Wednesday 26 June 2013

Book Review: IN TOO DEEP by Bea Davenport

In Too Deep

Title: In too Deep
Author: Bea Davenport
Publisher: Legend Press
June 23 - 24, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

'... The window's so small I can't see what happens next. But what I do know is that Kim is dead. And I know this, too that I helped to kill her. Kim, my lovely, only, best friend.'
Five years ago Maura fled life in Dowerby and took on a new identity, desperately trying to piece her life back together and escape the dark clouds that plagued her past. But then a reporter tracks her down, and persuades her to tell her story, putting her own life in danger once again.

Layer upon layer of violence and deceit make up the full picture for Maura to see and the reporter to reveal. Hidden secrets are uncovered that have been left to settle, for far too long. But in life some things can't be left unsaid, and eventually the truth will out. Whatever the consequences.

My thoughts:

Drawing on her experience as a real life crime reporter, Bea Davenport has written a taut and suspenseful psychological thriller which marks her as a writer to watch and an exciting new voice in crime fiction.

For five years Maura Wood has been living a reclusive life under an alias, working menial jobs which allow her to stay under the radar, keeping to herself and careful not to let her true identity slip. It comes as a huge shock to her when out of the blue she is contacted by a young reporter who has not only discovered her former name, but also wants to investigate the events leading up to the death of Maura’s best friend Kim in the small town of Dowersby. Reluctantly and against her better judgment, Maura relents and tells her story – but by re-opening this can of worms, will the dark secrets of her past be able to destroy the fragile safety of her new life? Maura knows only too well that some people will stop at nothing to protect their own …

What instantly appealed to me about Davenport’s debut novel In too Deep was the small UK village setting which provided a taut claustrophobic atmosphere perfect for a psychological thriller. Davenport obviously is no stranger to village life and small town dynamics as she accurately captures the dark elements of a tight knit community who will stop at nothing to protect their own and what is valuable to them. It was easy to imagine how a young woman, an outsider, could be trapped in an abusive relationship in this small rural town mired in old tradition, with nobody to turn to for help.

Maura’s matter-of-fact voice as she is telling her story was appealing and captured me from the word go, and I found I really cared to find out more about this interesting character. And whilst Davenport states she drew on her experiences as a reporter when she penned her novel, her writing is in no way factual or dry – instead, dialogue and Maura’s own reflections drive the story and soon draw the reader into a dark and claustrophobic web of simmering menace.

As Maura’s story unfolds, the reader slowly finds out details about Maura’s present life as well as the events in the past which compelled her to change her identity and go into hiding. Davenport’s portrayal of Maura and Nick’s dysfunctional marriage is insightful and observant - Maura never makes a secret of how abusive her relationship has become, and yet finds it impossible to escape it. One can easily imagine why she is irresistibly drawn to the vibrant and independent Kim, despite her obvious shortcomings – and why this would upset a community bent on old traditional marital roles and morals.

The only thing which let the novel down for me was its somewhat predictable ending – I had hoped for a twist, a surprise, that certain speechless moment of “what????” which for me marks a good suspense novel. After creating an atmosphere of constant tension, it all resolved a bit too seamlessly for my linking and left me mildly dissatisfied.

In summary, In too Deep was an enjoyable read which quickly managed to draw me in and kept me up reading well into the night. Definitely a writer to watch and one I hope to hear a lot more from in future.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free electronic copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Friday 21 June 2013

Book Review: HALF MOON BAY by Helene Young

Half Moon Bay

Title: Half Moon Bay
Author: Helene Young
Publisher: Penguin Australia
Read: June 18 - 20, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Ellie Wilding has been running from her past, but when the residents of Half Moon Bay call for help she knows it’s finally time to return home. As an international photojournalist, she’s used to violence in war zones, but she’s shocked when it erupts in the sleepy hamlet on the north coast of New South Wales, threatening all she holds dear.

