Monday 27 May 2013

Book Review: WAITING FOR WEDNESDAY by Nicci French

Waiting for Wednesday (Frieda Klein, #3)

Title: Waiting for Wednesday
Author: Nicci French
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Release Date: June 20, 2013
Read: May 25-27, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Waiting For Wednesday by Nicci French is the thrilling third novel in the highly acclaimed Frieda Klein series. Ruth Lennox, beloved mother of three, is found by her daughter in a pool of her own blood. Who would want to murder an ordinary housewife? And why? Psychotherapist Frieda Klein finds she has an unusually personal connection with DCI Karlsson's latest case. She is no longer working with him in an official capacity, but when her niece befriends Ruth Lennox's son, Ted, she finds herself in the awkward position of confidante to both Karlsson and Ted. When it emerges that Ruth was leading a secret life, her family closes ranks and Karlsson finds he needs Frieda's help more than ever before. But Frieda is distracted. Having survived an attack on her life, she is struggling to stay in control and when a patient's chance remark rings an alarm bell, she finds herself chasing down a path that seems to lead to a serial killer who has long escaped detection. Or is it merely a symptom of her own increasingly fragile mind? Because, as Frieda knows, every step closer to a killer is one more step into a darkness from which there may be no return .

My thoughts:

Waiting for Wednesday confirms all the reasons why Nicci French has been on my list of favourite authors ever since I picked up Secret Smile ten years ago and made it my mission to read every novel the author team has ever written. I cannot adequately explain why French’s writing so effectively manages to get under my skin. Perhaps a clue lies in the small technicolour details skilfully wrought into the storyline, which give the narrative an almost dreamlike quality, with the same intense emotional echo a vivid dream (or nightmare) can leave in its wake. Like a ghostly whisper in the night awakening your deepest darkest fears, French’s novels manage to penetrate deep into the subconscious and leave an icy chill of dread, a lingering feeling of menace which cannot be rationally explained.

After spending the last two days reading French’s latest work (or wishing I was reading whenever I had to attend to my other areas of daily life), closing the book feels almost like a bereavement – like a ghostly visitor I had hovered in the dark streets of French’s imagination, feeling deeply connected to the protagonists of the story. This is a pleasant surprise, since I admit I was very underwhelmed by the first book in the Frieda Klein series, Blue Monday, missing the usual spine tingling sensation and connection to the main characters I normally get when reading the authors’ other works. I even had serious misgivings in moving Waiting for Wednesday to the top of my to-read pile – and am happy to have been proven totally wrong. Not only have I since rushed out to catch up on the second in the series, Tuesday’s Gone, but I am also now impatiently awaiting the next instalment!

It is in the minutiae introduced into the storyline where French’s true skill lies – it creates an atmosphere of normal daily life, a false sense of security, a connection to the characters whose everyday lives so closely reflect our own mundane existences.

[…] The cat walked up the garden, taking its time and pausing by the door, head lifted as if waiting for something. Then it deftly inserted itself through the cat flap and entered the kitchen, with its tiled floor, its table – big enough for six or more people – and its Welsh dresser, which was really too large for the room and was cluttered with china and odds and ends: tubes of dried-out glue, bills in their envelopes, a cookery book opened at a recipe for monkfish with preserved lemon, a balled pair of socks, a five-pound note, a small hairbrush. Pans hung from a steel rail above the cooker. There was a basket of vegetables near the sink, a dozen more cookery books on a small shelf, a vase of flowers that were beginning to droop on the windowsill, a school textbook open spine-down on the table.[…]

You get the picture. A family home. It could be any house on my street, even my own. When the peace and tranquillity are brutally shattered it has the desired effect, reminding us that evil can invade everyone’s life, shatter our illusion of safety. It creates an ever-present undercurrent of threat which never once loses its grip, not even long after the last page has been turned.

Viewed purely from a logical perspective, the book is not without flaws. The writing felt choppy at times, switching abruptly between scenes and characters. Frieda herself often acts totally irrationally, not befitting her professional persona. But somehow it all works and only added to the intrigue for me. The further I read, the more I warmed to and related to Klein, despite of (or perhaps because of) her flaws. As with most of French’s previous female protagonists, Frieda is a very complex person with a strong sense of individuality. As more about Frieda’s thoughts and her past are revealed, she is not only becoming more rounded, but also more intriguing – a protagonist worthy of starring in many more novels in the future. The rich cast of characters in Waiting for Wednesday all somehow balance each other: from the introverted and mysterious Frieda to the open and helpful Josef, Frieda’s troubled teenage niece Chloe and DC Karlsson, who struggles with the impending separation from his children – to such an extent that I felt devastated by one particular twist in the story – but no spoilers here! I liked how the authors manage to introduce an element of romance without taking the focus away from the mystery – instead lending the relationship an air of mystery all of its own.

