Monday, 29 May 2017

Book Review: ACHE by Eliza Henry-Jones


Title: Ache
Author: Eliza Henry-Jones
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Read:
May 2017
Expected publication: 1 June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Months after the fires that almost claimed their lives, Annie and her small daughter Pip are still plagued by nightmares and flashbacks. Even though the papers hailed Annie a hero, their front pages all showing the dramatic photo a woman galloping her horse through a blazing inferno, clutching her child in her arms, Annie knows that it wasn’t that simple. It was her fault they were in the path of danger that day. Annie, who had grown up in those hills should have known better.

Escaping back to her city life and into the arms of her bewildered husband, who cannot possibly understand the trauma Annie and Pip have been through, may have put some geographical distance between her and the scene of the horror, but it hasn’t been able to erase her memories. Annie knows that she has to go back to the hills she both loves and fears. The place where she grew up, went to school, first kissed a boy. The place where she nearly died. So despite her husband’s advice, she packs up the car, bundles up Pip and sets off for the hills to confront her worst nightmares.

My musings:

Ache is a beautifully written book by an author who clearly understands the aftermath of trauma and loss, and who sensitively explores the issue through the eyes of her main protagonists: Annie, the young mother, who has left her home in the hills to pursue her career as veterinarian, but whose heart still belongs to the country. Pip, her six-year old daughter, who hides her trauma and fears by acting out. Susan, Annie’s mother, an eccentric artist who has retreated into her lonely cabin to bake cupcakes, unable to paint or move past the event which cost her mother’s life. And the bewildered Tom, Annie’s husband, who looks on helplessly as his wife and daughter battle their inner demons, unable to get close to them. Although the story is narrated by Annie, we get to know each character intimately – their pain, their fears, their inner turmoil.

As Annie returns to her hometown, she must not only confront her own demons but also those of the town’s inhabitants, people she has known all her life. It is this portrayal of a small community rocked and split apart by tragedy where Henry-Jones’ real talent shone through for me, perfectly capturing the dynamics of people touched by trauma and death. Having lived through a real-live natural disaster myself in the past, some of the things she describes hit very close to home. There were those people who pulled together, and those who fled. People who exploited the tragedy for their own gain, and those who just quietly got on with things, helped out where needed, never craving the spotlight. The initial euphoria of having survived, quickly replaced by the reality of the devastation surrounding them. And the need to find a scapegoat for the pain, the suffering – lashing out at each other in blind fury, all previous allegiances forgotten in the aftermath of the tragedy. Each one of Henry-Jones’ characters is well drawn and true-to-life, their emotions raw, honest and laid bare for everyone to see.

As Annie returns to her old home, we get to know her through flashbacks to her childhood, growing up with a teenage mother and a grandmother who was very much the head of the household, Annie’s uncle the only male figure in her life. There is a nostalgia in Annie’s voice that goes deeper than just dealing with the trauma – it speaks of displacement, of loss of place, of innocence, of home. Still drawn to the hills that featured so strongly in her life, Annie’s city life is a mere front, one that she can no longer maintain.

“Each time she comes back the knows fewer people, fewer cars, fewer trees. Each time she comes back it feels less like home and makes her feel strangely helpless. She wants to go home, but she no longer knows how to find it.”

I also loved Pip, the small girl whose inability to express her trauma into words makes her act out, lash out in anger and fear. It is only with her equally traumatised grandmother that Pip learns to confront her fears, step by little step, to make real healing possible.

Summary:

Ache is a beautiful tale of trauma, loss and redemption. Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, our characters need to be stripped completely raw to be able to move on. A rebirth of a kind, a healing, a moving on. In the small steps Henry-Jones’ characters take towards rebuilding their lives, there is a message of hope, of inner peace, of growth. Beautifully written, this is a nostalgic and somewhat dreamy read which deeply touched my heart. Very highly recommended. 

Quotes:

And Annie learned the strange, bewildering lesson that there was often a path of unrelated, unpleasant things that had to be followed to get somewhere that you loved.

Annie wonders what Pip will think about, when her daughter reflects on her childhood. How endless these years seem now. But Annie knows that soon they will seem as fleeting as the gap between an inhale and an exhale. A teetering moment of stillness. 