Battle-weary Nicholas Lawson walked away from his military career leaving unfinished business. In a coastal backwater, that decision returns to haunt him. He remembers all too vividly his last lethal assignment in Afghanistan when Ellie’s sister, Nina, was shot and killed. Ellie’s been in his dreams ever since, even if she doesn’t remember him…

As a storm rages and floodwaters rise, Ellie struggles to save her community. But who can she trust? Nick Lawson, the dangerously attractive stranger with secrets, or an old friend who’s never let her down?

A compelling story of danger and desire by the award-winning author of Burning Lies.

‘Plenty of action, sizzling romance and page-turning suspense’ Book’d Out

‘Helene Young is a very accomplished writer, building her romance and suspense with verve and skill.’ Sisters in Crime

My thoughts:

I have been eyeing off Helene Young’s books for some time, but have always been wary of the “romance” part in romantic suspense fiction – romance not being one of my preferred genres. But in hindsight I am really glad that I have been given the opportunity to dive into one of Young’s books, as I thoroughly enjoyed her writing style – there was a lot of suspense, some remarkable characters, a great Australian setting and yes - a fair bit of sexual tension. It made a lovely change from the fare of gruesome murder mysteries I have been reading lately.

After losing her journalist sister Nina in a nighttime shooting in war torn Afghanistan, photojournalist Ellie Wilding has spent years travelling to escape her feelings of loss and guilt over not being able to help her sister. She only returns to Half Moon Bay, a small fishing village on the far New South Wales coast, when neighbours ask her to join the fight against corrupt politicians and developers who are threatening her hometown. When the mysterious Nick Lawson arrives in town representing the land developers, Ellie is both repelled by his presence as well as drawn to his enigmatic personality. Soon it becomes evident that Nick is somehow connected to the events leading up to Nina’s death in Afghanistan, and that the threat to Half Moon Bay has deeper and darker roots than expected. Not prepared to give up the fight even in the face of danger, Ellie must find out who she can trust in order to stay one step ahead of the threat and protect her own life.

Young has a flair for creating an atmospheric and authentic Australian setting and believable enigmatic characters. Having visited the part of the New South Wales coast Half Moon Bay is set in, I instantly had a vivid sense of place and could picture the scenery clearly – especially the surfing scenes brought back fond memories. The story unfolds so seamlessly and the dialogue is so engaging that it played out almost movie-like in my mind and kept me engrossed the entire time, reluctant to put the book down.

What I applaud Young most for is the fine balance between suspense and romance which made for a great read. At no point did Ellie and Nick’s relationship overshadow the storyline or dominate the narrative. Young has delivered a complex yet believable plot with enough twists to make for a suspenseful read, aided by current topical issues and a rural setting with its own natural hazards, such as isolation and bad weather. Protagonist Ellie is a plucky, independent and likeable heroine whose cause is heartfelt and worthwhile, and her motives for the risks she takes are always plausible. As for Nick – mmmh – despite his sometimes clumsy choice of phrase he sounds quite delectable!

Half Moon Bay should appeal to both Australian readers as well as an international audience, who will have no trouble picturing the idyllic setting of this small Australian seaside town (and instantly feel tempted to book a ticket to visit the beautiful Yamba area). I highly recommend Half Moon Bay to anyone who enjoys romantic suspense, or who has been (like me) a bit sceptical about the genre – consider me converted! I now can’t wait to read Young’s earlier novels, starting with Wings of Fear (which has been on my wishlist for a while).

A warm thank-you to Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out and to the author for providing me with a free preview copy of this novel, which gave me many hours of reading pleasure! The views expressed in this review are strictly my own. J


Wednesday 19 June 2013

Book Giveaway: RUN TO ME by Diane Hester

I've recently had a great discussion with a group of friends as to what makes a good setting for a suspense thriller - and found it very interesting that our opinions varied greatly.

My favourites in terms of settings lately have been Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen (set in wintry Wyoming - chill factor plus!) and Dead Scared by one of my favourite thriller authors S. J. Bolton (set in beautiful Cambridge - though Bolton can make even this idyllic setting creepy & spine tingling).

In the interest of science (or rather my own nosy nature) I would love to hear what other readers think. As a little thank you I am giving away my own copy of Run to Me by Diane Hester, a suspense thriller set in the wilderness areas of Northern Maine.