Last but not least, the skill of introducing two totally unrelated storylines and yet managing to bring them both together in a spine tingling finale deserves a lot of credit. I want more!

Having been a fan of French’s writing for years I will continue to recommend their work – Waiting for Wednesday is no exception. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a spine-tingling psychological thriller with a complex female protagonist.

If you want to find out more about the author-team who are Nicci French and their previous works, why not visit their website.

A big thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.


Friday 24 May 2013

Book Review: UNSEEN by Karin Slaughter

Unseen (Will Trent, #7)

Title: Unseen
Author: Karin Slaughter
Release Date: July 2, 2013
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Read: May 17-23, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Karin Slaughter’s New York Times bestselling novels are utterly riveting and masterfully drawn. Her latest thriller, Unseen, pits detectives, lovers, and enemies against one another in an unforgettable standoff between righteous courage and deepest evil.

Bill Black is a scary guy: a tall ex-con who rides to work on a Harley and trails an air of violence wherever he goes. In Macon, Georgia, Bill has caught the eye of a wiry little drug dealer and his cunning girlfriend. They think Bill might be a useful ally. They don’t know that Bill is actually a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent named Will Trent. Or that he is fighting his own demons, undercover and cut off from the support of Sara Linton—the woman he loves, who cannot be told of the risk Will is taking.

Sara herself has come to Macon because of a cop shooting: Her stepson, Jared, has been gunned down in his own home. Sara holds Lena, Jared’s wife, responsible: Lena, a detective, has been a magnet for trouble all her life, and Jared’s death is not the first time someone Sara loved got caught in the crossfire. Furious, Sara finds herself involved in the same case that Will is working without even knowing it, and soon danger is swirling around both of them.

In a novel of fierce intensity, shifting allegiances, and shocking twists, two investigations collide with a conspiracy straddling both sides of the law. Karin Slaughter’s latest is both an electrifying thriller and a piercing study of human nature: what happens when good people face the unseen evils in their lives.

My thoughts:

Karin Slaughter’s latest novel, Unseen, is the 7th instalment in the Will Trent series and like its predecessors lives up to Slaughter’s usual prowess as one of the best crime novelists of our time.

Not one to pussyfoot around when it comes to violence, Slaughter opens her new novel with the very graphic and brutal attack of Jared Long and his wife, police officer Lena Adams (from the Grant County series), in their home. Whilst Lena manages to fight off the intruders with a hammer, Jared’s life is hanging in the balance after being shot several times and losing a large amount of blood.

Sara Linton (also from the Grant County series), who has always blamed Lena for the death of her late husband Jeffrey Tolliver, is certain that Lena is also responsible for this latest tragedy. Offering support to Jared’s mother Nell, whose resentment of Lena is further fuelled by the attack, Sara is unaware that her lover and GBI special agent Will Trent has been indirectly involved in the incident. Working undercover as ex-con bikie Bill Black in a mission to uncover the identity of a sadistical criminal mastermind known as “Big Whitey”, Will was employed as lookout for the men carrying out the home invasion and was on the scene shortly after Lena and Jared were attacked.

In several flashbacks to a raid led by Lena on a local drug cartel a week ago, the connection between Lena’s investigation, Will’s mission and the attack on Lena and her husband slowly become apparent. As Will’s alter ego Bill Black becomes further enmeshed with the people he is sure are directly connected to the mysterious Big Whitey, his own life is in danger – can he help unmask the gangster before it is too late?

Like Slaughter’s previous novels, Unseen is an action packed, fast-paced and suspenseful thriller which kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. With each character having their own agenda, and several unexpected and clever twists in the investigation, the final showdown is as unpredictable as it is thrilling.

Unseen is not for the faint hearted – featuring senseless violence, sadism, child abuse and torture, Slaughter explores the darkest and most depraved places of the human mind. However, in my opinion, Slaughter doesn't overdo the violence for the sake of it, staying within the boundaries of what separates a good crime novel from one which leaves a sickening dirty feeling behind after reading it. Her observations of human behaviour and emotions are spot-on, making her characters almost flesh-and-blood people with personal pasts and demons – which can be a scary thing when it comes to the more sinister figures featuring in this novel.

