Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Book Review: PEARL IN A CAGE by Joy Dettman


Author:  Joy Dettman
Read: June 2020
My Rating: 

Book Description:


On a balmy midsummer's evening in 1923, a young woman foreign, dishevelled and heavily pregnant is found unconscious just off the railway tracks in the tiny logging community of Woody Creek. The town midwife, Gertrude Foote, is roused from her bed when the woman is brought to her door. Try as she might, Gertrude is unable to save her, but the baby lives. Gertrude's daughter Amber who has recently lost a son in childbirth and her husband Norman take the child in.


My musings:


There are a few books you encounter throughout your life that will leave a big impact in your mind, and PEARL IN A CAGE was such a book for me. Words cannot do it justice when I say that I lived every emotion in its pages! And two days after finishing the story, I am still consumed by aspects of the book that have affected me deeply.

I am grateful to have discovered Joy Dettman’s great writing through stumbling across ONE SUNDAY on my library’s website, because I am sure that I would never otherwise have picked up a book with the strange title PEARL IN A CAGE. Even the cover design suggested a historical romance with a beautiful tragic heroine to me, which just goes to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or its title), because it was anything but. Instead, the story follows the growing up of a young girl who is found as a newborn baby next to the body of her nameless mother. Due to a twist of fate, the very same night another young mother loses her newborn and, grief stricken, snatches the orphaned infant to her breast, an act that will have lasting consequences for the baby, the family and the whole town.

Dettman has a wonderful way of bringing her characters to life, and an uncanny eye for detail. With a rich, colourful cast she evokes 1920’s and 1930’s small town Australia, and the story took on an almost cinematic quality as its pictures played out in my mind. I’m not sure how she does it, but I felt that I had a good insight into each and every one of Woody Creek’s residents, as my heart ached for young Jenny Morrison. I felt sorrow, I felt joy, I felt almost murderous rage and a sense of dread so powerful that it made my heart race and my mouth dry. The story was ALIVE.

I must say that Dettman’s books can scare you more than the most terrifying thriller! Evil comes in many guises. It may take the shape of Archie Foote as he robs his young wife of her baby. Or in the form of a young woman, crazed by guilt, whose hatred will see her do terrible things to an innocent child. Or it may be in the shape of an old man, whose long white beard reminds the town’s children of Santa Claus. Or in the shape of misbehaved twins. Evil comes in many guises, and how I trembled and feared them all! It’s lucky that the reader can take a breather in Gertrude’s kitchen, where it’s safe to venture, because Gertrude will always look after anyone in need.

Oh how my heart is still so full of these characters! I am so glad that this is a series and I can keep reading to learn more about the people of Woody Creek. What an absolute gem of a book!



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Monday, 29 June 2020

Book Review: MARGUERITE by Marina Kemp


Title: MARGUERITE
Author:  MarinaKemp
Publisher: Viking
Read: June 2020
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


Marguerite Demers is twenty-five when she leaves Paris for the sleepy southern village of Saint Sulpice to take up a job as a live-in nurse. Her charge is Jerome Lanvier--once one of the most powerful men in the village, now dying alone in his large and secluded house surrounded by rambling neglected gardens. Manipulative and tyrannical, Jerome has scared away all of his previous caretakers.

It's not long before the villagers have formed opinions of Marguerite. Brigitte Brochon, pillar of the community and local busybody, finds her arrogant and mysterious and is desperate to find a reason to have her fired. Glamorous outsider Suki Lacourse sees Marguerite as an ally in a sea of small-minded provincialism. Local farmer Henri Brochon, husband of Brigitte, feels sorry for her and wants to protect her from the villagers' intrusive gossip and speculation (but Henri has a secret of his own that would scandalize his neighbors, if only they knew). The sudden arrival of Jerome's three sons will upend the rhythm of their days, changing their lives forever.

Set among the lush fields and olive groves of southern France, and written in clear prose of luminous beauty, Marguerite is an unforgettable novel that traces the ways in which guilt can be transformed, and how people can unexpectedly find a sense of redemption.


What attracted me to this book:


A rural French setting (“lush fields and olive groves of Southern France”) and a mysterious nurse as a main character made this book an irresistible combination for me – and it turned out to be one of my favourite reads of 2020!


