Thursday, 23 November 2017

Book Review: EYES LIKE MINE by Sheena Kamal

Author: Sheena Kamal
Publisher:
Bonnier Zaffre
Read:
November 2017
Expected publication: 25 January 2018
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2

People will lie about anything, anytime.


Book Description (Goodreads):

It's late. The phone rings.

The man on the other end says his daughter is missing.

Your daughter. The baby you gave away over fifteen years ago.

What do you do?

Nora Watts isn't sure that she wants to get involved. Troubled, messed up, and with more than enough problems of her own, Nora doesn't want to revisit the past. But then she sees the photograph. A girl, a teenager, with her eyes. How can she turn her back on her?

But going in search of her daughter brings Nora into contact with a past that she would rather forget, a past that she has worked hard to put behind her, but which is always there, waiting for her . . . 


My musings:

Every now and then a character captures your attention so fully that they feel like real life people and evoke a fervent prayer to the literary gods that the author will write a sequel – and another one, and another one! For me, Nora Watts was that protagonist – she was so compelling and intriguing that she instantly swept me up into her world and kept me enthralled. Nora may initially seem like your classical flawed character with the obligatory traumatic childhood having shaped her adult self, but she has a few additional features that make her stand out from the fray. Firstly, she can tell a liar as soon as the other person opens their mouth. Secondly, she has an irresistible sense of self-deprecating humour that had me laughing out loud in what was otherwise a rather dark and disturbing story – she is so astute in her observations! And whilst hse admits embracing her role as an outsider,  she is also a badass – in a humble, invisible sort of way, but she is not one to give up easily, especially when it comes to righting an injustice. Even though she may not always seem likeable, I simply adored her. She would of course not appreciate the sentiment, preferring to keep herself to herself with the equally irresistible Whisper by her side.

Kamal does such a brilliant job with her characterisations – even now I can clearly see the cast of Eyes Like Mine clearly in front of my eyes, as if I had met them all personally. In her author’s notes she says: “I learned how important it is to have compelling characters, raise the stakes and to take risks.” She has certainly achieved all of that. The characters, the sense of time and place, the atmosphere of the seedier side of Vancouver and Vancouver Island were so well executed that the story played out movie-like in my mind until I could not tear myself away even for the most essential of needs. And what a story it was! A dark, disturbing thrill ride that had my hackles rise on quite a few occasions as Nora put herself in the firing line. There was both mystery and suspense as well as action, a balance that is tricky to achieve but was perfectly done here. Nora’s antisocial tendencies and her ability to stay under the radar created the type of tense, claustrophobic atmosphere I simply love in a good mystery. Even the few tiny moments of having to suspend disbelief did not mar the pleasure, and everyone who knows me will know I’m usually not very good at that. 

Summary:

If you’re looking for two-dimensional cardboard cut-out characters in a run-of-the-mill mystery that has been done a thousand times before, do not read this book, because it is quite unique and the characters pack punch. There are many themes running through this book that make it relevant: childhood trauma, abuse, adoption, alcoholism, homelessness, racism just to mention a few. It is confronting at times, disturbing for most of the time, and just very very good. I was ecstatic to read that the author is working on a sequel. I will most definitely pick that one up, too!  Very highly recommended to all lovers of the genre. 



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

Monday, 13 November 2017

Daily Commute Audiobook Mini-Reviews for October 2017

With night shifts, a new puppy and lots of gardening work to be done in spring, my reading time has really suffered lately, and my reviews have dried up over the last couple of weeks. Thankfully there is always audio, which has kept me sane during my daily commute and also gave me a chance to tackle some books on my TBR list that I had been looking forward to. The reviews took a bit longer, but finally - TA DA! - here they are:

Author: Kerry Wilkinson
Narrator:
Alison Campbell
Read:
October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

Megan was ten years old when her older brother, Zac, went missing among the cliffs, caves and beaches that surround the small seaside town of Whitecliff.

A decade later and a car crash has claimed the lives of her parents.

Megan and her younger sister Chloe return to Whitecliff one summer for the first time since their brother’s disappearance. Megan says it’s to get her parents’ affairs in order. There are boxes to pack, junk to clear, a rundown cottage to sell. But that’s not the real reason.

