Thursday, 18 July 2019

Book Review: GRETCHEN by Shannon Kirk

Title: GRETCHEN
Author: Shannon Kirk
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Read: July 2019
Expected publication: 23 July 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ


Book Description:


Ever since Lucy was two, she’s been on the run alongside her mother. She’s never understood the reason for a lifetime of paranoia, aliases, and lies. All she understands are the rules: never lock eyes with strangers, never let down your guard, and always be ready to move on.
Finally, after thirteen years and eleven states, their next hideaway seems perfect. An isolated, fortresslike place in the New Hampshire woods is the new home they share with its owner, a gentlemanly pianist, and his lonely daughter, Gretchen. She’s Lucy’s age and soon becomes Lucy’s first real friend.

But Gretchen and her father have secrets of their own—and an obsession with puzzles that draws Lucy into a terrifying new game of hide-and-seek. Lucy’s dark past is about to come calling. And this time, for her and her mother in the house on the hill, it might be too late to run.

My musings:


How crazy was this book????? I think I still have vertigo from the nosedive into the insanity of Gretchen’s world and the events that took place in the last 25% of Kirk’s latest creation. After reading IN THE VINES last year, I knew I would be in for a treat, but had little idea of what exactly I was letting myself in for with this one.

I immediately liked Lucy, the 15-year-old MC who is narrating most of the story. Lucy and her mother have been on the run for 13 years, ever since Lucy was two. She believes her mother when she tells her that her evil, powerful father is their enemy and that she must never, ever try to look for him. As if she would even get the chance, because her mother keeps her strictly offline, and every time there is even the slightest danger of someone getting too personal, they do the midnight runner just to end up in another small nondescript town in the middle of nowhere. Now that Lucy is 15, she longs for normality, but most of all she wants a friend. The sort of girl she calls a “Jenny”. Loyal, kind, not asking much in return for a firm quiet friendship.

When Lucy first meets Gretchen, the daughter of their latest landlord, she knows that she is no Jenny. In fact, Gretchen is batshit crazy, with her penchant for puzzles and her way of creeping up on people and invading their privacy. But beggars can’t be choosers, and Lucy is sick of being a friendless girl on the run. Only that her rebellion may cost them all dearly ....

As with her previous book, Shannon Kirk immediately swept me up with her writing and carried me along in its storm like a tumbleweed, helpless and hopelessly addicted to the story. I was so invested that the house could have blown down around me and I may not have noticed. Because Gretchen is one crazy gal, and the setting is so spooky that it gave me nightmares. I LOVE this type of book!

Then came the 75% mark, and the story took a very unexpected turn. I admit that my “farfetched plotline” meter was immediately triggered, ringing all alarm bells. It was all so out there! But in the crazy nightmare that had been evoked by Gretchen in her apple print dress, it all still strangely worked. Is it horror? I’m not sure, though some may be freaked out by the final scenes. For me, it felt more like a fever dream, the sort where you know you are hallucinating but unable to clear your head. I wasn’t totally in love with the ending, but it was certainly different! I had to put a lot of kindling to my fledgling embers of the art of suspending disbelief, so if you are similarly afflicted with a total lack of that skill you may want to be forewarned. Once you have read this book, and have recovered your senses (it may take a day or two), make sure to check out the author’s website for her “additional information” link, which added much to the story for me.



Summary:


All in all, GRETCHEN was one hell of a ride like only Kirk can deliver, with the same type of modern Gothic setting that delighted readers of IN THE VINES. It definitely delved into batshit crazy territory! If you are looking for a thoroughly entertaining book with one of the craziest protagonists and creepiest houses I have come across in a while, and an ending that you will never see coming in a million years, then this is definitely for you! 


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, 11 July 2019

Book Review: THE PERFECT WIFE by J.P. Delaney

Author: J.P. Delaney
Publisher: Quercus Books
Read: July 2019
Expected publication: 8 August 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Abbie awakens in a daze with no memory of who she is or how she landed in this unsettling condition. The man by her side claims to be her husband. He's a titan of the tech world, the founder of one of Silicon Valley's most innovative start-ups. He tells Abbie that she is a gifted artist, an avid surfer, a loving mother to their young son, and the perfect wife. He says she had a terrible accident five years ago and that, through a huge technological breakthrough, she has been brought back from the abyss.

She is a miracle of science.

But as Abbie pieces together memories of her marriage, she begins questioning her husband's motives--and his version of events. Can she trust him when he says he wants them to be together forever? And what really happened to Abbie half a decade ago?