My musings:


A few pages into the story I already knew that this book would be everything I had hoped for. Charming, quaint, wonderfully observed and with a gorgeous rural French setting, it immediately drew me into its world. Marguerite was such a relatable, enigmatic character – I felt her loneliness, her guilt, her attempts to escape into sleep to avoid the darkness that threatens to take her over. The dynamics between her and Jerome, the lonely old dying man she is looking after, were well presented, as was the small town’s prejudices against the newcomer. Being young and beautiful and yet choosing a quiet, lonely life as the private nurse for an old tyrant immediately raises suspicions among the townsfolk. Except for Henri, who recognise her loneliness as the same sort of void he feels in his own heart. The tender friendship developing between these two characters touched me deeply, and I wanted so much for them to be able to shed their past burdens and move on into a bright, happy future.

There are a lot of themes in this book that prompted reflection, and not only because I too have cared for dying people and pondered some of the questions and dilemmas that Marguerite and Henri face. Each character, no matter how peripheral to the plot, added another layer to the story, until it shimmered as rich and golden as the Southern French sun. And yet there was a shadow side, a constant sense of foreboding, that kept me reading late into the night.


Summary:


MARGUERITE was a beautifully written, brilliantly observed, atmospheric, raw and thought provoking story about two lonely people that deeply touched my heart and is definitely among my favourite books of 2020. Days after turning the last page I still found myself reflecting on this melancholic and yet hopeful story and the many topics it touched on. Aren’t those the best kind of books?


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

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Book Review: THE SWAP by Robyn Harding



Title: THE SWAP
Author:  Robyn Harding
Publisher: Gallery / Scout Press
Read: June 2020
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging...that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.



What attracted me to this book:


Robyn Harding blew my mind with the whole concept of sugar daddies in her previous book THE ARRANGEMENT. Who knew? I must be leading a very sheltered, boring life, because she has done it again with THE SWAP – so call this book an educational as well as entertaining exercise!



My musings:


Sometimes unlikeable, twisted characters work for me, and sometimes they don’t, and I can’t really explain what makes up the magic formula. But I am happy to say that Harding must know it, because even though I shuddered through the actions of some of the characters in her latest book, I also couldn’t look away!

The story’s cast really makes for an odd bunch: Low, the teenage loner who becomes obsessed with beautiful but narcissistic Freya, a woman many years her senior; Jamie, a successful business owner and yet also lonely, and drawn like a moth to the flame to the vivacious yet dangerous Freya; Max, Freya’s silent husband, who seeks solace (or escape?) in exercise and nature; and Brian, Jamie’s husband, usually so steadfast and reliable, until Freya enters the stage. The common denominator, you will notice, is Freya, who is also the only person whose POV is not included in the story, which makes her a beautiful but dangerous mystery – and the catalyst for things to come ....

THE SWAP was a real page-turner for me, even though most of the time I sat in open-mouthed surprise at the foolish decisions some of the adult characters were making. But we all have met people like Freya, haven’t we? The sort of person everyone is inexplicably drawn to, even though you might be the only person to see their true colours and feel like shouting a warning – which of course no one would heed anyway, until it is too late. I read on in horrified fascination as Jamie, Brian and Low stumbled headlong into the abyss.

Perhaps it’s the eclectic mix of characters Harding chose to tell her tale, or the idyllic setting coupled with an underlying sense of dread and malice that made this book so irresistible to me, but I read on way too late into the night because I absolutely had to find out the ending. And still dizzy from the boozy drug fuelled partying, the husband swapping, the social media craze and the yo-yoing of friendships I am very grateful for my boring life – who needs all that drama?


Summary:

If you are looking for a wild, entertaining read with characters so flawed that they make your hackles rise, then you have come to the right place. Harding is a great storyteller who is not afraid of exposing the dark side of human nature in her flawed characters. You may shudder as they march toward their inevitable fates like lambs to the slaughter, but I bet you will be just as entranced by this dark tale as I was, unable to tear myself away. I read it all in one sitting, which is always the mark of a good story!



 Thank you to Edelweiss and Gallery / Scout Press for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.