Megan has come to confront her family’s past after receiving a postcard on the day of her parents’ funeral. It had a photograph of Whitecliff on the front and a single letter on the back.

‘Z’ is all it read.

Z for Zac.

My musings:


I’m a bit of a sucker for sister mysteries – there are so many interesting dynamics in sibling relationships that they provide the perfect base for an emotionally charged book. And whilst the plot of Wilkinson’s latest novel is based more around the disappearance of Megan and Chloe’s brother Zac ten years ago, the relationship between the sisters was certainly intriguing and drove much of the storyline.

Despite Megan’s prickly and damaged character, I felt that she was well portrayed and I couldn’t help feeling for her. She is so determined to find out what happened to Zac and get justice for him, and is not easily discouraged, despite the many demons she is battling. Chloe, on the surface the more balanced of the two sisters, seems almost too blasΓ© about Zac’s disappearance, and it is obvious that their parents’ absence during the children’s formative years has done some damage to both of the girls. I loved Wilkinson’t portrayal of these two broken young women, and the undercurrent of something sinister that shadows their time in Whitecliff. There is an ever-present tension underlying the storyline, and I was never sure whose account of events I could trust. Is Megan really a reliable storyteller? Has her anorexia and addiction to prescription drugs from her mother’s stash destroyed her ability to think clearly, distorting her memories and her reality? Or is Chloe the one who is hiding things?

As the events in Whitecliff slowly spiralled out of control, the danger to the girls felt ever more real – but was it? Wilkinson did a great job of messing with my mind and making me question everything I read, and I just love it when a book does that. Despite the picturesque setting of the seaside town of Whitecliff, there was always an air of menace present, and some of the villagers were downright scary. Without giving any more away, tension built as Megan started asking more and more questions about her brother’s last year in Whitecliff, with the villagers closing ranks against her. What were they hiding? And how did their parents fit into all this? There were so many questions and possibilities that my mind was spinning as I tried to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to unravel the mystery. And whilst for me there were a few plot-holes that didn’t quite add up, the portrayal of the small town and the building tension made up for it and on the hole provided a satisfying and  intriguing read. Two Sisters was my first book by the author but it certainly won’t be my last!






Title: Sunday Morning Coming Down (Frieda Klein #7)
Author: Nicci French
Narrator:
Beth Chalmers
Read:
October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Psychotherapist Dr Frieda Klein once again finds herself in the midst of a criminal investigation when the rotting body of an ex-policeman is found beneath the floorboards of her house.

The corpse is only months old but the main suspect, murderer Dean Reeve, died over seven years ago.

As the killer picks off his next victims and her home is turned into a crime scene, Frieda's old life seems like a hazy dream.

With eyes of the world upon her and no answers from the police, Frieda realises that she will have to track this killer before he tracks down those she loves.

My musings:

Avid readers and lovers of the Frieda Klein series will know that the last book ended on a massive cliff-hanger, with Frieda finding a rotting body under the floor boards of her house. So I had been eagerly looking forward to Sunday Morning Coming Down to find out what happens next. And I am happy to say that French’s latest book is full of the same chrilling* details that made the series so irresistible for me. In Sunday Morning Coming Down, Frieda must use her unusual skills for sniffing out the truth to protect the ones closest to her, as her loved ones are the targets for brutal attacks, and not even her patients are safe. With Dean Reeve still out there, and the police (who finally have to believe Frieda that he is still alive) unable to find him, Frieda is at her wits’ end how to escape his unwanted (and deadly) attention. But things are not quite as they seem – and Frieda must use all her skills to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer.

There is a reason why the Nicci French writing duo remains firmly on my list of favourite writers – theirs are dark and disturbing books that mess with my mind, and I love that! Sunday Morning Coming Down is no exception, with the added element of danger to beloved characters from earlier books in the series, which had me on tenterhooks! I will not go into any details, for fear of giving something away, only to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I have its predecessors.

If you are a lover of unusual protagonists and chilling psychological thrillers, and haven’t discovered this series yet, it’s well worth picking up the first book now. Frieda Klein is a psychotherapist, and a somewhat remote, prickly and often not very likeable character, but if you give her a chance she will grow on you and take you along on her many walks through London’s lesser known places to think and work out the missing links to many murder cases. Whilst I was not a fan of her in the first book (Blue Monday), I am glad I have persevered – she really is a fascinating character who I now look forward to connecting with. This is definitely a series that should be read in order, as it relies heavily on backstory and the emotional baggage the characters share over the course of the seven book currently published. I believe that the eighth – and final – book will be out early next year. I can’t wait to read it, but will be sad to see the end of Frieda Klein.

*) initially this was a typo, but I quite like it - a mixture of chilling and thrilling. Consider it a new word!

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Book Review: THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn

Author: Kate Quinn
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Read:
November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2

We are flowers who flourish in evil.

Book Description:

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth ...no matter where it leads.

My musings:

Who doesn’t like a good suspenseful spy story, especially one that’s based on real historical figures? It was a no-brainer that I absolutely had to read The Alice Network after discovering it is centred around the true story of a spy network of women based in the German occupied town of Lille in France during WWI.

Quinn uses a dual timeline format to connect her two main characters. One, set in 1915, tells the story of Evelyn (“Eve”) Gardiner, a plucky young British girl who joins the war effort as a female spy to gather intelligence in German occupied France. There she becomes part of the famous Alice Network, led by the true historical figure of Louise de Bettignies, a well-known French secret agent during WWI (also known under her pseudonym Alice Dubois). The other, set in 1947, features young Charlotte St Clair (“Charlie”), a disgraced privileged American girl, who travels to France to track down her beloved cousin Rose who has been missing since the war. As the two women’s paths intersect, we get to find out more about Eve’s history as a secret agent, which has left her a broken woman, and witness Charlie’s coming of age as she sets out on her quest.

I absolutely loved Eve’s story and found the details about the Alice Network and its secret agents utterly fascinating, especially the author’s postscript detailing the true historical events the story is based on. How courageous were these women! And whilst Eve is a fictional character, she blended in well with her “real-life” companions – and who knows, there may have been a similar background to the “real” Marguerite Quinn used as inspiration for her character. Even the older Eve rang true for me, damaged and broken as she was from her wartime experiences. I could imagine that life after the war would not have been easy for those courageous women who managed to survive, but had seen and done unimaginable things for their country. Louise must have been one amazing lady, I ended up reading up on her on the web after finishing this book and would love to read a whole book devoted to her!

Whilst I admire the author for conjuring up a link between her two female protagonist that spans both World Wars, sadly Charlie’s story did not hold the same interest for me as Eve’s, and there were times when I struggled to keep my focus during Charlie’s chapters. Whilst Eve seemed to be able to step out of the pages as real as her historical counterparts, Charlie seemed a bit fake to me, her speech more befitting a 21st century teenager than a girl brought up in the 1940’s. Whilst I realise this is fiction, some of the little inaccuracies still niggled at me, and distracted from Eve’s chapters, and I found myself skipping a lot of Charlie’s story to get back to Eve’s. Unfortunately Charlie’s story was very loooong, and contained a somewhat clichΓ©d romance on top of it all - ugh! A bit of editing may have done wonders here, as there were some fascinating parts that were worth exploring, such as the story of the massacre that wiped out an entire French village during WWII. I also enjoyed the premise of seeing Eve in her older age, trying to lay her demons to rest, and able to help young Charlie in her quest. My issues were just with the “fillers” in Charlie’s story, the parts that didn’t add much to the overall plot but dragged the book out and made me impatient to get back to Eve’s story.

Summary:


All in all, The Alice Network was an captivating and original story centered around a real female spy network during WWI that held my interest and kept me eagerly turning the pages for more. Whilst Charlie’s chapters did not intrigue me nearly as much, other readers may enjoy her chapters (including the romance) a lot more than I did. If you are a history buff and love to read books set during either of the world wars, this one is definitely worth picking up for the historical detail it contains and the unique spin on a story that isn’t told nearly as often as it deserves to be. 


Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Australia

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

Monday, 30 October 2017

Book Review: YOU BE MOTHER by Meg Mason

Author: Meg Mason
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Read:
October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟



Book Description:

What do you do, when you find the perfect family, and it's not yours? A charming, funny and irresistible novel about families, friendship and tiny little white lies.

The only thing Abi ever wanted was a proper family. So when she falls pregnant by an Australian exchange student in London, she cannot pack up her old life in Croydon fast enough, to start all over in Sydney and make her own family. It is not until she arrives, with three-week-old Jude in tow, that Abi realises Stu is not quite ready to be a father after all. And he is the only person she knows in this hot, dazzling, confusing city, where the job of making friends is turning out to be harder than she thought. That is, until she meets Phyllida, her wealthy, charming, imperious older neighbour, and they become almost like mother and daughter. If only Abi had not told Phil that teeny tiny small lie, the very first day they met… 

My musings:

You Be Mother is a delightful, bittersweet book that left a certain warm and fuzzy feeling in its wake long after I finished reading it. There are too few of these types of books around, where you get sucked so deeply into the story that you wish it would never end. But to call it just a feel-good book would be doing it an injustice, because it is so much more than that. In Abi and Phil, Mason has created unforgettable characters that I would love to meet down at the local coffee shop for a cuppa and a chat. I was so reluctant to let them go when the book ended, feeling like I was losing lifelong friends! I also admit shedding a few tears, because when I say bitter-sweet, I mean that the book tackles a few of life’s difficult issues, like death, abandonment, loneliness and the different dynamics found in families, including this most precious and fraught relationship of all, the mother-daughter bond.

Abi, a young mother from Croydon, arrives with her small baby in Sydney, to be reunited with Stu, her son’s father, and start a new life. Settling in Cremorne, in a small flat owned by Stu’ parents, Abi soon finds that Stu may not be ready yet to play happy families as he continues to lead his bachelor life, leaving her and baby Jude alone for long periods of time whilst he studies and meets his mates at the pub until the early morning hours. She tries to overcome her loneliness by taking Jude for long walks in the pram. It is during one of those walks that she stumbles across the Cremorne ocean pool, and meets Phyllida Woolnough, who turns out to be her neighbour, living in a stately home next door to the apartment block. Phil is also battling with loneliness after the recent death of her husband, and all her grown- up children having flown the nest to live overseas. Soon Abi and Phil strike up an unusual friendship, each filling a need in the other– Phil serving as a mother substitute for Abi, and Abi and Jude seamlessly slipping into the gap Phil’s children have left behind. But blood is thicker than water – or is it? As Phil’s children get involved, Abi and Phil’s friendship is bound to get a lot more complicated ...

Having emigrated myself at an early age and raising my babies without the help of family, far away from my old life, I really related to Abi. I remember walking for hours with my first-born asleep in the pram, just to get out of the house and talk to other grown-up people. We also created our own extended “family” from older friends who filled the grandparent gap for my children. Lucky for me, I had a partner who was very involved with his kids, and some great friends, who soon quelled the loneliness. But reading about Abi brought back so many memories of that time, and I felt like giving her a huge bear hug of the sort I often craved myself when crying for my mother!

Phyllida Woolnough, Phil for short, was a delightful character and reminded me of someone I know in real life (though I can never reveal who). She is, as she states herself “in the dusty flute stage of life” and was so delightfully eccentric that there were many laugh-out loud moments as she shared her wry observations and ideas with the reader. Phil is a bit of a mercurial character, warm and welcoming one minute and somewhat remote and cold the next. In her postscript, Mason calls Phil “the pleasure of my life to write” and states that she cannot believe Phil doesn’t really exist. Yes, I felt exactly the same. In fact, all characters, the Woolnough children included, seemed so real to me they could have stepped out of the pages of the book, seamlessly inserting themselves into reality. Kudos to the author for creating such a believable “alternative truth” that I am still grieving for the characters now that the last page has been turned. 

Summary:


I loved You Be Mother and found it to be a delightful read that took me off to another world and made me look forward to the hours I could spend reading. Sometime laugh-out-loud funny, other times sad, this was a warm, insightful, bittersweet and very poignant book about families that I cannot recommend highly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! 


