Thursday, 9 May 2019

Book Review: STONE MOTHERS by Erin Kelly

Title: STONE MOTHERS
Author: Erin Kelly
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read: April 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


'The Victorians used to call their mental hospitals stone mothers,' I say. 'They thought the design of the building could literally nurse the sick back to health.'

Marianne grew up in the shadow of the old asylum, a place that still haunts her dreams. She was seventeen when she fled the town, her family, her boyfriend Jesse and the body they buried.
Now, forced to return, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never forgave her for leaving, is finally threatening to expose the truth.

Marianne will do anything to protect the life she's built; the husband and daughter who must never know.

Even if it means turning to her worst enemy...


But Marianne may not know the whole story - and she isn't the only one with secrets they'd kill to keep.

My musings:


I absolutely adored Erin Kelly’s book HE SAID SHE SAID, so imagine my excitement when I won an ARC of her latest book!

The book is being told from the POV of three different characters and three very distinct timelines. Starting in the present, we hear from Marianne, who has had to give up her job in order to spend more time helping her sister look after their mother, who has advanced dementia. To surprise her, her husband has bought them a unit in the historical building of the Nazareth Mental Hospital, now a modern apartment block for the wealthy. He thought she would be pleased, and her horror of setting foot on the property surprises him. What lies in Marianne’s past that makes her so reluctant to return to her old hometown of  Nusstead?

STONE MOTHERS is yet another book that will go on my list of great settings this year. The Nazareth Mental Hospital is a brilliant and eerie setting – what can possibly bring more chills than an abandoned asylum with a dark past? I loved exploring the old brick building in my mind, wondering its corridors with dread and fascination alike. Kelly has a way with words that really brought this setting to life for me!

The one thing I wasn’t totally fond of was the timeline here. It’s one of those books where all the main characters share a deep dark secret, and everything revolves around this secret, only that we are not privy to finding out what it’s all about. I felt like the one person in the crowd that has no idea what everyone is talking about – too close to real life, lol. Without that knowledge, it was difficult initially to understand the characters’ motivations, which at times seemed a bit farfetched and extreme to me. It wasn’t until the timeline switched to Marianne’s teenage years that we get to find out what all the fuss was about and things started making more sense.


Of all the characters, I liked Helen’s story the best and could have read much more about her youth. She was such a complex character, and her story was so compelling! I also felt a lot more connection to teenage Marianne than to her present day self, and could have spent the entire book walking the dark corridors of the abandoned asylum. One thing I really appreciated about the different timelines was the way the characters all ended linking up, and the threads connecting, and little details coming into focus that I may otherwise have overlooked.


Summary:


STONE MOTHERS is a slow, character driven story with a brilliant atmospheric setting created by a master storyteller. Even though I struggled initially with the format of the book, it ended up an enjoyable read and Helen’s story especially evoked a lot of emotions. Lovers of atmospheric settings will really appreciate this one, as it was quite unique!


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

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Book Review: THE MISSING YEARS by Lexie Elliott



Author: Lexie Elliott
Publisher: Berkley Publishing
Read: April 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago—her father.

Leaving London behind to settle the inheritance from her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home, nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, joined by the half-sister who’s almost a stranger to her.

Ailsa can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her—as if her past hungers to consume her. She also can’t ignore how the neighbourhood animals refuse to set one foot within the gates of the garden.

When the first nighttime intruder shows up, Ailsa fears that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything.


My musings:


Is there anything more compelling than a mystery featuring an old spooky mansion in the country? Few settings are as irresistible for me, and of course I added this book to my TBR list immediately when I heard that one of the starring role went to an old deserted manor house in rural Scotland.

Picture this: you have just found out that you have inherited The Manse, an old stately manor house in the country where you spent a few of your early childhood years. The place where your father went missing, and your family life totally unravelled. Which is probably why Ailsa is eager to sort through her mother’s old stuff at the house and get her affairs in order so she can put the house on the market as quickly as possible. But there is a hitch: her father, who has been missing for 27 years is still officially part owner of the property, and without his consent she cannot sell, lease or convert the old mansion. And the ghosts of the past are about to catch up with her ....

