. There just wasn’t enough tension or mystery in it for me, and I certainly wouldn’t call it a psychological thriller, as it is pretty obvious from the start where the book is heading. The story didn’t mess with my mind nearly enough to justify the tag in the genre, in my opinion. However, I am sure that a lot of readers will enjoy the fast-paced last third of the novel, and concede that if I had known the focus of the book I would not have chosen it, as I am well aware that I am the wrong audience for this type of story. 


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




Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Book Review: THE OTHER GIRL by Erica Spindler

Author: Erica Spindler
Publisher:
St Martin's Press
Read:
August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2



Book Description:

Officer Miranda Rader of the Hammond PD in Louisiana is known for her honesty, integrity, and steady hand in a crisis—but that wasn’t always so. Miranda comes from Jasper, just south of Hammond, a place about the size of a good spit on a hot day, and her side of the tracks was the wrong one. She’s worked hard to leave the girl she used to be behind and earn respect in her position as an officer.

However, when Miranda and her partner are called to investigate the murder of one of the town’s most beloved college professors, they’re unprepared for the gruesomeness of the scene. This murder is unlike any they’ve ever investigated, and just when Miranda thinks she’s seen the worst of it, she finds a piece of evidence that chills her to the core: a faded newspaper clipping about a terrible night from her long-buried past. Then another man turns up dead, this one a retired cop, and not just any cop—Clint Wheeler, the cop who took her statement that night. Two murders, two very different men, two killings that on the surface had nothing in common—except Miranda. 15 years ago.
And when her fingerprints turn up at the scene of the first murder, Miranda once again finds herself under the microscope, her honesty and integrity doubted, her motivations questioned. Alone again, the trust of her colleagues shattered, Miranda must try to trust the instincts she’s pushed down for so long, and decide what’s right—before it’s too late.


My musings:

The Other Girl was my first book by Erica Spindler, and its premise really intrigued me – I am always eager to discover a new appealing detective protagonist. Miranda Rader of the Hammond PD in Louisiana is certainly a character with an interesting back-story. When she and her partner Jake are sent to investigate the brutal murder of a local college professor, she is convinced that the crime is connected to an incident in her teens which has haunted her for years. The problem with having been a wild teenager who was generally known in town for running off the rails and telling lies is that at the time nobody believed her, and her claims were dismissed as just another story she told to get herself out of trouble. Miranda had not expected, however, that she would still have difficulties convincing people of her suspicions – even her boss, who she has always had the utmost respect for, is hesitant to take her seriously. When the body count mounts, Miranda knows that she has to take matters into her own hands...

Told alternately from the perspective of Miranda’s life today and offering flash-backs from the past, the reader slowly discovers the full extent of Miranda’s trauma. I really felt for this young woman, who has worked so hard to leave her past and reputation behind, only to find that it has suddenly caught up with her again. Worse still, nobody is willing to believe her, and she feels as if her hands are tied. Spindler is achieving a good balance in offering just the right amount of flashbacks to reveal the background story without slowing down the main storyline, and I found both the teenage as well as the adult character of Miranda sympathetic and engaging. Small town politics are well depicted, highlighting the difficulty of ever being able to escape your past, no matter how many years may have passed by.

I liked Spindler’s writing style, and  the book grabbed me instantly, holding my interest. My only gripe is that whilst it held a few unexpected surprises, I felt that some events towards the end were a bit predictable and Miranda veered a bit too much into the “misunderstood detective” territory, her actions questionable at times. However, even though I may have hoped for a twist to prove me wrong, the book turned out to be an enjoyable, quick read – perfect entertainment for a cold and wet day. I look forward to reading more books from this author.


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




Saturday, 12 August 2017

Book Review: THE WISH CHILD by Catherine Chidgey

Author: Catherine Chidgey
Publisher:
Random House UK
Read:
August 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟


I am the wish child, the future cast in water. I am the thrown coin, the blown candle; I am the fallen star.