With Unseen, Slaughter further merges her Grant County with the Will Trent series, letting the characters of each come together in a spine-chilling police investigation. After exposing Will Trent’s deepest secrets and personal demons in “Criminal”, Slaughter continues to develop this character and allow the reader to look into his psyche, understand the painful scars from his past and his need for love. This makes Will Trent a character I want to hear a lot more of in future – I can even find a small spark of liking for his new lover Sara Linton, who I admit I found to be rather whiney and spoilt in the previous books I had read.

If I had one criticism it would be that it is hard to read this book as a stand-alone novel. Whilst I have read most books in the Will Trent series, I was missing some vital information regarding Lena Adam’s past, which the beginning of Unseen heavily relies on. Looking at the list of previous books in the Grant County series, I would therefore recommend at least picking up “Beyond Reach” (or “Skin Privilege”) before rushing out to read this one. Since Unseen will not be released until July, there is plenty of time, so start now to be ready for this amazing thriller when it hits the bookstores!

Meanwhile, I am anxiously awaiting the next Will Trent novel!

A big thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a preview copy of this wonderful novel in exchange for an honest review.

Monday 20 May 2013

Audiobook Review: LAST TO DIE by Tess Gerritsen

Last to Die

Title: Last to Die
Author: Tess Gerritsen
Narrator: Tanya Eby
Publisher: Brilliance Audiobooks
Read: May 05-18, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

For the second time in his short life, Teddy Clock has survived a massacre. Two years ago, he barely escaped when his entire family was slaughtered. Now, at fourteen, in a hideous echo of the past, Teddy is the lone survivor of his foster family's mass murder. Orphaned once more, the traumatized teenager has nowhere to turn ? until the Boston PD puts Detective Jane Rizzoli on the case. Determined to protect this young man, Jane discovers that what seemed like a coincidence is instead just one horrifying part of a relentless killer's merciless mission. Jane spirits Teddy to the exclusive Evensong boarding school, a sanctuary where young victims of violent crime learn the secrets and skills of survival in a dangerous world. But even behind locked gates, and surrounded by acres of sheltering Maine wilderness, Jane fears that Evensong's mysterious benefactors aren't the only ones watching. When strange blood-splattered dolls are found dangling from a tree, Jane knows that her instincts are dead on. And when she learns of Will Yablonski and Claire Ward, students whose tragic pasts bear a shocking resemblance to Teddy?s, it becomes chillingly clear that a circling predator has more than one victim in mind. Joining forces with her trusted partner, medical examiner Maura Isles, Jane is determined to keep these orphans safe from harm. But an unspeakable secret dooms the children's fate ? unless Jane and Maura can finally put an end to an obsessed killer's twisted quest.

My thoughts: 

Tess Gerritsen is one of my favourite thriller authors, and I was very excited to lay my hands on the audiobook version of Last to Die, her latest work and the 10th instalment in the Rizzoli and Isles series.

Building on the events in Ice Cold, the novel starts with Maura Isles visiting Evensong, an exclusive boarding school run by the mysterious Mephisto Society and located in the deep forests of Maine, where Julian Perkins (“Rat”) has been living since their shared ordeal in the mountains over a year ago.

In the meantime, Jane Rizzoli is being called to the homicide of an entire family, with only their foster child, Teddy Clock, surviving the massacre. Looking into Teddy’s history, Jane is shocked to hear that Teddy’s parents and siblings have also died under mysterious circumstances. After another attempt on the lives of his temporary foster family, Jane realises that the boy is in grave danger and transfers him to Evensong in the cover of night to get him out of the line of fire.

When Jane and Maura discover that two of Evensong’s other pupils share similar fates to Teddy, that of losing both their birth families as well as their foster parents to violent crimes, they suspect a connection between the brutal attacks. As the investigation uncovers some shared threads between the children’s families, it also becomes apparent that someone still wants them dead – and that Evensong may not be able to protect them.

Last to Die shows all the hallmarks of an accomplished thriller writer who knows how to construct a clever plot and escalate the tension without giving too much away too soon. As Rizzoli’s investigation is uncovering startling coincidences, the reader is presented with enough clues and red herrings to come up with one’s own conclusions, which are finally totally blown out of the water by a very clever and surprising twist at the end. There were a few loose ends I would have liked explained, but maybe this was due to missing clues on my part rather than an omittance by the author – it is a small gripe which did not spoil my reading pleasure.

