Thursday, 22 June 2017

Book Review: DO NOT BECOME ALARMED by Maile Meloy


Author: Maile Meloy
Publisher:
Penguin Books UK, Viking
Read:
June 2017
Expected publication: 6 July 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟


"Do you think worrying helps?" "Yes," she said. "Because the disaster will be the thing you don't expect. So you just have to expect everything."


Book Description (Goodreads):

When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The ship's comforts and possibilities seem infinite. But when they all go ashore in beautiful Central America, a series of minor mishaps lead the families further from the ship's safety.

One minute the children are there, and the next they're gone.

What follows is a heart-racing story told from the perspectives of the adults and the children, as the distraught parents - now turning on one another and blaming themselves - try to recover their children and their shattered lives.

My musings:

Cruise ship mysteries have become quite popular recently, and after reading a few intriguing stories that were based around the various legal loopholes of crime at sea, my interest was immediately piqued by the premise of Do Not Become Alarmed (although I found the title a bit odd). However, in this novel the cruise becomes a secondary setting, as the disappearance of the children happens on land, during a moment when their mothers’ attentions are focused on other things – one has fallen asleep on the beach, whilst the other is having a sexual encounter in the bushes with their tour guide. Perhaps neither of them can be credited with the mother of the year award for that one!

From this moment on, most of the story is being told from the eyes of the children, and I quite enjoyed their individual POVs as their lives are being turned upside down. Their innocent observations and analysis of the situation was a like a breath of fresh air compared to that of the adults, who all seem rather stereotypical, somewhat wooden portrayals of your average middle-class privileged American married couple, although there are some moments were Meloy offers an insight into their psyche that makes them more likeable:

People regressed, around their families, to the age at which they had been angriest. With her mother, Liv was always fifteen.

But in the aftermath of their children’s’ disappearance, I didn’t get much sense of emotional turmoil in the parents’ actions and behaviour, which let the story down for me. As a mother, I was terrified to imagine the gut-wrenching terror these people would / should be feeling as they encounter one dead end after another in locating their offspring, in a foreign country with an unfamiliar police system. Some peripheral characters, which had initially intrigued me, ended up adding very little to the storyline, which felt like a lost opportunity.

Whilst the story kept me turning the pages (in part because I was intrigued by the unfamiliar armchair travel setting, and still held some hope for the general premise to come into its own), I felt like I was missing the point somehow.  Although the author had laid some solid groundwork with the lead-up, I got the impression the story got a bit lost with too many different threads diluting the tension. Personally, I would have liked some more mystery and suspense to really make the most of the promising premise the author had alluded to.


Summary:

All in all, Do Not Become Alarmed was a quick and easy read with an intriguing premise, which included some interesting armchair travel to Latin America. Whilst for me it did not quite live up to its potential, and did not contain enough mystery or suspense to make it memorable, the themes of child abduction and a cruise gone terribly wrong may appeal to readers who enjoy a slow-burning family drama for an undemanding and  pleasant holiday read. 



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


Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Book Review: THE GOOD WIDOW by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke


Author: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Publisher:
Lake Union Publishing
Read:
June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

The book starts with two police officers knocking on Jacks’ Morales door – and honestly, what is more chilling than the thought that her world as she knows it is about to end! Her husband James, who she thought was on a business trip in Kansas, has been killed in a car accident. Except that the accident didn’t happen in Kansas, but in Maui, and there was a second casualty – Dylan, a pretty young blonde woman who had been James’ companion on the trip. As Jacks is trying to wrap her head around the fact that she is now a widow, she must also come to terms with the unpleasant truth that her husband lied to her, and cheated on her. Grieving and feeling betrayed, she is at her most vulnerable when another unexpected visitor arrives: enter Nick, the equally baffled and grief-stricken fiancΓ© of the woman James had been having an affair with. Somewhat against her better judgment, Jacks agrees to Nick’s plan to travel to Maui, to the scene of the accident, to get closure.

My musings:

I love domestic noir novels, and am always intrigued by writing duos – how do they do it? Who gets to write what? Anyway, spotting The Good Widow on Goodreads and seeing that it contains both, I just had to read it! Blame my trigger finger on Netgalley (again).

