Thursday, 9 August 2018

Audiobook mini review: THE FRIEND by Teresa Driscoll


Title: The Friend
Author: Teresa Driscoll
Narrator: Henrietta Meire
Read: August 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:



On a train with her husband, miles from home and their four-year-old son, Ben, Sophie receives a chilling phone call. Two boys are in hospital after a tragic accident. One of them is Ben.

She thought she could trust Emma, her new friend, to look after her little boy. After all, Emma’s a kindred spirit—someone Sophie was sure she could bare her soul to, despite the village rumours. But Sophie can’t shake the feeling that she’s made an unforgivable mistake and now her whole family is in danger.

Because how well does she know Emma, really? Should she have trusted her at all?

Time is running out. Powerless to help her child, still hours from home, Sophie is about to discover the truth. And her life will never be the same.


My musings:


I came across The Friend accidentally on Audible and it sounded too good to miss – a child in danger, a friend who is not who she seems, secrets, lies, a race against time. Just what the doctor ordered for my daily commute, I thought!


Driscoll’s writing drew me in rapidly and I really enjoyed the dual time format of the novel. Here we have Sophie, a young mother on a train who gets a phone call that her four-year old son Ben has been hurt in an accident and is being rushed to hospital as they speak. Straight away the alarm bells ring: What has happened and why is her son not with her? He is with a friend, we learn, a friend who had been trusted to take care of him, but who Sophie now doesn’t want anywhere near her child. Why? WHY? Dricoll knows how to build tension, and she had me on tenterhooks as I was listening, eager to find out more. It’s the second timeline which slowly explores the past to give us all the answers and outline the events leading up to Sophie’s current predicament, and a chilling tale it is!

For the first ¾ of the novel I was totally hooked, enjoying Driscoll’s portrayals of her characters and the underlying air of danger and menace that is ever present in the friendship between Sophie and newcomer Emma. I also liked the characters of Melanie and Matthew, who I found out had made an appearance in an earlier novel by the author (and which I must read). A few unexpected plot twists spiced up the story, and there is even a murder to enhance the sense of danger in the village. Up to almost the very end I loved the story and couldn’t get enough of it.

However, I felt that the ending was a huge let-down for me. Not only did it all end rather abruptly, but a lot of the loose threads are explained in a lengthy epilogue that is telling rather than showing and appeared rather dry to me, even though I appreciated the efforts the author made to answer all outstanding questions. There were also some huge plot-holes for me in regards to the final twist, which from a nurse’s point of view seemed farfetched, spoiling the previously well-constructed and believable narrative at the 11th hour. I felt frustrated and cheated at this turn of events, which most likely won’t bother a vast majority of readers, so unless you are a health-professional you should be safe in reading it and enjoying the final big reveal. Whilst I felt like flinging the book (i.e. my phone, as I was listening to the audio version) out of the car window, uttering a guttural cry and rolling my eyes so far into my head that I was probably a traffic hazard!


Summary:


In summary, The Friend is a chilling story of a friendship gone wrong, with a few unexpected twists along the way. It can be safely read by most, except for health-professionals who find it difficult to suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment (hold on to your phones, people!). Having really enjoyed Driscoll’s writing style and the characters of Melanie and Matthew, I will undoubtedly look up her previous novel to go back to their beginnings.





Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Book Review: THE WINTER'S CHILD by Cassandra Parkin



Author: Cassandra Parkin
Publisher: Legend Press
Read: August 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:



Five years ago, Susannah Harper's son Joel went missing without trace. Bereft of her son and then of her husband John, Susannah tries to accept that she may never know for certain what has happened to her lost loved ones. She has rebuilt her life around a simple selfless mission: to help others who, like her, must learn to live without hope.

But then, on the last night of Hull Fair, a fortune-teller makes an eerie prediction. Susannah is told that this Christmas Eve, Joel will finally come back to her.

As her carefully-constructed life begins to unravel, Susannah is drawn into a world of psychics and charlatans, half-truths and hauntings, friendships and betrayals, forcing her to confront the buried truths of her family's past, where nothing and no one are quite as they seem.


My musings:


I really enjoyed Cassandra Parkin’s novel Lily’s House, so I was very eager to read her latest, especially when I heard it was a “ghostly winter mystery with a modern gothic flavour”. It sounded irresistible!