I loved the different setting of Last to Die – Evensong, the exclusive and somewhat mysterious boarding school set in a castle in a remote wilderness area of Maine, had a certain Hogwarts feel about it, down to its eccentric teachers and unusual teaching subjects, such as archery and the study of poisonous plants. Despite all pupils sharing the common fate of having been touched by violent crime, the school sounded like an adventurer’s dream come true! Being isolated from the outside world allowed Gerritsen to give the setting its own unique character and atmosphere, and added much to the suspense as it became apparent that evil had already invaded the school grounds.

Introducing teenage protagonists – Teddy Clock, Will Yablonski and Claire Ward – presented another storyline apart from the actual crime investigation, which I found quite refreshing and engaging and which offered a chance to emotionally connect with the victims. After having “bonded” with Rat through reading about his and Maura’s ordeal in Ice cold, I relished the chance to revisit this engaging character and to find out how he has fared. I am also happy to see Maura’s vulnerable side – in previous novels I have often found her to be a very cold and remote character, and have never been able to truly warm to her until reading Ice Cold. In this novel, we again see a tender side to the Queen of Death, her longing to love and be loved. Similarly, Jane’s family issues provided a bit of comic relief from the tension and added to character development. I am looking forward to reading more about these two characters in future novels!

Whilst I would recommend to at least read Ice Cold before picking up this book, it contains all the information required to follow the story and can be read as a stand-alone novel, even if some of the events refer to earlier volumes in the series. I particularly enjoy Gerritsen’s generosity in sharing her vast knowledge of forensic detail with the reader, which adds depth to the novel (and which I personally find fascinating).

As for the narration: Tanya Eby does a fine job as narrator, lending each character their own unique voice, which makes for easy listening. Last to Die added a lot of enjoyment to my daily commute and often still saw me sitting in my car in the driveway, unable to tear myself away. Highly recommended, especially for fans of Gerritsen’s earlier work.

This book forms part of my 2013 Audiobook Challenge.

Friday 17 May 2013

Book Review: RUN TO ME by Diane Hester

Run to Me

Title: Run to Me
Author: Diane Hester
Publisher: Random House Australia
Read: May 14, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Run To Me is a suspenseful, impossible-to-put-down chase thriller with riveting twists and turns . . .

It's been two years since Shyler O'Neil's beloved son Jesse was killed - but his final moments are as vivid to her now as they were that dreadful day. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, and convinced she did not do enough to protect him, she retreats to an isolated cabin in the woods of northern Maine.

Meanwhile, Zack Ballinger - a ten-year-old boy who has never known a mother's love - finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. He's seen too much and is now running for his life. Fleeing into the woods, Zack soon finds himself at Shyler's cabin. He'll take whatever help she can give - even though, for some reason, she keeps calling him Jesse . . .

With the pursuers hot on their heels, 'mother' and 'son' go on the run. Protecting Zack may well be Shyler's one chance at redemption.

Either that, or she is the child's greatest threat . .

My thoughts: 

The premise of Diane Hester’s debut novel “Run to Me” had me hooked from the very start. A reclusive mother suffering PTSD from the horrific incident which claimed the life of her young son two years previously. Three neglected young boys in a dysfunctional foster home, who witness an event which makes them the target of some very evil men. As their paths intersect, each has something which may be crucial to their survival. Thus addressing three very powerful human emotions – grief for a lost child, the mothering instinct and humankind’s innate fight for survival – the novel promised a rollercoaster ride of action and suspense.

Run to Me certainly is an action packed thriller. The wilderness areas of northern Maine, a place very dear to the author, provide the perfect setting for a nail-biting manhunt in which our innocent protagonists must fight for their survival. Hester’s love for the place becomes apparent in her atmospheric descriptions of the countryside and its wildlife – one particular scene with a wild moose has stayed with me, and was one of my favourite parts of the story.

My personal opinion of this novel is very divided, and after procrastinating over my review I am still finding it hard to put my thoughts into words. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book well enough, but I didn’t love it, which was a great disappointment because I had been waiting for my copy with bated breath and could not wait to start reading when it finally arrived. Whilst it provided plenty of action and made for a few hours of entertaining reading, it never fully grabbed me in the way other recent reads have. Trying to work out why I can only put this down to character development and perhaps revealing too much too soon, which robbed the story of much of its mystery and suspense.