Personally, the book was a bit of a slow burn for me and I was struggling at times to understand the characters’ motivation for their (often questionable) decisions. I fully get the need to find closure, but still found parts of Jacks’ decision to travel to Maui with her husband’s lover’s jilted fiancΓ© a bit baffling. But then again – people do strange things, especially when they are grieving. That aside, it was about at that point in the story that I felt I needed a bit more motivation to keep me interested. James, the cheating spouse, sounded like a bit of an arse all around, and to be honest I did not care much about why he had died. Move on Jacks, sounds like you’ll be better off without him. 

I’m still waiting for the card that says, I’m sorry your husband careened off a cliff with his mistress in a Jeep he couldn’t be bothered to rent for you. I know, because he’s dead, that it’s bad form to write this, but fuck him!

Having arrived at that part of the story, I was wishing for bit more mystery and suspense, a sense of danger, a sinister undertone or some unexpected action to move the story along. That said, the book kept me interested enough to keep reading and see if my suspicions and predication were correct (Miss Marple investigates) – and they were. 

Summary:

In summary, The Good Widow is a slow-burning mystery following a young widow’s journey in coming to terms with her husband’s death and betrayal. Even though it contained few surprises for me, it was an easy read and kept me turning the pages to see whether my theories were right. The book may appeal to lovers of domestic noir who enjoy an emotional exploration of marriage, betrayal and grief – but readers who prefer lots of suspense may find it lacking.

Quotes:


Because I’ve figured out a funny little secret about life: Even if you stay on the sidewalks and pay your bills on time and use hand sanitizer, bad things still happen. Yes, maybe you can cut your odds by playing it safe. By attempting to predict each and every possible pitfall. But your fate will still find you, no matter how much you hide from it.



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




Sunday, 18 June 2017

SUNDAY CONFESSIONAL: The Dreaded DNF (Between a Rock and a Hard Place)

I DNF’d a book today.

I know – shoot me! Right?

You may as well put me out of my misery, because the guilt is already slowly killing me!

I remember my grandmother reprimanding me as a child, every time there was as much as a single pea left on my dinner plate: “There are children starving in Africa!” Perhaps it was the concept of my fussiness being responsible for a country’s famine that has instilled in me an overinflated sense of importance (don’t we love to blame our character flaws on others?). But in the vast sea of this year’s book reviews, my one single DNF is as niggly as the pea under the princess’ mattress (to stay with the pea analogy). It is a thorn in my side, a raw bellyache, a cloud hovering over my day. It will make me toss and turn in my sleep tonight, with the jilted book haunting me in my nightmares, crying accusingly: “You gave up on me, you ingratiate!” And whilst no one gives a toss about my good-little-catholic-girl like guilt, I am convinced that the publisher will blacklist me from their ARC lists and never grant me an ARC ever again. Someone give the girl a valium!

You may appreciate the general premise of this post, that DNFing does not come easily to me. As a perfectionist, I will do battle with most books, no matter how bad, just from the sense of duty of having pressed the “request” button on Netgalley – and therefore making this whole dilemma my own fault in the first place. Any measure of “I shouldn’t have” and “Why did I?”s is not going to fix that. You are looking at a reader whose TBR pile is as a high as an Alpine mountain range, and about as insurmountable in a single lifetime. I stock up on books like others squirrel away cans of food for the day of reckoning. If it wasn’t for my husband, my house would be on day-time TV, with reporters trying to squeeze through the narrow gap of paperbacks lining every available surface to get an exclusive interview for their report “Book hoarding – a new Australian epidemic?”

So yes, there is all that ... On the other hand, I find myself between a rock and a hard place. With full time work and my family’s ridiculous demands that I cook and clean occasionally, or show my face without a book in front of my nose, life is too short to spend on a book I hate, or which bores me to death. If my dusty skeleton is ever found clutching a paperback, I at least want it to be a good one, not the hundredths clone of the new Gone Girl with that killer twist you won’t see coming (because you have long died of boredom waiting for it).

So why DNF?