With an eye for detail and a very unique voice that captured my attention straight away, Parkin has a real knack in bringing her characters and settings to life. As in Lily’s House, I loved the mixture of the unreliable narrator with just the slightest touch of the magical, this time in the form of mystics and fortune tellers. Truth or lie? Reality or fantasy? This question was ever foremost in my mind whilst reading this book, as Susannah’s mind slowly unravels under the strain of looking for her missing child. I loved the way Parkin explored the demons of a mother whose child has vanished without a trace – surely every parent’s worst nightmare – and the ways in which she is trying to make her life whole again.

Family secrets again feature strongly in this novel, adding the irresistible spice that will make you sit up late into the night to get answers. Which is the very reason I will not delve into the story line too deeply here. I recommend going into this one blindly and letting yourself get swept up in the rapids of the narrative, twisting and turning and bumping over rocks, head under water gasping for breath.

Yes, there is also that atmospheric, bleak and chilly setting that helps your blood run cold as all the truths are finally revealed in a kaleidoscope of nightmarish images that so masterfully convey the very essence of the story. Readers who enjoy the “book within a book” concept as much as I do will appreciate excerpts from Susannah’s blog giving her account of what it is like to be the parent of a missing child. Whilst I can’t say I particularly “liked” Susannah, she is a masterful creation, a flawed character with an emotional depth that drove the story for me. Her blog was an imaginative way to get glimpses into her mind that added that extra something as the mystery unravelled.

As the boundaries between reality and fantasy become blurred, the story takes on a more sinister tone, which chilled me to the core – so very clever! Only to end with a final reveal that had me totally gobsmacked.


Summary:



Okay, before I give anything away, let’s sum it up: if you are a fan of a chilling mystery with an atmospheric, gothic setting, an unreliable narrator and a little sprinkling of a magical element, then I strongly recommend this book. Parkin has rapidly made her way onto my list of authors to look out for, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!


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




Monday, 6 August 2018

Book Review: THE SUNDAY GIRL by Pip Drysdale


Author: Pip Drysdale
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Australia
Read: August 2018
Expected publication: 1 September 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:



Any woman who’s ever been involved with a bad, bad man and been dumped will understand what it feels like to be broken, broken-hearted and bent on revenge. Taylor Bishop is hurt, angry and wants to destroy Angus Hollingsworth in the way he destroyed her: Insidiously. Irreparably. Like a puzzle, he’d slowly dissembled … stolen a couple of pieces from, and then discarded, knowing that nobody would ever be able to put it back together ever again. So Taylor consulted The Art of War and made a plan. Then she took the next step – one that would change her life forever.

Then things get really out of control – and The Sunday Girl becomes impossible to put down.


My musings:


There is something irresistibly intriguing about stories of revenge. Admit it – who has not at one point in their lives fantasised about getting even, about getting their own back, even if it’s just directed at the sibling that’s eaten your (no longer) secret stash of lollies or taken a peak at your diary. So when I was offered the chance to read an ARC of The Sunday Girl I felt very excited to indulge the darker side of my psyche.


The premise is not all that different from your usual tale of a jilted woman out for revenge. Taylor is in a turbulent relationship with the much older and sometimes cruel Angus, who she adores for the same mysterious reasons that usually see women remain in dysfunctional relationships despite the agony they cause them. One day Angus, high on drugs, kicks Taylor out for another woman, uploading a private sex tape he has taken of her onto the internet as a parting gift. Jilted, hurt and with her reputation at stake, Taylor swears to get her own back and reclaim her inner tigerwoman. So far, so good. At this stage, I was ready to savour anything that would give Angus his just deserts – the man sounds like a first class a**hole. I particularly enjoyed the way Taylor sets out to forge her plan, using Sun Zu’s book on The Art of War to meticulously plot Angus’ downfall. At this stage, the book was still fun to read, and Taylor is quite the entrepreneur when it comes to making sure that Angus gets a taste of his own medicine. Until Angus comes knocking on Taylor’s door, begging her to take him back. He is remorseful, he has changed, he is a new man – blah-di-blah-di-blah. Taylor, you dimwit, I wanted to shout, don’t fall into this old trap! But she does ....