My question is this:

If you were to write a suspense thriller, where would it be set in, and why?

I will draw the winner at the end of June - unfortunately due to our high postage costs, I can only post within Australia (but would love comments from readers from other countries as well).

Looking forward to hearing your opinions!

Run to Me

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Book Review: THE NEVER LIST by Koethi Zan

The Never List

Title: The Never List
Author: Koethi Zan
Expected Publication Date: July 16, 2013
Publisher: Penguin Group
Read: June 16 - 17, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

The most relentless, deeply disturbing thriller writer since Jeffery Deaver and Gillian Flynn

For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.

Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.

Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

A shocking, blazingly fast read, Koethi Zan’s debut is a must for fans of Karin Slaughter, Laura Lippman, and S.J. Watson.

My thoughts:

After the death of her mother in a car crash, in which teenager Jennifer and her friend Sarah were seriously injured, the two girls devise a list of “never-to-do” things to avoid ever getting hurt again. They called it the “never list”. But despite their efforts, both girls fell victim to sadistical killer Jack Derber, who abducted them on a night out from college and kept them chained up in the cellar of his farmhouse for three years together with two other girls, subjecting them to unspeakable pain and horror. Only three of the girls managed to escape – Jennifer never made it.

Now an adult still haunted by the memories, Sarah lives under an alias and rarely leaves her house. When contacted by the FBI agent who had been in charge of her case, Sarah is horrified to learn that Jack Derber is about to be released on parole - unless Jennifer’s body is found he cannot be convicted of a murder charge. Determined to bring justice to her friend, Sarah sets out to track down information which would help her locate Sarah’s body. To do so she must make contact with the other girls who had been in the cellar – and put herself in all the dangers she has vowed never to subject herself to with her never-list. Worst of all, she must try to understand the sadistical mind of her tormentor and revisit dark places she has long locked away in her mind.

I was very excited when I received a preview copy of Koehti Zan’s debut novel, as it promised a lot of psychological suspense, a genre I enjoy. However, after finishing the novel I feel quite divided about it, and will rate it here on reading pleasure alone. I don’t consider myself overly squeamish (after all, I love writers like Gillian Flynn, Karin Slaughter and S. J. Bolton), but the sadistical elements in the storyline crossed the line for me several times to an extent where I nearly gave up on the book.

Starting off as a taut psychological thriller, I was intrigued by Sarah and her efforts to overcome her terrible memories and bring justice to her friend. I cannot begin to imagine the lasting damage her ordeal would have left on her psyche, and her everyday struggles rang true to me. And although Sarah’s investigations seemed to stretch the boundaries of credibility a bit far at times, considering that only a week ago she had been unable to leave her house, I could accept her efforts as “courage under fire” in a desperate bid to keep Jack Gerber in jail.

The storyline itself abruptly changed direction a few times, throwing in plot elements which needed more development to make the novel flow smoothly. Some characters also needed fleshing out and acted quite bizarrely at times to be believable, especially since their intentions earlier in the novel were totally opposite to their later actions. I did like the final revelation of the plot, which was very clever and which I certainly didn’t see coming.

What totally spoiled the book for me however were the descriptions of sadomasochistic practices which dominated parts of the book and seemed unnecessarily lurid to me. There is a fine line for me which defines the degree of involvement I want to have with the sick thoughts of a depraved killer whilst reading a novel, and parts of the storyline went a bit too far for me (there was a scene with Sarah in the box which made me feel like having a shower).  I personally believe that a well-crafted suspense story does not hinge on overly graphic descriptions of violence, but can create terror by addressing more subtle areas of the human psyche – S. J. Bolton being a good example of being able to write mysteries which make your spine tingle and get your heart rate up without feeling in need of a hot shower and soapy scrub afterwards. Whilst The Never List had elements of good suspense it did not fully deliver for me and I feel it needed a bit of tweaking to make it work.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with a free preview copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Book Review: THE TWINS by Saskia Sarginson

The Twins

Title: The Twins
Author: Saskia Sarginson
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read: June 7 - 9, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

They were inseparable until an innocent mistake tore them apart.