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


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Book Review: NOT A SOUND by Heather Gudenkauf


Author: Heather Gudenkauf
Publisher:
Harlequin Australia
Read:
May 2017
Expected publication: 1 June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Amelia Winn was a skilled and dedicated ER and sexual assault nurse when a rogue driver slammed into her, almost killing her and leaving her fighting for her life in ICU. Amelia survived, but was left profoundly deaf. Depressed and drowning her sorrows in alcohol in the two years following the hit and run, Amelia now lives on her own in a remote cabin in the woods with only her service dog Stitch for company, trying her best to overcome the addiction that has cost her her family and most of her friends. When the craving for alcohol strikes these days, she takes her kayak to the vast system of rivers and channels near her home and paddles until her muscles ache and the calm of the water has seeped into her body. But her refuge is compromised when on one of her morning paddles she finds the body of a woman in the shallows of the muddy river banks. A nurse, who was once Amelia’s colleague and friend. Deeply troubled and touched by the incident, Amelia seeks out the dead woman’s husband and discovers that she had tried to contact Amelia shortly before her death to discuss some concerns she had about an incident at work. Is it possible that her work as a sexual assault nurse had put her in the path of a killer?


My musings:

I really enjoyed Amelia Winn’s character in Not a Sound and, seeing the impressive list of books written by the author, I am amazed that I have not come across more novels by Heather Gudenkauf! This must definitely be remedied (I can see my Himalayan TBR pile growing even higher). In the epilogue to Not a Sound, Gudenkauf says that, like Amelia, she has first-hand experience of being hearing impaired. Perhaps it is this deep personal understanding of Amelia’s daily struggles that make her character so sympathetic and believable. Throughout the story I was constantly reflecting on the implications of not being able to hear even the slightest sound – no birdsong in the early morning hours, not the voice of your loved ones, not the warning crunch of an intruder’s footsteps in the snow outside your house. Even your own panicked voice, calling 911 after finding a dead body in the water, not sure if there is a person on the other end of the line receiving your call.  I loved the inclusion of scarred service dog Stitch into the story, who added an interesting and engaging element – and not in the corny, overacting way that animal characters can sometimes appear in other books. Plucky, determined and not easily scared, Amelia made for a perfect amateur sleuth, with Stitch by her side.

Fast paced and full of action, Not a Sound is both a taut and engaging thriller as well as a story of personal growth and overcoming challenges. Being a nurse myself, I could easily put myself into Amelia’s position, wondering how I would fare losing a job I love and that fulfils me due to a freak accident (or was it?). I also take my hat off to the author for mastering the art of including medical terminology and detail into the story in a way that is easily understandable by a layperson but also rings true for medical professionals – it may sound trite, but as with any specialty field, this balance is not easily achieved. Gudenkauf not only brings her characters to life, but also paints an atmospheric setting that made for some wonderful armchair travel to rural Iowa. I just love thrillers set in wild and remote locations, where the terrain, the weather and the somewhat reclusive inhabitants create their own unique challenges. So whilst the actual mystery underlying Gwen’s death may have been fairly straight forward to me (and somewhat predictable), the action-packed cat-and-mouse game as Amelia tries to outwit a killer more than made up for it!


Summary:

Not a Sound is a character driven, taut and action packed thriller that kept my interest throughout. With its atmospheric setting and sympathetic main protagonist, I enjoyed it immensely and would not be averse to seeing Amelia and Stitch back for another amateur sleuth adventure.


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


Not a Sound Purchase this title or other books by the author here



Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Book Review: LIAR by K.L. Slater


Liar


Title: Liar
Author: K.L. Slater
Publisher:
Bookouture
Read:
May 2017
Expected publication: 16 June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

Devoting herself to her family has always been the most important thing to Judi. When her son Ben’s wife Louise dies from cancer, she is only too happy to take over the reins and look after her two young grandsons Josh and Noah whenever required, as well as help with Ben’s household chores. Every Sunday, her “boys” gather around Judi’s table to eat the sumptuous feast she cooks for them. This is all Judi has ever wanted – to spoil her loved ones and to feel needed. But life is about to change when Ben falls head over heels in love with Amber, a pretty young childcare worker whose presence is like a thorn in Judi’s side. Not only has Amber installed herself in Ben’s household, but she is also usurping Judi’s rightful place in the family. Sunday gatherings are no longer the carefree affairs Judi has treasured for so long, and she is dismayed to find that her help with the children and the chores is required less and less. Worst of all, Judi has her suspicions that Amber may have an ulterior motive, but both Ben and her husband Henry think she is being paranoid and jealous of the young woman. How can she get her rightful place back in the Jukes household?

My musings:

The theme that inspired the author, the interesting dynamics of the daughter-in-law / mother-in-law relationship, and the potential to turn this into a riveting mystery saw me requesting this book as soon as it appeared on Netgalley, and I was overjoyed when it was approved. Slater makes it clear right from the outset that in this family, things may not be as they seem on the surface. Judi, the loving grandmother, who is also a bit of a control freak. And Amber ... well, we know very early on that Amber has her own agenda. As tension between the two women grows, I could not help turn the pages, interested to see how this doomed relationship would play out.

My biggest disappointment with the story was that the author gave away too much too early for my liking. I have said it before, and I will say it again, I am fussy with what I call a “psychological thriller”.  For me, to qualify for the term, a story must mess with my mind, play me like a yo-yo. I want shades of grey, not obvious black-and-white. I love an unreliable narrator, or one whose motives are so well disguised that I am in a constant dilemma as to whether I can trust them or not. I want the author to manipulate me, make me question all my preconceived ideas, vacillate between doubt and belief and generally addle my brain to an extent where the book stays in my thoughts even when I am not reading it. Unfortunately in this case – and this is not a spoiler, as it is revealed very early on – we know pretty much from the start that Amber has an ulterior motive when she engineers her meeting with Ben, to make him fall in love with her. There is never any doubt that she is a scheming little minx with her very own agenda. The only mystery here is her reasons for this, which, to be honest, was not quite enough for me.

How much better this would have worked had I (as the reader) been able to give her the benefit of doubt, to constantly question myself whether she was innocent or guilty of deceit and whether Judi’s hate and suspicions were justified or not. As it was, I felt forced to root for Judi, who I equally disliked, but with Amber cast as the villain I couldn’t very well stand and cheer in her corner, could I? So, whilst the family dynamics kept me turning the pages, there was no mystery and no suspense, except for a few surprises along the way, which did not make up for the mental manipulation I had hoped for. Looking back, I realise that this was my main gripe with Slater’s previous book, Blink.  Seeing that it worked well for other readers, I am conceding that perhaps her writing style just isn’t for me. 

Summary:

In summary, Liar was a fast and somewhat predictable read with moderately interesting family dynamics that kept me turning the pages but didn’t quite capture my imagination enough to make it memorable. 


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.




Book Review: ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman


Title: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
Author: Gail Honeyman
Publisher:
Harper Collins Publishers Australia
Read:
May 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

“I am a self-contained entity.”

Thirty-year old (Miss) Eleanor Oliphant lives her life by a strict routine. Monday to Friday, her 8.30 to 5.30 job as an accounts clerk in a graphic design firm fills in her waking hours. On Wednesday night, a 15-minute phone call from “Mummy” will leave her exhausted and seeking the oblivion of sleep. And on Friday evening, there is a pizza from Tesco to look forward to, and vodka. Lots of vodka. Often she doesn’t see another human being from Friday night until going back to work on Monday, but Eleanor is fine with that, absolutely fine. She doesn’t really need anyone else in her life. After all, she has a house to clean, Polly the houseplant to water, and vodka to keep those dark doors in her mind firmly closed.

But Eleanor’s life is about to change when her computer at work breaks down and the IT guy drops into her office to fix it. Meet Raymond, a thirty-something scruffy man who just doesn’t get Eleanor’s hints that she really is not in the mood for chit-chat. Instead, annoyingly, he insists on walking to the bus stop with her, as if she was an ordinary person, not the office oddball people whisper about. When an elderly stranger collapses in front of them, Eleanor reluctantly helps Raymond take care of him. Against her better judgment, mind you. Little does she know that this one incident will change Eleanor’s life – and routine – forever.

My musings:

I cannot adequately express how much I adored this book! It was love at first page! I laughed out loud, I shed some tears, and most of all, it left a warm fuzzy feeling with me all day as I heard Eleanor’s voice in my head (ok, that sounds a little bit crazy, but I mean that in a good way). Eleanor’s voice is the most refreshing thing I have read all year! A cross between A Man Called Ove and The Rosie Project, this damaged, judgmental and totally honest thirty-year-old woman wormed her way into my heart immediately, and I looked forward to every minute I could spare to keep reading. I started highlighting the passages that made me laugh out loud, or ponder life, or those where I would throw a punch into the air, exclaiming: Yes! Exactly! as the ever honest Eleanor states it just as it is. How often have I thought exactly the same thing, only for social convention to hold me back actually voicing it. It was so liberating! When I found that I was drowning in a sea of highlighted pages I realised how very, very much this book spoke to me.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is not all fun and games, though, as it explores the effects of childhood trauma and people’s reactions to those who may not quite fit societal norms.

“I’d tried so hard, but something about me just didn’t fit. There was, it seemed, no Eleanor-shaped social hole for me to slot into.”

Step by step, we get to know Eleanor through her “good days”, “bad days” and “better days”. Bittersweet and deeply insightful, Honeyman has created a character so damaged that she has long given up hope of ever being loved – or being able to love.

“I was thirty years old, I realised, and I had never walked hand in hand with anyone. No one had ever rubbed my tired shoulders, or stroked my face. I imagined a man putting his arms around me and holding me close when I was tired or upset; the warmth of it, the weight of it.”