Overall, I found The Sunday Girl to be a well-written book with some clever and original ideas that had a lot of potential. I really enjoyed some aspects of it, but it ultimately didn’t click with me. Taylor, who originally seemed like a worthy protagonist, made some crappy choices that may be understandable for some, but which didn’t sit well with the story for me and often weren’t grounded in enough reason to make them understandable. For the most part, I felt annoyed at Taylor for stumbling from one bad decision to the next and then whining about it, despite a solid support system of friends and family that would have stood by her. For the most part, her decision-making seemed outlandish and a bit farfetched, and not consistent with the book she quotes as her recipe to exact her revenge. There is a turning point in the story about ¾ into the book that led to a discordant and unsatisfying ending for me.


Summary:



In summary, I felt that The Sunday Girl was a well-written story with some original concepts that will undoubtedly make a fun read for many. For me, the make-or-break of any story is how well I relate to the characters, and this is where this one fell short for me. Taylor’s life choices and decision-making felt alien to me, and ultimately cost me my connection to the story. That’s not to say that I didn’t feel like throttling Angus myself, I would just have gone about it a bit differently!  However, whilst it may not have been my cup of tea, I am sure that it will make a fun romp into the world of a woman scorned for many readers, so if the concept of the story appeals to you, you should give it a go! In any case, an impressive debut and I look forward to reading more from this author in future.


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




You may also like:


The Perfect Girlfriend The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

Friday, 3 August 2018

Book Review: IN THE VINES by Shannon Kirk



Title: In the Vines
Author: Shannon Kirk
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Read: July 2018
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:



Mary Olivia Pentecost, known as Mop, was born into one of the wealthiest families in the country—and one of the most guarded. Now, two years after her mother’s mysterious death, Mop is seeking closure on the disquieting tragedy by returning to the New England seaside estate of her cloistered Aunty Liv—once her closest relative and confidante.

But behind the walls of the isolated estate, the shadows of the past are darker than Mop imagined. The puzzles of the family history are not to be shared, but unearthed. With each revelation comes a new, foreboding threat—and for Mop, the grave suspicion that to discover Aunty Liv’s secrets is to become a prisoner of them.
How well do we know the people we love? How well do we wantto know them? The answers are as twisted as a tangle of vines in this throat-clutching novel of psychological suspense.


My musings:


Woah! What a crazy ride this book was! I think I spent a majority of time with a dazed, “What the ...????”  look on my face, not quite sure what I had let myself in for. There is A LOT of crazy stuff going on with this story, told through two different POVs and quite a few separate timelines, and I admit it took me a little while to get my bearings.


In the present, we have Mary Olivia Pentecost, better known as Mop, who is being chased through the bush by a crazy woman with an axe. Whilst trying to survive this frantic attack, Mop reflects on the events that have led to her current predicament. We also hear about those from her “Aunty” Liv’s POV, starting with an encounter in a diner two years ago, which set some pretty crazy events in motion. Even if I wanted to sum this story up for you, I would not know how to put the kaleidoscope of frantic images it painted in my head into words. Such was the impact of the story that I felt slightly crazed myself and had to ingest this in small doses – certainly not before bed, when the chaotic images would filter into my dreams (or nightmares). What a fantastic, trippy movie this book would make!

Kirk has a unique voice like no other I have come across, her words tumbling across the pages with an urgency reflecting the actions and thoughts of her characters, which are not always “sane”. This is not your typical thriller with people thinking in a logical and calculating manner, but a thrill ride of emotions that mirror a disturbed mind. So vivid were the pictures she evoked that the final scenes will stay in my memory as some of the most disturbing and thrilling I have come across in a thriller. Perhaps I should sit with this for a while and let it digest rather than pound out my review whilst still reeling with shock and disbelief, but it was that kind of book!

Apart from characters that leap from the pages like spectres from a horror movie, Kirk manages to serve up the perfect claustrophobic and atmospheric setting on a rather grand coastal estate in New England. I have never been there, but could picture the lush gardens perched atop towering cliffs so vividly that it made for armchair travel of the best kind. The idyllic setting is in such a stark contrast with the crazy minds of the characters, that it offers a fleeting but deceitful relief from the actions playing out, but do not be fooled, because it will also host the most horrific scenes of the story!

Now, I am a reader who struggles with suspension of disbelief, and there were a few moments when it almost crossed the line for me, but “Aunty” always managed to have a perfectly reasonable explanations for even the craziest stuff that went down. So who am I to argue? I certainly wouldn’t take on this formidable woman, for reasons that will become evident as soon as you read this book. Liv is a nurse, and she knows plenty of ways to dispose of an enemy, so tread lightly here, dear reader! Sorry, Aunty, I really didn’t mean anything by it, I’ll keep my mouth shut now *shuffles off quietly into a corner*. So if you’re game, go and read it for yourself and let yourself be carried away into the crazy world of In the Vines!