There are two things I particularly loved about this book:

  1. The Manse: the old manor house is one of those settings that features almost like a character in itself and plays a huge role in the whole mystery. And it has such potential for spookiness! Doors mysteriously open and close even though there is no draught. Animals are refusing to enter the grounds, acting terrified as soon as they get near it. There are mysterious sightings of shadowy animals and people that no one else can see. It was just so perfect!
  2. The mystery of Ailsa’s father’s disappearance: what really happened to him 27 years ago when he vanished without a trace, carrying a load of precious diamonds he was meant to deliver to a local jeweller. Throughout the novel we get to hear different Ailsa has made up about her father’s fate. He is living in Australia / South America / a mental hospital in the next county with a new family / a male partner / a new wife. Her theories are endless. As the story gets a bit more sinister, so do Ailsa’s theories, until .... Well, you will have to find out for yourself!



You are probably wondering: so, what’s not to love here? Alas, it was the ending that ruined this one for me. There are more plot holes than in Swiss cheese in the way this one panned out, and I didn’t get answers to some of the most important questions I had – which I will not discuss here because – you know – spoilers. *sigh* it’s the year of implausible endings for me, and the trend continues. No doubt it won’t bother many of you, so take my review with a large grain of salt. I’m trying to become more adept at suspension of disbelief, but I think this one pushed too many boundaries!



Summary:


To sum it up: great setting, very intriguing premise but a totally implausible ending for me. However, I loved Elliott’s writing style and have just bought The French Girl, and look forward to reading more from this author!


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

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Book Review: THE TAKING OF ANNIE THORNE by C.J. Tudor


Author: C.J. Tudor
Read: April 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


One night, Annie went missing. Disappeared from her own bed. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. And then, miraculously, after forty-eight hours, she came back. But she couldn't, or wouldn't, say what had happened to her. Something happened to my sister. I can't explain what. I just know that when she came back, she wasn't the same. She wasn't my Annie. I didn't want to admit, even to myself, that sometimes I was scared to death of my own little sister.


My musings:


THE CHALK MAN  was one of my favourite books last year, so I was very excited to pick up Tudor’s latest book, THE TAKING OF ANNIE THORNE (much prefer that title to THE HIDING PLACE, the other name it has been published under).

If the opening scene was anything to go by, I should have realised that Tudor may take this book one step further and step across into the horror genre – and it certainly did! It was therefore perhaps not the smartest choice for my nightly commute and lonely dog-walks along dark lanes, but it certainly made my heart pound (if you’re into that sort of adrenaline rush).

For me, THE TAKING OF ANNIE THORNE was quite similar to THE CHALK MAN  in many aspects. Here we have a dysfunctional, single male character who is reminiscing about the past and a deep dark secret  that has shaped his life. However, if her debut worked by insinuating evil, she is not afraid to turn it up a few notches here. Ed was flawed but likeable, whilst Joe was a truly unlikeable and damaged character for me. And whilst the little chalk men may in her first book seemed sinister, the horror elements in this book will truly make your skin crawl! There are also quite a few supernatural elements in this latest novel, which may or may not work for different kind of readers. I, for one, enjoy subtle hints more than the full-in-your face horror, which is why I probably didn’t love this one as much as THE CHALK MAN. Personally, I also felt that not all the threads came together for me in the end – or perhaps I missed something? – which left me with more questions than answers.

So, let’s sum it all up without spoilers:

Things I loved:
  1. An atmospheric, small town setting that was truly terrifying at times. Tudor excels with her settings, and this one is a prime example of a setting that is as much a character in her novel as the actual people depicted in it.
  2. Humour. Dark humour, but that counts, doesn’t it? As much as I disliked Joe, at times he came out with things that made me laugh. Even if they often were politically incorrect. Go on, shoot me down for saying that, I am sure that someone out there will be offended by this.
  3. The unreliable narrator theme, which worked really well here. Can you trust Joe? Or is he lying? That’s the million dollar question and you won’t get an answer out of me here, no matter how much money you offer – well, don’t tempt me.