And that brings me to the main reason I will DNF a book – boredom. At work, we have DNR – do not resuscitate. For me, the books I DNF are the DNR’s of the bookworld – they have flatlined, and no amount of jumping up and down on their chests will revive them for me. Dead as a dodo. If I catch myself nodding off during a book – repeatedly – it’s a Gone Book to me!

The only other reason I will DNF is if a book affronts my sensibilities to such a degree that I cannot bear to be in the same room with it any more (and I am not easily shocked or surprised). I remember one instance, where a book disgusted me so deeply, that I first took it out of the room; then got up to throw it in the outside bin; and not being satisfied even with that, took the bin out to the kerb (which upset the whole neighbourhood, as bin day was still a few days away). And then I had a shower. Ugh, I still shudder thinking about it.


Do you DNF?


For anyone stumbling across this post by sheer accident, you may judge me harshly on my Sunday confessional. However, there is a slight chance that someone, somewhere out there can relate to something I said. I would love to hear from anyone on how they handle their DNFs. Do you feel guilt, shame, unbearable sadness on DNFing? Will you read on doggedly, no matter how indescribably boring the book is? Do you consume huge quantities of caffeine to give you the adrenaline hit otherwise missing in the pages? Leave me a comment, it would be great to hear your thoughts ....


Saturday, 17 June 2017

Book Review: THE WEIGHT OF LIES by Emily Carpenter

Author: Emily Carpenter
Publisher:
Lake Union Publishing
Read:
June 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟


If Frances was the sun ... I was the dinky planet at the end of the line with a number for a name.

Book Description (Goodreads):


In this gripping, atmospheric family drama, a young woman investigates the forty-year-old murder that inspired her mother’s bestselling novel, and uncovers devastating truths—and dangerous lies.

My musings:

It starts with an envelope, delivered to Meg Ashley, a young woman holidaying with friends in Vegas. Meg is terrified as soon as she recognises the sender, because she knows what it will contain:

A bomb. The kind that explodes without making a sound. The kind that destroys.

After all, she has been in that situation many times before, summoned by her famous author mother Frances Ashley, the one person who can cause Meg’s knees to shake and toes to go numb as soon as she hears her name uttered. After three years of running away, Frances has tracked her down, and she knows there will be no escape.


I absolutely loved Meg’s voice, and she gripped me pretty much right from the start. It is obvious that this girl has led a troubled life in the shadow of her overbearing mother and Frances’ famous novel Kitten, which has given them both the means to live a life of carefree luxury – at a cost. Based on the true murder of a little girl when the author was only nineteen, the book propelled her into overnight stardom in the 1970’s and influenced many of Meg’s childhood experiences, including her troubled relationship with her mother.

We needed each other – possibly even loved each other in some strange, flawed way – but it didn’t matter. We were doomed to destroy each other.

Angry and bitter over the latest betrayal by her narcissist parent, Meg sees an opportunity to get even and lay her childhood demons to rest when she is offered to write a tell-all story of her troubled childhood to be published at the 40-year anniversary of her mother’s cult classic. A book which Meg has never even read, perhaps as one of her futile battles of will with her mother. Visiting the small island on which the original murder took place, Meg finds that all may not be as straightforward as first believed. What is fiction, and what is truth? Little does she realise that by digging for the answers to that question, she may be putting herself in danger.


Carpenter writes a great story, and I loved the clever way in which she intersperses the present with passages out of Frances Ashley’s book “Kitten”, which added a spooky, Gothic quality to the story. I could fully understand the (fictional) hype surrounding this book within the book, as I would have loved to devour Kitten myself and buy into the whodunit aspect of the story. As it was, the story of Kitten is slowly being unravelled at the same time as the present time mystery. It all tied in so seamlessly that I was absolutely spellbound and loathe to put the book down, even when the clock struck 2 a.m. and I knew I had to work the next day (apologies to my colleagues who had to deal with my book hangover!). And boy – there was certainly a lot of suspense! The plot, the setting, the characters –all were unique and interesting. I am raving, I know, but after reading a few quite uninspiring mysteries I can appreciate a gem when I find it. The author certainly knows how to create atmosphere, and she does so with seemingly innocent scenes, highlighting details that highlight the dark and sinister undertones in even the most mundane encounter. The island, the big spooky mansion, the wild horses and the island’s inhabitants all have their part to play in a mystery that soon took on a whole momentum of its own – and nothing good could possibly come out of it!