Book Description (Goodreads):

Germany, 1939. Two children watch as their parents become immersed in the puzzling mechanisms of power. Siggi lives in the affluent ignorance of middle-class Berlin, her father a censor who excises prohibited words (‘promise’, ‘love’, ‘mercy’). Erich is an only child living a lush rural life, aware that he is shadowed by strange, unanswered questions.

Drawn together as Germany’s hope for a glorious future begins to collapse, the children find temporary refuge in an abandoned theatre amidst the rubble of Berlin. Outside, white bedsheets hang from windows; all over the city people are talking of surrender. The days Siggi and Erich spend together will shape the rest of their lives.

My musings:

Everyone who knows me knows that I am a sucker for WWII books, so when I saw The Wish Child on Netgalley I couldn’t resist! After closing the last page, I am not quite sure where to begin, because The Wish Child must be one of the strangest – or should I say most unusual – and haunting WWII books I have ever read! The entire book is being told in the surreal voice of a ghostly omniscient being which seems to follow the two main protagonists Erich and Siggi wherever they go, infiltrates their lives and commentates on the environment of the times. I spent the first half of the book wondering who this narrator could be, and how it is connected to the story. There are a few hints throughout the book, but its true identity is not revealed until the end, when it all falls into place perfectly. As in The Book Thief, where Death narrates the entire novel, this mysterious voice added an air of mystery to the story that made the book stand out for me.

Erich and Siggi are two innocent children caught up in the events of WWII, one growing up as the daughter of a censor in Berlin, the other on a rural property near Leipzig. Bit by bit, their innocence is shattered by the horrors of war, their lives connecting due to unexpected circumstances. By offering a child’s perspective of the propaganda and the general hype surrounding Hitler, the author catches a unique snapshot of this time in history not usually found in other novels of the genre.

“On these nights, when the planes were almost too remote to hear, Sieglinde wished she could climb into her parents’ bed. But this was not a gypsy camp; this was not a den of dogs.”

But Chidgey doesn’t stop there – she also includes small chapters of two ordinary German women’s conversations in the story, as well as the internal dialogue of a teacher taking a class of children on school excursions to Berlin’s factories, where items necessary to the war effort are being produced (and other things too – some very chilling moments here!). The constant danger of living under a dictatorship is beautifully demonstrated in the conversations between Frau Miller and Frau MΓΌller, two factory workers, discussing daily life under Hitler as the war progresses. This may sound unusual, and it certainly was! I loved the way the author manages to capture the essence of the times in those snippets of conversation and musings in often hidden phrases and seemingly innocent words – it was so very cleverly done!

Due to our ghostly narrator, there is an era of mystique but also malice underlying the entire story, which often gave me goosebumps. There are many elements of a kind of magic realism, or symbolism, hidden amongst the pages that convey the full horror of the war, reflected in somewhat puzzling scenes in the book (like the shifting walls of Siggi’s apartment or the snippets of words she keeps hidden in her tin of treasures that take on a life of their own). Whilst most of the actions pertain to the two children’s lives and fates during those horrible war years, the author also catches a perfect snapshot of the general atmosphere and attitudes of many German people during that time, even those small doubts and acts of passive resistance that were often the only thing people felt safe to offer.

Frau MΓΌller: There’s no need. I meant nothing. It means nothing.
Frau Miller: Everything means something.
Frau MΓΌller: The lies that fall from the sky – they are not suitable reading. You should not be reading them. They should be burned.
Frau Miller: Quite right. Quite right. And I do. But sometimes one notices a sentence here and there as one is gathering them to burn.
Frau MΓΌller: One should stop noticing.

This is a very difficult book to review, as it relies so much on its “unusual” elements! I really enjoyed it, although it was (expectedly) very disturbing at times, and had me asking many questions along the way, many of which still haunt me. The Wish Child would undoubtedly make a fantastic book club book, as everyone will have a different take on some of these elements, and I personally would love to be able to discuss them a bit more deeply. 