Things that didn’t quite work:
  1. The horror elements. If I want horror, I will read horror. Or rather not. But ok, I just toughen up and take one for the team.
  2. Too many unanswered questions remaining in the end. I will not go into them here because of spoilers, but not everything added up for me. But maybe I’m just a bit thick.
  3. The book has been compared by many to Stephen King’s novel Pet Sematary, which I have not read because I thought it would be too scary. But maybe I should. 



Summary:


All in all, this one should appeal to readers who like dark mysteries and aren’t too squeamish – there were quite a few horrific and confronting scenes here that may be too much for some. Whilst I enjoyed the foray into Tudor’s sinister world and found some aspects thoroughly intriguing, some of the horror elements did push me outside my comfort zone. I liked it but didn’t love it quite as much as I thought I would!


Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Book Review: THOSE PEOPLE by Louise Candlish

Title: THOSE PEOPLE
Author: Louise Candlish
Publisher: Berkley Publishing
Read: April 2019
Expected publication: 11 June 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Lowland Way is the suburban dream. The houses are beautiful, the neighbors get along, and the kids play together on weekends.

But when Darren and Jodie move into the house on the corner, they donΚΌt follow the rules. They blast music at all hours, begin an unsightly renovation, and run a used-car business from their yard. It doesn't take long for an all-out war to start brewing.

Then, early one Saturday, a horrific death shocks the street. As police search for witnesses, accusations start flying--and everyone has something to hide.

My musings:


Holy moly, what a hell of a ride this book was! I really enjoyed the fictional neighbourhood Candlish conjured up in her last novel OUR HOUSE, but she has taken it one step further this time and really ratcheted up the tension here.

“Those people” is a term that refers to Darren and Jodie, the new hellish neighbours in No 1 Lowland Way. We have made an effort, the other residents will say. But to be honest, they never even tried to fit in, did they? Rude Darren with his loud music and junk cars lined up all the way down the street, whose hostility even jeopardises the “play outside Sunday” scheme that has made this neighbourhood one of the most desirable in this part of the city. Jodie, his partner, who scowls and gets abusive when she is being confronted with the other neighbours’ requests to conform to the high standards of Lowland Way. It doesn’t take long until they have brought down the tone of the whole street. House prices are already plummeting. Marriages are on the brink. And soon someone will be dead ....

I really enjoy slow burning, character driven books based on interpersonal relationships, and this one really delivered all that and more! It was such an entertaining read, which may not be the proper word for a tale of conflict and tension. It made for that sort of gloating feeling you get when you are confronted by a bunch of dysfunctional characters and instantly a) feel better about yourself; and b) believe your own life look pretty normal in comparison.


What drives respectable people to take the plunge into the world of crime and corruption? Murder, even? If you have ever wondered this, then you are in for a treat. The slow and steady unravelling of a whole neighbourhood because of two unlikeable misfits is like watching a forest-fire take hold – you know it is not going to end well. I loved the way Candlish exposes the deepest darkest corners of our characters’ minds, right down to the unexpected finale. Apart from creating the “bad neighbours” from hell, she also isn’t afraid to highlight the hypocrisies and double standard of the wealthy – and slightly arrogant - residents of Lowland Way when things don’t go their way. But who am I to judge? Our neighbourhood quibbles (“That blasted dog from No 10 is barking again!”) sound perfectly harmless in the face of Darren’s exploits. I particularly enjoyed the different POVs from all the residents that are involved in this giant conflict – it made for some interesting perspectives, and the excerpts from the police statements break up the story nicely. 


Summary:


Those People is a book for readers who enjoy slow burning, character driven books that slowly and deliciously unravel – sit by with a glass of wine in hand and watch it all go to sh**. If you are a reader who wants action, then you may find this one a bit slow to take off. However, Candlish draws her characters well and with great skill, which made this a joy to read for me. I soon found myself utterly consumed by the situation, and I couldn’t wait to find out how it would all play out. Another original and entertaining read from the author – what a great movie this one would make! I really look forward to see what she comes up with next.