Eleanor’s journey of self-discovery is as touching as it is humorous – and there are indeed a lot of laugh-out-loud moments in this book.

“No, thank you,” I said. “I don’t want to accept a drink from you, because then I would be obliged to purchase one for you in return, and I’m afraid I’m simply not interested in spending two drinks’ worth of time with you.”

Warning: Eleanor’s honesty is infectious. As I found out when my fingers typed out an email stripped of the polite word-play that usually disguises the issue at hand in political correctness – I only just managed to wrench my index finger away from the ‘send” button in time. I guess my circle of friends and colleagues may not be ready for such an Eleanor Oliphant-esque moment of truth quite yet. But how liberating it may have been!


Summary:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine has definitely been one of my favourite reads this year and will make it on my all-time favourites list. I am indescribably grateful to the Goodreads community for recommending this gem of a story, as I probably would not have picked it up otherwise – and what a loss this would have been indeed. This book was everything I look for in a book: tender, touching, funny, quirky, heart-breaking, heart-warming, inspiring and just totally and utterly GOOD! Reading it felt like a warm hug by a good friend whilst pouring your heart out to them. This is apparently Gail Honeyman’s debut novel – amazing! I can’t wait to read more from this talented author in future! 

Quotes:


Grief is the price we pay for love, so they say. The price is far too high.

You can make anything happen, anything at all, inside a daydream.

I suppose one of the reasons we’re able to continue to exist in our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it may seem, the possibility of change.

Image result for 5 stars

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

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Book Review: HERE AND GONE by Haylen Beck



Title: Here and Gone
Author: Haylen Beck
Publisher:
Random House UK, Vintage Publishing
Read:
May 2017
Expected publication: 13 July 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:
“Please,” she said, unable to keep the quiver from her voice. “I’ve done everything you said. I’ve been cooperative. Please tell me where my children are.” Whiteside held her gaze. “What children,” he asked.

Haylen Beck is the pseudonym of a well-known crime novelist and screenwriter, and his writing skills became instantly obvious as he quickly drew me in with the opening chapter to Here and Gone. It starts innocently enough. A young woman is driving along a lonely desert road with her two children in the back. She is trying to escape an abusive marriage, hoping to make a new start with a friend in California. But when she looks in the rearview mirror she sees a police car following her, flashing its lights, forcing her to move over. The sheriff tells her that her car is overloaded and asks her to step out of the vehicle, leaving her children in the back seat. She is scared.

He is an officer of the law.

He is armed.

He has all the power.

And her nightmare is only just beginning ...


My musings:

I loved Beck’s ability to paint the opening scene with the type of technicolour clarity of a bad dream, playing out in every small and terrible detail in my mind. The long, hot, lonely road. The sour taste of fear in Audra’s mouth as she spots the police cruiser in her rearview mirror. The crunch of tires and spray of dust as she pulls over onto the side of the road. The slow walk of the sheriff, eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, hands on his gun belt, as he makes his way over to her. “Please step out of the car.” It sent a shiver down my spine imagining myself in the same situation! With such an imbalance in power, what options does Audra have other than to comply and follow the sheriff’s orders? Her absolute horror and panic when she realises that her children are being taken away by a stranger is palpable in every written word. Beck’s portrayal of a woman with her back against the wall as no one believes her is well drawn, as is the moment Audra summons her inner tiger-mother and begins to fight back.

With its claustrophobic atmosphere and constant sense of menace and danger to our hapless protagonist, Here and Gone was reminiscent of a Lee Child novel – I was waiting for Jack Reacher to come to Audra’s rescue and kick some butt! Instead, we get Danny Lee, a fascinating character I absolutely loved! He would definitely make a worthy vigilante for many more future novels yet to come. Danny appeared at exactly the very moment in the book where I feared it would go down the conspiracy theory track, and immediately snapped my attention back into focus.

Perhaps my only gripe with the story was that it gave away too much too early, which took some of the thrill factor away. I am trying not to give any spoilers here, but basically we know very early on who is behind the children’s abduction, and there are no surprises in store in that regard. A lot more suspense could have been created had the author kept back that bit of information until much later – there were certainly plenty of opportunities to create other suspects in the reader’s mind. Instead, with the mystery solved, the story turns into a race against time to find the missing children, and I had plenty of faith in Danny Lee that this would be accomplished. That said, there was still plenty of action and a nail-biting finale that made it well worth reading on for! 

Summary:

Here and Gone is a fast –paced and atmospheric thriller which will appeal to fans of the Jack Reacher series and similar novels. Personally, I hope for a return of Danny Lee in future books, as he made for an intriguing protagonist worthy of a lot more missions. 


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