Summary:

The Wish Child is a clever, multi-layered novel offering a very unique perspective of the events of WWII. Told by a ghostly omniscient narrator and including unusual elements not often found in other novels of the genre, the story takes on a haunting and thought-provoking air that stayed with me long after reading it and made it memorable for me. I thoroughly enjoyed The Wish Child and can fully recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction. 


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






Friday, 11 August 2017

Friday Funny: WHAT GOES UP, MUST COME DOWN (the hidden dangers of bookstagram, continued)

It’s been cold and wet for weeks now, and the motivation to go outside is inversely proportional to the outside temperature and wind speed. But since I love hiking almost as much as I love books, I tried to use the moments between showers (and hail, and thunder, and gale force winds) to quickly sprint up another mountain track today, in the light of some serious eating to be done later for my husband’s birthday feast. All was well until I spotted an interesting outcrop of rocks in the distance, which offered a perfect view over the coastline and a nice little reading nook to shelter from an approaching dark cloud, promising an imminent shower. And a great bookstagram photo opportunity! I have reflected on the dangers of bookstagram before, and the instant suspension of any reason when it comes to the pursuit of the perfect photo. So, ignoring the rain and the wind and the slippery rock I climbed up the steep granite rock face, carefully wedging my hiking boots into small crevasses and admiring my “pretty-good-for-my-age” climbing ability. The view was spectacular! And the little rock cave just big enough to shelter me from the rain, which sleeted down horizontally, wind whistling mournfully around the rock. I sat with my little book  feeling slightly smug and righteous to have braved the elements, and waited for the sun to come out.

What goes up, must come down
 

Hmmmm, it’s time to climb down the rock now and it’s gotten all slippery from the rain, glinting menacingly like a black ski slope, water still pouring off it from above. A stray ray of sunshine reflects in its greenish-black slick, making tiny rainbows. I test the surface with my left boot – slippery. Crap! I get down on all fours backwards (in what my yoga teacher calls the table position), searching for footholds whilst my cold and numb fingers clamp down on the granite beneath me. Still slippery! On all sides of me is sheer rock. Clouds are brewing up in the distance. My right foot finds a tiny foothold and I decide to “Go for it, sister! You’ve got this!” I shimmy down the rock backwards like a crab, my breath coming out in tense little hiccupping puffs as I imagine myself stranded on the rock, spread eagled, a news helicopter circling over me as the cliff rescue is being dispatched to save the idiot who got herself stranded on a rock in the middle of a severe weather warning. My left foot is scrambling for purchase now, and this is the moment I lose my hold on the rock. Landing hard on my butt, I find myself sliding, sliding, sliding down the sheer rock face towards the abyss. In the split seconds of my life flashing in front of my eyes, I draft my obituary:

Died in the pursuit of bookstagram.

As a bright ray of sunlight breaks through the clouds and I feel myself airborne, sailing through the air and landing – with a soft plop as air is expelled from my lungs – feet first on the soft forest floor. Staring down at the boots of a bemused hiker, who has undoubtedly watched the whole funny performance from beginning to end. Just shoot me now!

Now, reflecting rather sheepishly on my near death experience whilst trying to dry off my cold and wet (and bruised) derriere, I need to start planning how to make it sound heroic rather than foolish, to polish the near-death experience like a shiny marble to make it fit for telling around a camp fire. Because, as an ED nurse, I recognise the implications of a “just hold my beer and watch this” moment. Really, I should know better!

But wasn’t it all worth it, for this delightful landscape?








Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Audiobook Review: THE TEA GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE by Lisa See


Author: Lisa See
Read: July / August 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 1/2


Book Description:

Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. There is ritual and routine, and it has been ever thus for generations. Then one day a jeep appears at the village gate - the first automobile any of them have seen - and a stranger arrives. In this remote Yunnan village, the stranger finds the rare tea he has been seeking and a reticent Akha people.

Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, translates for the stranger and is among the first to reject the rules that have shaped her existence. When she has a baby outside of wedlock, rather than stand by tradition she wraps her daughter in a blanket, with a tea cake hidden in her swaddling, and abandons her in the nearest city. After mother and daughter have gone their separate ways, Li-yan slowly emerges from the security and insularity of her village to encounter modern life while Haley grows up a privileged and well-loved California girl. Despite Haley's happy home life, she wonders about her origins, and Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. They both search for and find answers in the tea that has shaped their family's destiny for generations.


My musings:

I can’t start this review without first saying a HUGE thank you to the Goodreads community, who continue to put me on to fantastic new books I wouldn’t normally pick up. The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane is a perfect example – with a title that is so obviously not my usual genre, I would have never read this marvel of a story had I not stumbled across a few rave reviews by much respected readers on Goodreads, who highly recommended it. Feeling like something different from my usual fare of gruesome murder mysteries and psychological thrillers, I downloaded the audiobook and - WOW! What a fantastic read!

I have longed for some armchair travel to a remote and culturally diverse place for some time, and Lisa See’s book delivered it in spades. Transported off to a different world altogether, I not only discovered the culture of the Akha people (one of the 50 ethnic minorities living in China), but learned so much about my favourite beverage – tea – that it has added a whole new depth to my morning cuppa of Chinese Jasmine tea. See seamlessly blends facts and fiction, educating the armchair traveller as the story progresses and adding depth to her characters. I fell in love with Li-yan, and felt quite bereft when the book ended. Li-yan’s journey from her simple and yet culturally rich life in the remote mountain village in Yunnan to being confronted with all the trappings of 20th century life was fascinating. I often tried to put myself in her shoes, thinking how strange it must feel to come from a place without cars and electricity, and suddenly having to learn her way around a computer, catch a plane, drive a car. Such different worlds! See’s astute descriptions of how the 21st century finally catches up with the Akha people were also thought provoking, as I have witnessed these changes myself when travelling to previously untouched regions, where everyone suddenly owns a mobile phone.

Following Li-yan’s life from her early childhood to young adulthood and finally being a wife and mother, the book took me on an incredible journey I will remember for a long time to come. I thoroughly admired Li-yan’s courage and resilience in the face of adversity, and she soon was as real to me as someone I had known all my life. I now feel like I want to go to Yunnan and sip some of the famous Pu’er’ tea that influenced Li-yan’s life so much! Whilst most of the book is written from Li-yan’s POV, See incorporates some clever and unusual chapters revealing the fate of Li-yan’s abandoned daughter, who has been adopted by a wealthy American couple and is struggling with her own identity as she grows up not knowing her origins. Whilst I initially struggled with Hailey’s voice in the narration, I was able to connect more deeply with her towards the end of the book, and found her story a worthwhile journey in its own right. See’s insights into cross-cultural adoption made for some interesting reflection and discussion points, and it would be interesting to read more about Hailey’s life in the years following the book’s ending.

Hours of pleasure and joyful anticipation of my commute (and listening to the story) later, and I am still rocked by the emotional impact the story had on me. A fantastic read, and very much recommended. Don’t be put off by the title, as I was, because this in an author that really packs some punch and you won’t regret picking up this marvel of a book. Definitely on my favourite list for the year! 


Friday, 4 August 2017

Feel Good Friday Reflection: LIFE IS BETTER WITH A BOOK (or: my glass may be piss but at least it's half-full)

Today dawned windy and wet and I've got a cold (Again! Damn it!), so I was all poised to wimp it out indoors and wallow in my own misery all day. Instead, I forced myself to grab my book and go for a brisk sprint up the mountain not far from our house (forgetting how far it actually was, and how unfit I was, and that I had a coffee date at 11 a.m. which I would probably not make now). 

And it was definitely worth it - look at that heavenly view! Even with the wind whistling and the clouds sitting ominously over the ocean, I feel invigorated now. So, I may get pneumonia from walking back in the rain, and I may have nearly slipped and fallen off a cliff in the process of getting this photo, but at least I can say I got out of the house!

