Sunday, 29 March 2015

Book Review: LONE STAR by Paullina Simons

Lone Star

Lone Star
Author: Paullina Simons
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers Australia
Read: March 2015
Expected publication: 1 April 2015

Synopsis (Goodreads):

From the author of Tully and The Bronze Horseman comes an epic new romantic saga - heart-wrenching and passionate, this compelling story of love lost and found will stay with you forever ...

Falling in love was the easy part ...

Chloe is weeks away from college when she embarks on a grand European adventure with her boyfriend and two best friends. Their destination is Barcelona, with its promise of romance and mystery, but first they must detour through the historic cities of Eastern Europe to settle an old family debt.

As they traverse the unfamiliar landscape of the post-Communist world, Chloe meets a boy on a train who is going off to war. Johnny carries a guitar, an easy smile - and a lifetime of secrets.The trip becomes a treacherous journey into Europe's and Johnny's darkest past - a journey that threatens to shatter the bonds holding together four lifelong friends.

From Riga to Treblinka to Trieste, Chloe must face her deepest desires colliding with the future she thought she wanted.

For Chloe and Johnny only one thing is certain: whatever their destination, their lives will never be the same.

My thoughts:

At 17 years old and with a family tragedy overshadowing her past, Chloe Divine is a very much loved and over-protected only child growing up in a small town in Maine, US . With her best friend Hannah living next door and the girls’ boyfriends, brothers Mason and Blake, a mere few blocks away Chloe feels sheltered and secure. But Chloe’s life is about to change as she faces finishing school, leaving home and starting college a few thousand miles away. To celebrate their coming of age, the four youngsters dream of going to Barcelona, a town which embodies everything their boring hometown is apparently lacking. For Chloe it would provide an opportunity to finally break away from her protective parents. For Blake the trip would provide material for a short story he is hoping to enter into a competition that could win him enough money for a new truck to set up his own business. Whilst Hannah may be finally able to break off the secret relationship with a much older man who will not let her go. But Chloe’s parents are concerned and reluctant to sign Chloe’s application for a passport – what if something happens to her overseas? It is Chloe’s formidable grandmother Moody who comes up with a plan: if the four youngsters agree to go to Latvia to visit her last remaining relatives there and deliver some flowers to Treblinka, the Nazi death camp in Poland where some of Moody’s family lost their lives during the war, she is willing to pay for their trip to Europe. With no money of their own to speak of, the four friends reluctantly agree – how else are they going to get to Barcelona? Blake even thinks it will be fun, and provide him with more material for a prize-winning story.

Travelling is both an adventure and a test to the four friends, as most have never even been out of their own home state. Through a chance encounter on a crowded train, Chloe and Hannah meet the charismatic yet troubled Johnny Rainbow, a mysterious American teenager  who is a tour guide and busker in Riga. Johnny is the typical bad-boy, confident, cocky and street smart, living his life to the fullest. Whilst Chloe, Hannah and Mason are enthralled by the charming stranger, Blake takes an instant dislike to Johnny and tries everything in his power to shake him off. With conflict and discord brewing, the lifelong friendship between the four youngsters  becomes strained. Johnny is trouble, that much is evident, and things soon start to go wrong on their trip. But for Chloe, Johnny Rainbow will bring something else entirely – the ecstasy and agony of first love, a growing of age, of discovering her own sexuality. Which may ultimately break her heart.

It is difficult to put into words how much this book touched me. The characters are so real they regularly jump out of the pages of the book, take you by the hand and draw you into their story. I felt as if I was part of their journey, witness to their deepest most innermost feelings. With profound insight into the human psyche and the turbulent emotions of the teenage years, Simons slowly builds up each of the four friends’ distinctive personalities layer by layer, giving each their very own unique voice. I loved how the author presents different viewpoints for the situations the youngsters face during their travels, as each of them sees the same incident through very different eyes. Having travelled with friends before myself, I have always found it fascinating how different people can form such different memories and realities from one and the same situation. Simons captures this brilliantly, which rounds the characters and makes them come to life.

Every backpacker will also be able to relate to the disasters the four friends face on their travels – delayed trains, overcrowded buses, flea-infested hostels, sleeping on someone’s lounge room floor  and the worst of the worst – having your passport stolen. Now enter Johnny, whose vivacious yet mysterious personality totally disrupts the groups’ dynamics, on which their friendship has been built and which has helped them survive as friends for so long. It does not take long for things to start unravelling. Chloe, who has always somewhat lived in Hannah’s shadow, is usually the mediator, the placatory, the quiet one who keeps everyone happy, a role which she has adopted to help her parents survive the family tragedy overshadowing their lives. All of a sudden Johnny brings out a new confidence in her which gives her the courage to break away from the group. Everyone who has ever been in love will be able to relate to the intense emotions of first love, the ecstasy and the agony of being totally and utterly consumed and absorbed by another person, the way the whole universe suddenly revolves around that person. I loved the scene where Chloe looks for Johnny in a strange town, how she sees him in the back of every dark haired stranger, how she wanders the street hoping to glimpse him, how he still owns her every emotion – have we not all done that at one stage? Johnny is your typical lost boy, the boy who will never grow up. I have met people like that – they sweep up people with their magic but leave a trail of destruction in their path. Young girls will fall madly in love and older woman will want to mother them. Despite his bravado the historical details Johnny recounts so factually on his tour of Treblinka hint at the grief of generations which runs in his veins and the darkness that consumes him.

The Lone Star is Simons at her best. It has the same sweetness and intensity as The Bronze Horseman, managing to transport the reader into another world, into the minds and bodies of its characters. It is much more than a love story – it is a story of friendship, of coming of age, of the emotional legacy of generations past still touching our own lives today. There aren't many books which are able to elicit such a deep emotional response and such regret at turning the last page. The echo of Chloe’s world stayed with me long after finishing the story. For lovers of The Bronze Horseman this is a must-read, and there is even a connection to the Tatiana and Alexander series, though I am not giving away any spoilers here. I totally loved this book and my review can never do it justice or convey how utterly it absorbed me in its pages. Definitely one for my favourite list. Very much recommended.

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

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Book review: THE SHUT EYE by Belinda Bauer

The Shut Eye by Belinda Bauer

The Shut Eye
Author: Belinda Bauer
Publisher: Transworld Digital
Read: March 2015
Available from:
12 March 2015

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Five footprints are the only sign that Daniel Buck was ever here.

And now they are all his mother has left.

Every day, Anna Buck guards the little prints in the cement. Polishing them to a shine. Keeping them safe. Spiralling towards insanity.

When a psychic offers hope, Anna grasps it. Who wouldn't? Maybe he can tell her what happened to her son...

But is this man what he claims to be? Is he a visionary? A shut eye? Or a cruel fake, preying on the vulnerable?

Or is he something far, far worse?

My thoughts:

Detective Chief Inspector John Marvel has no time for nonsense or luxuries such as showing human kindness and compassion, but when there is a murder to solve he is  the right man for the job – dogged, determined and unrelenting. Therefore, he is less than impressed when he is pulled off the case of missing twelve-year-old schoolgirl Edie Evans in order to investigate the disappearance of his boss’ wife poodle Mitzi. But DCI Marvel is also a good judge of people’s characters and knowing their weaknesses, and if the silly poodle will help his career along he is willing to put all his efforts into the investigation.

In the meantime, Anna Buck is also suffering the consequences of a child’s disappearance. Her four-year-old son Daniel has vanished without a trace after his father James Buck accidentally left the front door to their house open. All that remains of Daniel are his footprints left behind in a batch of fresh concrete poured on the day he went missing. Without any leads to his whereabouts all that is left for Anna to do is to stand guard over her son’s footprints as she slowly spirals into a dark void of madness and blame for her husband. In her desperation, Anna visits a church where self-proclaimed psychic Richard Latham promises to channel messages from the dead – and the missing. The same church Mitzi’s owner incidentally also attends to receive messages from her beloved lost pet. But whilst Latham is happy to channel the lost dog’s messages, he refuses to help Anna. In her ever-growing despair and madness she is suddenly seeing strange visions she thinks may be connected to Mitzi but which contain uncanny details from Edie Evans’ disappearance. Cynical DCI Marvel does not believe in psychics and any such nonsense, but he cannot explain Anna’s visions and how she would know information only the police has access to. Could she or her husband be somehow involved in Edie’s disappearance? Or is she really able to somehow make contact with the lost girl?

After fighting hard to overcome my instant dislike of DCI Marvel I got drawn into the story by Anna’s character and couldn’t put the book down. After some time I even found myself warming to the rude, cold and unlikeable character of Marvel. Perhaps his dogged determination to find the missing girl does have an element of human compassion rather than being merely career driven - I am always willing to give people the benefit of doubt. And as Marvel fights with his own scepticism regarding Anna’s “visions” and the strange events surrounding them, a glimpse of humanity does occasionally shine through.

Bauer writes with a degree of black humour and keen observation of the dark elements of human nature which both made this book an enjoyable read for me. I instantly got drawn into Anna’s story, and was shocked as intended by some of the “WHAT????” moments the author delivers like punches straight to the solar plexus. Such as the baby ... but not giving away any spoilers here. Bauer knows how to build up tension as she slowly unravel the intricate plot – and whilst I am generally not a fan of supernatural themes in mysteries (since they are often unbelievable and not all that well done), Bauer knows how to seamlessly weave them into the story and balance them out with Marvel’s scepticism. As a murder-mystery The Shut Eye had all the elements of a good gripping read and I look forward to reading more from this author 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.

Image result for 4 stars

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Book Review: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
Author: Paula Hawkins
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Read: March 2015

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories. 

My thoughts:

This intriguing psychological thriller had me from page 1 and I loved the whole journey - the premise of poor unhappy alcoholic Rachel constructing lives and personalities for people she observes from the train to make up for her own pathetic  life was interesting and provided a great base for a book. As the story unfolded I was drawn into the lives of the (very dysfunctional) characters and could not put the book down.

A refreshingly different story - as a train commuter from way back I could relate to the whole premise of getting a glimpse into people's lives from behind a glass window and seeing things out of context which are open for interpretation and flights of imagination - what a great way to base a murder mystery on it.  

This book is best enjoyed without too many preconceived ideas, so I won’t spoil the suspense by revealing too much. Like a train journey it slowly unfolds, taking the reader with it and revealing a new window into a different world after every turn. Definitely on my favourites list this year and very highly recommended.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Book Review: THE LOST SWIMMER by Ann Turner

The Lost Swimmer

Title: The Lost swimmer
Author: Ann Turner
Publisher: Simon & Schuster AU
Read: March 2015
Expected publication:
1 June 2015

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Rebecca Wilding, an archaeology professor, traces the past for a living.

But suddenly, truth and certainty is turning against her. Rebecca is accused of serious fraud, and worse, she suspects – she knows – that her husband, Stephen, is having an affair.

Desperate to find answers, Rebecca leaves with Stephen for Greece, Italy and Paris, where she can uncover the conspiracy against her, and hopefully win Stephen back to her side, where he belongs. There’s too much at stake – her love, her work, her family.

But on the idyllic Amalfi Coast, Stephen goes swimming and doesn’t come back.

In a swirling daze of panic and fear, Rebecca is dealt with fresh allegations. And with time against her, she must uncover the dark secrets that stand between her and Stephen, and the deceit that has chased her halfway around the world.

My thoughts:

At 47 years old, archaeology professor Rebecca Wilding should be having the time of her life. At the peak of her career, with her two children having flown the nest and the support of a devoted husband she is free to follow her passion of travelling to archaeology digs and writing about ancient Greek artefacts. But without warning things start to go wrong. Due to budget cuts Rebecca faces the backlash of colleagues losing jobs at her university, she is being undermined and bullied by her superior at work  and her husband of 25 years, Stephen, is acting secretive and staying out late. Worst of all, she is being accused of embezzlement when secret overseas bank accounts bearing her name are discovered by the university accountant – but Rebecca is sure she has never signed the paperwork to open them, let alone illegally transferred money into them.

In a desperate effort to get to the bottom of Stephen’s odd behaviour and save her marriage, Rebecca decides to keep the fraud charges from him and goes ahead with a long-planned working holiday to Greece and Italy, where she and Stephen have had many wonderful times in the past. It also gives her the chance to visit the bank where the illegal bank accounts are located, but when she tries to talk to the bank manager she hits a wall – with the Australian authorities investigating the case against her, how much longer will she be able to keep it from Stephen? Despite their get-away he is still acting strangely, disappearing for hours without explanation, taking secretive phone calls and acting distant and distracted. With a sinking heart Rebecca is now certain that he is having an affair – possibly with her worst enemy. Whilst staying in a hotel on the rugged Amalfi coast, Stephen goes swimming and never returns. On the run from local authorities, who accuse Rebecca of her husband’s murder, time is running out to find out what really happened to Stephen.

I loved The Lost Swimmer and it totally captivated me. Partly set in Australia, partly in Greece, Italy and Paris, the author managed to evoke the sights, smells and atmospheres of different shores so vividly that reading it became like armchair travel. The characters are believable, authentic and three dimensional, with Rebecca making an interesting and likeable main protagonist. Her love and loyalty to her husband and her efforts to try and save her marriage despite her suspicions are touching, succeeding in conveying the author’s intentions of a love story forming the basis of the novel.  I couldn’t put the book down and read it in one sitting, totally engrossed in its setting and story. The only thing which stops me from giving it the full 5 stars is that it ended a bit too abruptly for my liking ... there was still so many possibilities for an extra twist and a bit more suspense. I fully recommend The Lost Swimmer to anyone who likes a good mystery set in many different interesting locations – this book will want to make you go out and buy an airline ticket. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

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

Book Review: THIS LITTLE PIGGY by Bea Davenport

This Little Piggy by Bea Davenport

This Little Piggy
Author: Bea Davenport
Publisher: Legend Press
Read: March 2015
Available from:
October 2014

Synopsis (Goodreads):

It’s the summer of 1984 and there is a sense of unease on the troubled Sweetmeadows estate. The residents are in shock after the suspicious death of a baby and tension is growing due to the ongoing miners’ strike. Journalist Clare Jackson follows the story as police botch the inquiry and struggle to contain the escalating violence. Haunted by a personal trauma she can’t face up to, Clare is shadowed by nine-year-old Amy, a bright but neglected little girl who seems to know more about the incident than she’s letting on. As the days go on and the killer is not found, Clare ignores warnings not to get too close to her stories and in doing so, puts her own life in jeopardy.

My thoughts:

It is 1984 and England is in the grip of a miners' strike making headlines around the country. In a poor housing estate a nine months old baby is killed by a fall from a balcony, and fould play is suspected. Is it the work of unionists paying back the father for being a strike breaker? Or is there a madman on the loose? Clare Jackson, a young gutsy reporter who was cheated of her position as chief reporter by a cruel twist of fate, takes it upon herself to infiltrate both sides and gain some interesting insights into the circumstances surrounding baby Jamie's death. Many of Clare's most interesting leads come from nine-year old Amy, who lives on the estate and has taken a liking to Clare. But does Amy know more than she lets on?

I really loved the 1980's setting of the novel - with its gutsy protagonist it reminded me a bit of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone mysteries, and I can see Clare solving a lot more crimes in future novels. Without the convenience of the internet and mobile phones it is up to Clare's  sheer determination and hard work to follow her leads and produce interesting stories for the local paper. With hints at a recent tragedy in her personal life it soon becomes clear why she feels so drawn to the young waif Amy, with consequences Clare could not have imagined.
The author really captures the atmosphere of the time and the emotions surrounding the miner's strike. Sweetmeadows Estate was brought to life so vividly that I could almost smell the despair, the poverty, the hopelessness.

Whilst the ending did not come as a complete surprise I still felt saddened by many aspects of it and wished it had ended differently for all characters involved. There were some parts which dragged a bit, and could have benefited from a bit tighter editing, but all in all the story drew me in and kept me reading. I felt I really warmed to Clare and would like to see her back in action chasing her byline.

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