Beware the man who calls you . . .

My musings:


Careful – enter at own risk. Because under this innocuous title hides a story that is just INSANE! My mind is still reeling from the roller coaster ride, and I’m not sure that my simple hippie mind really understood it all in the end.

Take my advice and go into this one blindly. The title really doesn’t do the book justice, so don’t expect a run-of-the-mill thriller here. It will blow your mind. It will challenge the way you perceive reality, and you will never look at that stranger on the bus quite the same way again. I won’t give anything away here, except that this is one of the most original thrillers I have EVER read. If I could sum it up in just one word, the term “disturbing” comes to mind. This book was a minefield of moral and ethical dilemmas for me as the doomed characters played out their part in the plot. I am so glad I read this as a buddy read, because all I could do after turning the last page was getting online, mouth agape, and write WTH have I just read??????? If not for the inconvenience of work, and family, and actions of daily living, I would have devoured this in one sitting, because it utterly consumed me. I am still waiting for someone to explain the ending to me!

What I can safely say without spoilers is that Delaney incorporates a theme close to his heart here, which is autism. In a heartfelt postscript he writes about his own son and the heartbreaking journey his family went on to help make his life with autism easier. These emotions shine through in one of the characters in the book and added additional depth and heart to the story.

If you liked the creepiness of the techno-house in Delaney’s book THE GIRL BEFORE, then I think you will enjoy this one. Allow your mind to be blown. Read it with a buddy or a group so you can text them at 2 a.m. with questions. Readers who have been disillusioned with predictable thrillers will find that there is nothing predictable or run-of-the-mill here.  Readers who think that their smartphone is scary technology may want to have a stiff drink before embarking on this one. Thank you. J.P. Delaney for blowing my mind. You have restored my faith in the genre for being able to surprise and astound. Mind blown .....


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


Thursday, 4 July 2019

Book Review: THE NANNY by Gilly Macmillan

Title:  THE NANNY
Author: Gilly Macmillan
Publisher: Random House UK
Read: June 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


Seven-year-old Jocelyn loves her nanny more than her own mother.
When her nanny disappears one night, Jo never gets over the loss.
How could she vanish without saying goodbye?

Thirty years on, Jo is forced to return to her family home and confront her troubled relationship with her mother. When human remains are discovered in the grounds of the house, Jo begins to question everything.

Then an unexpected visitor knocks at the door and Jo’s world is destroyed again as, one by one, she discovers her childhood memories aren’t what they seemed.

What secrets was her nanny hiding – and what was she running away from? And can Jo trust what her mother tells her?

Sometimes the truth hurts so much you’d rather hear the lie.

My musings:


What I love about Gilly Macmillan’s book is that they are so different from each other – you never know what you will get! With THE NANNY, I was half expecting a “hands that rock the cradle” type of story, and partly it was that. On the other hand, it was a slow burning and very intriguing character study of three different women tied together by an old mystery: mother, daughter and the nanny.

Like most character driven stories that rely heavily on family dynamics and the setting, this story started off slowly to set the scene, only to build up tension as the book progressed. I admit I initially struggled a bit with the characters, but as soon as the skeleton pops out of the closet – or in this family’s case, the lake -  it had well and truly gripped me.

Because like most mysteries, this book relies heavily on surprise elements, I will only give the bare bones here. After the death of her husband, Jocelyn Holt returns to her old family home with her young daughter in tow. Having long lost contact with her mother Virginia, who she resents bitterly, this is not a happy reunion but a move borne out of financial hardship. Initially, the two women warily circle one another in the cold, polite fashion of the English upper class, two polite to ever say how they really feel but also not prepared to air out their grievances. Jocelyn is convinced that her mother never loved her, and that she was responsible for the sudden disappearance of her beloved nanny Hannah when Jo was just 7 years old. Virginia Holt, in the meantime, remains tight lipped about the matter, refusing to discuss Hannah. Until an old skeleton is washed up on the shores of the estate’s lake, once again arousing Jo’s suspicions that her nanny has come to harm.

Macmillan is very clever at spinning her web, so it is worth persevering over the initial few chapters where not much happens but which are vital in setting the scene. I loved the gothic vibes of the old family home and the family’s crumbling estate, which is one of my favourite settings and which added much to the intrigue. I also appreciated how the author had me change my loyalties throughout the book – whereas I first found Lady Holt cold and stand-offish, she ended up becoming the character closest to my heart. The mystery relies heavily on family dynamics and old simmering suspicions and emotions, which are explored here through the eyes of the three women. Ruby, Jo’s ten year old daughter, was a refreshing impartial perspective that added some hope and light to the book for me.


