Thursday, 14 December 2017

Audiobook Review: SILENT CHILD by Sarah A Denzil

Title: Silent Child
Author: Sarah A Denzil
Narrator:
Joanne Froggatt
Read:
November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

In the summer of 2006, Emma Price watched helplessly as her six-year-old son's red coat was fished out of the River Ouse. It was the tragic story of the year - a little boy, Aiden, wandered away from school during a terrible flood, fell into the river, and drowned. 

His body was never recovered. 

Ten years later, Emma has finally rediscovered the joy in life. She's married, pregnant, and in control again...

... until Aiden returns. 

Too traumatized to speak, he raises endless questions and answers none. Only his body tells the story of his decade-long disappearance. The historic broken bones and injuries cast a mere glimpse into the horrors Aiden has experienced. Aiden never drowned. Aiden was taken. 

As Emma attempts to reconnect with her now teenage son, she must unmask the monster who took him away from her. But who, in their tiny village, could be capable of such a crime?

It's Aiden who has the answers, but he cannot tell the unspeakable.


My musings:

Silent Child deals with an intriguing and heart-breaking premise – a child disappears when he is only six years old and is believed to have drowned in the surging waters of a hundred-year flood. His mother Emma is heartbroken, but has tried to finally move on ten years after the tragedy. She has since married again and is expecting another baby in a few weeks time. Then the unthinkable happens – a 16-year old lost and traumatised boy, found by a motorist on a deserted road, turns out to be Emma’s son Aiden. Where was he in the ten years he has been missing? And what has been done to him during that time?

As a mother, there were many parts of the book that were disturbing and gut-churning, and I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to be in Emma’s shoes. The joy of finding that your child is alive, and the heartbreak in seeing that he is broken, damaged – no longer the innocent little boy you said good-bye to at the school gates ten years ago. I listened to this book on Audible, and the narrator Joanne Froggatt did an excellent job in bringing Emma to life for me, her expressionate voice embodying Emma’s anguish and making this a compelling story to listen to.

Set in a little Yorkshire town, the book contained all the elements that make for an intriguing mystery: a small town setting with plenty of odd people and possible suspects, an emotional connection to the main character and a series of clues that slowly lead the reader to the conclusion. There were a few red herrings thrown in to try and throw the avid armchair detective off track, and it almost had me fooled, through I admit that the conclusion didn’t come as a total surprise. However, the solving of the mystery was never the main focus of this story for me, which dealt with Emma’s anguish as she is trying to re-integrate her son back into her family. Her character is so well depicted that my heart ached for her, and I often questioned what I would do in a similar situation (God forbid!). And even though her judgment in the people she surrounds herself with seemed to be particularly terrible, I thought she made for a solid main protagonist that drove the story along well and kept me emotionally involved. I admit that I was a tiny bit disappointed with the final conclusion, expecting a bit more of a surprise and less suspension of disbelief, but overall this was an enjoyable read for me.
  
Summary:

To summarise, if you are looking to be surprised and blind-sided and are looking for a complex and un-solvable mystery, this may not be the right book for you. But if, like me, you enjoy emotion-charged books about human relationships and people finding themselves thrown into impossible situations, then this is a good book to pick up. I thoroughly recommend the audio version, brought to life by Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt! 


Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Book Review: IN THE DARK by Andreas PflΓΌger

Title: In the Dark
Author: Andreas PflΓΌger
Publisher:
Head of Zeus
Read:
December 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟 1/2


Book Description:

Jenny Aaron was once part of an elite police unit tracking Germany's most dangerous criminals. She was the best. Until it all went wrong. A disastrous mission saw her abandon a wounded colleague and then lose her sight forever.
Now, five years later, she has learnt to navigate a darkened world. But she's still haunted by her betrayal. Why did she run?
Then she receives a call from the unit. They need her back. A prison psychologist has been brutally murdered. And the killer will only speak to one person...

My musings:

I am always keen to read about protagonists that stand out from the rest, so was very interested to meet PflΓΌger’s Jenny Aaron. How ambitious, I thought, to cast a blind woman as a highly trained police interrogator, who chases down a serial killer. Ambitious – perhaps. But PflΓΌger has certainly done his homework, and somehow a blind detective works, especially since Aaron has come to train other senses to such an extent that she is able to function quite efficiently without the sense of sight that most of us are totally reliant on. I found PflΓΌger’s descriptions of Aaron’s special skills fascinating, especially echolocation, her ability to use sound as a kind of sonar device similar to how bats and dolphins find their way around. Very kindly, PflΓΌger provides some links to find out more about his research in the postscript, which explained the skills in more detail and were certainly an “eye-opener” (pun intended) for me!