Of all the characters, Shyler is the one who I found most believable. Her struggles with PTSD were well portrayed, and her motives rang true throughout the story, from her protectiveness towards her new charge to her preparedness for survival in a harsh environment.

Dr Chase Hadley, on the other hand, was the one character I struggled with most. Being a health professional, even his concern for an obviously troubled patient could not exonerate him from his unprofessional behaviour towards Shyler and his failure to involve law enforcement even when confronted with a murder scene and a subsequent break-in. Chase’s actions opened a minefield of legal and ethical dilemmas which in a real life situation would not lead to a happily-ever-after but would most likely see him disbarred from the medical profession. Similarly, I struggled to understand the motives behind the actions of Lazaro’s people and would have loved some more compelling reasons for the manhunt as well as the emotional connections between the team, which didn’t quite gel at times.

However, having seen mostly 4 and 5 stars reviews for this novel, I may stand alone in my opinion. It is quite possibly due to my inability to ignore inconsistencies in the plotline even for the sake of entertainment, which always annoys my family, who have barred me from making comments or asking questions (Why? How? What for?) through certain action-adventure movies which push those boundaries a bit too far for me. So whilst the novel offered plenty in terms of action, I never felt fully emotionally engaged with the characters, which made it an ok read but not a memorable on for me.

Having said that, Hester’s debut novel shows her talent as a new writer on the scene and I am looking forward to reading more from this author in future.

To summarise, Run to Me is an action packed thriller which will make for a few hours of entertaining reading either curled up in front of the fire or at the beach. Whilst it did not meet all my expectations I did enjoy the wilderness setting and general premise of the story and it kept me entertained through a lazy afternoon off sitting in the sun on my verandah and losing myself in a different world for a while.

This novel forms part of my 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.


Tuesday 14 May 2013

Book Review: ALL THE BIRDS, SINGING by Evie Wyld

All the Birds, Singing

Title: All the Birds, Singing
Author: Evie Wyld
Publisher: Random House Australia
Read: May 09-10, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Who or what is watching Jake Whyte from the woods?

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It's just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags.

It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake's unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.

Set between Australia and a remote English island, All the Birds, Singing is the story of one how one woman's present comes from a terrible past. It is the second novel from the award-winning author of "After the Fire, A Still Small Voice".

My thoughts: 

All the Birds Singing is Australian fiction at its best – gritty, atmospheric and suspenseful, it represents a true gem of the genre.

Jake Whyte is a young woman living an isolated life on her recently purchased sheep farm on a remote English island. Scarred by a traumatic past she avoids human contact, preferring the company of her dog to that of other people. But there is an evil afoot, which kills her sheep at night and makes its malevolent presence felt in the dark, even invading Jake’s house. When an unexpected visitor arrives on Jake’s doorstep, she must weigh up her avoidance of human contact against her need for help to combat the unknown threat to herself and her lifestock.

All the Birds Singing is a dual time novel, starting with Jake’s life in England at the present time. The other part of the novel is cleverly constructed and offers snapshots of Jake’s troubled past in a backward chronological order – from the most recent to the very unfortunate event in Jake’s childhood which derailed her life and led to her current circumstances. This may sound confusing, and can often be disruptive to the storyline in other books, but Wyld’s storytelling is so accomplished that the unusual structure only adds to the suspense and character development. Whilst Jake’s present experiences form the main part of the mystery, her past slowly constructs the character of Jake and gradually reveals her life story. To the reader, the snapshots from Jake’s past feel like flipping through a photo album in reverse order, from the present-tense Jake who is too old for her years to the innocent young girl she once was.

Very much character driven, the novel centres around human relationships and our innate need for company, no matter how dysfunctional. On the dark side, there is Otto, whose motives are never fully revealed but carry sinister undertones which paint a picture of increasing threat and simmering violence, reflected also in the hostile environment Jake is trapped in. Revealing the escalation of threat in a backward fashion makes it all the more sinister and claustrophobic, watching a young Jake stumble into a terrible situation, knowing how it will all end.

Lloyd, on the other hand, offers a kind of redemption and hope to the story. Honest, guileless and with scars of his own, he appears just as Jake is most in need of help. Whilst their relationship remained an enigma to me, it also was the one which offered a way out of despair and made me close the book with a sense of hope for the future.