Perhaps the only tiniest misgiving I had with the book related to the ending – not because it wasn’t good, or twisty, or surprising, but because it read like a runaway train clattering crazily into the distance. There was so much going on! I felt as if the author tried to pack in as many twists and turns at the very last minute until my head was spinning. Who, what, why, how???? I think that a simpler explanation would have equally well for me in this case, as the Kitten story alone added so much depth and mystery that it didn’t need anything else to make this book great. If anything, it distracted from the brilliant atmosphere the author had created by including excerpts from Kitten (and from the final bombshell in Chapter 20 of Kitten). But this is a minor quibble, and I am sure that many readers will enjoy the frantic pace. Perhaps I should re-read it in broad daylight, when my brain is still working at capacity, to fully appreciate how neatly all the twists tie in at the end.


Summary:

The Weight of Lies is a tense, atmospheric and multi-layered mystery with a Gothic feel, and the added bonus of being two books in one! To be totally honest, I was wishing for a copy of Kitten in my sweaty little palms, and am sure I would have been one of its followers, caught up in the vibe. I am grateful to the Goodreads community for putting me onto this great read. If you are looking for a slightly disturbing, well-crafted and twisty mystery, don’t look any further! Highly recommended.


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




Thursday, 15 June 2017

Book Review: EMMA IN THE NIGHT by Wendy Walker

Author: Wendy Walker
Publisher:
St Martin's Press
Read:
June 2017
Expected publication: 8 August 2017
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟 🌟



We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe. Maybe there’s no difference between wanting and needing. I don’t know.


Book Description:


Three years ago, two teenage girls, Emma and Cass Tanner, disappeared from their home. Now, Cass has come back, but where is her sister? 

My musings:

You may find this description a bit vague, but believe me when I say that this is a book best delved into blindly to make the most of the mystery lying at its core. So if you haven’t read it yet, please tread with caution – whilst I will try and stay away from spoilers, even little innocent remarks could spoil a major aspect of the plot in this convoluted tale of lies, betrayal and family dysfunction!

Just as I was complaining that there haven’t been enough books out there lately that mess with my mind, I came across Emma in the Night and bang! I eat my words, because this is a book that has all the elements of a twisted psychological thriller. Without giving away too many clues, it is instantly obvious that Cass, the returned teenager, is a troubled soul. Can she be trusted? Have her experiences in the last three years scarred her so much that she has gone crazy, like her mother is claiming (a mother, who Cass calls “Mrs Martin” – go figure)? And what is really going on in the Martin household? These are the questions forensic psychologist Abby Winter is asking herself as she is frantically trying to untangle Cass’ story in a race against time to find her older sister Emma.

Personality disorder and dysfunctional families feature prominently in this dark and disturbed tale, which leads the reader down a path so windy and tangled that one can never quite see the way out of the thorny thicket that is the story of Emma and Cass’ disappearance. Told in part in Cass’ own voice, and partly from the viewpoint of Dr Winter, I was never quite sure who I could believe or trust – which made the story quite intriguing for me! I admit that at times I struggled with the web of family dynamics, which are disturbing to say the least, and which carried a large part of the story.

“Aren’t I a good mother? The best mother you could ever want?”


With some confronting images, this is not for the faint of heart! And although the book is brimming with unlikeable characters, the author’s extensive knowledge of narcissistic personality disorder presents them as three-dimensional personalities, making the tale all the more chilling in its premise.

Summary:

Emma in the Night is a twisty and disturbing tale focusing on family dysfunction, personality disorder and the effects of childhood trauma. With many of the elements that make for a riveting psychological thriller, Walker delivers a story that will stay with you long after the final page has been turned. Highly recommended to lovers of the genre who like a story where nothing is quite as it seems.

Quotes:

I have always liked the expression “rude awakening”. It’s one of those perfect expressions that says everything about something in very few words.

Life feels too strong to go away without some kind of agony.

The truth is, nothing really matters unless we decide it matters.



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