To get back to the book, here we have Jenny Aaron, who is basically an indestructible machine – super intelligent, highly skilled and afraid only of her own failings. Picture a type of female Jack Reacher. Noone messes with Aaron and gets away with it. Whilst being blinded in the line of duty may have slowed her down slightly, she has bounced back with a vengeance, even beating some of her colleagues at the shooting range. So catching a serial killer should not present much of a challenge to Aaron, except when the killer is just as ruthless, intelligent and fearless as she is. There is also a great cast of supporting characters, which at times held more interest for me than Aaron herself, especially the equally clever and fearless sniper  Pavlik. And strangely the killer, Holm, was so compelling that I yearned for a “let’s all be friends and live happily ever after” ending.

In the Dark is an action packed thriller that will have you at the edge of your seat many times. I imagine a few casualties amongst the stunt crew if there ever is a film version – especially scenes where the blind Aaron must balance on the tow bar of a truck to escape her captors; or swim against the strong pull of a ship propeller in freezing water to save her life. Yes, there is a strong degree of having to suspend disbelief, but this is an action thriller, so this is almost a no-brainer. In fact, I would be surprised if no one snaps up the movie rights to this book, as it would make a fantastic film. It is certainly a story that will appeal to a wide audience, containing not only a solid murder mystery, but also the kick-ass action packed elements of a thriller.

Ok, now to the things that didn’t work for me – and mind you, I had a preview copy of the book that had a few formatting issues, which didn’t help. But I felt that in parts the book was too long and convoluted and could have done with some paring down. The large number of characters, some of which appeared under several names (family name, first name, nick name) didn’t help and I did a lot of flicking back and forth to find my bearings. With several plots and timelines intertwined throughout the book with little to distinguish them, it was easy to get lost and disorientated to person, time and place. Aaron’s inner dialogue, in which she reflects on her past experience in Barcelona, constantly cut into the current plot to a degree where it interrupted the smooth flow of the story. Perhaps some of these issues are related to the translation from German, but I felt that the 446 pages could have been edited down a bit to put more emphasis on the focal story. Seeing that this is the first book of a trilogy (I believe), some of these issues may naturally get ironed out as the characters evolve and grow. I am certainly interested in seeing this die-hard cast back in a new setting and look forward to Book 2! 

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




Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Book Review: THE CONFESSION by Jo Spain

Author: Jo Spain
Publisher:
Hachette Australia
Read:
December 2017
Expected publication: 11 January 2018
My Rating: 🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

Late one night a man walks into the luxurious home of disgraced banker Harry McNamara and his wife Julie. The man launches an unspeakably brutal attack on Harry as a horror-struck Julie watches, frozen by fear.

Just an hour later the attacker, JP Carney, has handed himself in to the police. He confesses to beating Harry to death, but JP claims that the assault was not premeditated and that he didn't know the identity of his victim. With a man as notorious as Harry McNamara, the detectives cannot help wondering, was this really a random act of violence or is it linked to one of Harry's many sins: corruption, greed, betrayal?

This gripping psychological thriller will have you questioning, who - of Harry, Julie and JP - is really the guilty one? And is Carney's surrender driven by a guilty conscience or is his confession a calculated move in a deadly game?

My musings:

A man walks into the house of a wealthy businessman and brutally beats him to death in front of his wife. He then hands himself over to police and confesses to the crime, claiming it was a random act of violence. Seems straight forward enough. We now have a crime and a killer. So why are DC Alice Moody’s alarm bells ringing that there is more to the story than it first seems?

The Confession is a thriller written in reverse – we know from the start who the killer is, but the question is: why? Spain explores this mystery through the eyes of her three narrators: JP Delaney, the killer; Julie, the victim’s wife; and DC Alice Moody, who is trying to solve the case. Not everyone is a reliable narrator, so readers have their work cut out for them trying to decipher the clues that lead to the final answer.

Warning – if you want characters you can like, admire and bond with, this may not be the right book for you, as each and every one of the people featuring in The Confession are thoroughly unlikeable. Even DC Moody, who was the only one that seemed sane, was depicted in the most unflattering light and played quite a peripheral role. So whilst Spain tells her story well, and offers a solid background story to the murder, I floundered a little bit reading this book. I admit being a reader who needs to be able to bond with at least one character, and in this case the only person who sounded remotely likeable was already dead. What followed was a glimpse into the lives of the other highly dysfunctional characters, which left me feeling slightly depressed and miserable. Some passages seemed to add little to the story except more misery, and I admit I struggled to finish the story despite the author’s skill in evoking an atmospheric setting and an overall intriguing plot. Whilst I liked the theme of innocence corrupted by power, and its ultimate consequences, I concede that I am probably not the right audience for this book, needing a glimpse of hope or at least a character I can root for in my stories.

The Confession will appeal to readers who will not let a cast of unlikeable characters get in the way of a good story, without the need to bond with a protagonist in order to enjoy the read. Written in reverse, The Confession offers a thriller with a difference that stands out from a lot of “been there, done that” books in the genre. Spain tells a good story, so even though this might not have been exactly my cup of tea, I look forward to reading more from this author in future. 