Growing up, Viola and Issy clung to each other in the wake of their mother's eccentricity, as she dragged them from a commune to a tiny Welsh village. They thought the three of them would be together forever.

But an innocent mistake one summer set them on drastically different paths. Now in their twenties, Issy is trying to hold together a life as a magazine art director, while Viola is slowly destroying herself, consumed with guilt over the events they unknowingly set into motion as children.
When it seems that Viola might never recover, Issy returns to the town they haven't seen in a decade, to face her own demons and see what answers, if any, she can find.

My thoughts:

Saskia’s Sarginson’s debut novel, The Twins, is both a touching coming of age story as well as exploring the impact of childhood trauma and guilt through the eyes of identical twins and the special bond they share.

It is 1972 and identical twins Viola and Isolte move with their hippy mother Rose from a commune in Wales to a cabin in the woods in rural Suffolk. With Rose fancying an alternative lifestyle and encouraging her girls to be wild and untamed, the twins enjoy a lot of freedom, roaming the local woods on their bikes. It is in the woods that they meet twin brothers John and Michael, forming a close friendship with both boys. But life is about to change when Rose meets Frank and his small daughter Polly, and soon after announces her engagement. Resenting the change, the girls desperately try to find a way to shake off the unwanted intruders.

In 1987, both girls have grown into young women, still haunted by memories of their last summer together as a family. Whilst Isolte has made a career for herself and is in a steady relationship with a supportive man, Viola has never been able to overcome the trauma of the incident which robbed them of their innocence. Floating between life and death in the hospital where she is being treated for her anorexia, she is reliving some of the childhood memories which led up to the fateful night. And although Isolte can never understand her sister’s self-destructive behaviour, she will do anything to help her twin survive – including going back to Suffolk to reclaim their past.

Switching between the girls’ past and present (which in this case is 1987), Sarginson uses the third person narrative as well as Viola’s memories in the first person to slowly reveal the events which led to the incident that changed the twins’ life forever. And although dual time novels can sometimes be disjointed and confusing, the style really worked for me in this novel, slowly building the suspense leading up to the fateful night whilst letting the reader know of its far reaching consequences well in advance. By giving Viola a voice, the story gains in emotional depth and lets the reader catch a glimpse into the reasons for her self-destructive behaviour.

I found it especially interesting how each twin coped with trauma –raising many questions on the nature vs nurture front. Both girls had the same upbringing and identical genetics, and yet their coping styles are completely different as they suffer the consequences of their childhood experiences.

Sarginson’s novel is both atmospheric as well as insightful. As Isolte finds the courage to revisit her childhood home, she is also seeing it through different eyes, with some truths only becoming apparent to her older, wiser self – just as places from childhood memories always seem smaller to the adult eye, some of the mysteries and dark truths are also unmasked when they are no longer filtered through innocent child’s eyes. The loss of innocence, one of the themes running through the novel, left me with a sad, nostalgic feeling. Having lost my mother at the same age the twins’ lost theirs, I could relate to either girl’s reaction to such a horrible loss. One thing Viola reflects on towards the end of the book really stuck with me:

[…] When people die, you lose the way they loved you. You lose the way they saw you. Nobody can replace that. Nobody will love me as my mother loved me. […]

Everyone who has ever lost a parent, at whatever age, will understand that notion well. This and other observations, casually woven into the novel, made it a bitter-sweet reflective read which stayed with me for a while and makes Sarginson an author to watch – I am looking forward to her next novel.

Thank you to Hachette Australia and the Reading Room for providing me with a first edition copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: SWIMMING AT NIGHT by Lucy Clarke

Swimming at Night

Title: Swimming at Night (The Sea Sisters)
Author: Lucy Clarke
Publisher: Touchstone
Read: June 12 - 13, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

People go traveling for two reasons: because they are searching for something, or they are running from something. Katie’s world is shattered by the news that her headstrong and bohemian younger sister, Mia, has been found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Bali. The authorities say that Mia jumped—that her death was a suicide.