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.



Thursday, 2 August 2018

Audiobook Review: TAKE ME IN by Sabine Durrant



Title: Take Me In
Narrators: Rory Kinnear, Morven Christie
Read: July 2018
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ



Book Description:


A hot beach. A young family on holiday. A fatal moment of inattention...

And now Dave Jepsom is in their lives. Dave Jepsom, with his muscles, his pale eyes, his expressionless face.

He saved their child. How can they ever repay him? Especially as what he seems to want in return is everything.

He's in the streets they walk down. He's at the office where they work. He's at their front door, leaning on the bell...

If only they could go back. Back to when the lies were still hidden. Before the holiday, before the beach, before the moment that changed everything.

Before Dave.

But it's never how it starts that matters. It's always how it ends.




My musings:


I loved Durrant’s last book, Lie With Me, so Take Me in was one of my most anticipated new releases of 2018. Again, we have a really intriguing premise here: couple Marcus and Tessa are on holidays in Greece when their young son, Josh, falls into the ocean whilst his parents are distracted. It is only thanks to the rapid actions of a bystander, Dave Jepsom, that the boy is saved from drowning. Although Marcus and Tessa are grateful to the stranger for his intervention, they become wary of him when he makes repeat appearances in their lives once back in England. Soon Dave becomes a sinister spectre in their lives and a constant reminder of their guilt and inadequacies – ultimately bringing this little family to the brink of disaster.


I loved the idea of the story, which unfolds through both the POVs of Marcus and Tessa, a well-off successful couple who at first glance seem to have it all. It’s not until the story progresses that we learn that their marriage is far from perfect. Durrant has a knack for delivering flawed, somewhat unlikeable characters that still manage to extract some empathy from my cold, cold heart, even though neither Marcus not Tessa could hold a candle to Paul Morris from Lie With Me, and I admit feeling quite frustrated with them on several occasions. Here we have two people who seem to have it all, and yet they are basking in constant dissatisfaction and self-centredness. Little Josh really has to take a backward seat as his parents bumble from one disastrous decision to another, each so wrapped up in their own misery that they have little time for playing happy families. And then there is Dave Jepsom, who inserts himself in their lives like a big fat cuckoo in another’s nest, hovering in the shadows like a menacing premise that seems to pre-empt their unravelling. Like Marcus and Tessa, I was constantly wondering if Dave could really be responsible for all the misfortune that befell them, or whether it was all in their imagination. Hero or villain? Friend or foe?

With this brilliant premise I am somewhat disappointed that the book ultimately did not fully deliver for me. There was so much potential for this story to be truly chilling and heart-poundingly tense, but it never seemed to exploit all the possibilities the author hints at. It is difficult to describe my feelings without giving away parts of the plot that may spoil things for other readers, but I can say that I felt that too much time was spent on intricate details of Tessa and Marcus’ everyday lives (and Marcus’ work), and not enough on the chilling spectre of Dave hovering in the peripheries. There were a couple of moments when I thought that the book would finally get to the point (e.g when Tessa calls Maureen and finds out some chilling facts about Dave) and utilise this aspect to ratchet up tension, but it never fully got there.  Considering the finale of Lie With Me, I was breathlessly waiting for the final reveal to throw me a big curveball, but found that I could see its trajectory from a mile off, and it ultimately disappointed. To be totally honest, I felt that the ending didn’t fit at all, and left me feeling dissatisfied, with many questions left unanswered.



Summary:



In summary, and after much soul-searching, I sadly concede that despite Durrant’s writing style (which I still love), Take Me In was ultimately disappointing for me. I felt that this book had so much more potential to be great, but the narrative got lost in translation somewhere along the way and turned out to be more of a casual stroll around the block than the heart-pounding thrill ride it could have been. Whilst I enjoyed Durrant’s keen observations of a modern, middle-class marriage and the smoke and mirrors of suburban life, including the couple’s friends (who were as unlikeable and deceitful as the couple themselves), it ultimately read more like a relationship drama than a heart pounding psychological thriller. I still liked the story, but I did not love it as much as I thought I would.