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

Monday, 4 December 2017

Book Review: 29 SECONDS by T.M. Logan

Title: 29 Seconds
Author: T.M. Logan
Publisher:
Bonnier Zaffre
Read:
December 2017
Expected publication: 25 January 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


My musings:

I went into this story totally blindly, only lured by the intriguing title, and am glad that I did. 29 seconds of what? The clock is ticking .... I will try to write this review without giving anything away, since this story very much relies on its original premise and the surprises it holds in store  - and this is also the reason I am not giving a book description here (if you absolutely want one, you will have to google this book, but be mindful that the blurb contains huge spoilers).

Our main protagonist is Sarah, an accomplished academic in her early thirties, whose career is being thwarted by members of the “old boys club” at the university she is working at. Her boss is a sexual predator of the worst kind, lording his power over all female employees and exploiting his position to garner sexual favours. All the women know it, but unless they want to jeopardise their careers they feel powerless to do anything about it. The last woman who lodged a complaint with HR lost her job, her reputation and her sanity. Sarah, who has been hoping for a well-earned promotion, has so far successfully avoided being in that position, but lately the man has made it clear that he expects some favours from her as well. How can she say no and still keep her job? Who can she turn to when everyone is in his pocket? Something needs to be done. And sometimes help comes from the most unexpected direction ....

Logan does well to get the reader emotionally involved in the story, and I felt an intense burning anger a few pages into the book, as it becomes clear that Sarah has her back against the wall. Slowly stoking the fire with mounting injustices, the story may have been off to a bit of a slow start with its direction a bit unclear – until BAM! – there it was, the big twist that made the story both original as well as very intriguing. With my boiler already on full red alert I experienced the same gut reaction Sarah must have felt when confronted with her unusual situation. And just to make it all more interesting, there are a few ethical dilemmas along the way. Have I wetted your appetite yet? No, I will not say any more about the plot, except that the 29 seconds of the title may change Sarah’s life. 29 second of what? You will have to read it to find out. It does rely a tiny bit of the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief, but then again, we live in a strange world where strange thing happen, so who says it’s not possible? 

Summary:

29 Seconds may be a bit of a slow burner at the start, but don’t be fooled – this is a very clever and original thriller that will have you questioning a few ethical and moral dilemmas along the way. It took a few unexpected turns that had me on edge, wondering how it would turn out in the end – and then I was still wrong with my guesses. This is the perfect book to pick up if you want a thriller with an original premise and some surprising twists! 



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

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Book Review & Giveaway: FORCE OF NATURE by Jane Harper

Author: Jane Harper
Publisher:
Macmillan Australia
Read:
November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No-one saw the bush land swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you.

Book Description:

Five women go on a hike. Only four return. Jane Harper, the New York Times bestselling author of The Dry, asks: How well do you really know the people you work with?

When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

My musings:

Seeing how much I loved Jane Harper’s debut novel The Dry, Force of Nature was one of my most anticipated new releases this year, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. With due reason, I found, as it is just as great as The Dry, and as chilling!

Picture this: five colleagues take part in a corporate bushwalking retreat in the remote Giralang Ranges, but only four return. What has happened to Alice Russell? And why don’t her colleagues know, if she was part of their team? Federal Agent Aaron Falk, who features here with his new partner Carmen, has been drawn into the search for the missing hiker, who is an important informant in a case he is currently working on. On the night of her disappearance, she managed to leave a garbled message on his phone and he is worried that she might be in danger.

I listened to Force of Nature on Audible, and never has my house looked so clean and my petrol bill so high, as I found excuses to drive around the block to listen just a little bit longer, or go to such lengths  as cleaning windows in order to have an excuse to plug in my earphones. This book was so good! The whole time I was listening I could not stop thinking how utterly clever Harper is to have created such tension with character interactions and “force of nature” alone.

Unlike The Dry, there is no gruesome murder to start off the story, and it begins as a slow character driven drama focusing on the group of five women as they embark on their fateful bushwalking adventure. It is pretty clear from the start that none of them really want to be there, and that most of them don’t particularly like one another either. Isn’t that already a perfect recipe for a delicious story of conflict and personality clashes, especially in the wild and remote setting of the Australian bush? In my opinion, there are not enough good survival stories out there that pack such punch, but Harper has done her bit to remedy that. The ensuing drama reads like Survivor meets Lord of the Flies, as the women battle out their personality clashes that ultimately lead to a fight for their survival.  From here, the story unfolds in a dual timeframe – one dealing with the search for the missing woman, and one telling about the hike and reflecting on what went wrong from each of the individual women’s perspectives. Whilst there is not much action, the tension is often unbearable, and the atmospheric setting providing a terrifying backdrop. There was one scene involving a dilapidated cabin in the bush that literally had me holding my breath! It brought back memories of camping in a lonely bush cabin whilst hiking with a friend, and hearing a creepy figure stalking us in the middle of the dark night, which saw us running into the bush to hide until daylight. Brrr, I am getting goosebumps even whilst writing this.

Harper’s writing is descriptive and claustrophobic, drawing you deeply into her story and keeping you captured there – whether you like it or not. Her imagery will haunt you in your nightmares, as the impenetrable bushland closes in around you in a terrifying embrace. As each of the women reflect on their three days together, I was never sure whose story I could trust – and there were a few surprises in store. Undoubtedly basing her tale on some true historic Australian crime stories, Harper again proves that she can weave a chilling tale the embodies the Australian spirit at its most chilling – the setting forming its own character that is as much part of the story as its human counterparts.

I also loved that we got to know Aaron Falk a bit better as he shares some of his past with the reader that has shaped his adult self. I am an absolute sucker for stories that combine adventure and survival with a good mystery, and in my opinion Harper has absolutely nailed it! I loved every minute of the book and can’t wait for the next book in the series. 

Giveaway:

BOOK TRAIN

To celebrate the beginning of summer here in Australia TOMORROW I would love to share this prime example of Australian crime fiction at its best with other readers and wonder if any book bloggers would be interested in starting a “book train”. The idea is to read the book, post a bookstagram photo +/- a short review on Instagram or your book blog and then pass it on to the next reader.

I have one brand new copy of Force of Nature to send to one lucky recipient who would like to participate. All you have to do is to head to my giveaway post on Instagram and tag the person you would like to pass the book on to next. Or leave me a smiley face in the comments on this blog post and tell me which book you would most like to find under your Christmas tree this year.

A winner will be drawn at random in one week’s time – entries close Thursday 7th December at 12 noon AWST. This is an international giveaway – I will post anywhere in the world. The winner will be announced on this blog plus my Instagram post. Hope to see you there!


Image result for 5 stars

You may also like:

The Dry (Aaron Falk, #1)

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Book Review: HOW TO SPEAK CHICKEN by Melissa Caughey

Author: Melissa Caughey
Publisher:
Storey Publishing
Read:
November 2017
Expected publication: Today
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2



Book Description:

Best-selling author Melissa Caughey knows that backyard chickens are like any favorite pet — fun to spend time with and fascinating to observe. Her hours among the flock have resulted in this quirky, irresistible guide packed with firsthand insights into how chickens communicate and interact, use their senses to understand the world around them, and establish pecking order and roles within the flock. Combining her up-close observations with scientific findings and interviews with other chicken enthusiasts, Caughey answers unexpected questions such as Do chickens have names for each other? How do their eyes work? and How do chickens learn?

My musings:

I am not called “the crazy chook lady” for nothing, so of course I absolutely had to read this book! After decades of keeping our own backyard chooks, who are a much loved part of our family, I have done a fair bit of reading on the subject and have quite a few “how to” chicken related books on my shelves. However, How to Speak Chicken is delightfully different. Instead of giving advice on keeping chickens, it delves into the subject of how chickens communicate, and how we can get more out of our flock if we are able to understand their language.

The author’s love for her flock shines through on every page, as she shares both her own insights as well as latest research findings about how intelligent chickens really are. I found it utterly fascinating, even though I had suspected that there is a lot more to these lovable creatures than we give them credit for. Did you know that chickens can remember up to 20 members of their flock, and have a unique call (or “name”) for each one of them, including you (once you have been accepted into their flock)? Can you tell when they are warning you of a perceived danger from the ground as opposed to danger from the air? Have you ever suspected that chickens can sleep with half of their brain still wide-awake and alert for danger? I didn’t, but ever since reading about chicken communication I have been a lot more attuned to the call of my own hens and how they “chat” with their sisters and members of our family. I watched in fascination as the new puppy was initially greeted with a “danger from ground” alert, but is now accepted with soft clucks as she sniffs around the chook pen.

If you are a chicken lover, or have a chicken lover in your midst, this delightful book would make a perfect Christmas present. The charming and uplifting pictures of various chickens provide a colourful backdrop to the interesting information contained in its pages. Despite being informative, the text is easy to read and devoid of the scientific lingo that tends to exclude some readers – this is a book that can be read and enjoyed by the whole family. Full of love for our feathered friends, How to Speak Chicken was both one of the most informative as well as uplifting books of the year for me – I loved it. So much that I have dominated a few lunchtime conversations with “did you know that chickens .....” Hopefully friends and family will either share my enthusiasm or learn to forgive me!
  
Summary:

I highly recommend How to Speak Chicken to any chicken lover or anyone who is still sitting on the fence about them – apart from learning to appreciate the intelligence of these loveable backyard creatures, the fun and fascinating facts contained in the book will make you a star of any dinner conversation (just ask my family ;).



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

Friday, 24 November 2017

Book Review: SEVEN DAYS OF US by Francesca Hornak (#SevenDaysOfUs #NetGalley)

Author: Francesca Hornak
Publisher:
Hachette Australia
Read:
November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description (Goodreads):

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.

As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…

My musings:

I love a good family drama, and seeing that it is nearing the end of November, I thought I should take myself out of my murder & mayhem comfort zone and join the ever-growing festive spirit that has been emerging on Goodreads with readers joyfully delving into Christmas stories. Mind you, there is more panic than festivity in the Birch household as they are facing a “Haag arrest” over Christmas, a voluntary seven-day quarantine in their grand old mansion in Norfolk after the older daughter Olivia’s return from Liberia where she has been treating victims of the deadly Haag virus. I can just imagine the tension of being cooped up with your nearest and dearest over a whole week, without the possibility of escaping into the company of others or outside for even just a little while. And it doesn’t help that each member of the Birch family harbours a secret that has the potential to seriously interrupt their fake bonhomie if it ever came to light. Of course, lies have a way of raising their ugly heads like vipers in the grass at the most inopportune moments, throwing the family into one crisis after another.

Whilst I found none of the Birches particularly endearing, as was no doubt intended, the drama soon engulfed me and sucked me into its fold, and I was irrevocably hooked. There are some very dysfunctional dynamics hiding behind these musty walls, most of which could have been resolved with a good heart-to-heart over a few glasses of egg-nogg; but let’s face it, we often don’t state the obvious, do we? I think that most of the story’s irresistible draw lay in my dusty memories of Christmases past, when countless dramas unfolded as the whole extended family met – and argued out all their grievances they had been saving up for a year.

Whilst there were a few quite predictable and sometimes slightly stereotypical elements and the brief threat of a corny romance (oh horror!), Seven Days of Us was a light and entertaining book about a family in crisis that would make a perfect Christmas holiday read whilst trying to survive your own family dramas. Written from several different POVs and featuring all the Birch family members in short and precise chapters, I got a feel for all the characters involved and the story moved along at a good pace. I could see this turned into a TV series, because everyone likes a good drama at the expense of other families, even just for the chance to thank fate that these are not our kin (or perhaps not). I did think that there were a few issues with character development (most characters never quite managed to move out of their stereotype) and would have loved to see a bit more “cutting edge” conflict and wit, but it was nonetheless entertaining and kept me turning the pages. 

Summary:

Seven Days of Us is a light, entertaining and reasonably feel-good drama about an unusual family Christmas – perfect reading whilst being holed up in your room whilst trying to avoid your own relos at the annual Christmas do. 


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


Thursday, 23 November 2017

Book Review: EYES LIKE MINE by Sheena Kamal

Author: Sheena Kamal
Publisher:
Bonnier Zaffre
Read:
November 2017
Expected publication: 25 January 2018
My Rating:🌟🌟🌟🌟1/2

People will lie about anything, anytime.


Book Description (Goodreads):

It's late. The phone rings.

The man on the other end says his daughter is missing.

Your daughter. The baby you gave away over fifteen years ago.

What do you do?

Nora Watts isn't sure that she wants to get involved. Troubled, messed up, and with more than enough problems of her own, Nora doesn't want to revisit the past. But then she sees the photograph. A girl, a teenager, with her eyes. How can she turn her back on her?

But going in search of her daughter brings Nora into contact with a past that she would rather forget, a past that she has worked hard to put behind her, but which is always there, waiting for her . . . 


My musings:

Every now and then a character captures your attention so fully that they feel like real life people and evoke a fervent prayer to the literary gods that the author will write a sequel – and another one, and another one! For me, Nora Watts was that protagonist – she was so compelling and intriguing that she instantly swept me up into her world and kept me enthralled. Nora may initially seem like your classical flawed character with the obligatory traumatic childhood having shaped her adult self, but she has a few additional features that make her stand out from the fray. Firstly, she can tell a liar as soon as the other person opens their mouth. Secondly, she has an irresistible sense of self-deprecating humour that had me laughing out loud in what was otherwise a rather dark and disturbing story – she is so astute in her observations! And whilst hse admits embracing her role as an outsider,  she is also a badass – in a humble, invisible sort of way, but she is not one to give up easily, especially when it comes to righting an injustice. Even though she may not always seem likeable, I simply adored her. She would of course not appreciate the sentiment, preferring to keep herself to herself with the equally irresistible Whisper by her side.

Kamal does such a brilliant job with her characterisations – even now I can clearly see the cast of Eyes Like Mine clearly in front of my eyes, as if I had met them all personally. In her author’s notes she says: “I learned how important it is to have compelling characters, raise the stakes and to take risks.” She has certainly achieved all of that. The characters, the sense of time and place, the atmosphere of the seedier side of Vancouver and Vancouver Island were so well executed that the story played out movie-like in my mind until I could not tear myself away even for the most essential of needs. And what a story it was! A dark, disturbing thrill ride that had my hackles rise on quite a few occasions as Nora put herself in the firing line. There was both mystery and suspense as well as action, a balance that is tricky to achieve but was perfectly done here. Nora’s antisocial tendencies and her ability to stay under the radar created the type of tense, claustrophobic atmosphere I simply love in a good mystery. Even the few tiny moments of having to suspend disbelief did not mar the pleasure, and everyone who knows me will know I’m usually not very good at that. 

Summary:

If you’re looking for two-dimensional cardboard cut-out characters in a run-of-the-mill mystery that has been done a thousand times before, do not read this book, because it is quite unique and the characters pack punch. There are many themes running through this book that make it relevant: childhood trauma, abuse, adoption, alcoholism, homelessness, racism just to mention a few. It is confronting at times, disturbing for most of the time, and just very very good. I was ecstatic to read that the author is working on a sequel. I will most definitely pick that one up, too!  Very highly recommended to all lovers of the genre. 



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

Monday, 13 November 2017

Daily Commute Audiobook Mini-Reviews for October 2017

With night shifts, a new puppy and lots of gardening work to be done in spring, my reading time has really suffered lately, and my reviews have dried up over the last couple of weeks. Thankfully there is always audio, which has kept me sane during my daily commute and also gave me a chance to tackle some books on my TBR list that I had been looking forward to. The reviews took a bit longer, but finally - TA DA! - here they are:

Author: Kerry Wilkinson
Narrator:
Alison Campbell
Read:
October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2


Book Description:

Megan was ten years old when her older brother, Zac, went missing among the cliffs, caves and beaches that surround the small seaside town of Whitecliff.

A decade later and a car crash has claimed the lives of her parents.

Megan and her younger sister Chloe return to Whitecliff one summer for the first time since their brother’s disappearance. Megan says it’s to get her parents’ affairs in order. There are boxes to pack, junk to clear, a rundown cottage to sell. But that’s not the real reason.

Megan has come to confront her family’s past after receiving a postcard on the day of her parents’ funeral. It had a photograph of Whitecliff on the front and a single letter on the back.

‘Z’ is all it read.

Z for Zac.

My musings:


I’m a bit of a sucker for sister mysteries – there are so many interesting dynamics in sibling relationships that they provide the perfect base for an emotionally charged book. And whilst the plot of Wilkinson’s latest novel is based more around the disappearance of Megan and Chloe’s brother Zac ten years ago, the relationship between the sisters was certainly intriguing and drove much of the storyline.

Despite Megan’s prickly and damaged character, I felt that she was well portrayed and I couldn’t help feeling for her. She is so determined to find out what happened to Zac and get justice for him, and is not easily discouraged, despite the many demons she is battling. Chloe, on the surface the more balanced of the two sisters, seems almost too blasΓ© about Zac’s disappearance, and it is obvious that their parents’ absence during the children’s formative years has done some damage to both of the girls. I loved Wilkinson’t portrayal of these two broken young women, and the undercurrent of something sinister that shadows their time in Whitecliff. There is an ever-present tension underlying the storyline, and I was never sure whose account of events I could trust. Is Megan really a reliable storyteller? Has her anorexia and addiction to prescription drugs from her mother’s stash destroyed her ability to think clearly, distorting her memories and her reality? Or is Chloe the one who is hiding things?

As the events in Whitecliff slowly spiralled out of control, the danger to the girls felt ever more real – but was it? Wilkinson did a great job of messing with my mind and making me question everything I read, and I just love it when a book does that. Despite the picturesque setting of the seaside town of Whitecliff, there was always an air of menace present, and some of the villagers were downright scary. Without giving any more away, tension built as Megan started asking more and more questions about her brother’s last year in Whitecliff, with the villagers closing ranks against her. What were they hiding? And how did their parents fit into all this? There were so many questions and possibilities that my mind was spinning as I tried to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to unravel the mystery. And whilst for me there were a few plot-holes that didn’t quite add up, the portrayal of the small town and the building tension made up for it and on the hole provided a satisfying and  intriguing read. Two Sisters was my first book by the author but it certainly won’t be my last!






Title: Sunday Morning Coming Down (Frieda Klein #7)
Author: Nicci French
Narrator:
Beth Chalmers
Read:
October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Book Description:

Psychotherapist Dr Frieda Klein once again finds herself in the midst of a criminal investigation when the rotting body of an ex-policeman is found beneath the floorboards of her house.

The corpse is only months old but the main suspect, murderer Dean Reeve, died over seven years ago.

As the killer picks off his next victims and her home is turned into a crime scene, Frieda's old life seems like a hazy dream.

With eyes of the world upon her and no answers from the police, Frieda realises that she will have to track this killer before he tracks down those she loves.

My musings:

Avid readers and lovers of the Frieda Klein series will know that the last book ended on a massive cliff-hanger, with Frieda finding a rotting body under the floor boards of her house. So I had been eagerly looking forward to Sunday Morning Coming Down to find out what happens next. And I am happy to say that French’s latest book is full of the same chrilling* details that made the series so irresistible for me. In Sunday Morning Coming Down, Frieda must use her unusual skills for sniffing out the truth to protect the ones closest to her, as her loved ones are the targets for brutal attacks, and not even her patients are safe. With Dean Reeve still out there, and the police (who finally have to believe Frieda that he is still alive) unable to find him, Frieda is at her wits’ end how to escape his unwanted (and deadly) attention. But things are not quite as they seem – and Frieda must use all her skills to stay one step ahead of a ruthless killer.

There is a reason why the Nicci French writing duo remains firmly on my list of favourite writers – theirs are dark and disturbing books that mess with my mind, and I love that! Sunday Morning Coming Down is no exception, with the added element of danger to beloved characters from earlier books in the series, which had me on tenterhooks! I will not go into any details, for fear of giving something away, only to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as I have its predecessors.

If you are a lover of unusual protagonists and chilling psychological thrillers, and haven’t discovered this series yet, it’s well worth picking up the first book now. Frieda Klein is a psychotherapist, and a somewhat remote, prickly and often not very likeable character, but if you give her a chance she will grow on you and take you along on her many walks through London’s lesser known places to think and work out the missing links to many murder cases. Whilst I was not a fan of her in the first book (Blue Monday), I am glad I have persevered – she really is a fascinating character who I now look forward to connecting with. This is definitely a series that should be read in order, as it relies heavily on backstory and the emotional baggage the characters share over the course of the seven book currently published. I believe that the eighth – and final – book will be out early next year. I can’t wait to read it, but will be sad to see the end of Frieda Klein.

*) initially this was a typo, but I quite like it - a mixture of chilling and thrilling. Consider it a new word!

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Book Review: THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn

Author: Kate Quinn
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Read:
November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2

We are flowers who flourish in evil.

Book Description:

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth ...no matter where it leads.

My musings:

Who doesn’t like a good suspenseful spy story, especially one that’s based on real historical figures? It was a no-brainer that I absolutely had to read The Alice Network after discovering it is centred around the true story of a spy network of women based in the German occupied town of Lille in France during WWI.

Quinn uses a dual timeline format to connect her two main characters. One, set in 1915, tells the story of Evelyn (“Eve”) Gardiner, a plucky young British girl who joins the war effort as a female spy to gather intelligence in German occupied France. There she becomes part of the famous Alice Network, led by the true historical figure of Louise de Bettignies, a well-known French secret agent during WWI (also known under her pseudonym Alice Dubois). The other, set in 1947, features young Charlotte St Clair (“Charlie”), a disgraced privileged American girl, who travels to France to track down her beloved cousin Rose who has been missing since the war. As the two women’s paths intersect, we get to find out more about Eve’s history as a secret agent, which has left her a broken woman, and witness Charlie’s coming of age as she sets out on her quest.

I absolutely loved Eve’s story and found the details about the Alice Network and its secret agents utterly fascinating, especially the author’s postscript detailing the true historical events the story is based on. How courageous were these women! And whilst Eve is a fictional character, she blended in well with her “real-life” companions – and who knows, there may have been a similar background to the “real” Marguerite Quinn used as inspiration for her character. Even the older Eve rang true for me, damaged and broken as she was from her wartime experiences. I could imagine that life after the war would not have been easy for those courageous women who managed to survive, but had seen and done unimaginable things for their country. Louise must have been one amazing lady, I ended up reading up on her on the web after finishing this book and would love to read a whole book devoted to her!

Whilst I admire the author for conjuring up a link between her two female protagonist that spans both World Wars, sadly Charlie’s story did not hold the same interest for me as Eve’s, and there were times when I struggled to keep my focus during Charlie’s chapters. Whilst Eve seemed to be able to step out of the pages as real as her historical counterparts, Charlie seemed a bit fake to me, her speech more befitting a 21st century teenager than a girl brought up in the 1940’s. Whilst I realise this is fiction, some of the little inaccuracies still niggled at me, and distracted from Eve’s chapters, and I found myself skipping a lot of Charlie’s story to get back to Eve’s. Unfortunately Charlie’s story was very loooong, and contained a somewhat clichΓ©d romance on top of it all - ugh! A bit of editing may have done wonders here, as there were some fascinating parts that were worth exploring, such as the story of the massacre that wiped out an entire French village during WWII. I also enjoyed the premise of seeing Eve in her older age, trying to lay her demons to rest, and able to help young Charlie in her quest. My issues were just with the “fillers” in Charlie’s story, the parts that didn’t add much to the overall plot but dragged the book out and made me impatient to get back to Eve’s story.

Summary:


All in all, The Alice Network was an captivating and original story centered around a real female spy network during WWI that held my interest and kept me eagerly turning the pages for more. Whilst Charlie’s chapters did not intrigue me nearly as much, other readers may enjoy her chapters (including the romance) a lot more than I did. If you are a history buff and love to read books set during either of the world wars, this one is definitely worth picking up for the historical detail it contains and the unique spin on a story that isn’t told nearly as often as it deserves to be. 


Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Australia

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

Monday, 30 October 2017

Book Review: YOU BE MOTHER by Meg Mason

Author: Meg Mason
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers Australia
Read:
October 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟



Book Description:

What do you do, when you find the perfect family, and it's not yours? A charming, funny and irresistible novel about families, friendship and tiny little white lies.

The only thing Abi ever wanted was a proper family. So when she falls pregnant by an Australian exchange student in London, she cannot pack up her old life in Croydon fast enough, to start all over in Sydney and make her own family. It is not until she arrives, with three-week-old Jude in tow, that Abi realises Stu is not quite ready to be a father after all. And he is the only person she knows in this hot, dazzling, confusing city, where the job of making friends is turning out to be harder than she thought. That is, until she meets Phyllida, her wealthy, charming, imperious older neighbour, and they become almost like mother and daughter. If only Abi had not told Phil that teeny tiny small lie, the very first day they met… 

My musings:

You Be Mother is a delightful, bittersweet book that left a certain warm and fuzzy feeling in its wake long after I finished reading it. There are too few of these types of books around, where you get sucked so deeply into the story that you wish it would never end. But to call it just a feel-good book would be doing it an injustice, because it is so much more than that. In Abi and Phil, Mason has created unforgettable characters that I would love to meet down at the local coffee shop for a cuppa and a chat. I was so reluctant to let them go when the book ended, feeling like I was losing lifelong friends! I also admit shedding a few tears, because when I say bitter-sweet, I mean that the book tackles a few of life’s difficult issues, like death, abandonment, loneliness and the different dynamics found in families, including this most precious and fraught relationship of all, the mother-daughter bond.

Abi, a young mother from Croydon, arrives with her small baby in Sydney, to be reunited with Stu, her son’s father, and start a new life. Settling in Cremorne, in a small flat owned by Stu’ parents, Abi soon finds that Stu may not be ready yet to play happy families as he continues to lead his bachelor life, leaving her and baby Jude alone for long periods of time whilst he studies and meets his mates at the pub until the early morning hours. She tries to overcome her loneliness by taking Jude for long walks in the pram. It is during one of those walks that she stumbles across the Cremorne ocean pool, and meets Phyllida Woolnough, who turns out to be her neighbour, living in a stately home next door to the apartment block. Phil is also battling with loneliness after the recent death of her husband, and all her grown- up children having flown the nest to live overseas. Soon Abi and Phil strike up an unusual friendship, each filling a need in the other– Phil serving as a mother substitute for Abi, and Abi and Jude seamlessly slipping into the gap Phil’s children have left behind. But blood is thicker than water – or is it? As Phil’s children get involved, Abi and Phil’s friendship is bound to get a lot more complicated ...

Having emigrated myself at an early age and raising my babies without the help of family, far away from my old life, I really related to Abi. I remember walking for hours with my first-born asleep in the pram, just to get out of the house and talk to other grown-up people. We also created our own extended “family” from older friends who filled the grandparent gap for my children. Lucky for me, I had a partner who was very involved with his kids, and some great friends, who soon quelled the loneliness. But reading about Abi brought back so many memories of that time, and I felt like giving her a huge bear hug of the sort I often craved myself when crying for my mother!

Phyllida Woolnough, Phil for short, was a delightful character and reminded me of someone I know in real life (though I can never reveal who). She is, as she states herself “in the dusty flute stage of life” and was so delightfully eccentric that there were many laugh-out loud moments as she shared her wry observations and ideas with the reader. Phil is a bit of a mercurial character, warm and welcoming one minute and somewhat remote and cold the next. In her postscript, Mason calls Phil “the pleasure of my life to write” and states that she cannot believe Phil doesn’t really exist. Yes, I felt exactly the same. In fact, all characters, the Woolnough children included, seemed so real to me they could have stepped out of the pages of the book, seamlessly inserting themselves into reality. Kudos to the author for creating such a believable “alternative truth” that I am still grieving for the characters now that the last page has been turned. 

Summary:


I loved You Be Mother and found it to be a delightful read that took me off to another world and made me look forward to the hours I could spend reading. Sometime laugh-out-loud funny, other times sad, this was a warm, insightful, bittersweet and very poignant book about families that I cannot recommend highly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! 


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


Read about Meg Mason on writing You Be Mother: link

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