Nothing like a hike to clear the mind. Reflecting on how my reading time will be a bit on the lean side this month, with more night shifts, study and a conference in Perth, as well as trying to organise our upcoming holiday, I decided to try something new: a reading plan. I've never been a maker of lists (or if I do, I usually forget them at home) or a forward planner, living on a wing and a prayer most of the time and hoping it will work out. But desperate times and all that ...


So here it is - my reading list for August.


The Wish Child The Wish Child by Catherine Chidgey

The Darkest Lies The Darkest Lies by Barbara Copperthwaite

Beneath the Surface Beneath the Surface by Sibel Hodge

Then She Was Gone Then She was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Neon Pilgrim Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster

The Other Girl The Other Girl by Erica Spindler


Let's see how it goes and if my impulsive reading persona can resist the temptation to throw caution to the wind and grab any old book of the pile "because I feel like it".

One thing is for sure: Life is better with a book!



Audiobook Review: THE KIND WORTH KILLING by Peter Swanson


Author: Peter Swanson
Read: July 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2



Book Description (Audible):

'Hello there.' I looked at the pale, freckled hand on the back of the empty bar seat next to me in the business class lounge of Heathrow Airport, then up into the stranger's face. 'Do I know you?'

Delayed in London, Ted Severson meets a woman at the airport bar. Over cocktails they tell each other rather more than they should, and a dark plan is hatched - but is either of them being serious? Could they actually go through with it? And if they did, what would be their chances of getting away with it?

My musings:

Having really loved Swanson’s novel Her Every Fear, it was a no-brainer that I simply had to read The Kind Worth Killing, especially after reading all the raving reviews about it. As I am always looking for captivating books for my daily commute in the car, I downloaded this novel from Audible, and I am so glad I did! The Kind Worth Killing was a fantastic read, the sort that made me sit in my car in the driveway on a cold, chilly night for “just a few more minutes” because I couldn’t tear myself away. I can’t remember much about my driving on those days, except that I got there safe and sound, but my mind was fully captivated by the book. Now there is a psychological thriller that lives up to its name!

Swanson offers us two female leads so chilling and malicious that listening to them sent shivers down my spine at times, and yet Lily intrigued me to a point where I silently feared for her safety and secretly hoped she would get away with murder (literally). She was both terrifying and sympathetic, which is a very hard thing to achieve in a protagonist, and I applaud the author for pulling this off so perfectly. It helped that Lily always had a perfectly reasonable explanation – at times challenging my own moral conventions. Is killing justified if the victim is a truly horrible individual with no chance of redemption, set to make a lot of lives miserable? Lily thinks so. In the airport bar, she says to Ted:

"Truthfully, I don't think murder is necessarily as bad as people make it out to be. Everyone dies. What difference does it make if a few bad apples get pushed along a little sooner than God intended? And your wife, for example, seems like the kind worth killing."

Sounds reasonable to you? No, no! *slaps face* - murder is BAD! I would love to delve deeper into the characters and discuss the storyline, but this is not the place and I would hate to give any spoilers. My advice is: plunge into this book blindly and let Swanson take you on his journey. The writing is excellent. The subject matter is chilling. It will mess with your mind – believe me! And the ending – I was worried at one point about how the author would pull this off, but it was perfect!

As for the narration: I loved that the publisher used four different narrators for the different characters, which made the story easy to follow and a pleasure to listen to. 
  

Summary:


The Kind Worth Killing was one of my favourite reads this year so far – one of those rare psychological thrillers that really mess with your mind and make you itch to find someone to discuss it with. I loved it, and am so glad I stumbled across it. If you love a good psychological thriller and are looking for something different, do yourself a favour and pick up this book today. You won’t be disappointed.