Wyld perfectly captures the harsh atmosphere of outback Australia and the struggle to survive in a hostile environment, which is often as unforgiving as its people. Jake is a survivor, and her struggles really touched my heart – even more so once the source of her fall from grace and loss of innocence were revealed.

As the setting changes from Australia to rural England, so does the novel’s language and overall atmosphere – from a gritty story of survival to a mystery with almost paranormal overtones. As the evil closes in on Jake’s present, I often reflected whether this presence was a true threat or a metaphor for the menacing shadows from the past following Jake to her new home. Wyld has a gift of creating suspense without the need for action or artificially constructed plots – instead, the haunting atmosphere and the unspoken things, the questions remaining, are the very details which kept me reading until late into the night, unable to tear myself away. This is a novel which would be perfect to read as part of a bookclub – it affected me so deeply that I was aching to discuss it with someone and hear their view on scenes and relationships which were left open to interpretation – like the earring in the barn (this is not a spoiler, only readers of the novel will know what I am talking about – wasn’t it the most sinister thing?).

I have not read Wyld’s first novel, After the Fire, but it is now very firmly on my tbr list.

All in all, I loved this novel and its haunting atmosphere will stay with me for some time to come. It is amongst the best I have read this year, and implants Wyld firmly as one very talented Australian writer I want to hear a lot more of in future.

A big thanks to the Reading Room and Random House Australia for supplying me with a free advance reading copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This novel forms part of my 2013 Australian Women Writers challenge, as well as the 2013 Monthly Keyword Challenge (keyword "bird").


Thursday 9 May 2013

Book Review: BENEATH THE SHADOWS by Sara Foster

Beneath the Shadows

Title: Beneath the Shadows
Author: Sara Foster
Publisher: Random House Australia
Read: May 4-8, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):


When Grace’s husband, Adam, inherits a cottage on the isolated North Yorkshire moors, they leave London behind to try a new life. However, a week later, Adam vanishes, leaving their baby daughter on the doorstep.

The following year, Grace returns to the tiny village of Roseby. She is desperate for answers, but it seems the slumbering village is unwilling to give up its secrets. As Grace learns more about the locals and the area's superstitions and folklore, strange dreams begin to trouble her. Are the villagers hiding something, or is she becoming increasingly paranoid? Only as snowfall threatens to cut them off from the rest of the world does Grace begin to understand how close the threat lies, and that she and her daughter may be in terrible danger if she cannot get them away in time.

My thoughts: 

Grace has some misgivings when her husband Adam moves her and their baby daughter Millie from London to his grandparents’ cottage in the remote village of Roseby on the Yorkshire moors to escape the rat race, but has agreed to give it six months to see if she can adapt to the isolation. One cold winter’s day Adam fails to return from his walk with Millie – Grace finds the baby abandoned in her stroller in front of the house, with no sign of her husband anywhere. With Adam’s passport missing and his recent withdrawal of a large sum of money from their bank account, the police are certain that Adam has planned his disappearance. Shattered and heartbroken, Grace flees to the sanctuary of her parents’ home to come to terms with the loss of her partner.

One year later, Grace still has not had any answers regarding Adam’s disappearance. With Adam being missing, not dead, she feels in limbo, unable to move on or sell any of their assets. She returns to Roseby with the plan to clean out the cottage and use it as a holiday rental and extra income source. However, once back in Yorkshire, Grace is once again overcome by the events of the past – and furthermore, the cottage seems to have a strange hold on her, with mysterious happenings in the night and new discoveries which once again make Grace doubt that her husband really disappeared from her life willingly.

I loved the premise of the novel and the blurb’s promise of a good gothic mystery on the Yorkshire moors. Having briefly visited that part of England, I was looking forward to cozying up with my book under the doona whilst a storm was raging outside, and give myself goosebumps with stories of old English haunted houses and eerie windswept moors.

Sadly the book did not quite live up to my expectations. Personally, the problem I have with Foster’s books is that she gives away too much too soon, which totally destroys the mystery and robs the story of much of its suspense. Whilst the seeds of suspense and mystery were sown early in Foster’s atmospheric descriptions of the Yorkshire moors and the hints of ghostly happenings, these were fast dispelled by the change of focus on the rather predictable relationship developing between Grace and Ben. Grace, who seems rather timid and not one for action, further stalled the story by not doing much at all other than mourning Adam and tending to the baby – which in reality is probably true, but doesn’t make for very compelling reading. Give me a plucky heroine in the mould of S. J. Bolton’s mysteries (which have similar settings) any time! Grace was just a bit too – boring (there, I have said it). She could have strapped a baby carrier to her back, combed the village for answers and been caught up in some action – the backbones of a solid mystery were there, they just needed some charismatic characters to keep the reader interested. Instead, all characters seemed a bit too two-dimensional, stereotypical and – I will say it again – boring, and their relationships predictable.