Although they’d hardly spoken to each other since Mia suddenly left on an around-the-world trip six months earlier, Katie refuses to accept that her sister would have taken her own life. Distraught that they never made peace, Katie leaves her orderly, sheltered life in London behind and embarks on a journey to find out the truth. With only the entries in Mia’s travel journal as her guide, Katie retraces the last few months of her sister’s life and—page by page, country by country—begins to uncover the mystery surrounding her death. . . .

Weaving together the exotic settings and suspenseful twists of Alex Garland’s The Beach with a powerful tale of familial love in the spirit of Rosamund Lupton’s Sister, Swimming at Night is a fast-paced, accomplished, and gripping debut novel of secrets, loss, and forgiveness.

My thoughts:

Swimming at Night is the second book about a close sister bond I have read this week, each one quite different in style and content and providing unique insights into the complexities of sibling relationships.

When Katie finds out that her younger sister Mia has committed suicide by jumping off a cliff in Bali, she is understandably distraught, especially since the last conversation she had with her sister shortly before her death ended up in a huge argument. Despite their differences and Mia’s impulsive nature, Katie can’t believe that her sister would take her own life. Presented with Mia’s travel journal, Katie decides to retrace her sister’s footsteps to shed light on the reasons for her actions.

Although the premise of the story really appealed to me and made me instantly request this book from netgalley, I feel quite divided about the execution of the novel and it was not without flaws for me. The idea seemed unique and brilliant – a sister retracing her sibling’s footsteps on an around the world trip in order to understand why she was driven to suicide. With Mia’s tragic death at the centre of the novel, I was very anxious to unravel the mystery step by step, just as Katie had planned to do.

Where the novel didn’t work for me was in its narrative style. There was a lot of telling rather than showing, and the lengthy explanations of past events and relationships stalled the story, especially in the first half of the book. This created a barrier between the reader and the characters which I found difficult to transcend. Perhaps giving Mia a voice in first-person narrative would have lent it more emotional depth and provided the opportunity for flashbacks rather than long-winded explanations. This was especially true for the scene where Mia meets Mick – a crucial point in the story, which never quite reached its full potential. I also felt that certain details should have been withheld in order to create a mystery and keep me interested, to be resolved and brought together at a later stage.

Without emotional connection to the characters, I felt oddly adrift in my reading experience, not being able to understand some characters’ more bizarre decisions and relationships – which I will  not go into here because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. The second half of the book worked much better for me, and I felt that the author was finally allowing the characters to break free of their bonds and develop their personalities through actions and dialogue rather than an observer’s narrative. In the later part, the author seems to have found her voice and lets emotions show without filtering them through passionless explanations of a third person viewpoint – I found myself getting slowly drawn into Katie’s quest and even had a tear in my eye at one point.

What I loved about the novel were the moments where the author’s passion surrounding travel and the ocean clearly shone through and there was a strong emotional undertone – especially in the scenes around swimming and surfing. With Swimming at Night being Clarke’s debut novel, there is a lot of room for connecting with her own voice in future novels – and since the idea behind the plot is solid and creative, I look forward to seeing what the author has in store for us next time around.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an electronic preview copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed here are strictly my own.

Friday 7 June 2013

Book Review: MY NOTORIOUS LIFE BY MADAME X by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Madame X

Title: My Notorious Life by Madame X
Author: Kate Manning
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Australia
Read: June 1-5, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Based on a true story from the scandalized headlines of Victorian New York City, My Notorious Life is a portrait of Axie Muldoon, the impoverished daughter of Irish Immigrants who becomes an enormously successful—and controversial—midwife. Separated from her siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, Axie parlays the sale of a few bottles of “lunar tonic for relief of female complaint” into a thriving practice as a female physician known as “Madame X.” But as she rises from the gutter to the glitter of Fifth Avenue, Axie discovers that the right way is not always the way of the law, and that you should never trust a man who says, “trust me.” But what if that man is an irresistible risk-taker with a poetical soul? Soon, Axie’s choices put her on a collision course with one of the most zealous characters of her era: Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and it will take all of her power and wealth to outwit him and save herself and her family from ruin.