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


Monday, 29 April 2019

Book Review: EIGHT LIVES by Susan Hurley


Title: Eight Lives
Author: Susan Hurley
Publisher: Affirm Press
Read: March 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ all the stars!


Book Description:


A brilliant young doctor is dead ... and someone has to take the blame.

Former refugee David Tran becomes the Golden Boy of Australian medical research and invents a drug that could transform immunology. Eight volunteers are recruited for the first human trial, a crucial step on the path to global fame for David and windfall gains for his investors. But when David dies in baffling circumstances, motives are put under the microscope.

With its origins in a real-life drug trial that ended in tragedy, EIGHT LIVES is told from the perspectives of David’s friends, family and business associates, who all played a role in his downfall.


My musings:


“When eating the fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.”

What scientist has not dreamed of discovering the drug that will cure cancer or any of the killer diseases out there? It would make them not only a lifesaving hero, but also a billionaire. But I am betting that the average person has no idea of the “behind the scenes” that is necessary before a new medication hits the market. According to one of the interesting facts the author discloses in this intelligent thriller is that only 15% of all drugs that go through clinical trial actually make it onto the market. Which is quite an eye-opener, considering that a clinical trial costs tens of thousands of dollars if not more. Not to mention the political wheelings and dealings that play out between drug companies. So even if you discovered that grandma’s innocuous herb in her vegie patch is the new cure to diabetes, don’t hold your breath that fame and fortune await any time soon.

Former asylum seeker turned protΓ©gΓ© doctor David Tran has indeed managed to crack the code that could turn on our own immune system to fight disease, making him the golden boy of Australian medicine and highly sought after by drug companies wanting to cash in on his imminent success. If the drug makes it through all stages of clinical trials, it could be worth billions. But on the eve of the first human trial, David is dead. What happened? Who is to blame?

EIGHT LIVES is one of the most intriguing, intelligent and well-researched medical thrillers I have ever read, and the author’s intimate knowledge of medical research and the pharmaceutical industry became very obvious as soon as the story unfolded. As a health professional, I had no problems with the medical terminology included in the book – in fact, I appreciated the accurate portrayal of medical procedures and processes that often get lost in works of fiction for the sake of entertainment or simply because the author is not familiar with them. With its Australian setting, the book also reflected our own medical system here, which made it easier to navigate for me than US based medical thrillers.

Hurley tells her tale through the POVs of multiple characters, and it was one of those rare books where I found each and every character equally interesting. I also really appreciated the inclusion of characters from different cultural backgrounds, like David (Dung) Tran and his family, who were asylum seekers from Vietnam, and Rosa, whose family were Italian. It added an extra depth to the story and reflected some of the current topics related to immigration in Australia. As the story slowly unfolds through different eyes, and each character’s unique voice, we soon learn that David’s unfortunate death is surrounded by mystery and speculation. Why did this brilliant young man have to die?

Hurley includes many fascinating facts about immunology, pharmaceuticals, drug trials, animal and human testing of drugs and the politics behind having a new medication approved for market, which all made for fascinating reading. I was drawn in very quickly and could not tear myself away! Whilst some characters are not very likeable, there is always some subtle self-deprecating humour and good Aussie tongue-in-cheek at play here, which gave the story a special flair I really enjoyed.


IF you are wondering about the title – it will make perfect sense in the end. An end which is as tragic as it is shocking, and took me by surprise. I would have to be a true mastermind to tie together all the strings on my own, but it was very satisfying to finally have all the answers. What really happened to David Tran? You will have to read it to find out. Make sure to also read the author’s note, which explains the inspiration for this story, which made it even more poignant for me. Also notable are some of the ethical issues raised in this novel, which would make for an interesting discussion in a reading group.


Summary:


Multi-layered, intelligent, gripping and satisfying are all terms that come to mind when trying to describe this book. I highly recommend it to readers who are looking for a smart medical thriller from a writer who has insider knowledge of the industry and is not afraid to showcase it. I really hope to read more from this author in future!


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.


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