All in all, the book was readable enough but in my own personal opinion did not live up to its full potential – which is especially frustrating when the underlying premise of the novel was solid and could have offered so much more! Recommended for an easy holiday read, but not if you want heart-pounding gothic action-suspense-mystery in the mould of S. J. Bolton's Awakening (English setting), or closer to home, Honey Brown's Dark Horse (Australian setting).

This book forms part of my 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

If there are any chilling gothic suspense stories you could recommend, please leave a comment below, I would be keen for any reading suggestions - thanks!

Saturday 4 May 2013

Audiobook Review: SUSPECT by Robert Crais


Title: Suspect
Author: Robert Crais
Narrator: MacLeod Andrews
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Read: April 27 - May 3, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

The explosive new masterpiece of suspense from the #1 New York Times' bestselling author.

LAPD cop Scott James is not doing so well. Eight months ago, a shocking nighttime assault by unidentified men killed his partner Stephanie, nearly killed him, and left him enraged, ashamed, and ready to explode. He is unfit for duty...until he meets his new partner.

Maggie is not doing so well, either. A German shepherd who survived three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan sniffing explosives before losing her handler to an IED, her PTSD is as bad as Scott's.

They are each other's last chance. Shunned and shunted to the side, they set out to investigate the one case that no one wants them to touch: the identity of the men who murdered Stephanie. What they begin to find is nothing like what Scott has been told, and the journey will take them both through the darkest moments of their own personal hells. Whether they will make it out again, no one can say.

My thoughts: 

Crais has been on my list of favourite authors for years, and his latest novel Suspect once again firmly cemented his place there – despite initial misgivings about a canine protagonist, which I am happy to say turned out to be totally unfounded.

LAPD officer Scott James is still recovering from an unexpected night-time shooting which left him severely wounded and killed his partner Stephanie – a death he still blames himself for, reliving her agonised cries for help every night in his dreams. Not trusting himself with another human partner, he joins the K9 team in the hope of a new career which might help him overcome the effects of PTSD and the anger he still carries inside him.

Maggie, a military trained German shepherd faces similar obstacles to Scott – after her handler Pete lost his life in an explosion in Afghanistan and she was shot by a sniper, she is afraid of crowds and loud noises and has been declared unfit for duty. Working with Maggie provides Scott with a way to face his own fears and pain, and soon the two are an inseparable pair. But Scott cannot rest until Stephanie’s killer is found, and when a new pair of detectives are entrusted with the case he sees a perfect opening to conduct some investigations of his own – this time with the help of his canine partner.

I have long since enjoyed Crais’ Elvis Cole books and was very interested to see what his new protagonist would have to offer – and was not disappointed! Not only is Scott an interesting character with a turbulent past and his own demons to conquer, but his canine partner provides a whole new perspective to what proved to be a solid police procedural with a well constructed plot and plenty of suspense. I loved the way Crais gives Maggie a voice, without coming across as corny, or personifying his canine protagonist too much, which is often the case with other animal stories. Instead, Crais offers wonderful insights into dog psychology and police dog training, which I found thoroughly fascinating (and I normally wouldn’t call myself a dog person – which would no doubt inspire some contempt from Crais’ “dog-man” character Dominick Leland). I also found the way in which the relationship between a man and his dog slowly develops – or, as Maggie sees it, they become “pack” – very touching and believable.

Scott James is a very different character from Elvis Cole – perhaps I missed Elvis’ wry sense of humour a little bit, but had no time to dwell on it, since the story soon drew me in and kept me interested. The story itself is pure police procedural, driven by Scott’s strong emotions connected to the shooting and very much dependent on his need to redeem himself from the survivor’s guilt he still carries. If I had to offer one criticism, it would be that the mystery was a bit slow to develop, and when it finally did the ending came very abruptly, as if the author was trying to wrap it all up in a neat bundle too soon – it could have done with a bit more action and twists at the end to give answers to some outstanding questions and prolong the suspense.