A love story, a family saga, and a vivid rendering of a historical time and heated political climate, My Notorious Life is the tale of one woman making her indomitable way in a difficult world. Axie Muldoon is a heroine for the ages.

My thoughts:

Every once in a while a book comes along which envelops you in a time capsule and carries you off in space and time for a memorable trip back in history. Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life was such a story. After experiencing 19th century New York through the eyes of Manning’s plucky and outspoken heroine Axie (Ann) Muldoon I have not only learned a great deal about a chapter in America’s history I knew little about, but also appreciate the changes in society which have given women of our time so much more control over our own fates.

Born as the eldest daughter of poor Irish immigrants in New York, Axie Muldoon has had to learn to survive at an early age. With her father dead and her mother seriously injured in a work accident, Axie and her two younger siblings are found wandering the streets in search of food and fall into the hands of Reverend Charles Brace of the Children’s Aid Society. Whilst he initially promises salvation from starvation, Axie will later come to see the encounter as a black mark in her personal history when both her sister Dutch and her brother Joe are given up for adoption to farming families in Illinois. Rebelling against a similar fate, Axie finds herself back in New York, living a life of poverty in the household of her mother’s new husband’s family. After the death of her mother due to childbed fever she is taken in as servant to a local doctor and his wife Mrs Evans, who acts as a local midwife and seller of female remedies.

Over the years of service in the Evans’ household, Axie learns some valuable skills from Mrs Evans, which will later set her career as midwife and herbalist – as well as making her one of the most notorious women in New York, the mysterious midwife and accused abortionist Madame X.  Facing the fierce opposition of some influential persons of the time and accused of some unspeakable crimes, our plucky heroine must not only fight for the women who rely on her expertise but also for her own freedom.

Based loosely on the true historical New York personality Ann Trow, better known as Madame Restell, Manning explores the common fates of women in the 19th century, when pregnancy and childbirth were often a mixed blessing. With mortality high due to complications in childbirth or postpartum infections, women would flock to anyone who could promise a positive outcome of their pregnancy or a cure for various female ailments. This often included terminating unwanted pregnancies, which was not considered a crime at the time if performed before the baby had “quickened”. Interspersed with fascinating facts about medical and midwifery practices at the time as well as some real-life historical figures (such as the pompous Anthony Comstock), My Notorious Life is one of those novels which provides both reading pleasure as well as education.

Although it took me a little while to get used to Axie’s unique voice, I found myself quickly drawn in and could not get enough of her – outspoken and courageous, Axie is a wonderful protagonist one cannot but admire. With her own mother lost to childbed fever, Axie’s own fear of a similar fate is a great motivator for her to help other women – that this should also provide a source of income and livelihood is due to her clever husband Charlie, who like Axie is a wonderful character I quickly warmed to.

The vast differences in living conditions of New York’s different population groups become evident in Axie and Charlie’s own rags-to-riches story and highlight the plight of many poor immigrant women of the time. However, even money was no protection against unwanted pregnancies or the dangers of childbirth, which sees even the rich flock to Axie for her expertise. The provocative issue of abortion is explored in a way which highlights the choices and medical care we now take for granted and the dangers of childbirth in an era which historically speaking was not all that long ago. Even readers with strong opinions on the subject should find some of Axie’s motivations compelling and thought provoking. Supported by a strong emotional background and three-dimensional characters who appear to be stepping out of the pages of this remarkable novel, it is impossible to close off one’s mind to the plight of the various women featuring in the novel – despite any preconceived notions we may harbour. With desperation featuring strongly throughout all aspects of the novel it is impossible not to get under your skin – at times tragic and sad, other times as a triumph of womanhood against all odds. Some scenes were almost like a punch in the solar plexus, so deep was the pain the women had to endure – it may be quite close and personal for some readers.