Book Review: THE SAFE PLACE by Anna Downes

Author: Anna Downes
Publisher: Affirm Press
Read: June 2020
Expected publication: 30 June 2020
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:

Emily is a mess.

Emily Proudman just lost her acting agent, her job, and her apartment in one miserable day.

Emily is desperate.

Scott Denny, a successful and charismatic CEO, has a problem that neither his business acumen nor vast wealth can fix. Until he meets Emily.

Emily is perfect.

Scott offers Emily a summer job as a housekeeper on his remote, beautiful French estate. Enchanted by his lovely wife Nina, and his eccentric young daughter, Aurelia, Emily falls headlong into this oasis of wine-soaked days by the pool. But soon Emily realizes that Scott and Nina are hiding dangerous secrets, and if she doesn't play along, the consequences could be deadly.


What attracted me to this book:


The blurb had me at “remote, beautiful French estate”. Not to speak of the enticing cover! Who doesn’t jump at the opportunity to do some armchair travel, especially in times of lockdown?


My musings:


If you are looking for an easy, quick and entertaining escapist read, then THE SAFE PLACE may be the right book for you. I think I must be reading too many mysteries, because unfortunately this one was all a bit too predictable for me to stand out. That said, there were aspects of it that kept me turning the pages, especially the claustrophobic setting when Emily realises that there is something sinister afoot in the idyllic remote French mansion. I felt though that the author had all the makings of a real terrifying read – some scenes and the underlying sense of menace and danger came close to giving me goosebumps – but in the end always she seemed to hold back from letting them unleash their true force and they only created small waves, like a storm in a teacup. I also found some of the character’s motives and actions questionable, and everyone knows how terrible I am at suspending disbelief!

I think that THE SAFE PLACE will be a better fit for readers who enjoy slow burning mysteries that aren’t too confronting or terrifying but offer a nice escapist setting and enough open questions to keep you turning the pages. Lovers of tense, suspenseful and goosebump-raising reads, or those looking for more in-depth character development may not find it as satisfying.

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.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Book Review: STRANGER IN THE LAKE by Kimberly Belle


Author:  KimberlyBelle
Read: June 2020
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:

When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned.

At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two.

As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water.


What attracted me to this book:

I loved Kimberly Belle’s novel DEAR WIFE, an original and twisty thriller that took me totally by surprise, so was very excited to read her latest book.


My musings:


From the very first pages, I was drawn into the setting of this book: a modern and yet remote mansion on the shores of a vast lake. What better place to stage a mystery in? Charlotte (aka Charlie) describes its isolation so well: the way she can only get into town by boat if the roads are impassable due to snow, the hundreds of steps that lead up to the house from the lake, the sketchy phone reception. What further adds to the atmosphere is that Charlie is an outsider, a woman born to a single drug addict mother in a trailer park, who now finds herself married  to Paul, a wealthy property developer. So we have the social isolation coupled together with geographical isolation. Perfectly claustrophobic! And when a body gets washed up under the couple’s private jetty in exactly the same spot where Paul’s first wife perished, the stage is set.

I admit that whilst I loved the setting, and the story was well written and entertaining enough, it ultimately felt a little bit predictable for me. Perhaps because I had only just read a very similar book with the same premise: how well do you really know your husband?

Yes, of course there is a secret, one that everyone in the book knows except for our clueless protagonist. I thought, somewhat uncharitably, that it wasn’t exciting enough to warrant the big conspiracy to cover it up, and some of the characters’ actions in the wake of it didn’t ring totally true to me. I’m usually not a great armchair detective, but the second POV in the dual timeline wasn’t exactly subtle and made me guess the big reveal very early on in the piece. The book may have worked better for me had it only been from Charlie’s POV, and perhaps random snippets from more peripheral characters rather than a full timeline leading up to the reveal. But I’m also not one who wants to give spoilers, so I’m going to jump ship right about here and say no more on the subject.



Summary:


All in all, whilst the mystery part of this book was a bit underwhelming for me, I really loved the atmospheric setting and the dynamics between siblings Charlie and Chet, as well as the Appalachian small town politics that made the story interesting and engaging. For die-hard mystery fans, the final reveal may be a bit obvious, but the slow burn leading up to it was still an enjoyable read – if not as gripping as I would have liked.


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