I admit that for the first two chapters I was not expecting to like this book very much, and I even put it aside for a few days to try again later. However, it soon became utterly addictive and I became so embroiled in this family’s dynamics that I ended up reading late into the night, muttering a few times as some characters made some very questionable decisions. Such an emotional response is always a good sign that a book is working for me!


Summary:


All in all, THE NANNY turned out to be an addictive, character driven study of family dynamics and old secrets that have a way of making their way to the surface when you least expect it. There is no ridiculous twist or action packed finale, so if you are expecting either you may be disappointed, but I loved the way this one played out. In short, it made for an entertaining story I devoured in a couple of days and have no qualms recommending to lovers of the genre.


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

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Book Review: GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL by Michael Robotham

Author: Michael Robotham
Publisher: Scribner
Read: June 2019
Expected publication: 23 July 2019
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ1/2


Book Description:


A girl is discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Half-starved and filthy, she won’t tell anyone her name, or her age, or where she came from. Maybe she is twelve, maybe fifteen. She doesn’t appear in any missing persons file, and her DNA can’t be matched to an identity. Six years later, still unidentified, she is living in a secure children’s home with a new name, Evie Cormac. When she initiates a court case demanding the right to be released as an adult, forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven must determine if Evie is ready to go free. But she is unlike anyone he’s ever met—fascinating and dangerous in equal measure. Evie knows when someone is lying, and no one around her is telling the truth.



Meanwhile, Cyrus is called in to investigate the shocking murder of a high school figure-skating champion, Jodie Sheehan, who dies on a lonely footpath close to her home. Pretty and popular, Jodie is portrayed by everyone as the ultimate girl-next-door, but as Cyrus peels back the layers, a secret life emerges—one that Evie Cormac, the girl with no past, knows something about. A man haunted by his own tragic history, Cyrus is caught between the two cases—one girl who needs saving and another who needs justice. What price will he pay for the truth? Fiendishly clever, swiftly paced, and emotionally explosive, Good Girl, Bad Girl is the perfect thrilling summer read from internationally bestselling author Michael Robotham. 

My musings:


To be honest, I never had any doubts whatsoever that this book would be great. I haven’t yet read a Robotham novel that wasn’t! And did it live up to my expectations, you ask? Yes, yes, YES!

If you have ever read any books by this author, you will know how utterly unputdownable they are. The characters practically leap from the pages, taking you by the hand and pulling you into their world, until it is difficult to remember that this is just fiction. GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL introduces two new characters that soon wormed their way into my heart the way Joseph O’Loughlin (one of my favourite fictional sleuths ever) had. On one hand there is Evie Cormac, a damaged girl without a past who is living in a high security facility for children. Six years ago, she was found living in the house of her suspected abductor, alongside his rotting corpse, sneaking out at night to steal food in order to survive. Dubbed “Angel Face” by the media, her true identity has never been uncovered.

Now that Evie is nearing her 18th birthday, she wants to be set free to start a new life, but will she be able to survive out there on her own? Forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven is sent to evaluate Evie and give his recommendations. He has his work cut out for him, as Evie has resisted all efforts by psychologists to help her uncover her true identity so far, and has absconded from numerous foster homes. Will he succeed where others have failed?

Cyrus’ and Evie’s story runs alongside a murder case Cyrus is helping police with, the murder of a teenage figure skater, which in itself makes compelling reading (though not as much as Evie’s story). As both stories intertwine, Robotham shows what he does best – ensnare readers into his web of suspense, mystery and characters you will want to see more of. My wish may be fulfilled, because on the author’s website the book is introduced as “a new series”. Woohoo! My heart bled as I read the last book featuring Joseph O’Loughlin last year, and I just know that I will be just as eager to see Evie and Cyrus back in action after the all-nighter I pulled with this one. I could not tear myself away! The one thing that some readers may struggle with is that not all threads will be resolved in this one – in particular, I wanted to learn a lot more about Evie’s background, but will have to comfort myself that future books in the series will bring me the answers I crave.


Would it be exaggerating to say that GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL could be one of Robotham’s best books to date? Because the one thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that Evie has a special gift – she has the uncanny ability to tell if someone is lying. Which would make her a great asset and a great adversary to some. With an ending that leaves the door open for these two characters to return (yes!) I am envisaging that Evie’s story will eventually be told in full, and I want to be there when all the puzzle pieces slot into place.


Summary:


All in all, GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL is an utterly compulsive, unputdownable thriller from a master of the genre who knows just what readers want to see: compelling, interesting and fleshed out characters, a clever plot and lots of tension. I am so happy to hear that this is the start of a new series and can’t wait for the next installment.



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

Saturday, 29 June 2019

Book Review: MIRACLE CREEK by Angie Kim

Title: MIRACLE CREEK
Author: Angie Kim
Read: June 2019
Expected publication: out now
My Rating: πŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸπŸŒŸ
all the stars!

Book Description:


A literary courtroom thrilled about an immigrant family and a young single mother accused of killing her autistic son, Miracle Creek is a powerhouse debut about how far we'll go to protect our families, and our deepest secrets.

In rural Miracle Creek, Virginia, Young and Pak Yoo run an experimental medical treatment device known as the Miracle Submarine. A pressurized oxygen chamber that patients enter for therapeutic “dives,” it's also a repository of hopes and dreams: the dream of a mom that her child can be like other kids; the dream of a young doctor desperate to cure his infertility and save his marriage; the dream of the Yoos themselves, Korean immigrants who have come to the United States so their teenage daughter can have a better life.

When the oxygen chamber mysteriously explodes, killing two people, all these dreams shatter with it, and the ensuing murder trial uncovers imaginable secrets and lies. In Miracle Creek, Angie Kim takes a classic form—courtroom drama—and draws on her own experience as an immigrant, a lawyer, and the mother of a real-life "submarine" patient to turn it into something wholly original, unputdownable . . . real. This is a spellbinding novel by an exciting new voice.

My musings:


Where do I even start to review this book? How could I ever do it justice? Every now and then a book comes along that is a perfect fit, that touches your very soul and worms its way into your heart to stay there, whispering its secrets long after you have turned the last page. MIRACLE CREEK was that type of book for me. Not since BEARTOWN have I shed so many tears as I did here! If you have heard about this book (and frankly, who hasn’t), then be assured that the hype is real. There is something in this book for just about every reader. Mystery, suspense, a lively courtroom drama, immigration, parenting, lies .... all woven into a brilliant web that will keep you up at night.

Angie Kim has hit the ground running – with a debut novel that has already wormed its way into the hearts of millions, she has firmly established her place on many favourites lists. This is an author who doesn’t do things by halves. If you’re a parent, MIRACLE CREEK will hit you like a freight train right where it hurts most, because when it comes down to it, parents and children form the centre of this brilliant novel. We all want the best for our children, right? Only who decides what is best? How will our choices affect our and their lives? And what if your child is sick, and in pain, and you’re just trying to stay afloat here and do the best you can?

Told in the forms of a court case, the story starts with the horrific death of two people – a child and a woman – in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber used as a controversial treatment for children and adults with disabilities or conditions resistant to standard medical interventions. A woman, Elizabeth, stands accused of having lit the fire that was the cause of the deaths. But it soon becomes apparent that all is not as straight forward as first thought, as each witness relives the time leading up to the explosion.

It is a rare skill to offer multiple POVs and make each one as compelling as the next. My heart bled for these people as their deepest secrets were being exposed. The butterfly effect of little and big lies. A tiny decision altering the fates of many. I have let this book digest for a few days after finishing it and before putting my thoughts to paper, but still little things keep popping up in my head. The what if’s. The why’s. The what-would-you-do’s. I could write pages and pages about all the things that deeply affected me, but this review would be way too long and contain too many spoilers, so I will just say two words: read it! READ IT TODAY! IMMEDIATELY!


I listened to the audio version of this book, which also contained an interesting interview with the author. It was not surprising to hear that Kim used to be lawyer, which may account for the realism of her courtroom scenes. Like Pak and Young, she is from a Korean background. Like Theresa and Elizabeth, she has tried HBOT for one of her children. With so much personal experience packaged into a fictional story, it practically fizzled with emotion. It all rolled out so vividly in my head that I feel I have been there, listened in, met these people in real life.


Summary:


Told with heart and insight, this is a powerful, thought provoking and touching novel that will stay in your heart and your mind for a long time to come. It is definitely one of the best books I have read all year, and one I will re-read in years to come and take even more things away with me. I can’t wait to see what the author comes up with next!


Thank you to the Traveling Friends Reads Group for the fabulous buddy read! I loved discussing this one.