I highly recommend My Notorious Life to all lovers of historical fiction. By introducing issues many readers may find controversial, this novel would open a multitude of different discussion points for a bookclub read, even if the debate may get quite heated due to the strong emotional background attached to the subject matter. Definitely an author to watch – her first novel Whitegirl also sounds like a very worthwhile read and is now firmly cemented on my tbr list.

A big thank you to the Reading Room and Bloomsbury Publishing Australia for providing me with a first edition copy of this wonderful novel in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday 1 June 2013

Book Review: THE SHADOW TRACER by Meg Gardiner

The Shadow Tracer

Title: The Shadow Tracer
Author: Meg Gardiner
Publisher: Penguin Australia

Release Date: June 26, 2013
Read: May 27-29, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Can a person ever really disappear for good by going off the grid? And what happens when vanishing is no longer an option? Sarah Keller is a single mother living quietly in Oklahoma with her five year-old daughter, Zoe; her job is to hunt down people who are trying to avoid arrest and bring them to justice. But when a school bus accident sends Zoe to the ER, that life explodes in a heartbeat because medical tests show that Zoe isn't Sarah's daughter and the lie Sarah has been living all these years is suddenly all too obvious. Who were Zoe's parents? Why has Sarah concealed the truth? And how will she and Zoe stay off the grid when the cops, the FBI and a sinister religious cult are all hunting them down . . . for very different reasons.

My thoughts:

In our age of technology, how hard would it be to disappear, become invisible, stay hidden? When every move, every transaction is recorded somewhere – on CCTV cameras, social media, atm transactions. Sarah Keller has no choice – with both law enforcement and some ruthless killers after her, she has been a fugitive for five years, trying not to draw any attention to herself. As a skip tracer, a professional paid to locate persons who do not want to be found, Sarah knows all the tricks required to stay under the radar. But when a freak accident exposes her identity, Sarah once again finds herself on the run, because she still has the one thing both the killers as well as the law want: her five-year old daughter Zoe. In a heart-stopping flight through America’s Southwest, Sarah and Zoe not only become the hunted, but also the bait to draw the killers into the open. Not able to trust anyone, it is up to Sarah to find a way to survive – and to keep her daughter safe.

With The Shadow Tracer, Gardiner surely delivers for all those adrenaline junkie readers out there: car chases, gun fights, sieges and bloody battles between law-enforcement and killers who won’t stop until they have got what they came for – it makes for one hell of a ride! Though at times stretching the boundaries of credibility, the plot is so fast paced and relentlessly thrilling that I was unable to put the book down and had to remind myself to “breathe”.

What is it about the idea of being hunted which makes for such compelling reading? Maybe it touches on one of our primeval fears, the nightmare of feeling cornered and exposed, being chased and having to run for our lives. Sarah does so in a spectacular fashion – gutsy, clever and very street smart, she is not easily cowed even when confronted by people who will stop at nothing to get what they want. I particularly liked the first part of the book, which described Sarah’s efforts to stay under the radar and out of harm’s way, and the steps she has taken to disguise her identity. Fleeing in the middle of the night in a borrowed car with a five-year old in tow, Sarah must rely on her experience of skip tracing to employ a few tricks of her own. Unfortunately this was also where a few discrepancies crept into the storyline for me – if the idea of prepaid credit cards was to make the transactions untraceable, how was it still possible for her pursuers to find transaction details on the statements? Maybe I was missing some vital clues or simply did not understand how the system works in other countries. However, the story was so compelling and fast paced that I did not get time to get hung up on details for once, but instead buckled up to enjoy the ride.

As the novel progresses and the various characters’ different agendas become more obvious, the body count starts to mount and the action speeds up until the breath-taking finale. Again, the final showdown stretched the boundaries of credibility a bit far for my normal preferences, saved however by the author’s ability to back it up with good character development and the adrenaline rush that went with it. With the fast paced action and the somewhat indestructible nature of all main characters, I would class this novel more in the action/adventure category than mystery/suspense – although it also delivered plenty of suspense!