You may also like:

Her Every Fear




Thursday, 3 August 2017

Audiobook Review: THE DEEPEST GRAVE (Fiona Griffiths #6) by Harry Bingham


Author: Harry Bingham
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

British detective Fiona Griffiths, one of the most engaging female protagonists in crime thrillers, is back with a new case to solve.

DC Fiona Griffiths is bored. It's been months since she had a good corpse, let alone a decent murder to deal with, and it's frankly driving her nuts. And then comes the news, and she has to literally stop herself from jumping with joy: not just a murder but a decapitation, with an antique sword no less, and a murder scene that has been laid out like a particularly gruesome crossword clue.

Gaynor Charteris was an archaeologist leading a team excavating a nearby Iron Age site. Genial, respected, well liked, it was hard to see why anyone would want to kill her in such a brutal way. But as Fiona starts to dig beneath the surface, she finds evidence of a crime that leads back to King Arthur and his final battle - a crime so bizarre that getting her superiors to take it seriously is going to be her toughest job. Especially since the crime hasn't yet been committed.


My musings:

I am so happy that I discovered the Fiona Griffiths series back in 2012, because I have been totally addicted to it ever since and it never disappoints! Everyone who has read Bingham’s books will know that Fiona is a very different character. Having suffered from a mental illness in her teens, she still struggles to fit into society, or “Planet Normal” as Fiona calls it, and in times of stress her illness recurs in feelings of dissociation from her own body and a strange connection to her dead victims, which makes her all the more determined to fight for justice for them. With the impulsiveness and sometimes lack of common sense that has characterised her since Book 1 in the series (Talking to the Dead), Fiona usually goes against police protocol to solve her murder cases, which often gets her into trouble with authority as well as putting her own life in danger. However, her intelligence and ability to connect with her victims in ways no other detective can usually brings results, and over the last five books, she has earned herself a grudging respect amongst her colleagues.

I was very excited when The Deepest Grave was finally released, and found it to be a worthy continuation of a series I love. True to form, Bingham delivers a most unusual murder case for his protagonist, who has been impatiently counting the days (462) since her last murder case. Set in Wales like its predecessors, the book offers a fair amount of armchair travel to this mystical place, which makes the series even more irresistible for me (I will never forget the tense and terrifying caving scene in The Dead House, Book 5 in the series). Bingham always manages to incorporate a special interest theme into each story, which saw me learning a lot about archaeology, medieval artefacts and the King Arthur legend in this latest instalment. With a brutally beheaded corpse setting the scene, the peppermint-tea-drinking and weed-smoking Fiona has her work cut out for her to solve this murder case before more people are killed, and she does so in the unconventional, thinking-outside-the-square way that has endeared her to followers of the series.

In his blog, author Harry Bingham stated that he wanted his first book to revolve as much around the mystery of Fiona’s character as it does around the crime she’s investigating, and he is staying true to this original idea by revealing little snippets of Fiona’s past in each book in the series. Fans will be pleased to hear that the great cast of supporting characters from Fiona’s work and private life are all back in The Deepest Grave, and that we get to know a few more interesting characters who may feature in future novels (I would love to see Katie back and see how she fares).

Siriol Jenkins’ narration was perfect for Fiona’s voice, and I was very happy that she continued narrating the series!
  
Summary:

The Fiona Griffiths series is one of my all-time-favourite police procedural series, and will appeal to anyone who likes unusual murder cases with an oddball detective who doesn’t fit any mould. Bingham’s style to revolve his cases around different, interesting subject matters and incorporating details about the case that broaden the reader’s knowledge base on the subject whilst thrilling and entertaining, have made this series stand out from the fray. Whilst The Deepest Grave can be read as a stand-alone, I highly recommend starting the series at Book 1, which will give all the necessary background into Fiona’s life that makes her character so special. Highly recommended, and I am already looking forward to the next book in the series. 


Other books in the series: link

Talking to the Dead (Fiona ... Love Story, With Murders (F... The Strange Death of Fiona ... This Thing of Darkness (Fio... The Dead House (Fiona Griff...

