Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Book Review: THE CRYING PLACE by Lia Hills

The Crying Place

Author: Lia Hills
Allen & Unwin
February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

A stunning literary debut that takes the reader into the mysteries and truths that lie at the heart of our country.
In the rear vision, the road was golden and straight and even, its length making sense of the sky, of the vast black cloud that was set to engulf it. I pulled over and got out. Stared at it, this gleaming snake - where I'd been, where it was going. The route that Jed had once taken.

After years of travelling, Saul is trying to settle down. But one night he receives the devastating news of the death of his oldest friend, Jed, recently returned from working in a remote Aboriginal community. Saul's discovery in Jed's belongings of a photo of a woman convinces him that she may hold the answers to Jed's fate. So he heads out on a journey into the heart of the Australian desert to find the truth, setting in motion a powerful story about the landscapes that shape us and the ghosts that lay their claim.

The Crying Place is a haunting, luminous novel about love, country, and the varied ways in which we grieve. In its unflinching portrayal of the borderlands where worlds come together, and the past and present overlap, it speaks of the places and moments that bind us. The myths that draw us in. And, ultimately, the ways in which we find our way home.

My thoughts:

Time stands still for Saul when he receives the phone call that will tear his whole world apart – his best friend Jed, who is like a brother to him, is dead, believed to have committed suicide. His last contact with Jed was a short message on his phone after Jed’s return from a remote Aboriginal community where he’d been working: “Where are you?” He never got the chance to speak to him again. Racked by grief and guilt for not realising that Jed may have been in trouble, Saul embarks on a mission to retrace Jed’s last steps, which leads him to the remote community of Ininyingi, located off the map in the centre of Australia near the western border of the Northern Territory. There he meets Nala, the woman Jed claimed he loved more than anything in the world. What happened to Jed to make him leave all that behind and lead him on the path to his own destruction?

The Crying Place is a deep, contemplative novel with writing so evocative that it will instantly transport you to a faraway place in the heart of the country, where primal laws still apply and ancient spirits roam free. Or, in Hills’ own words: “where two worlds overlap.” Getting lost in its pages is like a homecoming, a consolidation of feelings not often acknowledged in our Western society. It is raw and confronting, and will challenge you to look deep inside your heart to question everything you believe. Who are we, but an extension of our friends, our family, our ancestors? Jed saw his girlfriend Nala as “his world”. Similarly, the world is a different place for Saul without Jed, as if a piece of himself was missing. There is love that runs so deep that losing that person is like giving away part of your own soul. In a society which tends to sweep the issue of death and dying under the carpet, Saul has no grounding to deal with his own grief over the loss of a friend that had been like a brother to him.

Lia Hills’ The Crying Place resonated with me on many levels. Suicide is a terrible tragedy in any society. For the loved ones left behind, there is not only grief to deal with, but also a heavy burden of guilt, of wondering if the death could have been prevented, if there had been anything they should have said or done. Also, our expectation for people to show a stiff upper lip and “just get on with it” after the funeral is over rarely does justice to the terrible pain of loss that sits deep in our bones, sapping our energy, leaching the joy out of every day.

“I owed it to Jed to understand what had happened to him. Do justice to the life we’d led. A neat funeral wouldn’t have cut it. Not even close.”

In a society where family and community ties are slowly getting lost, be it through geographical or generational distance, death is a lonely, sad affair, with few outlets for the sheer hopelessness the ones left behind can be experiencing. As Saul is being introduced to an ancient way of dealing with death and grief, he is enabled to find his own way to lay Jed’s spirit to rest, to move on and find a kind of peace within his own soul.

Hill’s beautiful lyrical writing was a pleasure to get lost in and managed to create a vivid picture of the outback setting and its people she describes with such grace and insight. Similarly, Saul’s voice created a gritty reality in my mind that became as vivid to me as if I had walked in his footsteps myself, felt his despair.

This book will resonate with anyone who has ever lost a loved one, where the grief sat so deep that physical pain was preferable to the emotional agony experienced. But despite this, it is also a story of hope, of moving on, of laying the spirits of the dead to rest and finding peace. A beautiful and insightful story, very much recommended.


 No man burdened with guilt ever set a sure foot into the future.

“Places like this – there’s nowhere to hide from the light.”

Time’s like a concertina. One minute it’s all stretched out before you, then suddenly it folds and collapses on itself.

We make a country of the people we love.

Thank you to the publisher Allen & Unwin and Bookstr for providing me with an advanced reading copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Book Review: WATCHING YOU by Arne Dahl

Title: Watching You
Author: Arne Dahl
Random House UK, Vintage 
February 2017
Expected publication: 6 July 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Someone is watching.

At each abandoned crime scene there's a hidden clue: a tiny metal cog, almost invisible to the naked eye. Someone is sending Detective Sam Berger a message, someone who knows that only he will understand the cryptic trail.

Someone knows.

When another teenaged girl disappears without trace, Sam must convince his superiors that they’re dealing with a serial killer. As the police continue the hunt to find the latest victim, Sam is forced to unearth long-buried personal demons. He has no choice if he is to understand the killer's darkly personal message before time runs out.

Somebody is killing just for him.

My thoughts:

"The aspen leaves are trembling."

And so will you .....

Wow! What a wild emotional rollercoaster ride this book turned out to be! Whilst some of the opening scenes were somewhat dark and confronting, I was settling in to read what I thought would be a fairly typical Scandinavian murder / mystery. And for a while, the story seemed to flow along a well-trodden path, as detectives Berger and Deer follow a lead to a derelict farmhouse where they hope to find a missing 15-year-old girl who they fear has fallen into the hands of a depraved predator. But they are too late. The house is empty and booby-trapped, with only a blood-splattered wall as evidence that the girl may have been held – and tortured – there. Worse still, Berger is convinced that the case is linked to the disappearances of two other teenage girls, who may have been taken by the same perpetrator. Can he make a connection between the cases and find them before it is too late?

“Time wasn’t on his side.”

Tic-toc, the clock is ticking! Clocks and time feature largely in this extremely clever and breath-taking thriller, written by a master of the genre. It was about there that the novel took a completely unexpected turn, even though there had been tiny clues like a trail of breadcrumbs leading up to this point, which I had totally overlooked, too comfortable in my assumptions. Until the rug was pulled out from under my feet so completely that it felt like falling headlong into an abyss. WHAT THE...?!?!?! Suddenly the whole world I had created in my mind came tumbling down. Who could I trust? What was real and what was merely a figment of my own complacency? Could I take anything for granted in this novel?

I loved how a large percentage of the action played out in tense and lively dialogue, which served to draw me deeply into the story almost immediately and created a movie-like imagery which haunted me even when I was not actively reading. This is a fast-paced novel, with non-stop action and some confronting scenes that will follow you into your nightmares. I read that Dahl was once quoted as saying that he didn’t want to dwell on evil but wanted to understand its roots in the past. Which is exactly the route Berger takes when trying to track down this perpetrator, and may be one of the things that sets this novel apart from your average murder / mystery. Whilst it certainly gets the adrenaline pumping, it also contains some deep and terribly sad scenes that challenge your own ideals and beliefs like only an author with a solid understanding of the human psyche can pull off.

 There was nothing to fault in this masterful novel, one of the best I have read in a long time. How is it possible that I have not come across this author before now? A must-read for any lover of the murder / mystery genre, and readers who enjoy Scandinavian fiction at its finest. Try to let go of all expectations and preconceptions – this is a writer who has made it his mission to avoid formulaic writing and prefers endings that leave the reader thinking after closing the book. Which it certainly did! And since the last paragraph – despite the final shot aimed straight at the reader’s heart – opens the door for a re-appearance of our detective duo in future novels, I will definitely be watching this space!

Watching You has previously been released in other languages, but unfortunately we will have to wait until July to find it on our shelves. Put it on your wishlist today!

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


He stepped into the valley of the shadow of death. He stopped on the hall mat with his whole body dripping. He could feel water trickling down his face, neck, ears, scurrying downward. It was like his whole body was weeping.

Intuition is nothing but a concentration of experience.

“I’d sanitised my memories.” “That’s how we survive,” Blom said.

All light was an illusion, a reassuring veneer of lies that allows us to live, gives us the strength to become adults.

Carpe motherfucking diem.

Image result for 5 stars

If you are multi-lingual, you can access this title now (click on covers for details):

Sieben Minus Eins Utmarker (Sam Berger och Molly Blom, #1) Skyggezone (Berger & Blom #1) Sedm mínus jedna (Sam Berger a Molly Blomová, #1)

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Book Review: THE SWAP by Nancy Boyarski

The Swap

Title: The Swap
Author: Nancy Boyarski
Light Messages Publishing
February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

When Nicole Graves arranges a summer-long swap of her Los Angeles condo for a London couple’s house, she thinks it’s the perfect arrangement. She’s always dreamed of seeing the real London; she’s also hopeful the time away with her husband Brad will be good for their troubled marriage.

But things don’t turn out the way Nicole expects: The Londoners fail to arrive in L.A. and appear to be missing. Then people begin following Nicole and making threats, demanding information she doesn’t have. Soon, Nicole realizes she’s in serious trouble––but she can’t get Brad or the police to believe her.

When the confrontations turn deadly, Nicole must either solve the case or become the next victim. 

My thoughts:

It all sounded good in theory: when Nicole’s husband Brad is offered a short working stint in England with an IT company over summer, Nicole thinks that it would be the perfect opportunity to break routine and rekindle their marriage. The plan is to swap homes with Frederick and Muriel Lowry, a couple Brad has had contact with through his work. However, soon after their arrival in London, Nicole is having serious doubts as to whether this was a good idea. Brad is more distant and distracted than usual, and she is experiencing  some strange incidents in the Lowry’s home, which scare her. When she is threatened by thugs looking for the Lowrys, who supposedly owe money to someone who will not stop at anything to get even, she discovers that the couple have never actually  arrived in the US as arranged. Worst of all, Brad is refusing to take her seriously, putting her fears down to jetlag and paranoia. Soon things escalate and Nicole is finding herself on the run – from the thugs, the police and her husband.

The premise of the story – a house-swap gone terribly wrong – was intriguing and I found myself quickly drawn into the book as our unsuspecting couple arrives in London only to find that the house is not what they were expecting. However, the rest of the book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. It was interesting to find out that the author, Nancy Boyarsky, has a background as editor and writer of textbooks and political articles, because it is obvious that she can write well. However, I think that this explains some of the problems I had with the story – at times it read a bit too factual and dry, with stilted dialogue, telling instead of showing and inconsistencies with character development. This may just be due to The Swap being a debut novel in quite a different genre than the author is used to.

Personally, I also felt that Boyarski was trying to pack too many twists and turns into the story (Nicole is like a little spinning top – she never stays in one place for longer than 5 minutes), which at times made it choppy and frustrating to follow. Then, running out of time, there were whole “summary” paragraphs condensing numerous events into a few explanatory sentences, rather than letting them play out. Despite plenty of action and a fairly tense cat-and-mouse game, I felt a bit put off by some clichés used in character development, and found it difficult to connect with Nicole, who I felt lacked emotional depth (as did her relationships). Seeing that this is the first of a series, I am hoping that Nicole’s character will evolve over time and develop a bit more personality. As long as Nicole can pull off the plucky female investigator role, I think the series has a lot of potential. As for now, I remain sitting on the fence ...

Quotes I liked:

With Brad, activities as routine as finding their luggage and getting through customs were competitive sports.

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 3 stars

If you find the premise of a house swap gone wrong intriguing, you may also enjoy:
Her Every Fear Her Every Fear, by Peter Swanson
One of my favourite reads for 2016!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Book Review: THE KILLER ON THE WALL by Emma Kavanagh

The Killer On The Wall by Emma Kavanagh

Author: Emma Kavanagh
Random House UK, Cornerstone
February 2017
Expected publication: 20 April 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

The first body comes as a shock

The second brings horror

The third signals the beginning of a nightmare

When fifteen-year-old Isla Bell finds three bodies propped against Hadrian’s Wall, her whole world falls apart. In such a close-knit community, everyone knows the victims, and the man who did it.

Twenty years on and Isla has dedicated her life to forensic psychology; studying the brains of serial killers, and even coming face to face with the convicted murderer who turned her world upside down. She is safe after all, with him behind bars.

Then another body appears against the Wall.

And another.

As the nightmare returns and the body count rises, everyone in town is a suspect.

Who is the Killer on the Wall?

My thoughts:

“It began with the bodies.”

Twenty years ago, a serial killer brutally murdered 6 people in the small English town of Briganton, splitting a community and injecting terror into the everyday lives of the town’s inhabitants for six long weeks. When the perpetrator, Heath McGowan, was finally apprehended by the Detective Sergeant Eric Bell and convicted of the killings, everyone heaved a huge sigh of relief, but the damage had already been done. Some residents chose to move away, scarred by the black cross that forever marked Briganton as the hunting grounds of “the killer on the wall”, for the way he positioned his victims against the historic remnants of Hadrian’s Wall. Others dug in their heels and chose to stay, refusing to let the killer win. Isla Bell, who was the girl who discovered the first lot of bodies on her morning run, went one step further: in her career as forensic psychologist she now dedicates herself to scanning the brains of psychopaths to discover if there are common abnormalities which set a person on the path to becoming a murder machine. As part of her project, she has encountered the worst sadistical killers mankind has ever produced. Including Heath, who still holds a special dark place in her heart, and who is the 13th convicted killer to undergo this process.

“Lucky number 13.” Isla agreed.

Only that it turns out to be anything else but lucky for the community of Briganton. One day after Heath’s MRI scan, another body is discovered seated against Hadrian’s Wall. The murder has the same MO as the original killings. Is it a copycat, or a domestic argument gone wrong? When the body count mounts once again, the residents’ worst fears are confirmed – the killer is back. But how is this possible, when Heath is still in prison? Is there another killer amongst them?

I have read and enjoyed every one of Emma Kavanagh’s books, and this one is no exception. Taut and twisty, this thriller will take you on a dark journey into the minds of psychopaths, and those who fight them. With her background as a police and military psychologist, Kavanagh’s characterisations are spot on, which makes for an interesting reading journey as you discover that in this book, you cannot really trust anyone or anything. A constant undercurrent of threat and menace is maintained by the prospect of a killer living amongst a small, peaceful community, preying on random victims until no one is safe in their homes any longer. What makes a ruthless killer tick? And would we recognise one if we saw him/her? It could be your friend, your neighbour, your partner, your child. A truly scary premise, skilfully explored by a writer who clearly knows what makes people tick – and what keeps readers reading!

I particularly enjoyed the character of Iraqi born Detective Constable Mina Arian, who I felt was more approachable than the somewhat aloof Isla, and whose persistence in exploring every detail of the case finally brings some answers. Whilst some readers may find the end shocking, and some may have had their suspicions, I appreciated how neatly all the threads came together, which again is a credit to the author’s skill in weaving an utterly compelling mystery and one that may make you lock your doors and keep you inside at night. Highly 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. 


“Generally, people are stupid. We look for whatever we expect to see.”

“But then, wasn’t that the thing with serial killers? Weren’t they all, when you looked at them, perfectly normal? Right up until the monster in them was unleashed?”

“What was it about parents that, even when you were thirty five and married and even though you lived your life right up against the most dangerous men the world had to offer, one word and you could be catapulted backward in time until you were small, vulnerable again.”

Other Books I enjoyed by the the same author:

Click on cover for details:
Falling Hidden The Missing Hours

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Book Review: OUR ENDLESS NUMBERED DAYS by Claire Fuller

Our Endless Numbered Days

Author: Claire Fuller
Read: February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Peggy Hillcoat is eight years old when her survivalist father, James, takes her from their home in London to a remote hut in the woods and tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed. Deep in the wilderness, Peggy and James make a life for themselves. They repair the hut, bathe in water from the river, hunt and gather food in the summers and almost starve in the harsh winters. They mark their days only by the sun and the seasons.

When Peggy finds a pair of boots in the forest and begins a search for their owner, she unwittingly begins to unravel the series of events that brought her to the woods and, in doing so, discovers the strength she needs to go back to the home and mother she thought she’d lost.

After Peggy's return to civilization, her mother learns the truth of her escape, of what happened to James on the last night out in the woods, and of the secret that Peggy has carried with her ever since.

My thoughts:

What a beautifully written book – I think so far this has been my most memorable read for 2017, and one that will stay with me for a long time to come.

In the summer of 1976, eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat is growing up in a spacious house in London as the much-loved daughter of a famous concert pianist and a survivalist father. All is well in her world until her mother Ute goes away on a concert tour to Germany, leaving her in the care of her father James, who seems to slowly unravel the longer Ute is away for. Soon James is teaching Peggy survival skills instead of sending her to school , and the pair are living in a tent in the garden, living off squirrels and other foraged foods. After a heated argument with one of his survivalist friends, James packs a few belongings into a rucksack and takes Peggy away for a “holiday” to a remote mountain cabin in the European Alps away from civilisation. After sitting through a violent thunderstorm one night, James tells Peggy that the rest of the world has perished, and that they are the only two human survivors left. Thus, life in the wilderness alone with her father becomes Peggy’s reality for the next nine years, until a twist of fate finally delivers her back into civilisation.

I absolutely loved Peggy, and she became so real to me that it felt like I lost an old friend when the book finished. Her voice is innocent, fresh and original, drawing me in from the first page, taking me by the hand and luring me into her world. Through Peggy, Fuller managed to create such vivid scenery in my mind that I could see “die Hütte” quite clearly in front of my eyes, hear the rustling of the wind in the trees and the soft gurgle of the river in the distance. I didn’t just read this book, but I feel like I LIVED it, transported like Aladdin on a magic carpet to faraway lands. Days after finishing it, I still miss being part of Peggy’s journey. Simply magical, beautiful, tragic & heartbreaking all at the same time.

This book is not for people who want action or suspense, but its power lies in the small everyday observations and feelings that make up Peggy’s reality, and Fuller has a way with words that creates true-to-life characters and an atmospheric setting until it seems like a living, breathing being itself. Her descriptions of nature were stunning, as they were raw and brutal at times. Fuller’s account of James’ slow spiralling deeper and deeper into mental illness was well drawn and realistic, creating an undercurrent of danger and impending doom throughout the novel. At times I felt like biting my nails as the story unfolded, fearing for Peggy. Whilst I had a premonition of the ending to come, I was still saddened and shocked by the full extent of Peggy’s ordeal.

I chose the audio version of this book, and a huge credit goes to Eilidh L. Beaton, for her wonderful narration of the story. With her amazing ability to give each character their own unique voice, including authentic foreign accents, she brought the characters to life for me and made my daily commute a pleasure I looked forward to.

Image result for 5 stars

If, like me, you loved the descriptive setting of this novel, you may also enjoy:
The Snow Child The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey

Or by the same author:
Swimming Lessons Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Book Review: RATTLE by Fiona Cummins

Rattle by Fiona Cummins

Title: Rattle
Author: Fiona Cummins
Pan Macmillan Australia
February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

A psychopath more frightening than Hannibal Lecter.

He has planned well. He leads two lives. In one he's just like anyone else. But in the other he is the caretaker of his family's macabre museum.

Now the time has come to add to his collection. He is ready to feed his obsession, and he is on the hunt.

Jakey Frith and Clara Foyle have something in common. They have what he needs.

What begins is a terrifying cat-and-mouse game between the sinister collector, Jakey's father and Etta Fitzroy, a troubled detective investigating a spate of abductions.

Set in London's Blackheath, Rattle by Fiona Cummins explores the seam of darkness that runs through us all; the struggle between light and shadow, redemption and revenge.

It is a glimpse into the mind of a sinister psychopath. And it's also a story about not giving up hope when it seems that all hope is already lost.

My thoughts:

Three missing children and a creepy man who calls himself the bone collector form the centre of this chilling debut novel by Fiona Cummins. I will not go too deeply into the storyline for fear of giving away spoilers, only to say that the author has done a great job in bringing a child's worst nightmares to life in her creation of a disturbed serial killer, who works tirelessly to continue the family tradition of collecting human skeletons for the ossuary he inherited from his father. Rattle, rattle, there are bones in the cellar! The more unusual the better – this is the reason he selects victims with rare bone disorders or deformities that would make a fascinating addition to his collection. Young Jakey, who suffers from the rare disease fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, is a perfect target. As his muscles, tendons and ligaments slowly turn into bone, his skeleton becomes a more and more attractive collector’s piece for our man. The only problem is that Jakey is still alive, but that has never been an obstacle for the bone collector.

With a thread of menace and darkness running throughout the novel, the storyline played out in front of my eyes in sepia colours with wisps of mist wafting through black streets and wrapping itself around houses and trees, some of its characters stepping straight out of a “Carnivale” type nightmare bordering on the bizarre. The virtual leap into the bone collector’s lair was reminiscent of my worst childhood visions of the bogey man hiding under my bed at night, waiting to chop off any body part that dared to protrude from the safety of my blanket. Creepy! But whilst the details skirted the fine line of "too much information", Cummins managed to pull back before overstepping the mark that would deposit this book into the "horror" instead of "murder / mystery" genre. In fact, I thought her characterisation of the mentally ill bone collector was very well executed, which lent substance to the story rather than just shock factor.

Etta Fitzroy as lead detective is an enigmatic and sympathetic protagonist, who made up for all the other -generally rather unlikeable – characters, and I can see her forming the centrepiece of future novels. True to form, she has all the flaws and tortured mind that make for an interesting fictional detective violating rules and constraints in order to get the job done and to see justice served. I struggled a bit to bond with any of the other characters, though the battles Jakey’s parents face every day in raising a child with disabilities are well drawn. Apart from a few loose threads that I felt needed tying up, the novel flowed well, though some readers may find the ending unsatisfying. I actually thought it was a fitting finale, keeping up the general theme of darkness and menace until the very end. All in all, a promising new voice in crime fiction and potentially the start of a new series featuring an interesting female detective with many more cases to solve. Definitely worth checking out!

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, 10 February 2017

Book Review: BLINK by KL Slater


Title: Blink
Author: K.L. Slater
February 2017
Expected publication: 16 February 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

What if the person you love most in the world was in terrible danger … because of you?

Three years ago, Toni’s five-year-old daughter Evie disappeared after leaving school. The police have never been able to find her. There were no witnesses, no CCTV, no trace.

But Toni believes her daughter is alive. And as she begins to silently piece together her memories, the full story of the past begins to reveal itself, and a devastating truth.

Toni’s mind is trapped in a world of silence, her only chance to save herself is to manage the impossible. She must find a way to make herself heard. She must find her daughter.

A compelling, gripping thriller with a breathtaking twist that will keep you awake until the early hours. Perfect for fans of The Girl on the Train, Behind Closed Doors and The Sister.

My thoughts:

A young widow. A missing child. An unknown woman in a coma. A troubled teacher. How are these people linked?

After the tragic death of her husband whilst on active duty in Afghanistan, young mother Toni Cotter tries her best to raise her 5-year old daughter Evie on her own. As if things were not difficult enough, the pair has to move to a new neighbourhood in order to be able to afford paying the bills and to be closer to Toni’s mother, leaving their friends and support network behind. With their old life gone up in flames, Toni struggles psychologically with the aftermath of grief and the burden of responsibility of being a single parent, relying on sedatives to make it through each day. Evie is having trouble settling into her new school, her once cheerful personality giving way to moodiness and anxiety. When Toni starts a part-time job to make ends meet, she is forced to rely on her mother’s help to pick Evie up from school some afternoons. One day Toni receives a call from the hospital that her mother has had a fall and sustained some serious injuries. Caught up in traffic on the way to the school to pick Evie up herself, Toni is running late. When she finally gets there, the school gates are locked, and a mother’s worst nightmare has come true - Evie is gone.

In a hospital bed lies a woman in a coma who is being kept alive by machines. Noone knows who she is, and she has long been given up for dead. But deep inside her unresponsive body, her mind is very much alive and alert, and she is silently crying out for help. If she could only blink her eyes ...

I loved the premise of the story – a mystery revolving around a woman with locked-in-syndrome, a neurological disorder causing the paralysis of all voluntary muscles but retaining intact cognitive function. Trapped like a prisoner in her own body, this person may have the answer to the secret but is unable to communicate. It sounded really intriguing! However, reading it as a trained health professional there were too many holes as big as bear traps in this story to make it believable. I certainly won’t spoil it for anyone, but personally I found it hard to suspend disbelief enough to make it through some chapters without rolling my eyes, and this really ruined the read for me.

As for “the killer twist you’ll never forget”: does this have to be announced prominently on the cover? Knowing that as a reader you need to question everything you read takes the fun out of the journey, and makes every false lead stand out like a giraffe in a crowd of zebras. There are plenty of red herrings thrown into this story, sometimes with the subtlety of a wet fish slapping you in the face. Admittedly, one worked for me. The others didn’t. Some characters seemed to appear only with the purpose of leading the reader down the garden path, and were never heard from again after that, which is a shame, when so much effort was being invested in them originally. For me, a “twist” is a clever manipulating of the story rather than a complete change in direction without any prior warning. Personally, I felt a bit cheated. In summary, not the right book for me, though I am sure that a lot of people will love 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. 

Image result for 2 stars

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Book Review: THE HIDDEN HOURS by Sara Foster

The Hidden Hours

Author: Sara Foster
Simon & Schuster (Australia)
January 2017
Expected publication: 1 April 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Arabella Lane, senior executive at a children’s publisher, is found dead in the Thames on a frosty winter’s morning after the office Christmas party. No one is sure whether she jumped or was pushed. The one person who may know the truth is the newest employee at Parker & Lane – the office temp, Eleanor.

Eleanor has travelled to London to escape the repercussions of her traumatic childhood in outback Australia, but now tragedy seems to follow her wherever she goes. To her horror, she has no memory of the crucial hours leading up to Arabella’s death – memory that will either incriminate or absolve her.

As Eleanor desperately tries to remember her missing hours and uncover the events of that fateful night, her own extended family is dragged further into the dark, terrifying terrain of blame, suspicion and guilt.

Caught in a crossfire of accusations, Eleanor fears she can’t even trust herself, let alone the people around her. And soon, she’ll find herself in a race against time to find out just what happened that night – and discover just how deadly some secrets can be.

My thoughts:

After a traumatic event which has shaped her formative years, 21-year old Eleanor Brennan is trying to put the past behind her and move on with her life by leaving Australia for a year’s work experience at a successful publishing firm in London. She is shocked and dismayed when she wakes with a severe hangover after the office Christmas party to hear that one of the executives of the firm, Arabella Lane, has died overnight under suspicious circumstances. Eleanor was one of the last people seen talking to Arabella before her death, but she has little to no recollection of the night’s events. What happened in the hours between talking to Arabella at the party, and arriving drunk and dishevelled back at her uncle’s house? Eleanor is sure she only had very little alcohol – did someone spike her drinks? As the investigation into Arabella’s death continues, Eleanor becomes more and more convinced that she may have witnessed something terrible that night. Without any memory of the “missing hours”, and with the killer still at large, is she putting herself in danger? In a city full of strangers, whom can she confide in and trust?

Amnesia has long been used in psychological thrillers as a means to lead the reader on a slow journey of discovery, whilst building suspense and maintaining a sense of menace and danger to the protagonist throughout the story. I generally like the idea, as it opens the door to so many possibilities, but find that there definitely is an art to making it work. Whilst The Hidden Hours got off to a rather slow start for me, and I found it difficult initially to bond with Eleanor, the introduction of snapshots into Eleanor’s past quickly got my attention and worked well to foster understanding of how her past has influenced her present state of mind. The little clues linking the past and present worked well to keep me intrigued, even if I admit that I was much more drawn to the mystery of Eleanor’s childhood tragedy than the murder of Arabella Lane. It is obvious that Foster has an intimate understanding of the hardships faced by people in rural Australia, and does a great job in building and atmosphere of impending doom for the child Elly. Some small hints sowed seeds of the tragedy to come, but I was still surprised when it was revealed, and felt an intense sense of empathy and sadness for the young girl.

 I also liked the sense of isolation Eleanor experiences as a visitor staying at her maternal uncle’s house, and the growing sense of isolation and dread as suspicion about Eleanor’s involvement into the events leading up to Arabella’s death mounts. There was real potential to exploit this isolation to build more suspense and tension as Eleanor’s back is against the wall with no one to support her, which was not quite fully realised for me. Adult Eleanor appears a bit “bland” and timid at times, slowing the story down. I would have liked to see her endowed with a few more flaws, character quirks and spunk to make her more engaging and memorable.

Whilst the novel got off to a slow start for me and I struggled with the first few chapters, it soon gained momentum and managed to keep my interest. The mystery concerning Eleanor’s past was intriguing, and the end contained enough revelations and surprises to make the journey worthwhile. However, I felt that there was not quite enough suspense to market the novel as a “psychological thriller”, and lovers of that genre may find it a bit lacking in tension and “thrill” elements.

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 3 stars