It is rare to find a book which appeals equally to both sexes, but I believe Gardiner may have nailed it with The Shadow Tracer. Whilst female readers may be drawn to the gutsy female protagonist and her enigmatic male counterpart, the fast-paced action should appeal to male readers out there. Michael Lawless provides an interesting ally to Sarah in this novel, one which I could imagine seeing more of in future novels.

All in all, the Shadow Tracer provided me with a heart-pounding adrenaline rush and hours of entertainment and I recommend it to readers who enjoy fast-paced action/suspense stories. Gardiner is an author new to me, but I will make sure to look up her other novels.

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

This novel forms part of my 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge - category Action / Adventure.

Audiobook Review: BONES ARE FOREVER by Kathy Reichs

Bones Are Forever

Title: Bones are Forever (Audiobook version)
Author: Kathy Reichs
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Read: May 19 - June 1, 2013

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Kathy Reichs, #1 New York Times bestselling author and producer of the Fox hit series Bones, is at her brilliant best in a riveting novel featuring forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan—a story of infanticide, murder, and corruption set in the high-stakes, high-danger world of diamond mining.Temperance Brennan has been asked to examine the corpses of three dead babies in Montreal. It’s a difficult assignment, complicated further by the fact that her long-time flame Detective Ryan is investigating the infants’ mother, a former (and possibly current) prostitute. When the woman flees to Edmonton, the investigation is joined by Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant with whom Tempe had an ill-advised fling over a decade earlier. The dissonant team heads to remotest Yellowknife—mining country—to pursue an ever more sinister trail.

With the Fox series Bones in its seventh season and her popularity at its broadest ever, Kathy Reichs reaches new heights in storytelling and suspense-building. Bones Are Forevershimmers with sexual tension, crackling dialogue, and the thrilling twists Reichs delivers so well.

My thoughts:

Tempe Brennan is at it again – sent to examine the remains of several dead babies, this intrepid forensic anthropologist gets entangled in a police investigation which takes on a completely new dimension when it implicates the development of a new diamond mine in the far North of Canada as being a key player in an intricate web of deceit and murder.

Bones are Forever is the 15th book in the Temperance Brennan series, which forms the basis of the TV hit series Bones (which by the way does not do much for me). Being interested in forensics, I have long enjoyed Reich’s explanations of forensic and medical details woven into her novels, based on her own experiences as forensic anthropologist for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, State of North Carolina, and for the Laboratoire des Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Quebec. Reichs’ vast knowledge is evident in her descriptions of the role of the forensic anthropologist, and the procedures involved in different investigations. However, I felt that Bones are Forever contained so much technical detail that it overshadowed the main storyline, and at times read almost like a textbook. Having chosen to enjoy the novel as an audiobook, I struggled to keep track of the vast cast of characters as well as the many facts and figures crucial to the storyline which were quite hard to retain by listening. This was not helped by the format of the audiobook, which was narrated in huge junks that did not allow rewinding to different sections – I also had difficulty telling apart the voices of the different characters in dialogues, which contributed to a lot of confusion and losing the thread of the plot several times. For fans of Reichs’ novels, who are interested in forensic detail and not easily put off by technical information, I would definitely recommend the printed version of the book, where you can flip back pages or take your time to take in the information.

Personally, to me the plot felt contrived at times, with too many twists and turns in the investigation to be credible. Initially drawn in by the emotional pain the find of several dead babies would cause, I felt that their role was not given enough justice in the end and left many questions unanswered. Brennan’s talent for putting herself in the line of fire and defy the authority of the main case investigators did not befit her professional status, even if I understand the author’s goal to build tension and suspense by endangering the main protagonist. And whilst I am listing all my gripes – I hate the way each chapter ends with a cliffhanger – arrrgh!

With all that off my chest, the book was an enjoyable enough read – and I already have the next instalment loaded on my kindle for future reading. With recent developments in Brennan’s personal life, I do look forward to re-visiting her character in future novels. I would recommend Bones are Forever to fans of Reichs’ previous works – however, if you have never picked up any of her other novels, I would recommend starting at the beginning of the series to get a feel for the characters and Temperance Brennan’s role.

This book forms part of my 2013 Audiobook Challenge.