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Book Review: STILLHOUSE LAKE by Rachel Caine


Author: Rachel Caine
Publisher:
Thomas & Mercer
Read:
July 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟



Book Description (Goodreads):

Gina Royal is the definition of average—a shy Midwestern housewife with a happy marriage and two adorable children. But when a car accident reveals her husband’s secret life as a serial killer, she must remake herself as Gwen Proctor—the ultimate warrior mom.

With her ex now in prison, Gwen has finally found refuge in a new home on remote Stillhouse Lake. Though still the target of stalkers and Internet trolls who think she had something to do with her husband’s crimes, Gwen dares to think her kids can finally grow up in peace.

But just when she’s starting to feel at ease in her new identity, a body turns up in the lake—and threatening letters start arriving from an all-too-familiar address. Gwen Proctor must keep friends close and enemies at bay to avoid being exposed—or watch her kids fall victim to a killer who takes pleasure in tormenting her. One thing is certain: she’s learned how to fight evil. And she’ll never stop.

My musings:

After reading some raving reviews about Stillhouse Lake, I just couldn’t resist requesting it on Netgalley, even though my TBR pile has taken on the dimensions of a small mountain range and I am supposed to be studying. But that cover! Simply irresistible! I was fascinated by the premise of a woman living with a serial killer, cooking him a meal every night, raising their two children, unaware that he is next door in the garage torturing his next victim. Eeek! What a horrific thought. A million hot showers would not wash away that stain, and Gwen (aka Gina) certainly has to deal with a few demons and guilt issues borne from the memories of living with a monster.

SPOILER ALERT! PROCEED WITH CAUTION!

Stillhouse Lake was certainly original, fast-paced and easy to read, and it sucked me in very quickly. However, as the story progressed I started to have mixed feelings, and after closing the last page, I am still a bit torn. There were sections of the book that got my heart pounding and made me want to read more, but overall, I found I really struggled to connect with Gwen / Gina and found she perhaps needed a bit more character development. Some of her actions made sense, driven by her sheer desperation to get away from her old life, but a lot of her decisions seemed questionable and a bit far-fetched to me. Alas, if I could just suspend disbelief a bit easier, I would be able to enjoy these type of stories a lot more! But the gun-wielding Gwen with her connections to underworldly figures supplying her with a never ending supply of fake identities just didn’t marry well with the shy girl from the Midwest who for years lived with a serial killer without suspecting anything. Where did all her wealth come from? And why would you torture yourself with reading all the comments the internet trolls post about you and your kids, if you really wanted to fully get away from your old life? Let alone accept letters from your monster ex-husband – really?

As I am writing this, I can hear my daughter’s frustrated voice in my head: “Mum, it’s FICTION!” and she is right. But I didn’t fully buy it, and I never managed to “get” Gwen. She talks a lot about her fears for her kids’ safety, but the emotion just wasn’t there for me. So perhaps my old cynical self doesn’t make the perfect audience for this story, especially when the end wasn’t an ending at all but simply a “to be continued” (don’t you hate that?). Unfortunately, I didn’t care enough about Gwen / Gina to feel compelled to pick up the next book and see how it will all end for her and her psychopath ex-husband. I’m sure there will be a lot of twists and turns and danger to Gwen / Gina and her kids before he gets his just deserts, but I’m not invested enough in any of the characters to spend four more hours finding out the details. Sorry! I know I am in the minority here, and that’s ok (you can’t win them all), but whilst I enjoyed parts of the book it’s probably not going to be a memorable read for me in the long run. 

Summary:


All in all, Stillhouse Lake is a well written mystery with an original premise that will appeal to readers who love a serial killer story and are able to suspend disbelief (even a little bit). I wouldn’t classify it as a psychological thriller, as for me it lacked the necessary subtle tension and messing with my mind component, but with a good cat-and-mouse game and a strong female lead I am sure that many readers will find all the elements of danger and suspense they are looking for in an action thriller.

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


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.