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


Read about Meg Mason on writing You Be Mother: link

Image result for 5 stars
  

Friday, 27 October 2017

Blog Tour & Giveaway: THE LAST DAY OF EMILY LINDSEY by Nic Joseph

Author: Nic Joseph
Publisher:
Sourcebooks Landmark
Read:
October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Dreams are ridiculous and weird, but for the most part, they're allowed.

Book Description:

Emily Lindsey doesn’t speak when they find her. Holding a hunting knife and covered in blood that is not her own, she communicates with a single, ominous drawing. 

Detective Steven Paul has had the same nightmare for as long as he can remember, a strange symbol figuring prominently into his terror. He decided long ago that the recurring dreams are nothing more than an unfortunate side effect of his often traumatic profession.

Until, that is, he’s assigned to the case of Emily Lindsey, the beautiful, elusive, and controversial blogger found alone, who can’t possibly know the symbol from his nightmares... unless she does. 


My musings:

I am delighted to take part in the blog tour for The Last Day of Emily Lindsey by Nic Joseph, a clever mystery that held many surprises in store and kept me guessing until the very end. Featuring two seemingly unrelated threads set in two different timelines, each containing intriguing unexplained elements, I was eagerly turning the pages to find out more. When I started reading this book, I had no idea where it would lead, except that at some stage the two stories would form some sort of connection – and I can happily say that all the threads did come together in the end!

The story starts with Detective Steven Paul, who has been going through a rough time with the break-down of his marriage and persistent nightmares that haunt him on a regular basis. Lately, frightening visions are plaguing him even in his waking hours, threatening his career and forcing him to see a counsellor at work. He is one of the officers first on scene to investigate the strange case of a woman, well-known blogger Emily Lindsey, found in her own home covered in blood, but with no visible injuries to her own self. Seemingly too traumatised to speak, the detectives are at a loss as to what has happened to her. She has a slip of paper with Steven’s name in her pocket – but Steven cannot remember ever having met her. What happened to Emily Lindsey in the hours she has been missing? Is she a victim or a killer? On leaving the hospital, Steven spots something on the woman’s bed that triggers one of his “visions” – but what exactly does it mean, and how does it connect them together?

With many irresistible elements of mystery and suspense, the book drew me in right from the start. I knew that the two different threads must be connected somehow, but whilst I had a few suspicions that proved to be right, I was never able to completely solve the mystery until it was revealed – layer by layer – as the story progressed. Joseph’s writing is engaging, her characters realistically drawn, and I couldn’t help but feel for Steven as he is working hard to work out the meaning of his visions whilst trying to hide his vulnerable side in order to keep his job. Often, two separate stories are difficult to pull off, as usually one tends to hold more interest than the other. However, Joseph has handled this art beautifully, and I felt myself equally intrigued by the timeline that featured the children, as it had so many deliciously sinister elements that could not lead to anything good.

The story kept me up way too late into the night reading, until I could read no more and had to save the last bit for the next day. I must say that there was one element of the ending that fell a bit flat for me. However, there were plenty of surprises and aha-moments that made this story a suspenseful and original read, and my overall feeling was that of enjoyment. Seeing that most of the book’s power lies in its original surprise elements, I recommend going into this story blindly and letting it sweep you away, so I am trying very hard not to give any spoilers here!

In summary, The Last Day of Emily Lindsey was a clever, original mystery featuring two separate narratives which kept me enthralled until all was revealed at the end. It will appeal to readers who are looking for something a little bit different from the fray – I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to any lovers of the genre.



About the Author:

Nic Joseph is fascinated by the very good reasons that make people do very bad things. She writes thrillers and suspense novels from her home in Chicago. As a trained journalist, Nic has written about everything from health care and business to aerospace and IT—but she feels most at home when there’s a murder to be solved on the next page. Nic holds a BS in journalism and an MA in communications, both from Northwestern University.

Visit NicJoseph.com, or follow her on Twitter: @nickeljoseph


Buy this Book - Links:



Giveaway:

Sourcebooks is giving you the chance to win one of three copies of The Last Day of Emily Lindsey via a Rafflecopter Giveaway. Sorry, US residents only. To enter, click the following link or paste it into your browser:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/54ca7af7592/?


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