Monday, 25 October 2021

Book Review: I KNOW YOU by Claire McGowan



AuthorClaire McGowan

Publisher:  Amazon Publishing UK

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


When Rachel stumbles upon a body in the woods, she knows what she has to do: run. Get away. Do not be found at the scene. Last time, she didn’t know, and she ended up accused of murder. But when this victim is identified as her boyfriend’s estranged wife, Rachel realises she’s already the prime suspect.

With mounting evidence against her, Rachel’s only hope is to keep the truth about herself well hidden. Because twenty years ago she was someone else—Casey, a young nanny trying to make it as an actress in Los Angeles. When the family she worked for were brutally murdered, all the evidence pointed to her and she went to prison. Back then, she narrowly escaped the death penalty and managed to free herself on appeal. Now she’s fighting to save the life she’s spent years piecing back together.

But with her behaviour raising suspicion and the police closing in, Rachel can’t help wondering: Was her discovery in the woods really just an awful coincidence, or is someone framing her for murder? Someone who knows who she is, and wants revenge…


My musings:


Have you noticed that it is always some poor unsuspecting dog lover who finds a dead body in the woods? However, for Rachel, the dog walker whose canine sniffs out a corpse in the woods in the picturesque Lake District, this may not be the first time she has been in that situation .... Are you intrigued yet?


I admit that I KNOW YOU was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I loved the premise of a woman whose past secrets have come back to bite her, and Rachel’s backstory sounds truly harrowing. The inclusion of true crime podcasts, online forums and newspaper articles provided a nice touch to marry past and present mysteries together and gave it a very contemporary feel. But even though I could relate to Casey, having been a nanny myself at the same age, there was something that just didn’t totally gel with me. Both Rachel and Casey never got under my skin as much as I had hoped. To be totally honest, none of the characters felt genuine to me. Perhaps I have just been reading too many mysteries lately, but nothing about these characters really stood out for me, and a few days after finishing the book it has already become blurry in my memory.


That said, the mystery surrounding Casey’s conviction for murder at a young age kept me turning the pages to get all the answers and tied up the loose ends in a satisfying finale. I just didn’t feel the same way about Rachel’s timeline, and found her story a bit dull. Even though we get a thorough look into Rachel’s / Casey’s past, her character felt poorly developed to me, which was a real loss. Without any true emotional connection, I was hard pressed to understand each character’s motivation and decision making process. Whilst I understood the author’s choice to make Rachel live under the radar under a different name, the story would probably have worked better for me if Rachel had forged out a richer, “normal” life for herself by the time her past caught up to her. As it was, her decisions seemed half-formed and immature, especially in the light of her past experiences.




I KNOW YOUwill appeal to readers who enjoy a story of past secrets catching up with the present and those who enjoy seeing different elements included in the book, such as true crime podcasts and other online content. Whilst I did not love the book as much as I had hoped, the premise was intriguing and the final reveal added a slight twist that I had not seen coming.







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

Friday, 22 October 2021

Book Review: THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED by Lisa Jewell



Author:  Lisa Jewell

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


2017: 19 year old Tallulah is going out on a date, leaving her baby with her mother, Kim.

Kim watches her daughter leave and, as late evening turns into night, which turns into early morning, she waits for her return. And waits.

The next morning, Kim phones Tallulah's friends who tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a party at a house in the nearby woods called Dark Place.

She never returns.

2019: Sophie is walking in the woods near the boarding school where her boyfriend has just started work as a head-teacher when she sees a note fixed to a tree.

'DIG HERE' . . .

My musings:


I’ve been enjoying Lisa Jewell’s books ever since picking up THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN many moons ago (which remains my favourite), so it was a given that I would read her latest book THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED as soon as I could lay my hands on it! Revolving around the disappearance of young teenage mum Tallulah and her boyfriend after a night out with friends, this slow burning mystery slowly unravels what happened to the young couple that night. In typical LJ style, each character held a few surprises in store and the final denouement was (even if not totally surprising) unexpected. 


I read this as part of a group read, and whilst not my favourite book by the author, we had a lot of fun coming up with wild theories about Tallulah’s fate. Overall, I felt that some elements of the ending lacked conviction for me, and I felt like the author was trying a bit too hard to come up with a number of (quite implausible) plot elements to offer us her signature twists. Saying that, it was still fun to be led down the garden path and I eagerly kept turning the pages to get the answers. My favourite part was the abandoned old mansion, which made for a deliciously creepy setting. I also appreciated that there were several POVs that each approached the mystery from a different angle, which made it all more interesting.  




All in all, THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED was an enjoyable slow burning mystery trying to explore the circumstances behind the disappearance of a young teenage couple that made for a great buddy read. This book will appeal to readers who enjoy a slow burning mystery rather than an action packed whodunnit and don’t mind suspending disbelief for the sake of entertainment. 

Book Review: MIDNIGHT IN THE SNOW by Karen Swan



Author:  Karen Swan

Publisher:  Pan Macmillan

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: out now



Book Description:


Award-winning director Clover Phillips is riding high when she encounters Kit Foley; a surfer and snowboarder as well-known for controversy as he is for winning championships.

Involved in an accident that had devastating consequences for a bitter rival, Kit has never spoken about what really happened that day. Determined to find out the truth, Clover heads to the snowy wilderness of the Austrian Alps, sharing a romantic winter wonderland with a man who can’t stand her.

But as she delves deeper, Clover finds herself both drawn to Kit, and even more convinced he’s hiding something.

What attracted me to this book:


If I had to nominate authors who made the covid lockdowns more bearable, Karen Swan would definitely be on the shortlist. Noone writes gorgeous atmospheric locations quite as well as Swan does, which makes all her books unique armchair travel experiences. For her Christmas themed novel MIDNIGHT IN THE SNOW, she has chosen the winter wonderland of an Austrian Alpine ski resort to provide a magical backdrop, and it doesn’t get much better than this!


My musings:


One reason that makes Swan’s books so irresistible to me is that her world is not only vastly different to mine, but she also makes her stories stand out by choosing a strong female lead who ends up embroiled in some type of mystery, be it family secrets or, in this case, an old rivalry with tragic consequences. In MIDNIGHT IN THE SNOW, our main protagonist is Clover Phillips, a documentary filmmaker who has won multiple awards with her film about tragic surfing legend Cory Albright. Cory’s career was cut short after a surfing accident, caused by former friend and sporting rival Kit Foley during a surfing championship. Vilified and forced out of surfing, Kit Foley has since reinvented himself as a champion snowboarder, set to compete in the upcoming snowboarding championships in the Alps. Clover, on the hunt for a new project, is intrigued when Kit’s sponsor asks her and her team to make a documentary about Kit’s side of the Cory Albright incident, which he has never spoken about. And thus Clover is thrown into the world of competitive snowboarding and sporting rivalry.


I love it when I learn something new whilst immersing myself in a novel, and I appreciated getting a glimpse into the world of competitive snowboarding. Swan’s love for the sport and her knowledge of the wintry slopes shone through as she provided vivid imagery of the mountains in winter, as well as their dangers. Swan also never fails to surprise me by drawing me into a completely different social scene. Zell am See in winter is not only a stage for the stars of winter sports, but also a playing field for the rich and famous. I could vividly picture the luxury ski “cabin” providing a temporary home for Clover and her team and enjoyed every minute of it, even more so since this sort of luxury is firmly out of my league in real life. Swan has a way of setting the scene which paints a colourful backdrop, and her characters are all authentic and engaging. As the dialogue flowed effortlessly, I became more and more intrigued by the mystery at the heart of the novel.


As someone who generally does not read romance novels, I thought that I should point out that Swan’s novels are so much more than that. Whilst there usually is a romantic element (often an enemy-to-lovers theme), there is also mystery, intrigue and drama, with the romantic element slotting seamlessly into the story in a way that does not detract from the main plot. So don’t be afraid to give Swan’s novels a go, even though romance normally isn’t your jam.





All in all, MIDNIGHT IN THE SNOW is an intriguing, atmospheric tale that offers the same exquisite armchair travel as all Karen Swan novels. If you have been missing travel as much as I have, you will be pleased to find yourself instantly transported to the winter wonderland of the Austrian Alps, the perfect setting for a Christmassy read (or any time, really). With a mystery surrounding an old rivalry between two sporting greats, and a subsequent tragedy that cost the life of one of them, the book provided plenty of intrigue to keep me turning the pages. If you haven’t discovered Karen Swan’s books yet, I fully recommend picking this one up for an immersive escapist read with a wonderful atmospheric setting.






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

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Book Review: WHEN I WAS YOU by Amber Garza



Author:  Amber Garza

Read: October 2021



Book Description:


You meets Fatal Attraction in this up-all-night psychological thriller about a lonely empty-nester's growing obsession with a young mother who shares her name.

It all begins on an ordinary fall morning, when Kelly Medina gets a call from her son's pediatrician to confirm her upcoming "well-baby" appointment. It's a cruel mistake; her son left for college a year ago, and Kelly has never felt so alone. The receptionist quickly apologizes: there's another mother in town named Kelly Medina, and she must have gotten their numbers switched.

But Kelly can't stop thinking about the woman who shares her name. Lives in her same town. Has a son she can still hold, and her whole life ahead of her. She can't help looking for her: at the grocery store, at the gym, on social media. When Kelly just happens to bump into the single mother outside that pediatrician's office, it's simple curiosity getting the better of her.

Their unlikely friendship brings Kelly a renewed sense of purpose, taking care of this young woman and her adorable baby boy. But that friendship quickly turns to obsession...


My musings:


Have you ever been mistaken for someone else who bears your name? Were you just the tiniest bit intrigued by imagining what your namesake would be like?


Empty nester and unhappy housewife Kelly Medina finds herself in that very situation when she gets a phone call from her son’s paediatrician’s office reminding her of her “well-baby” appointment. The only problem is that Kelly’s son isn’t a baby any more and no longer lives at home. As Kelly tries to imagine the other, younger Kelly, she grieves for the happy days when she was a new mother, in love with her husband and besotted with her baby son. But there is a fine line between curiosity and obsession ...


How utterly fascinating is this premise? Kelly #1, bored, unhappy and longing for the days when her life was happy and full. Kelly #2, newly arrived in town with her baby son and only too happy to accept Kelly #1’s offers of friendship and help with her baby. Until Kelly #1 goes that little bit too far ... Seeing how Amber Garza’s mind works, this could never end well, could it?


If I had expected a crazy stalker story, I was not disappointed, but this book was so much more. Without giving anything away, there were moments when I thought my heart would break. At times, I could relate to either Kelly – the young mum new in town with a small child and no family; and the older, lonely housewife who is mourning the days when her house was filled with the laughter of children. What I hadn’t expected was that each Kelly came with a backstory that would turn everything I had believed upside down – and a twist that made me gape open-mouthed for a few minutes, not sure what I had just read. Could it be? Would it be? Some moments bordered on truly crazy, but Garza always reeled it in at the last minute, making the story stay within the realm of possibility, making it all the scarier!


I love the premise of a main protagonist whose mental state is in question, which makes them an unreliable narrator of the best kind. As Kelly #1 blends memories and fantasies into her story, it’s never totally obvious whether she is telling the truth – or, perhaps I should say that her truth may not always reflect that of others. Garza portrays this tormented souls so well that I felt her pain and turmoil every step along the way through Part 1 of the story. Then came Part 2 and – hang on – what???!!!!! *applause*


Anyway, I don’t want to give any more away. Enter this one blindly if you can and let it take you on a crazy journey. 




WHEN I WAS YOU is one of the best thrillers I have read this year and definitely one of the cleverest twists. The only warning I should give is that if you identify with the empty nester premise, there will be sadness there, too. All in all a clever, twisty thriller that will leave you wanting more from this author in future!


Friday, 15 October 2021

Book Review: WILD PLACE by Christian White



Author:  Christian White

Publisher:  Affirm Press

Read: October 2021

Expected publication: 26 October 2021

My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


In the summer of 1989, a local teen goes missing from the idyllic suburb of Camp Hill in Australia. As rumours of Satanic rituals swirl, schoolteacher Tom Witter becomes convinced he holds the key to the disappearance. When the police won't listen, he takes matters into his own hands with the help of the missing girl's father and a local neighbourhood watch group.

But as dark secrets are revealed and consequences to past actions are faced, Tom learns that the only way out of the darkness is to walk deeper into it. Wild Place peels back the layers of suburbia, exposing what s hidden underneath guilt, desperation, violence and attempts to answer the question: Why do good people do bad things?


My musings:


I can rarely resist a mystery set in a suburban neighbourhood, especially when it promises time travel back to the eighties. It’s fun to be reminded of a reality where kids played out in scrubland just like “the wild place” and there were no mobile phones to keep track of your every movement, and instead of the nosy parkers on social media there was neighbourhood watch. 


When a teenage girl goes missing from the suburb of Camp Hill, a close-knit neighbourhood that borders an area of wild bushland called simply “Wild Place”, the whole community is thrown into turmoil. Worried parents forbid their children to play in the bush. Emergency neighbourhood watch meetings are being hastily arranged. And of course suspicion falls on the one oddball in the neighbourhood, Sean, a teenage boy who has been seen brandishing the tattoo of a pentagram and is spending most of his time indoors listening to heavy metal music. 


Like most neighbourhood mysteries, Wild Place relies on the slow unravelling of secrets the residents of Camp hill keep close to their hearts. Even Tom Witter, a high school teacher at the local Christian college, is perhaps not as lily white as he pretends to be. As residents decide to take matters into their own hands and point the finger at the most likely culprit – in their eyes at least – things soon escalate. 


I’m not sure why I didn’t love this book more, seeing it had all the elements I usually enjoy in a slow burning mystery: characters with secrets to hide, time travel back to the eighties and a few twists and turns that surprised me. But somehow I found it difficult to engage with any of the characters at an emotional level, which made this just an ok read for me. I appreciated the author’s tongue-in-cheek humour sprinkled through the pages and the characters’ dialogue; the many references to religion not so much. I also thought that the satanic rituals featured only very peripherally and could have been used much more to create the spooky atmosphere I had hoped for. There were also too many side characters that added little to the overall plot in the end. I remember saying very similar things about White’s first novel THE NOWHERE CHILD, so maybe his style just doesn’t quite gel with me (though I really enjoyed his previous book THE WIFE AND THE WIDOW). That said, this was an easy popcorn read to devour in a couple of sittings and was entertaining enough to keep me reading. 



WILD PLACE will appeal to readers who enjoy slower, character driven mysteries featuring neighbourhood dynamics and a large cast of characters. Set in Australia, it is also full of that slight tongue-in-cheek humour that charactersises many Australian novels and allows a bit of a chuckle whilst trying to solve the mystery. If you usually enjoy White’s writing style, then you should definitely pick this one up for some satanic time travel to the eighties.


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