I had the audio version of the book and must also give credit to MacLeod Andrews for delivering a wonderful narration and lending each character their own unique personality.

All in all, Suspect will appeal to dog lovers and readers of police procedurals alike, and should appease Robert Crais fans who are sceptical of a protagonist other than Elvis Cole or Joe Pike. I am very interested to see if we will see Maggie and Scott James in future novels.

I read this novel as part of my 2013 Audiobook Challenge.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Book Review: RED QUEEN by Honey Brown

Red Queen

Title: Red Queen
Author: Honey Brown
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Read: April 28 - May 1, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads): 

Shannon and Rohan Scott have retreated to their family's cabin in the Australian bush to escape a virus-ravaged world. After months of isolation, Shannon imagines there's nothing he doesn't know about his older brother, or himself – until a stranger slips under their late-night watch and past their loaded guns.

Reluctantly the brothers take the young woman into their fold, and the dynamic within the cabin shifts. Possessiveness takes hold, loyalties are split, and trust is shattered. Before long, all three find themselves locked into a very different battle for survival.

Daring, stylish and sexy, Red Queen is a psychological thriller that will leave you breathless.

My thoughts:

Apocalyptic novels are normally not my thing, but I love Honey Brown’s writing and still needed to read a dystopian novel for my 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge, so I thought I would give Red Queen a go.

After narrowly surviving falling victim to the deadly Red Queen virus which claimed the lives of their parents, Rohan and Shannon Scott are living in isolation in a remote cabin in the Australian bush. Having been in hiding for months they have had no news from the outside world, which is in chaos since the very contagious virus has claimed the lives of millions all around the globe. Thanks to their father’s foresight they have plenty of food to last them for several years, and their lives have settled into a steady – if lonely – routine.

One day a lone woman appears on their doorstep. Denny Cassidy claims that she also is the sole survivor of her family and had been marooned in an abandoned farmhouse not far from the cabin. After running out of food she accidentally stumbled across Rohan’s tracks, and is now asking the brothers for shelter. Despite serious misgivings, Rohan and Shannon accept Denny into their fold, which drastically changes the dynamics of the household and creates tension between the brothers. But what are Denny’s real motives? Is she playing one brother off against the other?

Red Queen won the 2009 Aurealis Award, and it is not hard to see why. Even in her debut novel, Honey Brown already shows the hallmarks of her writing – a taut compelling narrative exposing the most innate fears of the human soul. Brown is a master at setting the scene and creating an atmosphere of suspense which haunts the reader long after finishing the story, and her descriptions of the Australian bush allow the scenes to play out clearly in one’s mind. By isolating the characters from the outside world (as Brown has masterfully done in her latest novel Dark Horse), a small universe is created in which the human soul is stripped to its very core, and the most intimate emotions come to the fore.

Red Queen is a study of human nature operating under pressure, and of interpersonal relationships and family dynamics. It was fascinating to see how the arrival of a woman in their cabin would fundamentally change the hierarchy the two brothers had established – with Rohan, the older, firmly in charge, and Shannon doing his bidding. As sexual tension is introduced into the mix, the rules suddenly change and Shannon is no longer content to blindly obey his brother. It is inevitable that there would be conflict, and even without knowing her true motives it was easy to see how Denny uses this to her own advantage. From here the story plays out in almost biblical old-world fashion, with the female temptress creating conflict between the brothers, who each now have reason to try and establish their dominance over each other and the newcomer. Interesting to me were the characters’ androgenous names – each name could be male or female … perhaps to highlight the gender dominance issues in the novel?

Despite being drawn in by Brown’s writing, I admit I did not enjoy the novel as much as I thought I would. Not really warming to any of the characters and missing an emotional connection left me slightly irritated by their behaviour, and as the inevitable conflict plays out and Denny’s past comes into the mix, I was relieved when the conclusion was reached.

My rating reflects personal reading pleasure only. Fans of the dystopian genre and apocalyptic setting should definitely give this book a go – its tension is palpable, its setting masterfully drawn, and the suspense build until the very end. Brown does the genre justice and has firmly established herself as one of Australia’s best thriller writers. I have now read every one of Brown’s novels, and will am looking forward to reading a lot more from this author in the future. 

If you like a good suspense novel, why not give Honey Brown's other books a go (you won't be disappointed): The Good Daughter, After the Darkness, Dark Horse.

This book forms part of several of my 2013 reading challenges: