Wednesday 22 June 2016

Book Review: THE GIRLS by Lisa Jewell

The Girls

 The Girls (The Girls in the Garden)
Author: Lisa Jewell
Read: June 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Dark secrets, a devastating mystery and the games people play: the gripping new novel from the bestselling author of The House We Grew Up In and The Third Wife.

You live on a picturesque communal garden square, an oasis in urban London where your children run free, in and out of other people’s houses.

You’ve known your neighbours for years and you trust them. Implicitly.

You think your children are safe.

But are they really?

Midsummer night: a thirteen-year-old girl is found unconscious in a dark corner of the garden square. What really happened to her? And who is responsible?

Utterly believable characters, a gripping story and a dark secret buried at its core: this is Lisa Jewell at her heart-stopping best.

My thoughts:

I really loved Lisa Jewell’s The House We Grew Up In, so jumped at the opportunity to listen to the audiobook version of The Girls (also published under the title The Girls in the Garden).

All events in the book take place in one of London’s communal gardens (not having seen one I googled the term and found some amazing pictures very similar to those conjured up by Jewell’s vivid descriptions) – a green oasis in the concrete jungle where parents can let their children roam free, where neighbours meet neighbours, where people can relax in quiet green corners surrounded only by the sounds of nature. Adele’s three daughters have grown up in the garden and it has always formed a large part of their childhood. Being home schooled, the garden is more than an area to play and relax, it is also the place to meet up with their peers, form friendships, have clandestine meetings to whisper secrets and hang out with friends in the manner of ordinary teenage girls. Even Adele admits that the garden is very important to her, giving her time out from her ever present family as she bundles them into their outdoor clothes and sends them out to play, happy in the knowledge that they are safe out there whilst she snatches a few quiet moments for herself. But are they really? When Grace and Pip move into the neighbourhood, the subtle shift of loyalties and change in the pecking order is enough to throw the garden into chaos, culminating in the terrible event of one of the girls being found bloodied and unconscious  in the rose garden one night, in the very spot where years ago another girl had died. Is history repeating itself? With the safety of the garden breached, neighbours are suddenly suspicious of their neighbours, spouses of their spouses. But perhaps it is the children they should really be afraid of?

I love the way Jewell characterises her protagonists  and allows the reader to get into their heads, keeping just enough back to create a constant atmosphere of suspense and tension which sets the tone of the novel. Just as the characters begin to doubt their loved ones, the reader is constantly being challenged to question the actions and motives of all the players. Who can you really trust? I especially loved Jewell’s portrayal of unconventional mother Adele, whose secure and peaceful world is shattered by the events unfolding in the garden as she is forced to question the ideals that have underpinned her actions and choices her entire life. Jewell brilliantly executes the slow unraveling of this strong and determined woman, and I really felt for her. With skillful descriptive writing, an eye for detail and brilliant characterisations of all her protagonists, Jewell brought this garden and its people to life for me and I could see them vividly in my head.

All in all, a thoroughly engrossing psychological thriller cum family drama, exploring the dynamics of different families and interpersonal relationships in the face of a crisis. Well written and highly recommended. I look forward to reading the next book by this talented author.

Monday 20 June 2016

Book Review: SEE HOW THEY RUN by Tom Bale

See How They Run by Tom Bale

 See How They Run
Author: Tom Bale
Publisher: Bookouture
Read: June 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

How far would you go to save your family?
In the dead of night, new parents Alice and Harry French are plunged into their worst nightmare when they wake to find masked men in their bedroom. Men ruthless enough to threaten their baby daughter, Evie.

This is no burglary gone wrong.
The intruders know who they’re looking for – a man called Edward Renshaw.
And they are prepared to kill to get to him.

When the men leave empty handed, little do Alice and Harry realise that their nightmare is just beginning. Is it a case of mistaken identity? Who is Renshaw? And what is he hiding?

One thing is clear – they already know too much.

As Alice and Harry are separated in the run for their lives, there is no time to breathe in their fight to be reunited. And with their attackers closing in, there is only one choice:


Terrifying, unputdownable and full of twists and turns, this stunning thriller will have you on the edge of your seat right to the very last page. 

My thoughts:

In the dead of the night, Alice and Harry are woken by masked intruders who break into their home, holding their 8-week old daughter hostage and demanding that the couple hand over a package addressed to a Mr Renshaw, which had allegedly been sent to their address. After suffering hours of pain and humiliation at the hands of their attackers, Harry finally manages to convince the men that they have not received such a package, nor did they know the identity of the mysterious recipient. Finally the men leave, but not before threatening that harm will befall Harry, Alice or their daughter Evie, should they find out that the couple have lied to them, or have gone to the police to report the home invasion. What Alice has not told anyone is that she had indeed received a package in the mail a few days ago, and may know where to find this mysterious Mr Renshaw ....

I was excited to receive a copy of See How They Run through Netgalley, as the premise of an innocent young family caught up in some criminal activity was intriguing and scary. People react differently under stress and threats to their lives, and there was the potential of a thrilling roller coaster ride as the young couple try to evade their attackers. However, though it started off strongly, unfortunately the novel ultimately did not work for me on many levels. Whilst I expected the characters to make some strange decisions whilst feeling pressured and threatened, the whole storyline was based on some very questionable decisions by the main protagonists, to the point of not being able to suspend disbelief enough to make the book credible. I found Harry and Alice somewhat two dimensional and difficult to connect with, which made their thoughts and actions hard to understand. I also found the constant baby trivia in the book somewhat irritating – whilst to a parent a newborn baby may mean the world, the continuous references to burping, nappy changing and breast feeding soon became repetitive and added nothing to the content of the novel for me.

“Suspecting a bowel movement was due, Alice picked up a nappy and pack of wipes, and put them in a nappy sack.”

Whilst I understand that this is the reality of having a newborn, this type of day-to-day trivia only served as a distraction to the main storyline and it was easy to lose interest – a bit of careful editing could have done wonders here. I soon felt I was skipping through the chapters, trying to get to the actual meaty parts. All in all, the novel fell flat for me and I without really caring for any of the characters it soon lost my interest.

However, seeing that there are many high praises for See How They Run out there, I certainly recommend judging for yourself. For me, only a “Meh!” read – readable but not particularly enjoyable and certainly not a memorable book on my reading list this year.

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 2 stars

Thursday 16 June 2016

Book Review: IN THE CLEARING by Robert Dugoni

In the Clearing (Tracy Crosswhite, #3)

 In the Clearing
Author: Robert Dugoni
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Read: May 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Detective Tracy Crosswhite has a skill, and a soft spot, for tackling unsolved crimes. Having lost her own sister to murder at a young age, Tracy has dedicated her career to bringing justice and closure to the families and friends of victims of crime.
So when Jenny, a former police academy classmate and protégé, asks Tracy to help solve a cold case that involves the suspicious suicide of a Native American high school girl forty years earlier, Tracy agrees. Following up on evidence Jenny’s detective father collected when he was the investigating deputy, Tracy probes one small town’s memory and finds dark, well-concealed secrets hidden within the community’s fabric. Can Tracy uphold the promise she’s made to the dead girl’s family and deliver the truth of what happened to their daughter? Or will she become the next victim?

My thoughts:

In the Clearing is the third book in the Tracy Crosswhite series, but the first book in the series I have picked up. I found I was able to read it as a stand-alone novel but would have liked to know more background information of the main character, Tracy, as her past is referred to as a main motivator for her passion for solving cold cases and bringing closure to the families involved. I will clearly need to look up Dugoni’s other books and start the series from the beginning.

In this novel, Tracy receives a call from a friend to help her solve an old case her father was investigating when he first started his career as young deputy 40 years ago. It concerned the death of a young Native American girl, which was ultimately ruled a suicide despite the detective’s misgivings about discrepancies in the evidence he found. After his recent death, his daughter came across an old case file he has held on to all these years, and she wants Tracy to follow up the mystery which had clearly haunted him all his life.

As a parallel case, this time in the present, Tracy tries to solve the shooting of a father accused of beating his wife and son – was it murder or self-defence? Or is the mother trying to protect her son by taking the blame?

Both stories run parallel with no connection apart from Tracy, but Dugoni managed to keep my interest in both, although I found the cold case much more compelling and was glad that most of the story was devoted to it. I especially enjoyed the details about the forensic evidence and science available to solve the crimes 40 years ago, without the technology we have today. All in all an enjoyable read with a good solid lead character – I will make sure to look up the earlier books in the series.

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: THE NIGHT STALKER by Robert Bryndza

The Night Stalker (DCI Erika Foster, #2)

 The Night Stalker
Author: Robert Bryndza
Publisher: Bookouture
Read: June 2016

Synopsis (Goodreads):

If the Night Stalker is watching, you’re already dead…

In the dead of a swelteringly hot summer’s night, Detective Erika Foster is called to a murder scene. The victim, a doctor, is found suffocated in bed. His wrists are bound and his eyes bulging through a clear plastic bag tied tight over his head.

A few days later, another victim is found dead, in exactly the same circumstances. As Erika and her team start digging deeper, they discover a calculated serial killer – stalking their victims before choosing the right moment to strike.

The victims are all single men, with very private lives. Why are their pasts shrouded in secrecy? And what links them to the killer?

As a heat wave descends upon London, Erika will do everything to stop the Night Stalker before the body count rises, even if it means risking her job. But the victims might not be the only ones being watched… Erika’s own life could be on the line.

The global bestselling author of The Girl in the Ice is back with a heart-racing, electrifying thriller. If you love Angela Marsons, Rachel Abbott and Karin Slaughter, you’ll be hooked on Robert Bryndza. 

My thoughts:

It’s great when you discover a brand new crime series which promises lots of pleasures yet to come – and the DCI Erika Foster series guarantees just that. I absolutely loved “The Girl in the Ice” and was quick to grab a copy of “The Night Stalker” as soon as it was available. And it did not disappoint! Erika continues to keep me intrigued – with exactly the right mix of personal tragedy in her past and a strong personality which keeps her determined to solve difficult murder cases, this is one protagonist who can really drive a storyline. I also love Erika’s different cultural background, which gives her even more depth and explains some of her difficulties to accept the restraints placed on her by workplace politics and often see her go out on a limb and defy the rules for the sake of finding justice.

In The Night Stalker, Erika is confronted with a ruthless killer who murders victims by drugging them and then suffocating them by placing a plastic bag over their head. Whilst one murder can be written off as an isolated attack, it soon becomes clear that this killer will not stop at one. But what is driving this person to keep on killing? And how does he choose his victims? Erika will have to confront her own personal demons as she is trying to get into this killer’s mind, only to discover that they may have more things in common than she would like to admit. I take my hat off to Brynda’s skill as a writer that I even managed to feel a little bit of sympathy for this troubled serial killer – I often find that knowing the identity of the murderer spoils the thrill for me, but this was definitely not the case here.

After the ending of this novel (no spoilers) I am very intrigued as to what Bryndza has in store for Erika in future novels. Will she go on defying the rules or be forced to play “by the book” in order to keep her job? Will she finally be able to forgive herself for her husband’s death? Bryndza’s skill in carefully revealing little tidbits of background information one bit at a time ensures that there will be a lot more to discover about Erika in future novels – I am hoping that the next instalment is not too far away.